Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian

Lady Smoke Cover.png

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia (Trade Paperback Edition – 12 February 2019)

Series: Ash Princess Trilogy

Length: 496 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Bestselling young adult fantasy author Laura Sebastian presents an outstanding follow-up to her 2018 debut with this superb novel which builds on the author’s original book and uses it to create a fantastic story.

For many years, Theodosia was a prisoner in her own palace.  The brutal warrior race, the Kalovaxians conquered Theo’s country of Astrea, enslaving her people and killing her mother, the Fire Queen.  Forced to live as a trophy prisoner and ridiculed as the Ash Princess, Theo eventually rebelled, escaping from the Kalovaxian ruler, the Kaiser.  However, her escape had complications, as she was forced to kidnap the Kaiser’s son, Prinz Soren, and poison her only Kalovaxian friend, Crescentia.

Now freed and claiming her birthright as Queen of Astrea, Theodosia is determined to take her country back.  With no troops of her own and only a handful of followers, Theo is forced to rely on her aunt, the pirate known as Dragonsbane, for support.  However, her aunt believes that the only way to liberate Astrea is for Theo to marry a foreign ruler and use their army to fight the Kalovaxians.  No Astrean Queen has ever married before, but with the desperate situation that Theo finds herself in, she has no choice but to allow Dragonsbane to organise a meeting with a number of potential suitors from the lands not controlled by the Kalovaxian armies.

Descending on the wealthy nation of Sta’Crivero, Theo is thrust into a dangerous hive of foreign royals and nobles, all of whom seek to use the newly released Astrean Queen to their own advantage.  Forced to decide between her heart and the needs of her people, Theo has to play along in order to find a way to defeat the Kalovaxians.  But sinister forces are at work within the Sta’Crivero palace: politicians are playing with her people’s lives, a sinister poisoner is targeting those closest to Theo, and the Kaiser has placed a price on her head.  Theo must rely on those closest to her, but even those she cares about the most could bring her down.

Lady Smoke is Laura Sebastian’s second novel, which follows on from her debut book, Ash PrincessAsh Princess was a fantastic fantasy debut which I enjoyed thanks to its interesting blend of political intrigue and clever fantasy elements.  However, I felt that Lady Smoke was an even better book, as Sebastian creates a much more compelling story while also expanding her fantasy universe and looking at the relationships between her characters.

Sebastian continues to focus on the growth of her protagonist and point-of-view character, Theo, as she rises to become the queen her people need.  In this book, Theo is recovering, both physically and emotionally from her years of captivity in the Kalovaxian court.  She is haunted by her decisions, including her ruthless manipulation and poisoning of Cress, one of the few people who considered Theo to be a friend.  In order to obtain the power she needs to free her kingdom, she must try use a strategic marriage to arrange an alliance with one of the countries outside of Kalovaxian’s influence.  The storyline focusing on her adventures within Sta’Crivero takes up a large portion of the book, and is an interesting piece of political intrigue.  Theo and her companions must attempt to find a political suitable match while also avoiding being manipulated by the rich and powerful rulers who all want to control or exploit her or her country.  There are a variety of layers to this story, as many of the rulers she encounters have their own agendas, and she must try and unravel them while also bringing some other nations to her cause.  Add to that, a mysterious poisoner is at large within the palace, attempting to kill Theo’s favoured suitors and allies while also framing one of her advisers.  Each of these parts of the story is deeply compelling, and I was very curious to see how this part of the story turned out.  These sequences also had some great emotional depth, as Theo is forced to balance her personal desires and opinions about arranged marriages, with the requirements of an army to free her enslaved people.

I thought that the main political intrigue and arranged marriage storyline of Lady Smoke was done amazingly and was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book.  The eventual conclusion of this storyline was handled pretty well, and readers will love the solution that the protagonist came up with.  I really liked the reveal about who the poisoner was, although I kind of saw the twist coming far in advance.  Even though I knew it was coming, I felt that the reveal was done extremely well, and the sinister motivations behind them made for some extremely compelling reading.  The final twists of the book were also very shocking, and I definitely did not see one particular event coming.  Overall, I had an absolute blast with this story, and thought it was substantially better than the awesome first book in the series.

Aside from the great story, one of the things I really enjoyed about Lady Smoke was the author’s superb universe expansion.  While a number of other nations that make up Sebastian’s fantasy world were mentioned within Ash Princess, the entirety of the plot took place within the conquered country of Astrea.  The plot for Lady Smoke, however, takes place in an entirely new setting, the kingdom of Sta’Crivero, which is an extremely wealthy and elitist realm.  While the people of Sta’Crivero initially appear supportive of Theo and the Astreans, it is revealed that they look down on the refugees and treat them as slave labour.  Sebastian does an amazing job of making the Sta’Crivero nobles sound exceedingly arrogant, and her descriptions of the rich and elaborate palace are stunningly decadent.  Once Sta’Crivero has been introduced as an excellent new setting for the story, the author brings in the rulers from all the nations that have not been conquered by the Kalovaxians.  Each of these new rulers is given an introduction, and their countries’ strengths and weaknesses are explored in various degrees of detail.  As Theo interacts with each of these rulers, the reader gets a better idea of the world outside of Astra and Sta’Crivero, resulting in a richer world tapestry for the audience to enjoy.  By the end of the book, Theo has made a number of allies and enemies from amongst these various nations, and it will be extremely fascinating to see how this comes into play within any future books in the series.

I quite enjoyed the unique and somewhat subtle magical elements that were shown throughout Ash Princess.  In this second book, the author continues to expand on her interesting magical inclusions by showing her magical characters utilising their powers to a greater and more obvious degree and using their powers in different situations.  I rather liked the exploration of ‘mine madness’, the process by which some Astrean magic users become overloaded with magic, especially those who have spent significant time in their magical mines as slave labour under the Kalovaxians.  Alternate explanations for this condition are given throughout Lady Smoke, and the author also examines the destructive nature of the condition, through several impressive scenes.  Other magical maladies are also featured within this book, and I liked how several unexpected characters were affected by these changes.

Sebastian does an amazing job of exploring the main character’s relationship with her friends and companions, and this forms an intriguing part of the plot.  There is a bit of a focus on her friendships with her companions, Artemisia and Heron.  Due to story reasons (Theo spent most of the first book on the other side of a wall), Theo was unable to build much of a relationship with either of these characters, so I liked how she started to bond with both of them.  This deepening relationship results in some character development of these two interesting side characters, and some interesting explorations of their life are explored, such as Artemisia’s relationship with her mother, the Dragonsbane, and Heron’s homosexuality.

