Top Ten Tuesday – Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week’s topic is to list my top ten auto-buy authors, that is the top ten authors whose latest books I will always buy no matter what.

This was a pretty cool topic to explore. There are a number of amazing authors out there whose books I will generally try to get each year due to how much I enjoyed their previous works. However, there are a few authors whose books I will automatically buy the moment they come out, many of whom I have been fans of for years. I managed to list my top ten of these authors, with a couple of honourable mentions thrown in as well. Fair warning: this top ten list features quite a large number of historical fiction authors. This is mainly because I previously focused solely on historical fiction for quite a long period of time and have only recently started getting into reviewing other genres such as science fiction or thrillers and have yet to finalise any auto-buy authors in these genres. I have added in a few fantasy authors, mostly because I have been reading these guys since I was fairly young, and their work is still incredibly impressive. Check out my list below:

Honourable Mentions:

 

Conn Iggulden

THe Falcon of Sparta Cover

One of the top authors of historical fiction, Iggulden has written some compelling books, set in some intriguing historical periods. His latest book, for example, The Falcon of Sparta, was pretty epic and focussed on an amazing event from history.

Mellissa Caruso

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)

This author’s debut series, the Swords and Fire trilogy, is just outstanding, and I will be adding all of her future books to the top of my reading list. Make sure to check out all the books in this series, including The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire.

Harry Sidebottom

The Last Hour Cover

An author who focuses on Roman history, Sidebottom has recently started blending his books with the thriller genre, creating some intriguing reads, such as his 2018 release, The Last Hour. I currently have his latest book, The Lost Ten, on my shelf and cannot wait to read it.

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

 

Terry Pratchett

The author of the Discworld series and the master of combining fantasy elements with comedic stories. Before he passed away, I could always expect to receive the latest Terry Pratchett book as a Christmas gift every single year, and I would often finish it off by the end of Christmas day. Since his death in 2015, I haven’t really bought any of his novels, although I did manage to obtain them all on audiobook, which I relisten to all the time. As Pratchett is and probably always will be my favourite author of all time, I had to include him on this list, especially as he was my original auto-buy author

Moving PIcture Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Raising Steam was the last one of Pratchett’s books I received, while I recently reread Moving Pictures before I reviewed it earlier this year.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Maybe a nice copy of Good Omens, since I really enjoyed the show. I am planning to reread Pyramids next, as I am hoping to review it on the blog at some point.

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow has to be one of my favourite historical fiction authors at the moment. His Eagles of the Empire series is one of the best Roman historical fiction series at the moment, and he has also produced a number of other books, including his Roman Arena and Invader novella series with T. J. Andrews, as well as his incredibly detailed Wellington and Napoleon Quartet. I have read all 17 of the books in his Eagles of the Empire series and am eagerly anticipating the 18th book, which will be out later this year. This has to be one of my favourite historical fiction series at the moment, and I will pretty much grab anything written by Scarrow as a result.

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The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

The Blood of Rome (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Either the 18th book of the Eagles of the Empire series, Traitors of the Empire (out 14 November 2019), or Pirata (out 9 July 2019), the collected edition of the Pirata short stories that was recently released.

C. J. Samson

In my mind, the best author of historical murder mysteries at the moment has to be C. J. Samson. His Matthew Shardlake series is just incredible, as each book contains an extremely clever and detailed murder mystery that perfectly utilises the author’s Tudor England setting to tell a compelling story. Every one of his books generally becomes the best historical fiction releases of the year and will often be my favourite overall book of the year as well. As a result, each of Samson’s books are extremely high on my to-read list, and it’s such a shame there is usually a big gap between each of his books.

Tombland Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Tombland (2018), which not only got a five-star review from me, but which made my Top Ten Reads of 2018 list.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Hopefully the eighth book in the Matthew Shardlake series, although I may have to wait till 2022 for it to come out. I have no doubt it will be worth it, though.

Raymond E. Feist

Raymond E. Feist is one of the best fantasy authors in the world today. His iconic Riftwar Cycle, which ran for nearly 30 years, is considered one of the greatest fantasy series in the world today and features some incredible books. Feist’s Talon of the Silver Hawk was one of the first fantasy books I ever read, and after falling in love with it I went back and read every single previous book he wrote, starting with Magician and moving onto books such as the epic Empire trilogy he wrote with Jenny Wurst. Without a doubt, Feist is one of my favourite authors of all time and I eagerly grab every new book he releases, including the books in his new series, The Firemane Saga, which started last year.

King of Ashes Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

King of Ashes (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Firemane Saga book 2 – (I believe it will be called Queen of Storms)


Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis is probably the most prominent authors of the ancient history murder mystery. Her iconic Falco series, which ran for 20 books, placed a character styled after a modern private investigator in ancient Rome, resulting in some entertaining and enjoyable reads. I first started reading the sequel series to Falco books, the Flavia Albia series, back in 2013 and haven’t looked back. Her books are a heck of a lot of fun, and I especially loved the fifth and sixth books in the series, The Third Nero and Pandora’s Boy, which had some extremely epic comedy moments. These Flavia Albia books are a great highlight of my April reading schedule, and I fully plan to keep buying them as long as Davis continues to write them.

