Waiting on Wednesday – The Will of the Many by James Islington

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an awesome upcoming fantasy novel with a dark magical school setting, The Will of the Many by James Islington.

The Will of the Many Cover

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One of the things that I love about fantasy fiction is that there are so many awesome potential settings that can be used as a backdrop for an epic tale.  Fantasy can incorporate anything from modern urban settings to outrageous alien communities, and everything in between, and you can get some amazing reads out of that.  However, if I had to choose one of my absolute favourite settings for a fantasy, it would have to be a magical school.  Maybe its because the Harry Potter books were such a big part of my childhood, or maybe because there have been some outstanding recent novels set in fantasy academies (check out a Top Ten Tuesday list I did on the subject), but I have always loved these novels in a big way.  As such, when I see that a talented fantasy author is releasing a cool new book with a magical school setting later this year, it really gets my attention.

This upcoming book is The Will of the Many by new-to-me author James Islington, which is currently set for release in May 2023.  Set to combine mystery, intrigue, politics and the future of a nation with a dark magic school, The Will of the Many sounds particularly epic, and I am actually really excited to check it out.  The plot synopsis below has some very intriguing details to it, and the entire magical system, which is based on people ceding their Will into someone else to give them power, is very unique and opens up a raft of possibilities.  I look forward to seeing how Islington will bring everything together and I have feeling that The Will of the Many is going to end up being one of the most interesting and compelling fantasy novels of 2023.

Plot Synopsis:

At the elite Catenan Academy, where students are prepared as the future leaders of the Hierarchy empire, the curriculum reveals a layered set of mysteries which turn murderous in this new fantasy by bestselling author of The Licanius Trilogy, James Islington.

Vis, the adopted son of Magnus Quintus Ulcisor, a prominent senator within the Hierarchy, is trained to enter the famed Catenan Academy to help Ulciscor learn what the hidden agenda is of the remote island academy. Secretly, he also wants Vis to discover what happed to his brother who died at the academy. He’s sure the current Principalis of the academy, Quintus Veridius Julii, a political rival, knows much more than he’s revealing.

The Academy’s vigorous syllabus is a challenge Vis is ably suited to meet, but it is the training in the use of Will, a practice that Vis finds abhorrent, that he must learn in order to excel at the Academy. Will—a concept that encompasses their energy, drive, focus, initiative, ambition, and vitality—can be voluntarily “ceded” to someone else. A single recipient can accept ceded Will from multiple people, growing in power towards superhuman levels. Within the hierarchy your level of Will, or legal rank, determines how you live or die. And there are those who are determined to destroy this hierarchal system, as well as those in the Academy who use it to gain dominance in internationally bestselling author James Islington’s wonderfully crafted new epic fantasy series.

Quick Review – Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

Only a Monster Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 1 February 2022)

Series: Monsters – Book One

Length: 410 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Only a Monster by Australian author Vanessa Len is a particularly wonderful debut highlight of last year that I have been meaning to talk about for some time.  A brilliant and awesome young adult fantasy read, Only a Monster is an impressive novel that sees a shocked girl realise that everything she thought she knew about her family was a lie and that deep down she really is a monster.  Intense, incredibly clever, and beautifully inventive, Only a Monster was pretty damn epic and proved to be one of the best debuts of 2022.

Plot Synopsis:

With the sweeping romance of Passenger and the dark fantasy edge of This Savage Song, this standout YA contemporary fantasy debut from Vanessa Len, is the first in a planned trilogy.

It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother’s eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.

But she soon learns the truth. Her family aren’t just eccentric: they’re monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers. And Nick isn’t just a cute boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.

As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .

. . . she is not the hero.


Only a Monster
has an awesome story that takes a teenage girl on a dark journey of self-discovery and magical adventure as she tries to figure out who she is and what lies within her.  Len starts this book quickly, with a good introduction to central protagonist and point-of-view character Joan Chang-Hunt, who is part of the unusual Hunt family.  A shuddering moment of unreality reveals that she is really half monster, someone who has the ability to steal time from humans to power their time-travelling abilities.  Though Joan initially tries to avoid this revelation and enjoy time with her crush, Nick, an encounter with the malevolent Oliver family of monsters forces her further into their hidden world, especially when it is revealed that Nick is secretly a monster slayer destined to kill every monster in existence, including Joan.  After a brutal series of events that sees most of her family and the other monsters of London killed in a single, coordinated massacre, Joan flees into the past with her surviving cousin Ruth and the youngest member of the Oliver family, Aaron, hoping to find a way to save their families.  Their quest leads them to try and recover a legendary artifact that will allow them to rewrite time.  But to do so, they will need to go up against the mysterious King of the Monsters and his dangerous plot to control reality.  Caught between monsters and monster slayers, the characters are forced into a series of deadly encounters which will force Joan to choose whether to retain her humanity or embrace her inner monster.

Len really came up with something special in Only a Monster, and I personally loved how this outstanding debut unfolded.  The author keeps a pretty fast pace throughout the entire book, and you are constantly thrown from intense moment to intense moment as the protagonist and her companions attempt to stay ahead of their enemies and find a way to bring back their families.  I felt that Len did a great job introducing her compelling world, fantastic characters and unique magical elements, and you quickly learn to appreciate the author’s inventive ideas.  This is actually a pretty dark read, especially as it starts with a massacre and focuses on a group of magical beings who can suck the life force out of normal humans to power their abilities.  I personally deeply enjoyed this darker tone, as Len balances it well with her unique creative ideas and the emotional character development to create an intense and addictive read.  The magical time travel elements of this book are very well done, and the darker ideas behind the absorption of people’s time span helped to make it a malevolent gift that the protagonist is forced to use by necessity.  Despite this, it does produce some fun time travel jokes, and I had a laugh at some of the pop culture references that were utilised in the identification of the period.  Len also lays down a series of interesting twists throughout the story which are revealed at perfect moments and which help to produce a pretty amazing story.  However, the absolute highlight of this book had to be the epic ending that Len decided to traumatise her readers with.  While I’m not going to give away anything here, let’s just say it is pretty insane, and I was deeply impressed with how Len set it up and executed it.

The final thing I really need to gush about when it comes to Only a Monster is the deeply complex and damaged characters featured within.  Only a Monster features a fun crew of central protagonists, each of whom are going through their own epic journeys.  The primary focus is on central character Joan Chang-Hunt, a sweet and nerdy character who, in the course of a day, finds out she is a half-monster with life-sucking time travel abilities, and then witnesses her entire extended family getting massacred.  This naturally causes her to experience a lot of emotions and trauma as she constantly tries to come to terms with how her life has unravelled and changed forever.  The main focus of her character arc is the examination of her inner monster as Joan tries to get to grips on whether she wants her abilities, especially as they force her to drain away people’s time.  She is also dealing with intense guilt over her role in the massacre that destroyed her family, partially thanks to her relationship with Nick, and this clashes hard with her own concerns about being a monster.  All this, and more, ensures that Joan is forced to grow up a lot throughout the course of Only a Monster, and she must keep making harder and harder decision as she gets closer to crossing lines she doesn’t want to.  Her final actions in this book bring all these deep feelings close to the surface as she is forced to make a terrible decision in a heartbreaking and powerful scene.  Len did an outstanding job when it came to Joan in this book, and I look forward to seeing how she continues to develop in future entries in this series.

