God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston

god of broken things cover

Publisher: Angry Robot (Paperback – 11 June 2019)

Series: Age of Tyranny – Book 2

Length: 312 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Those readers looking for the next entertaining grimdark fantasy adventure to sink their teeth into need look no further than God of Broken Things, the electrifying second book in Cameron Johnston’s Age of Tyranny.

It has only been a few short months since the devastating attack by the Skallgrim raiders on the city of Setharis, which severely weakened the city. Despite repulsing the Skallgrim and their monstrous hordes, Setharis is still in incredible danger. The Skallgrim forces are massing to launch another attack on Setharis, and the Skallgrim’s masters, the parasitic alien lifeforms known as the Scarrabus, are determined to enslave the entire city to their will. Setharis’s salvation once again rests in the hands of its most hated son, Edrin Walker.

Edrin is powerful magus whose rare abilities allow him to crack open and control the minds of all those around him. His breed of magus, known as tyrants, are feared throughout the world due to their propensity to lose control and use their magic to rule whole civilisations. Despite his role in saving the city from the Skallgrim, Edrin is still distrusted by both the common people and his fellow magus of the Arcanum. However, his skills may be the only thing that can win the war against the Skallgrim and the Scarrabus.

A massive force of Skallgrim are advancing over the mountain passes of the Clanholds, hoping to launch a fresh assault on Setharis. Against his will, Edrin is forced to lead a small army to reinforce the tribes of the Clanholds against the Skallgrim army. Accompanied by a small personal bodyguard of killers and thieves, Edrin leads his forces into the mountains, where far more dangerous things than the Skallgrim and their monsters lurk. Spirits, demons, gods and his own deadly past all lie in wait for Edrin, whose powers have been altered following his battle with a treacherous god. Can Edrin and his forces hold back the Skallgrim, or will he succumb to one of the many horrors in the mountains? And what happens when the tyrant comes out to play?

Johnston is a talented author whose debut novel, The Traitor God, really impressed me last year thanks to its awesome story and enjoyable main character. As a result, I was extremely keen to get a copy of the sequel, God of Broken Things, this year and was very happy when I received it a few weeks ago. God of Broken Things turned out to be a fantastic follow-up to the first book and I had an incredible time reading it. Not only does Johnston present another wildly entertaining story for the reader to enjoy, but he also does a fantastic job of expanding his dark fantasy world and exploring the complex mind of his main character.

I really liked where Johnston took the story in this book. While The Traitor God’s story of a hunt for answers in the dark fantasy city was cool, I really liked seeing the main character go to war in God of Broken Things. The whole storyline of Edrin leading an army up into the Clanholds, a dangerous mountainous environment filled with all manner of horrors and dangers was really cool, especially as he kept encountering worse situations and more terrifying opponents. This resulted in some epic moments and massive battles, and Johnston also took the opportunity to explore the history of several of the different races mentioned within the first books, including the Scarrabus, the Ogarim and some more mystical creatures like spirts and demons. This expansion of the Age of Tyranny universe was quite intriguing, and I wonder if there will be more exploration of the world and the various mentioned multiverses in future books. I also liked the deeper look that the author took into his protagonist’s past, showing some of the activities that occurred during the years he was exiled from Setharis. I loved the various twists and epic moments that Johnston sprinkled throughout the book’s plot, and there was never a dull moment in the entire story. I especially enjoyed how the final battle in God of Broken Things ended, especially as the author included a clever red herring in the book’s formatting to throw the reader off. Overall, this was an incredible story, and Johnston did an amazing job trapping me within this entertaining narrative.

One of the best parts of this book was the author’s continued focus on the protagonist, Edrin Walker, who serves as the book’s narrator and point-of-view character. Edrin was already a fairly complex character in The Traitor God, where he was portrayed as a powerful exiled magus hated, distrusted and ostracised by everyone due to the specific nature of his magical gift. Because of the way he is treated he acts hostile and uncaring to the world, while still participating in the odd act of heroism and compassion. This is continued in the second book, where Edrin continues to battle with his natural instincts and irritation while trying to do the right thing, especially for the few people who actually like or respect him. I really liked the way that the author continued to show Edrin exploring his moral side in this book as, against his better judgement, he actually attempts to help people and keep Setharis safe. The various sacrifices that he subsequently makes for the greater good are very much against the grain of his original character, and it is interesting to see this side of Edrin grow.

Due to the way he is treated, Edrin is an incredibly jaded character, and the author utilises this in a number of clever ways. Not only does this ensure that Edrin is the most likeable character in the book, mostly because he stands in sharp contrast to all the other magus characters, who are elitist snobs, but it also makes him a really entertaining narrator. The character’s sarcastic and mocking manner permeates the entire way he tells the story, resulting in some great reactions and a very amusing overall story.

Edrin continues to get into all sorts of entertaining misadventures in God of Broken Things, and it is hard not to love the unorthodox way he deals with things. Not only does he lead a bodyguard of deranged killers into battle but he rarely ever takes things seriously, no matter who he is dealing with. I love the disrespect and mockery that the character shows when encountering anyone in authority, be it friend or foe, magus or human, god or monster, and I laughed out loud at the way he got his revenge on one of Setharis’s gods in this book. It was also great to see the character apply his particular brand of bastardry to the battlefield, coming up with all manner of unconventional traps and attacks for the forces that are up against him. I particularly loved the cool way he took down the main antagonist of this book, and it really reflected both his cunning and his growth as a character.

