Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 8 August 2019.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week was childhood favourites; however, as this is the first week of July, I thought I would instead do a quick look back at my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2019.
I have had an amazing time this year reading some outstanding books, so I had a bit of a hard time choosing books for this list, but I did eventually manage to whittle it down to 10 books (with a few honourable mentions thrown in). I decided to only include books that were published between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2019, which helped limit the list a bit for me. While I have reviewed most of these books on the blog or in The Canberra Weekly, there were one or two which I am currently in the process of reviewing and will hopefully go up soon. Check out my list below:
Recursion by Blake Crouch
I literally only finished this last night, but it was an outstanding and captivating read and I’m hoping to write up a review for it soon.
I only wrote a short review for this book, but it was a pretty epic novel that I really enjoyed and is easily one of the best books of 2019 so far.
Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey
I listened to this one a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. I still need to get a review up for it but it was an amazing book.
I hope you enjoyed this list and the books I have chosen. Several of these books are likely to appear in any future Top Ten Reads of 2019 list that I do, but I really think that some of the books coming out in the next six months have the potential to make the top ten. Let me know which books were your favourite releases for the first half of 2019.
Publisher: Hyperion (Hardcover – 4 June 2019)
Series: Royal Bastards trilogy – Book 3/Final
Length: 392 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
War, rebellion, magic and one hell of kickass story! Shvarts brings the outstanding Royal Bastards trilogy to an end with War of the Bastards, the relentlessly entertaining conclusion that rounds out the series with an epic bang. The Royal Bastards trilogy is the debut work of author Andrew Shvarts, who has produced an incredible young adult fantasy series that has been an absolute delight to read over the last three years. Set in the fantasy nation of Noveris, the series follows the adventures of its protagonist, Tilla, and her friends as they try to navigate the treachery and war that has engulfed their nation.
I had an absolute blast reading the second book in the trilogy, City of Bastards, last year. Not only did the book feature a compelling story style and an amazingly captivating plot, but it ended with an outstanding cliff hanger with the protagonist failing to stop the antagonist’s sinister plot, which results in the entire royal family being killed off and the enemy gaining control of the throne. This was such an epic ending, especially because the massacre of the entire royal family was just so unexpected (I really was expecting a last-minute rescue from the protagonists), and I have been extremely curious to see how this story ended for quite a while.
It has been a year since the destructive events that changed Noveris forever. After orchestrating the explosion that decimated the royal court of Noveris, killing the King and Queen and most of Noveris’s nobles, Lord Elric Kent has assumed the throne. With a huge number of powerful bloodmages under the command of his ruthless Inquisitor, Miles Hampstedt, Kent’s rule over Noveris looks to be nearly absolute. However, many are still fighting back against the despotic new rule, including Kent’s bastard daughter, Tilla.
Tilla is a member of the resistance group known as the Unbroken, which fights to return Tilla’s friend, the rightful Queen, Lyriana Volaris, back to the throne. With the help of her lover, Zell, and Lyriana’s cousin, Ellarion, Tilla and the Unbroken are engaged in a brutal guerrilla war against the new regime. However, the situation looks dire and victory near impossible to achieve, until a mission to rescue a major source of rebel intelligence reveals that their informant was none other than King Kent himself. Kent’s rule has been usurped by Miles, whose absolute control over the bloodmages has allowed him to take over Noveris without anyone noticing. While attempting to deal with the implications of capturing Tilla’s father, the Unbroken also free Syan Syee, a young woman from the Red Wastes with mysterious magical powers, who brings an urgent message to the people of Noveris. Syan warns of a coming apocalypse and believes that defeating Miles is the key to stopping it. Needing new allies, Tilla, Lyriana, Zell, Ellarion, Kent and Syan journey to the Red Wastes, hoping to recruit Syan’s people to their cause. However, what they discover in the Red Wastes will change everything. With this new knowledge, can Tilla and her friends save Noveris, or will Miles’s lust for power and control tear their world apart?
Before I started reading this book, I honestly thought that Shvarts was going to have an extremely hard time matching the awesomeness of City of Bastards. However, I am pleased to report that War of the Bastards is an incredible and massively compelling read that I enjoyed just as much as the second book in the series. While it may lack the shocking cliff hanger ending of City of Bastards, War of the Bastards has an excellent fast-paced story that proves extremely hard to put down once you start.
