Book Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

The Gutter Prayer

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: The Black Iron Legacy
Author Info: http://garhanrahan.wordpress.com/

This book has been all the rage in the grimdark community and rightly so. I read it a few weeks ago but was not able to post the review until now due to my swamped schedule and low mental energy level.

The Gutter Prayer is a very strong debut and doesn’t even read like one. You can tell the author is quite experienced in worldbuilding and action-heavy plots even if you didn’t know he has a professional background as a game writer.

The setting is a city with a Lovecraftian and steampunkish aura to it, inhabited with the normal people and bizarre city guard creatures called Tallowmen (lovingly called candle-fuckers by the people) on the surface, ghouls and weird ass creatures living underground in the vast network of tunnels and huge caverns. There’s the industries of the alchemists with their polluting chimneys and toxic dumps, huge cathedrals, university complex and all kinds of cool places in the city of Guerdon. The city is quite intriguing and full of surprises. The criminal underground and the machinations its leaders plot, the actual underground and its entirely different culture and hierarchies keep the feeling of adventure and exploring alive throughout the whole book.

The strength of this book is not the characters, but rather the worldbuilding, plot, mystery solving and fast-paced action.

There’s a small but eclectic cast of main characters. The protag figure is Carillion (Cari) who was cool in the beginning but grew dull. Professor Ongent, Rat the Ghoul and the thief taker Jere are the most interesting characters in my opinion. Then again you don’t read this book for character porn. (Malazan is where you go for character porn.) The multi-layered, Lovecraftian-steampunkish-weird city and its messed up theology, strange lore, way-out-there creatures, political intrigue and awesome action is what The Gutter Prayer is offering in generous quantities. It’s like a playing a fine game of Arkham Horror but with mystery and puzzle-solving elements.

The one thing I wasn’t impressed with was the big twist in the end cause I have seen the exact same kind of thing elsewhere (not going to say where cause it’d be a spoiler to those who read that one.) But then the whole aftermath with the new city was bizarre, original and super cool. The ending is weird like the rest of the story and all that weirdness works out in a great harmony until the last page.

Overall The Gutter Prayer is a great read with lots of original and entertaining elements and fast-paced thriller aspect.

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Book Review: Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn

Seraphina's Lament

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: The Bloodlands
Author Info: http://www.bookwormblues.net/

Seraphina’s Lament is one hell of a debut.A word of warning: This book is grimdark as grimdark goes. It is not exactly the bleak and nihilistic kind, but it is grimdark so if you are looking for a dark, gritty story with some disturbing scenes and highly damaged characters, this is your thing. If you love Mark Lawrence books this is definitely your thing. For one it opens with a killer prologue featuring abject cannibalism. There is violence and gore but it is not a gorefest -the grimdark is more in the characters. Every single one of them is broken and the main theme of the book is “You must break in order to Become” it is quite a thing to see these broken characters getting even more broken. Sarah Chorn takes broken to a whole new level. I gotta say this is one of the best grimdark debuts I’ve read.

The story is highly inspired by the Holodomor starvation massacre engineered by Stalin (not to mention the villain is literally Stalin!) The setting is a secondary world based on the early period of Soviet Russia with the addition of magic, slavery and a rigid caste system.

Read the rest on my guest review at Booknest:
http://booknest.eu/reviews/guests/1466-seraphinaslament

Book Review: Blood of the Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

The Coraidic Sagas

Genre: Fantasy/Coming of Age
Series: Coraidic Sagas
Author Info: https://aliciawanstallburke.com/
Blood of Heirs is the debut book by Australian author Alicia Wanstall-Burke and the first book of a series. This is a coming of age book, I’d categorize it as YA fantasy that is great for the grown-up audience. I am not a big fan of coming of age stories, but this one impressed the hell out of me. First of all, big kudos to Alicia for writing such a great story that is free of ever-so-irritating love triangles and keeping the romance element to an absolute minimum. One of the reasons I steer clear of YA except for the books that are vetted is the horrendous teen angst, excessive romance (or main plot being romance) and love triangles. That is a huge turn-off for me, and even the romance dose in the mighty Wheel of Time irritated me to no end. Romance and love triangle stuff aside, the characters are highly compelling and the storylines flow smoothly with brilliant twists and turns.

Read the rest on my guest review at Booknest:
http://booknest.eu/reviews/guests/1449-blood-of-heirs-coraidic-sagas-1

Book Review: Godblind by Anna Stephens

Godblind
Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Godblind
Author info: https://anna-stephens.com/

This year has not been very good, I didn’t read nowhere near as much as I’d like. Way late to the party with the 2017 debuts and still a few books left to catch up. I have been so curious about Godblind for the longest time, and happy to finally read it.