The main character’s mind-bending magic continues to be a really cool part of this series, especially as his abilities become even more powerful in God of Broken Things. Johnston’s portrayals of the way that Edrin’s powers to break into and manipulate the minds of all those around him is done extremely well and it results in a number of epic scenes. I never realised how many creative ways someone could magically manipulate a person’s mind until seeing some of the scenes in this book, as Johnston comes up with some very inventive ways to utilises his protagonist’s magic. I especially loved seeing Edrin using these powers in the middle of the battle, as there are some awesome ways he disadvantages his enemies and helps his allies. However, the author also explores the consequences of the tyrant powers, as Edrin continuously runs the risk of taking things too far and grossly abusing his powers. Several examinations of the character’s guilt over some of the mental actions he commits become a compelling part of the story, and the character’s mental magic is a great part of the book.

Those readers who are looking for an explosive amount of fantasy action are in for a real treat with this book. Johnston makes sure to include a ton of battles and fight sequences in God of Broken Things, as the ragtag defenders of the Clanholds face off against a massive horde of Skallgrim, Scarrabus, demons and monsters. All of these fight scenes are incredibly brutal as Johnston depicts some amazing battles throughout this book. Most of these scenes are enhanced through the use of magic, and the sheer destructive power of the various characters’ magical abilities is pretty impressive. The various demons and monsters the protagonist finds himself up against in this book are pretty gruesome and offer up some pretty great battle scenes as a result. Overall, the action in God of Broken Things is quite superb, and fans of bloody fantasy fights will not be disappointed.

Cameron Johnston’s second outing, God of Broken Things, is an amazing piece of grimdark fantasy fiction that proved to be just as much fun as his debut novel, The Traitor God. I had an incredible time reading God of Broken Things as the excellent combination of story, magical action and character work kept me trapped until the very last page. Readers are guaranteed to love this outstanding dark fantasy read, and I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun and powerful adventure. The ending of the book makes it a little unclear if Johnston will continue the Age of Tyranny series, but I will be keeping a close eye out for any future books from this rising star in the grimdark fantasy genre.

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)

Publisher: Orbit (Trade Paperback – 25 April 2019)

Series: Swords and Fire – Book 3

Length: 508 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the fast-rising authors of fantasy fiction, Melissa Caruso, brings her outstanding debut series to an end with the third book in the Swords and Fire trilogy, The Unbound Empire.

It is always a bittersweet moment when a great book series comes to an end. For the last two years, the Swords and Fire trilogy has been one of my favourite new fantasy series due to its excellent combination of characters, story, intrigue, fantasy elements and world building. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, The Tethered Mage, and I felt that Caruso did an excellent job following this up with The Defiant Heir, which made my Top Ten Reads For 2018 list and my Top Ten Books I Loved with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads list. As a result, I have been eagerly waiting for The Unbound Empire for the last year, and it even featured in my very first Waiting on Wednesday post.

The Swords and Fire series is set on the continent of Eruvia, which is made up of two great nations, the Serene Empire of Raverra and the loosely collected states of Vaskandar. The Serene Empire is the home of our protagonists, and is a land where magic is controlled by the government, led by the Doge and the Council of Nine. All mages who are identified as having enough power are conscripted into the army as a Falcon. Each Falcon is bound to a non-magical handler, a Falconer, who is entrusted to control and protect their Falcon. One such Falconer is Lady Amalia Cornaro, heir to one of the most powerful families in Raverra and future member of the Council of Nine. While the nobility is usually forbidden from becoming Falconers, desperate circumstances forced Amalia to be bound to the powerful and rebellious fire warlock Zaira.

Vaskandar, on the other hand, is a far wilder nation, ruled by the Witch Lords, magicians whose powerful vivomancy literally flows through their land, making them part of everyone and everything in their domain. War is always looming between these two nations, and while Vaskandar as a nation has decided to remain out of the most recent conflict, nothing can stop an individual Witch Lord from attacking. The cruel and ambitious Witch Lord Ruven, the Skinwitch, has long wanted to conquer and rule over The Serene Empire. His most recent ambitions have been stymied by the combined actions of Amalia and Zaira, who managed to stop his plan to unleash a destructive volcano, although it came at great cost to Amalia.

However, Ruven is far from done and is determined to gain new land, either in the Serene Empire or in the domains of the other Witch Lords. Launching a series of attacks against the Empire’s capital, Raverra, as well as several outlying holdings, with a range of horrifying strategies, Ruven is able to cause significant damage. But while he launches his attacks, he is also trying to recruit Amalia to his cause by any means necessary, as her unique heritage gives her the ability to usurp the domains of other Witch Lords. As Amalia and Zaira race to counter Ruven’s actions, Amalia finds herself once again torn between love, duty and friendship, as the responsibilities of her office clash with the friendships she has formed. As Amalia struggles to maintain her humanity in the heat of war, Ruven’s greatest cruelty might be the thing that finally breaks her and leads to the fall of the Serene Empire.

Caruso once again knocks it out of the park with The Unbound Empire, creating a satisfying conclusion to her series that still contains her trademark storytelling ability and character work. The final book in the Swords and Fire trilogy does a great job utilising the previous entries of the series and also attempts to tie up all of the existing loose storylines and plot points. The Unbound Empire is filled with some really emotional storylines, a number of powerful magical action sequences and several surprising plot developments. The end result is another five-star book from Caruso that I powered through in quite a short period.