I really loved the story contained within War of the Bastards and felt that it was an amazing conclusion to the trilogy. The tale of an epic battle to free a kingdom is a classic, but the author has put some fantastic modern twists on it, and his entertaining writing style and dedication to bringing out huge moments, really turns this into something special. Shvarts has included a number of cool twists and turns throughout this book, and I really liked where the story went at times. There was also a slight turn away from fantasy towards another genre about two-thirds through the story that proved to be a bit surprising, but I found it to be an interesting addition to the story. Without giving too much away, I was very satisfied with the clever way that the antagonist was taken down at the end of the book, and it was a nice call-back to earlier events in the series. I really enjoyed how this story turned out, and it was an outstanding conclusion to the epic tale that had been told throughout the Royal Bastards trilogy.
In the previous books in the series, the author tended to only set the story in one general setting, such as the West for the first book and the Lightspire for the second book. In War of the Bastards, Shvarts continues to expand on his fantasy world, but this time he takes his characters to several new locations that had been alluded to in the other books. The story starts in the Heartlands and focuses on the characters fighting their guerrilla war there. This land has been transformed by the oppression of Kent and Miles, and it was intriguing to see how bad things had gotten under their rule. The protagonists also journey through the Southlands and the Red Wastes, both of which are pretty fascinating and distinctive locales. The Red Wastes was definitely the most unique location, ravaged by terrifying magical storms and featuring interesting new civilisation. Overall, these new locations are pretty cool, and readers will enjoy exploring more of this great fantasy world.
One of the major strengths of Shvarts’s previous books has been the excellent character work. Each of the major characters has gone through tremendous growth through the course of the first two books, and this growth has continued through the course of War of the Bastards. Tilla has gone from being two different types of social outcast (a bastard in the first book and a traitor’s daughter in the second) to a respected rebel warrior fighting the good fight. However, despite knowing she is fighting for what is right, Tilla is not natural killer and has to constantly deal with the guilt of her actions, keeping a running mental count of all those she has killed. She also has to finally come to terms with her strained relationship with her father once he joins them on their quest. Due to her status as a bastard, her father has always kept a certain distance with her. Now, with him joining their band, Tilla is forced to have several emotional confrontations with him over the terrible things he has done in previous books and how he treated her in the past. This results in some dramatic moments within the book, and the exploration of their relationship makes for great reading. Tilla still serves as the book’s narrator and point-of-view character, and it is through her eyes that we see the story unfold. This is extremely fortunate, as her sassy and sarcastic outlook on the events occurring around her leads to a lot of the book’s humour. All in all, I have always found Tilla to be a pretty awesome main character, and it was great to see how her story ended.
In addition to Tilla, the other three main characters from the previous Royal Bastards books all get great character arcs within this book. Lyriana spends this book as the Queen in exile of her people and is burdened with the responsibility of being a figurehead. However, she rises to the challenge and proves herself to be powerful badass and war leader thanks to her epic magical abilities. This was a massive change in her character from the second book, where she was devastated with loss and trauma, and it was great to see her at her full potential. Readers will also like the new relationship she finds herself in, and it was nice to see her finally get some emotional happiness. I would say that Zell is character least utilised in this book, but we do get to witness him trying to come to terms with guilt from the previous book thanks to the inadvertent role he had in facilitating the massacre. The character most impacted by the events of the previous book is Ellarion, Lyriana’s cousin and the most powerful magician in the lands. He lost his hands at the end of City of Bastards when defending his friends from the massive explosion and must now learn how to live without them and, more importantly, the magic they allowed him to perform. Shvarts did an amazing job portraying Ellarion’s despair at his situation and the longing he has for his lost magical arts. Some interesting things happen to him in this book and he has a major moment that readers will absolutely love.
Two new characters join the main characters in this book: Syan from the Red Wastes and Tilla’s father, Lord Kent. Syan is a pretty cool lesbian character who has some significant secrets in her past. Shvarts does a great job telling her entire story within this one book, and I found her to be quite an enjoyable character. Lord Kent was another fantastic addition to the main group of protagonists. While he has appeared in both of the previous books in the trilogy, we have never really gotten his side of the story before. In addition to all the drama surrounding his relationship with Tilla, we also get to see his motivations for his actions, as well as the regret for what he has brought about. I really liked the inclusion of Kent in War of the Bastards and thought it was a clever touch from Shvarts because of all the extra emotional complexities and drama he brings to the story.
I should quickly mention the main antagonist of this book, Miles. Miles has always been a pretty unlikeable character, especially after betraying the group in the first book due to his jealousy over Tilla choosing Zell. Shvarts really makes him even more despicable in War of the Bastards by showing him as the facilitator of all the worst things that have been done in Noveris in the last year. Later confrontations with him reveal that he has no remorse and really does not see himself as the bad guy. His continued obsession with Tilla is pretty messed up (cough, harem, cough), but I do like how that was used against him at times. Overall, Miles makes for an excellent series villain, and Shvarts did an amazing job utilising him in this final book.
