Waiting on Wednesday – Witch King by Martha Wells

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 this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight an excellent and compelling upcoming fantasy book from an author I have been meaning to try for some time, with Witch King by Martha Wells.

Witch King Cover

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One of the sad realities of being a reader/reviewer is that it is pretty impossible to read every single amazing novel that is released, no matter how much you want to.  As such, I currently have a huge backlog of books that I desperately want to read, including a ton from some highly regarded authors whose voice I have never had a chance to enjoy before.  Despite my best efforts, I have never had a chance to truly check some great authors out, which is something I deeply regret.  However, in 2023, I am going to make a real effort to finally read something from one author whose name I keep hearing about, Martha Wells.

Martha Wells is an impressive author who has been writing since 1993, producing a range of compelling fantasy and science fiction novels.  Wells current has a huge catalogue of books to her name, including a range of great standalone novels, her Ille-Rien and Books of the Raksura series, as well as some intriguing tie-in novels.  However, the books that I constantly hear people talking about is the cool science fiction series, The Murderbot Diaries, which follows a murderous robot who gains sentience and attempts to discover its humanity.  I have heard some really good things about The Murderbot Diaries series, and it seems at times like every reviewer I follow has something positive to say about it.  I am also quite keen on checking out Well’s Star Wars tie-in novel, Razor’s Edge, which has a great story to it, and which I currently have a copy of sitting on my phone.  As good as all these Wells’ books sound, I doubt I’m going to get around to reading them anytime soon, especially with all the awesome new books coming out in 2023.  However, I think I will make time to read Wells’ next upcoming book, especially as it is separate from any of her previous work.

This new book is Witch King, which is currently set for release in late May 2023.  A compelling and unique fantasy book, Witch King will apparently follow a powerful demon who attempts to find out why he was killed and imprisoned, while also working with a lesser mage who is attempting to steal his powers.  This sounds like it is going to be a pretty impressive read, and I love the potential story that Wells has laid out below.  Combine this with Wells’ well established writing skill and the huge appreciation she has garnered from a lot of other reviewers, I am highly confident that this is going to be a pretty exceptional read, and I cannot wait to try it out.  Honestly, Witch King has so much damn potential and I cannot wait to try it, and Wells’ writing, out in 2023.

Synopsis:

“I didn’t know you were a… demon.”
“You idiot. I’m the demon.”
Kai’s having a long day in Martha Wells’ WITCH KING….

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

He’s not going to like the answers.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Shadow Casket by Chris Wooding

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 this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I check out one of the most anticipated and epic upcoming fantasy novels of 2023 with, The Shadow Casket, by Chris Wooding.

The Shadow Casket Cover

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Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to be introduced the amazing writing of an impressive fantasy author, Chris Wooding.  Despite his work on several previous fantasy books, including the Braided Path, Malice and Tales of Ketty Jay fantasy series, I hadn’t previously had the opportunity to read anything from Wooding.  I also wasn’t initially aware that he had a new fantasy book coming out in 2018 either, so much so that its release completely passed me by.  It wasn’t until I started hearing rave reviews about it that I decided to check it out, and boy was I lucky that I did, as it proved to be an exceptional and incredible fantasy read.

That book was The Ember Blade, a massive and elaborate fantasy epic that took a great group of characters on an intense and captivating adventure.  The first book in Wooding’s The Darkwater Legacy series, The Ember Blade primarily takes place in the conquered fantasy nation of Ossia, who were invaded and destroyed by the brutal Krodan Empire years before, who now rule Ossia with an iron first.  The only Ossians who flourish in the country anymore are those who bow down to the Krodan rulers and allow their children to be brainwashed into believing that the Krodan are saviours.  This includes the main protagonist of the series, Aren, who grew up wanting to be a Krodan with all his heart.

However, after his father is killed by the Krodans, Aren and his best friend Cade are taken to a labour camp, where they are expected to die.  Realising just how evil the Krodan are, Aren plots to fight them, and is given the chance when a band of freedom fighters free them from the camp.  They soon find themselves embroiled in a plot to break into an impregnable fortress and steal the legendary Ember Blade, an ancient sword with the potential to ignite the Ossian people in rebellion.  However, while Aren and his comrades are able to pull off the heist, they suffer great losses in process, including the band’s leader and Cade.

I had an extremely awesome time listening to The Ember Blade audiobook, which really filled all my epic fantasy needs.  Not only did Wooding introduce a bold new fantasy world, filled with some amazingly complex characters, but The Ember Blade had an exceptional story to it.  I loved the combination of fantasy adventure, rebel action, and a heist storyline that formed the main plot, and I was relentlessly entertained the entire way through.  I also had a lot of fun listening to The Ember Blade audiobook, which ended up being the eighth longest audiobook I have ever listened toThe Ember Blade got an easy five-star review from me, and I have been eagerly looking forward to the sequel for a few years now.

Well, my wait is finally over, as Wooding is finally releasing the second Darkwater Legacy novel in a couple of months’ time.  This sequel to The Ember Blade is The Shadow Casket, which will continue the epic story from the from the first book.  Set for release in mid-February 2023, The Shadow Casket has an immense amount of potential and I like the sound of the cool plot synopsis that has been released:

Synopsis:

A BAND OF REBELS.
A TRAITOR IN THEIR MIDST.
A REVOLUTION ABOUT TO BEGIN.

It’s been three years since Aren seized the Ember Blade. Three years since they struck the spark they hoped would ignite the revolution. But the flame has failed to catch. The Krodans have crushed Ossia in an iron grip of terror. The revolution seems further away than ever.

Far in the north, the Dawnwardens seek to unite the fractious clans of the Fell Folk and create a stronghold from which to retake their land. But even if they can overcome the danger of treachery from within, they still have to contend with the dreadknights. Only the druidess Vika can resist these near-unstoppable foes, and there’s only one of her.

But what if there was a weapon that could destroy the dreadknights? A weapon of such power it could turn the tide? A weapon that, if it fell into the wrong hands, might mean the end of all hope?

The Shadow Casket has returned from out of the past, and it will save or damn them all.

There are some very intriguing elements in the synopsis above that have got me even more excited for The Shadow Casket.  I love the idea of a bit of a time-skip between The Ember Blade and this sequel, especially as it appears that the protagonist’s dream or uniting the country around the Ember Blade failed.  While this does kind of invalidate the events of the first book, I’m sure that Wooding will turn this failure into some impressive personal drama for the protagonist.  In addition, there appears to be even more chaos and confusion as the rebels attempt to band together their fractious countrymen into fighting a terrible enemy.  Throw in a new fantasy MacGuffin, the Shadow Casket, and I am sure that this will be a great new read with another epic story to it.

Look, there is honestly no way that I will not be enjoying The Shadow Casket when it comes out next year.  The Ember Blade was too damn good not for me to look forward to the sequel, and I can’t wait to see how the elaborate story continues.  While I am slightly worried that I may have forgotten some of the details since listening to the first book in 2019, I am sure that I will have no trouble diving back into this series.  This book has so much damn potential, and I am exceedingly confident that The Shadow Casket is going to be one of the absolute best fantasy books of 2023.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out one of the most potential laden upcoming fantasy books of 2023 with The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan.

The Sword Defiant Cover

Amazon     Book Depository

There have been many great new fantasy authors debuting in recent years, but one of the most highly regarded will have to be the very talented Gareth Hanrahan.  Entering the fantasy scene in 2019 with the first book in The Black Iron Legacy, Hanrahan impressed quite a few people with his first series, that introduced a dark and twisted fantasy world, loaded with intrigue and despair.  I had an excellent time with his very first book, The Gutter Prayer, which was one of my favourite debuts of 2019, especially as it wove together quite an enticing and haunting tale.  While I haven’t had a chance to read the rest of the trilogy yet, I am none-the-less extremely excited to see what Hanrahan will come up with next, especially as he has a very intriguing new fantasy tale coming out in early 2023.

His new fantasy book is titled The Sword Defiant, and it sounds pretty damn epic.  Set for release in May 2023, The Sword Defiant is another dark fantasy tale, which will focus on a former group of heroes who bear cursed swords.

Plot Synopsis:

Set in a world of dark myth and dangerous prophecy, The Sword Defiant launches an epic tale of daring warriors, living weapons, and bloodthirsty vengeance.

The sword cares not who it cuts.

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord’s cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.

Ok, now that is a particularly awesome sounding read.  I love complex tales that look at former heroes who have survived their famous legendary quest, only to be forced back into action years later, and I am really interested to see this author’s take on such a story.  Having 10 companions get corrupted by the cursed weapons they took from a pervious big bad is very cool, and I love the idea of the protagonist being forced to deal with what remains, even if that means putting some of his former friends down.  No doubt that this will result in some very intense moments, and I can’t wait to see how the damaged protagonist deals with it.  This has all the hallmarks of being quite an exceptional read, and I am very excited to see what happens in this book.  Gareth Hanrahan has already shown he has quite a lot of skill as a dark fantasy author, and I can’t wait to see how his new adventure turns out.  I think that The Sword Defiant has an incredible amount of potential, and it is one of the fantasy books I am looking forward to the most in 2023.

In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 21 June 2022)

Series: The Glass Immortals – Book One

Length: 24 hours and 53 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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One of the most inventive and compelling authors of fantasy fiction, Brian McClellan, kicks off an awesome new series with In the Shadow of Lightning, the first book in The Glass Immortals series.

Few authors over the last 10 years have had more of an explosive impact on the world of fantasy fiction then Brian McClellan.  Debuting in 2013, McClellan quickly set the world ablaze with The Powder Mage trilogy, which saw chaos and destruction unravel in a new fantasy world where gunpowder-powered mages face off against an enraged god.  I had a brilliant time with the first book in the series, Promise of Blood, and McClellan followed this initial trilogy off with the sequel, Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, set in the same universe.  While I still need to finish the Powder Mage novels off, I was very excited to hear that McClellan was starting a new series with In the Shadow of Lightning, the first book in the author’s The Glass Immortals series.  This is an impressive and outstanding read that introduces readers to a distinctive new fantasy world, this time with a fascinating focus on glass magic.

Demir Grappo was once one of the most respected politicians, tacticians and glassdancers in the Ossan Empire.  A rising star in the assembly, a proven governor, and the only son of a prominent family, Demir’s promising career is suddenly shattered in the immediate aftermath of his greatest military victory when his army sacked and destroyed the entire city of Holikan, apparently on his orders.  Mentally broken by the massacre done in his name, Demir abandons his army and vanishes into the provinces, giving up his life of privilege for one of anonymity.

Now, nine years after the sacking of Holikan, Demir is a very different man, having spent the intervening time as a grifter with no true home.  However, everything changes when news reaches him that his mother was murdered, brutally beaten to death in public in an apparent political attack.  Determined to find her killers, Demir returns to the city of Ossa to reclaim his seat as the head of his family.  But not everyone is happy that he has returned, and Demir soon finds himself in the midst of several deadly conspiracies, while Ossa goes to war against its neighbour, all in the name of avenging his murdered mother.