The most compelling character interactions occur between Theo and her two love interests, Blaise and Soren.  Blaise is her oldest friend, her most loyal companion and the man who broke her out of the Astrean palace.  Soren, on the other hand, is the son of the Kaiser, her most hated enemy, and the man who Theo spent the majority of Ash Princess seducing and manipulating for her own ends.  Throughout the course of Lady Smoke, Theo finds herself attracted to both of these men, and must find a way to balance her feelings for them while also having to reconcile the possibility of choosing neither of them in order to secure her country’s freedom.  Adding to this drama, both Blaise and Soren have their own storylines and character development that they must undergo.  Blaise is suffering from mine madness, which has amplified his earth-based magic to a dangerous degree.  As a result, Theo has to spend a significant part of the book as his emotional tether, trying to rein in his temper and creating chaos.  Soren, on the other hand, must reconcile the evils that his countrymen and himself have undertaken while also trying to escape his father’s cruel legacy.  In order to make amends and to get revenge on his father, he finds himself on Theo’s side, but his relationship proves to be more of a liability to Astrea in a number of ways.  All of these issues make for an utterly captivating love triangle that really adds some interesting elements to the story.

In the follow-up to her debut novel, Ash Princess, Laura Sebastian continues her incredible fantasy series.  Lady Smoke is an amazing sequel that really highlights Sebastian’s growth as an author.  Not only does Sebastian successfully expand her fantasy universe, but she further develops her characters and provides the reader with an outstanding story.  I am very much looking forward to the sequel to this book, Ember Queen, which is coming out in 2020, and I am extremely curious to see how several story developments at the end of Lady Smoke take form.  Exceptional fantasy fiction from a creative and talented new author, Lady Smoke comes highly recommended.

Throwback Thursday – Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood Cover.jpg

Publishers: Orbit

                        Hachette Audio

Publication Date – 16 April 2013

 

Reviewed as part of 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.

One of the saddest realities of being a bibliophile is that no matter how hard you try or how much spare time you have, no one can read every great book that comes out every year.  I am no exception to this rule, as for years I was mainly focused on the historical fiction genre.  While this is a fantastic genre to focus on, it did mean that I missed out on many of the biggest science fiction and fantasy releases for the last several years.  Ever since I expanded my attention to a range of other genres, I have been seeking out and reading a number of different fantasy or science fiction books and series, many of which I have or will review on my blog and on Goodreads.  One of the series that I have heard constantly praised by friends, fantasy fans and other book reviewers is The Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan.  Nearly every fantasy reviewer and their dog has read and said good things about these books and, as a result, The Powder Mage trilogy has long been at the top of my to-read list.  So when I was recently able to fit the first book in the trilogy, Promise of Blood, into my reading schedule, I thought I would try it out and see if it lived up to everyone’s hype.

The Powder Mage trilogy are the debut novels of fantasy author Brian McClellan, and are a flintlock fantasy series, which is a modern fantasy sub-genre that features pre-industrialisation civilisations who utilise flintlock firearms with fantasy elements.  The Powder Mage trilogy started in 2013 with Promise of Blood, which the author followed up with a new book in 2014 and 2015.  Following the success of his initial trilogy, McClellan introduced a second trilogy, the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, which is set 10 years after the events of The Powder Mage trilogy.  This second trilogy is still ongoing, with the third and final book set to be released in November of this year.  In addition to these two main trilogies, McClellan has also written a number of novellas and short stories set in the same universe as his main books, which expand on his fantasy world.

McClellan has created a new and captivating fantasy world in order to contain the stories in his two main trilogies.  The Powder Mage trilogy is primarily set in the nation of Adro, one of nine nations that were founded thousands of years ago by the god Kresimir, which are together known as The Nine.  By the start of the first novel, Promise of Blood, the nations of The Nine have reached a level of technology equivalent to Europe’s pre-industrial revolution period, with flintlock firearms in heavy use.  Magic is also common in this world, with the nations of The Nine containing three separate levels of magical ability.  These include the privileged, extremely powerful sorcerers who can wield a range of devastating elemental abilities; the marked, lesser mages with more specific gifts; and the knacked, who have one specific magical talent, like a perfect memory or not needing to sleep.  The privileged of The Nine are generally organised into sorcery cabals, with the most powerful organised into a Royal Cabal loyal to the King of their nation.

Promise of Blood starts with Field Marshal Tamas, the highest-ranked military officer of Adro, leading a bloody coup against his country’s corrupt king and nobility.  During the coup, Tamas and his powder mages, marked whose abilities are powered by gunpowder, assassinate every member of Adro’s Royal Cabal.  However, every member of the Royal Cabal said one thing before they died, “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise”.  In order to find out the meaning of these mysterious words, Tamas hires former police inspector Adamat to investigate.  While Adamat sets out to uncover meaning behind these mysterious final words, Tamas begins the difficult process bringing order to his country.  However, it soon becomes apparent that staging the coup was the easiest part of his endeavour.

Tamas’s coup provokes a war with the Kez, one of Adro’s rival nations in The Nine, whose previous attempts to control Adro’s king, led to Tamas overthrowing him.  As Tamas deals with assassins, Royalists, deposed nobles and Kez magicians, it soon becomes apparent that someone on Tama’s council has betrayed him.  Brought in by Tamas to investigate who betrayed him, Adamat finds his loyalties tested when mysterious figures target him and his family.  At the same time, Tama’s estranged son, Taniel Two-Shot, embarks on a hunt for a surprisingly powerful member of the Royal Cabal who escaped Tamas’s powder mages.

Both Adamat and Taniel’s missions reveal dark secrets about the formation of their country.  With dark omens in the sky and ancient legends come to life, can Tamas and his forces stop the destruction of Adro, or will the mysterious forces arrayed against them succeed in their mission to summon forth an ancient power?

To be honest, even before I heard about this trilogy from other book lovers and reviewers, I thought the synopsis was pretty cool and the idea of gunpowder-wielding mages was an interesting concept.  I listened to the audiobook format of Promise of Blood, narrated by Christian Rodska, which goes for a lengthy 19 hours.  Now the question is; did this book live up to the hype?  The answer is yes.  I loved this book, I thought it was massively creative, filled with incredible action, had some complex, if mostly male, characters and made use of some excellent fantasy elements.

I really enjoyed the story within this book and I thought it was an amazing combination of intrigue, action and fantasy storytelling.  I liked the idea of starting the book just as a successful coup had taken place and the focus on the immediate aftermath of such a significant event.  The story is essentially broken into three main parts.  About a third of the book is told from Adamat’s point of view and really focuses on the intrigue elements of the story.  Adamat at first investigates “Kresimir’s Promise”, which is a fairly interesting part of the book, as it dives into the history of the country, and quickly reveals that shadowy forces are at play behind the scenes.  This initial investigation only lasts for a short part of the book, before Adamat is drawn into the larger investigation about the traitor in Tamas’s council.  This is a very well done investigation part of the book as the reader is presented with five suspects, each of whom is hiding several secrets and many of which have suspicious employees.  In addition, Adamat has to deal with a mysterious figure who is blackmailing him, and who keeps the identity of his employer secret.  These multiple layers of intrigue and lies ensures that the reader is looking in several different directions and have a much harder time guessing who these antagonists are.

