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

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

The Will of the Many Cover

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

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

Plot Synopsis:

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

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

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

Quick Review – Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

Only a Monster Cover

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

Series: Monsters – Book One

Length: 410 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Plot Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

. . . she is not the hero.


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

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

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

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

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

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Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt

Silver Queendom Cover

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

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 407 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves Cover Better

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

Series: Lesson Three of the Scholomance

Length: 408 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Quick Review – The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

The Justice of Kings Cover

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

Series: Empire of the Wolf – Book One

Length: 13 hours and 45 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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

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

Plot Synopsis:

NO MAN IS ABOVE THE LAW

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher

Dead Man's Hand Cover

Publisher: Ace (Hardcover – 29 November 2022)

Series: The Unorthodox Chronicles – Book One

Length: 373 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

9780356507651

Publisher: Orbit (Paperback – 26 July 2016)

Series: The Dragon Lords – Book One

Length: 517 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for all manner of craziness and exceedingly entertaining fun as Jon Hollins presents an amazing book about heists and dragons with Fool’s Gold.

A few months ago, whilst perusing my local book fair, I happened upon a copy of Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins (a pseudonym for fantasy author Jonathan Wood), which really grabbed my attention.  The first book in Hollins’ The Dragon Lords trilogy, Fool’s Gold had a fantastic plot synopsis which involved heists and dragons.  I was very intrigued by this cool book, which sounded so very fun, so naturally I made sure to grab it.  As a result, it was nice and handy when I was in the mood for a fun fantasy book, and boy was I entertained by this cool read.

In the fantasy land of Avarra, there are many different magical creatures and beings who infest the world and bring all manner of chaos with them.  However, no creature is as dangerous, arrogant, and domineering as the dragons, especially members of the destructive Consortium who have taken over the isolated nation of Kondorra and rule it as overlords.  Employing a private army, the dragons impose massive taxes on the lands surrounding their lairs, driving the people into poverty and forcing many to lose everything.

It is only a matter of time before something gives, and when Willett Fallows loses his farm to greedy dragon who controls his village, he snaps and becomes a fugitive.  On the run, Will finds himself in the most unusual of situations after a chance meeting with four unlikely wanderers in a nearby cave, including a skilled warrior woman, a murderous lizard man, a dragon obsessed academic with explosive magical powers, and his village’s local insane drunkard.  Together the five new companions come up with an ambitious plan to steal all the gold from the local dragon lord and make their escape.

However, when their heist unsurprisingly goes wrong the friends find themselves in a surprising position as the nation’s apparent saviours.  Suddenly worshipped by a massive following, the companions must find a way to escape both the deadly retribution coming their way and their own insane devotees.  But no matter how hard they try, all their plans seem to backfire until they find themselves in the middle of a deadly religious war against the dragons.  Can they pull off one more con to destroy the Consortium, or is everyone about to end up dead in a field of fire?

Fool’s Gold is an exceedingly fun and very entertaining read that I was able to finish off in a few days, especially once I got caught up in its exciting and fast-paced narrative.  Hollins sets everything up very quickly, with the new fantasy world introduced, the dragon’s control of Kondorra established, and all five of the main characters brought together.  While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the extremely coincidental meeting that saw all the protagonists meet up in the first few chapters, the story evolves at a much more appropriate pace from there, with the characters quickly planning their theft of the local dragon’s hoard.  I was a little surprised at how fast the first heist came about, as I figured it would be a long-term plan that would unfold much later in the book.  However, featuring this heist early on really works, as it sets up the rest of the story extremely well while also showcasing early just how crazy and over-the-top this book is going to be.  The chaotic results of the first heist see the protagonists incorrectly declared religious saviours destined to bring down the dragons.  Suddenly leading a ragtag army, the protagonists are forced to engage in several more attempted heists and plots against other dragons and their minions.  While these plans often backfire in very funny ways, the protagonists keep failing upwards and must keep the con going while dealing with a multitude of problems, including deranged followers, immense responsibility, and deep personal issues.  This all leads up to the final confrontation with the dragon Consortium, with the characters unleashing their most ambitious plan yet.  Watching this final plan come together is pretty damn awesome, and the insane battles and crazy results that follow were so damn epic.  I ended up really loving this compelling and very fun story, which Hollins leaves open for some intriguing sequels in the future.