Two other major characters I need to highlight are Joan’s accidental companion, Aaron Oliver, and her crush/personal nightmare, Nick.  Both characters have pretty dark introductions to the story, especially as they end up trying to kill Joan in the starting chapters, but Len develops them separately as the book continues.  Aaron ends up working with Joan as they try to stay alive and find a way to save their families, and they become an intriguing and combative duo throughout the book.  While Aaron is initially arrogant and antagonistic, you soon see that this is a façade, as Aaron is also incredibly damaged due to the actions of his cruel family.  Len does a wonderful job of slowly uncovering this deeper side of Aaron throughout the course of Only a Monster, and the eventual bond he forms with Joan is a touching and moving part of the book, even if it isn’t destined to last.  Nick, on the other hand, is an outstanding villain for this story, especially when it is revealed that he is an unflinching and implacable monster hunter.  Despite the connection he had formed with Joan before the events of this book, mainly because he sees her as more human than monster, Nick soon starts fanatically hunting her throughout time and becomes determined to stop her at all costs.  Clever and dark reveals about Nick come to light as the book continues, painting him in a somewhat sympathetic light, but this doesn’t stop him from hunting Joan, which leads to an exceptional and shocking confrontation towards the end of Only a Monster that perfectly changes everything.  The powerful character work contained in these central characters, as well as the intense bonds they form with Joan, are such a key part of Only a Monster, and you will come away heartbroken and moved with how their storylines unfold.

Overall, I had an incredible time with Vanessa Len’s Only a Monster, and not only was it one of the best debuts of 2022 but one of the best young adult books of the year as well.  This brilliant and powerful fantasy read had an amazing story and you will be impressed and excited by the complex characters and deeply inventive fantasy elements that are worked into this compelling narrative.  Intense, dark, and full of hope, Only a Monster is an incredible read that comes highly recommended to anyone interested in seeing the start of an extremely promising career in fantasy fiction.  I am very excited to check out the sequel, Never a Hero, later this year, and if Len keeps up the amazing writing from Only a Monster, it is going to be particularly epic and exceptional.

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Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt

Silver Queendom Cover

Publisher: Angry Robot (Trade Paperback – 1 November 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 407 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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For some fun fantasy heist goodness, make sure to check out the awesome recent release from Dan Koboldt, Silver Queendom.

I am always on the lookout for very fun sounding books, especially in the fantasy genre, and I was lucky enough to come across a particularly outstanding example of this late last year with Silver Queendom.  The latest novel from intriguing author Dan Koboldt, Silver Queendom had an outstanding plot to it that blended fantasy fiction with a compelling heist storyline.  I cannot emphasise how awesome this plot sounded when I first heard it, and it ended up living up to my expectations as a fantastic and exciting read.

In a disreputable corner of the queendom of Rethalta lies the notorious Red Rooster inn, a place of poor ale and even worse service.  Seen over by grouchy innkeeper Darin, beautiful, if lazy, barmaid Evie and gigantic bouncer Big Tom, the Red Rooster attracts few paying customers.  Luckily, the staff of the Red Rooster have other ways of making money, as they are secretly one of the best team of thieves and con artists in the entire Old Queendom.

However, when their latest job goes bust and the find themselves owing the wrong crime boss a load of money they do not have, Darin and his team are going to have to get inventive if they want to survive.  A chance meeting with a mysterious stranger offers the best possibility of paying off their debt when they are tasked with stealing a cart of the most valuable substance on the continent, imperial dreamwine from the Jewel Empire.  Created through secretive means and capable of mentally transporting the drinker to their version of heaven, dreamwine is worth its weight in gold, and is infinitely more precious.  It is also impossible to steal, as the elite warriors of the Jewel Empire guard it fanatically, ensuring that it always reaches its destination.

With time running out before their debt is called in, the Red Rooster crew have no choice but to take the job and attempt to steal the unstealable.  Teaming up with the inn’s new brewmaster, Kat, Darin begins to work out a master plan that will allow them to steal the wine and get paid.  But between rival gangs, a traitor in their midst, their own nefarious employer, and the horde of angry soldiers from the Jewel Empire hunting them down, survival doesn’t look likely.  However, the Red Rooster crew are the best for a reason, and they are just getting started.

Silver Queendom was an extremely compelling and fast-paced novel that I had an outstanding time reading.  Told from the perspective of four outrageous characters, Silver Queendom takes the audience on an intriguing journey of crime and cons in a cool new fantasy setting.  Starting with an amusing party scene that quickly and efficiently shows off the protagonist’s main character traits, as well as their relevant skills and personalities, you are soon dragged into the story as the characters engage in a series of early cons and schemes while also bonding as a team.  You grow to quickly appreciate the protagonists and the way that the author blends unique fantasy elements with great crime thriller storylines, even before you get to the main heist.  I must admit that I was a tad surprised at how long it took the author to reach the theft of the imperial dreamwine, as I thought that plan would be introduced closer to the start of the book.  Instead, Koboldt eased the reader into this central plot point, taking the time to establish the team, the setting, and some of the other players in the story, which helped to increase the anticipation for the main heist.

The second half of the book is all about the quest for the dreamwine as the protagonists start pulling together their scheme to steal the treasure and get away with it.  Koboldt does a good job laying out just enough of the heist plans in advance to keep the reader intrigued without giving away the whole game.  At the same time, additional obstacles are built up for the protagonists, including disputes within the team, rival players, and even their own duplicitous employers.  Everything comes to a head in the fantastic heist part of the book, which really shows off Koboldt’s flair for writing elaborate sequences of utter chaos.  The way that the heist unfolds is very clever and quite funny, especially as they plan all manner of insane surprises that come together in quite an entertaining way.  While I do think that some of the inevitable double-crosses were a little too predictable and solved in some coincidental fashions, the rest of the plot unfolds in an amazing way, and I loved how most of the problems were solved by the protagonists.  Everyone comes away from the story extremely satisfied and there is even room for Koboldt to expand this book into a larger series, which I really hope he does.  The author did a really good job of blending together the fantasy and heist elements in this book, and the unique story and characters really kept me engaged the entire way through, especially as there is a constant fast pace with a lot of humour attached.  This is an overall awesome and captivating read.

While the crime story itself is a lot of fun, I was also quite impressed with the intriguing new fantasy landscape that Koboldt set out within Silver Queendom.  A classic, if grim and entertaining fantasy world, Silver Queendom takes place on a large continent broken up into four separate realms.  While having the continent’s four realms be broken up into near perfect quarters was a tad lazy, I felt that Koboldt did a good job of effectively conveying key parts of this world to the reader and working the crime focused plot into the new universe.  The author primarily focused on one of these realms in Silver Queendom, Rethalta, where the Red Rooster inn is located, and you get a good idea of its politics and people, especially as the protagonists journey all around it getting into all manner of mischief.  Koboldt also takes the time to explore elements of one of the other realms, the Jewel Empire, mainly as that is the realm the dreamwine is coming from, although certain character perspectives about it indicate the author’s plans to spend more time there in the future.  These intriguing realms serve as a great background for the book and Koboldt further adds to the fantasy fun with some unique magic that was a key part of the plot.  Magic in this universe primarily revolves around silver, which is a much more precious metal than gold as magic users are able to gain great power by manipulating and utilising silver.  This results in several really cool scenes, especially as there are some intriguing magical abilities available that were well featured during the course of the narrative.  All of these elements, and more, were quite fantastic, especially when paired with the brilliant story, and I think there is some real potential for the author to really expand this setting in future books.