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The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

A Capitol Death (2019) – review to follow soon.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Grove of the Caesars (April 2020)


Stan Sakai

I am a massive fan of many examples of comic books and magna, and I have had the pleasure of reading some amazing series from a variety of different publishers. However, the comic series that I look forward to the most each year is the Usagi Yojimbo series by Stan Sakai. There is just something about this series I cannot help but love, and I currently own all 32 volumes of the series, as well as some of the associated books. Sakai’s works are a must-get for me and he easily makes this list.

Usagi Yojimbo Mysteries Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 32: Mysteries (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 33: The Hidden (2019). I have already ordered this book and it is hopefully on its way.

Robert Fabbri

For the last few years, Robert Fabbri’s debut body of books, the Vespasian series, has been an extremely entertaining highlight of my reading year. The author did an amazing job of combining a compelling examination of the history of one of the most influential Roman Emperors with some of the wild and extreme stories of Roman excess and insanity. The end result is an amazing series of books that I absolutely devour when I get my hands of them. Fabbri is currently working on a new series of books, The Alexander Legacies, which I am really looking forward to, and I imagine I will grab every book in this future series.

Emperor of Rome Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Emperor of Rome (2019). This book recently made my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2019 list and is a heck of a lot of fun.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Alexander Legacies – Book 1 (2020)


Ken Follett

Ken Follett is an extremely talented author who has been writing since the 1970s. While he was initially known for his clever thrillers, I am a fan of his incredible pieces of historical fiction. Follett has written some truly amazing pieces of historical fiction including his extraordinary book, The Pillars of the Earth. I was first introduced to Follett’s books with his epic Century trilogy, and honestly all I needed to do was read one of his massive books to fall in love with this author’s work. No one blends life stories of fictional characters with iconic moments of history, and I desperately waiting for Follett’s next piece of work

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The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

A Column of Fire (2017)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Unknown – Apparently a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth

R. A. Salvatore

This is another author I would consider to be one of the top fantasy authors in the world today. Few authors have the sustainability and imagination of R. A. Salvatore, and I have been a massive fan of his for years. After powering through his The Icewind Dale trilogy, the series I really fell in love with was his prequel series, The Dark Elf trilogy. The way that he built up the history of his most iconic characters was just outstanding and made me a fan for life. I have since bought or read every single Salvatore book set in the Forgotten Realms, including The Cleric Quintet and all the books featuring Drizzt Do’Urden, including the latest book Timeless, and will continue to read them as long as Salvatore rights about the character. I have also started getting into his books set in the Corona universe and have read the first two books in The Coven series, which started last year with Child of a Mad God.

Reckoning of Fallen Gods Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Reckoning of Fallen Gods (2019)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Boundless (2019)


Bernard Cornwell

The final author to feature in this list is the author I consider to be at the top of the historical fiction genre, Bernard Cornwell. With over 55 historical fiction novels on his resume, Cornwell has written some incredible pieces of work, and I have been a huge fan of his for years. The first Cornwell books I read were part of The Last Kingdom series, and I quickly graduated to other series, such as The Grail Quest novels. I really love how Cornwell can tell a huge number of different stories from across the historical periods, whether he looks at prehistoric adventures in Stonehenge, battles in America with The Fort or setting an intriguing piece of crime fiction amongst the plays of Shakespeare in Fools and Mortals. His body of work is just amazing and I cannot wait to check out what he writes next.

War of the Wolf Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

War of the Wolf (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Unknown

 

I hope you enjoyed my list. Are any of the authors featured within on your auto-buy author list? Let me know if the comments below or link through your auto-buy authors so I can check them out.

Top Ten Tuesday – First Ten Books I Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, bloggers get to talk about the first ten books that they ever did a review for.

This is quite an interesting topic for a top ten list, and it is one that proved to be a lot of fun for me to put together.  It is always an intriguing prospect to dig back into one’s past, and I was quite curious to see what my earliest reviews were.  Luckily, I have kept a copy of some of my earlier professional reviews for The Canberra Times, which were among the first reviews I ever did.  Thinking back even further, I also remember doing a bunch of reviews or review-like documents for a random assortment of books back in my school days.  I decided to include them, as I count them as books I have reviewed, especially as many of them required a large amount of work to do.  As a result, my list is going to be an interesting combination of historical fiction books and some of the novels I read in high school, which luckily proved to be quite a unique and diverse collection of tomes.

While I am confident that I have listed the books in the order that I read and reviewed them, I may have to get a little vague when it comes to the dates I did them on.  The actual dates are probably lost in some ancient hard drive or long dead family computer, but I am fairly certain of which year I did them in.  Anyway, here is my list in the order that I reviewed them:

 

1 – The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden – Reviewed in 2004

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I reviewed The Other Side of Dawn when I was in year 8 for an English class I was doing.  I cannot quite remember why we had to do reviews, but I remember inadvertently spoiling parts of the story for someone who hadn’t read it (an important lesson I remember to this day).  The Other Side of Dawn is the seventh and final book in John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, which is one of the best and most iconic Australian young adult series of all time.  I was a huge fan of the Tomorrow series when I was younger (I still am, to be honest; it is a pretty epic series) and I had just finished the final book when I had to write a review for class, so it seemed the logical choice.  I cannot remember too many details about the review, but it got me a good mark, so it must have been alright.  This is one of those series I have read numerous times, and I will have to review it on my blog at some point.

