Waiting on Wednesday – The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish

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 an upcoming fantasy novel with immense potential, The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish.

The Bladed Faith Cover

I recently mentioned that I thought 2022 was going to be an awesome year for fantasy fiction, especially with so many cool and impressive novels coming out.  Well, one of the upcoming fantasy novels that I am most excited for is The Bladed Faith by established author David Dalglish.  Dalglish is an exciting fantasy writer whose novels I have been meaning to check out for the while, especially with interesting works like his Half-Orc, Shadowdance and Paladins series.  It looks like I will finally have the opportunity to try one of Dalglish’s books this year as he is starting a brand-new series with the epic sounding The Bladed Faith.

Set for release in April, The Bladed Faith will be the first book in the planned The Vagrant Gods series.  I have had my eye on The Bladed Faith for a while and I was mostly just waiting for the cover to be released before I featured it in a Waiting on Wednesday article (it did appear on my recent most anticipated reads of 2022 list).  Well, the wait is finally over as Orbit just released the official cover for The Bladed Faith and I must admit it looks pretty impressive and definitely matches the outstanding and exciting narrative.

Synopsis:

A usurped prince prepares to take up the mantel of a deadly assassin and reclaim his kingdom, his people, and his slain gods in this epic fantasy from a USA Today bestselling author.

Cyrus was only twelve years old when his gods were slain, his country invaded, and his parents—the king and queen—beheaded in front of him. Held prisoner in the invader’s court for years, Cyrus is suddenly given a chance to escape and claim his revenge when a mysterious group of revolutionaries comes looking for a figurehead. They need a hero to strike fear into the hearts of the imperial and to inspire and unite the people. They need someone to take up the skull mask and swords and to become the legendary “Vagrant”—an unparalleled hero and assassin of otherworldly skill.

But all is not as it seems. Creating the illusion of a hero is the work of many, and Cyrus will soon discover the true price of his vengeance.

Wow, this sounds like such an incredible book.  The entire story of The Bladed Faith is just so epic, and with a ton of cool suggested content, from the murdered gods to the upcoming rebellion.  The whole deposed prince who takes on the mantle of a mysterious, mystical assassin storyline is loaded with potential, and I cannot wait to see what kind of awesome carnage and intrigue this entails.  I love the hints that his attempts to get vengeance and taking on the mantle of the Vagrant are going to have some major consequences, and it will be fascinating to see who betrays who and what issues the protagonist will have to fight with.  An overall extremely amazing story, this plot synopsis alone is one of the main reasons that I have been really excited for this upcoming book.

The-Bladed-Faith-Cover-2

Based on the awesome story, impressive cover and some of the pre-release buzz I am already hearing about it, I think that The Bladed Faith is going to be an epic and incredible read that I am extremely confident I am going to enjoy.  This great novel has loads of potential and I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  Sure to be one of the best books of the year, I honestly believe that The Bladed Faith and The Vagrant Gods series will be a cornerstone of the fantasy genre for years.  A final callout to the cover art associated with this upcoming novel which looks absolutely gorgeous.  Thanks to Petrik at Novel Notions for showcasing the extended covers on Twitter after hosting the cover art reveal on his blog earlier in the week.

The-Bladed-Faith-Cover-3

Throwback Thursday – Beastslayer by William King

Beastslayer Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – February 2001)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book 5

Length: 275 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday I continue to examine the awesome and exciting Gotrek and Felix series from the Warhammer Fantasy range with the fifth book, Beastslayer by William King.

Readers of my blog will have no doubt noticed my increased consumption of Warhammer novels in the last year as I have really started to get hooked on this cool franchise again.  One of my absolute favourite series has been the epic Gotrek and Felix books, the earlier entries of which are written by talented William King.  This excellent series is set in the Warhammer Fantasy world and follows two compelling protagonists, doomed dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion Felix Jaeger, as they face the monsters, daemons and evil forces of the world in an attempt to find Gotrek a mighty death.  I have had a lot of fun with this series in 2021 and ended up reading the first four Gotrek and Felix books, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer.  This fifth book was another great entry in the franchise and pits this legendary team against an entire army of evil.

After their harrowing journey to the Chaos Wastes and their epic quest to slay a monstrous dragon, Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his chronicler Felix Jaeger continue their adventures throughout the Old Realm.  Once again determined to journey to the most dangerous place possible, Gotrek and Felix find themselves within the Kislev city of Prague, the great fortress city that serves as a bulwark between the Chaos Wastes and the civilised realms of man.  However, this mighty city is in mortal danger as a massive horde of Chaos descends upon it, led by the fearsome Arek Daemonclaw.

Arek, a ferocious and cunning war leader and sorcerer is determined to destroy Prague and lead his forces throughout Kislev and down into the Empire.  To carry out his goals, Arek has amassed one of the greatest armies of Chaos ever seen, filled with Northern marauders, elite warriors blessed by the dark gods of Chaos, beastmen, mutants, monsters, daemons and two sorcerers of unimaginable power.  Their victory over the people of Kislev seems certain, but Gotrek and Felix are used to fighting such impossible odds.

Accompanied by several powerful friends and allies, Gotrek and Felix are resolute in their determination to save Prague and kill as many followers of Chaos as possible.  However, their opponents are well aware of the threat these two companions represent and are doing everything in their power to destroy them.  Forced to confront both the massive army outside the walls and treacherous cultists from within who are led by a powerful member of the Prague court, can even Gotrek and Felix survive this latest attack from hell?

This was another thrilling and fun entry in the Gotrek and Felix series that I had a fantastic time reading.  Beastslayer has another great, action-packed story, and it was awesome to see the series’ two protagonists embark on another epic adventure.  This fifth novel takes place shortly after the events of Dragonslayer and sees the heroes arriving in the city of Prague just before the invading Chaos army arrives.  The story quickly devolves into a bloody siege novel, with the entire city under threat from the massive army outside.  I have a lot of love for siege stories, and this proved to a pretty good one, especially as some of the battles get quite brutal and over-the-top.  While the focus is naturally on the siege itself, King also mixes things up by installing a cool arc about a traitor within the city who is given the task of eliminating Gotrek and Felix.  This amps up the stakes for the heroes and ensures that they are facing threats from all sides.  While I did think that the identity of the mysterious traitor was a bit obvious (I had them pegged before I even knew there was a traitor), this intriguing arc worked out really well and I had a lot of fun with it.  The real highlight however is the final battle between the protagonists and the invading army.  King produces a truly amazing final battle sequence that sees Gotrek, Felix and their friends in one massive extended battle that really stretches them to their limit.  Although the eventual arrival of various allies seemed a tad predictable, it still ended up being an intense final third of the novel and I could not put the book down the entire time the battle was raging.  Throw in some interesting character development and an entertaining, if slightly disconnected, storyline around recurring antagonist Grey Seer Thanquol, and you have a great Gotrek and Felix novel that is really worth checking out.