At the heart of this book lies the series’ main two characters, the narrator and point-of-view character, Amalia, and the fire warlock Zaira. The challenging and evolving relationship between the initially sheltered Falconer and the rebellious and infinitely destructive Falcon has always been a major part of this series. While the two characters have been establishing a better relationship with each book, it was great to see the two of them becoming even closer in this book and helping each other deal with some major issues. I also liked how both characters’ stories come full circle in this book, as Amalia becomes more and more like her mother, while Zaira finally confronts a number of her personal demons and for once starts to consider having a future. The author’s depiction of the doubt and guilt that Amalia is feeling after the events of the last book forced her to kill her cousin added some extra emotional depth to the story, and I liked the inclusion of such a realistic emotional reaction. The character arcs for the two main characters were incredible, and it was great to see how much they had evolved over the course of the trilogy.

Caruso has also developed a number of great side characters for this series, and she continues to expertly utilise them in this final book. The main two side characters of The Unbound Empire were Amalia’s love interests: Captain Marcello of the Serene Empire; and the Witch Lord Kathe, known as the Crow Lord. Throughout the course of the book, Amalia is caught between them; while she loves Marcello, her position makes a relationship impossible, and Kathe presents a more suitable match. Marcello’s storyline in this book is pretty significant, and there are some substantial and emotive changes to his character that really helped make The Unbound Empire extra compelling. I also really liked the deeper dive into Kathe’s personality and backstory, as well as the natural strengthening of the relationship between Amalia and Kathe. Thankfully the book’s love triangle aspect wasn’t too over-the-top or filled with insufferable toxic jealousy, as both the men understand the difficult position Amalia is in. The arc of Zaira’s love interest, Terika, is really sweet, and I liked how she continues to have a positive effect of Zaira’s personality. Other side characters, such as the Amelia’s powerful and unflappable mother; the surprisingly lethal Cornaro servant, Ciardha; and Marcello’s eccentric artificer sister, Istrella, all shine through in this book, and all of them add quite a lot to this book’s story.

No great fantasy story would be complete without a despicable antagonist threatening the heroes, and luckily this book has a truly evil and threatening villain. The Witch Lord Ruven is a powerful Skinwitch, a person with the ability to control and alter other creatures just by touching him. Not only is this power by itself pretty horrifying but Ruven uses it in some fairly novel and evil ways, unleashing all manner of horrors upon the protagonists. I thought that Ruven had some of the best magical powers in the entire series, and his abilities were really fun to see in this book. Caruso also tried to humanise the character in places throughout this book, which was a nice touch and added some new depth to the story, although he does mostly come off as utterly irredeemable. Overall, I feel that Ruven was an excellent villain and his antagonism really helped make this book and the series as a whole.

I have always loved the complex fantasy world and elements that the author came up with for this series. The various forms of magic and resulting rules that form the backbone of this book are very imaginative, and I loved how Caruso was able to utilise them in her story. There are some amazing new versions of the magic and fantasy elements from the previous two books included in The Unbound Empire, as well as some new locations to explore. While the world building is not as intense as the first two books in the trilogy, Caruso still offers some great new elements, and I had a lot of fun seeing these extra expansions to the universe. Hopefully Caruso will come back to this world at some point in the future, as I had a lot of fun there over the course of the series.

The Unbound Empire was another incredible piece of fantasy fiction from author Melissa Caruso that expertly wraps up her debut trilogy. This has got to be one of the best debut fantasy trilogies I have had the pleasure of reading, and it has been a lot of fun absorbing the excellent tales of magic, adventure and intrigue that Caruso has woven over the last two years. I have really loved the Swords and Fire trilogy, and while I am sad to see it go, I am excited to see where Caruso goes next as this author has amazing potential for the future. I highly recommend each and every book in the series and encourage you to get wrapped up in the magic and characters of this series if you have not had a chance to read it.

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

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Publisher: Hachette Audio (Audiobook Format – 30 August 2018

Series: Masters & Mages – Book 1

Length: 19 hours, 29 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

I recently managed to read one of the books that was featured in my Top Ten Books I Wish I Had Read In 2018 list.  I have to say I was quite impressed with this book, Cold Iron by Miles Cameron, as it is one of last year’s most intriguing fantasy reads.

Miles Cameron is the pseudonym historical fiction author Christian Cameron uses when he writes fantasy novels.  Cameron debuted in 1999 with Rules of Engagement, the first book in the seven-book long Alan Craik thriller series, which he wrote with his father, Kenneth Cameron, under the joint pseudonym of Gordon Kent.  In addition to this joint series, Cameron started writing his own novels in 2003 when he wrote his first historical fiction novel, Washington and Caesar.  Since then, Cameron has written over 15 historical fiction novels, including the multiple books in his Tyrant, Long War and Chivalry series.  In 2013, Cameron branched off again into a new genre, fantasy, with his five-book long Traitor Son Cycle, which he wrote as Miles Cameron.  Cold Iron is the first book in his brand-new fantasy series, called the Masters & Mages series.

I am mostly familiar with Cameron through his historical fiction works, having read and reviewed a couple of books in his Tyrant and Long War series early in my career.  I particularly enjoyed the first book in his Long War series, Killer of Men, which set a young protagonist from Plataea on an adventure across ancient Greece and Persia.  Unfortunately, I failed to get any of Cameron’s books in the intervening years and was completely unaware that he had written any fantasy books.  So when I came across Cold Iron and recognised the author, I was deeply intrigued and thought it would be an interesting book to check out, especially as it had been receiving some great reviews.  After mentioning it in one of my Top Ten lists, I decided to check out the audiobook version of this book a few weeks ago.  I was especially keen to check it out as the second book in the Masters & Mages series, Dark Forge, has recently been released, although it looks like this second book will be released in a number of different formats throughout the year.