Fool’s Gold is an incredibly fast-paced novel with a great writing style that makes it very easy to power through.  The author has a brilliant and wicked secret of humour that infects his writing, and I found myself chuckling the entire way through, not just because of the jokes but because of the insane scenarios that resulted.  I was also deeply impressed with how well Hollins brought together several genres to create a compelling and hilarious read.  The book initially appears to be a classic fantasy read, as the author quickly and effectively sets up an intriguing new fantasy world at the start of the book, which contains several classic fantasy creatures and elements that are likely going to get expanded on in the sequels.  However, it soon becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be a typical fantasy book, especially as the very modern sense of humour and language that Hollins employs gives it a whole new tint.  I often enjoy when authors feature contemporary language and attitudes in fantasy novels, and I felt that Hollins uses it to great effect in Fool’s Gold, giving the book a distinctive tone.  The author further brings in the brilliant heist elements to the book, which I deeply enjoyed thanks to all the fantastic plans and cons.  It proved to be extremely fun to see all these elaborate and weird heists get planned out and executed in a fantasy universe, and it combines extremely well with the humorous tone and fantasy elements of the book.  I deeply enjoyed how this captivating story came together, and I can’t wait to see how the next books in the series pan out.

I also really liked the cool characters featured in Fool’s Gold, especially as Hollins came up with a very eclectic and damaged group of central figures.  The book primarily revolves around five protagonists, each of whom have multiple chapters told from their perspective and who unite as a team very early in the book.  This includes Willett Fallows, the former farmer who turns to heist planning after the dragon’s greed takes everything from him.  There is also the fantastic pair of Lette and Balur, a female adventurer looking to settle down and her lizard man companion who loves all forms of violence and is determined to fight and kill the biggest opponents he can find, in this case dragons.  There is also Quirk, a former mage turned academic who arrives in Kondorra to study the dragons and finds herself dragged into the group’s plans so she can get a closer look at the dragons and their lairs.  Finally, there is Firkin, a local drunk whose failure years ago to defeat the dragons drove him mad and who finds new life during the new adventures. 

All five characters are pretty crazy in their own way, and I think they made for quite an intriguing and amusing focus for the narrative, especially all the interesting growth Hollins makes use of.  Will’s evolution from a farmer to a master strategist was very well written and I appreciated the compelling examination of how the power he started to wield was potentially corrupting him, especially when he holds the lives of so many in his hands.  The inevitable romance between Will and Lette was handled well throughout the book and it came across as a natural and well-developed relationship.  Balur, the battle-loving lizard man was easily one of the most entertaining characters in the novel, and I loved seeing his mad rages and various attempts to kill the dragons they encounter, especially as it results in an incredibly funny and hilariously brutal final fight at the end of the book.  I was also quite impressed that Hollins was able to keep up Balur’s unique style of speech for much of the story.  Firkin’s rise from unpredictable drunk to unpredictable drunken religious mouthpiece and rabblerouser was exceedingly funny in places, especially as you are never quite sure whether he is actually insane or just messing with everyone.  I did find his continued crazy speech a bit too much at times, although the occasional hints at his deeper intelligence and sanity made up for that.  However, the best character work was probably reserved for Quirk as Hollins really dives back into her history as a child soldier/mage who was gently rehabilitated and taken into the academic lifestyle.  Quirk finds herself reverting to her old destructive magical ways throughout the course of the adventure and she must figure out who she truly wants to be.  I had a great time with all the cool characters in this book, although I do wish that the greedy and arrogant dragons might have gotten a little more development.  Overall, I would say that the characters were some of the best parts of Fool’s Gold and look forward to seeing more of them in the future.