I really liked the way that King wrote Beastslayer and I honestly think that it was one of the more consistent and compelling entries in the series so far.  King has moved away from having novels with partially separated storylines (such as the first parts of Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer), and instead presented a strong and very self-contained narrative.  Like most of the entries in this series, readers can easily dive into Beastslayer without having any prior knowledge of the series.  King makes sure to revisit and examine most of the key storylines and character moments from the previous novels, ensuring that new readers can easily follow what is happening here without too many problems.  From a series standpoint this is a key entry, wrapping up storylines from the previous novel in a fun and exciting way.  I loved seeing where some of the long-term story elements went, and by concluding a few of them, King sets up the next novel as a bit of a clean slate for new things.  This ended up being a pretty solid action-adventure novel, and I loved all the brilliant fight sequences that King loaded into the story.  These various action sequences are pretty gritty and brutal, and you get a real sense of the destruction and death being dealt around.  I had an outstanding time reading this novel and I think it was one of King’s stronger books.

One of the things that I liked about the Gotrek and Felix series is the slightly limited degree to which the plot relies on the overarching universe.  While this is clearly set within the Warhammer Fantasy world and features several iconic factions, locations and foes, enjoyment of this book is not dependent on known anything about them.  Any fantasy fan can easily dive into Beastslayer without being familiar with Warhammer lore and still have fun, and indeed this is a great introductory series for people interested in checking out the franchise.  There is of course a lot that will appeal to people more familiar with Warhammer and it was great to see some of the iconic locations, such as Prague and Hell Pit, especially as King does a wonderful job fleshing them out (especially Hell Pit, which is filled with some crazy Clan Moulder mutations).  There are also some great references to key parts of Warhammer history, such as the previous siege of Prague, and I enjoyed the continued focus on the lands of Kislev, which are often overlooked in Warhammer Fantasy fiction.  This ended up being a fantastic tie-in to the wider universe, especially as King went all out bringing in various monsters and Chaos foes, and I cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

At this point in the series, the central characters have been well established, and not only are the readers very familiar with the two main protagonists, Gotrek and Felix, but also with some of the main supporting characters, such as Max Schreiber, Ulrika Magdova and Snorri Nosebiter.  As such, there isn’t a great deal of character development in Beastslayer as King was mostly concerned with keeping the status quo.  As such, Gotrek and Felix are pretty much portrayed in the same entertaining way they have been throughout the entire series, with Gotrek being a grim, taciturn badass and Felix being a more sensible but dangerous ally.  There are a few interesting developments surrounding them, such as some fascinating peeks into Gotrek’s past which partially reveal the reason he became a Slayer, and Felix’s continued transformation into a hardened warrior and leader.  Max and Ulrika end up with a bit more development than Gotrek or Felix, with Max becoming more a sympathetic figure whose knowledge of magic becomes an important part of the novel.  Ulrika also goes through a few changes in this book, and it was great to see that annoying relationship with Felix mostly come to an end.  King still struggles a bit when it comes to writing female characters, especially since Ulrika is the only female character of note in the entire novel.  Several other fun recurring characters pop up throughout Beastslayer, although readers shouldn’t get too attached to some of them, especially during some of the climatic and deadly war scenes.

Aside from this great group of protagonists King has also included some interesting antagonists in this novel.  The most prominent of these is Arek Daemonclaw, the leader of the Chaos army attacking Prague and a follower of the dark god Tzeentch.  King does a lot with Arek in a very short amount of time, and he is soon built up to be a dangerous enemy and a real threat to Gotrek and Felix.  Aside from Arek there are a couple of other interesting villains, including some sorcerer twins who have their own agenda, and a mysterious cultist hidden within the city with some complex motivations.  King also makes sure to include the entertaining skaven character Grey Seer Thanquol, who has his own storyline throughout Beastslayer.  Thanquol once again serves as an excellent comic relief for most of the book, and it was entertaining to see all the fun intrigue and betrayal of the skaven.  I did think that Thanquol’s storylines were bit disconnected from the rest of the plot, especially as this is one of the last time we see Thanquol before he gets his own novel, but I still had a fantastic time following him.

Overall, William King’s fifth entry in the epic Gotrek and Felix series of Warhammer Fantasy books, Beastslayer, was a fun and exciting fantasy tie-in novel that I deeply enjoyed.  Featuring a ton of intense violence, a compelling siege-based storyline and some amazing Warhammer Fantasy elements, Beastslayer continued the cool storylines and character arcs established in the previous novels and made sure the reader was constantly entertained throughout.  I had an excellent time reading this awesome novel and I plan to grab the next few books in this series as soon as possible.

Beastslayer 2

Waiting on Wednesday – The Collarbound by Rebecca Zahabi

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out The Collarbound by Rebecca Zahabi, an awesome upcoming fantasy novel from an intriguing author that I think has a great deal of potential.

The Collarbound Cover

I have mentioned multiple times in recent weeks that there are some really great fantasy novels coming out in 2022.  This includes several fantastic and compelling fantasy debuts that will no doubt introduce some brilliant new talents.  One of these upcoming fantasy debuts that has really caught my attention is an interesting novel from relative newcomer Rebecca Zahabi.  Zahabi, who previously wrote the young adult fantasy book The Game Weavers, is presenting her first adult fantasy novel, The Collarbound, which features an intriguing story filled with complex characters.

The Collarbound is a fascinating and awesome sounding book that is currently going to be released in May.  Set in a war-torn fantasy world where a rebel movement is set to attack a fortress full of mages, The Collarbound will tell an epic story of revolution, war, freedom and a bold partnership between a slave and branded mage.  I really like the sound of this cool book, as well as its fantastic cover, and I think that this could be one of the more captivating and unique fantasy reads of 2022.  I look forward to seeing how its interesting story turns out and I am very curious to see if The Collarbound lives up to all its potential.

Synopsis:

As the world faces rebellion and chaos, two people – one an escaped slave, one an amnesiac mage – will discover that their pasts are entwined, and their futures destined to collide.

A MAN MARKED BY MAGIC. A WOMAN MARKED BY HER PAST.

On the other side of the Shadowpass, rebellion is brewing and refugees have begun to trickle into the city at the edge of the world. Looming high on the cliff is The Nest, a fortress full of mages who offer protection, but also embody everything the rebellion is fighting against: a strict hierarchy based on magic abilities.

When Isha arrives as a refugee, she attempts to fit in amongst the other mages, but her Kher tattoo brands her as an outcast. She can’t remember her past or why she has the tattoo. All she knows is that she survived. She doesn’t intend to give up now.

Tatters, who wears the golden collar of a slave, knows that this rebellion is different from past skirmishes. He was once one of the rebels, and technically, they still own him. He plans to stay in the shadows, until Isha appears in his tavern. He’s never seen a human with a tattoo, and the markings look eerily familiar . . .

As the rebellion carves a path of destruction towards the city, an unlikely friendship forms between a man trying to escape his past and a woman trying to uncover hers, until their secrets threaten to tear them apart.

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

All of us Villains Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)

Series: All of Us Villains – Book One

Length: 388 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The writing team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman presents their first awesome joint novel, with the impressive and dark young adult fantasy book, All of Us Villains.

Foody and Herman are both established authors, having previously released cool-sounding novels and series, such as Foody’s bestselling The Shadow Game series and Herman’s The Devouring Gray novels.  While I have not had the opportunity to check out either of these authors’ previous books, I was very interested by All of Us Villains when I first heard about it a few months ago.  I loved the unique and compelling plot synopsis, and I was also intrigued by all the buzz from other reviewers.  I instantly jumped on it once I received my own copy and I was very impressed with its clever and compelling story.