To get to the centre of these conspiracies, Demir must find allies, including old friends and new acquaintances if he is to gain the power and influence he needs find answers, especially those hidden by the powerful guild families who rule Ossa.  However, as he searches, and soon finds a much more troubling secret: godglass, the source of magic within the world, is running out, and when it goes, chaos will reign.  The key to securing the future may lie in a device that could re-power inert pieces of godglass, and only one girl appears to have the skill to create such a device.  But as Demir fights to secure this new vital ally, he finds himself fighting against a mysterious new enemy, one that seems determined to destroy anyone who gets in their way.

McClellan impresses again with another incredible fantasy novel that had me instantly enthralled.  Presenting the reader with a multifaceted narrative that combines great characters with intriguing fantasy elements, In the Shadow of Lightning proved to be an outstanding start to McClellan’s new series and I had an exceptional time reading it.  Epic in scope, ambition and potential, In the Shadow of Lightning gets a full five-star rating from me and I am still reeling from just how good this was.

In the Shadow of Lightning is a particularly addictive novel, especially as McClellan presents the reader with an outstanding and complex narrative that pulls them in on so many levels.  Starting off with a compelling prelude that perfectly introduces central protagonist Demir Grappo and shows his dramatic and bloody fall from grace and sanity, the novel then undergoes a time skip which takes the reader into the current storyline, right as events are kicking off.  The initial focus is on Demir, who, after finding out his mother has been murdered, returns to Ossa to take over the family business and discover her murderers.  However, he soon finds that his mother was involved in complex dealings that might have led to her death, and that her assassination has been blamed on a neighbouring city Ossa is going to war with.  The story then splits as McClellan introduces three additional point-of-view characters, each other whom has their own distinctive story arc, closely related to Demir and the politics of Ossa.

These new characters include Thessa Foleer, a siliceer (godglass worker) from Ossa’s neighbour Grent, the breacher Idrian Sepulki and Kizzie Vorcien, an enforcer for a powerful guild-family who Demir hires to investigate his mother’s death.  Each of these new characters have their own individual storylines that tie into the plot points introduced in Demir’s initial chapters.  While these character arcs go in their own direction, their storylines are loosely connected together and form a great overarching narrative as they are dragged into war, imprisonment, political battles, conspiracies and criminal investigations.  I loved the cool blend of character-driven storylines, and everything comes together extremely well to show that something very rotten is going on within Ossa.  This is a very fast-paced story, and McClellan keeps multiple compelling plotlines running simultaneously to keep the reader’s attention, with some great reveals and amazing fight scenes scattered throughout the book.  Most of these reveals are set up and foreshadowed extremely well, with a couple of exceptions, and I didn’t see some of the twists coming, which was pretty fun.  Everything comes to a head towards the end of the novel, as all four characters find themselves in their own extremely dangerous and concerning situation.  Not only is there a massive battle for the future of Ossa but there are some shocking revelations about who is involved in the conspiracy and why.  The author leaves everything on an amazing note that not only leaves readers satisfied with the conclusion of some of the storylines but which also leaves a lot of questions unanswered and the reader wanting more.  An excellent and impressive story that dragged me in extremely quickly.

I was very impressed with how In the Shadow of Lightning’s story came together, as McClellan presented an epic and addictive offering that I snapped up extremely quickly.  I especially loved the use of four separate narrators to tell this story, and McClellan did an outstanding job of separating out their narratives.  Each narrator has their own unique story to tell, and what is really good is that they also explore a different aspect of the author’s new fantasy world, which often breaks across the associated genres.  For example, Thessa’s story focuses on the magical science behind godglass, and examines the political and social elements associated with this branch of magic.  Idrian’s tale comes across as a war tale as he is forced to participated in the deadly conflict between Ossa and Grent, where his particularly magical expertise makes him a living weapon.  Kizzie’s chapters come across as an investigation arc, as she attempts to uncover who killed Demir’s mother, and is forced to dive into the intrigues and shifting allegiances amongst the Ossan families, uncovering a deep conspiracy.  Demir serves as a bit of a joining figure; while he also has his own unique adventures, especially around Ossan politics, a lot of his arc involves interactions with the other three point of view characters.  Not only does this ensure that we get another viewpoint on the other character’s actions, as he gets involved in the godglass, espionage and the war elements that they are solely focussed on, but he helps to bring the other protagonist’s disparate storylines together into one solid and compelling narrative.

All four character-driven storylines are pretty exceptional in their own right, and this was one of those rare multi-perspective novels where you honestly can’t choose which character arc is the most intriguing or enjoyable.  I was particularly impressed with how McClellan brought these storylines together into one outstanding novel, and it makes for quite the epic read, especially as the author ensures you get the right blend of intrigue, action, magic and mystery throughout.  Despite its longer length, In the Shadow of Lightning has a pretty fast pace to it, and the readers are constantly treated to fantastic scenes that really keep your interest, either by being directly exciting, or featuring excellent examples of character development or world building.  I also really have to highlight the outstanding and amazing action sequences featured throughout this book.  McClellan has an impressive way of making these fight scenes really come to life in your mind, and it so easy to see all the epic events unfold.  These action scenes are particularly impactful when combined with the new magical features that the author has come up with, and I had so much fun seeing them unfold.  This really was an exceptional and highly entertaining read, and I loved how this entire amazing story was presented to the reader.

One of the things that most impressed me about In the Shadow of Lightning was the way in which McClellan envisioned and introduced the reader to an entirely new fantasy realm, equipped with its own distinctive magical system, all of which was substantially different from the elements featured in his previous Powder Mage novels.  While there are some similarities, namely that the Glass Immortals series also features magic, firearms, and a similar level of technology, there are quite a few differences which really make this new series stand out.  Most of the book is set in the Ossan Empire and its capital city of Ossa, which proves to be an excellent background location for the complex story.  Ossa, as well as some of the other nations mentioned reminded me of an Italian city-state, and I felt that it was an interesting change of pace to the French/English influences of Powder Mage universe.  The city is ruled by rival merchant guild families who are constantly battling for dominance, while the influence of the cities extends out to various provinces in the extended empire.  There is an intricate society set up around Ossa, and I loved the compelling interplay of industries, politics and intrigue that resulted.  McClellan examines various aspects of Ossan society, including sports, leisure, the military, and the various social levels, all of which were pretty intriguing to discover, and which painted Ossa and its people in a compelling light.  I particularly enjoyed their innate love for intrigue, contracts and business above everything else, and the fact that their national sport involves two magically enhanced people beating each other with cudgels tells you a lot about them.  Throw in some compelling snapshots of other relevant nations, as well as some sneaky hints at other mysterious beings, and the reader is given a really impressive and detailed introduction to this new world in this first book in the series, which McClellan did an outstanding job setting up.

However, the most distinctive part of this new universe is the cool magical system that forms the basis for much of the plot.  Just like with the Powder Mage novels, there are actually several different variations of magic and magic users in this series, which are connected to various forms of glass.  The first of these is the magical godglass, empowered glass items that give its users various abilities, such as strength, intelligence and enhanced senses, or which can be used to control a person.  Godglass is the most common form of magic in this series, which anyone can use, and indeed the entirety of human society in this world is based around the use of these items.  Pretty much every action a character does in this book is helped out in some way with godglass, resulting in some excellent sequences, especially during fights, and McClellan spends a lot of time exploring how it fits into his new world.  This includes multiple scenes set inside glassworks, where the godglass is forged, and you get an idea of how it is made and the significance it holds to the people of this world, including the fact that many of the characters have piercings that allow them to attach godglass to them.  Godglass actually becomes a key part of the book’s plot, once it is revealed that the supplies of magical cindersand that is used to create it is running low, resulting in an undercover war to control the remnants or finding a means of regenerating it.

The other magical elements of this new series involve the inbuilt talents of several characters, who have various degrees of sorcery in them.  The most prominent of these are the glassdancers, sorcerers who can control glass (except godglass) to an astonishing degree, and use it as a weapon.  There are multiple glassdancer characters featured throughout In the Shadow of Lightning (including the central protagonist), and you get to see multiple fights involving them, which are pretty badass.  You would never consider just how dangerous someone controlling glass could be until reading this book, and the brutal and quick ways in which they kill their opponents are pretty damn impressive.  The other major form of magical user are glazalier, who have more of a passive ability that allows them to resist the negative impacts of godglass (too much magic starts to eat away at someone) while still being able to use them.  These glazaliers are deployed as breachers, heavily armoured soldiers equipped with a ton of godglass that make them unstoppable tanks in battle, capable of killing units of men by themselves.  Acting as both a hammer and shield to their comrades, they are a lot more brutal than the subtly lethal glassdancers, and I loved the compelling contrast between the two major magical soldiers featured in this book.  McClellan does an outstanding job introducing, explaining and showcasing all these different magical elements in this first book, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the many cool ways these magical abilities and the godglass could be used, especially in the book’s many awesome action sequences.  I look forward to seeing how McClellan expands on them in the future, and I am still so impressed by how much magic the author could work into glass.

Another area where McClellan really excels as a writer is with the complex and multi-layered characters he is able to create.  This was really evident in his new novel, where several great point of view protagonists and fascinating supporting characters are perfectly introduced to the reader and become exciting focal points for the brilliant plot.

The most prominent of these is central protagonist, Demir Grappo, a brilliant strategist and politician, whose entire life is shattered in the opening prologue.  Forced back into public life after the death of his mother, Demir takes control of his family and attempts to rebuild his legacy while also finding answers.  Utilising the swindling, bluff and manipulation skills he built in the decade he was away, Demir proves to be a tough political adversary and quite an interesting figure to follow.  I loved his impressive and unique storyline, and watching him regain his political skills and self-confidence was really enjoyable, especially as he acts as a deadly glass sorcerer, businessman, politician, leader and even a general.  There are great sequences that highlight his skills, and I loved how he was able to manipulate everyone in many different ways, from being an agreeable political ally, to acting like a smarmy lord who is able to bluff his way around by sheer force of personality.  While he does come across as arrogant at times, which is partially due to the fear and respect everyone gives him due to his sorcerous abilities, McClellan ensures that the protagonist is aware of it, and works to fix his character flaws as he goes.  However, the biggest character aspect of Demir involves the trauma he carries after his actions apparently led to the massacre of an entire city.  Still haunted by the scenes from that night, Demir is forced to revisit them throughout the course of the book, especially when he meets a survivor while trying to find out who was actually responsible.  His roiling emotions around these events are his one weak spot, and the author slips in some powerful and understandable scenes where he loses control.  McClellan did a great job setting up Demir in this first book, and I have no doubt his story is going to get even more complex and painful.

McClellan ensures that all his intriguing characters have their own distinctive and compelling motivations, as well as a dark history that is explored throughout the course of In the Shadow of Lightning.  This includes Thessa Foleer, whose heartbreaking narrative and past worked perfectly in concert with Demir’s, which was appropriate as their storylines were the most closely linked.  Thessa’s story is one of constant loss, especially as everyone who seems to get close to her dies or suffers in some way, and the character goes through some major grief and trauma as a result.  The author does a good job balancing the focus on her past and her feelings of loss, with the scenes depicting her work as a siliceer, and I liked how you get some of the best insights about this book’s primary fantasy elements throughout her chapters.  McClellan sets up Thessa as quite a major character in this novel, and it will interesting to see how her story progresses in the future.

The other two point-of-view characters are Idrian Sepulki and Kizzie Vorcien, who add a lot more excitement and fun to the story.  Idrian’s scenes are some of the most action-packed, and it is very cool to see him in battle, especially as he tends to plough through entire units of men like a human tank.  However, Idrian is one of the most caring and likeable figures in the entire novel.  Primarily concerned for the lives of his comrades, Idrian goes into the battle to protect them, and the close friendships he builds with his men help define him.  However, Idrian is also battling some inner demons, and it is clear that McClellan has some tragedy planned for him in the future.  This is a little heartbreaking, as you really cannot help but enjoy Idrian’s straightforward nature and natural integrity, and anything bad that happens to him is going to strike the reader twice as hard as a result.  Kizzie, on the other hand, is a scrappy enforcer, forced to survive the intense politics of the city’s guild families.  The bastard daughter of the Vorcien family head, Kizzie desperately seeks legitimisation and acceptance from her father, if only to protect her from vicious brother.  Dragged into Demir’s hunt for his mother’s killers, Kizzie dives into the world of political intrigue and family espionage, only to find herself conflicted by the answers she seeks.  Forced to choose between friends and family, as well as between her desires and what his right, Kizzie has some great moments in this book, and her inner conflicts add a great amount of drama to the plot.

These central protagonists are well rounded out by an impressive and enjoyable series of supporting characters, each of whom add to the plot in their own unique way.  McClellan does a great job introducing all the key supporting characters featured in the plot, and there are some amazing and distinctive characters featured here, from long-time friends of the characters, to bitter enemies with their own agendas.  My favourite supporting character would probably be Baby Montego, Demir’s adopted brother who returns to help Demir with his exploits and find out who killed their mother.  A massive brute of a man and a former cudgeling world champion, Baby is considered to be the deadliest man on the planet, even though he doesn’t have any magical abilities and can’t use godglass.  He more than lives up to this reputation throughout the book, and he has some of the most exciting and action-packed sequences in the entire novel as he casually deals out violence.  At the same time, he is also a cunning thinker, and his dry humour and complete self-confidence really make him standout.  It was fantastic to see amazing characters like Baby interact with the point-of-view characters, and you get some impressive moments as a result.  Honestly, every character featured in this book was amazing in their own way, and I cannot emphasise enough how well McClellan wrote them.

As I tend to do with most massive fantasy novels, I chose to check out In the Shadow of Lightning in its audiobook format, which proved to be pretty damn awesome.  Coming in with a runtime of just under 25 hours, this is a lengthy audiobook to listen to (it comes in at number 15 on my latest longest audiobooks I have listened to list), and it took me a decent amount of time to get through it.  However, I felt that was time well spent, as I was relentlessly entertained every single second I spent listening to In the Shadow of Lightning, and there were times I wished it was even longer.  This epic novel really came to life in the audiobook format, and I loved how impressive and cool some of the big action sequences and confrontations felt when being listened to.  While I did initially struggle to keep track of the side characters in this format (having the ability to easily go back and figure out who people were would have been helpful), I was soon able to figure out who everyone was, while also absorbing a heck of a lot more detail about the new universe and its unique elements.

I was also deeply impressed with the outstanding narration In the Shadow of Lightning featured, thanks to the work of Damian Lynch.  Lynch is a veteran audiobook narrator with several epic fantasy series under his belt and he swiftly made me a big fan with his great voice work here.  He really dove into the various characters featured in the book, and you got a great sense of their personalities, emotions and actions as he narrated them.  I had fun with several of the voices he provided in this book, and I thought that protagonists like Demir, Idrian and Baby Montego, were really good, especially as you get notes of weariness in the old veteran Idrian, and the barely contained violence that resonates off Baby every time he talks.  I particularly liked the cool European accents that Lynch gave to the various characters, which helped to reinforce the Italian city-state nature of the main location, and people from other nations or cities had subtly different accents, which I thought was a very nice touch.  All this, and more, makes for an outstanding audiobook and this is easily the best way to enjoy In the Shadow of Lightning.  I had a wonderful time with this exceptional audiobook and I will definitely be grabbing the next book in this format when it comes out.

As you can no doubt see from this lengthy review, I deeply enjoyed In the Shadow of Lightning, which was such an epic book.  Brian McClellan did a remarkable job with this new novel, and he really proved his ability to set up another distinctive and exceptional fantasy series.  Loaded with so many amazing story elements, a cool new fantasy world with unique magical elements, and some impressive and complex characters, In the Shadow of Lightning was so very addictive, and I really could not stop listening to it.  A highly recommended read, especially in its audiobook format, In the Shadow of Lightning was one of the best books of 2022 and is a must read for all fantasy fans, especially those who have enjoyed McClellan’s work in the past, and I am exceedingly excited to see how The Glass Immortals series progresses from here.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Thick as Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

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 highlight an awesome upcoming fantasy novel that I feel is going to be a lot of fun with Thick as Thieves by M. J. Kuhn.

Thick as Thieves Cover

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Last year I was lucky enough to receive an amazing debut from a great new author that combined an excellent heist concept with a cool fantasy setting.  That book was Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn, which saw a group of desperate rogues attempt to steal a valuable item from an impregnable magical stronghold.  Made up of several damaged criminals, each of whom had their own reasons for taking the job, the crew managed to come together to succeed in their heist.  However, not everything went to plan, and they ended up losing their prize to a dangerous crime lord who plans to use its deadly magic to take control of the world.  At the same time, the remaining members of the crew found themselves scattered as their own dark histories came crashing down on them.  Needless to say, this was a very exciting and compelling read, and I loved the outstanding combination of fantasy and crime fiction elements, as well as the impressive characters the book was set around.  Among Thieves was one of the best debuts I read in 2021 and I have been eager to see how Kuhn was going to continue her great series.

Well, we finally have some details about the second Thieves book as the sequel to Among Thieves is due for release in July 2023.  That sequel will be Thick as Thieves, and it will see the heist crew reform to take on a new job.  However, this time they will be forced to dive into the deadly powerplays surrounding their nations as they attempt to double cross their old boss to gain back the artefact they previously stole.

Based on how impressive Among Thieves was, I have no doubt that this sequel is going to be an extremely epic read, and I am really excited to check it out.  Kuhn did an excellent job setting out the characters and settings in the first book, and I am excited to continue from the captivating cliff-hanger that Among Thieves ended on.  There is so much potential for betrayal, intrigue and self-interest in this second novel, and I have no doubt that Kuhn will produce another excellent fantasy crime novel in Thick as Thieves.  I have some very high hopes for this sequel, and I cannot wait to see more fantastic fantasy thievery.

Plot Synopsis:

Ryia Cautella, a.k.a. the Butcher of Carrowick, and her motley crew have succeeded in the ultimate heist…with the most dire possible consequences. A terrifyingly powerful tool has fallen into the hands of Callum Clem, the criminal leader of the Saints, who was already one of the most dangerous men alive. With the newfound ability to force magic-wielding Adepts to his will, he is unstoppable.

With their group scattered throughout the five kingdoms of Thamorr—and not all on the same side of the fight—things seem hopeless. But can Ryia get the gang back together for one last job? Or will chess-worthy power plays and shifting loyalties change Thamorr as they know it?

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

The Martyr Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 28 June 2022)

Series: The Covenant of Steel – Book Two

Length: 19 hours and 42 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The always impressive Anthony Ryan continues his outstanding Covenant of Steel series with The Martyr, which was hands down one of the best fantasy novels of 2022.

Anthony Ryan is an extremely talented author who has been one of the leading authors of fantasy fiction for the last decade, producing several intriguing and major series.  Best known for his Raven’s Shadow trilogy (which was followed on by the Raven’s Blade duology), Slab City Blues, The Draconis Memoria and Seven Swords series, Ryan has a substantial catalogue of fantasy works to his name, most of which sound pretty damn epic.  However, I have so far only read the books from his latest series, The Covenant of Steel series, which has proven to be exceptional.  The first book in The Covenant of Steel was last year’s deeply compelling release, The Pariah, an excellent novel that set up a deeply intriguing and highly addictive character-driven tale of adventure, conspiracy and war.

The Pariah told the adventure of Alwyn Scribe, a young outlaw who was raised by brutal bandit chief.  However, his time as a member of a notorious band of villains came to a bloody end when his entire gang is brutally killed by the crown and his mentor is executed.  Imprisoned in a mine, Alwyn finds a new mentor in an imprisoned religious figure, who teaches him to be a talented scribe, and he is eventually able to escape.  Chance and self-preservation lead him to join the Covenant Company of Lady Evadine Courlain, a pious woman whose religious visions, sermons and sheer faith allow her to bring together a band of dedicated soldiers.  Swiftly growing loyal to her, Alwyn becomes one of her key followers, and saves her from certain death several times as they fight across the Kingdom of Albermaine.  I deeply enjoyed the elaborate and extremely addictive narrative contained within The Pariah, and this ended up being one of my absolute favourite books and audiobooks of 2021 (as well as being one of my favourite new-to-me authors of the year as well).  As such, I was extremely happy to receive a copy of The Martyr a little while ago, although I held out reading it until I could get a copy of the audiobook version as well.

The Martyr takes places shortly after the bloody conclusion to The Pariah and sees Alwyn Scribe now firmly in the service of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose apparent resurrection has led to her being proclaimed a living martyr of the Covenant church.  However, this and the fanatical devotion of the faithful of Albermaine have placed her in the crosshairs of both the Crown and the Covenant, both of whom see her as a dangerous pretender to their power.  Unable to kill her without starting a religious rebellion, the king decides to use Evadine for his own purposes.

Sent south to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion and stop a series of religious attacks upon the Covenant faithful, Alwyn, Evadine and the Covenant Company take up residence in a small, dilapidated castle, which soon draws the attention of the Alundian nobility.  Besieged by a massive army, Alwyn and his companions must survive the onslaught if they are to pass on Evadine’s message for the future.  However, not everything is as it seems.  Dark forces are in play and Alwyn soon finds himself in the middle of treacheries, both new and old, as he desperately stands beside his mistress.  Forced to dive into the secret past of the land, Alwyn soon discovers that many of the things that Evadine preaches are true, including the legend of the Scourge that destroyed the world and threatens to re-emerge.  But is Alwyn fully prepared for all the heartache, betrayal and bloodshed his quest is about to unleash?

Anthony Ryan is on fire once again with his second book in The Covenant of Steel series.  The Martyr is an epic and deeply addictive read that perfectly follows on from Ryan’s previous book and in some ways surpasses it with its impressive storytelling and amazing characters.  Thanks to its incredible story and cool expansion of Ryan’s fantasy universe, I had an outstanding time getting through The Martyr, and it receives an easy five-star rating from me.

I had such an outstanding time with the epic story that Ryan pulled together for The Martyr, especially as it cleverly expands on the narrative from the first book, while also taking the characters in some awesome new directions.  The book has a very strong start to it, which follows on from a useful, and slightly humorous, summary of the events of The Pariah.  From there, we quickly see the fallout from the last book, with the protagonist Alwyn and his comrades forced to engage in the politics of the realm to ensure that living martyr Evadine is allowed to continue her work.  The narrative is still told from Alwyn’s perspective as he recounts the events in chronicle form, so I was quickly hooked, and I liked the immediate dive into fantastic political intrigue and compelling universe building.  However, the story only gets even more awesome from there, as the protagonist and his company are deployed to a war setting, which turns out to be particularly epic as they are soon caught up in some outstanding siege scenarios.

Now, I frankly had no idea how Ryan was going to improve on the outstanding story from The Pariah, but having a siege storyline was a pretty good way to go about it.  I love sieges, and Ryan featured an incredible example here, as a large amount part of the book revolves around two amazing battles between attackers and castle defenders.  The first of these sees the protagonists trapped inside a dilapidated fortress facing off against a larger army, which proved to be a lot of fun.  The author really captures the chaos and drama of an impromptu siege with this earlier one, and the carnage comes quick and fast as the characters are forced to bring the attackers to battle before repelling them, using their wits and limited resources.  The action here is pretty intense and shown in excellent detail, as Ryan does not hold back on the brutality and the complexities of a siege.  I had such a great time with this first siege, and words cannot describe how ecstatic I was that he followed it up with a second siege, with the protagonists now acting as besiegers, in a more traditional siege, with artillery, sapping and even a deadly storm of the breach with the point-of-view character in the front.  These two sieges were pretty damn exceptional and have some of the best and most bloody action scenes in the entire book.  I particularly liked how well the author contrasted the differing experiences that the protagonist experienced as both a defender and an attacker, and it was fascinating and very fun to see him on both sides of the wall, especially as he learns from his experiences to become a better invader.  However, it is not all about the action, as you have some compelling political considerations going on here, as well as some great character development and the protagonist gets closer to some of the other characters during the heat of combat.

Following the sieges, the story goes in some interesting and unique directions, as Ryan continues the epic of Alwyn Scribe by expanding the universe around him.  This includes a visit to a dangerous foreign land, where he learns some harsh and surprising truths about the universe he lives in and his place within it.  This results in some trippy but deeply fascinating scenes, especially as there are some interesting reveals and some great hints for the future.  Ryan also once again dives into the political intrigue, as the protagonists are involved in some great fights for the future of the realm.  Watching the protagonists fight both on and off the battlefield is pretty cool, and the sheer threats growing around them in the last quarter of the book bode well for the future of the series.  There are some interesting reveals towards the end of The Martyr, and Ryan also works to tie up a few loose ends from the previous book, which I was very happy to have closure on.  Everything ends on a very intriguing note, as Ryan leaves behind a great little cliff-hanger reveal that will be very thought-provoking in the lead-up to the next book.  I had such a great time with this story, and it really drew me in with its fantastic moments and complex, overarching storylines.

I am a pretty big fan of how The Martyr’s story came together, and Ryan has a great writing style that really enhanced the whole experience.  I absolutely loved the chronicle style that he uses to detail the plot.  Told completely from the protagonist’s perspective as he writes down all he experiences, you get a unique view of the events occurring, especially as the protagonist writes in funny or insightful comments that show his opinions of the events in hindsight.  At the same time, they allow the protagonist to air his many regrets, and you get a certain sense of foreboding for some of the events that are to come, either in this book or in the rest of the series.  I was pretty consistently entertained by this style of writing, and I think that it also added in some extra humour to a somewhat darker fantasy story, especially as the protagonist is quite a funny and unconventional figure.  The Martyr’s story has an amazing blend of different elements, and while I lavished my love above on the great action, especially during the siege sequences, most of the book is about the development of the protagonist and his attempts to keep Evadine alive.  This results in a brilliant combination of politics, intrigue, great interactions between figures, and some awesome character development, which works to produce quite an addictive read.  Watching Alwyn trying to come to grips with the many dangers threating his friends, while also unpicking the multitude of mysteries and secrets surrounding him is just great, and Ryan keeps adding in new secrets and supporting storylines to keep the reader interested.  While there is a lot going on within The Martyr, the pace is pretty fast and consistently exciting, and at no point was I not immensely entertained, either by the powerful action or fascinating world building.  Due to the amount of lore and history featured in the first book, I would strongly suggest that interested readers get through The Pariah before trying out The Martyr, and fans of the first book will really enjoy where this second book goes and how Ryan effectively tells the story.

I was very impressed with all the cool ways that Ryan expanded the series’ setting in The Martyr, as he adds in some great additional history, expands on some of the mysterious religious and mystical aspects of the first, while also showing off some fascinating new lands.  This additional context around parts of the nation of Albermaine proves to be pretty damn intriguing, and you learn a lot more about it, while also seeing a lot more about its internal politics and rule, especially as the characters are forced to deal with the royalty and the church.  The inclusion of the Duchy of Alundia, where much of the plot takes place, was also pretty excellent, especially as Ryan portrays it as a more rugged and dangerous locale, whose unique take on the Covenant religion leads to a veritable holy war when Evadine and her company arrive.  However, the most captivating new part of the book has to involve the protagonist’s journey to the Caerith Wastes.  Alwyn has been haunted by members of the mysterious Caerith race since the start of The Pariah, and their strange ways and powerful magics have been both a boon and a curse to him.  As such, a journey to their homeland was always inevitable, and Ryan ensures that there are many surprises, mysteries and some interesting reveals for the protagonist when he finally arrives.  Ryan did a really good job introducing this new race of people in the story, and there are some great scenes where Alwyn attempts to learn more of them, while using his own personal history to stay alive with them.  The subsequent reveals about some of their powers and how it has been impacting Alwyn are pretty amazing.  One reveal, which illuminates the origins of Alwyn’s historical chronicle that the entire series is based on, was particularly compelling, and it sheds a whole new light on everything you have been reading.  Overall, Ryan did a fantastic job expanding his fantasy realm in The Martyr, and I look forward to seeing what cool inclusions he features in the next book.

Easily one of the best things about The Martyr was the outstanding and complex characters that were such a key part of the book.  Ryan expands on many of the great characters from the first book and takes their unique narratives in some amazing new directions.  The compelling and dramatic interactions that occur between these figures results in some powerful moments and I deeply enjoyed seeing the outstanding ways their tales and lives evolved in this second book.

The character who naturally gets the most focus is central protagonist and sole point-of-view character, Alwyn Scribe.  A former bandit who, thanks to a series of influential leaders and friends, became first a talented scribe and then a soldier, Alwyn is a man with a past and a fast mind who now finds himself in the centre of his nation’s crisis.  Dedicated to the Lady Evadine, Alwyn spends much of this book advancing her cause, while also evolving further as a character.  While he still primarily considers himself to be a scribe, Alwyn ends up taking on more and more different roles as he finds himself thrust into Evadine’s adventures, including being a knight, a military commander, a politician and a spymaster.  As such, you see him go through some major leaps and developments as he tries to reconcile what he is with what he needs to be to keep those around him alive.  This proves to be quite fascinating, and I loved the various unique situations he finds himself in, especially as he begins to realise some of the mystical mysteries the world contains and his place in them.  Alwyn continues to be an excellent main character for this series, and I loved his depictions of how the events of the book unfold, especially as his later insights from when he chronicles his adventures add both weight and humour to the current story.  His unique background as a criminal and a scribe continues to serve him well in The Martyr, and he has some very inventive ways of solving problems that often rely on his criminal or academic past.  I also deeply enjoyed seeing him take on a role as a teacher and mentor to several younger characters in this book, and it was a nice to see Alwyn come full circle after all the mentorship he received in the first book.  I had a great time seeing how he grew into the new roles in this book, and it will be fascinating to see what different positions he takes on in the future, especially as he becomes more and more devoted to Evadine, not matter how crazy their adventures become.

That leads nicely to the other major character I wanted to highlight, Lady Evadine Courlain.  Evadine is a fascinating figure in this series, a pious and devote noblewoman who has been receiving prophetic visions all her life.  Believing these visions to be from the Seraphile (the divine focus of the Covenant religion), Evadine created her own military company in the hopes of averting the Second Scourge (an apocalyptic calamity).  After miraculously recovering from a fatal wound, Evadine has now been declared a Risen Martyr, and believes herself to have been raised up by the Seraphile, despite it actually being caused by a magical bargain struck by Alwyn.  Now a major religious figure, Evadine has become a threat to both the church and the crown and must deal with their attempts to destroy her while she attempts to achieve her mysterious goals.  I deeply enjoy Evadine as a character, particularly as there is such an inherent mystery behind her, as you have no idea whether she is actually divinely blessed or just crazy.  Ryan portrays her as both at times, and while it is easy to assume the latter, she keeps coming up with knowledge and insights that should be impossible to achieve.  Watching her continue to evolve as a religious figure in The Martyr is both fascinating, and a little concerning, as you really have no idea where her story is going to go, or what insanity or divine revelation may come from her next.  Evadine serves as a quite a good foil to the more cynical character of Alwyn, and they become quite an intriguing team in The Martyr, with Alwyn providing the means to many of her successes, while strongly disbelieving her divine status.  There is also a certain growing instability in Evadine that underlies much of the book and adds to the general tension between her an Alwyn.  This, as well as a few intriguing reveals, makes Evadine one of the most compelling and unique figures in the series and it is clear that Ryan has some very, very interesting plans for her future.

Aside from Alwyn and Evadine, The Martyr is loaded with a ton of great supporting characters who add a substantial amount to the overall narrative.  Many of these characters carry over from the first book, and there are some intriguing and dramatic developments that occur in The Martyr that prove to be quite shocking and fun in places.  Great examples of this include the disgraced knight Wilhum Dornmahl, who is a major figure in the Covenant Company’s ranks, Ayin a murderous young girl Alwyn takes under his wing and teaches, and the mysterious Sack Witch, who haunts the character, despite barely appearing in the book.  In addition, Ryan introduces many new great characters in the second book, or else finally introduces and expands on characters mentioned in The Pariah.  Two minor characters from the first book who really stood out to me in the sequel were Princess Leannor, the king’s sister, who serves as a canny and complex political adversary to Alwyn; and Ehkbert Bauldry, a legendary knight who Alwyn bears a grudge against, but who also proves to be an interesting ally.  Both have some intriguing interactions with Alwyn, especially as they know he has some substantial dirt on them that makes him quite a threat.  I also must highlight outstanding new characters like Juhlina, better known as a The Widow, a deadly Covenant Company soldier with a tragic backstory and unstoppable rage, and Lilat, another new mentee for Alywn.  These characters were all extremely fun and compelling, and I loved how Ryan fit them into the story and made them shine.

As I mentioned above, I did receive a psychical copy of The Martyr a little while ago, however, I held off reading it until the audiobook version came out.  While I did regret not diving into the story as soon as I got it, I think it was more than worth it as the audiobook format of The Martyr was pretty damn exceptional.  Coming in with a run time of just under 20 hours, The Martyr has a decent length to it, although I found myself getting through it in just a week, mainly because I was just so addicted to Ryan’s outstanding story.  The audiobook format really helped with my enjoyment of this book, and I really found myself getting drawn into the elaborate narrative through the narration.  I definitely absorb more narrative detail when I listen to a book, and this was particularly noticeable with The Martyr audiobook, as I found all the cool story elements, details about the setting, intriguing characters and epic action popped more into my head through this format.  I also really need to highlight the exceptional voice work of actor Steven Brand (who I best know as the villain from The Scorpion King) who has lent his voice to the audiobook versions of all of Ryan’s works.  Brand is an extremely talented audiobook narrator who deftly captures the many characters contained with The Martyr and gives them distinctive and compelling voices that really fit the character and showcase their emotions.  I particularly liked the way in which he portrays protagonist and narrator Alwyn Scribe, and you really get a sense of the character’s emotional state, as well as the sense of weariness the chronicle format conveys through Brand’s voice.  This ended up being a pretty awesome audiobook and it was definitely my preferred way to enjoy The Martyr.  As such, this format is highly recommended, and when I get around to reading the rest of Ryan’s books, I will be grabbing their audiobook versions.

After all the gushing above, I think it is fair to say that I deeply enjoyed Anthony Ryan’s latest book.  The Martyr was an exceptional and deeply addictive read that I felt perfectly continued the amazing groundwork he established in The Pariah.  This second entry in The Covenant of Steel series was something special, and I had such an epic time seeing what unique and captivating adventures and battles the great protagonists found themselves in.  The Martyr was such an outstanding fantasy read, and I can’t wait to see how Ryan continues this awesome series in the future.  A truly incredible read!

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All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

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Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 30 August 2022)

Series: All of Us Villains – Book Two

Length: 470 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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After wowing the world with their first collaboration, 2021’s All of Us Villains, the superstar young adult fiction team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman return with the second book in their impressive duology, All of Our Demise, one of the most anticipated young adult fantasy releases of the year.

For generations, seven prominent families of the city of Ilvernath have each sacrificed one of their children to a legendary death tournament, the winner of which would secure the extremely powerful high magick for their family.  However, this latest tournament has not turned out like anyone expected.  Already exposed to the world thanks to a tell-all book, some of the champions, led by the seemingly heroic Briony Thorburn, are determined to break free from the bloody tournament that has long haunted their families.  But as they attempt to break the curse that binds the tournament to them by destroying the enchanted artefacts and locations associated with their families, their actions will have unexpected consequences on all around them.

For the first time in its history, the magical Blood Veil that physically separates the participants from the outside world has been broken and now everyone can witness the tournament unfold.  As reporters and members of the public swarm into the historic battleground as witnesses, the participants can return to Ilvernath and seek help from those in town.  The destruction of the Blood Veil seems proof that Briony’s plan is working, but not everyone wants the curse to end.

After the miraculous resurrection of his murdered brother, Hendry, Alistair Lowe believes that the only way he can keep Hendry alive is by winning the tournament.  After murdering his entire evil family and after being cursed by the girl he fell for, Alistair finds himself isolated with Hendry, unsure how to proceed.  However, he soon finds himself working with a surprising new ally in Gavin Grieve, the boy no-one expected to survive, and who has his own desperate reasons for working with the Lowes.  At the same time, the formerly glamorous Isobel Macaslan finds herself drawn to the mysterious Reid MacTavish, whose manipulation of the champions has brought nothing but trouble.  Determined to help Briony destroy the tournament, Isobel will break all the rules to survive, even if that means drafting Reid in against his will.

As the battle lines are drawn and the two groups of champions attempt to path their respective courses to victory, they find unexpected obstacles blocking their way.  Not only are the champions’ manipulative families attempting to sway events to their favour, but the media is determined to make all of them infamous in their own way.  Forced to battle each other both in the tournament and in the field of public opinion, the champions will face unbelievable tragedy and despair as they all try to survive.  However, the biggest threat to all of them may come from outside the tournament, and no-one is prepared for the evils waiting for them in the wider world.

Foody and Lynn Herman have delivered quite an impressive sequel here with All of Our Demise, which presents the reader with another epic and powerful story.  Building on the elaborate narrative and character arcs of All of Us Villains, All of Our Demise takes the reader on an exceptional emotional rollercoaster as they watch four extremely complex and distinctive point-of-view characters battle in impossible circumstances.  All of Our Demise ends up being just as good, if not a little better, than Foody and Lynn Herman’s first impressive outing, and it provides readers with an outstanding and memorable conclusion to this captivating young adult fantasy duology.

I’m still reeling a little bit about how All of Our Demise’s story turned out.  Foody and Lynn Hermann did a remarkable job with this sequel and the story continues seamlessly on from the events of the first book.  Told from the perspective of the four main characters, the death tournament focus of the story has evolved due to the events of All of Us Villains and the characters are now forced to contend with outside forces as they fight in an extended battleground.  The protagonists are now split down the middle as some fight to destroy the tournament for good, while they others try to keep it alive so they can win, either for their own survival or to save those closest to them.  All four protagonists have some brilliant character driven storylines around them, and each of them is fighting for something important to them, whether it be redemption, family, reputation, or respect.  In addition, the protagonists are still reeling from the events of All of Us Villains, and no-one has been left emotionally or physically untouched from the events of the first book.  This results in an emotionally heavy storyline, especially once everyone gets a taste of betrayal, either from the other champions or from other malign figures outside of the main group.  The story evolves at a great pace, and the authors chuck in some imaginative and clever twists as each group starts to get closer to their goal.  New relationships are built while others are torn down, and there are some very intense moments as scorned friends finally confront each other over past betrayals.  Everything leads up perfectly to the big conclusion, where there are some big sacrifices and some major changes in the lives of every protagonist as they reach their endgame.  I really appreciated how this impressive story came together, and you will be left shocked, moved and very satisfied with how this outstanding duology came to an end.

I think the excellent team of Foody and Lynn Herman did a remarkable job pulling All of Our Demise together, and this was an extremely well-written book.  As I mentioned above, this is a pretty epic sequel, and the authors strike off right after the cool cliff-hanger that All of Us Villains ended on.  All the great story elements from the first book are seamlessly continued here, and I really appreciated being able to jump straight into the narrative again.  While the authors do ensure that there is some exposition so that readers can remember what happened in the first book, I would say that All of Our Demise is a bit of a harder book to enjoy if you haven’t read All of Us Villains first.  There are some story and character gaps featured here that might be a bit hard to follow without having read the first book, so I would definitely recommend checking that out first.  Once you are into this story, there really isn’t a slow moment, as the characters are constantly engaged in some form of action, the enhanced intrigue surrounding the event, or a deep examination of their psyche and relationships, especially as they continue to examine the terrible events they have found themselves in.  While All of Our Demise is a bit of a brick, you honestly are never left feeling bored or stuck, and you frankly can’t help but move forward as you are drawn into this elaborate tale.  I really think that the split between the four protagonists is handled perfectly as well, and it ensures you get a well-balanced narrative and substantial time to dive into their respective and impressive character arcs.  This was one of those young adult novels that has a lot of appeal both for its target teen audience, and much older readers, as everyone will deeply appreciate its clever storylines and deeply relatable characters.  I felt that All of Our Demise came together exceptionally well, and this ended up being quite an outstanding and addictive read.

I must make special note of the cool death tournament that is such a fantastic feature of this amazing duology.  I love a great young adult death tournament scenario (who doesn’t?), and the one featured in All of Us Villains and All of Our Demise is particularly inventive, loaded with a unique history, fun magical features, and all manner of devastating tragedy.  I was really impressed with how the authors set up and featured this elaborate tournament in the previous book, and they continue to utilise it throughout All of Our Demise.  The constant fight to survive the lethal tournament becomes even more complicated throughout this second book, and it was fascinating to see how the characters deal with the pressure and the constant war they find themselves in.  There are some excellent features of the tournament that come into play in this second book, including the new magical artefacts and locations featured within that give them varying advantages.  These are generally short lived as the champions are determined to destroy them all, which not only requires them to learn more of their various family’s dark histories but forces them to engage in deadly challenges built into the tournament to destroy it.  These challenges are pretty epic, and it was great to see the protagonists involved in progressively more lethal encounters.

However, the most distinctive and entertaining change to the tournament that occurred in All of Our Demise was the sudden lack invasion of the public that occurred due to the breaking of the Blood Veil barrier.  The tournament has always historically been a private affair between the champions, but now the entire battle is a worldwide sensation being constantly reported on by the media.  It was quite fascinating and a little maddening to see the supposed sombre death tournament devolve further into a gaudy spectacle, equipped with baying fans, manipulative outsiders and a ton of paparazzi, all of whom have a very different view of the events occurring.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the ridiculous media coverage that occurred throughout this second part of the tournament, especially as various over-the-top and often blatantly false headlines and discussions of current tournament events appeared at the start of every chapter, replacing the quotes from the tell-all book that were featured in All of Us Villains.  This media coverage nearly always painted the complex characters in such a terrible light for the rest of world, which was a little hard to see, especially after you have become quite attached to the various protagonists.  However, I personally felt that it drew me into the narrative a little more, and it was a very entertaining and fun element that I had an amazing amount of fun with.  This media coverage had an interesting impact on the events of the narrative, as the characters are forced to conduct interviews and discussions with reporters to further their goals.  This entire change in the publicity of the tournament was a brilliant addition to this second book, and it altered the tone of the book in an impressive and amazing way, that really added to my enjoyment of the book.

However, the best thing about All of Our Demise was the exceptional character work featured within.  Foody and Lynn Herman did such a brilliant job setting up the four complex protagonists in All of Us Villains, and these impressive character arcs are continued seamlessly in the sequel, with each of the protagonists forced to deal with some of the further traumas that were inflicted on them in the first book.  All of Our Demise maintains the same four point-of-view characters as before, and I found myself instantly connected to them again as I remembered their compelling history and the devastating events that occurred to them in the first book.  The authors continued to perfectly build these characters throughout All of Our Demise, subjecting them to further trauma, emotional concerns and hardships, and watching them try to deal with these as they fight for their survival is a key and impressive part of this epic young adult book.

Probably the most compelling character in the entire duology is Alistair Lowe, who simultaneously plays the role of the best antagonist and an intriguing and likeable protagonist.  Alistair is the oldest son of the Lowe family, who are generally considered to be the major villains of the tournament.  Despite being raised from birth to be a monster, Alistair was hesitant about his role in the tournament and was initially a reluctant participant, even though he knew it was his destiny.  Thanks to his romantic interactions with fellow champion Isobel and the murder of his brother Hendry by his family to boost his chances, Alistair had a brief brush as being a hero and destroying the tournament with the others.  However, the apparent resurrection of Hendry by the tournament at the end of All of Us Villains caused Alistair to abandon his allies and attempt to kill Isobel as he believes their plan would result in his brother dying again.  Now fatally cursed and having taken brutal revenge on his family, Alistair is forced to re-envision himself as the villain once again to convince himself to kill the other champions, all to save the most important person in his life.

It is very hard not to appreciate Alistair as character as the authors have done an incredible job creating him and turning him into the most complex figure in the novel.  The authors really did a number on Alistair in the last book, and watching him try and work through all these issues here is extremely powerful, especially as he keeps experiencing more setbacks and traumas as he proceeds.  There is so much tragedy and emotional turmoil surrounding Alistair in this book, and the authors write an excellent arc around him for this sequel.  Watching him try to balance his desires and true nature with everyone’s perspective of him as a monster is just so damn fascinating and moving, and you can’t help but feel sorry for this fictional character.  I am glad that Foody and Lynn Herman did work in a redemption arc for Alistair in All of Our Demise, and there are some surprising, but very heartfelt relationships surrounding him in this novel that help to keep him going.  I really think that the authors handled Alistair perfectly, and he is definitely the character that everyone will remember once they finish this book.

Another character who you fall in love with Isobel Macaslan, another person who has gone through absolute hell through the course of the books.  Forced into the tournament against her will, Isobel tried to use her sudden infamy to her benefit and projected an air of confidence before the tournament, despite being terrified and used by her family.  Since then, she had an unfortunate romantic entanglement with Alistair Lowe which resulted in him murdering her.  Resurrected by a dark curse that makes her more corpse than woman, Isobel is in a very bad place during this book.  Still controlled by doubt and despair, Isobel is uncertain about whether she believes in the plan her friends are proposing and spends most of the book coming to terms with her fears and her growing attachment to another dangerous character.  Throw in some major family issues, as she continues to struggle with her selfish family, and a hostile press who produce some typical paparazzi junk about her, and you some excellent and compelling moments around Isobel that are fascinating to see.  Isobel continues to experience quite a lot of tragedy in this novel and watching her power through them and try to fix all her damaged relationships is a great part of the plot.

The third point-of-view character is Briony Thorburn, who serves quite a key role in the plot.  Briony has seen herself as the hero her entire life and was the only person excited for the tournament.  However, after her younger sister was chosen in her place thanks to the machinations of the government, Briony illegally entered the tournament by incapacitating her sister and cutting her finger off.  Now determined to destroy the tournament, Briony leads the charge to destroy the artefacts and landmarks.  However, there are some major concerns about her actual motivations, as many assume this part of her manipulative hero complex.  Briony spends most of the book trying to redeem herself after the mistakes of the first novel, a task that is complicated by her own family, who have their own sinister plans for her and the other champions.  Mentally isolated and hated by the media, Briony has a terrible time in All of Our Demise, and the authors weave some powerful moments around her.  I honestly think that Briony had one of the best and most complete narratives in the entire series, and All of Our Demise brought her character arc together extremely well.  Like the rest of the cast, it is very hard not to grow attached to Briony as you witness her complicated physical and mental battles unfold, and I really appreciated the outstanding way it ended.

The final main character is Gavin Grieve, who proved to be one of the most surprising and captivating characters from the first book.  The chosen sacrifice of the one family who has never won the tournament, Gavin always knew he was destined to die.  Full of rage and resentment, Gavin chose to make a deal with the devil and accessed a dangerous form of magick that drained his own life to gain substantial power.  Made into a lethal contender but slowly dying, Gavin is convinced by outside forces that they can save him, but they require him to work with Alistair Lowe.  Forced to overcome his own prejudices, most of which revolve from the perceived disrespect of the other champions, Gavin grows close to Alistair, and they form an interesting team.  I was really surprised by the direction of Gavin’s storylines in this book, especially as there are some fantastic reveals and changes in personality.  The authors did a great job of explaining his changes in personality, and I felt that it was quite a natural transition, especially when you consider everything he’s gone through.  Gavin rounded out the central cast of damaged, complex protagonists, extremely well, and I thought that this was a brilliant combination of characters.  Their combined complex storylines and arcs are just superb, and while you might get a little more drawn in to one or two of the characters more than the rest, there is no perspective that you are actively wanting to avoid.  I cannot highlight just how impressive these four characters were, and Foody and Lynn Herman should be commended for the exceptional character work they did here.

The wonderful and insanely talented team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have come up with something truly special with All of Our Demise.  Perfectly finishing the brilliant story started in All of Us Villains, All of Our Demise lived up to all the hype surrounding it and ended up being one of the best young adult fantasy books of the year.  Featuring all the great characters from the first book, Foody and Lynn Herman weave an addictive and deeply personal narrative around them that takes the reader back into the midst of a constantly evolving and deeply traumatising magical death tournament.  Intense, captivating and very complex, All of Our Demise is a highly recommended read, and I cannot have envisioned a better end for the exceptional young adult duology.

All of Our Demise Cover

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Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett

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’s Top Ten Tuesday required participants to list the top upcoming books on their Fall (Spring down here in the Southern hemisphere) to be read list.  However, I addressed that a couple of weeks ago, so that leaves me with a bit of a free topic this week.  I decided to fill this extra list by looking at one of my absolute favourite series of all time, the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.

I have long been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which, in my opinion, is one of the absolute best series of all time.  Made up of 41 separate novels and running from 1983 to 2015, the Discworld novels are a fantasy institution from one of the most talented authors ever.  Set on a flat world shaped like a disc that travels through space on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle, this world is filled with all manner of crazy and over-the-top people, creatures, gods and monsters, and this results in an amazing number of stories.  All 41 books feature amazing and highly unique story that perfectly blends outrageous fantasy elements with clever and relentless humour and satire.  I have read every Discworld novel multiple times, and in my opinion, everyone is a masterpiece in their own way.  Heck, I am such a big fan of this series that I even named this blog after a location in the Discworld universe, that’s how much I love them.

While the Discworld novels are never that far from my mind, I have been thinking about them a lot more lately, mainly because I have been featuring some of them on my recent top ten lists.  My lists that highlighted my favourite Books with Magical Schools, Favourite Books Written More than Ten Years Ago and Hilarious Book Titles have all featured a few Discworld books, and it turns out I have a hard time not going on about Pratchett’s work on a weekly basis.  Naturally, this has gotten me thinking more and more about the Discworld books, and I will probably embark on a new re-read of them sooner or later.  However, before I get around to that, I thought I would have a go at listing my absolute favourite Discworld novels, as that will make an interesting list.

Now, why I deeply enjoy this entire series, not all Discworld novels are created equal.  Several shine above the rest in my opinion, whether because they have better jokes, a more compelling plot, or a more impressive and elaborate premise.  As such, I felt reasonably confident that I could choose the ten entries (with some honourable mentions) that I enjoy the most.  I have based this list on several factors, including humour, plot, world-building, characters and many other features.  This allowed me to determine my favourite Discworld books, although I had to make some hard choices to settle on a final top ten, as all of them are very good.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to my list, and I think the results match my overall preference rather well.  While most of them are from Pratchett’s golden years and are in the middle of the Discworld release back, I think there is a good variety here, and that the list below really showcases the outstanding and amazing depth that Pratchett always had.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Interesting Times – 1994

Interesting Times Cover

A rambling good read that sees one of Pratchett’s most iconic protagonists visit this world’s version of Asia.  Loaded with some brilliant jokes (the multiple translations of a person’s scream), a ton of fun references to Asian culture, and some outrageous characters, Interesting Times is an excellent read that also offers a little closure for the first two Discworld books.

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Feet of Clay – 1996

Feet of Clay Cover

The third City Watch novel, Feet of Clay is a brilliant murder mystery novel that makes full use of its fantasy and comedy to create an epic read.  Featuring several great mysteries, including a series of murders committed by a Golem and the poisoning of the city’s ruler, you really get dragged into the story while loving Pratchett’s excellent solutions and hilarious inclusions.

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The Truth – 2000

The Truth Cover

Pratchett introduces print journalism to the Discworld in this clever standalone entry.  Following an ambitious reporter who creates Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, only to get dragged into a big conspiracy, The Truth is an ambitious and very exciting entry that perfectly parodies everything about newspapers.  Loaded with jokes about everything from dodgy advertisers, stupid human interest pieces, and even featuring a trashy alternate paper, this is perfect for anyone familiar with the crazy newspapers of London.

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Night Watch – 2002

Night Watch Cover

Another exceptional City Watch book is the later entry, Night Watch, which sees Vimes, transported back into the past by magic with a dangerous serial killer.  Forced to relive his traumatic early days on the watch, Vimes must keep his younger self alive while also navigating a dangerous revolution he remembers all too well.  With a compelling narrative that mirrors Les Misérables and some great time-travel elements, Night Watch is one of the more distinctive reads in the series.  While it gets a lot darker than some of the other Discworld novels, it is still extremely addictive, and fits into the rest of the series perfectly

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Top Ten List:

Pyramids – 1989

Pyramids Cover

The first entry on my top ten list is the classic Pratchett novel, Pyramids.  A standalone entry in the series, Pyramids tells the story of a young prince of a river valley kingdom, very similar to Egypt, who returns home after receiving training as an assassin in Ankh-Morpork (the biggest city on the Discworld and a major setting).  Upon claiming the throne, he tries to fight against the tradition of his kingdom, with limited effect, until the kingdom’s overuse of pyramids creates major temporal issues for the entire valley (its all down to bad geometry).  Loaded with so many jokes about ancient Egypt, this is a hilarious fish-out-of-water tale that is very hard to put down.  There are a ton of great moments in this novel, including the best look at the legendary Assassin’s Guild, an impromptu rugby game between the gods over the sun (with commentary from an overexcited priest), and an army of mummies pissed off at being buried without their organs.  I have probably read this Discworld novel the most out of any of them, and I get something new out of it every time I pick it up.  An exceptional, and extremely funny read.

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Guards! Guards! – 1989

Guards! Guards! Cover

One of the more interesting aspects of the Discworld series is the way that Pratchett featured several smaller sub-series which follow specific characters.  My favourite of these is easily the City Watch books, which follow the underpaid and constantly underestimated watchmen of the infamous, crime-ridden city of Ankh-Morpork.  Perfectly blending Pratchett’s typical humour and fantasy elements with hard-boiled detective narratives, the City Watch books are some of the best entries in this series, and I love the unique blend of characters and highly entertaining and enthralling narratives.  The first City Watch entry, Guards! Guards! is definitely one of Pratchett’s best novels, and I constantly rave about it when I do lists about funny books.  Not only does it do a great job introducing several iconic characters who Pratchett would reuse throughout the rest of the series, but it has an outstanding narrative to it.  Following the depleted and useless Night Watch, made up of a drunk captain, a hopeless sergeant and a criminally minded corporal as they attempt to solve a series of murders caused by a magically summoned dragon.  Joined by a new eager, if slightly oblivious new recruit, who definitely isn’t the city’s returning king, the Night Watch embark on an ambitious investigation against cultists, dragon hunters and city’s massive criminal class.  Guards! Guards! is fantastic on so many levels, and there is something for everyone in it.

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Moving Pictures – 1990

Moving Pictures Cover

One of the things that the Discworld novels excel at is parody and satire of certain social, historical or cultural elements, with everything from countries, ancient empires and entire trades lovingly mocked.  Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Moving Pictures, a mostly standalone read that sees the art of film appear on the Discworld, becoming an instant hit.  Soon an alternate version of Hollywood appears, and various characters jump at the chance to make over-the-top films, which are accompanied by a vast array of jokes and references about classic movies, film making tropes and actors.  Naturally for a Discworld book, nothing is what it seems, and the heroes are forced to face off against interdimensional monsters coming out of the screens.  In addition, the iconic Unseen University setting gets some stability as a new Arch-Chancellor arrives, shaking up the wizards.  I love this book on so many levels, especially as Pratchett has so much fun satirising the film industry here.  Everything is lampooned here, such as Gone with the Wind (accompanied with subliminal advertising), King Kong (except a giant woman kidnaps an ape), The Wizard of Oz (the dwarfs of the Discworld will never be the same again), and so much more.  I can’t even count the sheer number of movie references featured here, and I discover a new clever joke every time I read Moving Pictures.  Pratchett also manages to introduce or expand on several great secondary characters who will go on to have major roles in other books in the series, so it turns out to be a surprisingly key book.  Impressive and wonderful on so many levels, Moving Pictures was an easy inclusion for this list.

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Witches Abroad – 1991

Witches Abroad Cover

Another one of the top Discworld sub-series is the Witches books, which unsurprisingly follows a group of witches (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick), in several unique adventures.  Unlike the characters they are based on from Macbeth, the witches are a force for good and help the local villages primarily with headology (psychology and folk medicine parcelled up with mystical overtones) and the occasional magic.  The witches make for an excellent group of central characters, and Pratchett told some exceptional stories with them.  While Wyrd Sisters and Lords and Ladies are both pretty epic reads, my favourite Witches book is Witches Abroad.  As the name suggests, this book see the three protagonists embark on a holiday to a faraway kingdom (essentially New Orleans), to fulfil a fairy godmother’s last wish.  Along the way they are forced to confront a series of twisted fairy tale scenarios, their own internal bickering, and an evil fairy godmother from Granny Weatherwax’s past.  Armed only with a wand that is permanently set to pumpkin mode, the witches must deploy their usual trickery to save the day.  This entire novel is pretty epic, as it not only captures the protagonists in all their amazing glory, but it has a powerful story that expertly blends humour and drama.  A lot of the narrative focuses on the dark side of fairy tales, and Pratchett has fun satirising so many classic stories in very clever ways.  However, my favourite scene is the fantastic sequence where Granny Weatherwax uses headology to completely destroy a group of card sharks who had conned her friends.  Extremely inventive, memorable and oh so funny, I just had to feature Witches Abroad here.

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Small Gods – 1992

Small Gods Cover

The next entry on this list is in my opinion, some of Pratchett’s best work.  The 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods has a standalone narrative which sees Pratchett examine religion and belief.  The story follows Brutha, a somewhat simple lad who lives in a vast imperial theocracy that is centred around the worship of the Great God Om.  However, Brutha is shocked when he discovers a talking tortoise only he can understand who claims to be the actual Om.  Forced to take the tortoise along on a great adventure, Brutha discovers the corruption at the heart of his empire and must fight to save it, himself, and his god.  This is a particularly clever novel from Pratchett and a very worth addition to this list.  The author pulls together a very thoughtful and captivating read that examines the various pros and cons of religion, worship and gods in a very thoughtful, but still humorous way.  The mixture of theological debate, adventure, and the brilliant satire of religion, results in a very impressive read, and it is guaranteed to leave you both laughing and pensive at the same time.  The book’s main strength is the outstanding interactions of the two main characters, and the growing relationship between an arrogant put powerless god, and his simple but deeply wise believer, sets an impressive tone for the entire book.  I would say that Small Gods is one of the most intelligent and compelling books of the entire Discworld series and I cannot hype it up enough.

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Men at Arms – 1993

Men At Arms Cover

After wowing everyone with Guards! Guards! Pratchett mercifully brought back the City Watch characters and storylines again with a fantastic sequel, Men at Arms.  This book sees a retiring Captain Vimes and his team try and stop a madman who is running around the city killing people with the Disc’s first gun.  Featuring another exceptional mystery that involves assassins, clowns and a literal species war between dwarfs and trolls, Pratchett switches the tone of this book from the hardboiled detective story of Guards! Guards! to a more typical police narrative like Dirty Harry.  Loaded with fantastic cop humour and introducing several great new characters, Men at Arms is just as good as the first City Watch book, while also expertly setting up some story elements for the rest of the series.  Guaranteed to appeal to both fantasy fans and crime fiction buffs, Men at Arms is one hell of a read.

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Hogfather – 1996

Hogfather Cover

All Pratchett fans will know that one of the most surprising loveable recurring characters in the entire Discworld series is Death, the literal grim reaper, who appears in pretty much every book.  Initially shown to as a resolute soul taker, Death evolves into quite a personable and likeable figure who is obsessed with the humans he’s tasked with reaping.  This obsession eventually compels him to adopt a daughter and take on an apprentice, which leads to the first Death book, Mort.  Pratchett wrote several Death novels over his career, many of which dealt with Death’s growing love of humanity, while also involving attacks on reality by outside forces.  While I have a lot of love for Reaper Man and Soul Music, my favourite Death novel is probably Hogfather.  After the Hogfather (this universe’s version of Santa) is murdered, Death steps into the role for unknown reasons.  This forces his granddaughter, Susan, to investigate the disappearance and try to bring back the Hogfather.  This results in an extremely entertaining and silly book that satirises all things Christmas and festive in one fantastic outing.  Most of the humour revolves around Death pretending to be Santa, which leads to all manner of confusion and fear, that is so much fun to see.  Throw in a very memorable villain and a great secondary storyline around the crazy wizards at the Unseen University accidently inventing gods, and this is one of the funniest books in the series.  A very entertaining and compelling Discworld novel, you will never look at Christmas the same again after reading it.

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Jingo – 1997

Jingo Cover

For the next entry on this list, Jingo, I must admit that my choice to include it here might be for more personal reasons, rather than purely on the quality of the book.  That is because Jingo was the first Pratchett book I ever properly read, and it has led to my subsequent lifelong obsession with all things Discworld.  I still have my first copy of Jingo, and it is extra special for me because I managed to get Terry to sign it for me.  So yeah, I might be a little biased when it comes to Jingo, but I maintain it is a worthy addition to this list as it has a brilliant and hilarious story to it.  The fourth entry in the City Watch sub-series, Jingo sees Commander Vimes and his men caught up in a brewing war between Ankh-Morpork and the rival empire of Klatch when both claim a mysterious new island that rose in the ocean between them.  After an attempted assassination of a Klatchian prince occurs on Vimes’ watch, he leads the city watch in an impromptu invasion of Klatch to find the killer and stop the war.  I deeply enjoyed Jingo’s brilliant and very clever story and it was a very worthy addition to the City Watch series.  The humour in Jingo is a bit more subtle than some of Pratchett’s other novels, with most of the jokes satirising British imperialism, diplomacy, politics, and its view of foreigners, with a ton of references to historical wars and conflicts that Britain had against its neighbours.  While some of the jokes are a tad obscure, they are all extremely well set up, and they always get a chuckle out of me.  Throw in some brilliant references about a lone bowman assassin, an espionage mission with Sergeant Colon and a cross-dressing Corporal Nobbs that has mixed success, and the always charismatic Captain Carrot turning into Lawrence of Arabia and arresting two entire armies for breaches of the peace, and you have a really entertaining narrative.  Jingo is always a must read for me whenever I revisit the Discworld universe, as well as being an essential entry in the deeply impressive City Watch books that comes highly recommended.

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The Last Continent – 1998

The Last Continent Cover

Another Pratchett book that I have a little bias for is The Last Continent, which is probably one of my absolute favourite Discworld novels.  The sixth book to feature the cowardly wizzard (not a typo) Rincewind as its protagonist, The Last Continent takes place on the lost continent of XXXX, which is essentially the Discworld’s version of Australia (despite certain assurances from the author that any similarities to Australia are coincidental at best).  This book follows Rincewind after he is tricked into another heroic quest that sees him traverse the continent, often mimicking various Australian folk heroes or cultural icons.  At the same time, the wizards of Unseen University, in an attempt to find Rincewind, get themselves trapped back in time and must escape from an enthusiastic god of evolution with their usual chaotic shenanigans.  Pratchett has a lot of fun with The Last Continent, and there isn’t a single piece of Australian culture or history that he doesn’t make fun of here.  As an Australian myself, I can’t help but laugh at all his fun and well-written Australian jokes and it was interesting to see his British take on my country.  I also have a lot of love for the evolution centred jokes that occur during the secondary storyline, many of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after I studied biology at university.  This is probably one of the better Rincewind novels as well, especially as the character now full appreciates his role in the universe, and his resentment at being dragged into a heroic quest is quite hilarious.  Him, plus the fantastically written Unseen University wizards, make for a sensational cast, and their two storylines come together perfectly.  There is no way that I can exclude Pratchett’s love-letter to Australia from this list, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

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Going Postal – 2004

Going Postal Cover

The final entry on the list is Going Postal, which I feel is one of Pratchett’s best later books.  Featuring a very different tone from some of his previous books, Going Postal is a very distinctive read that is very hard not to enjoy.  Introducing a new protagonist in Moist von Lipwig, a notorious conman who is captured by Ankh-Morpork’s tyrannical leader, Lord Vetinari, and given two options: death or running the city’s post office.  Reluctantly choosing the later, Lipwig soon lives to regret his decision, as everyone and everything associated with the post office is absolutely crazy.  Forced to use all his talent, skill and instincts as a conman to save the post, Lipwig tries to rise to the occasion, only to contend with the ruthless chairman of a rival company who is determined to kill him.  It is a testament to Pratchett’s writing skill that he could make anything, even the post office, ruthlessly entertaining, as you swiftly fall in love with the hilarious over-the-top employees and associates of this crazy establishment.  Lipwig himself is the perfect protagonist for this book, and Pratchett wrote a brilliant redemptive storyline around him as he attempts to save his new friends with all his old tricks.  While this book is extremely funny, I also felt that Going Postal benefited from a somewhat darker tone than the preceding books, while  Pratchett also examines the benefits and costs of progress and new technology.  This darker tone would persist for the rest of Pratchett’s adult Discworld novels, and I have often thought that Pratchett included it in response to his growing health issues.  As such, I often look on Going Postal with a little sadness, especially as it was probably the best book he wrote towards the end of his career.  However, despite that, Going Postal is probably one of the Discworld books I have read the most and I would strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in this outstanding series.

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So, as you can see from this exceptionally long list, I have a lot of love for the Discworld series and can write a ton about all the books.  While I deeply enjoy all the Discworld novels, the ten featured above are my absolute favourite now, and I cannot recommend them enough, especially if you want a laugh or an uplifting tale to brighten your day.  This is a list I might come back to in the future, especially if I do another reread and re-evaluate my positions.  I have been thinking about trying to read all of them again soon, especially as I recently found out that the Discworld audiobooks have all been re-released, this time with an amazing voice cast, including Colin Morgan, Peter Serafinowicz, Billy Nighy, Andy Serkis and Indira Varma.  As such, stay tuned for more reviews of the Discworld books soon, and I look forward to returning to my ultimate comfort book series.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite Discworld book is in the comments below.

Guest Review – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien (Audiobook)

For this Throwback Thursday we have a rare treat with a guest review from my awesome editor/wife, Alex.  Long-time readers of this blog may remember that Alex previously provided some guest reviews of books like The Power and The Testaments, although she hasn’t provided us with anything for a long while (don’t worry, I’ve judged her very harshly because of this, so much judgement!!!).  Alex recently endeavoured to read all three The Lord of the Rings books, and I of course convinced her into writing a review for them.  I think her review below is pretty awesome (I may be slightly biased), and it has made me interested in listening to the latest audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings novels.

Publisher: HarperCollins and Recorded Books – Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Fellowship of the Rings

Amazon     Book Depository

First of all, this is not really a review of The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need me to tell you that these books are good, and Tolkien scholars have already built up mountains of literary analysis over the decades. This is instead a review of one particular way to enjoy the story: the audiobook edition recently published by HarperCollins and Recorded Books and narrated by Andy Serkis.

But I should say that this review is written from the perspective of someone who adores the Lord of the Rings movies but had never before read the books. I loved reading The Hobbit as a kid, and the cinematic masterpiece of The Fellowship of the Ring blew my 10-year-old mind. At that age, however, I found myself too impatient to enjoy the slower pace of the novel (not to mention the preliminary chapters on hobbit anthropology) but also too prideful to simply skip to ‘the good stuff’, so Fellowship was sent back to the library in frustration before Frodo had even reached the Prancing Pony. But recently watching The Rings of Power reminded me that I have been missing out on the full, glorious Tolkien canon experience.

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers Cover

Amazon     Book Depository

Regular readers of The Unseen Library will know that the Chief Librarian is constantly praising audiobooks as the very best way to absorb a story, so when I heard that there was a new edition narrated by Andy Serkis, I had to have it. And of course I loved it, as I always knew I would. The world Tolkien created is beautiful, and the themes, histories, cultures, languages, characters and journeys within defined an entire genre. The story is epic in the truest meaning of the word, but you already know that. Here instead let me answer two things you will want to know about this particular edition of the story:

  • Yes, it is unabridged.
  • Yes, he does the voices.

The first thing I checked before starting this audiobook was that it was an unabridged edition; if I were to finally read The Lord of the Rings, I would do it properly! This audiobook is actually an extension of a charity project in which Andy Serkis livestreamed himself reading The Hobbit to raise money for the NHS in the early days of the pandemic. This was followed up by an official reading of The Hobbit published later in 2020, and then The Lord of the Rings in 2021.

The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King

Amazon     Book Depository

I can think of few more appropriate actors for this project than Andy Serkis. An audiobook demands a distinctive voice for each character, especially for a book with such an enormous cast of characters, and Serkis definitely delivers, seizing the opportunity to show off his acting talents. What’s more, he has made an effort to echo the voices of his fellow Lord of the Rings film alumni. For example, he affects a Scottish accent for Pippin, a West Country accent for Samwise and Merry, and a gruff Yorkshire brogue for Boromir. He gives Aragorn the same strong but quiet dignity Viggo Mortensen did, and he gives Frodo a higher, younger-sounding voice that echoes a 20-year-old Elijah Wood more than the 50-year-old Frodo of the books. And, of course, he reproduces the definitive portrayal of Gollum for which he has been so celebrated. As a fan of the films, I greatly appreciated these choices as it meant I didn’t have to recalibrate my imagining of the characters too greatly. It would have been rather distracting if, say, Merry sounded Scottish and Pippin didn’t, and I had to concentrate all the more simply to work out who was speaking. Instead I was able to relax and focus on simply enjoying the story.

Andy Serkis Picture 1

But while the voices are clearly based, for the most part, on those of the film actors, the performances are wholly informed by the text, and Serkis has made it his own. For example, whereas Ian McKellen almost whispered Gandalf’s final command, ‘Fly, you fools!’, Serkis performs the line as if shouted while falling from the great height of the Bridge of Khazad-dum. He brings the poetic prose and dialogue to life with amazing energy and passion. He uses a narrative voice that perfectly fits the text and adjusts the pacing of the telling according to each scene, keeping the story flowing and keeping the listener totally captivated. Each of the three books is a little over 20 hours long, but with the combined storytelling skills of Tolkien and Serkis mesmerising me I was never eager to hit the pause button and get back to real life, so it took only a few days for me to get through each book.

Andy Serkis Picture 2

Howard Shore’s brilliant film score sadly isn’t featured; instead, the audiobook relies wholly on the talents of Andy Serkis. The films were very sparing in their use of the songs Tolkien wrote, which made Pippin’s haunting ballad in The Return of the King all the more impactful. I was delighted that the songs are here performed in full and in the voices of their singers—no mean feat! I’m sure Serkis exhausted himself playing the boisterous Tom Bombadil in particular, whom I had always found quite tiresome, but Serkis gives him a mysterious charm. The songs are a core element of the books, giving us glimpses into Middle Earth’s cultures and histories that aren’t otherwise shared in the prose, and I’m so glad they’ve been given such a treatment.

Andy Serkis Picture 3

There are a few small drawbacks to an audio edition of these books. A few times I would have wanted to flip back a few pages to double-check my understanding of certain details (‘Hang on, was that the name of a person or a river?’), but that wasn’t all that easy to do without losing my place, at least not with the media software I was using. The other thing missing, because it could not possibly be reproduced in audio despite Andy Serkis’s considerable talent, is the maps of Middle Earth which usually feature in any Tolkien book. As a kid reading The Hobbit I would be constantly checking the map to trace the hero’s journey through the world. I can highly recommend the interactive map at lotrproject.com as a companion piece to this audiobook for those who wish to do the same.

The Lord of the Rings, as read by Andy Serkis, is the ultimate audiobook for fans of the films. I can highly recommend it to those who have never read the books before, and I’m sure it would be a similarly excellent experience for those who have and who would like to revisit the canon after watching The Rings of Power. I can only hope that Serkis completes the series with a reading of The Silmarillion and other supplementary works by Tolkien, because I am so in love with this telling of the story of Middle Earth that the 75-odd hours’ worth already recorded simply isn’t enough. I am so glad to finally say that I have read The Lord of the Rings; I only wish I had done it sooner.

Waiting on Wednesday – Khaos by Jeremy Robinson

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday, I check out one of the most awesome upcoming books of 2022 the utterly insane sounding Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.

Khaos Cover

Amazon

Over the last year I have been getting very attached to the writings of the very skilled and highly inventive Jeremy Robinson.  Robinson has been a fantastic fixture of the science fiction thriller genre for years, writing several impressive series and standalone reads, including the Nemesis Saga and Chess Team novels, both of which sound really cool.  However, the novels that I have been getting into are part of Robinson’s latest series, the massive and elaborate Infinite Timeline series.

The Infinite Timeline books are a collection of epic and over-the-top reads that initially started off as standalone reads.  However, as the series continued, the books gradually became more interconnected, with characters from previous novels appearing in later entries, and the storylines started to merge.  This series was broken into three loosely connected groupings of books, all of which will lead up to combined novels.  So far, I have all enjoyed the excellent entries Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet (the latter two were amongst my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), which were part of the same connected sub-series.  All three of these novels were very fun in their own right, with Tribe’s action-packed take on Greek demigods, The Dark’s intense and powerful horror narrative, and Mind Bullet’s ultra-fun adventure story about a telekinetic hitman.  I had an incredible time with these books, and I especially enjoyed Robinson’s fantastic style, especially as he combines some compelling concepts with intriguing characters, insane storylines, side-splitting humour, and a ton of crazy action, which is just so epic to behold.

As such, I have been very excited to see what awesome novels that Robinson planned to release this year, especially as the novels that combine some of the standalone plots and characters together were set for release this year.  Robinson has already released one book in 2022 with The Order, which had a very awesome concept to it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up reading The Order, mainly because I haven’t read the three books leading up to it (The Others, Flux and Exo Hunter), although I should probably also go back to the very start and read Infinite.  However, there is no way in hell that I am going to miss out on Robinson’s next book, Khaos.  Set for release in October 2022, Khaos will bring together all the characters from Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet in one exceptional sounding narrative.

Synopsis:

Several months after his neighborhood was cloaked in darkness and invaded by the demon-like denizens of a hellish world, life has returned to normal for Miah Gray, aka: Laser Chicken. No longer burdened by PTSD, he is free to enjoy his family and to help pick up the pieces of a pillaged world. And at night, he trains with his eight-year-old companion, Bree, aka: Demon Dog and their neighbors, Henry and Sarah, the god-like descendants of Helen of Sparta and the mythological Zeus.

All is calm…until new neighbors move in across the street and shatter the peace. Jonas, aka: Mind Bullet, a telekinetic assassin, and his artificial intelligence, Bubbles, are pursued by strange and powerful enemies. The neighborhood is rocked by sudden violence, but the unlikely heroes band together to save the residents once more. However, their victory is short-lived when it’s interrupted by the appearance of a superhuman figure who has been influencing their lives for years: Linda.

Aka: Zeus.

In classic mythology fashion, Zeus, supreme god of Olympus, sends them on an urgent quest: descend into the underworld, travel through the realm between worlds—Khaos, face whatever trials await, find the gate to Tartarus, and summon the gods and Titans residing there to war. A grave evil is coming, and only Earth’s oldest and most powerful heroes can stop it.

TO SAVE MANKIND…

…THEY MUST RAISE THE GODS.

Now this is a very awesome sounding book that is very typical of Robinson’s history of theatrical storylines.  I love the idea of a bizarre group of established protagonists coming together and then heading straight to hell (well Tartarus) to unleash the gods and Titans for the upcoming fight against the long-hinted series big bad.  There is so much potential for action and outrageous moments in this fantastic sounding story, and I can’t wait to see what happens during the travel through the Khaos and the eventual descent into Tartarus.  You have to imagine there are going to be a ton of obstacles and monsters straight out of Greek mythology there, as well as some hints at the upcoming big-bad that is going to need every hero in the Infinite Timeline to face off against.  I have a lot of faith that Robinson is going to come up with some very wacky and powerful, and I will no doubt end up getting very caught up in the story.

One of the other major aspects that I am interested in for Khaos is how Robinson is going to bring together the protagonists of three of his previous novels.  Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet had their own distinctive blend of characters, styles, and storylines, so seeing all this combined into one single story is going to be quite interesting.  This is probably going to result in several different point-of-view perspectives, and it will be intriguing to see how all these big personalities are going to get along and how they will perceive the weird people they are suddenly working with.  Throw in some potential interpersonal issues, such as one hero being a Titan and two others being Greek Gods whose ancestors are responsible for his parent’s imprisonment, and I imagine you are going to have a few bust-ups and fights.  I am extremely confident that Robinson will use this opportunity to continue the fantastic character development contained in the preceding three books, and it will be awesome to find out what happens to these damaged and unique protagonists next.

After having so much fun with the three Jeremy Robinson books leading up to Khaos, there is no chance that I will miss out on this upcoming book.  I loved everything about Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet, and I cannot wait to see how this chaotic combination with work out.  I am expecting The Dark to be one of the funniest and most action-packed novels of 2022, and I am very excited to see what new insanity and over-the-top adventure that Robinson will come up with next.  I will probably end up checking Khaos out in its audiobook format (due to the presence of one of my favourite narrators, R. C. Bray), and this is easily one of the books I am most looking forward to in the next few months.