Another third of the book is told from Taniel’s point of view, and follows him as he first hunts down a powerful privileged, and then finds himself stuck in the middle of a large battle for the survival of Adro.  While there are quite a lot of reveals about some of the book’s underlying fantasy elements in this part of the book, the main focus is on the action, as Taniel and his allies fight a number of opponents, and Taniel reveals while he is known as Two-Shot.  There is some interesting character work in this section as Taniel works through his feelings for his father, finds himself having to choose between obeying orders and the life of his best friend, and him coming to terms with his weird relationship with the powerful female character, Ka-poel.

The final main part of the book is told from the point-of-view of Tamas himself, and deals with the fallout from his coup and the multitude of issues he has to deal with in the aftermath.  The parts of the book focusing on Tamas are the most important chapters within Promise of Blood, as they bridge the other two sections of the book due to Taniel and Adamat not really interacting too much during the book.  The Tamas chapters have the best balance of Promise of Bloods’ excellent combination of fantasy elements, intrigue and action.  Throughout these chapters, Tamas is constantly forced to deal with the political infighting and betrayals occurring all around him, while also being targeted by assassination or capture by his various enemies.  Tamas also encounters a number of hints about the true nature of the fantasy events impacting Adro, including from a bizarre chef, and I loved the layers of intrigue that surrounded something most of the characters believed was a myth.  I really liked Tamas as a character, and I found him to be an intriguing combination of a calm, tactical genius and an absolute rage monster.  Despite alienating most of the people around him, especially Taniel, deep down Tamas is a good man who has been forced to make the hard decisions no-one else will.  However, when enraged he is an absolute terror to behold, especially to someone who has crossed his friends or family, and during these scenes of anger he gives several of the best lines, such as the one that appears on the cover:  “The age of kings is dead, and I have killed it”.  He is an absolutely great character and a fantastic focus for this trilogy.

In addition to these three main characters, a small portion of the book is narrated by female character Nila.  Nila’s character really is not explored too much in Promise of Blood, although she is given a good introduction, and I understand she will become a much bigger character in the next books in the trilogy.  On top of the main characters, there are several excellent side characters who really make this book extra awesome.  This includes Tamas’s bodyguard, Olem, a sarcastic and funny man who acts as Tamas’s moral compass for much of the book, and who also has certain ideas about people shooting his dog.  There is also Sousmith, Adamat’s bodyguard, a former boxer who acts as a fun foil to Adamat’s detective character.  While several characters at the Mountain Watch are also enjoyable, you have to love Ka-poel, the mute, witch who serves as Taniel’s spotter.  She has some crazy magic to her, and I have a vague feeling (without knowing anything about the plot of the future books) that she is some sort of young god or something.  I liked the way that Ka-poel was able to express everything, despite being a completely non-verbal character, although the implied romance between her and Taniel was a tad weird, especially as it started the moment he realised she was older than she looked.

The world building in this book is extremely impressive and it serves as an outstanding introduction to the key elements of the series’s universe.  While the other magical and fantasy elements of this book are pretty awesome, I especially loved the powder mages, and their magic is easily the best part of the book.  The powder mages have a unique blend of abilities, all of which are powered by eating or snorting gunpowder.  Consuming the powder gives them focus, enhanced perception, great strength and stamina.  In addition, they have control over gunpowder, igniting at will, and using their abilities to manipulate bullets in flight.  Each of the characters have different abilities on top of that.  Tamas can ricochet bullets around a room; Taniel can fire bullets further than anyone else, as well as firing two bullets at once; while another powder mage, Vlora, can ignite powder from a distance.  These characters in battle are absolutely fantastic, and I love it when these characters, especially Tamas, fully unleash their abilities.  The fight scenes between the powder mages and the privileged were exceptionally amazing, and I loved the contrast between the more traditional fantasy magic of the privileged and McClellan’s more unique powder magic.  That being said, when the privileged unleash their abilities they can be much more destructive, and some of their fights are pretty impressive.

I had a wonderful time listening to the audiobook format of Promise of Blood, and I thought that it was a spectacular way to enjoy this amazing story.  The action sequences, especially when the magic and bullets are flying, really come to life when narrated, and audiobooks always help me absorb complex new fantasy worlds such as the one in this series.  Rodska’s narration is really well done, and I found that he really captured the essence of the characters.  I especially thought he got the gruff and powerful voice of Tamas down perfectly, and it was an extremely realistic personification of the character’s voice.  I really hope that Rodska does the narration for the other books in McClellan’s series, and I would easily recommend the audiobook format of Promise of Blood to anyone interested in this series.

Overall, I really loved Promise of Blood and I found that it lived up to its substantial hype.  It’s easily a five-star novel in my eyes.  I loved this book so much that I am planning to listen to the remaining books in The Powder Mage trilogy as soon as I can, and I will probably also try and listen to the first two books in the Gods of Blood and Powder before the final book comes out in November.  McClellan is a fantasy genius, and anybody who loves action and explosions should invest the time to read this book.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Throwback Thursday – The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings Cover.jpg

Publishers: Tor Books

                       Macmillan Audio

Publication Date – 31 August 2010

 

Reviewed as part of 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.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday I will be reviewing one of the best pieces of fantasy fiction from the last decade: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I listened to this book for the first time earlier in the year and have been seeking to review it for some time.  However, I just finished reading the latest Brandon Sanderson book, Skyward, which I will be reviewing next week, and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to finally get a review of The Way of Kings together.

Brandon Sanderson is one of the best writers of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, with several iconic series created by him.  These include the Mistborn series, the Wax and Wayne series, the Warbreaker series, The Reckoners series and his latest book, Skyward, which serves as the first book of his new Skyward series, just to name a few.  Perhaps the biggest indication of how highly regarded Sanderson is the fact that he was the author chosen to finish off Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time series of fantasy books, generally considered one of the most important fantasy series ever created, and the second bestselling series since The Lord of the Rings.  Following Jordan’s death, Sanderson put several of his series on hold to write the final three books in the Wheel of Time series, finishing off these epic fantasy novels with the help of Jordan’s notes.

The Way of Kings is the first book in Sanderson’s most iconic series, The Stormlight Archives, an epic fantasy series set in gigantic fantasy world.  The Stormlight Archives is a massive series from Sanderson with at least 10 books currently planned.  The first three of these books have already been released, with a fourth planned for 2020.  Each of these books is a massive undertaking to read, each totalling over 1,000 pages.  I chose to listen to The Way of Kings in its audiobook format, read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.  At over 45 hours in length, it does take a while to get through, but it was well worth it for the epic adventure within.

The Stormlight Archives is set within the world of Roshar, which has seen much chaos and bloodshed and is constantly beset by powerful storms, known as highstorms.  Centuries ago, a recurring event, known as the Desolation, unleashed the demonic Voidbringers upon the lands, devastating all before it.  To counter these creatures, the legendary Knights Radiant were formed.  They were powerful warriors with magical powers who wielded the epic magical armour and swords known as Shardplate and Shardblades.  After years of fighting, the Desolation was stopped and the Voidbringers defeated.  With their task complete, the Knights Radiant abandoned their weapons and disappeared.  Centuries later, when the main story is set, these events have become myths and legends, with many doubting that they ever existed.  However, the remaining pieces of Shardplate and Shardblades have become valuable commodities to the warring nations that have sprung up since the end of the Desolation, as they allow normal men to become the mightiest of warriors.

