Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. TheLiving Waters is available for purchase now.
I was a little unsure about what I would experience with The Living Waters. It is described as sword-free fantasy, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Author Dan Fitzgerald defines sword-free fantasy in a fascinating article (found here) and points out that one great thing about fantasy is that it can be “a safe reading space, where peril may be real but wonder predominates”, which is part of what makes The Living Waters so unique.
The book focuses on a trip on a river. Temi and Sylan are two nobles who are there to go on a “roughabout”, which is sort of a pilgrimage that those from their society usually go on prior to marriage. Temi and Sylan are part of a caste system that values extremely pale skin, to the point that they all wear hats and paint to protect their skin from the light of the sun. I found this fascinating because, like most societal expectations, it could be inconvenient. The captain of their ship, Leo, and their protector, Gilea, don’t have these concerns.
Temi and Sylan both have their reasons for going, although I found Sylan’s desire to learn more about the natural world around him to be the more interesting of the two. I loved his curiosity and his appreciation of what he saw, and the book of descriptions about some of the things he sees was such a wonderful way to naturally introduce the reader to a world filled with wonder and beauty.
While there aren’t any sword fights or instances of derring-do, the book was nonetheless fascinating. The relationships were the main focus, although there were still dangers and mysteries to solve, and the way the characters developed both individually and in relation to each other was realistic and engrossing.
The Living Waters was beautiful. It also felt intensely personal, as though the author was showing a little of who he is in his descriptions and his obvious appreciation of nature. The descriptions were amazing, as was the pacing of the book. I felt like I was floating down the river myself. The relationships, the mysterious swirls in the water, and the loveliness of the setting all combined to make The Living Waters a serene and calming read.
Thank you to Redhook publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild and Wicked Things will be available for purchase on March 29th.
Addictive and haunting, Wild and Wicked Things was also a bit problematic. The book initially drew me in with beautiful prose, dripping with magic and secrets. However, the pacing caused me to pause and I found my attention wandering at parts.
I was immediately interested in the book’s setting, which has a wild and carefree overtone with more somber themes lurking just underneath the surface. I’ve read that it takes inspiration from The Great Gatsby, and the juxtaposition of the darker aspects of the storyline with the glitter that’s seen on the surface felt very reminiscent of Gatsby to me. That being said, Wild and Wicked Things is very much its own unique book.
There was quite a bit of content that I struggled to read. The fault is mine: the author has kindly provided a content warning list for the book (here) which I was unaware of when I picked it up. That being said, I feel that the author did not add any of it merely for shock value; rather, it was all part of the story she envisioned and it did further the plot.
I loved the lush feel of the book, and the glitz of it all. I was fascinated by the mysteries lurking beneath the surface. Ultimately, though, the bits that didn’t work for me- the characters that weren’t quite as fully-rounded as I was hoping and the pacing issues- lessened my enjoyment a little. That being said, I am sure that there are many who will find themselves lost in a beautiful world and will appreciate the slower pacing. Give it a go!
Featuring one of the most delightfully messed-up main characters I’ve read in a while, Book of Night is both wickedly clever and dangerously entertaining.
In a world where “quickened” shadows can be shifted according to the wearer’s mood, Charlie Hall’s shadow is disappointingly ordinary. It does not grow, act of its own accord, or shift on its own. That’s a good thing, since she has enough on her plate as it is. The thing is, Charlie Hall has never seen a bad decision that she isn’t willing to make. Con artist, thief, barista, and certified disaster, trouble has a habit of finding Charlie. To be fair, she doesn’t do all that much to avoid it. Ostensibly done with conning and stealing, Charlie nonetheless works in a bar that crime likes to frequent, she dates a man whose day job is cleaning up the messes left by violence, and she has a knack for upsetting the wrong people.
In a world such as that, it is inevitable that Charlie would be sucked back into a life of conning and stealing. This time the stakes are much higher: Charlie has to find a way to hopefully con her way out of a situation where every solution seems to spell death. The entirety of Book of Night is planned pandemonium, and I was hooked.