Cold Iron follows Aranthur Timos, a young student at The Academy, a prestigious institute of magic, science and other scholarly pursuits that lies at the heart of a mighty empire.  Aranthur, a poor farmer’s son, is not the best student at The Academy, and aside from some slight skill with the sword, nothing sets him apart from any of the other students.  But fate has something special in store for Aranthur.  Travelling back to his family farm for the holidays, Aranthur stops at a small inn.  When bandits attack the owners of the inn, Aranthur steps in to try and help, and in doing so sets a momentous series of events into play.  His actions that night inadvertently place him in the middle of a vast and terrible conspiracy, as he comes to the attention of the inn’s other guests, including a powerful priest, a master swordsman, a young gentleman spy and an enigmatic and dangerous beauty.

After returning to The Academy, the results of Aranthur’s actions at the inn indirectly introduce him to a number of new friends that help him excel at his studies.  But a series of chaotic events are occurring across the lands.  The city surrounding The Academy is in turmoil, as factions and noble houses fight against each other.  Worse, refugees are flooding in from lands to the east, driven out of their homes by a group known as the Disciples, followers of a shadowy figure known as the Master, who seek to return the world to an ancient status quo where only the nobles have access to magic.  Despite being a simple student, Aranthur keeps finding himself in the centre of the momentous events sweeping the city.  Can Aranthur survive all the mysterious events occurring around him, and, if he does, what sort of person will he become?

I absolutely loved this book; it gets a well-deserved five stars from me.  Cold Iron is an extremely clever coming-of-age fantasy story set within an immensely detailed and inventive new world.  I have found with some of Cameron’s previous works, such as the books in his Chivalry series, that the author has a very particular writing style, such as his propensity to include large amounts of detail in his paragraphs and the utilisation of a somewhat more formal dialogue.  This style has always worked well with the author’s historical fiction work, and I felt that this writing style translated across well to this fantasy book.  It was reminiscent of some of the older classical fantasy stories, although with some more modern language.  This results in the book having a much more unique feel to it, which I found to be quite curious and actually helped draw me into the story.

The overall story of Cold Iron is quite an intriguing fantasy read that places its protagonists and point-of-view character in the centre of a worldwide conspiracy.  There are so many elements to this story to enjoy, including an excellent coming-of-age focus.  Throughout the course of the book, the protagonist, Aranthur, grows from a poor and insignificant student to a central figure in the fight for kingdoms and the freedom of magic.  The story is quite clever as it focuses on a character who, rather than being the dreaded “chosen one” fantasy trope, is instead thrust into events by accidentally being in a certain place at a certain time.  I really enjoyed how everything that happens to Aranthur throughout the book is the direct result of the one tavern fight at the start of the book, and he is drawn into the subsequent events or introduced to key characters through sheer coincidence.  The resultant conspiracy is deeply intriguing and ties in really well with Cameron’s excellent fantasy elements.  I am also a sucker for a storyline involving magical schooling or training, so I loved how this story was set within a magical university and focused quite a bit on the protagonist’s training.  All of these elements work together to produce an incredible overall narrative that I really enjoyed listening to.

For this new series, Cameron has come up with a fun and detailed fantasy world.  The Masters & Mages series is set in a sprawling world that features a number of diverse human nations.  Only a small part of this world is explored within this first book, although there are quite a number of references to nations outside of the central settings, and events occurring in these locations impact on the main story.  This world appears to be in a post-medieval point of its history, with early firearms starting to be utilised, although older technologies such as crossbows are still in use.  The setting comes across a bit like Italy or France during a similar time period, but with a magical edge to it that works quite well.  The main setting is a gigantic and rich city of canals and elaborate architecture that hosts The Academy, and this serves as a perfect location for the intriguing, conspiracy-laden fantasy story.  The city is filled with a huge number of factions, refugees and competing noble houses, creating quite a significant amount of internal political strife which plays into the story quite well.  There are also some examinations of some more rural areas within the world, and Cameron does a spectacular job of presenting the more down-to-earth folk that live in these locations.  The locations featured within this book were very well done and I look forward to seeing what new lands are explored in future books.

One of the most interesting things about the setting of the book was how several of the issues and plot points have some interesting parallels with modern issues.  For a bit of context, the world that the Masters & Mages series is set within a world where a historical revolution installed a series of reforms that granted magic and education to the lower classes.  Now even quite poor families have access to basic magic that cleanses water, helps create fires and heal people, resulting in a better class of life for the common people.  At the same time, women are able to attend classes at The Academy and learn magic and other skills.  The book’s antagonists are determined to reverse these reforms and return magic to the rich and the nobles and ensure women have no more power.  This has resulted in a number of invasions and wars that have resulted in a huge number of refugees entering the city and other locations, much to dismay of the city’s rich and powerful.  I found the motivations of the antagonists to be very interesting, and it is easy to see some real-life parallels.  Intolerance towards refugees is a major issue at the moment, and it is deeply fascinating to see this reflected in a work of fantasy fiction.  In addition, the book featured quite a lot of intolerance towards people of certain nationalities, including the protagonist’s nationality.