2 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Reviewed in 2006

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I reviewed this classic American novel from acclaimed author Harper Lee in an English class in year 10.  We were starting to learn a lot about analysis and essay writing at the time and To Kill a Mockingbird was a major focus of our class.  I wrote a bunch of reviews and essays for this book, and I found it to be quite a powerful and moving novel that is still relevant in this day and age.

3 – Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst – Reviewed in 2007

Daughter of the Empire Cover
In the latter half of 2007 I was still in school, and we got a choice of which English classes we wanted to attend.  Due to my love of the genre, I chose to do a fantasy fiction course, which was unfortunately taught by the very worst English teacher in our school, whose bad teaching still haunts me to this day.  While the class as a whole was pretty shocking, we did get to read and review Daughter of the Empire.  I was already a huge fan of Raymond E. Feist and his Riftwar series, so this was the perfect book to read in class.  We did a number of reviews and essays for this book, and I loved it so much I have re-read Daughter of the Empire and its sequels several times in the last 12 years, even doing a review of the Empire trilogy on my blog last year.

4 – The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett – Reviewed in 2007

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The same fantasy course also required us to read and give an in-depth presentation on a fantasy book of our choice.  I chose one of my favourite books in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Last ContinentThe Last Continent is the 22nd book in the Discworld series, and follows one of Pratchett’s most entertaining protagonists as he adventures around a continent on the Discworld that is definitely not Australia.  I gave quite a good presentation on this book, if I do say so myself, and it was a great book to round out the class on.  A review of The Last Continent will probably show up on this blog in the future, as it is quite a funny read.

5 – Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell – Reviewed in 2008

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Another book reviewed as part of an English class.  Postmortem was the book we had to read and review as our main assessment in a pretty good crime fiction course.  It was an interesting book to analyse, and we did a pretty detailed examination and discussion of the book throughout the length of the course.  I have never really gone out of my way to read any other Cornwell books, but I am glad we got the chance to review Postmortem, and it was quite an intriguing piece of crime fiction.

6 – Outlaw by Angus Donald – Reviewed 26 September 2009

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Back in 2009, while I was in my first year of university, I got an opportunity to review some books for The Canberra Times.  They were in need of someone to review historical fiction, and as that was the genre I was mostly reading at the time, I managed to secure a position as The Canberra Times’s historical fiction reviewer for a few years.  For my first review, they gave me a couple of books publishers had sent them and told me to have a go at writing an article.  The first book I read for this was Outlaw, the first book in Angus Donald’s The Outlaw Chronicle series.  I really enjoyed this book and thought that it was a great reimagining of the classic Robin Hood story, and it proved to be an excellent book to do a proper, professional review for.  Despite enjoying this book, I never got the chance to read any of the other books in The Outlaw Chronicles, which I see managed eight books in the end.  I might have to see what Donald has been writing lately.

7 – Pieces of Eight by John Drake – Reviewed 26 September 2009

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In addition to Outlaw, my first article in The Canberra Times also featured a review of Pieces of Eight by John Drake.  Pieces of Eight was another reimagining of a classic tale, as Drake created his own version of Treasure Island in this series.  Pieces of Eight is the sequel to Drake’s first book, Flint and Silver, and featured a compelling adventure on the high seas.  This was another great book to read, and I had a lot of fun reviewing Pieces of Eight.

8 – King of Kings by Harry Sidebottom – Reviewed 21 November 2009

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This was the second book in Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome series, which continued the story started in his amazing debut, Fire in the East.  Sidebottom is one of the top authors of Roman historical fiction, and back in 2009 I was very excited to check King of Kings out after enjoying his first book so much.  This was another great historical adventure, with an epic twist at the end.  Sidebottom is still going quite strong; The Last Hour was released last year, and his latest book, The Lost Ten, has just come out.

9 – Raiders from the North by Alex Rutherford – Reviewed 21 November 2009

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Raiders from the North is the first book in Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series, which charted the rise and fall of one of history’s most powerful and self-destructive dynasties.  This was a very good book that looked at a very unique period of history that is quite under-represented in fiction.  I ended up reading and reviewing nearly every book in the Empire of the Moghul series over the next couple of years, and I really enjoyed this very intriguing series.

10 – The Gladiator by Simon Scarrow – Reviewed 19 December 2009

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This is a good place to end my list.  I am a huge fan of the Scarrow’s The Eagles of the Empire series, and it was one of the main historical fiction series that got me into the genre.  As a result, I was very happy that I got a chance to review the ninth book in The Eagles of the Empire series, The Gladiator, so early in my reviewing career.  The Gladiator is an excellent addition to the series which pitted its protagonist against a new type of opponent.  This series is still going strong, with its 17th book coming, The Blood of Rome, coming out last year.