This is Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, having garnered a huge fanbase in Young Adult fantasy. While Black’s signature twists and turns are present, the relationships are much more established, allowing me to enjoy the nuances of the characters without being distracted by relationship woes. Don’t get me wrong; as with everything else in her life, Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince follows the path of most resistance. However, the complications lie in the characters themselves, as opposed to their relationship status. In fact, seeing how Charlie interacted with the people around her was an excellent mirror into the morass of her rather messed-up psyche.
The story is sprinkled with scenes from the characters’ pasts, better developing both their personalities and the world. And it is such a cool world! Manipulators of shadows, known as gloamists, use their shadows to grasp at power, some legally and some otherwise. The wielders of power are fantastical, but the way the power is used to manipulate and control is completely familiar and believable.
There is always something going on, but never at the cost of the plot. The twists seemed to come out of nowhere, yet when I traced back the scenes in the book, the clues were right in front of me. The ending is fantastic, perfectly messy, instead of being tied into an overly neat little bow. While there could be a sequel, which I would gladly read, I almost hope that it is a standalone because the ending hit so well. Book of Night is an exciting urban fantasy from an author who can easily conquer any genre she chooses to write in.
*This review was originally posted in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.
Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. We Cry for Blood is available now.
The machinations! The backstabbing! The violence! The wit! Author Devin Madson has mastered it all in the latest installment in The Reborn Empire series. There is a lot going on in this book (and I mean a lot), yet it was never disorganized. Instead, I felt that everything is leading toward the sort of conclusion that blows the mind.
We Cry for Blood continues to follow the four characters from previous novels: Dishiva e’Jaroven and Rah e’Torin, Empress Miko Ts’ai, and Cassandra Marius. Each character has their own story arc, which could be confusing in lesser hands than Madson’s, but somehow never is. That is saying something, because I often struggle with keeping larger plotlines straight. In this case, the sheer amount of detail serves to broaden the world and make the story even more compelling. Everything happens on an epic scale, while at the same time feeling incredibly personal.
This is one of those great series where my favorite character seems to change book by book. In We Cry for Blood, Dishiva stood out to me. Her point of view reminded me that, while so much is happening on a grand scale, things are also incredibly important on a smaller, yet no-less-important level. Her challenges seem nearly insurmountable, but the fighting spirit exists all the same. Usually in books with multiple viewpoints, there’s that one that just isn’t interesting to me, but I didn’t have that problem here. Each character was compelling in their own way.
This series continues to completely ignore the usual expectations in a fantasy novel, and I love it! As much as I love the classic fantasy feel, I also really appreciate how broad the spectrum of fantasy is, and seeing it stretched into new and exciting directions is beyond exciting. The RebornEmpire is well on its way to being the sort of fantasy series that readers of the genre “must” read. In fact, I would argue that it is already there.
This is not a series that can be understood if you start in book three. However, I guarantee you’ll want to read the entire series. It is truly excellent.
Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).
The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!
Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.
The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.
It took exactly four sentences for me to become so engrossed in Nectar for the God that I was annoyed by any interruptions to my reading. Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.
“With a smile and a nod to the other customers, Etta Mirian left the bakery, crossed Long Step Avenue, and stabbed Peyt Jyston three times in the neck. She then turned the knife on herself and, still smiling all the time, opened her throat from side to side.”
The reader finds Mennik Thorn slightly the worst for wear after the events in Shadow of aDead God. He’s been avoiding both his mother (who has far more power, and far fewer scruples than is ever good), and her rival Wren, with varying levels of nonsuccess. While Mennik is realizing that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, a case drops into his lap that is far above his skill level, and much more complicated than it looks. From there, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush which somehow manages to also have a complex and incredibly clever mystery involved.
In between traipsing through sewers and attracting the attention of something rather terrifying, Mennik’s character also continues to grow. Through his interactions with his mother, his sister, his thieving friend, Benny, and Benny’s murderous daughter, we are given a more complicated picture of who Mennik is and why he acts the way he does. He never seems to end up on top. The most he can hope for is to break even, and that’s an ambitious goal. Mennik is the sort of character who gets kicked around by life, although in many instances he walks right into trouble. This juxtaposition between the desire to survive and a complete lack of caution leads to all kinds of problems. Mennik’s slightly skewed moral compass shifts continues to intrigue and delight, and his inner dialogue is absolutely brilliant. Author Patrick Samphire takes the smallest of details and makes them fascinating with his incredibly descriptive writing.
