A Radial Act of Free Magic by H.G. Parry

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Radical Act of Free Magic is the conclusion to this genre-defying series of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant tactician Napoléon Bonaparte has risen to power, and under his command, the army of the dead has all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly repressive government. In Saint-Domingue, Fina aids Toussaint Louverture as he navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the French Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic. Across the world, only a few know of his existence, and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Radical Act of Free Magic will be available on July 20th. This is the second book in the Shadow Histories duology. You can find my review for book one, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, here.

I loved A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and I had high hopes for its sequel. Let me say, A Radical Act of Free Magic did not disappoint! It continued the story perfectly, to the point where I felt like there hadn’t been a pause between the two books at all. This is a fantasy take on history (as evidenced by the fact that Wilberforce, Robespierre, and Napoleon are all characters) and Parry wrote it beautifully and with confidence. I think it takes a fair amount of skill to pull off something this ambitious. I have to say, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Parry came up with the idea for this series. Holy crow, it’s unique!

Parry’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I never lacked for details. There is no rushing to get to the action, which makes this a very slow moving book (at least for a good chunk of it). However, I was never bored. I was enthralled from the very beginning, sucked in by the richness of the prose. The story is a complicated one and could be confusing if not for the care taken to make sure each word is perfectly placed.

The characters were fascinating. I hesitate to say that I liked any of them, what with the fact that they are based on real people. Picking a favorite would seem weird to me. They were all great to read about; However, I did find Wilberforce’s point of view to be the most interesting.

I realize that I haven’t talked all that much about the fantasy aspect of this fantasy book. That’s because, oddly enough, it was the part of the book that interested me least. Okay, that doesn’t make sense since it is apparent throughout the story and is tied into the plot rather inextricably, but for me it’s the complex maneuvering and the moments of quiet tension that really drew me in.

This book isn’t all derring-do or action-packed moments. It has a slow build that is nonetheless engrossing. A Radical Act of Free Magic is smart, creative, and absolutely genius. I highly recommend reading it.




Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is available for purchase now.

I am very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes and how he’s represented. I am not an expert or anything like that, but I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and have read the original mysteries more than once (or twice). I’ve noticed that often a newer Holmes iteration will either match Doyle’s original consulting detective in writing style or spirit of character, rarely in both . I was both delighted and surprised to see that Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable managed to do both!

I fairly flew through this book, slowing down only to savor the story for a little longer. It’s extremely well written and the main players match my memories of the originals while at the same time growing and developing as only the best characters can. The additional characters (there must be suspects, after all) are all fantastic, quirky without being over the top.

The mystery itself was fantastic. It wasn’t forced, the final solution made perfect sense in response to the clues, and it was very clever. What I really enjoyed, though, was the ability to explore how Holmes himself ticked. He toyed around with hypnosis, and I’m sure you can imagine the tangled web that presents. Not only is his psyche bared, but his friendship with Watson is put to the test. I was so on board for that!

Surprisingly, the ending left me both incredibly satisfied and a little sad. It felt like the perfect epilogue to a brilliant character’s lifelong accomplishments, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the book to end. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is a fantastic love letter to Conan Doyle’s original works, and a wonderful representation of literature’s most inimitable detective.

I most definitely suggest picking this book up.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Dictionary of Lost Words is available now.

I agonized over what to write about The Dictionary of Lost Words. I love books about the love of words (The Grammarians and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary come to mind) and I had high hopes for this one. Ultimately, I think I may have expected too much. I liked the book, but that indefinable thing that elevates a book from “good’ to “great” in my mind wasn’t there.

That being said, The Dictionary of Lost Words was very good. The story starts with Esme, the main character, as a girl. She grows up surrounded by words. Her dad works to gather words and their definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary, along with a team of other men. Esme gets the leftovers, so to speak; the words not deemed appropriate or good enough for the dictionary. I loved that idea. I loved the focus on the importance of words and the way they can affect change. The premise was fabulous.

I did feel that the book meandered a bit, and I found my attention wandering a little here and there. I had a particularly hard time during the second half of it. It just didn’t hold my focus. I think it might have been the switch in focus to include a little more about Esme’s personal life as an adult. It just wasn’t my thing.

What the book might have lacked in pacing, it more than made up for in detail. It is clear that the author put a ton of time and effort into making the book as close as possible to how things were at that time. The Dictionary of Lost Words might be a great read for readers who really enjoy historical fiction. However, readers who are looking specifically for a book about words and their power might be a teeny bit disappointed.

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with Goblin in exchange for my honest opinion. Goblin is available for purchase now.

Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. The story follows Rikt, a goblin who tragically loses his parents. He vows revenge on the human who killed them. What follows is an adventure of epic proportions as he searches for the means to avenge his parents.

First of all, Rikt is a wonderful main character! He’s adorable with a young innocence about him that he slowly loses after the death of his parents. I grieved a little for the loss of his naiveté, although it was replaced with a thoughtful goblin, full of both hurt and heart. Author Eric Grissom’s portrayal of this little goblin as having such big emotions was astounding. I don’t know how he did it, but I absolutely loved it.

As Rikt travels, he interacts with other creatures, and faces all sorts of challenges. The biggest challenge he faces, though, is the hurdle of who he will become after experiencing such loss at such a young age. Will he let his anger drive who he becomes? Will it be a “despite” or a “because”? Each choice he makes shapes him in ways both surprising and touching.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention how much artist Will Perkins adds to the story. Just look at that cover. The art is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, he made a graphic novel with a goblin in it look gorgeous. These are some of the best illustrations I’ve seen in a good long while. Rikt’s personality shone through in how animated his facial expressions were. The pairing of the fantastic storyline and the beautiful art combined to form the perfect whole.

So: who should read Goblin? Simply put, everyone. If you want a tale of love, loss, and finding oneself, this is for you. If you want beautiful artwork, this is for you. If you want a fantasy adventure with a little bit of humor and action, and a whole lot of heart, this is for you.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book #1) by C.L. Clark

On the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire, two women–a princess and a soldier–will haggle over the price of a nation in this richly imagined, breath-taking sapphic epic fantasy filled with rebellion, espionage, and assassinations.
 

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
 
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
 
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Netgalley for providing me with The Unbroken in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This is going to be a tough one for me to talk about. While I really appreciated certain aspects of The Unbroken, I ultimately didn’t love it as much as I was hoping. The hype for this book was high, which probably unfairly raised my expectations.

Touraine is a soldier in the army of Balladaire (The “Sands” army). She didn’t sign up for the job; rather, she was forced in as a child. These child armies are raised with the teachings that their fight is a noble one and all violence will ultimately be justified. It’s really hard to think about because there are really situations of this happening in the real world. This added an extra weight to the situation that both intrigued and saddened me.

Luca is a princess of Balladaire. She ends up going to try to stop a rebellion and prove to her uncle, the regent, that she is worthy of ruling Balladaire. Like many power grubbers, her uncle is reluctant to relinquish any control. Touraine and Luca become intertwined when an assassination attempt on Luca’s life is stopped by Touraine, leaving Luca in her debt, so to speak. There’s more to the “how it got there”, but Touraine ends up being Luca’s spy/representative.

The Unbroken is a political fantasy, a slower-burn that shows the ramifications of decisions on every side. This sort of book requires commitment from the reader, simply because there is so much to pay attention to. The setup was a fascinating one, exploring themes of colonialism and how it affects everyone involved. It is not the sort of story I’ve really ever seen in fantasy before.

I struggled to pay attention during the first bit of The Unbroken, to be honest. I disliked both the main characters, which made it tough. I mean, I really disliked them. I think that was intended by the author. If so, consider the mission accomplished. I don’t mind disliking characters at all. I don’t need to “connect” to a character to enjoy reading them. My problem was that the characters often made decisions that seemed very much the opposite of what they would do based on what the author has told the reader about them. It made it very difficult to understand who these characters are on a fundamental level.

The pacing seemed a little off from time to time. However, while I had a hard time becoming invested at the beginning of the book, the second part picked up and became much more interesting. The Unbroken made me think. It kept me guessing. It showed me the ugliness that often shows up if a person so much as scrapes the surface of a situation. This wasn’t what I would call a “comfortable” book, but I definitely think it is absorbing.

All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them. (taken from Amazon)

What happens when you renege on a deal with a monster? Miren O’Malley is the last daughter of true O’Malley lineage. The family used to be mighty and successful, but that luck (is it just luck?) has dwindled as surely as their bloodline has. There have always been rumors about how the O’Malleys managed to be so rich and successful for so long, but the truth has been kept strictly secret. This is where All the Murmuring Bones starts.

Miren’s grandmother is the matriarch of the O’Malleys and is desperate to regain some of their lost glory. She plans to marry Miren off to a rich, abusive jerk. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Miren. She flees, but is followed-not just by her intended, but by the mer.

These aren’t your Disney merfolk. The mer are dangerous and mysterious. I loved everything about them. In fact, they are not the only wild and savage creatures of legend that make an appearance. Rusalka, kelpies, and more give All the Murmuring Bones a dark mythical feel that drew me in.