 

I hope you enjoy my list; I had a good time putting it together.  I will have to try and scan a few of these earlier columns onto my blog in the future.  It was fun going back and seeing what some of my earliest reviews were.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week participants get an Audio Freebie week, so I get to choose any audiobook topic that I want.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I love audiobooks, so I was very keen to participate in this topic.  Because of some recent long books that I have read and listened to, I have gotten very curious about the top ten longest audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Therefore, I have decided to go back and list of all the audiobooks I have listened to and their run times to see which ones were the longest.  For consistency’s sake, I will use the run times as stated on either Audible or Amazon, and I will only use the versions and narrators that I listened to.  For example, I have only listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale and not the Stephen Fry versions, which are apparently longer, so I will therefore list the run times for the Jim Dale versions.

I am very curious to see what makes up my Top Ten List.  I have an idea of what will be at the top, but I am expecting quite a few Harry Potter books in the top ten.  Let us have a look:

1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading – 45 hours and 48 minutes

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2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 42 hours and 55 minutes

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3. Magician by Raymond E. Feist, narrated by Peter Joyce – 36 hours and 14 minutes

Magician Cover
Technically two books combined together (Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), but as I will always listen to them together, I am counting it as one book.

4. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice – 33 hours and 45 minutes

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5. Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 32 hours and 1 minutes

Mistress of the Empire Cover

6. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 31 hours and 29 minutes

Inheritance Cover

7. Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 30 hours and 42 minutes

Servant of the Empire Cover

8. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 29 hours and 34 minutes

Brisingr Cover

9. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 27 hours and 55 minutes

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10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 27 hours and 2 minutes

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This was a very surprising result for me.  While I was expecting books such as The Way of Kings and The Wise Man’s Fear to make the cut, I really did think that Order of the Phoenix would be higher up on the list.  I was also very surprised that two books from Feist and Wurst’s The Empire Trilogy made the list, and I really did not think that Inheritance and Brisingr were that long.  Still, it’s a good result, which I have no doubt will change in the future, especially as some of the books I am keen to listen to, such as The Ember Blade (30 hours and 40 minutes long) would make it onto this list, knocking Order of the Phoenix off.  I am sure that with a different narrator or production company, some of these audiobooks would be longer or shorter; still, it was quite interesting to see.

As a bit of bonus material, and because I already had the run times listed, here are the next top ten books as an Honourable Mention.

Honourable Mentions:

11. Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 25 hours and 34 minutes

12. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 23 hours and 43 minutes

13. Eldest by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 23 hours and 29 minutes

14. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 38 minutes

15. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 15 minutes

16. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 21 hours and 59 minutes

17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 36 minutes

18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 12 minutes

19. Cold Iron by Miles Cameron, narrated by Mark Meadows – 19 hours and 29 minutes

20. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, narrated by Christian Rodska – 19 hours

So that is where some of the other Harry Potters are.  With all 20 books being fantasy, I think it is obvious that I need to branch out into some longer books from other genres in order to break up this fantasy monopoly.  While I have reviewed some of the books on this list, I am planning to get to the rest at some point in the future.  However, I think most of those require a re-listen before I am able to do proper review of them; now I just have to find the time to fit them into my reading schedule.  I was quite happy with the interesting result of this Top Ten Tuesday, and I will have to revisit this list at some point in the future.  Feel free to comment below about the longest audiobook you have ever listened to.

Throwback Thursday: The Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Jenny Wurst

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Publishers: Doubleday, HarperCollins

Publication Dates:

Daughter of the Empire – 1987

Servant of the Empire – 1990

Mistress of the Empire – 1992

 

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

If you are a fan of Raymond E. Feist’s books, check out my review of his latest work, King of Asheshttps://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/king-of-ashes-by-raymond-e-feist/

 

Set in the same universe as fantasy author Raymond E. Feist’s legendary Riftwar Cycle is The Empire Trilogy, which serves as a fantastic companion series to his main body of work.  This trilogy, made up of Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire was written in collaboration with fellow fantasy author Janny Wurst and represents an intriguing piece of literature that shines not only as a side series to Feist’s first two books but also as a substantial and powerful standalone series.

I first came across this series during my school days, when I had to read Daughter of the Empire for a fantasy literature course (great book, terrible teacher).  I was already very familiar with Feist’s massive fantasy universe, having read all the other books available in the series at that point, though in a somewhat eclectic order.  I had not previously attempted to read The Empire Trilogy before this point, but I eagerly dived into Daughter of the Empire when I got my copy from the school library.  I was immediately entranced by the story and read it several times in that semester, especially during the more boring classes.  Upon completing the first book, I also sought out the second and third books in the series in order to see how the fantastic storylines continued.  In recent years, I was lucky enough to find audiobook copies of the entire trilogy, and have since re-listened to it several times.  These more recent perusals only confirmed my enjoyment of this series, as well as my love of Feist’s massive fantasy world.

The first book of The Empire Trilogy, Daughter of the Empire, was published in 1987, one year after the final book in The Riftwar Saga, the first trilogy in Feist’s massive Riftwar Cycle.  In many ways, Daughter of the Empire and the second book, Servant of the Empire, serve as accompaniments to Feist’s original series, as both plots are set at the same time and events that occur in Magician and Silverthorn have significant impacts within The Empire Trilogy.

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The Empire Trilogy follows Mara of the Acoma, a young woman who becomes the Ruling Lady of her house after the sudden death of her male relatives.  Through the course of this series, Mara must become a strong ruler to maintain the honour of her family and ensure the survival of all the people pledged to her house.  Mara must use all of her cunning to overcome powerful opponents while adapting new methods and viewpoints that are uncommon in her regimented culture in order to survive.

This series is set in the world of Kelewan, a vast planet inhabited by several strange alien species, and mainly focuses on the inhabitants of the massive Empire of Tsuranuanni.  The Tsurani were introduced in Feist’s first book, Magician, where they travel through a magical rift to the world of Midkemia and clash with the inhabitants of this new planet in an event known as the Rift War.  The Tsurani are a race of humans based on a combination of real world cultures, such as the Japanese, Koreans and the Aztecs.  For example, the overriding Tsurani ideal of honour, an exceedingly important concept in the books that strongly influences their culture and way of life, is very strongly based on feudal Japanese ideals of the samurai and bushido.  Kelewan is explored within Magician through the eyes of Feist’s main protagonist, Pug.  Midkemia is the main setting for the books in the Riftwar Cycle.  While Kelewan is visited in later books of the Riftwar Cycle, most notably in Silverthorn, it becomes a more underutilised setting as Feist’s overall series continues, before eventually being destroyed in Wrath of a Mad God.

Each of the books in this trilogy contains epic and captivating stories that not only highlight life in these alien planets but also show a tale of survival and victory against all odds as the protagonist, Mara, faces and overcomes the superior forces arrayed against her.  The first book in the trilogy is Daughter of the Empire, which introduces many of the series’ main characters and storylines.  The protagonist and main point-of-view character is Mara of the Acoma, who is dramatically pulled from her peaceful life as a novice priestess into the deadly and treacherous world of Tsurani politics.  Mara’s father and brother were killed during a battle on Midkemia because of treachery from the most powerful house in the Empire, the Minwanabi.  As a result, Mara is forced to take on the role of Ruling Lady to save her house from being destroyed and her retainers taken as slaves or forced to become honourless bandits.  With the vast majority of her soldiers killed in Midkemia, Mara must find creative ways to stop the Minwanabi and other rival houses from wiping her out.

Mara proves to be an effective leader, bending Tsurani traditions to her favour, recruiting talented followers and forming new alliances.  Her machinations result in a political marriage to a brutal husband whom Mara must endure until the moment is right to remove him.  Watching the protagonist rebuild her house through any means necessary is a fantastic focus of this book which really allows the reader to get a strong idea of Tsurani politics, ideals and culture, as well as Mara’s determination as the central protagonist.  The climax of the book is set within the Minwanabi stronghold, which Mara has been forced to visit in order to attend a celebration for the Warlord (the Tsurani equivalent of a feudal Japanese Shogun).  This final part of the book is filled with significant tension and fear, as everyone is well aware that the Minwanabi will murder Mara before she leaves the party.  Mara must find a way to use the Tsurani honour system to prevent her own assassination while also striking a blow against her opponent.  Daughter of the Empire is an exceptional introduction to this fantastic series, and is a spectacular novel in its own right.

Feist and Wurst followed up their first entry in this series with another sensational novel that doubles down on the action and intrigue and contains some of the best sequences in the entire series.  Servant of the Empire directly follows on from the events of the first book and sees Mara and her house still in great peril.  Mara may have overcome the previous ruling lord of the Minwanabi, but her enemies are still the most powerful house in the Empire.  While the new lord is nowhere near as competent as his father was, he has called up the family’s most devious and destructive member, Tasaio, the man who organised the death of Mara’s father and brother.  As the Minwanabi plot against the Acoma, Mara is distracted by her acquisition of a group of Midkemian slaves, especially the charismatic Kevin of Zūn.  As Mara and Kevin fall in love, the Acoma are drawn into a series of battles on many different fronts, but Kevin’s alien way of thinking offers Mara a distinct advantage.  But events completely outside Mara’s control may have the greatest impact on the future of her house.  Both the magician Pug and the chaotic event of the Riftwar bring significant change to the Empire, and Mara and her enemies must seek new ways to turn these events to their advantage.  While Mara’s relationship with Kevin provides her with strength, it also represents her greatest weakness.

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There is a lot going on within this book, including a number of large-scale battle sequences, as well several scenes focusing on the Empire’s political intrigue.  The standout scenes for me have to be either the extended sequence in the arena which features a different point of view to the chaotic magic unleased by Pug in Magician, or the sequences where the biggest houses in the Empire stage a night-time battle of assassins in the halls of the Imperial Palace.  While this might be my favourite book in the series, I am not the biggest fan of the way the romance angle between Mara and Kevin is portrayed.  Kevin, however, is a fantastic addition for this book, and it is intriguing to have a character that has a similar viewpoint as the reader to observe and comment on Tsurani honour, politics and culture.

The third book in the series, Mistress of the Empire, is set some years after Servant of the Empire and sees Mara and the Acoma once again up against a superior enemy.  After their victories in the second book, the Acoma are now the most powerful house in the Empire, but Mara’s sins have come back to haunt her.  When the Hamoi Tong assassins initiate a devastating strike at the Acoma, the Assembly of Magicians forestalls Mara’s vengeance against the house she holds responsible.  The magicians, known throughout the Empire as “Great Ones” are determined to limit the Acoma’s influence, and Mara soon finds herself in a hidden war against the most destructive force in all of Kelewan.  At the same time, her former brother-in-law, Jiro of the Anasati, seeks retribution against Mara, while her loyal Spy Master Arakasi seeks to find a way to finally destroy the Hamoi Tong.  Travelling outside the Empire, Mara uncovers dark secrets about the Assembly, and her actions will have major impacts on the future of Tsurani life.

Mistress of the Empire is an excellent conclusion to this trilogy that not only provides a compelling story with exciting new additions but also neatly wraps up storylines from the previous two books.  While this book probably has the least connections to the events of Feist’s main series, it dives deeper into the history and hidden lore of Kelewan and the Empire, including the Assembly of Magicians, a sinister and powerful group in Feist’s universe.  Many of the main characters get satisfying endings to their storylines, and we get to see several chapters told from the point of view of the Spy Master Arakasi.  Arakasi is one of the series’ best characters; however, due to the nature of his work, the readers usually do not get to see him in action, instead only hearing second-hand accounts of his missions.  Readers get to enjoy scenes that focus on Arakasi’s investigations into both the Assembly of Magicians and the Hamoi Tong, which also serve to expand on Arakasi as a character.  Readers will also enjoy the fact that, after two books in which the antagonists need to keep up the appearance that they are obeying the Tsurani code of honour in their battles with the Acoma, Mara is now forced to go up against an opponent outside the typical laws and practices of the Empire.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series is how the authors have tied the books into the events of Feist’s original trilogy.  There are actually a few pre-emptive mentions of characters and events that become an important part The Empire Trilogy in Feist’s first book, Magician.  For example, the Shinzawai, a major house, whose members become key characters in The Empire Trilogy, are first introduced in this book as friends of Pug.  During Pug’s adventures in Kelewan, there is mention of a visit to the Lady of the Acoma, an event that subsequently occurs in Servant of the Empire.  The Minwanabi betrayal of the Acoma forces is also described to the Midkemian protagonists of Magician by a former Tsurani slave in an attempt to highlight the Tsurani system of honour and politics.  The first book in The Empire Trilogy, Daughter of the Empire is actually set in the time gap between the two halves of Magician, and takes a closer look at the impact that the Riftwar has had in Kelewan.

A more direct connection to the series is established in Servant of the Empire.  As mentioned above, long-running Riftwar Cycle protagonist, Pug, makes several appearances in this book, mirroring events that occur in second half of Magician.  Events that occur in Feist’s original trilogy have severe impacts on the plans of Mara and her enemies, such as the destruction of a huge number of Tsurani lords in the final battle of Magician and the death of the new Warlord in Silverthorn.  All of these become significant plot points in Servant of the Empire, and it is absolutely fascinating to see the impacts of events in other books.

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The most spectacular crossover event comes about halfway through Servant of the Empire, which shows some of the cataclysmic events from Magician from a whole new perspective.  In the second half of Magician, the powerful magician Pug unleashes his full fury on an arena full of Tsurani, sending wave after wave of magical attacks and disasters on the arena’s audience.  The scene is very intense when told from Pug’s point of view; however, readers of the second book in The Empire Trilogy are shown the absolute terror and destruction that a member of this crowd experienced during these events.  Mara, Kevin and a few Acoma retainers are present when the magical attack occurs and must flee through the panicking mob while also avoiding enemy assassins.  The sheer chaos and dread experienced by these characters and the surrounding crowd is astounding, and turns an incredible scene from Magician into one of the most intense and memorable sequences Feist has ever written.

Throughout the series, the Mara and her house are engaged in significant conflict with other factions in the Tsuranuanni Empire.  In the first two books, their opponents are primarily the most powerful house in the Empire, the Minwanabi, while the third book sees Mara in conflict with another influential house, as well as the Assembly of Magicians and the Hamoi Tong assassins.  As a result, the main focus of these books is usually the battles for supremacy between the Acoma and their opponents.  However, what sets these stories apart from other fantasy novels is the way that these battles are fought.  While an all-out war would probably ensure a quicker conclusion to this struggle, the Acoma and their enemies are forced to fight within their nation’s rules of conflict and honour.  As a result, the participants are forced to fight in a far more shadowy conflict.  While there are battles between armies, often with one side in disguise, the participants also fight using economics, espionage and politics.  Throughout the book, the protagonist makes alliances, build up her resources and use her influence to mould the politics of the realm to her advantage.  The reliance on honour is a fascinating part of this battle, and the reader will enjoy seeing the protagonist use this concept of honour to manipulate her opponents.  The real fun comes when the various participants are no longer bound by the rules and are able to unleash much more devastating and direct attacks on each other, such as the massive battle in the imperial palace that takes place in Servant of the Empire.  The battles for survival and control of the Tsuranuanni Empire represent an absolutely captivating and exciting part of this series, especially when the Acoma spymaster Arakasi gets involved.

Readers of The Empire Trilogy are also gifted with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people, races and culture of Kelewan.  This world and some of its history was explored in Feist’s earlier books, including Magician, where an extended magical vision showed the reader key points in the planet’s history.  However, for those readers who wish to have a truly deep understanding of life in Kelewan, and the Tsuranuanni Empire in particular, the books in this trilogy are the best things to read.  Through the protagonist’s eyes the reader gets to explore the various pieces of land that make up the Empire, as well as the creatures that inhabit these lands.  Feist and Wurst also spend significant amount of time looking at the Cho’ja, the ant-like alien creatures who were first introduced in MagicianDaughter of the Empire takes a very interesting look at the Cho’ja, especially as an early part of the book focuses on the protagonist’s attempts to win a Cho’ja colony for her land.  In order to do this, she enters a hive and negotiates with a newly hatched queen in order to provide Mara with additional warriors and access to silk spinners.  In order to gain an edge on her competition, Mara attempts to understand the cultural differences between her race and the Cho’ja, and is able to come up with some intriguing conclusions as a result.  These initial and interesting observations of this race are then massively expanded upon in Mistress of the Empire when Mara, in an attempt to find out the secrets of the Assembly of Magicians, uncovers the true history of the Cho’ja and the ancient pacts they are bound to.  Readers will be absolutely fascinated by the lore of these creatures, and there are some great scenes featuring Cho’ja economy and their skills in battle.  In addition to the Cho’ja, Feist and Wurst also explore some of the human nations that exist in Kelewan, including the desert tribes of Dustari and the Thuril.  These explorations aren’t as detailed as the authors’ look at the Cho’ja and the Tsurani, but are intriguing in their own right, as the authors create some unique cultural features for them.

While the examination of the Cho’ja and the other human races of Tsurani is an intriguing and detailed part of the books in The Empire Trilogy, it pales in comparison to the massive amount of time spent exploring Kelewan’s main civilisation, the Tsuranuanni Empire.  The vast majority of the three books is spent within the Empire, with only a small portion of Mistress of the Empire spent outside.  Feist introduced a lot of the elements of the Tsurani in Magician, but this is expanded on substantially in this series.  Readers who read through these books will be left with an incredible amount of information about Tsurani politics, religion, culture, societal makeup and various other parts of day-to-day life in the Tsuranuanni Empire.  The use and examination of Tsurani politics at many different levels is an extremely compelling part of these books, and the various meetings and manipulations that occur represent a very enjoyable part of the book.  The concept of Tsurani honour is also explored in great detail.  Honour is a massive and defining part of Tsurani culture, and the various characters risk everything to maintain it.  Living or dying without honour is considered the worst thing imaginable as it will impact on the individual’s reincarnation in the next life.  The concept of honour is particularly skewed towards the Tsurani nobles, and it often takes an outside perspective, like that of Kevin, to identify how unfair the system is.  Mara becomes particularly adept at using this honour system to her own advantage.  While absolutely devoted to maintaining her family’s honour, her interactions with Kevin lead her to try and make some substantial changes in Tsurani society.  The books in the trilogy also reveal some deeper understandings about Tsurani history and the various secret organisations such as the Assembly of Magicians have been protecting.  While physically reading these books allows the reader to absorb a lot of this lore, I would also suggest that people check out the various audiobooks that have been produced, which can help listeners to absorb more of these amazing story elements.

I do have a few minor criticisms about this series, but nothing that is really going to change my high regard for it.  There are some unnecessary scenes where Mara is scolded and nagged by her nurse, Nacoya, who quickly becomes one of the series’ more annoying characters.  I felt that some of the scenes featuring Nacoya’s constant criticism took away from Mara’s image as a skilful and intelligent leader, and just made her seem like a foolish girl.  Luckily Nacoya is easily overshadowed by several of the other supporting characters, such as Keyoke, Arakasi and Lujan.  I also found parts of the relationship between Mara and Kevin in Servant of the Empire to be very frustrating, especially as they seemed to keep cycling through the same problems and issues.  Luckily, Kevin’s ‘barbarian’ insights and ideas more than make up for this, as he produces some excellent battle and political tactics throughout the book.  Overall, these are some fairly minor criticisms from me, and I really love all three of these books.

The Empire Trilogy from Raymond E. Feist and Jenny Wurst is a spectacular fantasy series set in the same incredible universe as the Riftwar Cycle.  This trilogy of books is an amazing series in its own right; however, it’s real strength comes from it being a clever tie-in to Feist’s main series of books.  Featuring some incredible story elements, exceptional action-packed scenes and a detailed setting stuffed full of lore, The Empire Trilogy is some of these two talented authors’ best works, which still stand up to this day.  The series is required reading for anyone who has read Magician and other books in the Riftwar Cycle, but it also comes highly recommended for those readers looking for that next fantasy series to fall in love with.

My Rating (Series and Each Book):

Four and a half stars

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

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Publisher: Harper Voyager

Australian Publication Date – 5 April 2018

World Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

For over 30 years, one of the most reliable cornerstones of fantasy fiction has been the books of Raymond E. Feist.  Starting with the 1982 fantasy classic, Magician, Feist has produced 30 books, all set in the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan, as part of his long running Riftwar CycleKing of Ashes is the first book Feist has written since he ended the Riftwar Cycle in 2013.  It is also the start of The Firemane Saga, a new series which is set in a completely different universe to the Riftwar Cycle and introduces the reader to an exciting new story.

The continent of Garn was once home to five kingdoms, the greatest of which was the Kingdom of Ithrace.  Ruled by the red-haired Firemanes, Ithrace was known for its culture and creativity.  However, following a great betrayal, Ithrace was destroyed and its king executed.  In order to avoid any retribution, the power-hungry King of Sandura ordered the deaths of every member of the Ithrace royal family, and not even their legendary affinity for fire could save them.

Now, 17 years later, war is returning to Garn.  Ancient pacts of peace are failing, and the four kingdoms are out of balance.  As the kingdoms and the independent baronies prepare for a new conflict, rumours of a hidden heir to Ithrace’s throne begin to surface.

In the previously peaceful Covenant Lands, Declan, a young and talented blacksmith, is forced to flee slavers raiding his village.  Carrying the rare knowledge of crafting the legendary jewel-steel, Declan flees to the Barony of Marquensas, where he hopes to create a new life for himself.

Meanwhile, in the feared and hidden island nation of Coaltachin, three youths, Donte, Hava and Hatu, are being trained in the way of the Quelli Nascosti assassins, learning how to spy, steal and kill.  All three of the young agents are eager to explore the world outside of their island home, but they quickly find themselves under attack.  The mysterious group of assailants seem to have been trained in a similar way to the assassins of Coaltachin.  Whoever these attackers are, they are unafraid of the young assassins and have a particular interest in capturing Hatu, an orphan with red hair and a fiery temper.  As events transpire, these young people find themselves in the heart of events that will transform Garn forever.

Feist delivers a fantastic and absorbing read that once again illustrates why he is one of the preeminent writers of fantasy fiction in the world today.  His latest book is a classic fantasy tale set within another unique and memorable universe and is one of the most thrilling and addictive releases so far this year.

King of Ashes is the first book in a brand new trilogy that has definite potential to expand out into another long-running series.  As a result, Feist presented this book as a set up for the rest of the series, rather than a stand-alone book.  Substantial time was spent establishing the characters, world and overall story, and introducing elements to be further explored in future instalments of the series.  While some questions are answered towards the end of the book, a number of mysteries still remain.  King of Ashes proved very hard to put down—an impressive feat, considering it was 545 pages long in the hardcover edition.

Feist has done a lot of work building up this new fantasy location, producing some amazing settings and locations.  The characters venture to large cities, small towns, fortified keeps, grasslands, forests and various islands.  There are also several scenes set on the ocean, which allow for some intricate sequences involving ships and naval combat.  It also appears that, despite how far many of the characters travel, they have only just brushed the surface of the continent mapped out in the front of the book.  This area of land appears to be less than half of the entire continent of Garn, which indicates wider adventures in future books.  There were also some brief mentions of other continents existing on this new world, which may be a possible indication of plans to expand this series past its initial trilogy.

While Feist introduces a number of new kingdoms and peoples throughout his story, many readers will really enjoy his inclusion of the Quelli Nascosti assassins on the island nation of Coaltachin.  In the story, the nation of Coaltachin, also known as the Invisible Nation, is ruled by the Quelli Nascosti assassins, who work throughout the continent as assassins, spies and informants.  Feist spends a significant amount of time focusing on this group of assassins, displaying various aspects of their society, operations, influence throughout Garn and varied training techniques.  As a result, they are the most fleshed-out group of characters within King of Ashes and are a definite highlight of the book.  Readers will really enjoy the significant focus Feist puts on this group, as this results in a number of high-intensity scenes with covert activities and exciting action.

Feist tells most of the story through three prominent characters, Declan, Hava and Hatu.  All three of these characters have fascinating and unique accounts to follow, although all of them could be considered to be coming-of-age stories.  Hava and Hatu are both members of the Quelli Nascosti, and it is through their eyes that we see most of the secretive nation and their actions.  Hatu is involved in action throughout the continent, encountering mysterious foes and discovering his hidden destiny, while Hava’s story focuses on more specialised training and a secret side mission.  Declan’s story is a classic fantasy story of a young man trying to find his way in life while overcoming destructive elements.  There are some more classic fight scenes in this storyline, and some very detailed descriptions of blacksmithing.  Each of these storylines is extremely enjoyable to read and provides different insights into this exhilarating new fantasy universe.

King of Ashes is the latest book from fantasy legend Raymond E. Feist and represents an outstanding start to a fantastic new series.  Featuring multiple coming-of-age stories, this is a pure fantasy tale set within an intriguing and detailed new universe.  This is mandatory reading for fans of Feist’s previous work and comes highly recommended for all fans of the fantasy genre.  I cannot wait for the next book in this series.

My Rating:

Five Stars