Godblind is a page-turner grimdark tale, I didn’t even realize I was at the end when I read the last page. I was like “It’s finished? Wow!” Action doesn’t let up and there is plenty of breathtaking thrill. There is also political intrigue and religious clashes, which are my favorite themes to read in fantasy books.

I have read some critical reviews complaining about the use of modern verbiage in Godblind. Normally that is a pet peeve of mine, but 1) It’s very negligible and 2) The story is so thrilling I didn’t really care.

Rillirin’s thread is quite an interesting one and her character development is pretty cool. Looks like she will unlock her potential in the second book. Crys was my favorite character since I’m a sucker for the underdogs. His adventures and especially the tavern and barracks scenes were so much fun to read. The Mireces high priestess Lanta reminded me of Cersei from the Game of Thrones, she drove me crazy and I wanted to beat her with a saguaro cactus so bad!

Dom the shaman is quite intriguing and his sad story adds a nice element in-between all the fast-paced thrill rides. Corvus is hella interesting, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time. I have a feeling he will have a bigger part in the sequel. Durdil, commander of the palace guard was one of my favorite characters and his POV chapters were some of the most compelling to read.

That’s the quick rundown of the characters. I am particular about keeping my reviews spoiler-free but I can say there are some head-spinning twists and some characters will go to places. There are some incredibly savage and cruel moments that are more brutal than even the darkest of grimdark, so Godblind is definitely not for the faint of heart. Male readers be warned, there is one torture scene that is going to make you cringe (or worse.)
I ought to classify it as GDAF (Grimdark As Fuck) as we say in the Grimdark Fiction Readers & Writers group. But it is also a great action thriller and might make you forget to breathe in a few places.

Overall a great fun read, compelling characters, fast-paced action, great battle scenes and political intrigue, plenty of blood and mayhem to boot.

Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

The Great Ordeal

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
Series: The Band
Author info: https://nicholaseames.com/

This is going to be a difficult one. Kings of the Wyld was one of the most successful fantasy debuts of 2017, in fact it outsold every single one by scores except for The Bear and the Nightingale (which is high up in my TBR list.)

There has been massive hype and buzz about this book, it sold like hot cakes and the rock band allusion was well-loved by the audience. It is a decent popcorn to be honest, but unfortunately not exactly my cup of tea. First and foremost, this is a funny popcorn, if you are looking for any depth and any serious stuff, this is not the book you want. King of the Wyld is for those who want a light read and a good laugh, and especially the male readers.

I must admit did not enjoy the first 100 pages but thankfully it got much better. It is a nice and entertaining light read in the end, but I found half of the humor too masculine and immature to my taste. Then again overwhelming majority of the fantasy audience is dudes, so  there is no problem when it comes to the market.

The character cast is pretty cool in general, the monsters are quite entertaining and original. There are plenty of old school d&d style quests and adventures, I enjoyed those for the most part. The whole rock band and music scene allusion should be definitely hell of a lot of fun for rock fans, it is a pretty cool and original concept, just not my thing. Magic Moog was my favorite side character. He is hilarious and great fun to read. Every old school fantasy and D&D lover will be an instant fan of this character (and if they don’t, I shall question their sanity.) If Mr Eames wrote a novella or spinoff book of Moog, I’d totally read it. Ganelon the barbarian -tank of the group- and the bandit Jain are my other favorite side characters. Those two added plenty of bonus fun to the story. However, the band of old mercenaries don’t come off the least bit mature -they all sound like frisky 20-somethings. Except for Moog, he sounds like an old guy going a bit senile.

The protag Clay Cooper is a cool fella. Even though Kings of the Wyld was not quite my cup of tea, it had enough good parts to make me want to read the sequel, Wild Rose. It’s not all fun and giggles, however, there is plenty of violence and fast-paced fight scenes splattered with gore and a good dose of thrill & suspense. Overall it’s a decent popcorn to read to wind down and relax, but it didn’t impress me a whole lot since I am not a fan of modern slang and pop culture references in fantasy. I like the old times atmosphere and either historical-like or completely alien settings. The other issue I had was the Deus Ex Machina dose being too high to my taste. Characters, monsters and adventures make up for it though. Like I said, Kings of the Wyld has some great moments. 

Verdict: If you are looking for a funny comfort read -especially if you are a dude or rock music fan or both- go for it, you will most likely love it. If you like original monsters, including yucky and hilarious ones, you will have a lot of fun. Even if you are the nitpicking puritanist type like me, Kings of the Wyld is still pretty entertaining and you won’t regret reading it.

Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info: http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com

Grey Sister is the sequel to Red Sister, and second book of the series. Here is my spoiler free review of Red Sister.

I said Red Sister will leave you with a book hangover in my review. Well, take that and multiply it by a hundred, that’s the hangover you will get after reading Grey Sister.
The sequels getting better and better is a Mark Lawrence thing, going by his track record.

Grey Sister picks up the story fast forward two years. Nona is studying in the Mystic class, with the yearning for vengeance burning in her heart. The way the characters, plots and relationships develops over the foundations laid out in Red Sister is just amazing. Nona’s character development is brilliant and her infinite love and loyalty for her friends will put a tear in your eye.

Nona’s conflicts and struggles, and the way she handles them adds quite a bit of depth to her character. She is overpowered in some parts and totally vulnerable in some others, which creates a good balance.

Things get hell of a lot darker as the story moves forward, with more evil business uncovered, and pretty gritty settings. It is not grimdark like The Broken Empire books, but has quite a few grimdark elements. There are also some horror story moments which gave me goosebumps.

Abbess Glass and Zole are the rising stars in Grey Sister. Zole was an annoying character in Red Sister, but she grows into a first class badass and one of the coolest characters of the series. She steals the show in some glorious and unforgettable badassery moments, as well as some deeply emotional ones.

In my Red Sister review, I said “I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book” about Abbess Glass, and I was right. I have to say Abbess Glass is a wonderful representation of mature female in fantasy literature. She doesn’t have any magic skills, but she has a the genius wits, wisdom and intuition. She has a much bigger role now that she is deeply involved in an intricate chess game of political machinations, which I found absolutely mind-blowing as a huge fan of political intrigue. Not only that, but the corruption in the church and people using religion to further their own agendas makes the story pretty realistic.

Sister Kettle also has a bigger part and her epic assassin ninja mojo steals the show in a few places. Her battle scenes are super awesome, and her lovely personality comes as a bonus. Not to mention she has admirable heroic qualities.

My other favorite was a non-human character called Keot, the little demon companion of Nona. He is a proper chaotic neutral, quite charming in a twisted way, and highly entertaining. It takes a special kind of genius to bring a disembodied character like that to life, with a palpable presence and strong voice. I’m a fan!

There are incredible twists and turns in Grey Sister, dialled up from what you see in Red Sister. I’m still so awestruck with the marvellous political intrigue and the breathtaking action-thriller parts. Second half of the book picks up the pace by several levels and the action gets so thick, you can’t put the book down to the point you forget to eat lunch. I am not kidding you.

The magic system introduced in Red Sister was pretty neat, but Grey Sister lays bare all the dazzling details of it. I have to say the originality and the whimsical beauty of the thread magic was one of the absolute best things I have read in any fantasy book to date. I don’t even have the words to do the justice here. Let me just say that if they made this series into movies, thread magic would make some truly mesmerizing scenes.

The last chapters took me to a whole another dimension and would have left me with a supermassive book hangover had I not lined up just the right books to cure it.

If you aren’t reading this series, you are missing out a damn lot. Grey Sister is a masterpiece and fantastic in every way to say the least.

Book Review: The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #4 of the legendary Wheel of Time series. See my reviews for the first book, the second book and the third book.

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books, since it’s inevitable when reviewing series, especially a long one like The Wheel of Time.

It took me forever to start, since SPFBO and some new releases came along. I have missed whe WoT world until I finally got to reading The Shadow Rising.

The beginning chapters are dynamite, featuring the girls and Mat’s gambling with fireworks. Things get pretty interesting. I found some of the early parts featuring Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne a bit too slow, but it picked up in no time. The Shadow Rising features the most stunning part I have seen in the series so far: The history of Aiel through Rand’s perspective. That is one of the coolest things I’ve read in fantasy.

Now let me say a few things about the characters. Character development didn’t fall short of my expectations. I was hella annoyed with Faile in The Dragon Reborn and found her repulsive, but she actually grew into a super cool figure. Kind of reminded me of Mike Fletcher’s unlikeable characters you love in the next book (the books are Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth for the unitiated.)

Pining romance is one of my pet peeves in fantasy and it annoyed me in a few places, but it was hell of a lot less than the previous volumes, especially the Game of Houses stuff. I gotta say I missed the political intrigue, there was some political intrigue in this book but not nearly enough. The other badass scenes more than made up for it, though, so no complaints there.

I loved Elayne’s and Faile’s character development above all else. The amazing detail of new places, cultures and especially the Aiel parts were great. There are some crazy twists that left me with my jaw hanging open. Robert Jordan’s storytelling is ever so impressive. Tanchico was far grittier than any other city in the previous books, not just the setting but the politics and the relations between different groups.
The Shadow Rising is quite a bit darker and just as intense, and I have a feelings things will get darker still.

I can’t wait to read book 5!