In a world still powered by spells and curses, nothing is more precious than high magick, which can super-charge any spell and provide its wielder with insane amounts of power.  The only reliable source of high magick left in the world can be found in the remote city of Ilvernath, a dour and depressing settlement whose prosperity and fame can be traced to seven ancient families.  The ability to see and manipulate this high magick can only belong to one family at a time, and control ensures their prosperity for an entire generation.  However, to gain this right, each family must make an unbelievable sacrifice.

Every generation, when the Blood Moon starts to rise, a magical tournament is enacted that pits the very best of the families against each other.  However, this is no gentle tournament of magick; it is a brutal, curse-created fight to the death, with each family forced to nominate a young champion to represent them.  Only one champion can survive the tournament, and no-one ever emerges unscathed.

Twenty years after the last competition, a new Blood Moon starts to rise, and the families make ready for the latest battle for supremacy.  However, this tournament will be very different than any before.  Someone from the seven families has published a tell-all book, detailing every aspect of the tournament and informing the world of the hidden atrocities that have been committed in the name of power.  With the world now obsessed with every aspect of the tournament, all attention is now focussed on Ilvernath and the seven champions.

Thrust into the public spotlight, all seven champions must now deal with the intense infamy the tournament produces as they prepare to fight.  Forced to balance their own feelings on death and survival with the intense pressure placed upon them by their families and tradition, none are truly ready for the horrors they will be forced to endure.  However, this tournament also offers its competitors a chance to survive and end the curse that has blighted their families for centuries.  But not all the competitors are willing to give up the chance of ultimate power and are prepared to pay any price to win.  Let the games begin!

Damn, now this was a really great novel.  The brilliant new writing team of Foody and Herman produced an outstanding book in All of Us Villains, and I really got stuck into its story incredibly quickly.  The authors did a wonderful job of utilising a new version of the always popular teenage death tournament to fit into a brilliant and moving narrative.  Filled with complex characters and intense personal moments, All of Us Villains is an awesome and powerful book that I deeply enjoyed.

All of Us Villains has an excellent narrative that is a lot of fun to get into.  Focused on four of the seven participants of the latest death tournament, this is an amazing character driven story that really dives into the protagonists’ psyches as they prepare for the ultimate challenge.  The authors do an awesome job setting the scene for this fantastic story, and the readers are quickly hooked by the four complex main characters and the interesting scenario.  Roughly the first half of the book is dedicated to the setup before the tournament begins, which I think ensured the perfect balance between development and bloodshed.  You come away from the first half appreciating each of the characters and deeply caring about the outcome of the upcoming battle.  I was particularly impressed with one great early twist that surrounded one main character’s family preparations, and it added some major impact to his storyline.  Once the tournament begins, readers are in for a whirlwind of emotions and excitement as all the characters enact their strategy to win while all bearing a heavy emotional weight or magical handicap.  There are some intense and captivating sequences here and the readers are constantly on the edge of their seat, especially with some unique interactions, alliances and motivations, including one character who attempts to destroy the entire tournament from the inside.  This all leads up to a devastating and powerful conclusion, filled with death, despair, betrayal and complete emotional devastation, as all the characters make their choices and everything crumbles around them.

I really loved this cool narrative and I found myself getting really caught up in the constant heartbreak and bloodshed.  I am a massive fan of the teenage death tournament premise, and the authors do a great job of working this established story elements into their setting extremely well.  While there isn’t as much intense violence in the actual tournament as some readers would probably hope, I think that the authors’ choice to focus on the characters and their intense emotions about being forced into this fight by their families turned All of Us Villains into a better book. The authors’ use of multiple character perspectives works extremely well here, especially as it forces you to choose between your favourite characters as you try and work out who you want to survive, while also ensuring a really in-depth look at the setting and the tournament.  While I did find the final twist of this novel slightly predictable, the rest of the reveals and unpredictable actions were really cool, and I was shocked and surprised multiple times while reading.  This was also a great first entry, with the story ending on a compelling final note that will ensure that I will be coming back for the next book.  This was a deeply accessible and enjoyable read that has a lot of appeal to a vast array of varied readers, especially its intended young adult audience who will really love the complex story, clever setting and fantastic characters.

I had a lot of fun with the captivating and inventive setting and scenario that the authors have come up with for All of Us Villains.  While the world itself is a bit of a familiar alternate world with magic, the town of Ilvernath and the tournament it hosts more than makes up for it.  The authors spend a substantial amount of time establishing the setting, showcasing how the participants live, the vile history surrounding their families, as well as the tournament which plays a major role in their existence.  The people of Ilvernath, especially the seven families, are explored in detail, and it was fascinating to see the various opinions and expectations surrounding them.  This becomes even more apparent as a clever media saturation element is worked into the narrative as the tournament has been exposed to the public and has gained substantial attention, changing the entire nature of the tournament.  Excerpts from the tell-all-book that caused this attention are featured at the start of each chapter, which I deeply enjoyed.  Not only is it fascinating to see an inside perspective on the events, the families, and the tournament history, but it helps to expand the lore of this world in a fun way.  I also quite enjoyed the cool magical system of this novel, which is channelled through spell-laden rings powered.  The authors spend a lot of time exploring this magical system, especially as they show off various aspects of it, including spell/curse crafting and the subsequent casting.  You get a real sense of how this system works in a very short amount of time, and there are some unique and intense spells that get chucked into the mix, resulting in some big story moments.

The highlight of All of Us Villains is the death tournament, which gets a lot of attention and development.  The authors perfectly explain the lore, rules, and quirks of the tournament, and it is fascinating to see it unfold once the characters are thrown into it.  Cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier, the participants need to kill each other within a set period or else everyone left alive will die.  There are some fantastic rules and inclusions set into this tournament, including seven artefacts with their own unique benefits and seven strongholds that the champions can hold up in.  These items and strongholds have their own significance and connections to the seven families, and it was interesting to see their impact on the events of the tournament.  The authors’ clever use of excerpts from the tell-all book works extremely well to highlight elements of the tournament, and I loved all this crucial part of the book.  There are also some new elements introduced for this specific tournament, as parts of the curse start to break apart due to the unpredictable actions of the participants.  This opens new opportunities and possibilities that were quite fascinating to see.  I look forward to seeing what happens around this tournament in rest of this series, especially as more bloodshed and destruction is inevitable.

As I mentioned multiple times above, the best thing about this cool book is the fantastically complex and compelling central characters.  The focus of All of Us Villains is on the seven participants of the tournament, with a particular emphasis on the four main characters.  The authors really dive into these four characters, highlighting their personalities, emotions, and their thoughts on the tournament they are about to embark on.  Each character is very well established, and there are some extremely complex and powerful storylines and character arcs set up around them.  It is a testament to the authors’ writing that I tended to enjoy each separate perspective about equally, and there were none that I disliked more than any of the others, which is a real peril in novels with a lot of narrators.  I will say that this intense focus on only four of the main characters does detract a lot of attention and interest away from the rest of the supporting cast, especially the three other family champions, but I think it is worth it for the impressive development put into the central protagonists.