Unsurprisingly, I had a pretty wonderful time with Fool’s Gold and it ended up being as thrilling and compelling as I hoped it would be.  Jon Hollins wrote a wildly entertaining and very funny fantasy heist narrative for Fool’s Gold, which came equipped with some great fantasy elements and a bunch of excellent characters.  I really enjoyed Fool’s Gold and I will have to try to grab the next two books in the Dragon Lords trilogy, especially when I’m in the mood for some crazy, over-the-top adventure and excitement. 

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Dragon Mage by M. L. Spencer

Dragon Mage Cover

Publisher: Stoneguard Publications/Podium Audio (Audiobook – 19 December 2020)
Series: Rivenworld – Book One

Length: 27 hours and 18 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 hours

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Prepare for an epic fantasy adventure with a great classic feel to it, as awesome author M. L. Spencer presents the massive and captivating fantasy novel, Dragon Mage.

Back in 2020, the fantasy book world was abuzz with talk about the compelling and impressive fantasy fiction epic, Dragon Mage by M. L. Spencer, who was already known for her Rhenwars Saga and Chaos Cycle books.  While I have not had the opportunity to read any of her previous works, Dragon Mage definitely caught my eye, especially with the very cool cover with the awesome art.  While I never got the chance to read this book when it was first released, I did grab an audiobook copy of it and have been looking for an opportunity to listen to it for some time.  When I found myself in the mood for some great high fantasy a few weeks ago, I decided it was finally time to listen to Dragon Mage, especially as a future Rivenworld book is apparently on the horizon, and boy did I have an outstanding time with it.

Aram Raythe is a simple lad from a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere.  A strange boy with a love of knots and an inability to understand people, Aram thinks that he will go through life alone and hopes for a quiet existence as a sailor.  However, Aram has a secret that he has never told anyone: he can see the colourful strands that make up the world, and he can manipulate them to do magic.

When a bard arrives at the village, seeking an apprentice, Aram uses his powers to help the only person who was ever nice to him, fellow teen Markus Galliar, get chosen; however, he is unprepared for the chaos that this action will unleash upon his life.  While the bard, who recognises his potential, attempts to take him to safety, Aram accidently unleashes his power to cause a rift in the world.  Soon the village is visited by an Exilari sorcerer, who captures Aram and Markus, seeking to drain Aram’s essence and use it to power his own magical abilities. 

Aram’s destiny lies not in the torturous extraction cellars of the Exilari but with an order of dragon riders from another world.  When fate drags him to them, Aram will find acceptance and friendship for the first time in his life, as well as the opportunity to fight against the Exilari, their dark allies in this new world, and the ancient monsters who control them.  But to do that, Aram will need to learn to tap into the massive power lying deep within him and figure out how to use it to become a true Champion, the most powerful beings in two worlds.  Can Aram become both a Champion and a dragon rider, and what role will Markus play in his turbulent life?

I am really regretting not reading this book when it first came out.  While it was a lengthy read, Dragon Mage proved to be an excellent and captivating high fantasy adventure, and it was exactly what I was in the mood for.  Featuring an elaborate and massive narrative, complete with unique fantasy elements and some exceptional characters, Dragon Mage was an outstanding book that gets a full five-star rating from me.

Spencer produced an extremely epic and complex narrative for Dragon Mage that I had a particularly awesome time getting through.  Now, I do have to admit that Dragon Mage has a pretty lengthy story and it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to get through it.  In addition, the narrative does get a bit slow in places, especially at the beginning, and there were a few points where I struggled to make progress.  However, if you set aside the time for it and make an effort to keep going, I guarantee that it is more than worth it, as it unfolds into an epic, multidimensional coming-of-age story that has a real classic fantasy vibe to it.  The impressive, self-contained tale within will keep you entertained and stick with you well after you have finished reading it.

The story itself starts off with an extended introduction to the main characters of Aram and Markus, which showcases their personalities, histories and views of the world, while also featuring their first meeting and the start of their friendship.  I struggled a little to get through this opening part of Dragon Mage, mainly because I did not initially connect with Aram and his distinctive personality.  However, once you get several chapters in, the excitement starts to increase, as you see the full potential of the protagonist, as well as the introduction of a brilliant antagonist, Sergan Parsigal, who really moves the narrative along.  He quickly captures the two protagonists, which leads to several brilliant scenes, including an awesome and exciting escape from monsters from outside of reality.  From there, the story evolves into more of a magical school narrative, which I naturally loved (see my recent list about favourite books with magical schools in them), although it doesn’t last too long, as Spencer throws in a pretty dark twist and a heartbreaking time skip.