Highlights of Cold Iron the spectacular action sequences that occur throughout the book.  There are a substantial number of fight scenes throughout the book, featuring magic, firearms, crossbows and swordplay.  All of these action elements are pretty impressive, and I especially love some of the larger sequences, where all the above methods of combat are being utilised by both sides.  For the most part, only some basic magical techniques are used within fights, which while intriguing, do not result in any eye-popping scenes.  However, there is one sequence where two powerful magic users fight in front of the protagonist, and he sees the destructive potential of their respective magic abilities.  Without a doubt, the most amazing action element is the swordplay.  There is quite a focus on swords throughout the book as the protagonist spends a large amount of time learning and training with them before using them in a number of duals and fights.  Cameron’s insane attention to detail and incredible knowledge of sword fighting makes these scenes absolutely incredible and produce some amazing fight sequences that feel extremely realistic.  These sword fight scenes are some of the best parts of this book and I really enjoyed having them narrated to me.

I had a lot of fun with several of the characters in this book.  The main character, Aranthur, is a pretty good protagonist who goes through some substantial character development in this book.  Not only does he grow to appreciate different points of view and increase his abilities as a warrior and scholar but he actually learns from his mistakes, although in some cases, such as when it comes to learning about women, it takes a little too long.  The other characters featured within Cold Iron are an interesting group.  My favourites include Ansu, a noble from another land who brings some amusing cultural differences; Tiy Draco, a gentleman spy with unclear allegiances; and Dahlia, the feisty warrior student who highlights the abilities and determination of the female students in The Academy.  My favourite character, however, had to be Sasan, the sarcastic and fatalistic refugee and drug addict who Aranthur attempts to help.  Sasan has some of the best lines in the entire book, and his exclamations and actions when under the effect of an enhancement spell were really funny.  Each of these characters is a lot of fun, and I will be intrigued to see what future development awaits them.

I listened to Cold Iron’s audiobook format, narrated by Mark Meadows, and I had a good time listening to this book.  Clocking in at around 19 and a half hours, this is a fairly long audiobook; however, I found myself really drawn into the story, so I was able to get through it fairly quickly.  I personally thought that the audiobook format was the best way to enjoy this book due to the huge amount of detail and worldbuilding that went into this story.  I was able to focus on all the details a hell of a lot more by listening to them, and I think this helped me follow the plot with a lot less confusion.  Cold Iron’s action sequences are particularly good when narrated, and I found that the intense and elaborate sword sequences were really enhanced by this format.  Mark Meadows does a fantastic job of narrating Cold Iron and I really appreciated his work in bringing the story to life.  I felt that the voice Meadows used for the narration of Cold Iron was very appropriate, and I liked listening to all the descriptions and actions that Cameron had inserted into his story.  Meadows also came up with a range of unique voices for his various characters, each of which did a great job of conveying the character’s emotions and personality.  Part of the reason why I liked the character of Sasan so much was because of the voice that Meadows created for him and used to exclaim some of his best lines.  Overall, I would strongly recommend that readers interested in checking out Cold Iron should try its audiobook format, and I was quite glad that I did.

Before I wrap up, I just wanted to make a quick comment on Cold Iron’s cover art.  Cold Iron has two separate covers: the one I have included at the top of this review, and the one I have placed below.  I loved both of these covers individually, and I felt that they contrasted with each other quite nicely.  The first cover is very classy and really exudes an old-school fantasy vibe, which I think represents Cameron’s storytelling style quite well.  However, I did enjoy the more modern look of the second cover, and I really enjoyed the artist’s use of the simple, but effective black and white colour scheme.  Both are very impressive, and I have to say that the artists did a fantastic job with both of them.

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I was very impressed by my first foray into Cameron’s fantasy writings.  Cold Iron is an exceptional piece of fantasy fiction and an easy five stars from me.  This book’s story was incredibly well written and contained a very compelling plot filled with wide-reaching conspiracies, magic and excellent characters.  Set in a brilliant new fantasy world, Cold Iron is an excellent start to the Masters & Mages series and sets it up as a fantasy series to watch out for.  Some paperback versions of the second book in the series, Dark Forge, came out a short while ago, and I am tempted to order a copy in.  However, I may wait until September, when the audiobook version is released, as I found this was a great way to enjoy the first book.  Cold Iron is an outstanding read, and I am really glad I went back and checked out this excellent 2018 release.

Magefall by Stephen Aryan

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Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:

Four stars

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death Cover.jpg

Publisher: Piatkus

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:

Four stars

Timeless by R. A. Salvatore

Timeless Cover.jpg

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

From one of fantasy’s most legendary writers, R. A. Salvatore, comes another electrifying adventure of swords and steel, as Salvatore once again presents a thrilling tale of his iconic protagonist, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

Centuries ago, the city of Menzoberranzan gave birth to a drow whose talents with the blade were unsurpassed by any other practitioner.  This drow’s name was Zaknafein.  Desired by an ambitious noble house and its twisted Matron, Malice, Zaknafein would become a pawn in the battle of intrigue and positioning that have eternally plagued Menzoberranzan.  His only relief from his arduous life was his friendship with the young mercenary Jarlaxle.

Years later, a young Drizzt Do’Urden fled the city and the violent ways of his people.  However, his escape was only capable thanks to the twofold sacrifice of his father, Zaknafein, who not only allowed himself to be sacrificed to the dark goddess Lolth but also willed his resurrected body to its absolute destruction in order to stop its hunt for Drizzt in the catacombs of the Underdark.  Not only was Zaknafein his father; he was also the man responsible for Drizzt’s moral code and, most importantly, the man who taught Drizzt how to fight, turning him into the most skilled sword wielder in all of Faerun.

But now, after years of Drizzt’s adventures on the surface world, something truly amazing has happened: Zaknafein has been returned to life and has found his way to the surface world.  No-one is certain how he has been resurrected or why, but Zaknafein is determined to be reunited with his son, even if he has changed far more than he could ever imagine.