The author has a very creative mind when it comes to the magic and fantasy elements contained within this series. The magical abilities and rules that govern the lands of Noveris are extremely interesting and have led to some impressive magical destruction and battles in the past. Shvarts continues to do this in the final book, and the exploration of the origins of magic and the devastating consequences of using it are really fascinating. Shvarts came up with some cool and unique new magical abilities in War of the Bastards, especially for the magic utilised by the people of the Red Wastes. The author has been really creative in this final book, and I am sure readers will like some of the ideas he comes up with.
Like the previous books in the series, War of the Bastards is being marketed towards the young adult audience. However, it should only really be read by the older teen audience, as it features a lot of adult content. While it does not have as much sex, drugs and drinking as City of Bastards did, it does feature a heck of a lot more violence, and some of the action scenes are pretty gruesome. This does mean the book is really easy for older readers to enjoy, and I would strongly recommend this to all adult fantasy readers.
While I am sad to see the Royal Bastards series end, War of the Bastards was such an incredible conclusion to the story that it does not seem too devastating. Due to its near perfect blend of electrifying story content, excellent characters and entertaining writing style, I found that it was near impossible to put War of the Bastards down, and I had an amazing time reading it. This is easily a five-star read, and I reckon this is my favourite young adult book of 2019 so far. With his debut trilogy, Andrew Shvarts has shown himself to be an extremely talented author, and I will be eagerly keeping an eye out for his next series.
It’s been a while since I’ve published a book haul, but this has been a really good week for books. Not only have I gotten some amazing books from the publishers, but I also went out and bought a few new books and comics that I am really excited to check out. I am really looking forward to reading all of these and will hopefully reviews them soon.
The second in a batch of upcoming Star Wars books I have been looking forward to, this should be fairly epic.
The Stiehl Assassin is the third book in Brooks’ The Fall of Shannara series, which started with The Black Elfstone. This is the penultimate book before Brooks ends his iconic Shannara universe and should prove to be pretty interesting.
This looks like a fun one. Commodus is a pretty crazy Roman Emperor and a novel focusing on his life should be very entertaining.
This is another one that I have been keen to check out for a while. Mira Grant is an amazing horror writer and I am interested to see how she tackles the Alien franchise.
The first volume of a new Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic book series, which is set in an alternate universe from the television show. This looks really cool and I am very curious to see what they do with such an intriguing story premise.
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. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.
This week, I look at War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts, the third book in the incredibly entertaining and addictive Royal Bastards young adult fantasy series.
Before I start talking about the series and why I want to read this book, can I just say how much I love this cover. It is an incredibly eye-catching piece of artwork, and I think it matches the dark tone of this series extremely well.
The Royal Bastards is Shvarts’s debut series, and it follows the adventures of a group of rebellious teenagers as they attempt to save the fantasy nation of Noveris. The series is told from the perspective of Tilla, the bastard daughter of a powerful western lord, whose life changes when she forms an unexpected friendship with the princess of Noveris, Lyriana. In the first book in the series, Tilla finds out that her father, Lord Elric Kent, is plotting a rebellion against Lyriana’s father, and acts quickly to save Lyriana’s life. In the second book, after escaping from the west, Tilla, Lyriana and Tilla’s love interest, Zell, arrive at the Lightspire, the capital of Noveris, and attempt to start new lives in the city. However, the western forces, led by fellow royal bastard Miles Hampstedt, manage to enact a brutal takeover of the city utilising a powerful new form of magic.
To be honest, I have been really looking forward to this book for months, ever since I finished City of Bastards, the second book in the series. City of Bastards had one hell of an ending, with the sudden and bloody death of the entire royal family and court, from which the protagonists were only just able to escape. I also really enjoyed Shvarts’s writing style in the second book, and I hope that War of the Bastards is written in a similar manner, but potentially with a darker tone. I am deeply intrigued to see where the story goes from here and I am already excited about the book’s awesome plot summary.
A year has passed since the fall of Lightspire. The Inquisitor Miles Hampstedt has usurped the throne and rules Noveris with a blood-soaked iron fist. Tilla and her friends have become hardened rebels in the Unbroken, a band of guerilla fighters hiding out in the fringes of the Kingdom. Tilla is plagued with doubt and regret; Lyriana struggles with the burdens of being a fugitive Queen; Zell atones for his guilt by killing for the cause. And even as they all fight, they know their cause is doomed, that with very passing day Miles’ power grows, his army of Bloodmages spreading to cover the continent.