Following this time skip, the story evolves again, with Markus and Aram separated for a while after Markus rescues Aram.  The two characters soon develop in different story arcs, with Aram spending time in a completely new world, which sees him finally starts to explore his full potential.  After some more chapters in a whole different magical school setting, the main characters converge again, with some great drama.  Without going into too much detail, the rest of Dragon Mage keeps building on the plot from the first half of the book, and the characters are thrown into a ton of deadly situations as they continue to grow and discover their destiny.  Spencer layers the rest of Dragon Mage with a great combination of adventure, war, character development, training, romance, friendship, conflict and tragedy, which comes together into an extremely powerful narrative.  There are some truly epic scenes throughout this second half of the book, and you really grow attached to all the major characters in the book, which Spencer will make you pay for in some dark sequences.  Some of the major appeal is watching the slow but steady growth of the protagonist as he evolves from being unconfident and isolated to a powerful hero, helped along by the friendships he forms with those close to him.  Everything ends with a massive pulse-pounding confrontation that will keep you on your toes and ensure you cannot put down this book as you wait to see how everything turns out.  Readers will come away from Dragon Mage extremely satisfied, and the author leaves open some intriguing storylines for the future, that I hope the author will continue. 

One of the things that I particularly appreciated about Dragon Mage was the elaborate and compelling fantasy elements that Spencer introduced.  Dragon Mage actually features two separate realities, which were previously joined before being separated into The World Above and The World Below during a historical cataclysm.  These worlds can still be journeyed through by breaches caused by magic users and much of the plot revolves around the characters trying to stop an evil plot to recombine the words in a new cataclysm.  The book starts off in The World Above, a typical medieval setting which is ruled over by a despotic empire controlled by an order of magicians known as the Exilari, who gain their power through draining the essence of anyone with magical potential.  The second half of the book is set in The World Below, which features a range of magical creatures, including dragons, magical horses, and other creatures.  The World Below is in the grip of deadly war between an evil demigod (one of several who rule both worlds) and an order of dragon riders, who serve as its primary protectors.  Spencer does a great job introducing both worlds throughout the course of Dragon Mage and while they might not be as heavily explored as if there was only one world, you get a good sense of how they different and the histories that surround them.  Both are very distinct in their own way and I had a lot of fun seeing both, especially as they provide a compelling contrast to each other as two halves of the same coin.  I really like the switch between worlds that occurred halfway through the book and having the focus change to the more magical World Below made for quite an enjoyable and exciting read. 

I was also a fan of the unique magical elements contained within Dragon Mage, which, as the name suggests, is big on magic and dragons.  The magic itself is quite interesting, if a little ethereal in its description, and there are a few different versions of it.  The primary form of magic is shown through Aram’s eyes and is tied into the strands of energy that make up the world.  These strands, which only a few people can see, can be manipulated and tied into knots by the magic user for various magical effects.  This is a very unique system, and it ties in well with Aram’s peculiarities, especially as he spends much of the early part of the book obsessed with knots without anyone understanding why.  This results in some awesome displays of magic, and I found Aram’s perception of the magic and how it works to be extremely fascinating.  Other forms of magic include Markus’ magical immunity, natural passive magic from other characters and items, as well as the magic of the Exilari, which they gain be stealing the essence from magic users like Aram.  The destructive Exilari make for exceptional villains in this book, especially as they bask in their stolen power in a very creepy way, and I deeply appreciated that Spencer spent the time to explore their organisation, especially as the protagonists spend time in their training facility.

