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: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates

This is the second book of Malazan series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the first book, Gardens of The Moon.

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

I’ve been dying to read this for months but other stuff and life problems come along and I wasn’t able to read much last year. I finally got to read this masterpiece and quite happy for it. The story continues, on a different continent and featuring a different cast of characters. Erikson has a way of pulling you right into the story even though it is an alien environment and none of the familiar characters show up at first. But worry you not, dear readers, they do show up alright! Good old Bridgeburners Fiddler, Hedge, Kalam, and that’s more than good. Our old friends Crokus and Apsalar show up too. Kalam’s ninja assassin badassery is the icing on the cake.

The story starts with Paran’s little sister Felisin, ex-Fener priest Heboric and the brute called Baudin. Even though they were completely new and I’ve been missing the Bridgeburners and Anomander Rake, I found their chapters thrilling and addictive. Felisin is the kind of character you don’t know whether to love or hate.

The new characters are pretty fascinating and there is a great bromance involving two of those, called Mappo and Icarium. I am a huge fan of bromances with humor, and this happened to be the just the perfect thing. They have hilarious moments as well as deeply emotional ones, they are both badass in their own right, the whole thing made me yearn for a Malazan TV show in fact.

Iskalar Pust is an intriguing, hilarious old wizard guy and his chapters are both grotesque and funny as hell. Combined with Mappo and Icarium bromance, those chapters are extremely entertaining. Some of the scenes made me laugh like a madman.
The settings and richness of the cultures is mind-blowing awesome as ever, and Erikson’s arhchaeologist background really shows.

Malazan Imperial historian Duiker is another excellent, complex, work of art kind of character. Wickan commander Coltaine is downright one of the best fighter character I’ve read. Wickans are, along with Seguleh, one of my absolute favorite barbarian-warrior races in fantasy literature.

There are hell of a lot more characters than that, but it’s better if you read and discover for yourselves. Despite the large cast of characters, they are all more or less memorable and most of them have some magnificent scenes that will leave your jaw hanging open. For the curious, here is the excellent spoiler-free crash course on Deadhouse Gates characters by Laura M. Hughes: https://www.tor.com/2017/06/01/a-beginners-guide-to-malazan-characters-deadhouse-gates/

Deadhouse Gates makes you laugh, cry, curse, rage, hopeful, depressed, and everything inbetween, but I must drop a word of warning here: It gets more grimdark as you progress and it is going to rip your heart into pieces even if you are a seasoned Robin Hobb reader. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything. Gardens of the Moon wasn’t really in grimdark territory, but Deadhouse Gates definitely is. If you love grimdark stories and Robin Hobb, you will most likely be a fan.

I gotta say I loved Deadhouse Gates to death despite the lack of my biggest crush Anomander Rake. Even if you read Gardens of the Moon and didn’t like it, I still highly recommend to give it a chance cause Deadhouse Gates is different and its format is more like a fantasy book compared to Gardens of the Moon.

Deadhouse Gates has everything I love about fantasy and then some.

Book Review: The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark

The Tower of Living and Dying

This is the second book of Empires of Dust series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the first book, The Court of Broken Knives.

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

The Court of Broken Knives was a highly unusual and fantastic book for the fantasy genre, and The Tower of Living and Dying takes all the great things, artistic and evocative prose, stunning battle scenes, conflicts and melancholy, lyrical beauty and brings it to a whole another level with everything dialled up to 11.

The writing style is unique and highly original, and this is probably what made The Court of Broken Knives a marmite book for some fantasy readers. Those who have read literary fiction and classic literature will most certainly appreciate the poetic, evocative and unique style here.

I think the Court of Broken Knives was the most underrated fantasy debut of 2017,but I have faith that this series is going to be among the classics of modern fantasy in good time. The literary quality and the lyrical nature of Anna Smith Spark’s prose is a serious competition to Rothfuss and the worldbuilding is simply amazing. Fantasy elements are aplenty, be it magic, dragons, divine spectral beings, mythological creatures, demons and what have you.

Character conflict is another notable element of awesomeness here. The main POV characters from The Court of Broken Knives are all present, but fraught with new and deeper conflicts -perhaps with the exception of Marith, who was already messed up beyond any redemption from the very beginning. Landra Relast and her tragic storyline evokes empathy for her, if you couldn’t find anyone to root for in the first book, Landra and Tobias might be your guys. They were certainly mine!

Orhan Emmereth is my other favorite character, his parts were some of the most intriguing in the whole book. His perspective shows the spiderweb style politics, court intrigue and the tension of family and relationship issues. I am not a big fan of sappy romance, but give me troubled relationships any day! Orhan and Darath are my fav gay couple and I think slash fanfic writers should write fanfics of them. It’s already slash and they are cute, what’s there not to love?

I am not a big fan of song lyrics and poetry in books -with the exception of great Tolkien- but I found the few poems scattered in The Tower of Living and Dying absolutely mesmerizing.

Sorlost in all its glory and decay, gorgeous nature scenery of the White Islands, harsh beauty of Illyr, all take you away from this world and transport you to another one. Action, thrill and suspense scenes combined with the reflections of massive conflicts made this book an addictive page turner for me, not just the fact that Raeta is my alter ego and evil twin.

Both hand to hand combat and battle parts are glorious and cinematic, you can almost see the glint of swords, hear the clangour of heavy cavalry riding into a charge and smell the blood and guts in the air. Downright some of the best battle scenes I have ever read in fantasy along with Malazan and Bakker’s Second Apocalypse books. If you are into fighting and martial arts, this series might be just your thing.

Non-predictable and non-formulaic nature of the book combined with tornado-like plot twists will leave your head spinning -in a good way.

I almost forgot to mention the most important aspect: This book is even more GDAF (grimdark as fuck) than The Court of Broken Knives, which was pretty damn GDAF to begin with. There is all kinds of horror shows and macabre scenes, not to mention the incredible darkness of some of the characters. Grimdarkiness level is, dare I say, about on par with Bakker. I think even Bakker might agree with me here if I must wager a bet.

Another bonus point goes to Anna for the flies. A lot of gritty stories out there are missing the flies, you see. Quite a few authors describe the stench and disgusting visuals, but totally forget the flies, so you can tell the author is sitting in a sterile suburb writing it and never really seen a latrine pit. Kudos for making sure there are clouds of flies swarming on and above nasty, stinky, dead things at all times and scatter buzzing like hell when you go near it. This is what I call proper hyper-realistic grimdark!

There is a whole lot of things I could write, but I keep my reviews spoiler free so this is about all I can say without giving anything away.

TL; DR: Go buy this and the prequel if you have refined tastes and appreciate stunning, original and poetic prose, and if you are a fan of things like maxed out grimdark, glorius battles and deeply conflicted grey and super dark characters. Thank me later.