The first of these characters is Alistair Lowe, the powerful scion of the Lowe family.  The Lowes win most of the tournaments and are generally considered the villains of Ilvernath and its history due to their monstrous personalities.  Alistair has been raised his entire life to win the tournament by any means necessary and has fully accepted his role as the monster of the story, even if he isn’t as evil as everyone assumes or wants him to be.  However, an interesting and unexpected romance soon starts to change his mind and he is convinced that changing his ways and saving the others might be a good idea.  However, a particularly vicious twist towards the end of the novel completely alters the entire trajectory of his character arc and will leave you reeling in shock while it loads up the epic feels.  I felt that out of all the characters, Alistair had the most moving and complex storyline as well as the most substantial development, and he swiftly becomes the character you bond with the most.  I am deeply intrigued to see what happens to him in the next book and I have a feeling that there is both great tragedy and great evil in his future.

The next central champion is Isobel Macaslan, a bright and powerful magick user from a highly resented family.  I loved the great work that the authors put into developing her.  At first Isobel appears to be one of the most confident and enthusiastic figures in this book, especially as she is the one leaning into the publicity surrounding the tournament the most.  However, it soon becomes apparent that she was forced to be champion thanks to the machinations of her uncaring family and her former best friend, who threw her to the press.  Isobel has a lot of issues going into the tournament, with the mass attention and the unfair expectations placed upon her forcing her to take some big risks which severely disadvantage her as she enters the tournament.  Isobel ends up developing some unique connections throughout All of Us Villains, and the friendships and relationships she develops form the emotional heart of much of the narrative.  The reader sees Isobel go to some dark places in this book and it is hard to see all the heartbreak and despair she experiences.

I was also a major fan of the underdog Gavin Grieve, who has an amazingly complex and relatable story arc.  Gavin is the champion from the Grieve family, who have never won the tournament and are generally looked down upon by everyone in town.  Gavin is a sad and angry character since everyone underestimates him and his chances, while also showering him with scorn as it was apparently a Grieve who wrote the tell-all expose about the tournament.  This anger leads to him making a dangerous deal that provides him with impressive power at a great price.  This was an amazing story inclusion, especially as it turns Gavin into a bit of a beast due to finally having power and an advantage over the other families.  This leads him to do some reckless and cruel things, and it was fascinating to see the events of the tournament and its bloody legacy slowly corrupt this character before your eyes.

The final point-of-view character was Briony Thorburn, the confident wildcard.  Unlike all the other major characters, Briony wants to compete in the tournament and has spent her entire life getting ready for it, going as far as to dump her boyfriend, one of the other competitors, so she would feel less guilty about killing him.  However, events outside of her control impact her participation and she is forced to take some drastic actions.  This leads to her significantly reconsidering her position and gives her a fantastic arc about trying to save all her fellow participants and try to break the tournament once and for all.  Watching her attempt to make up for all her past mistakes while also convincing the other champions to change hundreds of years of tradition is pretty brilliant, and I found it to be a compelling arc that fleshed out the story perfectly.

In their first collaboration, the brilliant team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have produced one of the best young adult fantasy novels of 2021 with All of Us Villains.  This amazing novel contains an excellent story set around an intense magical teenage death tournament that takes the reader into some incredible directions.  Filled with tragedy, impressive character development, and a ton of impressive twists, All of Us Villains is an exceptional read that comes highly recommended novel.

All of us Villains Cover 2

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2022 (fantasy)

Welcome to my second Top Ten Tuesday list of the week, were I look at my most anticipated fantasy novels coming out in the first half of 2022.  Traditionally I usually only do one list to represent the top upcoming books for the year, however, I was inspired to separate out the fantasy novels into a second list due to all the awesome and impressive fantasy reads coming out extremely soon.

2022 is shaping up to be one of the absolute best years for fantasy books with a ton of epic and amazing sounding novels set for release throughout the year.  I am particularly excited about the next six months as there are some deeply impressive books coming out that I am extremely excited for.  This includes some fantastic sounding sequels, continuations to brilliant series, and several cool new novels for some very talented authors.  I have already highlighted several of these books in some previous lists and Waiting on Wednesday articles.  Indeed, the last three Waiting on Wednesday posts I have published have all highlighted some particularly epic upcoming fantasy novels.  This, as well as some other recent novels I have talked about, made me really appreciate just how awesome the upcoming year is going to be fantasy wise, hence this list.

Just like with my other list of the night, I am only featuring books that are set for release in Australia between 1 January 2022 and 30 June 2022 which I have some descent details about.  I also excluded one of the top fantasy books of the year, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker, because I have already read it (spoiler alert, it is incredibly awesome and hilarious).  Despite only being fantasy books, I ended up with a huge collection of exceptional novels that I wanted to feature, which made completing this list surprisingly difficult.  I was eventually able to break it down to the best 10 books (with honourable mentions), and I feel that I have capture the books that are going to be the best fantasy reads of 2022.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Rise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford – 25 January 2022

Rise of the Mages Cover

An interesting start to a fun new series.

 

League of Liars by Astrid Scholte – 22 February 2022

League of Liars Cover

A brilliant sounding young adult fantasy book with a great story about a magical prison break.  I already have a copy of this book and I look forward to seeing what happens in it.

 

One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold – 26 April 2022

One Foot in the Fade Cover

The third book from Australian author Luke Arnold that follows on from his fantastic first two novels, The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

 

Engines of Empire by Richard S. Ford – 31 May 2022

Engines of Empire Cover

This is a compelling and interesting fantasy novel that I think has a bit of potential.  Focusing on a family of industrialists in a fantasy landscape, this sounds like a great start to an awesome new series, and I am very keen to read it.  It looks like we have a bit of a later release date here in Australia, but hopefully I will get a chance to read it at some point this year.

 

Top Ten List:

The Starless Crown by James Rollins – 4 January 2022

The Starless Crown Cover

The first book on this list is the impressive sounding The Starless Crown by James Rollins.  Rollins, who is best known for his thrillers, is making an interesting jump back to fantasy with this novel and I like the cool and intriguing plot this book has.

 

The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan – 22 February 2022

The Justice of Kings Cover

The next entry, The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan, is another awesome fantasy read with a great deal of potential.  Set to combine legal thriller elements with a fantasy setting, I love the sound of this amazing sounding novel and it is already receiving some very positive reviews.  I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the best books of the year and I can’t wait to check it out.

 

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham – 22 February 2022

Age of Ash Cover

One half of the team behind The Expanse series (make sure to check out my review for the last book, Leviathan Falls), Daniel Abraham heads back to the fantasy genre with the epic Age of Ash.  An interesting sounding novel filled with political intrigue and a murder mystery, I think this will be an amazing read and I cannot wait to check it out.

 

The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish – 5 April 2022

Bestselling fantasy author David Dalglish presents a cool and intriguing first novel in a new series with The Bladed Faith.  This book follows a deposed prince who takes up a role of a legendary hero and assassin to avenge his parents and gets sucked into a deadly mission of vengeance.  I love the sound of this outstanding read and I look forward to seeing how its fantastic story turns out.  No cover yet unfortunately, but hopefully that will come out soon.

 

The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne – 7 April 2022

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

After having one of the best books (and audiobooks) of 2021 with The Shadow of the Gods, fantasy author John Gwynne continues his brilliant Bloodsworn Saga with The Hunger of the Gods.  This intense and action-packed series had an incredible introduction and I am extremely confident that The Hunger of the Gods will be an exceptional and excellent read, especially with that epic cover.

 

The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence – 26 April 2022

The Girl and the Moon Cover

The always enjoyable Mark Lawrence continues his great Book of the Ice series with The Girl and the Moon.  The previous two novels, The Girl and the Stars and The Girl and the Mountain have been extremely compelling and I cannot wait to see how this cool series continues.

 

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry – 10 May 2022

Kagen the Damned Cover

One of my favourite thriller authors, Jonathan Maberry, is diving into the fantasy genre this year with Kagen the Damned.  Set to be an intense and brutal revenge read, I really love the sound of Kagen the Damned and have no doubt it will be another exceptional five-star read.

 

Master of Furies by Raymond E. Feist – 9 June 2022

Master of Furies Cover

One of the best fantasy authors of all-time, the exceeding talented Raymond E. Feist, brings his fantastic Firemane Saga to an end with Master of Furies.  Following on from King of Ashes and Queen of Storms, this should be an excellent read and I look forward to seeing how this trilogy concludes.

 

In the Shadow of Lighting by Brian McClellan – 21 June 2022

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

After wowing the world with his exceptional Powder Mage novels, Brian McClellan is returning with a brand-new series this year.  The first book in this series, In the Shadow of Lighting, sounds like an excellent and captivating read and with the talented McClellan at the helm this will easily be one of the best books of the year.

 

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan – 28 June 2022

The Martyr Cover

The final entry on this list is The Martyr, the follow up to Ryan’s epic 2021 novel, The Pariah.  I had an amazing time reading the first book in this series and I already know I am going to deeply love The Martyr when it comes out later this year.

 

 

Well that’s the end of this second list.  As you can see, there are some mighty impressive fantasy books coming out the first half of this year.  All the above entries on this list have an incredible amount of potential and I have a feeling I am going to deeply enjoy every single of one of these great reads.  I honestly think that 2022 is going to be an outstanding year for fantasy, not only with these amazing books, but because of some of the other ones potentially coming out later this year (I’m really hoping Joe Abercrombie, Jim Butcher and R. J. Barker all have new novels this year).  I look forward to seeing how all these cool novels turn out and I think I am going to have an incredible time reading fantasy in 2022.

 

Throwback Thursday – Warhammer: Dragonslayer by William King

Dragonslayer Cover Combined

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – November 2020)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book Four

Length: 271 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

For this week’s Throwback Thursday I check out another volume in the incredibly entertaining Gotrek and Felix Warhammer Fantasy series, Dragonslayer, by William King.

I have been having fun over the last year checking out several cool Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy tie-in novels, especially as all of them place great stories inside their respective elaborate extended universes.  Some of the most exciting and compelling of these Warhammer books have been part of the Gotrek and Felix series, which follows a doomed dwarven Slayer and his human companion as they face all manner of monsters and evils across the Warhammer Fantasy landscape.  I have so far had a lot of fun reading the first three books in this series, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer, all of which were some of the best pre-2021 releases I read this year.  I recently grabbed a couple more Gotrek and Felix novels second-hand, and I had a great time quickly reading the next entry in the series over the Christmas break, Dragonslayer, another fun and enjoyable read that has an action-packed narrative to it.

After their daring exploits in the Chaos Wastes, dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his rememberer, Felix Jaeger, return to the lands of Kislev in triumph, having rescued the survivors of a lost dwarven stronghold.  However, their victory is short lived, as danger begins to assail them the moment they return in the form of the skaven forces of their arch-enemy Grey Seer Thanquol.  Worse, their voyage has revealed a giant horde of Chaos warriors advancing towards the lands of Kislev, determined to bring destruction and death to all before them.

To warn the people of Kislev, Gotrek, Felix, and their companions travel by dwarf airship towards the capital.  However, their voyage is disrupted by an unnatural storm and an attack from a legendary dragon determined to rip them asunder.  Barely escaping with their lives, the adventurers find themselves stuck in the World’s Edge Mountains and forced to pull into the Slayer Keep of Karak Kadrin.  There they discover that the dragon that attacked them, Skjalandir, has been terrifying the mountains for months.  Determined to finally meet his mighty doom, Gotrek and his fellow Slayers head out to destroy the beast, accompanied by a reluctant Felix and their Kislev allies.  Beset on all sides by ravening orcs, desperate bandits, and a massive dragon of immense destructive potential, can even the legendary team of Gotrek and Felix survive, or will Gotrek finally find his longed-for death at the hands of the mightiest beast in the realm?

This was another very fun and intense novel from King, who once again provides the reader with an exciting and compelling dive into the Warhammer Fantasy universe.  Dragonslayer was a very good entry in the long-running Gotrek and Felix series, and I deeply enjoyed its cool and fast-paced narrative that sees the protagonists fight all manner of foes and dangers.  Filled with impressive monsters, a hilarious sense of humour and all manner of action, Dragonslayer was a fantastic read that I powered through in a few short days.

Just like all previous Gotrek and Felix novels, Dragonslayer starts off fast and never really slows down, as the various characters are thrust into one dangerous situation after another all the way up to the last page.  The first quarter of the book is firmly focussed on continuing the antagonist-centric storyline from Daemonslayer, with Grey Seer Thanquol’s planned attack from the last book finally coming to fruition.  This opening scene is pretty fun, even if it does feel a little disconnected from the following narrative, and I loved seeing more of enjoyable antagonist Thanquol.  Following this enjoyable first encounter, the protagonists head off on a new quest which is quickly detoured by an encounter with a dragon.  The dragon’s first big appearance is pretty devastating, and I loved how much of a threat this monster is made out to be, especially as the protagonists don’t come out unscathed.  The next section of the book is mostly devoted to character development and world building, as the protagonists prepare for their next adventure and gain some interesting new companions.  At the same time, Thanquol engages in another mostly unconnected storyline that sees him encounter and set up the dangerous Chaos horde that will be the major threat of the next novel.  The final third of the novel is primarily dedicated to the protagonist’s quest towards the dragon’s lair, where they encounter not only the beast but various other foes as well.  This leads up to some amazing battle sequences, the highlights of which include the deadly confrontation with the wounded and mutated dragon, and a fun full-on war scene between two forces determined to kill each other and the protagonists.  The book had an entertaining and exciting conclusion with a fun lead-in to the next novel, and I had a fantastic time getting through this brilliant and excellent read.

King has a great easy-to-read style that I really connect with in the Gotrek and Felix novels, which ensures that all fantasy fans can easily enjoy it, especially with the fast-paced narrative and crazy action scenes.  I like the author’s use of multiple character perspectives to tell a rich and impressive adventure story, and you get some fun alternate viewpoints and storylines as a result.  This is particularly apparent in the action sequences, as you see the various participants of the battle as they encounter the same foes or other narrators, and results in a much fuller and bloodier picture.  The action scenes themselves are great, filled with compelling fights that really get the blood pumping as the protagonists face off against a variety of foes.  While a couple of fights were a little shorter than I would have liked, King more than makes up for it with some of the big encounters, especially against the dragon.  I loved the two major dragon scenes, and King crafts some excellent and hard-hitting fight sequences against it, loaded with character deaths and intense brutality.  I also loved one fun final battle sequence that read like a pitched battle from the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Goblin Fanatics and Doom Diver catapults included.

Like most of the previous Gotrek and Felix books, Dragonslayer is pretty accessible to new readers, and there is no major requirement to check out any of the previous novels first, especially as King’s books tend to repeat certain elements from the preceding entries.  As such, unfamiliar readers can easily jump in here, although the Thanquol attack at the start of the books does come a little out of nowhere if you haven’t read Daemonslayer.  I would say that Dragonslayer did feel like a bit of a bridging novel in places, especially as it continued several plot points from Daemonslayer while also taking the time to set up a potentially bigger evil in the next book, but I still had a lot of fun with it.  I still really believe that the Gotrek and Felix novels are an excellent place for new Warhammer fans to start out, especially as they mostly read like classic fantasy novels rather than intense tie-in reads.  The readers get some great details about the extended Warhammer Fantasy universe here, and King expertly introduces several key locations while also featuring some of the more recognisable factions.  I really appreciate how King makes sure to reintroduce all these races in each of his novels, and it ensures that new readers can appreciate what is going on and why certain factions are acting the way they do.  This ended up being a particularly strong Gotrek and Felix entry, and I cannot wait to see what happens in this universe next.

Dragonslayer has a rather interesting cast headlined by the two central characters, Gotrek and Felix, who have another great adventure here.  Gotrek is his usual gruff self in this novel, and you don’t get a lot of development surrounding him in Dragonslayer, especially as King never shows his perspective, no doubt to highlight his secret past and the aura of unbreakable strength and confidence he gives off.  Felix, on the other hand, gets most of the plot’s attention, and it was fun to see him continue to grow as a character.  While he still has certain understandable apprehensions about the quests he follows Gotrek on, Felix has grown into quite a capable adventurer over the last few books, and it was fun to see him accompany his friend into near-certain death once again.  I enjoyed the intriguing storyline around his magical sword which was quietly introduced in the first book and which reaches its full potential here as a dragon-slaying item.  I also enjoyed the compelling examinations of Felix’s personality and resolve, especially when it comes to the oath he swore to Gotrex, as he is forced to make some big decisions here when faced with an alternate future.

Dragonslayer also features a fun supporting cast, including several intriguing characters from Daemonslayer who get an extended role here.  This includes Felix’s love interest (and the only significant female character), the Kislev noblewoman Ulrika, who ends up accompanying the main protagonists on their latest adventure.  Ulrika is an interesting character who I have mixed feelings about during the book.  While I did like how King featured a strong and complex female character (something lacking from some of his previous novels), I honestly could not stand the terrible romance that she has with Felix.  The two of them continuously bounce from being madly in love to hating each other over petty things, and it ends up getting annoyingly repetitive.  This terrible relationship made me hate Ulrika a little as the book progressed, and I kind of wanted her to get eaten by the dragon (in my defence, it would have made for a good dramatic moment).

Another character who got an expanded role in this book was the human wizard Max Schreiber, who becomes quite an intriguing addition to the plot.  Max becomes a key part of the team in this book, and his insight into magic and the wider events of the Warhammer Fantasy universe are great additions to the plot, helping to expand the reader’s knowledge.  At the same time, Max also comes across as a bit of a creeper due to his unrequited love of Ulrika, which causes him to do some stupid things.  You honestly start to worry that Max is going to do something sinister as the story continues, and I have no doubt that will become a major plot point in the future.

I also must quickly mention the mad dwarf engineer Malakai, who goes on a fun mission of vengeance here in this book to fight the dragon who crashed his beloved airship.  Malakai, who speaks with a Scottish brogue just to make him seem even wilder, is a deeply entertaining figure in this book, combining a Slayer’s death wish with a love of advanced weaponry.  It was so much fun to see this insane character advancing on his foes with explosives and giant guns, and I am still laughing about his cart-loaded gatling gun.

While there is a great focus on recurring characters, King also spend some time introducing several interesting new characters.  The best of these are the four new dwarf Slayer characters, Steg, Bjorni Bjornisson, Ulli Ullisson and Grimme, who accompany the protagonists on their quest to slay the dragon.  All four Slayers have diverse personalities, backgrounds and fun quirks that make them interesting in their own way.  King ends up doing a lot with these four characters in the 100 or so pages that they end up being featured, and there are some great story arcs drawn around them.  I quite enjoyed the compelling narrative around Ulli, a young dwarf forced to become a Slayer for his cowardice, especially as it had a good resolution.  I also must highlight Bjorni’s constant lewd stories and declarations, which add so many laughs to the book, especially as he makes some outrageous claims about his romantic conquests.  I did think he could have done a little more with the intriguing and incredibly taciturn Grimme, but overall these four characters were great additions to the plot and I look forward to seeing some of them again in the future.

The final characters I need to point out are the extremely amusing antagonist team of Grey Seer Thanquol and his minion Lurk Snitchtongue, two skaven characters who serve as secondary antagonists for Dragonslayer.  Thanquol and Lurk are really amusing characters who perfectly encapsulate the snivelling and duplicitous skaven race, with their constant talk of betrayal, self-gain and incompetence.  It is always so much fun seeing the two of them at it, and every one of their scenes is chock full of hilarious statements and continuous thoughts of treachery.  King adds in a very fun change to the dynamic between these two characters in Dragonslayer, with the previously small and deferential Lurk having been mutated into a massive beast, which gives him increased confidence.  This makes him strongly consider killing Thanquol several times throughout the book, and the two are constantly eyeing each other off.  This proves to be a hilarious addition to the plot, and I loved seeing Thanquol on the back foot with his minion after two books of pushing him around.  While they are not the most dangerous of villains at this point, they do make for an intriguing alternate viewpoint, especially as their storylines are mostly separate from that of the protagonists.  While they are a tad detached from the main narrative, their encounters and experiences add to the general tapestry of the series and help to set up the villains of the next Gotrek and Felix book.

With Dragonslayer by William King, the Gotrek and Felix books continue to impress me as one of the all-time best and most enjoyable Warhammer tie-in series.  I had an amazing time getting through this cool book, especially as it features all the best aspects of the series, including tons of fun action, great characters, and major Warhammer Fantasy settings.  Readers are guaranteed to have a blast with this book, and I loved every single second of danger, combat and dragon fighting Dragonslayer contained.  A fun and fantastic read, I look forward to checking out the rest of the books in this series, especially the fifth entry, Beastslayer.

Waiting on Wednesday – Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out one of the more interesting fantasy novels coming out in the new year, Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry.

Kagen the Damned Cover

2022 is shaping up to be a very good year for epic fantasy novels, with some incredible and cool-sounding new books set for release, especially in the first six months.  One of the things that I particularly like about some of these upcoming fantasy novels is the fact that they are being written by several authors I generally associate with other genres.  This includes one of my absolute favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry, who is jumping into the fantasy genre for the very first time with his intriguing upcoming novel, Kagen the Damned.

Jonathan Maberry is an awesome author whose work I have been deeply enjoying over the last few years.  Maberry is an author primarily known for his horror work, having written several scary and intense series, including his Pine Deep trilogy, the Rot & Ruin series, the Dead of Night series and the V-Wars anthology/comic series.  I best know Maberry for his incredible Joe Ledger series, which combines fast-paced spy thriller storylines with intriguing science fiction and horror elements.  Every entry in this series was pretty amazing, with some of my favourites including The Dragon Factory, Code Zero, Predator One and Dogs of War.  I also deeply enjoyed his Rogue Team International sequel series, which included Rage (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019) and Relentless (which I just listed as one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), as well as the standalone horror novel Ink (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020).  As such, I am a pretty big fan of Maberry, and while I was a little disappointed that his Rogue Team International series wasn’t getting a sequel next year, I am quite intrigued about his first dive in fantasy fiction.

This new fantasy novel, Kagen the Damned, is the first book in a series of the same name from Maberry.  Currently set for release on 10 May 2021, Kagen the Damned is an intriguing-sounding read with an amazing plot that I am extremely excited for and which has a great deal of potential.

Synopsis:

Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the place guard, charged with protection the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of this enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.

Fueled by Rage
To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

Now this sounds like it is going to be a pretty damn incredible read.  I love the cool story above, especially as it is going to follow a broken and desperate man who goes on an epic revenge mission against an insanely powerful magical foe.  Now if my love of the Joe Ledger novels has taught me anything it is that Maberry is an author who excels at writing a damaged and complex central protagonist, and it sounds like Kagen is going to be pretty special.  In addition, thanks to Maberry’s 2021 release Relentless, I also know that the author can write an extremely mean revenge story, and I am prepared for an exceptional narrative filled with bloody vengeance and a highly determined protagonist.

I am also extremely intrigued by this new fantasy world.  As I mentioned before, I have never had the pleasure of seeing Maberry dive into fantasy before and I think that this will be an interesting change of pace for him.  I do like the sound of the dark fantasy world mentioned in the synopsis above, from the shattered kingdom, the dangerous Witch-king (you have to love a villain known as the Witch-king), the mysterious allies, the destructively returning magic, and so many other cool elements.  All this has buckets of potential, and if Maberry transfers all his usual attention to detail and talent for world building to the fantasy genre, I think we are in for a really cool setting and backdrop to the main revenge narrative.  I am extremely keen to check this new novel out and find out just how awesome a Maberry fantasy book can be.

Overall, I have to say that I am really very excited for Kagen the Damned.  I have made no secret in the past about how I will eagerly grab any new Jonathan Maberry novel that comes out, so Kagen the Damned was always going to be on my 2022 to-read list.  However, I am very intrigued about the cool plot above, as well as Maberry’s transition to the fantasy genre, and I really want to see what happens in this new book.  I think that Kagen the Damned has a lot of potential, especially with the talented Maberry at the helm, and I honestly believe that this could end up being one of the top fantasy books of 2022.  I look forward to finding out if I’m right, and no matter what I am sure that I am going to have an incredible time reading Kagen the Damned.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I highlight an incredible upcoming fantasy novel that is probably going to be one of the top books of 2022, The Martyr by Anthony Ryan.

The Martyr Cover

Anthony Ryan is a talented author who has been impressing fantasy fans for years with his intense and captivating novels.  Debuting back in 2013 with Blood Song, the first book in his Raven’s Shadow trilogy, Ryan has gone on to write several highly regarded dark fantasy series, including his Slab City Blues series, the Draconis Memoria trilogy and his Seven Swords novella series.  I have been meaning to read some of Ryan’s novels for years, especially after hearing nothing but glowing reviews and positive comments about his previous works.  I finally got the chance earlier this year when I read the first book in his new The Covenant of Steel series, The Pariah.

The Pariah was an incredible and clever fantasy read that follows a bold new protagonist as he embarks on a series of adventures across the land.  The novel focuses on Alwyn Scribe, an outlaw who, after being captured, embarks on a life-changing journey that sees him become a prisoner, a soldier, a spy and most importantly a scribe, as he encounters several charismatic leaders who earn his loyalty.  Told using the chronicle style and set in a grim landscape full of war, rebels and religious persecution, this brilliant tale proved extremely addictive and I had an absolute blast following Alwyn as he embarked on his exciting and often poorly planned adventures.  This was easily one of the best fantasy books of the year, and it recently featured on My Top Audiobooks of 2021 list.

As such, I was extremely happy when I saw that the second Covenant of Steel novel had been announced.  This second novel, The Martyr, is currently set for release on 28 June 2022, and it is already shaping up to be awesome and epic read.  Not only does it already have an incredibly gorgeous cover (which contrast nicely with the cover for the previous novel), but there is also a great plot synopsis out which reveals some intriguing details about the upcoming book.

Synopsis:

The Martyr is the second novel in The Covenant of Steel, a new epic fantasy series of action, intrigue and magic from Anthony Ryan, a master storyteller who has taken the fantasy world by storm.

Times have changed for Alwyn Scribe. Once an outlaw, he’s now a spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose visions of a demonic apocalypse have earned her the fanatical devotion of the faithful.

Yet Evadine’s growing fame has put her at odds with both Crown and Covenant. As trouble brews in the kingdom, both seek to exploit her position for their own ends.

Sent to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion, Alwyn must rely on old instincts to fight for his new cause. Deadly feuds and ancient secrets are laid bare as war erupts, a war that will decide the fate of the Kingdom of Albermaine and, perhaps, prevent the coming of the prophesied Second Scourge.

I really like the sound of this cool upcoming novel and it looks like Ryan will be taking his already exceptional narrative in some awesome directions.  The Pariah ended with Alwyn and his current patron, the religious fanatic Lady Evadine Courlain, going into hiding, as the forces of the church and the crown attempt to destroy them due to Courlain’s growing popularity and influence as a living saint.  This new novel will apparently follow Alwyn as he attempts to save his lady from manipulation and destruction at the hands of their enemies, using all the skills he developed during his criminal youth.  I think that this storyline has an awful lot of potential, and I cannot wait to see the inevitable combination of political intrigue, backstabbing, manipulation and war.  I am also extremely intrigued to see how the main characters of this series, particularly Alwyn and Courlain, will continue to grow in this latest novel, especially if certain secrets and lies are revealed.

It also sounds like several awesome storylines or potential future events that were hinted at in The Pariah are going to come to fruition in this second novel, which has me pretty excited.  In particular, it looks like there is going to be a repeat of the brutal civil war that was such a defining feature of the first novel, as several storylines were set around it.  This should be pretty awesome, especially as Alwyn is in possession of some damaging information that will greatly benefit one side, and which he will no doubt reveal to advantage his own cause.  In addition, it also appears that we will get some more hints about the prophesied Second Scourge, this world’s version of the apocalypse.  There were several hints about the Second Scourge in The Pariah, and while most characters considered it religious propaganda, you had to know that it was eventually going to lead to something (a Chekhov’s Armageddon if you will).  Whatever happens, I am sure it will be epic and I look forward to seeing all the resultant chaos and betrayals.

Overall, I am really looking forward to The Martyr next year and I am already extremely confident that it will be one of the top books of the year.  Ryan is such an awesome author and reading The Pariah earlier this year has already made me a pretty dedicated fan.  I cannot wait to see how the Covenant of Steel’s impressive story is continued in The Martyr and I think readers will be in for some big surprises and clever twists.  This is easily one of my most anticipated reads of 2022 and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of 2022, The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne.

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

John Gwynne is an insanely talented author who has been setting the fantasy world on fire for nearly 10 years with his amazing and compelling dark fantasy books.  Gwynne debuted back in 2012 with his Norse-inspired The Faithful and the Fallen series, which he later followed up with the sequel Of Blood and Bone series.  These novels are very highly regarded, and I have seen some rave reviews about them over the years.  I personally became more aware of Gwynne’s work earlier this year when I checked out the first book in his brand new Bloodsworn Saga series of novels.

The Bloodsworn Saga is another Norse inspired dark fantasy series set in a dangerous world filled with monsters, roving warbands and other dark creature.  This world was broken generations ago by the gods, whose devastating war rent the land, let demons in, and resulted in the apparent death of every single deity.  In the years that followed, men rose to prominence, and Jarls now battle for control, utilising the distant ancestors of the gods, known as the Tainted, as powerful slaves.  This is a very rich setting for adventure, and Gwynne used it to full advantage in the first novel in this series, The Shadow of the Gods.

The Shadow of the Gods was an awesome and impressive read that is easily one of the best books I have enjoyed this year.  It followed three separate characters as they set out on their own quests throughout the book, only to encounter the same deadly conspiracy that was attempting to unleash evil upon the world.  This was an incredibly epic read, and I deeply enjoyed the cool new world, the complex characters, and the exceptional and brutal action sequences.  The book ended with some big reveals, including the return of the god, and was such an awesome and outstanding read.

As such, I have been eagerly awaiting the next entry in this series, The Hunger of the Gods, and I was very excited when the full details of the book recently came out, including the epic and stunning cover above.  The Hunger of the Gods is currently set for release on 12 April 2022, and if this following plot is anything to go by, this is going to be another amazing read.

Synopsis:

The Hunger of the Gods continues John Gwynne’s acclaimed Norse-inspired epic fantasy series, packed with myth, magic and bloody vengeance.

Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.

As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own – and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.

Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her.

Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.

Their hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead . . . and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.

It sounds like The Hunger of the Gods will continue to follow the main character of the first novel, Orska, Varg and Elvar, as they continue their epic and blood-filled quests.  I deeply enjoyed all three character arcs in The Shadow of the Gods, especially as each of their storylines were very well-written and contained a fantastic range of adventures and trials.  It will be great to see what happens to these characters next, especially after the revelations at the end of the first book.  I am particularly keen to learn more of Orska’s backstory, and it will also be extremely cool to see how Elvar, the only non-Tainted main character, will fare going up against a legion of dragonborn and their dark god.

In addition, I am curious to see what happens surrounding the supposedly dead wolf god Ulfrir.  The plot strongly indicates that the protagonists are planning to resurrect him to face Lik-Rifa, and if the incredible cover above is anything to go by, they will succeed.  While I am really keen to see a battle between giant deities (giant wolf vs giant dragon, yeah that has gotten me pretty hyped), I cannot help but think something is going to go wrong there, and the protagonists will end up in an even worse position.  No matter what happens, I am extremely keen to read it, and I am deeply excited to see how this second entry in the Bloodsworn Saga turns out.

Look, in all honestly, The Hunger of the Gods has been of my most anticipated books for 2022 for a very long time, and there is no way I won’t be picking it up the moment it becomes available.  This is going to be one of the best fantasy novels of next year, and if Gwynne continues the incredible writing that was featured in The Shadow of the Gods, I know I will have an amazing time with it.  The Hunger of the Gods is going to be epic, and I cannot wait to see what chaos, destruction and bloodshed Gwynne has in store for us here.

Quick Review – The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 27 July 2021)

Series: The Dying Squad – Book One

Length: 360 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Intriguing new author, Adam Simcox, presents his compelling debut novel, the fun and fascinating supernatural crime fiction read, The Dying Squad, which proves that just because you are dead, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get justice.

The Dying Squad was a fantastic and intriguing first novel from Simcox that contained a fascinating premise about a man forced to solve his own murder as a ghost.  I loved the sound of this book when I first heard about it, and I was very glad when I received a copy a while ago.

Synopsis:

WHO BETTER TO SOLVE A MURDER THAN A DEAD DETECTIVE?

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again.

This was an awesome and intriguing read and I ended up really getting into this fantastic supernatural novel.  Set initially in the apparently crime-ridden wilds of Lincolnshire, the novel quickly establishes itself by killing off the protagonist, Joe Lazarus, and introducing him to his co-lead the bombastic and entertaining Daisy-May, a member of the ghost-run investigative unit, known as the Dying Squad, there to recruit Lazarus.  The book then jumps to the Pen (purgatory), where Lazarus is given the chance to save his soul by solving his own murder.  Returning with Daisy to the real world, Lazarus must investigate his death while facing several limitations, including the fact that the real world is affecting his memories, and he must work to uncover his own past to discover who killed him.  At the same time, dangerous events are occurring in the Pen as a mysterious being leads an uprising of the seemingly mindless souls imprisoned there, while back in the real world, a dangerous creature stalks Lazarus and Daisy-May, seeking to drag them down below.

I really enjoyed the cool story featured within The Dying Squad, and Simcox has come up with something particularly unique and compelling here.  The author does a great job of quickly introducing all the relevant story elements, and the reader is soon expertly enthralled in the book’s compelling mystery.  I loved the unique investigation that takes place throughout the novel, especially as the protagonists must deal with a range of different problems, including the sinister Xylophone Man (he’s a lot more threatening than the name implies), the deceit of living humans, fading memories, and the protagonist’s desire to interfere in events, even when they’re not supposed to.  At the same time, the protagonist’s boss back in the Pen is forced to deal with a universe-ending revolt, as desperate lost souls attempt to tear down the walls of reality.  While Daisy May and some of the other characters are dragged between these two plot threads, Lazarus continues to follow the trial towards his death by investigating several potential suspects and slowly regaining his own memories.  This eventually leads to several startling revelations, including a very clever reveal about who was behind his death and their reasons why.  This investigation eventually leads back to the wider universe story about the rebelling souls, and there are some great moments, especially when the protagonists are forced to make some hard and afterlife-altering choices.  I really enjoyed this unique blend of storylines, as well as some of the cool characters featured throughout the book, and The Dying Squad ended up being quite a fun and interesting read.

I definitely need to highlight the unique world building featured throughout The Dying Squad.  Simcox has come up with a detailed and fascinating scenario, involving supernatural ghosts going back to Earth to investigate unsolved murders.  This results in several memorable and compelling settings, including the dark and dreary Pen, a version of Purgatory, where lost and forgotten souls congregate in confusion and apathy (unless roused by a dangerous soul with ulterior motives).  At the same time, you also have the setting of Earth, which ends up being an unnatural location for departed souls, even the protagonists.  As such, the characters who venture there to investigate encounter all manner of obstacles, from rogue spirits to the very air itself, which drains dead souls of their memories unless precautions are taken.  These various elements, especially the memory loss and the typical incorporeal nature of ghosts, are worked into the investigation aspect of the story extremely well, and it added a layer of complexity and uncertainty that really enhanced the mystery.  At the same time, Simcox really went for broke exploring the wider universe and the focus on the events in the Pen soon become a major part of the plot.  While I deeply enjoyed the potential universe ending event, I cannot help thinking that maybe more of the story could have been spent on beefing up the investigation angle of the book, especially as some of the culprits and twists ended up being a little easy to spot.  That being said, it was a fascinating part of the story that ended up being explored extremely well, and it really enhanced the stakes of the plot.  It will be interesting to see what the focus of the next novel will be, but I am sure that I will enjoy it.

Overall, this ended up being quite a clever read, and I think that Simcox did a great job of combining a complex murder investigation with complex and fascinating supernatural elements.  I had a lot of fun with The Dying Squad, and it is an excellent compelling new debut to check out in 2021.