Finally, I need to highlight the excellent character work contained within Silver Queendom as Koboldt introduces an excellent cast of protagonists that are very fun to follow around.  As I mentioned above, the story is told from the perspective of the four main characters, each of whom has their own unique personality and history that comes into play throughout Silver Queendom.  Koboldt does a great job of breaking up the story between these main characters, which produces an excellent and compelling mixture of development and personalised plots.  Each of the four protagonists brings something unique to the table, whether it’s Darin Fields’s battle to control his untrained magic or ingrained hatred of the Jewel Empire, Evie Garraway’s family shame, Big Tom’s capacity for violence which is tempered by his likeable personality and occasional lapse in judgement, or maternal character Kat’s introduction to the criminal lifestyle.  Throw in an outstanding supporting group of characters, which includes a humorous witch mentor, an ultra-violent rival gang, a gentile crime lord and a self-serving employer, and you have a pretty exceptional overall cast who really help to make this story just that little more personal and entertaining.

I really enjoyed Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt and I was very glad that I got a chance to read it before the end of 2022.  Cleverly combining outrageous fantasy elements with an amazing heist storyline and fantastic characters, Silver Queendom is exceedingly entertaining from start to finish and you are guaranteed to have an awesome time reading it.  An excellent and highly recommended read, I hope that Koboldt provides some sequel to Silver Queendom in the future, especially after impressing here.

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Traitor by Anthony Ryan

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I check out an upcoming book that is likely to become one of my absolute favourite fantasy reads of 2023 with The Traitor by Anthony Ryan.

The Traitor Cover

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I have been having a smashing time with fantasy novels over the last few years especially as there have been some amazing series and very talented authors providing some brilliant books.  Out of all these great writers, one of my absolute favourites is bestselling author Anthony Ryan, whose latest series I have really fallen in love with.  A talented and prolific author, Ryan has been dominating the genre for over 10 years with several impressive series, including his highly regarded Raven’s Shadow, Raven’s Blade, Slab City Blues and Draconis Memoria books.  While all these series sound extremely good, I have only had the pleasure of reading Ryan’s current body of work, although that has been more than enough to make me a major Ryan fan.

Ryan’s main current series is the exciting and complex The Covenant of Steel trilogy.  Set in an elaborate and battle-torn new fantasy world and told through an awesome chronicle style, The Covenant of Steel books follow the tumultuous life of Alwyn Scribe, a former outlaw who finds redemption and a new purpose in life after being trained as a scribe.  This series started in 2021 with The Pariah, an addictive read that introduced Alwyn and showed the formulative events of his life, including his recruitment by Lady Evadine Courlain, a devote and charismatic former noblewoman who forms her own regiment to fight for her nation’s religious order.  Caught in a series of deadly battles, Alwyn finds himself growing more and more loyal to Evadine and uses all his underhanded skills and personal history to keep her alive.  The Pariah was a brilliant and powerful new novel that did a wonderful job introducing the reader to the best elements of series.  I absolutely flew through this book and The Pariah ended up being one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021.

Ryan kept the magic going in 2022 when he released the second Covenant of Steel book with The Martyr.  Continuing to follow Alwyn and his dangerous quest to advanced Evadine’s cause, The Martyr saw the characters embark on a deadly and extended war, which included two glorious and powerful siege sequences.  It also showcased Alwyn’s continued growth as a character, as he becomes a knight and a war leader, while also adding in some compelling mystical elements to the universe.  I had an outstanding time reading The Martyr, and it ended up being one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2022.  Ryan also made sure to leave The Martyr on an intriguing and concerning cliff-hanger, which has made me extremely eager to get my hands on the next Covenant of Steel book.

Luckily, I only must wait several more months until I find out how Ryan ends his brilliant trilogy, as the third and final book is out in July 2023.  This final Covenant of Steel novel is titled, The Traitor, which not only has another striking cover, but which sounds like it is going to be quite an epic read.

Plot Synopsis:

 It’s been a long journey for Alwyn Scribe. Born a bastard and raised an outlaw, he’s now a knight and the most trusted advisor to Lady Evadine Courlain. Together they’ve won countless battles and helped to bring order to a fractured kingdom.

Yet Evadine is not the woman Alwyn once knew. As puritanical fury increasingly replaces her benevolent faith, Alwyn begins to question what her true motives really are.

As the kingdom braces itself for one final battle, Alwyn’s conscience fights its own war with his heart. Now, more than ever, he must decide whose side he’s really on.

While the above summary is a little light on details, what is revealed, as well as how Ryan finished off The Martyr, has made me exceptionally excited for The Traitor.  This new book looks set to feature more war, politics and terrible personal conflicts, especially as the revelations and deeper suspicions come to light about the brilliant character of Evadine Courlain.  Evadine has always been a complex figure in this series, what with her unnatural charisma and apparent connection to the divine.  However, Ryan has been subtly setting her up as a potential villain for most of the trilogy and I am quite excited to see how this all comes to a head in The Traitor.  The mention of her upcoming change to a more angry and vengeful character is very concerning, and I have no doubt there will be some fantastic scenes of her using her current position as a resurrected martyr to insight great violence against her foes.  This, combined with The Martyr’s final revelation that she is an agent for an ancient destructive force, and this looks set to be quite a book for Evadine and I cannot wait to see how her slide from purity to destructive being unfolds.

This is of course going to be hard for the narrator to watch, as Alwyn has spent the last two books devoted to Evadine and slowly falling in love with her.  Having to watch the women he loves and respects above all overs become a figure of hate and death is going to be devastating for the loveable rogue, and I am sure it is going to hit me hard in the feels.  The mentioned conflict about whether to stand with Evadine or try to do the right thing, will no doubt be the emotional centre of this book and I cannot wait to see how Ryan features it.

Look, based on how incredibly awesome the first two Covenant of Steel novels were, I have no doubt what-so-ever that The Traitor is going to be a particularly epic read.  I have deeply enjoyed the elaborate and captivating narrative Anthony Ryan set up in The Pariah and The Martyr and I am very excited to see how he manages to wrap everything up in this third and final book.  The Traitor is definitely going to be one of the best fantasy books of 2023 and I know I will have an exceptional time checking out its audiobook format in a few months’ time.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023 (Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Welcome to my second Top Ten Tuesday list of the week, were I look at my most anticipated fantasy novels coming out in the first half of 2023.  Traditionally I usually only do one list to represent the top upcoming books for the year, however, I was inspired to separate out the fantasy and science fiction novels into a second list due to all the awesome and impressive reads from these genres coming out extremely soon.

2023 is shaping up to be an outstanding year for fantasy and science fiction with a ton of epic and amazing sounding novels set for release throughout the year.  I am particularly excited about the next six months as there are some deeply impressive books coming out that I am extremely excited for.  This includes some fantastic sounding sequels, continuations to brilliant series, and several cool new novels from some very talented authors.  I have already highlighted several of these books in some previous lists and Waiting on Wednesday articles which has made me really appreciate just how awesome the upcoming year is going to be fantasy wise, hence this list.

