Book Review: Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

The Gutter Prayer

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

First of all: You need to read the short story Bound story before reading Holy Sister. There is some important stuff in it that will connect to some events here. (Purchase here)

I gotta say this is one of the best endings I have ever read. Wow. Just. Wow. This book packs some punches in the guts, so be ready to cry. Thereare highly satisfying moments that will make you scream “HELL YES!” and supremely sad moments. N It’s one hell of a ride full of surprise with fantastic tempo and incredibly well-planned political intrigue.

Abbess Glass’s political chess games in Grey Sister were pretty impressive, but it goes to a whole another level here. I gotta say Abbess Glass became one of my favorite heroines in fantasy genre after reading this trilogy. There is a severe lack of awesome mature female characters in the genre and Abbess Glass truly shines in that regard.

Nona’s character development turned out even more brilliant than I could imagine. It was so cool to watch her put all the good stuff she learned in Sweet Mercy to good use cultivating some of the best scenes in the book. Zole’s character arc is quite a work of art as well. (Oh man it’s so tough to write spoiler-free reviews!) Zole is awesome. One thing I missed here is Keot the demon from Grey Sister. (I think Keot deserves his own book, I know I am not alone in that.) We get to learn quite a bit more about those demons in Holy Sister which is intriguing.

One of my favorite parts was the Ice and the ice tribes. Their culture and wisdom is quite different and the stark difference from the settled people inhabiting the temperate belt of the world is written well.

There is one character that steals the show and has one of the most glorious moments, I can’t say who since it’s a brilliant twist but it left me so awestruck I had to put the book down for a moment to process the whole thing. Holy Sister is full of badassery and splendid action scenes going like a roller-coaster, but also with moments of profound emotional depth. The last 100 pages are stunning, impossible to put down. You better read those parts when you have uninterrupted time. (Trust me on that one.)

I got some answers to the mysteries I’ve been itching to learn about, but I hope more will be revealed about the Missing in the next trilogy that is set in Abeth. Gotta say none of my theories got even close to what got revealed. About the characters, Abeth, The Missing, the Focus Moon. Mark Lawrence never fails to surprise.

The final big battle was one of the most epic battles I have ever read. If you are cursing the 8th season of Game of Thrones and think the Long Night battle sucked, I highly recommend Book of the Ancestor trilogy and the magnificent epic battle in the end.

I will be counting the days until The Girl and the Stars is released.

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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.

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: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Memories of Ice

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Author info: http://www.steven-erikson.com/

This is the third book of Malazan series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the earlier books in the series: Gardens of The Moon (Book #1)
Deadhouse Gates (Book #2)

Deadhouse Gates was set in a completely different continent with a whole new set of characters (and some old familiar ones), and half of the book was following the non-military folk. Memories of Ice is full on military and a damn great one at that. And -this doesn’t count as a spoiler- my favorite antihero Anomander Rake is back in business, as well as all the familiar characters from gardens of the Moon. Memories of Ice reads like a sequel to GOTM in fact.

This volume is pretty damn epic but be warned -Grimdarkiness levels up and a lot of depressing scenes take place. If Deadhouse Gates broke your heart, Memories of Ice will rip it into a thousand shreds and then some. Well, the series isn’t called Malazan Book of the Fallen for nothing, you know.

It is not all grimdark and despair, however. Kruppe is more hilarious than ever, Quick Ben will crack you up and Picker and Blend will give you belly laughs here and there. Those two are quite brilliant and should be counted among the best female soldier characters. Erikson is one of the rare fantasy authors who writes excellent female characters without sexualizing them or putting them in romantic relationships. One of my biggest pet peeves is female characters being thrown in romance situations or overly sexualized. Erikson’s female characters remind me of ReasonableFantasy subreddit where folks share artwork portraying female fantasy characters in a non-sexualizing way. No chainmail bikinis whatsoever. It’s not like Erikson’s female characters are all chaste asexuals, but their character traits and skills come first and foremost, and some of them are quite powerful where they dwarf even some of the badass male characters.

Mhybe is one of the most intriguing and engaging characters, with a tragic storyline you feel like a stab wound and the fascinating supernatural adventure she goes through.

The battle between the gods evokes the mythologies of the ancient civilizations and I must say I’ve never read anything quite like this in any fantasy series. Wow just wow. Especially the new god that shows up, all the twists and turns that follow, and how it neatly ties the story to that one cool ass element from Gardens of the Moon. I knew that was going to be important and come back later, but it did in such a glorious way. Just brilliant!

The lore gets better and better, and you get to learn all the mysteries of the T’lan Imass. Boy I just love these guys. They are my favorite race after the Wickans. They are so odd and strange and fascinating in every way. Worldbuilding continues to fascinate, with new cool elements revealed. Remember the Deck of Dragons? It will uncover even more surprises and going to drop your jaw some more. Someone should make Deck of Dragons tarot cards and take my money.

Some of the new characters start out as uninteresting, if not outright boring but end up being super epic dialled up to 11. I am not exaggerating at all. I don’t like writing long ass reviews so I gotta conclude here -it shall suffice to say that Memories of Ice is an absolute page turner and superlative epic instalment of a legendary series. I don’t understand why Malazan is so underrated truth be told. I have a hard time to believe it doesn’t outsell A Song of Ice and Fire and not made into TV series. It would make such an amazing series, far more epic than the Game of Thrones imho.

If you aren’t reading Malazan, you are missing a damn lot.