The world has also changed in the last few years.  The Sword Coast is undergoing a period of rare peace.  The dwarves, led by Drizzt’s friend King Bruenor Battlehammer, rule in Gauntlgrym, while the city of Luskan is secretly ruled by Jarlaxle and his mercenary band, Bregan D’aerthe.  With their territories connected by magical gates, Bruenor, Jarlaxle and the halfling community of Bleeding Vines have formed an alliance, ensuring the security of the realm.  However, the ambitious and greedy Lord Neverember, ruler of Neverwinter, is a constant thorn in their side as he plots to steal power from the lands around him.  While usually only a minor nuisance, Neverember has been making deals with a mysterious noble house of Waterdeep and a minor dwarven clan for vast sums of money.  As the allies investigate further, they uncover the start of a destructive demonic conspiracy that could destroy all they have built.  What foul plans are being hatched, and what will happen with Drizzt and Zaknafein find themselves in the middle of a demon stronghold?

R. A. Salvatore is one of the most experienced and enduring authors of fantasy fiction in the world today. Having written more than 60 fantasy books since his 1988 debut, Salvatore has created a number of worlds and characters across his career, from his 12 books in the Corona universe, which includes the 2018 release Child of a Mad God, to his Chronicles of Ynis Aielle trilogy, The Crimson Shadow series, The Cleric Quintet and The Spearwielder’s Tale trilogy. Salvatore is also somewhat infamously known for his foray into Star Wars fiction, with his 1999 release, Vector Prime, which saw the canonical death of Chewbacca in the original expanded universe, a decision that has since been retconned following the Disney acquisition of the franchise.  However, his most iconic and popular books would have to be his long-running series that follows the adventures of the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

The character of Drizzt Do’Urden was first introduced in Salvatore’s debut novel, The Crystal Shard, which is also the first book in The Icewind Dale trilogy.  The Icewind Dale trilogy is set within the Forgotten Realms universe, a large-scale interconnected collection of fantasy books from a range of different authors, all set within the titular Forgotten Realms, a spinoff location of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying franchise.  The Icewind Dale trilogy featured a band of powerful characters including Drizzt, the dwarf chieftain Bruenor Battlehammer, the barbarian warrior Wulfgar, the halfling thief Regis and Bruenor’s adopted human daughter, Catti-brie.  While these characters all had their own adventures within this series, it was clear that Salvatore had intended to focus his series on Wulfgar and make him the main protagonist.

However, the character of Drizzt proved to be particularly popular with the fans.  A large amount of this may be a result of the characters anomalous nature, as not only is Drizzt a dark elf living above the surface, but he was one of the few good dark elves in fantasy fiction at that point in time.  The dark elves, also known as the drow, are a race of dark-skinned elves who live in the Underdark, the dark catacombs that lie under the continent of Faerun, in the world of Abeir-Toril.  In the Forgotten Realms universe, dark elves are generally an evil and self-serving race who consider themselves superior to the other races in the Forgotten Realms and often conduct destructive raids against the surface world.  As a result of this popularity, Salvatore chose to focus on Drizzt more and more as his series progressed.  This included establishing the character as one of the greatest practitioners of the sword in the Forgotten Realms, as well as introducing an equally matched adversary, Artemis Entreri.

This focus on Drizzt continued into Salvatore’s second Forgotten Realms series, The Dark Elf trilogy, which was a prequel series to The Icewind Dale trilogy.  The Dark Elf trilogy focused on the birth of Drizzt in the dark elf city of Menzoberranzan, a female-led society dedicated to the worship of the demonic spider god Lolth.  While this is where Drizzt was raised and first learnt how to wield his iconic dual blades, the character of Drizzt never fit in, except with his father Zaknafein, who tried to teach him that the dark elves, especially those dedicated to the worship of Lolth, were evil.  Drizzt would escape Menzoberranzan at the end of the first book in the trilogy, Homeland, and spend the next two books exploring the world outside the city, eventually coming to the surface and finding his home in the Icewind Dale.  Since then, Drizzt and his companions have undergone a number of adventures both above and below the surface of Faerun, with numerous changes impacting these protagonists.  Timeless is the 34th book to feature Drizzt or his companions, and is one of the few ongoing series still being produced in the Forgotten Realms universe.

Timeless is the first book in Salvatore’s new Noname trilogy, and while the series is invariably going to focus on Drizzt, this first book mostly takes a look at the returning Zaknafein.  As a result, the majority of the story is set in the current chronology of Salvatore’s universe and sees Zaknafein attempting to find his place in the new world he has returned to, while also exploring a new threat to the Companions of the Hall (Drizzt and his friends).  There is also a second timeline that is set many years before the events of Homeland and focuses on the early life of Zaknafein.  While both storylines are enjoyable, I found myself drawn more to the prequel storyline, which focused more on the elaborate and exciting intrigues of the drow and how Zaknafein and Jarlaxle became the drow we all came to know and love.  The contemporary storyline is mostly focused on the reuniting of Zaknafein and Drizzt after their many years apart, both in and out of text.  Their emotional reunion forms the heart of this storyline, while Zaknafein’s exploration of this new world he finds himself in is an intriguing part of the book.  A side effect of this is that some of the longstanding characters, such as Wulfgar and Bruenor, have a reduced role in the book.  While I hope they feature more later in this trilogy, I felt the story was able to survive without them.  This book also spends a lot of time setting up the storyline and threats that will form the focus of this new series.  To that end, Salvatore has done an incredible job, creating several intriguing storylines that readers will enjoy following in future books and presenting the protagonists with a number of potential threats for the series.  However, Salvatore has also ensured that the reader will be hit with some severe emotional gut-punches in this first instalment, ensuring that they are dragged into the next book in this trilogy.  I enjoyed going back and forth between these two separate storylines.  Each of these storylines complemented the other one perfectly and highlighted the character of Zaknafein in more detail.