Then a raid on an outpost produces two unexpected prisoners: Lord Elric Kent himself, now a prisoner obsessed with revenge, and Syan See, a strange girl from the Red Wastes. Tilla struggles with the emotional weight of confronting her father, but it’s Syan that offers the true revelation. She demonstrates a new incredible kind of magic, and speaks of a secret civilization hidden in isolation in the mysterious Wastes. With Miles’ forces closing in, Tilla and her friends (alongside a hostage Lord Kent) set out to make contact with Syan’s people, to make an pact that could turn the war. The journey will test their character, forge unlikely alliances, reveal the horrifying true nature of magic, and set in motion a battle that will determine the fate of Noveris itself.
There are quite a few amazing-sounding plot elements contained within this synopsis. The year-long gap since the last book in the series is going to be extremely interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing the main characters evolve once again into hardened resistance fighters after all the betrayals of the second book. A hopeless fight against impossible odds followed by a dangerous quest for lost magic is always a winning story combination in my book, and I will look forward to seeing how Shvarts portrays this in War of the Bastards. I believe that this will be the final book in this series, so I am expecting some massive twists and possibly one or two major character deaths to round out the story.
One of the best things about City of Bastards was Shvarts’s examination of the emotional trauma and damage experienced by the protagonists following their adventures in the first book. The synopsis seems to support that this interesting inclusion will be a major feature of War of the Bastards, and after the events of the second book, you have to imagine that the trauma and guilt that each character will be experiencing is going to be amplified even further. Tilla will no doubt feel guilty about the terrible things her father has made possible, and the impacts it has had on her friends. Zell, whose actions in the second book partially led to the bloody coup, is also going to have massive regrets. I also expect that Lyriana is going to be suffering quite a lot in this book. She already experienced severe survivor’s guilt in the second book following the death of her love interest, Tilla’s half-brother Jax, and now with most of her family killed, this is likely to be amplified by a significant degree. I am also curious to see what will happen to side-character Ellarion in this book. Ellarion is Lyriana’s cousin and he inherited the role of Royal Archmagus following the murder of the previous Royal Archmagus in the first book. As he avoided most of the trauma in the first book, he was one of the more buoyant characters in City of Bastards. However, at the end of the book, his attempted to shield his friends from a massive magical explosion and lost his hands as a result. I am very curious to see how Ellarion is portrayed in this final book, as not only has he lost most of his family like Lyriana but the loss of hands will also be extremely devastating to him, not just because of their physical use but because it will have a negative impact on his magical ability.
I have a feeling that Tilla’s character relationships will be a key part of War of the Bastards, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens when she is forced to team up with her father. The two characters have always had a complex relationship due to Tilla’s status as a bastard, but following all the revelations of the first two books, I think that their relationship in this book will be incredibly dramatic. I am also curious to see how Tilla’s love angle with Zell goes. Despite coming together in the first book, their time in Lightspire really affected their relationship, as the two lied to each other. I imagine that they will get back together in this final book, but we will have to see what happens (especially as Zell is the main character most likely to die in my opinion). I am also expecting an appearance from antagonist Miles Hampstedt in this book. Miles was once a friend of Tilla, but his extreme jealousy after she chose Zell over him resulted in him betraying the group. Since then he has taken control of the west and the entirety of Noveris with complete dominance over the blood mages. No doubt, he will appear at some point, portray himself as the victim because Tilla did not choose him and be an extra despicable villain as a result.
I have a strong feeling that War of the Bastards will be an amazing and thrilling piece of fantasy fiction, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on this book. Shvarts is an exceptional new fantasy author, and I have high hopes that he will do an outstanding job with this final book in the Royal Bastards series.
Young adult fantasy author Andrew Shvarts has a dramatic return with City of Bastards, an explosive and incredible follow-up to his electrifying 2017 debut.
After her father’s declaration of rebellion against the crown, Tilla, bastard daughter of Lord Kent, turned against him by rescuing the king’s daughter, Princess Lyriana, from his clutches. Fleeing her father’s lands in the west of the Kingdom of Noveris, Tilla, Lyriana, and Tilla’s boyfriend, Zell, make the journey to the capital city of Lightspire, the opulent and magical city where Lyriana’s father reigns.
Attempting to put aside the horrors she experienced while fleeing from the west, Tilla settles down in a life of luxury as a student in the city’s prestigious university. However, not everything is as shiny and golden as Tilla had hoped it would be. She faces ostracism from the most of the city’s population as her father continues to wage war against the kingdom. On top of that, Zell appears unsatisfied with city life and is growing distant from her. Tilla and Lyriana are still mourning the death of Tilla’s brother, Jax, and not even their hard partying lifestyle is making them feel any better.
Their new lives are only destined to last for so long before disaster strikes. When Tilla finds her roommate dead, she knows that a mysterious mage she encountered is behind the death. But no-one seems willing to believe her, and the death is quickly ruled a suicide and pushed under the rug. When she is then attacked by the rogue mage, something considered impossible, Tilla begins to realise that there is something very rotten in the heart of the Lightspire. With her father apparently keeping the king’s invincible army of mages at bay, and shadowy cultists sowing chaos in the city, Tilla uncovers a terrible plot that could shake the entire foundation of the kingdom. With the king’s inquisitor hunting her as a traitor and the whole word turned against her, can Tilla and her friends stop the evil unfolding in front of them before it’s too late?
City of Bastards is Shvarts’s second book, and is the sequel to last year’s release, Royal Bastards. This is a fantastic new series of young adult fantasy books, with a third entry already planned for 2019. These books are marketed towards a young adult audience, but this is a series that will also prove to be massively appealing to older readers as well. Fair warning to parents: this is probably not the best series for younger readers, as the huge amounts of drugs, drinking, sex and teen angst make this books more appropriate for an mid to older teenage audience.
This novel contains a truly captivating story of intrigue and murder in the heart of a magnificent and magical city. Shvarts combines some excellent thriller and fantasy elements together to create a superb overall narrative, which includes a large-scale conspiracy that proves to be particularly impressive. There is a well-written and absorbing investigation angle getting towards the conclusion of this plot, and the full scope of this conspiracy is very elaborate and uses some intriguing magical elements. There are a number of surprising twists, betrayals and dramatic reveals that will hook the readers, while the conclusion of the story is epic in its size and consequences. Overall, this is an extremely compelling fantasy thriller story that has not been simplified for a younger audience.
Shvarts has also created an intricate and intriguing cityscape that serves as an excellent setting for the story. There are some memorable locations visited throughout the course of the narrative, and the author does a fantastic job showing the differences between the richer areas of the Lightspire and the districts where the everyday citizens live. Exploration through the city by the protagonist highlights this class difference and the corruption of the rich, all of which forms a significant story element later in the book. The author also introduces some fascinating fantasy elements, such as large-scale magical messages, unique methods of transportation, rebellious anti-magic fanatics, the kingdom’s hidden magical heart and substantial catacombs under the city that hold dark and powerful secrets. All of these elements play a significant role in City of Bastards’ story, and meld in perfectly with the protagonist’s investigation and the vast underlying conspiracy.
The entirety of City of Bastards is narrated by the book’s protagonist, Tilla. Shvarts does an amazing job of capturing the essence of a modern teenager in the book’s narration, and the reader really feels that they are accompanying a rebellious young woman on her quest throughout the city. As a result, the book is filled with sarcasm, funny jokes, humorous observations and a certain amount of complaining about the situation. The story is also infected with a bit of teen angst, which is amusing to see amongst storylines dealing with the future of a civilisation and will no doubt prove to be relatable to many readers. In addition to the humour, this narration also allows the reader to see the protagonist’s many vulnerabilities throughout the course of the story. Overall, the protagonist’s narration adds a lot to this book, and is definitely one of its more appealing features.
A highlight of the book has to be the realistic focus on trauma and the powerful consequences of the first book. Some of the very best young adult books are those which do not shy away from heavy topics, featuring gritty and realistic portrayals of trauma and PTSD as they try to highlight the often unseen or unconsidered costs of their character’s attempted heroism or battles for survival. In City of Bastards, Tilla, Lyriana and Zell spend a significant amount of time dealing with the terrible things the encountered in the first book, including the death of Jax, Tilla’s brother and Lyriana’s love interest. Lyriana’s transformation is the most dramatic, as is she suffering not only from Jax’s loss but also from the guilt and trauma following her decision to break her oath of pacifism and kill someone with her magic. As a result, she turns from the sensible and respectful character she was in Royal Bastards to a hard-drinking wreck who acts out in a number of different ways and has a hard time dealing with her feelings. Tilla is also traumatised by the death of Jax, and while at times she seems to be processing it better, her depression is compounded by the dramatic changes in her life and the outright disdain that many characters show her. Overall, this realistic portrayal of trauma and vulnerability in the characters is very well written and adds a real emotional edge to the story.
City of Bastards is an amazing piece of young adult fantasy that makes substantial use of its new setting to create an epic, conspiracy-laden storyline that proves to be exceedingly captivating. This is a powerful sequel to Andrew Shvarts’s first book, and fans of Royal Bastards will be entranced by the author’s focus on the first book’s devastating consequences. This is one of the best pieces of young adult fiction of 2018. I had a real hard time putting this book down, and it comes highly recommend.