Then of course, there are the dragons, which inhabit The World Below.  I always enjoy a good dragon focused story, and this one was pretty fun as Spencer goes for a sentient dragon that bonds with a rider.  While this has been done before, I think that Spencer altered it enough, especially as quite a lot of the book is dedicated to them and their place in the world.  The author spends a substantial time exploring the bond between human and dragon, and you get to see the entire process, from the initial training of the human recruits, the hatching of the dragons, their bonding, and then their eventual use in combat.  There are a huge number of dragon characters in this book, and you get to see inside many of their minds and their bonds, especially as Aram can communicate with all of them.  The bond itself is a deep and personal connection, and I loved the scenes that examine how lethally strong it is, with human or dragon rarely surviving the death of their partner.  Having the emotional connection to a dragon becomes a key aspect of several of the key characters and it was really moving to see characters who have lost a lot in their life find new companionship with a soul bonded dragon.  The subsequent scenes of dragon combat are extremely awesome, and I appreciated that Spencer introduced some equalisers to make sure that they didn’t come across as too overpowered.  I had a wonderful time with all the fantasy elements in this great book and Spencer made great use of all her unique or fun elements to enhance and tell a brilliant story.

On top of the elaborate narrative and compelling fantasy elements, I was also very impressed by the amazing characters that Spencer featured in Dragon Mage.  The story revolves around an outstanding cast of complex and damaged characters, each of whom brings their own light and pull to the book.  Spencer sets all of these characters up extremely well, and while it might take you a while to appreciate a couple of them, once you do, you become extremely invested in their story and want to find out what is going to happen to them next.

The most prominent character in Dragon Mage is the extremely unique character of Aram Raythe, and this book is primarily his story from childhood to adulthood.  Aram is a particularly fascinating choice for central protagonist; while he is shown to be a chosen one with great power, he also portrayed as socially inept and with many strange behaviours.  I believe that Spencer wrote Aram as an autistic character (or the fantasy equivalent), especially as he is usually described as a Savant.  I personally really enjoyed this, as you don’t see a lot of autistic characters in fiction, and it was a great twist on the classic chosen one story.  Aram has a very different viewpoint of the world, and once you understand him you find that he is one of the sweetest and nicest fantasy protagonists you are likely to find, and you really start to care.  Unfortunately, Spencer decides to punish you for caring for this character, as the author puts Aram through all manner of hell and torture which really ups the emotional impact of the story.  Not only does Aram already have a distinct lack of confidence and social issues, but he is also repeatedly tortured and is deeply traumatised for much of the book.  There is also a hidden history to his parentage and a ton of secrets that his mentors are keeping from him that will cause him further grief and impact his confidence.  Watching him overcome all of this is very moving, and it is nice to seem him find some friends and slowly build up his confidence.  Of course, there is still a lot of trauma coming for him, and you will continue to suffer as you watch him grow.  Personally, I deeply appreciated Aram’s powerful character arc and it was one of the most enjoyable and compelling things about Dragon Mage.  His entire character history and personality really set him apart from other fantasy protagonists and I appreciated the work that Spencer put into developing him and making him so appealing to the reader, especially as it pays off once he finally finds his confidence and starts to truly become a Champion.

While much of the narrative focuses on Aram, Dragon Mage is also the story of Markus Galliar, who befriends Aram early in the story and shares in many of his adventures as they become close.  Markus becomes fascinated by Aram and his unique view of the world, especially when Aram tries to help him escape his abusive father.  This friendship soon takes on new heights once Markus discovers Aram’s abilities and he starts to become his protector, a job helped by his own immunity to magic.  Constantly forced together, they form a strong bond which survives being captured by the Exilari and several other misadventures.  Despite being separated several times throughout the book, the two keep getting drawn back together and Spencer writes a great continuous narrative about their strong connection.  The two share a very heartwarming friendship throughout Dragon Mage, and I really appreciate the interesting dynamic they form which sees Markus act as both protector and social guide, even when Aram develops his immense power.  While this did have the potential to be a bit one-note, and indeed Spencer did feature way too many scenes of Markus worrying about Aram or waiting over his sick bed, I felt that the author featured a great balance with their relationship, which really pays off once Aram matures and becomes a better friend.  The author also ensures that Markus develops outside of his friendship with Aram, and he soon becomes his own man, forced to deal with the horrors of his past to survive.  Markus ends up being an extremely compelling and well-rounded protagonist and the author used him perfectly in combination with his unique central character.

Aside from Aram and Markus, I also really need to highlight two other excellent major characters in Esmir Revin and Sergan Parsigal.  Esmir is a former dragon rider and Warden to the last Champion, who died due to his failure.  Locked in his own despair and regret, as well as the distain of everyone around him, Esmir is given new life when he encounters Aram and Markus and begins training them to be Champion and Warden.  I really enjoyed Esmir as a character, especially as Spencer really captured his grief, regret, and self-loathing over his past mistakes.  Watching him become a gruff, but kind teacher, represented a great redemption arc in the book and I felt that he was a particularly complex and enjoyable supporting figure that the author did a great job with.

I was also really drawn to the character of Sergan Parsigal, who is one of the major villains of Dragon Mage.  The Exilari sorcerer who discovers and initially captures Aram and Markus, Sergan is an ambitious and powerful magic user who seeks to turn his discovery to his advantage.  Highly arrogant and malicious, Sergan cuts a distinctive and sinister figure throughout the story, even when he appears to be on the protagonist’s side, especially as he spends most of the book gobbling up magical essence to power his own spells.  I loved how Spencer portrayed him as both an adversary and a mentor to Aram and Markus at different points of the book and he ends up forming quite a complex relationship with the protagonists.  While at times Sergan is shown to be potentially thoughtful and caring, especially during an early conversation with Aram, he keeps reverting to his own selfish form, and he ended up being one of the best and most complex antagonists in this entire story.  I had a wonderful time with these brilliant characters and I’m barely scratching the surface, as Spencer featured a range of great supporting figures and villains throughout the novel, all of whom deeply enhanced this amazing narrative.

To check out this impressive fantasy read, I chose to grab Dragon Mage on audiobook, which is my go-to for massive pieces of fantasy fiction like this.  With a runtime of over 27 hours (currently the 13th longest audiobook I have ever listened to), the Dragon Mage audiobook represents a substantial time investment for audiobook fans, although I personally think it was worth it.  I tend the find that the audiobook format really enhances my appreciation of the elaborate words that authors create, but it also really brings me into the narrative.  This was definitely the case with Dragon Mage, as this format did an outstanding job enhancing the story and I loved hearing all the intense detail about Spencer’s new, unique world and its fantasy elements.  It also helped that they got an excellent narrator for Dragon Mage in the form of Ben Farrow, who did a remarkable job here.  Farrow is a deeply impressive narrator who perfectly brought this story to life and moved it along at a crisp pace.  Not only was he able to recount the massive amount of detail and lore that Spencer fit into the story, but Farrow also came up with a huge selection of fitting voices for all the characters in Dragon Mage.  Using a range of different tones and accents, Farrow dove into the cast, and I loved how he was able to capture each character’s essence with his voices.  For example, he perfectly showcases Aram’s hope and childlike wonder at the world, while also capturing his fear, uncertainty, and lack of confidence, especially after all the hell he goes through in the early chapters of the book.  Other characters are expertly portrayed as well, and I loved how Farrow showcased Markus’ determination, Esmir’s weariness, and even Sergan’s intense arrogance and distain for everyone else.  This outstanding voice work helped to turn the Dragon Mage audiobook into something very special, and I had an exceptional time listening to it.  I would strongly recommend the audiobook version for anyone interested in checking out Dragon Mage and you are in for an excellent and captivating time if you do.

Overall, Dragon Mage was an amazing fantasy novel that really showcased M. L. Spencer’s skill as an author of epic fantasy.  Featuring a captivating narrative that follows great characters around an elaborate new fantasy world, Dragon Mage is exciting, moving and awesome in all the right ways.  I had an exceptional time reading this outstanding read and I look forward to seeing how Spencer will follow it up in the future.  Recommended reading for anybody looking from some classic fantasy fun.

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In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 21 June 2022)

Series: The Glass Immortals – Book One

Length: 24 hours and 53 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

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Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 30 August 2022)

Series: All of Us Villains – Book Two

Length: 470 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of Our Demise Cover

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