While The Icewind Dale trilogy and the series that followed it are excellent pieces of fantasy fiction, my favourite Drizzt Do’Urden series has always been The Dark Elf trilogy, which I consider one of the best origin story arcs in all of fantasy fiction.  As a result, I was always going to enjoy any novel tied to this prequel trilogy.  Timeless contains a number of call-backs to this original trilogy and works to provide the reader with some interesting and unexplored backstory for the great character of Zaknafein, including how he became associated with the house of Do’Urden.  It also shows the formation of his distinctive character traits, such as his sense of mercy, his hatred of the female dark elves who enslaved him and his intense rebellion against the drow’s patron goddess, Lolth.  Some of the most emotional parts of this original trilogy revolved around Drizzt and Zaknafein as they attempted to escape from the harsh landscape of Menzoberranzan and Zaknafein’s eventual sacrifices to save his son from Lolth’s evil grasp.  Therefore it was amazing to see the two of them finally reunite after all these years in the most appropriate manner possible: a duel.  Watching Drizzt slowly realise that the person fighting against him is actually his long lost father is incredible and something that I really enjoyed.

It was also a lot of fun to see the earlier days of one of my favourite characters, Jarlaxle.  Jarlaxle is a flamboyant and deceptively cunning drow mercenary who is one of the most compelling characters in Salvatore’s books.  The character was first introduced in the second book of The Dark Elf trilogy, Exile, and quickly revealed himself to be a very memorable character.  Salvatore utilised him in a number of his follow-up series, and even gave him his own trilogy with Artemis Entreri.  I was therefore very happy to see him in both timelines of Timeless, as it provides the reader with some great entertainment as well as answering some interesting questions, like how he came up with his distinctive look.  His bromance with Zaknafein was another fun part of both storylines, and I liked seeing the previous connection these two great characters had with each other.  Overall, fans of Salvatore’s preceding books, especially The Dark Elf trilogy will love Timeless and become engrossed in seeing one of the most impactful characters in Drizzt’s life return after more than 20 years and 30 books.

As you would expect from a novel about Drizzt Do’Urden and Zaknafein, two of the most pumped-up sword users in all of fantasy fiction, there is an absolute ton of action and swordplay in this book.  Throughout the course of Timeless, the father and son duo engage in a number of exciting battles and extravagant duels as they face off against a variety of different foes in both of the book’s timelines.  There is so much going on in this book for readers to enjoy, from battles against demonic foes to Zaknafein and Jarlaxle taking on the most devious of drow opponents they can find in the prequel timeline.  The halfling Regis, who is generally one of the most entertaining characters in Salvatore’s books, also has an amazing sequence as he infiltrates a hidden vault, using a combination of alchemy, daring do and the well-honed thieves’ instincts and skills he has been displaying since The Crystal Shard.  Jarlaxle also steals any fight scene he is involved with, using his various magical devices and hidden weapons to cause all manner of chaos against his opponents, resulting in some of the most entertaining parts of the books.

However, easily the best action sequences have to be the duels between Drizzt and Zaknafein.  These two blade masters are generally regarded as the two best fighters in all of the Forgotten Realms and have not faced each other since the early 1990s.  As a result, Salvatore presents several highly detailed duels between the father and son.  These duels are written in incredible detail and Salvatore does a fantastic job highlighting the speed, intensity and skill that these two combatants have as they battle against each other in scenes which hark back to their original amazing duels in Homeland.  Ultimately, Salvatore is once again able to capture the magic that these two combatants had in their original appearances and their fights take on a completely new edge with the emotional intensity of these characters’ reunion.

Salvatore has once again provided his readers with an exhilarating adventure that pits the monsters and villains of the Forgotten Realms against your favourite fantasy heroes.  This is definitely a book that will have the most impact for existing fans of Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels, and as such I really enjoyed Timeless.  While newer readers may have a little trouble following the plot after 34 books worth of backstory (39 if you include The Cleric Quintet), Salvatore’s writing will ensure they get an electrifying adventure that will encourage them to look back at the original books in this series.  An outstanding fantasy adventure from one of the best writers in the business, this is fantastic read that is well worth checking out.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

 

 

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Priest of Bones Cover.jpg

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

For those looking for some down and dirty fantasy crime, look no further than Priest of Bones, the new release from fantasy author Peter McLean, which provides the reader with a dark, violent and downright entertaining story.

After achieving victory in a devastating war, thousands of soldiers begin the long and weary journey back home through a countryside ravished by war, plague and famine.  Among those soldiers returning to the industrial city of Ellinburg is Thomas Piety, priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows and leader of a small and loyal band of killers.  Thomas has taken his duty as a soldier and a priest seriously, but now it is time for him to return to what he knows best: crime.

A successful crime lord before his conscription, Thomas believed he had left his territory in capable hands.  However, upon his return he discovers that his entire criminal empire has been taken over by a new gang that appears to have origins outside of Ellinburg.  With no choice but to reclaim what is his, Thomas and his soldiers, including his loyal sergeant, Bloody Anne, and his damaged brother, Jochan, do what they do best and go to war.