Just like with my other list of the night, I am only featuring books that are set for release in Australia between 1 January 2023 and 30 June 2023 which I have some descent details about.  Despite only being fantasy and science fiction books, I ended up with a huge collection of exceptional novels that I wanted to feature, which made completing this list surprisingly difficult.  I was eventually able to break it down to the best 10 books (with honourable mentions), and I feel that I have capture the books that are going to be the best fantasy reads of 2023.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann – 3 January 2023

Star Wars - The Battle of Jedha Cover

The High Republic is set to continue in a big way in the coming days with the full-cast audiobook, The Battle of Jedha that will see a massive confrontation break out between the various Force cults on Jedha.

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Engines of Chaos by Richard S. Ford – 4 April 2023

Engines of Chaos Cover

The follow-up to Ford’s 2022 novel, Engines of Empire, Engines of Chaos will continue to explore Ford’s great steampunk fantasy world and the massive revolution brewing within.

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The Will of the Many by James Islington – 23 May 2023

The Will of the Many Cover

A fun upcoming fantasy read that will put a darker face on the classic magic school story.

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Top Ten List

Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry – 10 January 2023

Son of the Poison Rose Cover

2023 is off to a very strong start on the fantasy front with the next upcoming book from the always amazing Jonathan Maberry, Son of the Poison Rose.  The follow-up to one of the best books and audiobooks of 2022, Kagen the Damned, Son of the Poison Rose will continue to follow broken warrior Kagen Vale as he attempts to save his kingdom from the reign of the murderous Witch-king.  Set to feature more adventures, deadly action and complex characters, Son of the Poison Rose is another guaranteed five-star book, and I cannot wait to see what happens in this complex series next.

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Downfall by Louise Carey – 10 January 2023

Downfall Cover

One of the best, underrated science-fiction series of the last couple of years has been Louise Carey’s Inscape trilogy.  Featuring the excellent novels, Inscape (one of my favourite debuts of 2021) and Outcast, this great series follows two damaged protagonists through a dark dystopian future of advanced technology and warring corporations.  Carey ended her second novel, Outcast, on a great cliff-hanger and I am really keen to find out how she plans to conclude this amazing trilogy with Downfall.

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Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb – 7 February 2023

Seven Faceless Saints Cover

A fantastic and fun upcoming young adult fantasy read that will set two different protagonists on a deadly mission to uncover a murderer within a corrupt fantasy city.  An intriguing fantasy mystery that has already grabbed my attention.

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The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan – 14 February 2023

The Tyranny of Faith Cover

After wowing the world with his 2022 novel, The Justice of Kings, Richard Swan will continue his epic Empire of the Wolf series this year with The Tyranny of Faith.  Following two supernatural peacekeepers in a deadly fantasy empire, The Tyranny of Faith will once again feature the great combination of mystery, politics, intrigue and magic that made The Justice of Kings such a great book.  I have no doubt this will be one of the most popular fantasy novels of 2023 and I look forward to reading it very soon.

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The Shadow Casket by Chris Wooding – 16 February 2023

The Shadow Casket Cover

One of the fantasy books that I am most excited for in 2023 is The Shadow Casket by Chris Wooding.  The follow up to his epic novel, The Ember Blade, I have been waiting for years for The Shadow Casket to come out and I luckily, I only have a month left before I can dive into to.  The Ember Blade was an exceptional and massive read and the sequel will see the surviving protagonists continue to try and ignite a rebellion against their despotic occupiers.  Sure to be one of the very best fantasy books of 2023, I am so very glad that I can finally continue this exceptional series.

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Star Wars: Cataclysm by Lydia Kang – 4 April 2022

Star Wars - Cataclysm Cover

I have been deeply enjoying the current phase of the outstanding High Republic Star Wars series, and the next major entry is coming out in April with Cataclysm by Lydia Kang.  While we don’t currently have a lot of plot detail about Cataclysm, it will no doubt continue the elaborate prequel narrative of this second phase and should produce an epic read.  All the books in this second phase have been really good and I am confident that will continue with Cataclysm.

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The Sword Defiant by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan- 2 May 2023

The Sword Defiant Cover

After absolutely killing it with his highly acclaimed Black Iron Legacy series, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is once again looking to set the fantasy world on fire with The Sword Defiant.  An outstanding upcoming book with a very cool cover to it, The Sword Defiant will follow a legendary hero has he attempts to rally his former companions on a new quest to save the world.  However, the dark swords they claimed during this first mission together has corrupted them all, leading to a deadly and tragic new mission that will pit the protagonist against his former friends.  The Sword Defiant has an outstanding plot behind it and I feel it has the potential to be one of the very best books of 2023.

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The Book that Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence – 11 May 2023

The Book That Wouldn't Burn Cover

It is always a very safe bet that Mark Lawrence will have one of the best fantasy/science fiction books of a year and I am already hyped up for his next novel, The Book that Wouldn’t Burn.  Set in a massive fantasy library, The Book that Wouldn’t Burn is the first entry in a bold new fantasy series, filled with adventure, blood and knowledge, and I cannot wait to dive into it later this year.

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Witch King by Martha Wells – 30 May 2023

Witch King Cover

One of the biggest names currently in science fiction, Martha Wells returns to her fantasy roots in 2023 with Witch King.  Set to follow a deadly demon who awakens from his trap to find himself being controlled by a lesser mage, Witch King has a fun and entertaining plot to it, and I have a feeling I am really going to love this amazing upcoming read.

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Gods of the Wyrdwood by R. J. Barker – 27 June 2023

The final entry on this list could be one of the very best as one of the hottest and most wildly inventive fantasy authors of the current age presents an amazing new story with Gods of the Wyrdwood by R. J. Barker.  Barker has consistently been one of the very best fantasy authors of recent years with The Wounded Kingdom (featuring Age of Assassins, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins) and The Tide Child (featuring The Bone Ships, Call of the Bone Ships and The Bone Ship’s Wake) trilogies.  Each of Barker’s books have been outstandingly complex and powerful dark fantasy reads, so I am very excited for Gods of Wyrdwood which will set up The Forsaken Trilogy.  While we currently don’t have a cover for Gods of the Wyrdwood, the plot sounds pretty damn exceptional as it will follow a former chosen one, whose destiny was stolen from him as he once again forced into the spotlight.  Sure to be one of the most compelling and powerful reads of 2023, Gods of the Wyrdwood is going to be so damn epic.

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Well that’s the end of this second list.  As you can see, there are some mighty impressive fantasy and science fiction books coming out the first half of this year.  All the above entries on this list have an incredible amount of potential and I have a feeling I am going to deeply enjoy every single of one of these great reads.  2023 is going to be an outstanding year for these two genres, not only with these amazing books, but because of some of the other ones potentially coming out later this.  I look forward to seeing how all these cool novels turn out and I think I am going to have an incredible time reading fantasy and science fiction in 2023.

Waiting on Wednesday – Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an intriguing upcoming fantasy novel that I think has a lot of potential with Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb.

Seven Faceless Saints Cover

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We are just around the corner from 2023 and already the new year is starting to look very promising in terms of awesome books.  I am already quite excited for the next novels from some of my favourite writers, but I am also keeping an eye out for new authors who are going to be making their debut in 2023.  One debuting author who has already caught my attention is M. K. Lobb, who is set to release her first novel in a few months’ time with Seven Faceless Saints.

Seven Faceless Saints, which currently has a release date for February 2023, is a fantasy novel with some excellent thriller and murder mystery elements to it.  Set in a new fantasy city, the book will follow two protagonists on opposite ends of the cities corrupt ruling class, with one acting as a rebel seeking revenge, while the other serves as the head of the government’s security.  However, both are dragged into a murder investigation when a dangerous serial killer stalks the streets, forcing them to dive deep into the dark heart of their city.  I already really love the sound of this awesome book and I think that it could turn out to be an excellent and highly enjoyable read.  Blending murder mystery, rebellion and two fantastic sounding characters in a new fantasy setting is a great starting point for an amazing read and I have a strong feeling that Seven Faceless Saints is going to be one of the top debuts of 2023.

Plot Synopsis:

 In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.

After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit… and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.

Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?

Discover what’s lurking in the shadows in this dark fantasy debut with a murder-mystery twist, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kerri Maniscalco.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves Cover Better

Publisher: Del Rey (Trade Paperback – 20 September 2022)

Series: Lesson Three of the Scholomance

Length: 408 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Naomi Novik ends her addictive and clever Scholomance trilogy in a big way with the very impressive The Golden Enclaves, which takes the protagonists out of the school and into a whole new world of trouble.

For the last few years I have been having an epic time with the exceptional Scholomance series by acclaimed author Naomi Novik.  Novik, who is best known for her Temeraire series, as well as the standalone novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver, has been absolutely killing it with the Scholomance books, which serve as a compelling, dark homage to classic magical school fantasy novels.  Set within the deadly magic school, the Scholomance, the trilogy follows a group of teenage magic users who are attempting to hone their skills while surviving the school and the many dangerous magical creatures, known as maleficaria (mals) who inhabit it.  The first book, A Deadly Education, introduced the reader to protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins, a loner student who has a big secret, she is an unbelievably powerful magic user, capable of easily unleashing destructive magic that could level cities.  Teaming up with Orion Lake, a mal hunter with a hero complex, El attempts to survive the school and ensure her and her friends survive.  A Deadly Education was an excellent read and it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2020.  Novik followed it up perfectly last year with The Last Graduate (one of my favourite books of 2021), which brilliantly continued the story while also ending it on a traumatic cliff-hanger which I may never forgive Novik for.  Needless to say, I have been extremely excited for The Golden Enclaves and it was one of my most anticipated reads for 2022.

After trapping most of the worlds mals in the Scholomance and untethering it from reality, El looks to have finally defeated fate.  Instead of turning into the city-destroying dark witch she was prophesied to become, she is now a hero who has saved generations of young magic users from needing to hide in the deadly school.  However, her victory has come at a great cost, as the love of her life, Orion Lake, chose to stay behind in the dying school to wage his eternal war against the mals, including the ravenous maw-mouth that finally claimed him.

Traumatised, El attempts to regain her sanity at home, her only plan to one day implement her dream of ending the elite enclave system and using the Golden Stone sutras book she liberated from the school to bring about a new era of magical communities.  However, fate still has other ideas in store for her, and El is about to come face-to-face with the full horrors that her world has in store for her.

Someone is attacking the previously protected enclaves, striking at their very cores, and inflicting untold damage on those who rely on them for shelter.  When two fall within days of El coming back into the real world, she is recruited to find out who is responsible and hunt them down before an all-out enclave war erupts amongst the world’s magic users.  However, El is far more concerned with finding a way back into the Scholomance, the school she fought so hard to destroy, and attempt to either save Orion or kill the maw-mouth that ate him.  However, her mission will lead her to a dark truth that lies at the very heart of the enclave system and which will turn the entire world on its head.  Worse, it will finally force El to face the truth, that she really is destined to be a destroyer, no matter how much she hates it.

There is a lot to unpack here with The Golden Enclaves and it is partly one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to write a review for it.  I honestly did not know what to expect when The Golden Enclaves was released, especially as it was missing the great dark magic school setting which was one of the things that I most liked about the first two books.  It was also clear that Novik would have to work very hard to follow on from her last book after she left it on such a major and heartbreaking cliff-hanger, and I did not know if this book would live up to all these expectations.  Despite these concerns, I dove into The Golden Enclaves as soon as I got my hands on it, as I desperately wanted to see how everything was going to end.  I quickly powered through the book itself and I found the final product to be extremely interesting and not at all what I was expecting.  I did end up giving this book a full five-star rating, but this rating comes with some caveats.

Firstly, I should state that I really loved The Golden Enclaves and I felt that it perfectly wrapped up the series.  Not only do the main characters get some further interesting development, as well as even more trauma and emotional damage, but the story goes in some very unique directions which ties together all the various loose ends.  The story itself is pretty fast paced, if loaded with a lot of fantasy exposition, and follows on right from the events of The Last Graduate.  The impact of Orion Lake’s decision to stay behind in the Scholomance really messes with El and she spends a good part of the book attempting to come to terms with it, often in some very unhealthy ways.  However, before she can get too bereaved, she is forced to help the enclaves (magical communities that offer protection from mals to magic users) to try and discover who is responsible for destroying them.  This results in a compelling, multi-continent trip where she visits various magic communities, gets involved with deadly world politics, as well as checking in with the supporting cast from the first two books, trying to discover answers.  El also searches for a way to rescue Orion from the Scholomance, which culminates in her visiting the mostly destroyed school and finding out some heartbreaking revelations about the man she loves.  Those aren’t the only big secrets El and her companions uncover as they soon discover the true terrible price of the enclave system, as well as who is truly behind the destruction of the enclaves and why.  Novik layers these revelations perfectly, so each new one is even more impactful than the last, culminating in a particularly major gut punch regarding El and her prophesied destiny.  All this leads up to a fantastic and complex final confrontation where El is faced with a terrible choice and must try to find a way out of it.  Everything ends on an interesting and mostly satisfying conclusion, which I think ended the series on the right hopeful note, especially after all the dark trauma the characters have witnessed.

While the story itself is pretty compelling, I personally don’t think it stood on its own legs as much as the first two books in the series.  Not only does it get a bit slow in places, but parts of the big conclusion are a little weak and not as impressive as I was expecting.  Readers also really need to have read the first two books in the series; The Golden Enclaves would be pretty hard to appreciate without some context going in.  For these reasons and a few more (I really missed the school), I might have been tempted to give this a lower rating if not for the big revelations which are deeply connected to the events of the first few books.  Novik expertly ties the entire series together in The Golden Enclaves and if you look at this novel from a larger series perspective, than it is a pretty exceptional book with some very awesome moments to it.  You soon release just how clever Novik has been with her first two novels as she previously set up every big revelation in The Golden Enclaves extremely well.  The various discussions about the enclaves, the outside world and the character’s history comes full circle in this final entry and every lingering question you ever had is answered completely here.  I was so damn impressed with how everything was wrapped up, especially with some emotionally devastating discoveries that were in line with the darker tone of this series, that I honestly could not put this book down.  Novik really is an extremely talented author with an exceptional ability for planning out long-term storylines and this book really proves it.

In addition, I also deeply appreciated how Novik expanded and explained various fantasy elements that she introduced in the previous books and merged them into her outstanding story.  While many of these fantasy elements, such as enclaves, maw-mouths, the creation of the Scholomance and the magical politics that dominate the world, have been discussed in the prior novels, Novik brings everything about them together in this final read and it works extremely well.  The secret histories and crazy lore behind these events are fully revealed in The Golden Enclaves, and the true horror about magic and what people have done to hold onto it is pretty damn shocking.  Novik does a remarkable job in filling in all the gaps she purposefully left out of the first two books and the reader finally gets to appreciate just how complex and integral to the plot they truly were.  She also has a lot of fun expanding out the magical universe substantially in this final book as the reader is finally introduced to some settings outside of the magical school.  I loved the elaborate international enclaves that the protagonist visits throughout this final book and the subsequent political squabbles, discussions of magical castes and the larger worldview of magic becomes a fascinating part of the book.  All this intriguing expansion, as well as the impressive revelations about certain magical elements in the previous books, mostly make up for the lack of the magical school setting you’ve come to love so much, and I think that Novik handled a story outside of the Scholomance extremely well.

The final thing I want to mention is the outstanding character work contained within The Golden Enclaves.  While I don’t want to go into too much detail here, I think that Novik hit the main characters out of the park in this final book and I loved the brilliant examinations of trauma, grief and deep psychological damage that many of them had after spending years inside a hellish death school.  El continues to shine as the main protagonist and only point-of-view character, and her expansive, if highly cynical worldview, helps you get stuck into the narrative.  El goes through a huge emotional roller coaster in The Golden Enclaves, as she is wracked with guilt, grief and anger for much of it, especially after her perceived failure to save Orion from himself.  Watching her break down at the start of the book is extremely heartbreaking, and she never really seems to recover as she keeps finding herself getting dragged into crazy events in the real world.  Many of these events impact her even further, especially once she realises just how evil many of the enclavers are, and she must work very hard to not unleash her destructive fury.  However, one major final revelation really knocks her around, especially as it ties into her extended family who have long abandoned her, as well as her destined place in the world.  I deeply appreciated the outstanding work that Novik put into El, and I also really enjoyed the supporting cast who were featured here as well.  Many of your favourite characters from the first two books make another appearance here, and it was very interesting to see how they were dealing with the aftermath of their Scholomance education, as well as seeing their place in the wider world.  There are a few surprising choices for major supporting characters in The Golden Enclaves, and some interesting interactions that resulted.  Without spoiling too much, I will say that Orion does appear in The Golden Enclaves, and the storylines around him, especially the deep dive into his past, prove to be an outstanding and traumatic part of the plot.  An exceptional expansion of the amazing character work that was such as distinctive feature of the first two novels.

Overall, The Golden Enclaves proved to be an epic final chapter in Naomi Novik’s amazing Scholomance series and I had an outstanding time reading it.  While I did think that The Golden Enclaves had a few flaws, the way that Novik used it to tie the entire series together blew my mind and I was so deeply impressed with how every loose thread and inventive fantasy element was dragged together to create an outstanding final inclusion.  The subsequent shocking and dark revelations, powerful character work and the compelling expansion of Novik’s fantasy universe help to make this a pretty incredible book and it is one that I had a wonderful time reading.  I really cannot get over how well set up this final novel was and I think that it serves as a brilliant conclusion to one of my most favourite recent fantasy series.  As such, I have to award The Golden Enclaves a five-star rating as one of the better books of the year, especially as I don’t think Novik could have written a more powerful and moving end to the incredible Scholomance books.

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Quick Review – The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

The Justice of Kings Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 22 February 2022)

Series: Empire of the Wolf – Book One

Length: 13 hours and 45 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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Richard Swan makes his highly acclaimed fantasy debut with the much loved The Justice of Kings, a slick and compelling novel that combines a murder mystery with epic fantasy and political thriller elements in some very impressive ways.

Few authors have gained the respect of the fantasy community as quickly as Richard Swan did this year as he made the jump from science fiction to fantasy in a very big way.  The Justice of Kings is an intriguing and awesome novel that serves as the author’s first entry in his new Empire of the Wolf series.  Following a magical lawman as he investigates a terrible murder while also attempting to keep the political peace in the realm, The Justice of Kings has a lot of great parts to it and it received a lot of kudos as a result.  I read it several months ago and neglected to write a review for it, which I making up for now.  I had a great time getting through The Justice of Kings and it lives up to a lot of the hype surrounding it.

Plot Synopsis:

NO MAN IS ABOVE THE LAW

The Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest. Rebels, heretics and powerful patricians all challenge the power of the imperial throne.

Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers and skill as a swordsman. In this he is aided by Helena Sedanka, his clerk and protege, orphaned by the wars that forged the empire.

When the pair investigate the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?

Introducing an unforgettable protagonist destined to become a fantasy icon, The Justice of Kings is an unmissable debut where action, intrigue and magic collide.


The Justice of Kings
is an excellent book which manages to bring together a lot of different genres for an excellent story.  Told from the perspective of Helena Sedanka, the Justice’s protégé and clerk, the book follows Sir Konrad Vonvalt, a Justice of the Empire who acts as a travelling judge, lawyer, investigator and executioner.  Able to wield unique magic, Vonvalt and his staff arrive in a small provincial city to investigate the murder of a local noblewoman.  As they dive into the case, the Justice and his team discover that this is no simple murder, instead the victim was killed as part of an elaborate conspiracy infecting the town, forcing them to dive into a dark web of blackmail, bribery, religious corruption and assassination to find the killers.  At the same time, Vonvalt finds himself going up against some deadly politics of the realm as a group of religious zealots with an ambitious and ruthless leader attempt to make a play for power in the Empire, specifically choosing to target the Order of Justices.  These two separate concerns come together as the story unfolds, and the characters find themselves in an intense battle to save themselves.

Swan came up with a particularly strong narrative for The Justice of Kings, and I deeply enjoyed the interplay of the different elements.  Not only does it perfectly introduce an outstanding and impressive fantasy series and realm, but it also presents the reader with a complex story of politics, intrigue, war and religious turmoil, overlaying an intense murder investigation.  Swan starts the story off strong, introducing the protagonists, as well as the deliciously evil series antagonist, and the reader is soon quickly enveloped in the main mystery, finding out who is behind the brutal murder.  The investigation embarks at a rapid pace, and it was fascinating to see how the magical protagonist and his cohorts attempt to solve the murder.  At the same time, the protagonists get involved in some of the more urgent politics of the realm as they attempt to bring a group of religious zealots to justice.  Things really intensify in the second half of the book, as the narrator is dragged into a disastrous undercover operation and the culprits of the murder are uncovered, resulting in a cool court trial sequence which gives the book an additional legal thriller edge.  However, solving the case brings everyone further misery as the culprits are connected to the wider antagonists who arrive, seeking their own version of justice.  This leads to a major and brutal confrontation, which really amped up the intensity and ensured you really could not put the book down.  I had a brilliant time getting through this captivating narrative, and Swan really ensures you will come back for the next read, especially following some epic character developments and major confrontations.  I cannot emphasise how amazing this story was, and Swan did a brilliant job of bringing so many different elements together into one exciting story.

I was pretty impressed with the detailed and compelling new fantasy universe that Swan created for this series.  The divided, multi-nation Empire of the Wolf provided rich ground for the many conspiracies and plots that were uncovered in this book and readers are going to have a lot of fun exploring it.  I also really loved the interesting magic elements of the book, especially as it revolves around the Justices.  The idea of magical roaming lawmen bringing justice to the outer reaches of a massive empire is exceedingly cool, and Swan introduces it extremely well in this book.  I also enjoyed the fantastic magical abilities that Swan featured in The Justice of Kings, although they are subtle compared to other fantasy books.  Magic in this universe lies primarily with the Justices and each of them can wield one or two abilities at a time.  Since there are only two Justices featured in this book you only really see a few of these abilities in action, although they are impressive in their own way.  The main ability is The Emperor’s Voice, which is a bit of low-level magical mind control, forcing unsuspecting and weak-minded suspects to the tell the truth and admit their crimes.  This ability is used to great effect throughout the book, and I loved the idea of a magical lawman’s primary power being the ability to force out a truthful confession.  The other major ability was a bit of necromancy that Vonvalt can do which allows him to talk to recently deceased people to gain extra information from them.  The scenes that feature Vonvalt talking to the dead are terrifying and they hint at some darker forces in the universe, which are no doubt going to be featured later in the series.  I felt that these magical abilities and the wider world were perfectly introduced in The Justice of Kings and you really get an idea of how impressive the Justices are, as well as how unstable the Empire is.  I look forward to some more worldbuilding in the future, which will hopefully feature some deep examinations of the Justices, perhaps in a magical school setting.  No matter what, though, Swan really showed off his aptitude for fantasy fiction here and I very much enjoyed his magical inventiveness.

I will admit that I had a bit of a mixed reaction when it came to the characters in The Justice of Kings, which really did impact my overall enjoyment of the story.  This mixed reaction was mainly down to the main character of Helena Sedanka, the book’s narrator and point of view character.  While Helena was an interesting character and her unique perspective on the events as the Justice’s clerk moved the story along, I personally did not connect with her as a character.  No matter how hard I tried, I found a lot of her actions to be annoying and I was constantly groaning at her dialogue and narration.  While I realise that many of her actions were done to highlight the character’s youth and inexperience, I had a hard time enjoying the story when events where focused on her, and my dislike never abated.  Considering that she was the only voice of the book, this naturally affected my overall experience of The Justice of Kings and it was the major hurdle in my enjoyment of the novel.  I am really hoping that Swan will tone down the characteristics of Helena I disliked in the future books, and perhaps I will have a much better time with the next book in the series.

Luckily, the other major character in The Justice of Kings were pretty damn awesome, and I felt that they did a great job offsetting my dislike for Helena.  This character was the Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt, who serves as the complex and intense protagonist of the story.  Vonvalt is pretty damn epic from the very start of the book, and even before it (he looks very cool on the cover above).  A tough but fair Justice, Vonvalt is one of the few honest men left in the Empire and his primary concern is his duty and the administration of the law to anyone, no matter their station.  You honestly can’t help but like Vonvalt throughout this book, as his straight forward and honest approach to the situations, as well as his general kindness and deeper fury at injustice, really struck a chord with me.  Unfortunately, after getting you to like him, Swan ensures that Vonvalt goes through a lot of pain, which slowly start to change him, especially when his own naivety about the state of the Empire and his own order comes back to bite him in a big way.  This really wounds Vonvalt, and you really see him change, especially towards the end of the book, where he becomes harsh, bordering on cruel, in his search for justice and revenge.  All of this is extremely hard to watch for the reader, and you have to both hate and love Swan for making Vonvalt such a great character that these events also hurt you.  This change in character is obviously going to be a major part of Vonvalt’s character arc in the future, and I can’t wait to see the more vengeful version of this once noble night. 

I grabbed The Justice of Kings on audiobook, which was a fantastic and fun way of enjoying this intriguing read.  Coming in with a run time of a little under 14 hours, The Justice of Kings audiobook has a descent length to it, although dedicated listeners can easily power through it quickly.  I felt that this format did a great job of enhancing the complex story contained within this book, and you really appreciate some of the compelling details of the new universe when they are read out to you.  I also quite enjoyed the narration of Lucy Paterson, who brings the story to life with her excellent voice.  Paterson gives some amazing voices to all the key figures in the book, especially Helena, and I appreciated her take on all the characters.  As such, this was a pretty awesome format to enjoy The Justice of Kings on and I will definitely be grabbing the next book on audiobook when it comes out.

Overall, The Justice of Kings was a particularly cool and enjoyable book that has rightfully put Richard Swan on the fantasy fiction map.  Swan was deeply impressive with his fantasy debut here and it is hard not to love the amazing blend of mystery, magic, politics and the search for justice that were contained within.  While I did have some dislikes when it came to The Justice of Kings, I felt that this was a wonderful book and I plan to come back to the series in the new year, especially as there is an awesome, potential laden sequel out very soon. 

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Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher

Dead Man's Hand Cover

Publisher: Ace (Hardcover – 29 November 2022)

Series: The Unorthodox Chronicles – Book One

Length: 373 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Murder, magic and mayhem are about to be unleashed in the impressive urban fantasy debut from exciting new author James J. Butcher, Dead Man’s Hand.

I think it is fair to say that no recent urban fantasy book has intrigued me more than the compelling Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher.  Not only did it have a striking cover, a cool name, and an awesome synopsis, but the author himself is very interesting.  Despite the fact this is his first novel, Butcher is a name that comes with some expectations, due to him being the son of legendary fantasy author Jim Butcher.  Jim Butcher has pretty much set himself up as the gold standard of urban fantasy fiction thanks to his iconic Dresden Files series that follows wizards in modern Chicago.  I am a pretty big fan of the Dresden Files and when I first heard that Jim Butcher’s son was releasing his own book, I was immediately curious about it.  As such, I made sure to get a copy of Dead Man’s Hand as soon as it came out, and I was very happy that I did.  The first book in his series, The Unorthodox Chronicles, Dead Man’s Hand was a superb read that I had an amazing time getting through.

On the mean streets of Boston, a dark murder has occurred whose ramifications will shake the city’s magical community.  The victim was Samantha Mansgraf, an extremely powerful witch and one of the most effective agents of the Department of Unorthodox Affairs, the government department that polices magic users and keeps the peace between the ordinary Usuals and the paranormal Unorthodox.  Her body has been found mangled and tortured, and the only clue is a secret message she left behind which simply reads, “Kill Grimsby.”

This message can only relate to one person, Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby, whose future as an Auditor for the Department of Unorthodox Affairs was unceremoniously ruined by the victim.  Now working in a terrible fast food job extremely close to where Mansgraf was killed, Grimsby seems the most likely suspect for her murder.  However, there is one major flaw in this theory; Grimsby is magically incapable of committing the crime.  Only able to cast a few minor spells and hampered by an old injury, there is no way that Grimsby could have killed the victim.  But this fact isn’t going to be enough to stop everyone coming after him.

Targeted by both the Department and the monsters actually responsible for Mansgraf’s murder, Grimsby finds himself in a whole lot of trouble.  His only hope of survival is to team up with Mansgraf’s old partner, the legendary Huntsman Leslie Mayflower, an expert at killing all things magical, and find out who is really behind this gruesome murder.  However, Grimsby and Mayflower soon find themselves caught in the midst of a deadly magical conspiracy, one where every potential loose end needs to be killed.  To survive, Grimsby and Mayflower will need to dig deep and uncover the darkest secrets from Boston’s magical community.  However, can an old broken down Hunstman and a failed witch manage to take on the evil coming for them, or are they about to be as dead as Mansgraf?

Butcher comes out the gate swinging with his first magical adventure, and I really enjoyed the result.  Dead Man’s Hand is a clever and cool new novel that sets up Butcher’s planned series while also presenting the reader with a captivating character driven story, filled with mystery, murder and magical mayhem.  I managed to knock this book out in a couple of days, and it proved to be a wonderful and impressive debut.

Dead Man’s Hand has a great urban fantasy narrative to it that follows two interesting and complex characters caught in the middle of a magical conspiracy.  Butcher kicks the story off quickly, with Mayflower getting involved in the hunt for his former partner’s killer, which leads him to Grimsby, who is initially a suspect, until it becomes very clear he couldn’t have pulled off such a destructive killing.  When Grimsby is attacked by the apparent murderer, the two start to work together and they focus their investigation into finding a dangerous artefact that the victim had hidden before her death.  That leads them into all manner of trouble, including demonic gangsters, freaky constructs, and Department agents, all of whom are coming after them with lethal intent.  This results in a great twisty and slick narrative, as the characters need to uncover multiple mysteries while also confronting the many unusual creatures coming for them.  There are several great action-packed confrontations loaded into this book, and Butcher makes excellent use of his distinctive new magical universe to create some memorable sequences.  Everything leads up to a big and powerful conclusion where, after some personal betrayals, the two protagonists are forced to come together to take out the culprit and save the day.  While the ultimate reveal of who the killer is was a little predictable, Butcher did it in an entertaining way and the stakes were pretty damn high by the end of it.  Butcher also ramped up the tension for the final confrontation and you honestly had no idea how the book was going to conclude and who was going to pull through.  I was personally hooked all the way to end and I came away pretty happy with the conclusion, especially as Butcher sets up some potential sequels in the future and I have a feeling that this is the first entry in an awesome long-running series.

I quite enjoyed Butcher’s writing style for Dead Man’s Hand and I think that the excellent story came across really well in the end.  The story moved at a very quick pace, and Butcher really did not slow down for anything, hitting the reader with a ton of action, intrigue and moving character development from start to finish.  Like most good urban fantasy novels, Dead Man’s Hand had a fantastic blend of mystery and fantasy elements, and you are soon swept up in the hunt for the magical killer, especially as it reveals a complex and deadly conspiracy.  This helped to create quite a compelling and exciting read, which comes across like a buddy-cop romp thanks to the entertaining partnership between the two main characters.  The story is broken up between these two character’s perspectives and you get to see how they come together as a dysfunctional but effective team, and I loved the fun veteran/extreme-rookie dynamic that their partnership achieved.  Butcher further enhances the story by featuring a ton of comedic humour, most of which was brought in by the chatty and snarky main character.  Readers will no doubt notice that Butcher took some inspiration from his father when it came to writing humour, especially when it came to the main character’s snark, as well as some of the very over the top scenes and inclusions.  There are some pretty ridiculous moments, especially surrounding the character of Grimsby (his stint as a food entertainer was fun at the start), and things only get more over the top as you go (let’s just say that there is something very interesting in a box, and leave it at that).  While this was amusing, I was glad that most of the focus remained on the more serious elements of the book, which came together extremely well.  This ended up being a very strongly written book, especially for a debut, and I was pretty impressed with Butcher’s great style and writing ability.

Butcher’s series, The Unorthodox Chronicles, has an interesting urban fantasy setting to it, and I was impressed with the new world.  While I am sure that some will try to unfairly compare it to his father’s urban fantasy world, I felt that Butcher did a good job making it stand out on its own the reader is successfully introduced to many cool key details in this first book.  This series takes place in a version of Boston where the world is aware that magic exists, and magical creatures and magic users are kept in line by the Department of Unorthodox Affairs and their deadly agents known as Auditors.  I was quite intrigued by the inherent bureaucracy surrounding an unhidden magical world and it was fun how wizards are treated in a world where people are aware of them.  The visible magic itself is pretty simple, but effective, with magic users drawing their own inner-magic (Impetus) from within and launching it out using simple keyword spells.  Some of the effects of these spells are pretty fun and the protagonist manages to achieve a lot with some very basic combinations.  Butcher further populates his world with some freaky magical creatures, who give the book a darker and intense edge, especially those human familiars, who make for quite an effective and deadly enemy.  However, one of the most distinctive features of this universe is the Elsewhere, a dark, alternate magical realm that most wizards can perceive and which have its own rules.  The Elsewhere is so weird and crazy that all magic users need eye protection on all the time or else they will be driven mad by the things they see.  One excellent extended sequence sees the protagonist forced to visit the realm (which can be achieved by travelling through mirrors), and it came across as a pretty gruesome place to journey, thanks to all the creepy creatures and its inherent time dilation.  I loved all the cool details contained in this new world and I am quite excited to see how Butcher plans to expand on it in the future.

Aside from the amazing story and intriguing fantasy elements, one of the main strengths of Dead Man’s Hand was its excellent main two characters, who Butcher uses to great effect as alternating narrators of the story.  Both central protagonists are very damaged and complex in their own ways, and their eventual team-up helps them both to develop and escape the ruts they find themselves in at the start of the book.  The main character is Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby, an orphaned wizard who was badly scarred as a child in a fire that killed his family.  Grimsby previously attempted to become an Auditor for the Department, but he found his path blocked by the murder victim, mainly due to his inability to do complex spells and because his scars weaken his magic.  Now trapped in an embarrassing dead-end job, Grimsby starts the book off depressed and resentful, with zero confidence in himself.  However, this changes as the story continues and he is able to prove himself to his new mentor character, Mayflower, who, while gruff, helps mould him into a better person.  The one thing he cannot change is his motor mouth as Grimsby is constantly talking and joking, giving off a magical level of snark.  Much of the book’s humour comes from Grimsby’s irreverent view of the world and there are some great jokes flying out his mouth here.  I also loved seeing Grimsby’s inventiveness throughout the book, especially as he can only really cast three weaker spells, which requires him to be very imaginative in how he uses them, especially in self-defence.  There are also some fantastic storylines surrounding his traumatic past, as well as some more contemporary storylines about whether he actually belongs in this dangerous lifestyle or whether he should seek a quieter life.  While it would be easy to compare Grimsby to another snarky urban fantasy protagonist (say the one written by Butcher senior), I think that Grimsby stands on his own, and there are still quite a few layers for Butcher to uncover in the future.

The other major character is Leslie Mayflower, better known as the Huntsman, a bitter retired agent who specialises in killing magical creatures and beings.  Eternally grouchy and bitter at the Department, Mayflower dives into the case seeking revenge and comes across Grimsby, eventually partnering with him.  Mayflower is the direct opposite to Grimsby for much of the book, and I loved how Butcher portrayed him as a past-his-prime killer who returns for one last job.  Shown to be full of regret, self-loathing and a desire for revenge, Mayflower was a powerful part of the book, especially once Butcher pairs him with Grimsby.  These two made for a great team, and watching the positive Grimsby start to have an impact on Mayflower’s personality was a fun part of the book.  Despite still being mistrustful for most of the book, Mayflower soon grows to appreciate the partnership with Grimsby, and it was quite moving to see the character have something to live for again.  While you do see a lot of his personality and intensity in Dead Man’s Hand, I liked that Butcher was a little vague when it came to his past, and I am hoping that the author will dive into more of his history in future books.  Both central protagonists were extremely well written and very damaged in their own way, and this makes for a great story focus, especially as there are some excellent scenes when they start working together.

Overall, I thought that Dead Man’s Hand was an excellent and captivating first book from James J. Butcher, and it is one that I had an amazing time reading.  Fast-paced, hilarious, and filled with all manner of magical chaos, Dead Man’s Hand served as a powerful and enjoyable first entry in the author’s new series, and it comes highly recommended as a result.  I will definitely be grabbing the next book in this series when it comes out and I look forward to seeing how Butcher’s career progresses from here.

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