The main story of The Way of Kings begins with the assassination of the powerful King of Alethkar, Gavilar Kholin by Szeth-son-son-Vallano, apparently on the order of the Parshendi, a recently discovered race of humanoids who Gavilar was seeking peace with.  This killing results in a war between the Alethi and the Parshendi on the Shattered Plains.  After years of fighting, the war has mostly stymied, with neither side gaining a significant advantage, as the two armies compete for magical resources on the Plains.

This book has three distinctive main plot lines that lie mostly unconnected throughout the course of the novel.  The first plot follows the brother of the slain King Gavilar, Dalinar Kholin, and his sons, as they serve the new king on the Shattered Plains.  After years of fighting, Dalinar has grown weary of war and the competitive and caste based Alethkar way of life and attempts to find solace in the ancient book The Way of Kings, a volume that his brother became obsessed with before his death.  Questioning the merits of his people’s current ways of life, Dalinar attempts to find a way to unite the squabbling highprinces in a final strike against the Parshendi, while also dealing with visions of the past that affect his ability to lead.

The second plot line follows Kaladin, a former solider to an Alethi lord.  Kaladin was betrayed and has been sold into slavery.  Transported to the Shattered Plains, Kaladin is forced to become a bridgeman, carrying the heavy bridges into battle that the armies require to cross the canyons and broken landscape of the Shattered Plains.  Bridgeman have low life expectancies and are usually targeted first by the Parshendi in the battles that dominate the plains.  Determined to survive, Kaladin attempts to form his unit of bridgemen into an effective team in order to minimise casualties in each battle.  But the lord he serves has no interesting in having his bridgeman survive, and Kaladin must utilise newly discovered magical abilities if he is to keep his unit alive.  A part of this storyline also follows a younger Kaladin and shows how he gained his skills and abilities, and the events that resulted in his enslavement.

The final storyline follows Shallan Davar, a minor noblewoman and scholar who seeks the patronage of Jasnah Kholin, the current king’s sister, who is Dalinar’s niece.  While Shallan succeeds in becoming Jasnah’s apprentice, she is really plotting to steal an item of great value from Jasnah that will ensure her families survival.  But as she makes her plans, she finds herself embroiled in a series of plots while also uncovering her own powerful magic.

In addition to these three main storylines, there are a series of interludes that help build up the world in which The Stormlight Chronicles is set, while also briefly introducing a number of characters who are likely to become major players in future volumes of this series.  Each interlude also features an extended sequence that focuses on Szeth-son-son-Vallano, the assassin forced to kill King Gavilar, as he finds himself controlled by a mysterious organisation that appears to be behind many of the books more mysterious events.

Quite frankly, there is so much going on within The Way of Kings.  Not only are there several substantial storylines that combine together into one massive and captivating overall narrative, but Sanderson also creates a massive and detailed new fantasy world with significant history and character backstories to form the basis of this massive series.  It is actually quite amazing that Sanderson has managed to combine so much together into one book without it getting away from him, but The Way of Kings is proof that it is possible.

Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about The Way of Kings is the sheer amount of world building that Sanderson is able to cram into one book.  There is so much that forms the basis of The Stormlight Archive’s universe, from its magical based technology, to the iconic weapons and armour, the unique battle tactics, the creatures found within, the caste system based upon eye colour and this world’s history.  Every different nation appears to have its own unique and fascinating culture, all of which come into play within the plot of the story in some way or another.  For example, the Shin culture results in the character of Szeth-son-son-Vallano becoming a servant to whoever holds his Oathstone, while the Alethi culture produces quite a lot of backstabbing and conflict due to the competitive nature of its citizens.  There are some really fun cultural details added into these world cultures, such as women being the sole scholars of this world, while men do not even learn to read, or several cultures requiring all the women to wear gloves on one hand.

In addition to the culture, the world of Roshar is pretty impressive in itself.  One of the most distinctive and defining features of Roshar is the continuous gigantic storms, known as high storms, that devastate the land on a regular basis.  As a result, the people have had to adapt to these conditions, and there are a number of interludes where the protagonists have to shelter for periods from the storm.  I loved the way that Sanderson was able to come up with a range of impacts that these destructive storms would have on this world, such as the way that plants would grow and become reactive in response to constantly being hit by storms.  A large portion of the story is set around the landscape known as the Shattered Plains, which, as the name suggested, is a shattered landscape made up of a series of massive canyons and gaps between plateaus, haunted by giant monsters and prone to flash floods during high storms.  There are a number of massive battles and smaller explorations occurring in this landscape throughout the book, and it serves as a distinctive background which quite a number of fantastic plot points build up around.

All of this world building is quite incredible, but it is also impressive in the way that Sanderson has linked this world to some of the other series he has created or is currently planning to create.  This shared universe, known as The Cosmere, is made up of a number of worlds where some of his fantasy books are set.  The books in The Cosmere share several characters who travel from world to world, as well as some overarching themes and plot points.  For example, some of the chaos that the characters explore is the result of a massive conflict that affects all the books within The Cosmere universe.  There are several aspects of this explored within The Way of Kings, and it results in some interesting storytelling.

In addition to the massive world in which this book is set, Sanderson has filled The Way of Kings with a series of incredible storylines.  I really enjoyed each of the storylines, as each of them added something different to the book.  The storylines that focused on Dalinar Kholin and his family provide the reader with large-scale battles and a deep look at the culture, history and lifestyle of one of the main nations on Roshar, while also exploring the mystery of the disappearing Knights Radiant.  The storylines that are mostly told from the point of view of Shallan Davar are a bit slower paced, but contain an intriguing storyline of research, teaching, ethical deliberations, various plots and even a planned heist of a magical item.  Without a doubt however, my favourite storylines focused on the Kaladin and his attempts to turn his bridgemen into a cohesive unit.  These storylines contain some great scenes of comradery, friendship and training, while also allowing for some intense and clever battle sequences.  The storylines focusing on Kaladin’s youth were among my least favourite in the entire book, but they were still intriguing as they allowed the reader to see how Kaladin gained his complicated personality, his hatred for the world’s noble class and his determination to save lives.  In addition, I have no doubt that all that backstory will serve an important part in a future book in the series.  All three of these main storylines, as well as the shorter stories contained within the interludes, come together perfectly to form a complex narrative that interweaves subtly for most of the book.  While there are some brief mentions or crossovers for the majority of The Way of Kings, Sanderson does not focus too much on bringing these characters together until the very end of the story.  This allows Sanderson to set up each of these main characters and their associated minor characters in more detail, and allows them to be defined on their own terms.