The world is gritty and messy, teeming with the equivalent of magical gangsters, meddling gods, and–even worse–politicians. It constantly grows, tantalizing the reader with details and mysteries that have yet to be solved. The dreaded info dump is nowhere to be found, with history and mythology being given naturally throughout the book. While Mennik is juggling multiple disasters, I could see they were puzzle pieces waiting to be fit together. Watching the seemingly disparate parts of Nectar for the God meld into a complete whole is a joy, and the final product is an entertaining romp that will draw you in and captivate you.
Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Blood Stew is available now.
This is book three in the Windshine Chronicles. However, it feels very different compared to the first two, with more time spent on setup and development. It could probably be read as a standalone, but I would suggest reading the other books in the series simply because they’re good.
Blood Stew follows Nam-Gi, who dreams of swords instead of ladles. He was born with a twisted spine and, instead of embarking on the adventure he desires, he works in his family’s restaurant. Eventually, Nami-Gi is thrust into the adventure he dreams of, although it is far different than what he expected.
This book had a slower start with more of a buildup than the previous two books in the series. However, that gave me time to appreciate the worldbuilding and the details that author Todd Sullivan uses to bring everything to life. It also made Nam-Gi an extremely well-developed character, which I appreciate.
Blood Stew ramps up to an exciting conclusion, while at the same time fleshing out a creative and beautiful world. Todd Sullivan’s writing continues to evolve and grow, bringing new and fascinating layers to his Windshine Chronicles.
The Coward follows Kell, a not-really-a-hero, as his past catches up with him. Ten years ago, Kell tagged along with a group of legendary heroes as they traveled to defeat an evil Lich. Despite not being seen as a hero himself, Kell alone returned. Since then, he has lived a quiet life, avoiding the songs and stories that have grown up around his “great deeds”…until he is forced to confront a truth he’s hidden from everyone; he is a coward.
If you haven’t read the book blurb, don’t. It makes the book sound like a humorous tale and, while I loved the book, it is most definitely not comedic fantasy. Instead, it is a deep and nuanced examination of human nature, that just happens to have fantasy elements added.
As Kell travels north to confront whatever has taken up residence in the original lair of the Ice Lich, he goes as a man condemned. He knows that it is only through a vast amount of luck that he survived the first time and that he won’t survive a second. There is a switch from the moment he intends to run and the moment he realizes that he’ll never be free from what happened ten years ago. His decision to confront the unknown evil reflects his decision to confront the horrible memories that he’s tried hard to push down. His character has one of- if not the- most realistic and respectful depictions of PTSD I’ve seen in a fantasy novel. I felt for him, and was fascinated by him in equal measure.
He was joined by a varied cast of characters, some of which I definitely liked more than others, but all of which added something unique and special to the plot. There were two characters in particular that really stood out to me: Willow and Gerren.
Willow was not human and was often viewed with a sense of distrust or even open dislike. What I loved about Willow, though, is that she would lay down her life for another without hesitation, despite knowing that most wouldn’t do the same for her. The way she saw things was different and very thought-provoking.
Gerren was basically the person Kell was ten years ago, before Kell was broken by what he experienced. Gerren was idealistic, naïve, and had found himself sucked in by visions of glory, completely ignoring the truth when Kell tried to tell him. His story arc and his development from moonstruck youth to a more mature adult was wonderfully written and incredibly interesting.
These characters grown and evolve against a brilliantly created and executed fantasy backdrop, traveling toward an inevitability that will test them physically, but also emotionally. The final bit of the book had me on the edge of my seat.
Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.
All of Us Villains is The Hunger Games for goths, with a hint of Needful Things thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting the sometimes brutal exploration of what humans are willing to do to survive.
I have read and enjoyed Christine Lynne Herman’s The Devouring Gray, and I am a fan of books that twist norms, so All of Us Villains intrigued me from the get-go. In a world where magick exists, the book follows seven teens who are thrown into a competition where there will be only one survivor (the Hunger Games vibes are strong here). However, these seven will be fighting for their family’s control over powerful magick.
The concept of a battle to the death over control of a powerful magic source is an interesting one, and the book is just different enough to distinguish itself from The Hunger Games. Another difference between the two books are the multiple points of view that add different layers to the book. The characters all added something new which really helped flesh out the world.
Briony considered herself the perfect champion, and is one of the few characters who actually wanted to be in the competition. She isn’t necessarily blood-thirsty, she is just supremely confident in her ability to win. Of course, there’s a hiccup (no spoilers given, I promise) that changes things completely, leaving her with different choices to make, and many questions that need answering.
There’s Isobel, who didn’t want to be in the competition and is understandably terrified. She is also rather annoying. I can’t put my finger on why she bothered me, but she did. Possibly because she felt a little less fully developed than some of the other characters. Or maybe it’s that her whole budding romance with another champion seemed really odd (Now? While you’re all busy trying not to die?) What do I know, though? I’ve never been in a battle to the death; maybe that’s the best time to go looking for romance. However, she was an odd combination of ruthlessness and selflessness, which was definitely fascinating.
Gavin was easily the “villain” of the villains. He has something to prove and will do just about anything to prove it. I liked that his desperation led to an interaction that allowed one of my favorite characters to develop a little. The fallout from some of his choices also caused things to change in unexpected ways, which I really enjoyed.
Then there’s Alistair, one of my two favorite characters. He’s the one expected to win; powerful, with a dark reputation, he was so much fun to read about! Instead of being a stereotypical villain, he is actually unsure of himself and trying to protect himself by becoming the monster everyone claims he is.
My favorite character by far was Reid McTavish. Not a champion, he actually owns a magic shop which helps several champions with exactly what they need- but what is the price? He reminded me a little of Leland Gaunt from Stephen King’s Needful Things, and I was loving the reminder. I could never quite figure him out, which was brilliant. I know he has an angle, probably one which is deliciously diabolical, and I can’t wait for it to be revealed.
That last sentence brings me to an important point: this ends on a cliffhanger. I know that is not everyone’s thing, so I figure it bears mentioning. I do believe it worked well in this case, as any sort of finalized ending would make book two start in a very odd way.
All of Us Villains was a fun, quick read. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it shattered expectations or was incredible, it was extremely entertaining. At the end of the day, books like that have their place too. I recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games, readers who like their characters to be morally conflicted, or those who want something diverting and fast-paced.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. WeBreak Immortals is available now.
An exciting debut by a new fantasy author, We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley held nothing back and left me eager for more. Everything is dialed up to eleven, and nothing is certain.
The book follows multiple characters as they try desperately to prevent a demented serial killer from becoming, in essence, a god. He is one of the baddest of big bads that I have read recently and taking him down is a nigh-impossible goal. The characters are all fighting their own battles, however, against themselves. The question is: how can they defeat a powerful villain if they can’t even defeat their own personal demons? These battles that the characters fight against themselves are what kept me riveted.
Aren is a Render Tracer, otherwise known as a “glasseye”, meaning someone who can see traces of magick remnants. He does this with the help of some special tools. Aren uses his gifts to track down magickusers gone rogue. The magick in We Break Immortals is incredibly well-developed. It’s complicated and could be confusing if not for the use of Aren to show how everything works. Thankfully, it is explained in a way that makes perfect sense. Aren is very good at what he does. He is also an addict, which elevates his character from interesting to incredibly nuanced and complex. He is his own worst enemy, a fact that is made extremely apparent throughout the book. I love books that have characters with inner struggles and hidden obstacles to overcome.
Keluwen is a walking timebomb. She’s angry, she’s snarky, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s also a magickuser, which complicates matters when both her crew and Aren–a glasseye who goes after people like her–end up crossing paths. The dynamic within her crew was always interesting, especially her relationship with the crew’s leader.
Lastly, there’s Corrin. Ah, how I loved Corrin! Rougish with a knack for attracting trouble, he nonetheless manages to have his own sense of right and wrong. Corrin is the sort of person who does the best he can with what he has. And what he has is a fair amount of luck (whether it’s good or bad, I’ll leave to the reader to decide), a long list of vices, and a liberal dash of derring-do.
The world was well thought out and brought to life. More than just a backdrop for the storyline, the amount of development that has gone into the world makes it almost a character in its own right. The history, and mythologies are fascinating and it just keeps building.
We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.