As Thomas and his gang, the Pious Men, reclaim territory and re-establish themselves in Ellinburg, they begin to realise that they are facing an opponent far more dangerous than the usual gangs and criminals of the city.  Their opponents are organised, have the best weapons money can buy and even have a couple of magic users.  To make matters worse, Thomas finds himself entrapped by one the deadly Queen’s Men, the feared order of spies and assassins loyal to queen, who have some special plans for the Pious Men.  Now, Thomas and his soldiers must embark on a dangerous and bloody crusade against the other gangs of Ellinburg.  Victory will mean control of the city’s crime, while defeat will spell doom for them all.

Priest of Bones is an excellent example of fantasy crime fiction done right as McLean has produced a story that is action-packed, incredibly intriguing and very enjoyable.  McLean has been writing fantasy for a few years and is probably best known for The Burned Man series, an urban fantasy crime series that focused on a magical hitman.  He also has a few short stories to his name, including some set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Priest of Bones is the first book in his new War for the Rose Throne series, which will continue next year with the highly anticipated Priest of Lies.

The story contained within this first book is an amazing fantasy crime narrative which sees the protagonist work to reclaim his criminal holdings from a powerful new gang that has moved into the city while he was gone.  This starts out exactly as you would expect from this sort of story as the protagonists attempt to regain territory, one business at a time, while their opponents launch counterattacks and raids of their own.  The protagonists come up with some effective plans for taking territory and show what happens when a bunch of soldiers engage in some brutal urban combat.  There is a large amount of action throughout this book, which McLean records in bloody and enthralling detail.  This action mostly takes the form of small skirmishes and battles, although there are some magical battles which do result in some more gory and spectacular deaths.  All of this is incredibly fun, and it works very well with the intriguing side stories and character exploration to create a compelling overall narrative.  As the book progresses, an element of political intrigue takes hold as new players enter the game.  This represents an interesting but subtle change to the pace of the book and doesn’t result in any loss of action or excitement.  In many ways, it appears to be a setup for the next book in the series, which sounds like it’s going to have a much more political focus to it.  McLean wraps this all up with a memorable conclusion that I won’t elaborate on, but is the perfect ending for this outstanding and extremely enjoyable piece of fantasy crime.

The central gang that McLean looked at in the plot, the Pious Men, are a strong bunch of characters who serve as a fantastic focal point for this series.  All of the Pious Men are former soldiers who have recently survived the war and are still haunted by the horrors they experienced, especially at the devastating siege of Abingon.  Quite a few of the characters from this small band of soldiers are explored throughout the book, and while some of these characters only get minor mentions, a number do get expanded roles throughout the book and are shown to have some form of development or are slotted into a role that they make their own.  One of the most interesting features of this book is the way that McLean has focused on just how badly the war has messed up these characters, as pretty much all of them are suffering from PTSD in some way or another, referred to by the characters in the book as battle shock.  This is handled very well and allows for some fantastic scenes, as characters who initially come across as quite amiable for most of the book go berserk when attacked, while other characters who appear quite strong find themselves crippled by these memories.

The leader of this group of former soldiers turned criminals is Thomas Piety, who serves as the book’s main protagonist and only point-of-view character.  Thomas is a good central character to anchor this story, who for the most part comes across as a cold and calculating person who knows how to get what he wants.  As Priest of Bones continues, it is slowly revealed that there is a lot more to Thomas’s character than what is originally believed, as he is trying to hide not only the emotional damage from Abingon but the dark memories from his childhood that are still driving him to this day.  It is interesting to see Thomas try and reconcile his new role as a priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows with his role as a soldier and crime lord.  It is also intriguing to see that one of his deeper motivations is based on his belief that his criminal enterprises not only will make his city a better place but may also save it from a similar fate to Abingon, something he is desperate to never see again.  As the story is completely shown through Thomas’s viewpoint, the reader gets the benefit of his cynical attitude as well as his humorous and accurate insights throughout the book.  This is a great focal character for this book, and I had fun exploring his full depths.

Quite a lot of time is also spent exploring the other members of the Pious Men that follow Thomas back from the war.  The best of these characters is easily Bloody Anne, the hard-as-nails sergeant who is Thomas’s most loyal soldier and friend.  There is detailed examination of Anne’s past which reveals a lot about her current character, including her distrust of magic users.  This turns into quite a nice side story, as Anne finally starts to overcome her past enough to start exploring a relationship with the prostitute Rosie.  Thomas’s brother, Jochan, is also an intriguing character who fits in well with this darker story.  Jochan is your standard unhinged killer, who has some of the funniest lines and can be found in the middle of all the big fight scenes.  His presence results in a lot of the book’s tension, as he and Thomas clash about everything.  McLean has also created a very traumatic backstory for Jochan that not only helps to humanise the character as the reader gets further into the book but also explains a lot about Thomas’s deeper motivation and the guilt he feels whenever he thinks of his brother.  Other great characters that the reader should keep an eye out for are the fake knight Sir Eland, the mysterious barmaid Ailsa and Billy the Boy, the Pious Men’s good luck charm who is clearly going to be a very important character throughout the rest of the series.

In Priest of Bones, Peter McLean has delivered a fast-paced and captivating piece of fantasy crime that is filled with a ton of graphic violence, a number of exhilarating fight scenes and some excellent character driven story work.  This new book is a wonderful introduction to the new War for the Rose Throne series, and I’m already looking forward to the follow-up book in 2019.  Clever, bloody and all sorts of fun, readers will have a blast checking this book out.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars