Book Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

My original plan was to get all my summer reading and ARC’s out of the way before getting into Malazan so I can read all of them back to back. However, the constant stream of people posting in various fantasy groups on Facebook about how Gardens of the Moon is so confusing and asking whether they should keep on reading stirred up my curiosity to the point of dropping the WoT #4 and everything else and grabbing this, and I am so very glad I did.

Gardens of the Moon has the reputation for being one of the biggest Marmite books of fantasy genre. I didn’t care much for Marmite, but I totally fell in love with Gardens of the Moon and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Even Erikson laments about it in the foreword, you can see the pangs of regret between the pages. But I think GOTM is just fine the way it is.

People who are used to reading books with a clear beginning-middle-end and linear story arc where the world and magic and how everything works is explained in detail are going to find GOTM confusing as hell. People who have enjoyed ASOIAF books -preferably more than once- won’t have much trouble. I was warned about paying attention to detail so I watched everything like a hawk from the very beginning. Tiniest details and pieces of dialogues from the prologue comes back to you with a bang later on, but if you miss it in the beginning, you miss out and end up getting lost. This is true for everything else, not only the beginning parts. Just pay attention! Even the seemingly insignificant and unimportant minor characters are there for a reason and serve a purpose.

I have read a number of medieval chronicles and some early modern fiction, so I was no stranger to the format of the book. Erikson doesn’t explain things with infodumps, he doesn’t hold your hand, so you figure things out by paying attention. Some people say Gardens of the Moon requires a lot of effort, but I beg to disagree. It requires no effort other than paying attention. It’s just a book, not some rocket science manual as some folk make it out to be, only it is structured in a rather unusual way. Unusual for the fantasy genre, that is.

Gardens of the Moon is more like the medieval chronicles and early modern fiction. Sort of like Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabeleis, which I highly recommend to fantasy lovers of high brow tastes (there is some irony to be found here) and I talk about in detail in this post here. Gardens of the Moon structure is quite similar to that. It is also somewhat similar to medieval Byzantine chronicles.

Those chronicles start with the reign of the current emperor, maybe his predecessor, but they throw you right into the thick of things without holding your hand. They don’t explain the state institutions and how things work and how the framework of the whole empire is structured, you are supposed to know it. Those books were written as a record of the history, and after 1000 years many things got lost. Historians were not able to make sense of some of the jokes, alliterations and references. Some they deciphered by cross-referencing other books and documents of the period, but what’s lost is lost for good.

I have read the chronicles depicting the city I was born and raised and spent the first few years of my adult life in, but it read more like an alien city in some imaginary fantasy land most of the time. Only because some of the edifices present in the period still stand today it is possible to even recognize the place. There are footnotes in almost every page, explaining names, terms, references, military terminology, government positions, measurements (they used different reckoning of hours, calendar, distance units, weight units, nothing like the stuff we use today.) For example, they talk about the time of the day like “third hour of the night” which would be roughly 9 pm of a couple hours earlier or later depending on the season. They measure all distances with stades, which is about 1/10 of a mile. You read the footnote where it’s used the first time and do the conversion in your head through the rest of the book. You convert all those things in your head to the modern units you are familiar with, and if you forget, you have to go back to the footnotes. Now this is something that requires effort to read. Gardens of the Moon certainly does not fall into that category. There is no math, no calculations. You only need to pay attention to things and remember them, that is all.

If you are having trouble, there is an excellent read-along guide recapping every chapter of every book. You can check with it after you finish a chapter or few. Here is the guide: Malazan Reread of the Fallen.

But like I mentioned, if you are an ASOIAF fan, you should have no trouble comprehending Gardens of the Moon. There is a big cast of characters, but even if you aren’t an ASOIAF veteran you eventually get used to it if you stick around. Chapters are short and POV changes within the same chapter sometimes, so it takes a while to get attached to any of the characters. But once you start following them, you will find your favorites. Some of the best ones don’t show up or start revealing their badassery until later.

The sheer number of main characters may be overwhelming for people who aren’t used to that kind of setup, so here is an excellent guide made by my lovely friend Laura M. Hughes to help out: Laura’s Guide to Malazan Characters (Gardens of the Moon)

Some of those characters start out as ordinary folk, but they turn out to be hell of a lot more than what they seem. It’s great fun to watch it unfold, I’m telling you!

Now, if you are a big fan of Riftwar books and Elder Scrolls Games, there is a good chance you will totally love Gardens of the Moon (and the rest of Malazan I suppose.) There are thieves, assassins, rooftop wars, heist scenes, alchemists, cool artifacts, and an epic tavern/inn where all the ruffians meet up and hang out. I’m a huge fan of the thieves’ guild and Dark Brotherhood in Elder Scrolls games, as well as the thieves of Krondor in Riftwar books, so all those scenes were more than reason enough for me to love this book to death before even reaching half of it. Oh, and magic. There is awesome, bombastic, kickass magic. The awesomeness of it is slowly revealed, layer by layer.

More than anything, Gardens of the Moon is a political intrigue and military action book. There is a number of political factions and complex political plots. It was hell of a lot of fun to read as a big fan of political intrigue.

Now let’s get to the characters: There are total cunts you will love to hate, as well as some charismatic guys, silly boys, strong women, loveable ruffians, mysterious elder races, funny dudes, sinister politicians and the legendary Bridgeburners. Brigeburners is the elite military squad everyone respects and their enemies are doing everything to decimate them. Those guys are so damn cool and they have epic tricks up their sleeves and some hilarious bickering moments as the icing of the cake. Gardens of the Moon and the Bridgeburners got me so hooked, I ordered a Bridgeburners t-shirt before I even finished reading the book. That should tell you something.

And then there is the glorious Anomander Rake. I didn’t think I would ever fall head over heels for a character and go all fangirl after R. Scott Bakker’s magnificent Cleric character in The Judging Eye, but Anomander Rake totally caught me off guard. He is ambiguous, mysterious, melancholy, supremely charismatic, has a killer magic sword called Dragnipur unlike any magic sword I have ever read in fantasy books, and badassery level off the charts. I’m smitten! Can’t wait to read more.

And then there is Kruppe, who is the funny uncle with the silly ramblings, but he has some neat tricks up his sleeve and some more. That is all I can say to stick with the spoiler free premise.

There is this Deck of Dragons, which is like a magic level +10 version of Tarot cards. If you are into Tarot, you will definitely enjoy it. Another thing I absolutely loved about Gardens of the Moon is the lack of sappy romance and ridiculous love triangles. There is one case of a dude having a crush on a girl, but it’s hilarious rather than sappy. There is no annoying pining and all that jazz.

It might be a bit confusing to some readers who are not used to this kind of structure, but the payoff is massive. Trust me on that! Not only that but there are excellent companion guides to help out if you are having any trouble, which I linked above. If you love fantasy, this book has every element of fantasy without being cliche and derivative. Steven Erikson is a professional anthropologist and it shows in the realism of the cultures and different lands. It’s incredibly rich in detail. If you are a history buff, you will most probably become a fan.
Then again, it’s known as the Marmite book and you might not like it at all. There is only one way to find out!

Book Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

The Judging Eye

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Empires of Dust
Author info: http://courtofbrokenknives.org/

This is going to be a bit emotional for me, but 100% honest. I have read a very early version of this book, kind of a beta read, before Anna had an agent or a publishing deal. I knew it was something unique and it ought to be mainstream published. My gut instinct and recognition skills were dead accurate: Something like two years later it got picked up by Harper Voyager, I screamed “Hell YES!” and bounced with joy as if it were my own book. So here goes your disclaimer. However, I do only honest reviews. Anyone knows me well enough knows I won’t review the books that aren’t my cup of tea of I don’t enjoy/DNF. I have refused reviews like this for books of folk I know, cause I can’t be dishonest and I don’t want to damage the ratings of a new debut just cause I don’t enjoy it.

This final published version of The Court of Broken Knives, however, has a lot of thing I enjoy in grimdark fiction, plus the stunning prose, beautifully detailed worldbuilding, culture and religion elements. The main plot of the story is noting unusual, but the storytelling is rich and amazingly unique. Here is a little snippet from the very beginning:

All eternity, they’ve been fighting. All the edges blunted. Sword edges and knife edges and the edges in the mind. Keep killing. Keep killing. Keep killing till we’re all dead.

The Court of Broken Knives is grimdark as grimdark goes. There’s rivers of blood and pools of vomit but also beautiful gardens with jasmine and lilac trees, colorful silks, marble palaces, desert wilderness and frost covered islands, and the most important aspect of grimdark: Highly intriguing, complex, deeply flawed, incredibly realistic characters.

There are four point of view characters: A mercenary commander, a new recruit in the mercenary company, a politician from the high nobility, and a high priestess.
None of those are the sort of people you would exactly root for, but their storylines are compelling in the extreme, and along with the beautiful, flowing, poetic prose they make The Court of Broken Knives a total page turner.

Speaking of the prose. This dreamlike, hypnotic prose makes the violence and gore scenes hell of a lot more brutal, too. I am a seaoned grimdark reader and pretty desensitized to gory fight scenes. Best way I can describe the effect here is a jackhammer wrapped in pretty brocade silk. Let me show one example from the book:

He must have been happy, sometimes, this man who would die before him under his knife. Must have looked at something once and thought ‘this is a good thing.’Must have loved and wanted and desired and hoped. And all of that he’d take from him, like it had never been.

This is not the best example of what I’m talking about but I’m taking pains not to spoil anything, so it should at least give a hint.

The most important character is Marith, the pretty boy who is a new recruit in a mercenary band. He is more than what he appears to be, and you can tell from the beginning. He turns out to be a highborn guy on exile, and then more and more is revealed. To keep this review spoiler free, that is the most I can say. Marith is one of the darkest characters I’ve ever read, he takes the grimdark to a whole another level. The main theme is a decaying empire with its gold veneer chipping away and oh so amazingly depicted.

He watched the weaving figures, twisting in a long spiralling pattern of stamping feet around the square, dancing and shouting and singing while the darkness ate at them. You will all die, his mind whispered. This brightness is only the surface. Beneath is the darkness: you will all die.

This is one of the rather tame ones, dude is DARK! But he is so much more than must a bloodthirsty psycho. Marith has mysterious magical powers, and a profound darkness in him. The magic business is quite a mystery, never explained. It just unfolds and you read with a dropped jaw. This doesn’t seem to be common in fantasy, since detailed magic systems seem to be the trend in the genre. I like the dark, mysterious, scary magic, and The Court of Broken Knives beautifully delivers. If you are sick of magic systems with endless lists of rules and components and whatnot, you will definitely love the magic here.

The Court of Broken Knives is a political intrigue fantasy, and one of the main characters is a plotting high lord who is ready to sacrifice lives for the greater good. The M/M romance between him and his partner in crime Darath is quite adorable. Their flirty bickering is funny and cute. If you are a fan of M/M relationships you will absolutely love it. They are all kinds of cute, but there is the element of tragedy, dark choices and guilty conscience trying to justify horrible deeds. It is a grimdark story, after all.

Thalia is the high priestess character, and some of her chapters are from the first person perspective, which works quite well with the flow. She is also a messed up victim of the culture and society, and we get to see the twisted and brutal religion of the Empire. The worldbuilding depth truly shines in those parts, giving a good glimpse of the culture and faith embedded deeply into daily life of the people of the empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but the whole twilight taboo culture reminded me of the superstitions we had in Turkey, that it is bad luck to do any sewing or repair works in the twilight hour, time between day and night is dangerous and you aren’t supposed to do handiwork or it will bring curses and bad luck.

Thalia is about as broken and flawed like the rest of the characters, she is strong at times, but cannot conjure her inner strength all the time. Which is hell of a lot more realistic than the invincible female hero model. There are no heroes in this book, anyway, there are just people who are trying to survive or escape from their demons in a harsh world.

I am a huge fan of rich worldbuilding, and The Court of Broken Knives has some excellent details like street food, cool trinkets, city scenery and every aspect of a major city from the grand palaces to drug dens,colorful and pretty gardens, as well as awesome wilderness scenes and an impressive harbor/fishing town part. Oh and there are dragons, too. Not as a major element, but they are part of the world, featured in a few neat scenes.

The Court of Broken Knives is an impressive debut, not only for grimdark subgenre but the fantasy genre as a whole. You are missing a damn lot if you aren’t reading it. I have feeling Marith will end up one of the milestone characters of Grimdark, like Logen Ninefingers, Jorg Ancrath and Sand dan Glokta.

Gardens of the Moon: First Impressions

Gardens of the Moon

I keep seeing comments from first time readers about Gardens of the Moon all over the social media, so I couldn’t resist it anymore and abandoned my original plans to get into Malazan after finishing the Wheel of Time and The Prince of Nothing re-read. Fuck it, the curiosity is killing me, I can’t take the torture anymore.

I dropped everything, now reading WoT book #4 in parallel with Gardens of the Moon.

Here are my first impressions: I just finished the prologue and found it quite captivating. I was expecting some confusing mess, since everyone and their brother talks about how difficult and confusing it is. I usually forget the prologues within 5 minutes, can’t keep track of the characters and don’t really understand wtf is going on. A Game of Thrones prologue was the exception. Gardens of the Moon prologue however, hooked me from page 1, characters are memorable and both the imagery and the dialogues are neat. I have a good grasp of what’s going on as far as the prologue goes, it’s pretty normal, ie.not some crazy tangle of hyperactive insanity.

I guess I have to read further to see what’s all the noise about?

Book Review: The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker

The Great Ordeal

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Aspect-Emperor
Author info: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/

This is the third book of Aspect-Emperor,the sequel series after The Prince of Nothing. You will need to read The Prince of Nothing books for the story to make sense. The starting point is The Darkness That Comes Before.

Here are my reviews for previous books in the series (First one is spoiler free, but the following reviews inevitably have spoilers for the previous ones)

The Darkness That Comes Before (book #1)

The Warrior Prophet (book #2)

The Thousandfold Thought (book #3)

The Judging Eye (book #4)

The White Luck Warrior (book #5)
To be honest, after that mind-blowing epic ‘slog of slogs’ Cil-Aujas adventure in The Judging Eye and its just as epic conclusion in White Luck Warrior, I didn’t expect anything to top that. Boy was I wrong! The mind-blowing levels went up in the Nonman mansion Ishterebinth parts. The long-abandoned Nonman abode in The Judging Eye was bone-chilling creepy and amazing, and the inhabited Nonman mansion here is even more awesome and unimaginably grimdark in its macabre majesty.

The Great Ordeal delivered more than I expected. There are several POV threads and plot arcs as usual. I had a hunch that Sorweel was going to get better from the very first encounter, and it did. Sorweel’s character development dials up to 11 and it was the most impressive slow character development I have seen since the first three books of Wheel of Time. But more on that later.

Esmenet parts were going between glory and pathetic tragicomedy. Her ability to hold the things together after the power vacuum caused by the long absence of Kellhus and the assassination of Maithanet -which she engineered- and how she ‘talks oil’ to control the imperial dignitaries and the Thousand Temples apparati is impressive, while her complete ignorance of her youngest son being a bloodthirsty, diabolical psycho makes it tragicomical.

Kelmomas is following the mysterious White Luck Warrior around the palace, as you follow him through the POV of Kelmomas, the inscrutable motives and inhuman qualities of the so-called divine assassin casts a strong aura of suspense and horror. White Luck Warrior is enigmatic and scary, following him from the eyes of a murderous little psycho brat and seeing his awe and fear for the inhuman assassin was a great deal of fun to read.

Some folk found the Great Ordeal marching parts unnecessarily long and dragging, but I beg to disagree. In the end of The White Luck Warrior, Kellhus gave the order to feed on the horribly tainted Sranc meat, and this brings a whole new macabre aspect to the already creepy plot enshrouded in Lovecraftian horror. I can’t say any more without wading into the spoiler territory, but it shall suffice to say these parts are grisly and haunting, spiced with battle action and savagery darker than the previous books.

There are some cool twists and turns, which I didn’t see coming even after reading all of the books. Kellhus became inscrutable and his parts through the POV of Proyas, as well as the very small POV of his own are so twisted and weird, it is hard to determine his motives at that point. Proyas is quite different from the one I know from the Prince of Nothing, he has sacrificed a lot and changed quite a bit.

But my favorite without question was the Ishterebinth chapters. The true extent of the doom and suffering of Nonmen is laid bare in a most tragic way. The emotional intensity rivals that of Robin Hobb books, and Sorweel’s deep understanding of the Nonmen -against whom he has been prejudiced for a lifetime due to his cultural conditioning- through a magical artifact, seeing their past through one of their own minds and being a witness from the point of view of two souls is incredibly sad, haunting and deep. Current condition of the last standing Nonman mansion, beautifully woven with flashbacks giving glimpses of its past glory is perhaps one of the most touching parts after Cleric’s reactions to Cil-Aujas in The Judging Eye.

All in all, The Great Ordeal is a superb book and sets the tensions for the upcoming Unholy Consult while resolving a good deal of threads and raising new ones.

I am not too happy about the fact that this whole series is so underrated despite its superior literary quality, impressive depth of characters and incredibly detailed and original worldbuilding. One thing I found truly mind-blowing is the whole series being pure epic fantasy without being derivative at all. Some core tropes of epic fantasy in fact exist, but you need to look long and hard to recognize any of it.

What can I say? I will be counting days until my pre-ordered copy of The Unholy Consult arrives on my e-reader!

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish
Genre: Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery
Series: The Witcher
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrzej_Sapkowski

This is the first book of the renowned Witcher series, which inspired the popular video games. I am a gamer but I never played Witcher cause it was never available on my console, and I didn’t want to crowd my life with another console just to play this game. Reading the book made me consider getting a Ps4 so I can play the glorious Witcher 3 on it.

The Last Wish is a collection of loosely connected short stories, which retell the familiar fairy tales with dark, gritty and bloody twists. I didn’t recognize all of them, but the ones I did recognize were quite twisted and great fun to read.

Many reviewers compared The Last Wish to pulp sword & sorcery classics like Robert Howard’s Conan and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, and they are right on point. I haven’t read any Conan books yet, but I’ve read a few Elric books and it certainly has the old school pulpy sword and sorcery feel.

Geralt is quite an intriguing and charismatic character, he has legions of fans thanks to the video games, but also many that have read the books. If you head to deviantart and search for Geralt, you will find some fan art by incredibly talented artists. Geralt is a witcher, raised by the Witcher Guild who take kids at young age, erase their memories and mutate them with harsh elixirs, poisons and infections. They hunt monsters for a living, save the people from murderous creatures. Some towns treat them like vermin, some barely tolerate them cause of the job they do, few places show them respect.

Geralt’s friends, high priestess Nenneke and trubadour Dandilion are highly entertaining characters. Their bickering with Geralt is hilarious and adds a bit of good humor to the stories loaded with bloody, brutal fights, plenty of suspense and and hardcore action scenes. Some people find Dandilion annoying as hell but I liked him. He sort of reminded me of the Kender Tasslehoff from Dragonlance, minus the nasty thieving habit. Instead of thieving, he invites trouble with his big mouth and whines too much. He is also a womanizer who eyeballs every attractive female. Geralt eyeballs them too, but doesn’t make it too obvious and acts aloof.

Nenneke on the other hand, plays the nurturing yet snarky mother role for Geralt and patches him up whenever he gets too many cuts on his hide. She also gives hell to Geralt’s enemies who show up at the temple to plague him.

Queen Calanthe is another great supporting character and her banter with Geralt is highly entertaining. Yennefer, Geralt’s love interest I know from all the fan art I’ve seen around is also introduced in this book. She is as dysfunctional and goat-headed as Geralt, and a powerful sorceress with a mercenary personality. She is arrogant and coquettish, and has some hilarious as well as dramatic and violent scenes. I think there will be a lot of fun to be had in the next books featuring her.

I particularly liked the small towns, villages, pastoral settings and Slavic mythology elements. The balance of snarky humor, dark scenes and high-paced action is great. This book makes an excellent light reading material in between intense grimdark books. I am definitely going to read all the rest of them, Geralt pretty much sold me on the whole series.

Naturally the prose Polish friends spoke highly of and a quite a few  jokes got lost in translation, and there are a few rough edges here and there but it is a great read nonetheless.

I highly recommend this book to the fans of Sword and Sorcery, old school pulp fantasy, as well as people looking for settings that are different from medieval Western Europe (it’s Polish setting), ladies who are looking for a bad boy character to have a crush on, fans of fantasy with a bit of humor and hilarious bickering, and people who are looking for a nice light read after nightmare fuel grimdark books.

I sure as hell loved it!

Book Review: The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker

The White Luck Warrior
Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Aspect-Emperor
Author info: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/

This is the second book of Aspect-Emperor,the sequel series after The Prince of Nothing. You will need to read The Prince of Nothing books for the story to make sense. The starting point is The Darkness That Comes Before.

Here are my reviews for previous books in the series (First one is spoiler free, but the following reviews inevitably have spoilers for the previous ones)

The Darkness That Comes Before (book #1)

The Warrior Prophet (book #2)

The Thousandfold Thought (book #3)

The Judging Eye (book #4)

 

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book! The White Luck Warrior reads more like the continuation of The Judging Eye than a “bridge book” of a trilogy in my opinion.

The White Luck Warrior answers some of the questions raised by The Judging Eye while raising new and deeper questions. The three main story arcs from The Judging Eye continue, and there is one new POV character: The mysterious and supernatural-sounding White Luck Warrior, who is sent by the goddess Yatwer, or the Hundred Gods in a broader interpretation, to slay Aspect-Emperor Kellhus. White Luck Warrior’s chapters are few, but quite intense. He seems to move in a time warp, seeing the timeframe from a non-linear vantage, kind of like the Dûnyain probability trance on steroids.

As Mimara’s Judging Eye opens and she sees the extent of everyone’s sins and damnation, you begin to realize how crappy the gods are. The scalpers are horrible scum for sure, but Achamian is overall a good guy and he appears as damned as the band of cutthroats, which includes a child rapist. He is damned cause he is a sorcerer and sorcery is an abomination in the eyes of these wrathful gods.

This made me question the legitimacy of the motives of the gods: They are after killing Kellhus and his progeny, but is it because Kellhus is a heartless bastard manipulating the population of the entire Three Seas for power, or because they are unable to see the No-God and Consult’s motives, which is going to bring the Second Apocalypse and decimate the entire population of the world, and Kellhus happens to see further than they can? Kellhus may not be the good guy, but he is warring against the ultimate evil forces which are about to decimate the mankind. We already know the amount of blight and ruin they heaped during the First Apocalypse from Akka’s narrative and also the ruins of cities various characters encounter during their journeys.

Which also made me question the legitimacy of Akka’s motives. Akka is on a quest to uncover the Dûnyain origins of Kellhus to undermine his power. Akka is also the sworn enemy of the Consult and spent a lifetime hunting their agents, his life was dedicated to prevent the Second Apocalypse and the summoning of the No-God by the Consult. Did he abandon this lifelong quest along with the School of Mandate? I have a hard time to believe that, it’s so illogical. The rational thing would be to wait until Kellhus launches the offensive on Golgotterath and puts an end to the horrendous and vile Consult. I sure as hell hope that’s what Akka is planning.

On the other hand, abhorrent and revolting as they are, the Consult is going to save the souls of everyone from damnation if they succeed with their plan. Even though they will reduce the world’s population to 140.000 souls, all those who die won’t be damned for eternity. Which means horrible criminals, murderers and rapists will get away with their heinous crimes, but the good people damned cause of the stupid and petty whims of gods will also be saved. It’s really a catch 22 situation. Gods are not so much better than the Consult and its horrible No-God, it seems, and they are loath to dole out salvation even to those who deserve it for having good hearts.

Akka and Mimara’s epic “slog of slogs” with the scalper band continues on, the party is now reduced greatly after the battles in Cil-Aujas, and they trek on into the great, gloomy and extremely creepy forest called the Mop. Like the awesome Cil-Aujas journey, the Mop reads more like Lovecraftian horror than epic fantasy, but it is still one hell of an epic fantasy. Cleric, who was my #1 favorite from The Judging Eye (I know, I’m weird. Don’t judge!) became even more fascinating, and his sermons got more intense. His rationing of Qirri becomes sort of a religious ritual, and from Mimara’s point of view it was quite a delight to read. Like the Judging Eye, Cleric parts were awe-inspiring and a great delight to read. Nonmen are truly fascinating.

Speaking of Mimara, her inner strength and resilience becomes even more impressive in this book. The horrible band of cutthroats now see her as one of them and show her respect, which is no mean feat. Some people complained about her being a former prostitute, but like I said before I have no problem with such things and I don’t judge sex workers. Mimara’s flashbacks to her life in the brothel and how she learned to deal with the harsh aspects of life were great to read. When shit hits the fan, she grabs her sword named Squirrel and hews the bad guys like no tomorrow! I am not a feminist per se (or more like a classic style feminist, not the Tumblr 3rd wave kind) but I see absolutely nothing wrong with Mimara from a feminist point of view, either. She is the strong female character who perseveres where big burly dudes die like flies, she has native intellect and peculiar strength of character.

The Great Ordeal arc got more interesting from Sorweel’s point of view, and Sorweel’s bonding with Zsoronga as brothers was great. Zsoronga is a great side character, with his snarky comments and attitude. There were some cool twists in that arc, and Sorweel truly grew on me in this book. The Sranc hordes keep massing up before the advancing Great Ordeal army, and the enormous amount of dust they kick into the air while they move along the arid Istyuli Plains in their tens of thousands create a huge curtain of dust the people call the Shroud, it lingers in the air all day, blocking the horizon and the Sranc hordes, and it kept lingering in my head even after I put the book down, much like a Lovecraftian horror element.

All the skirmishes and epic battles, especially those involving the sorcerers and the witches were such a great show. Sorcery visuals would be amazing to see on the big screen, if the movie producers realize these books are the real deal and make them into movies in my lifetime.

Esmenet and Kelmomas threads in Momemn got legendary level epic with some neat plot twists. Kelmomas is a little psycho brat, not just the kind of psycho you hate with passion like Joffrey from Asoiaf/Game of Thrones, but the kind of psycho that creeps the hell out of you on top of being an awful creature you hate. He is downright scary. Theliopa is ever so interesting, too bad she didn’t get more page time. She is perhaps the most likeable Dûnyain out there.

I particularly liked the Esmenet parts, and felt sorry for her. I don’t see why many fans of the series dislike her, I think she is a great character. She has some rather annoying aspects and weaknesses, but overall she is quite rich, realistic and does hell of a better job keeping the empire together than any of her critics could.

The ending chapters were pure badassery featuring one of the most epic fights I have read in fantasy, Robin-Hobb tier emotional depth and the Silmarillion-esque aura which made me think of the journey of Beren and Finrod Felagund. This one made me literally weep.

There is one other arc which involves the Fanim attacking the now weakened empire and the Zeümi diplomat Malowebi. That is a rather intriguing POV character, and then there is Meppa, the last Cishaurim and his awesome power. I really liked Meppa, despite him being a Fanim heretic. Second Negotiant Malowebi is craven and can get annoying at times, but interesting nonetheless.

You are missing out a damn lot if you aren’t reading this spectacular series. It is one of the best things that happened to the fantasy genre, and it is as addictive as ASOIAF but with a smaller cast of POV characters and a much more manageable number of plot threads.

This series is worth reading, not only for all the badassery I have detailed in my reviews so far, but also for the sheer hilarity of the Second Apocalypse jokes being produced by our beloved fan artist Quint von Canon, such as this fine piece of work here: http://quintvc.deviantart.com/art/So-Much-Loss-581469142

This one made me fall off my couch and laugh until I couldn’t laugh anymore.

Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info:http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

Release date: April 4th 2017

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Red Sister from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: This book is going to leave you with severe withdrawal symptoms, but good news is Mark Lawrence is a prolific author and delivers the next books in the series like clockwork, judging from his established track record.

Red Sister completely blew my mind, bringing back the magic school environment I missed from Harry Potter and Kingkiller so much, with a kick and some serious action. It’s not only the magic but the teachers with all kinds of different personalities, friendships, bullies, assassination plots, mysteries, friends sneaking out and cooking up mischief, the whole package. But it’s dark, much darker than any book with magic schools.

Now, I’m a big fan of Mark Lawrence and I’ve read all of his books, but this one is quite different. It’s very much Mark’s style, but written in third person and I think that’s one major element making it different from the others which were all in first person. There is the amazing prose of Mark Lawrence, if you are not familiar with his previous work, let me give you an example from Red Sister:

She left nothing but an echo of her lantern light, soon consumed by a night so ancient that it never truly left such places.

And another:

I have been too young to know, and I have been too old to care. It’s in that oh so narrow slice between that memories are made. So enjoy it.

And my favorite of them all:

A long blade, thin, carrying a slight curve, its edge cruel enough to cut silence and make it scream.

Now if those won’t make you hit that buy button, I don’t know what will! For those who are not familiar, this is the typical Mark Lawrence prose. So beautiful, poetic and magical.

The story is heavily character driven, as Mark Lawrence’s other books, but with an awesome magic system to boot.

The main character, Nona, is the best female lead I have read in the fantasy genre along with Mara from the Empire trilogy. If you love Arya Stark, you will definitely love Nona. Even if you are no fan of Arya Stark, you will still love Nona, cause she is a no-nonsense girl, the kind of character everyone can root for.

Another thing worth mentioning is the friendships between the girls, something that was missing in the Harry Potter books and pretty much every fantasy book I have read except for the Wheel of Time. Friendships, loyalty and betrayal in Red Sister is so realistic, it took me back to the middle school and high school years.

Nona starts off as the bullied outcast but she turns out to be a serious badass who doesn’t take BS from anyone. She had no friends but one until she got sold to a child trader by her mother and village folk, and she values friendship a great deal. I found her reflections on friendship, and her relationship with her closest friends Clera and Hessa quite touching.

Hessa is disabled, left with a withered leg after an infectious disease. She is such a sweetheart and a smart cookie, also incredibly heroic, which made her one of my favorite supporting characters.

One thing I loved about Red Sister was how even the minor characters were fleshed out so well. The teachers all have their distinct personalities, and some of them reminded me of teachers I had in school back in the days of my youth. The classes were great fun to read, but my favorite was the martial training parts.

The magic system is quite original and intriguing as I mentioned. The migrants who populated this world had four tribes with different kinds of traits, and those of them with magic could wield the different sorts of magic powers depending on their bloodline. The tribes had to intermarry and mix their blood to survive the harsh conditions of this alien world. Children showing the traits of more than one bloodline are highly prized by the people who train them as fighters, assassins, battle nuns and what have you.

Another thing I loved was how Nona’s mysterious backstory slowly unfolded along with the mysteries of the strange world Abeth. The curiosity kept me turning the pages well into the wee hours. Last few chapters of the book are outstanding with superb action and plot twists.

Abeth is an alien world, but the characters being so realistic makes you forget that at times. It has its own rules, strange laws of nature, a dying sun and a falling moon, and is covered with glaciers except for the fifty mile corridor at its equator. There are mysterious remnants of an older and seemingly extinct civilization, I suspect we might find out more about it in the next book.

The fight scenes are quite original, though I can’t say much cause it would be a spoiler, but as someone who is easily bored of typical fighting scenes, I loved these since they are from a completely different perspective. Kind of like the special effects in movies, but the book version, which is something very difficult to do in writing. I think that was one of the things where you realize what a master wordsmith Mark Lawrence is.

Another thing I absolutely love about Red Sister is the lack of irritating love triangle cliches and the forced romance plots you see in the overwhelming majority of YA books and coming of age storylines. No sir, no romance here, and no love triangles. These girls literally kick arse left and right and have serious things to worry about, and Red Sister gets the big bonus points from me for the awesome political intrigue with the female villains having motivations stemming from political ambitions not involving shallow romance drama.

There is another kickass thing here which I can’t mention cause it would be a spoiler, but it should suffice to say I enjoyed reading -with a huge grin in my face- how Mark Lawrence upended some of the most annoying coming-of-age cliches and showed the real girl power here.

My other favorite supporting character was Abbess Glass, who is a snarky and sharp-witted middle aged female character. This sort of character is so rare in fantasy -at least the books I’ve read so far. She reminded me of Olenna Tyrell from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones and queen Alica Kendeth from Red Queen’s War, she’s awesome like them. I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book.

And the ending… Gods above, what an ending that was! I really, really hope this series becomes a mainstream hit and they make movies or TV series of it, cause this story with its superb action scenes would be so great to see on the screen.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a superb fantasy novel featuring amazing characters -especially female characters!- an awesome magic system, great plot twists, killer action, political intrigue, sans the annoying love triangles and tired cliches. Such a great book with a fresh new perspective and impressive depth.

I really don’t have time to re-read books with my rather massive TBR, but I put this in my re-read list cause it’s the special kind of great. I have to thank Mark Lawrence for bringing back my youth with such a mind-blowing magnificent story.

Luckily I have such a massive TBR, or else it would be painful to wait for the next book, which I know will be even better judging from Mark’s established track record.