I really loved how each of the main point-of-view characters within The Way of Kings is incredibly complicated.  For example, Dalinar Kholin is a person who spent years becoming the most feared warrior in the world.  Nicknamed the Blackthorn, his skill in battle and bloodlust helped unite Alethkar under his brother’s rule and he was considered the epitome of Alethi warrior culture.  However, after the death of his brother, Dalinar is weighed down with guilt, and his desire to follow ancient codes of conduct and the teachings of The Way of Kings causes him to doubt everything he previously knew.  Szeth-son-son-Vallano, is a killer without peer, but he is not in control of his own actions, due to becoming Truthless.  Forced to obey whoever holds his Oathstone, Szeth is constantly forced to kill for a rotating string of masters, and he despairs at the death he deals around him.  Finally there is Kaladin, a man so full of regret and despair for the friends and family he has lost, he is constantly drawn to the brink of sanity.  He is brought out of his stupor by his desire to help the men on his bridge crew and his relationship with the spren Syl, and is a fantastic character to follow, especially when Sanderson spends time simultaneously examining his past and previous tragedies.  Each of these storylines also features a huge number of intriguing side characters, and the reader can get quite attached to a number of these, especially the members of Kaladin’s bridge crew, who unfortunately have a short life expectancy.

Those people who like a healthy dose of action with their incredible storytelling will not be disappointed with The Way of Kings, as it features an incredible number of battles and warfare throughout its various storylines.  There are so many different and unique action sequences throughout this book for the reader to enjoy, and the inclusion of the epic magical weapons and armour, Shardblades and Shardplate, in many of these scenes provide some truly awesome moments.  There are a number of fantastic large-scale battles throughout the book, often with the character of Dalinar leading the charge.  However, I always quite enjoyed the sequences where Kaladin and his bridge crew are forced to carry a massive bridge at the front of the army.  These scenes are always extremely intense as the bridgemen come under intense fire and many die in the attempts to cross the gorges that make up the Shattered Plains.  As the book continues, Kaladin and his crew experiment with a number of different techniques and strategies to try and stay alive during these assaults, with varied and intriguing results.

While all the above scenes are pretty epic, nothing can top the sequences where Szeth-son-son-Vallano unleashes his full potential.  Szeth has unique magical abilities and wields a powerful Shardblade so is quite a powerful opponent, even against Full Shardbearers (those wielding both a Shardblade and Shardplate, essentially indestructible warriors).  There are two great scenes where Szeth unleashes his abilities against his opponents.  The first time is one of the best opening scenes in fantasy fiction as he storms the palace of King Gavilar, taking out a number of opponents with his abilities.  Quite frankly, if this scene were to be the first thing that was shown in an adaption of this series, it has the potential to be one of the most epic opening moments in movie or television history.  This is actually topped later in the book, when Szeth falls into a trap against one of his targets, who utilises a number of Shardbearers against him.  This scene is great not only because it has a number of additional opponents for the assassin but because Szeth unleashes his full rage when he realises how many people his opponent has sacrificed to trap Szeth.  All of these action sequences are fairly epic, and are enough to make any action junkie extremely happy.

At this point, I have not had the chance to read any additional books in The Stormlight Archive, mainly as I have not had time to dive into such a big book with so many other great reads coming out this year.  That being said, I fully appreciate how much of a great introduction to this series The Way of Kings is.  It sets up so much of the universe and starts each of these major storylines and introduces several fantastic main characters.  I have no doubt that future books in these storylines will be awesome, and I really appreciate how well Sanderson introduces his series.  I fully intend to read the next books in this series soon, and my goal is to get through the second and third book in The Stormlight Archive before the fourth book is released in 2020.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Way of Kings and have to say it was an incredible way to enjoy this incredible book.  The publishers utilise two separate narrators, Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, who split the book between them.  Kramer reads the chapters told from male characters’ point of view, while Reading does the same for chapters told from a female characters’ point of view.  Both of these narrators are pretty epic and do an amazing job portraying their various characters and bringing them to life.  I would mostly recommend using the audiobook version of The Way of Kings because I find it helps the reader remember all the insane amount of information, detail and lore that the author has crammed into this book.  I also loved the way that the narration dragged me into the centre of some of these epic battles, and it is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy The Way of Kings.

Overall, The Way of Kings is an incredible piece of fantasy fiction and really lives up to the hype.  This is the perfect book to start exploring Sanderson’s work, and readers can expect a massive read, chock full of intricate and detailed world building, intense and unique action and a series of outstanding characters.  This is some of the best fantasy fiction you will ever read.  Clear out your calendar and make room to read this book.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Runaways Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 30 October 2018

 

Recently reunited and still coming to terms with being a family again, the adventures of Marvel Comics’ favourite group of misfit youths continues in Best Friends Forever, the second volume of young adult author Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anika’s run on Runaways.

The Runaways, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Nico, Victor, Molly and Old Lace are finally back together and living in one of their parents’ old hideouts.  While most of the team have grown up since the last time they were all together, this does not mean that they have their lives together.  Each of the Runaways has their issues to deal with, be it Gert’s recent return to life after several years of being dead, Karolina’s relationship problems or Victor’s current existence as a disembodied head.  The only one who appears to have their life even remotely together is the team’s youngest and at times wisest member, Molly, who is enjoying her time in middle school.  But even Molly is having problems, as she is faced with a hard choice and must consider whether she actually wants to grow up.

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As Molly deliberates over the dilemma presented to her, a barrage of other arrivals impact on the Runaways.  Karolina’s girlfriend, Julie Power of Power Pack fame, is in town, which causes significant drama for Karolina and Nico, while Dr Doom has apparently appeared on their doorstep, determined to find Victor.  Can a team rife with squabbles, drama and internal strife come together to face the problems before them, or will their significant changes be too much to bear?

Runaways is still one of my favourite Marvel series.  After the revamp earlier this year, previously reviewed here, these fantastic characters are still going strong.  In this second volume, Rowell, Atkins and their creative team continue to produce some outstanding and emotional stories that are based more on the relationships between the main characters than the traditional crime-fighting storylines contained within other comics.  While they do go up against a couple of superpowered opponents within this story, none of these antagonists is truly evil, and their motivations and history are a lot more morally ambiguous than some of the previous Runaways stories.  The creative team do a fantastic job of blending highly emotional storylines with a bunch of fun and heart-warming sequences, filled with random and funny elements, such as an errant Doombot.  This all comes together into one fantastic overall story that hits all the right buttons.  This second volume contains issues #7 – #12 of this new run on Runaways.

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One of the main aspects of this second volume of Runaways is the continued focus on the relationships between the series’ main characters.  Most of these characters are still coming to terms with being back together after all of them attempted to live lives outside of their team.  Quite a bit of Volume 2 involves the characters trying to determine what roles they have within this surrogate family, and the fact that they are not as close as they used to be.  What I liked is the way that Chase, usually the most immature member of the team, attempts to become the father of the group, matching up with the traditional female leader of the team, Nico, as the team’s mother.  This new parental role is highlighted in a funny couple of scenes where Chase and Nico use magic to become Molly’s legal guardians, a shortcut way that “seems totally legit and great”.  A lot of this volume is also focused on the romantic relationships between several of the group’s characters, including the relationship between Gert and Victor and the new romantic feelings between Nico and Carolina.  I thought the lead-in to both these relationships worked out very well and sets up some interesting potential in future volumes.  I am also very curious to see how the friendship between Victor and Chase is going to be impacted as a result of this new relationship in future volumes of this series.  I liked the way that the relationships and romantic considerations that featured between Carolina and Julie and Carolina and Nico were handled very well and with great sensitivity, and showed great representations of LGBT+ relationships.

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I also appreciated the way that Rowell and Anika continued to focus on the emotional and mental damage that the team’s exploits have had on these characters over their entire comic book history.  In this second volume, there is a significant focus on Victor, who was mentally and physically damaged during his previous appearances in Vision.  Chase and Doombot’s attempts to rebuild Victor during this volume prove to be a particularly vivid trigger for Victor, and leads to some significant emotional moments.  There is also a look at Victor’s fear of vibranium because of its addictive and mind-altering impact on him, which drove him to commit terrible acts in a previous series.  The creative team also take a look at the life of old team member Klara, the young powered girl the team rescued from abuse back in 1907 during a time-travel adventure.  It was previously revealed that Klara had been taken away from the team by the state and is now in a loving household.  A brief section of this volume is dedicated to the team finding her and attempting to bring her back into the fold, but Klara refuses to come back, as she is happy in her new life.  You have to appreciate Klara’s sound reasoning for not wanting to come back to the team, due to the death and multiple problems experienced in the previous adventures.
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One of the most significant issues that the character’s experiences have had on them is based around their negative opinions of adults.  Most of the truly terrible things in their lives have been the result of the plans of the adults they encounter, and their distrust of most adult characters has been a long-running aspect of the series.  It is interesting to see that this carries through to the new series, even though several of the characters are now actually adults.  This viewpoint is most prevalent in Gert, whose death during one of the previous run of this series means she still shares the beliefs these characters had while they were fugitives.  However, the rest of the team also have a hard time trusting other adults, such as when they assume Klara’s new adopted parents have to be evil, as every adult they have previously dealt with in similar circumstances were also evil or abusive.  This viewpoint has significant plot impacts in this second volume, as Molly, given the opportunity to stay young forever, talks to several of the other Runaways in an attempt to subtly work out their thoughts on growing up.  Most of the characters, including non-team member Julie Powers, talk somewhat negatively about their current lives and regret growing up, which tempts Molly to accept the chance to stay young.  The final message of this storyline strongly implies that growing up isn’t so bad, as even the antagonist, a young girl who has stayed 13 for 50 years, does not always want to be young.  It was also interesting to see Klara try to correct the team when they say that no adults can be trusted; having had a loving family relationship, she no longer believes that.

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The second volume of this run of Runaways continues to make use of some fun artwork throughout the various issues.  The character designs continue to be fun, and it is interesting to see some new looks and some constantly changing character designs, especially for the trendy Nico.  The art is often used for comedic affect.  Victor has a fun use throughout the book, and it is pretty humorous to see the head floating around in a number of scenes, even in a middle of a fight scene.  I also loved how throughout the course of the volume, he was given more and more advanced mobility upgrades in each scene that he appeared in, each more comedic than the last.  For example, at the start of the volume he is mostly transported in other character’s hand, his own momentum or in a backpack.  However, as the volume continues he is variously attached to a Roomba, a small tracked rover, several helium balloons (so he can get the feeling on flight back again) and eventually a new drone.  All of these are slightly ridiculous and fun, but they do not take away from the emotional nature of several scenes, and I must point out some of the awesome drawings that hint at the issues Nico is having with her magic.

The second volume of this new series of Runaways, Best Friends Forever, is another strong and emotional addition to this new version of this young adult superhero comic.  I really appreciated the creative teams continued focus on the character relationships and the emotional aspects of the characters’ lives.  Best Friends Forever is another fantastic addition to this powerful new run of Runaways, and I am excited to see what happens to this great group of characters next.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Magefall by Stephen Aryan

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Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

In the aftermath of the devastating battlemage war, magic became mistrusted and feared by the common population of all the lands.  However, the mysterious Akosh managed to turn this mistrust into outright hatred, and her manipulations and minions led the populace to attack and destroy the Red Tower, the seat of all magical learning.  While the tower was destroyed, many of its students and teachers managed to escape and the outcast mages must now find a new path for their magic and abilities.

While the powerful and disturbed former instructor of the Red Tower, Garvey, leads several of his former students on a murderous rampage through the countryside, three other refugees from the Red Tower attempt to change the public perception of magic.  Wren and Danoph have started their own community of mages in the abandoned fringes of Shael, and attempt to protect the local villages from a murderous band of bandits.  At the same time, their friend Tianne returns home to Zecorria in order to take advantage of the regent’s amnesty for mages.  But as she begins to work in an official capacity for the regent, she is forced to become more involved in his despotic policies.

Elsewhere, Akosh continues to manipulate events across the lands, attempting to gain even more influence and control.  However, her actions have not gone unnoticed, and several individuals are rallying to counter her bid for power.  The new head of the Guardians, Tammy, moves to shatter Akosh’s influence in the country of Shael, but how far will she go to win this fight, and what will the consequences be?  Old friends Balfruss and Vargus attempt to counter both Garvey and Akosh, while Munroe, the most powerful mage in existence, embarks on deadly rampage to find Akosh and get her revenge.  But Akosh is far more powerful than anyone believes possible, and what will happen when a mage goes up against a god?

Magefall is an intriguing and enjoyable book from talented fantasy author Stephen Aryan and one that I had a lot of fun reading.  Magefall is the second book in Aryan’s Age of Dread trilogy, which followed on from his initial The Age of Darkness trilogy.  I have to admit that I have not had a chance to read any of Aryan’s previous books before, and as a result, I had a bit of a harder time getting into this story initially, due to the author’s assumption of his readers’ knowledge of the four previous books’ established plot and lore.  While I was eventually given a clearer picture of some of the previous events, the initial confusion and uncertainty when it came to certain plot points did slightly colour my assessment of this book.  As a result, I have knocked my rating down to four stars, rather than the four and a half stars I probably would have given to it if I were more familiar with the previous books in this universe.  That being said, Magefall is still an amazing piece of fantasy fiction that I really enjoyed, and I am intending to check out some of Aryan’s previous novels at a later date.

The book is made up of a series of semi-separated storylines that take place across various locations in Aryan’s fantasy landscape.  Each of the storylines is very exciting and incredibly captivating, resulting in some great moments of action and intrigue.  I rather enjoyed the story that focused on the former student Wren as she starts her own community of mages out in the wilderness, as it contained a great examination of a responsible group of mages who actually wanted to protect and help the people around them.  Their battles against a merciless group of bandits are particularly intriguing, especially as the bandits are actually able to cause the very powerful young mages significant issues and problems.  The various intrigue based storylines that highlighted the manipulative and wide-reaching schemes of the villainess Akosh are also done really well, and some of the best parts of the book showcase the various moves and countermoves as the protagonists seek to thwart Akosh and her goals.  There is not a single dull moment during this entire book as every single one of these fantastic stories come together in an amazing overall narrative.

One of the other things that I also really enjoyed about Aryan’s latest book is the devastating magical sequences that take place throughout the various storylines.  The magical characters engage in a number of high-octane battles in a variety of creative scenarios throughout the book.  Not only do these characters engage in battles with normal non-magical people but several mages fight each other in sequences that see buildings and scenery blown apart around them.  It is great to see the tactics of some of the non-magic characters, as well as the difference in power levels between the former students and the really powerful mages who previously taught them.  The highlight of the book has to be the fight between the uber-powerful mage Munroe and Akosh, as the two engage in an all-out power brawl.  This is magical action at its very best, and readers will have a terrific time enjoying all the carnage.

Magefall is an excellent piece of fantasy fiction from a rising star in the genre.  Making full use of his multiple-storyline format, Aryan has combined a series of enjoyable, fast-paced and electrifying adventures with some outstanding uses of magic.  While I would strongly advise reading some of the previous books in this universe before attempting to dive into Magefall, this is still a fun book to read and it serves as a mostly great introduction to this intriguing series.

My Rating:

Four stars

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

In the dark and cold realm of Vorseland, life is hard and death is easy.  This is especially the case for young women Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa, who eke out a living as Boneless Mercies.  Mercies are those people who travel the land exchanging mercy killings for coin in order to alleviate suffering, both mental and physical, in those living in the harsh land.  Only women can become Boneless Mercies, as men cannot do this dark and sad work.

While their roles as Mercies have provided this group of young women with an escape from the horrors or uncertainties of their previous lives, each of them, as well as their young male companion Trigve, seeks something different from this depressing routine of death dealing.  Runa dreams of joining the Quicks, the bands of forest-dwelling hunters and revellers with mastery of the bow; the former Sea Witch Juniper wants to return to her sisters; while Ovie seeks companionship after the trials of her previous life.  But their leader, Frey, wants something very different: fame and glory.

Hearing of a dangerous monster roaming in a far-off land, killing all the men and terrorising the landscape, the girls decide to change their fate and become heroes.  In order to reach their destination, they first have to engage on a dangerous journey through a harsh countryside.  First finding themselves caught up in the middle of a war between rival factions of witches, the Mercies find acceptance and camaraderie in the land they have come to save.  But as the monster they’ve come to face makes an appearance, the girls must finally face up to their destinies.  Will they be able to defeat a creature that so many have already died facing?

The Boneless Mercies is the fourth and latest book from dark fantasy young adult author April Genevieve Tucholke, whose previous works include the two books of the Between series, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Between the Spark and the Burn, as well as her 2016 standalone novel, Wink Poppy Midnight.  All three of these previous novels dealt with a young adult supernatural romance set in a modern-day location.  The Boneless Mercies is Tucholke’s first foray into her own fantasy world, and it is the first book that is not as focused on a major romantic subplot.  The Boneless Mercies serves as a great standalone novel, although it has potential as the first book in a new series that either follows the characters introduced in this volume or that utilises Tucholke’s fantasy landscape.

The overall story of The Boneless Mercies is an interesting creation from Tucholke, as it is a good combination of character development, world building and searches for glory.  The premise of this story is unique.  Four professional mercy killers seeking better lives for themselves through fighting monsters is a fantastic pitch from the author that really drove me to read this story.  The author has made a clear attempt to emulate the sagas of old, and it is easy to note its similarities to Beowulf, especially when it comes to the monster.  The book’s central characters helped reinforce this by reciting several sagas that exist within their fantasy world, even coming up with a few verses for their own adventure.  I was a bit surprised about how only the last third of the book focused on the protagonists’ hunt for the monster; the antagonist that was such a focus of the book’s blurb and publication material, and instead a lot more of the book was spent focusing on the adventure getting there.

This actually works out really well, with the characters’ involvement with the various witch characters serving as the centre of the book.  The protagonists find themselves recruited to fight in a war between two rival factions of witches, which leads to some tough and damaging choices for Frey while the also allowing Tucholke to create a harrowing extended sequence in deadly marsh landscape.  The reversal of gender roles within the story is another great part of the story, and it is intriguing to see women in a more central role of these saga storylines in both the protagonists and antagonist roles.  The Boneless Mercies contains a unique and memorable central story that will prove to be appealing to a huge audience.  With several exciting romps through Tucholke’s new fantasy landscape, the book has an excellent conclusion, as well as several plot threads that could lead to intriguing future stories in the same universe.

Tucholke has woven some wonderful character dynamics into this story and introduced several intriguing protagonists for the reader to enjoy.  The book’s five main characters, Frey, Ovie, Juniper, Runa and Trigve, have all found an escape from their terrible past lives by coming together and following each other down the destructive path of the mercy killing trade.  Each of the characters has their own distinctive traits.  Frey is the big sister and reluctant leader of the group, and must struggle to balance her own desires with the needs of the people under her care.  Runa is the rebellious and free-spirited member of the group, eager to live the carefree life of a Quick in order to escape the horrors of her past.  Juniper is the dreamer, and her minor magical abilities and connection with the Sea Witches are essential to the plot in the middle of the book.  Ovie is the tough, no-nonsense member of the group, and is the group’s main warrior, teaching the others how to fight.  Despite some insights into her past, Ovie is the character who is explored the least out of each of the characters, although she does serve as a bit of a moral compass for Frey’s decision.

The main male character, Trigve is also an interesting inclusion, as he fills the role of the assistant and bastion of knowledge that the girls, especially Frey, go out of the way to protect.  This is a noticeable and intriguing change in the traditional gender roles within an adventurer group, and it is interesting to note that Trigve is usually sent away by the girls before any of the big action scenes.  His relationship with Frey is also one of the book’s main romantic subplots, and I liked the complex and mostly unspoken relationship these two characters had.  Overall, all of these main characters are great additions to the book, and Tucholoke spends considerable time exploring how these characters, all of whom have been forced to sever their previous connections, have come together into a surrogate family.  I really appreciated watching the characters’ relationships with each other build, as that worked really well to make the reader connect with each of them and become concerned with their fates.  The slow reveal of each character’s previous lives and the events that drove them to the other Boneless Mercies was also handled wonderfully and worked with the other story elements to create a powerful overarching narrative.

I also enjoyed the great new fantasy world that Tucholke created for this novel.  The author really gets to grips with the harsh, cold and unforgiving scenery of her Norse-inspired landscape of Vorseland, and the reader gets a real idea of why many inhabitants are tempted to employ the Boneless Mercies.  There are also a number of fantastic elements included throughout this world that really help make it an amazing location for this intriguing adventure.  The various bands of different fantasy professionals, such as the Boneless Mercies or the Quicks, give it an interesting flair.  The various groups of witches, including Marsh Witches, Sea Witches and even a group of pig mystics, become deeply entangled in the main story, and will also be significant players in any future books set in this universe.  This is an excellent and creative new fantasy world from Tucholke that works incredibly well for this book’s story.

April Tucholke has created an exciting and intense piece of young adult fiction in her latest novel, The Boneless Mercies.  Creating an intriguing narrative around a group of female former mercy killers embarking on a quest for glory in a dark and saga-rich fantasy landscape is a masterstroke from Tucholke, especially when she combines it with a fantastic story and close-knit and likeable group of protagonists.  The strong female characters make this an excellent one for a young adult audience, and I enjoyed the story’s darker background and storylines.  Special appreciation goes to the book’s great covers as well; the copy I had an iridescent feather design which was cool, but I also really enjoyed the excellent cover with the red wolf and the protagonist’s shadows.  Overall, The Boneless Mercies is a great piece of young adult fiction which presents the reader with something enjoyably different from the classic fantasy adventure.

My Rating:

Four stars

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

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Publisher: Piatkus

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

Gunslingers versus wizards in a dystopian alternate timeline of America, what more could you possibly want in a fun and captivating action novel?

Down in Texoma, one of the small countries forged out of the remnants of a fractured United States, Lizabeth Rose makes a living as a gunnie, a gunslinger for hire.  Despite being one of the best shots in Texoma, Lizabeth finds herself short of employment after her team is killed getting a group of refugees up to New America.

In need of a new gig, Gunnie Rose is less than cautious about accepting work from two grigori, wizards from the Holy Russian Empire.  The two grigori need Lizabeth’s help to find a fugitive member of their order, there is just one problem: the fugitive mage was killed some weeks prior, and Lizabeth was the person who pulled the trigger.  Undeterred, the grigori require a member of his lineage, so Lizabeth agrees to help them find the dead man’s brother, while keeping her role in his death secret.

Setting off on a journey through the barren and hostile landscape of an alternate history America, Lizabeth and the two wizards encounter all sort of dangers as they attempt to find the missing man.  From bandits to religious fanatics, their journey through the small towns is eventful and very bloody, especially when it becomes apparent that a faction of grigori are tracking them, determined to stop the trio completing their mission.  Can Lizabeth keep her clients safe, and what will happen when they find out who she really is?

An Easy Death is the latest book from bestselling author Charlaine Harris, who has written over 40 books in her career, staring with her 1981 debut, Sweet and Deadly.  Harris is possibly best known for her Sookie Stackhouse series, alternatively known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries, which was adapted into the incredibly popular True Blood television show.  In addition to this, she has also written the long-running Aurora Teagarden Mystery crime series and the Midnight Texas series, both of which have also had some form of television adaption in recent years.  An Easy Death is the first book in Harris’s new Gunnie Rose series, which presents the reader with a fast-paced adventure is an intriguing new setting.

I have to admit that I typically don’t read Harris’s books and she isn’t an author I have really gotten into before, although I did enjoy the first season of True Blood a few years ago.  However, after reading this book’s cool synopsis I decided to check this out, and I’m quite glad I did, after powering through it in about a day and thoroughly enjoying the fun story and the electrifying action.

I was impressed by the unique version of America that Harris has created for her new series.  Within the Gunnie Rose universe, the United States of America broke apart years before when FDR was killed before his inauguration as president.  In the following years, Canada and Mexico expanded into America, while smaller countries were formed from the remnants of various states.  A large amount of the book is set in Texoma, a collation of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and part of Colorado.  Texoma is your typical old-west locale, with desserts and dry scenery, long roads and several small towns and cities, all of which are fantastic locations for this sort of high-octane modern western.  I quite enjoyed this alternate history version of America, and it was fascinating to see Harris’s vision of how historical America could have broken up, and the crazy world it might have turned into.  While this first story was primarily set within the location of Texoma, as well parts of New America and Mexico, I’m sure that Harris will take Gunnie Rose through the rest of these new countries and locations in future books.

Harris also explores another intriguing nation that was formed in the aftermath of the breakup of America, the Holy Russian Empire.  Within the context of this universe, Tsar Nicholas and his family managed to escape the Russian revolution and fled to California, where they and their armada were given sanctuary.  Following the breakup of America, the Tsar and his armies turned California and Oregon into The Holy Russian Empire.  The country is now ruled by the sickly Tsar Alexei, who has been kept alive by the magic of Grigori Rasputin.  While the characters don’t physically visit this nation, quite a lot of time is spent examining the internal politics of the Holy Russian Empire, and the reader is given a detailed explanation of how such a country came into existence and why their mission is so important.  Those readers who are familiar with the history around the Russian revolution will appreciate Harris’s explanation for this new country, as well as the suggested consequences of the Russian royal family surviving their infamous execution.

Another interesting part of An Easy Death is the use of magic throughout the story, as well as the author’s explanation of how it came to be an open power within the Holy Russian Empire.  The main reason magic is a thing in this universe is Grigori Rasputin, who, like the Russian royal family, managed to survive the events of the Russian Revolution.  Once the Russians were safe in America, Rasputin revealed the full power of his wizards, known as grigori by the rest of America, while international magic users, especially those hidden in Britain, journeyed to the Holy Russian Empire to gain sanctuary.  This is an intriguing idea from Harris, which coincidently allows her to feature a number of powerful magic users throughout this story.  As a result, this book is filled with some crazy magical fight scenes, graphic attack spells, as well as a number of scary magical creations that hunt the book’s protagonists throughout the story.  All of this is a great feature of the book, and one that works surprisingly very well in an alternate history western adventure.

A book that follows a gunslinger travelling across a dystopian America with two wizards was always going to be about the action.  Harris creates a fast-paced adventure that is filled with exciting action sequences as our protagonist goes toe-to-toe with bandits, fellow gunslingers and even a full complement of rogue grigori.  There are a number of great battle sequences throughout this story as a result, as the main character engages in some intense shootouts with her opponents.  The whole idea of an old-west gunslinger versus a wizard in combat is a very amusing idea, and Harris uses it to great advantage, having Lizabeth engage in fire fights with several different magical characters.  These scenes are pretty crazy, and it is fun watching the bullets and the spells fly in both directions.  Overall, this is a very action based novel, and the reader can simply sit back and enjoy all the carnage, complete with some very extreme and graphic sequences that stick in the mind.

Charlaine Harris’s new book is an outrageous and exhilarating action extravaganza that provides the reader with a healthy dose of fun and fire fights.  Thanks to a creative setting of an alternate timeline America, this book is filled with all sorts of crazy elements, including wizards and professional old-west-style gunslingers, who spend the entire book duking it out in fast-paced scenes.  An Easy Death is a thrilling read that is easy to enjoy and hard to put down, and an excellent start to a bold new series from Harris.

My Rating:

Four stars