Miren is smart, capable, and no stranger to bloodshed. There is no boundary she is unwilling to cross to keep her life and her freedom. Her flight to safety turns into a quest for answers and the switch is fascinating and brilliant. I’m used to gothic novels sticking to a single setting. However, Miren’s travels allow the world and plot to open up magnificently.

I did feel there was a misstep here and there. For example, the ending wraps everything up in a neat little bow that feels a little out of place considering the path the rest of the book takes. I would have liked seeing parts of the story left, if not unexplained, at least a little enigmatic. Also, the climactic event was over sooner than I was hoping. It felt a teensy bit rushed. However, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things and the rest of the book is really stinking good.

All the Murmuring Bones is a gothic novel that hits all the right points. I highly recommend it.


This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find the link here.

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers
; they can dazzle with their beauty or
their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail
and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them?
Can you unravel the
truth?
These are people you know, but not as you know them.
Peel back the mask and see.

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Backstories is available now.

Backstories is smart and enigmatic, encouraging the reader to be involved. Author Simon Van der Velde combines history and fiction to create something entirely different- the surprising stories behind famous figures. Instead of the public persona we all know, the veneer is stripped away to show the utter humanness underneath.

Interestingly, Backstories isn’t set up in any way that is run-of-the-mill. This collection of short stories isn’t a simple “this is their past” sort of book. Instead, it’s a mystery. The reader has to solve the puzzle: who is each story about? I have to be honest and say that a couple stories completely stumped me. It was fascinating to try and match up new details with what is already known about a person. It added a level of realism to what have always been almost unreachable, exaggerated famous (or infamous) people.

The writing is engaging and easy to connect with. It’s quite obvious that author Simon Van Der Velde put a lot of time and research into his book, but he left just enough to the imagination to encourage me to do my own digging. The little Easter eggs that were left throughout were clever and added so much to the story.

I went into Backstories expecting to be entertained. Instead, I was sucked in and ended up being incredibly invested in the “who was” aspect. Expect an engrossing book, one that will keep you guessing.

Where to find Backstories:

Amazon: Backstories

The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn trilogy #1)

This is the age of storm and murder.

After the old gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrio.


Now, power-hungry jarls carve out petty kingdoms, and monsters stalk the shadow-haunted woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power, promising fame and fortune for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.


As whispers of war echo over the plains and across the fjords, fate follows the footsteps of three people: a huntress searching for her missing son, a jarl’s daughter who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who has cast off his chains and now fights alongside the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.


All three will shape the fate of the world, as it once more teeters on the edge of chaos. (taken from Amazon)

Wow. Okay, I’m done. That could be my entire review. In fact, I am pretty sure that nothing I write will do justice to the sheer brilliance of The Shadow of the Gods. So, let me apologize in advance for any random blathering that ensues. I promise, I’m doing my best.

First of all, let’s talk about the feel of this book. It takes place in a Norse-inspired world, stark and harsh. Our heroes are all about one bad decision away from becoming villains. It’s survival of the fittest, or of the most desperate. It’s also the perfect setting for a story that is almost mind-bogglingly epic.

Vigrio is split into a few cities, each run by a Jarl who gives his people protection in exchange for loyalty (or, you know, taxes). The Jarls do this through their Tainted Warriors, people with unbelievable powers inherited from the blood of gods. Their powers vary, although I personally was a fan of the berserkers. These Tainted Warriors are controlled by a sort of collar that reins in their power. They are hunted and sold to different Jarls. Basically, if you’re a Tainted Warrior you’re not in the best of situations. Enter Varg, one of my favorite characters.

Varg is wanted for murder, and we first see him on the run. His driving goal is to find out about what happened to his dead sister. In order to get these answers, he needs the help of a Tainted Warrior. This simple beginning leads to a fantastic storyline, one that kept me fascinated. From his very first battle (which started to go belly-up when his groin punch hurt him instead of the intended target), I was drawn in. Through him, the reader is treated to a side of the world that might not otherwise be seen and appreciated.

There’s Elvar, a soldier in a war-band, those who look for tainted to sell to Jarls. She’s got a past that she’s trying to outrace. Her story arc was interesting, but did not grab me quite as much as the others. Of course, it was still incredibly well written.

Finally, there’s Orka. She was my absolute favorite part of the book, although it’s hard to pick a favorite. She was an extremely complicated character. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I liked her at first. She came across as hard and cold. Then I realized: that’s how she copes and survives. She’s a warrior. She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She is smart, and strong, and a bit ruthless. She’s pretty stinking amazing and I loved getting to the chapters about her. I keep hearing people talking abut how cruel Gwyne is to his characters and now I’m scared.

The Shadow of the Gods is brutal and genius, a perfect balance between breath-taking battle scenes and intricate characters. I high recommend picking this one up.

Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place. (taken from Amazon)

I’m going to start this review by completely dating myself: do you remember that Brandon Frasier movie, Bedazzled? In it, Elizabeth Hurley plays the devil to Brandon Frasier’s beatdown, desperate character. He makes a deal to have his life changed “for the better”; after a certain number of wishes, he loses his soul. It’s cute and funny, with an upbeat ending. It’s a fluffy comedy. Midnight Library felt very similar, minus the comedy (and the devil). It was a fine book with an upbeat ending, but ultimately didn’t really do more for me than pass the time pleasantly.

While there are no graphic details in Midnight Library, I feel that I need to let readers know that both suicide and self-harm are mentioned throughout. I personally would have really struggled with the subject matter if it were handled differently, or if I was at a different point mentally than I am currently. I feel a warning is appropriate, in this case.

Nora starts the book with everything in her life falling apart. She feels invisible, desperate, and lonely. After an attempt to end her pain, she ends up in the Midnight Library, sort of a stand-in for Limbo. There are shelves and shelves of books in which her life has gone differently based on her choices. Nora is able to choose them and live the stories, with the caveat that when she is unhappy, she will return to the Library.

Nora begins erasing regrets by choosing differently. Of course, she sees both positive and negative ramifications of that. She is likable and easy to relate to. There isn’t anything about Midnight Library that wasn’t likeable, it was just very surface-level. I was hoping for a deeper, more meaningful read, I suppose. I follow the author on Twitter and am often touched by his tweets. Some of them are very profound. I think that ultimately raised my expectations of this book to a ridiculous level. How odd to think that an author’s social media writing is so good that I didn’t love his book.

I’ve heard nothing but glowing reviews for this book, leading me to believe that it just wasn’t the right time for me to really appreciate it. That happens sometimes, where it’s the right book but the wrong time. That’s not to say it was a bad book. It was sweet and encouraging. It just ended up being a “like” book instead of one I loved.

I would recommend Midnight Library to readers who want a book that finds happiness and gratitude in the life we’re given.

The Greatwood Portal (Heroes of Spira #3) by Dorian Hart

The end of the world is a week away, and only Horn’s Company can stop it.

All they have to do is find and rescue Ivellios, who’s been kidnapped by the Black Circle to fulfill their prophecy of freeing the all-powerful Naradawk Skewn from his prison world. Meanwhile, Morningstar must ready her team of Ellish dream warriors to battle the vicious Aktallian Dreamborn, who continues to harass Abernathy and the archmagi. And Aravia must master the Crosser’s Maze, the most powerful and complex magical artifact ever created.

What could go wrong?

According to the goblin shaman Irligg, Horn’s Company is destined both to succeed and to fail in their quest to save the world of Spira. Kibi always says there’s no such thing as destiny, but as the forces of Charagan prepare for Naradawk’s invasion, there’s a hidden thumb on the scales of fate…(taken from Amazon)

Before I get into discussing The Greatwood Portal, please be aware that this is book 3 in the series. I will do my absolute best to avoid spoilers for the first two books, but no promises. Here are my reviews for The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

The Greatwood Portal is the third book in what has quickly become one of my favorite series. This continues the story with Horn’s Company in a race against time. The stakes get higher with each installment, and the characters are feeling the pressure. They are coming into their own, trusting themselves-and each other-more and more as time passes.

In fact, something amazing happened in this book. The characters’ personalities and motivations have been so well developed over the previous two books that they started to feel like old friends. It was more like catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a while than reading about a character, if that makes sense. Everyone is so unique and fully formed that it really is incredible.

The world continued to grow and the relationships continued to become closer and more nuanced. I loved seeing how the characters interacted with each other and how each of them handled a situation or obstacle differently based on their personality. While the quest is of the utmost importance, the characters are what keep me riveted. I’ve seen books with larger groups of characters and usually one or two are either uninteresting or just not focused on. Not so with The Greatwood Portal. Not only does each character get the time and attention needed for their storyline, but there are new reveals and new angles explored.

Ernie continues to be a favorite, but Morningstar was also fascinating to read about. I love the idea of Dream Warriors! No, I’m not going to explain what they are, because I want everyone to read this book and experience things for themselves. Suffice it to say, she has really come into her own and I love it.

The book has some somber moments, and there was one part that broke my heart a little bit. Love, loss, friendship, tenacity, and hope continue to be explored in subtle yet profound ways. The Greatwood Portal is both exciting and heartwarming. I can’t recommend this series enough. If it isn’t on your “to be read” pile, it needs to be added. If it’s already there, move it to the top. This series is phenomenal.