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

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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.

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.

Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Raven’s Mark
Author info: https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished Blackwing, but I am writing the review now since I had been dealing with illness, job change and other personal issues. I wanted to find some quiet time in order to do justice to this excellent debut. There was a lot of hype when it came out, and Blackwing more than lives up to it.

The whole story is told in first person narrative from Ryhalt Galharrow’s perspective. I couldn’t decide whether the guy is likeable or not, but he is quite an intriguing character. Galharrow, a battle-hardened drunkard with nihilistic tendencies, is a Blackwing captain serving one the godlike entities called the Nameless and moonlighting as a bounty hunter. He works with his crew, and two core members stand out as stellar side characters. Nenn is a sharp-tongued badass warrior, and Tnota is an affable navigator from an exotic land. Nenn reminded me of Michael Fletcher’s Stehlen character from the Manifest Delusions books. She takes no shit from anyone and fights like a demon. What’s there not to like?

The other well-written female character is Ezabeth, Galharrow’s old girlfriend from his teenage years he is still madly in love with. She is quite enigmatic for most of the story, kind of mysterious and distant from the POV of Galharrow. She is a damn good example of a first class badass female character that is not a warrior princess type. Ezabeth is a 45 kilo nothing skinny gal, but boy does she kick arse left and right!

The setting is cool and the place called Misery is one of the most impressive settings I have read so far. Hats off to Ed for creating such a novel, spooky, weird ass place. You never know what will hit you in Misery, you feel the terror along with the characters walking on eggshells. The villains and mutant creatures that are spawn out of Misery are pretty unusual and creepy as hell.

There are a ot of mysteries in Blackwing, and their beautifully paced resolutions and reveals make it a page turner you can’t put down until you drop (or finish the book.)
I gotta say people are right to compare it to Abercrombie’s work, it has the grimdark, the humor, the gore, the battle scenes and the plot twists. Oh and Ed McDonald’s HEMA mastery shows. I’m easily bored with prolonged swordfighting scenes (Raymond E. Feist, I’m looking at you!) but McDonald manages to put just the right dose of sword porn, keeping it highly engaging and neat. There’s matchlock and sword fights, both are excellent.

The only thing I’ll complain about is that the relationship development between Galharrow and Ezabeth in the last part of the book didn’t sit right with me and felt rushed. But that’s not a big deal considering the book is a damn good read overall.

All in all Blackwing is a pretty solid debut (I know, I know, everyone is saying the same on Goodreads but that is a fact!) with a top notch post apocalyptic grimdark setting, kickass grimdark characters, super cool magic system, copious doses of originality and creative talent. You are missing a lot if you aren’t reading it -I know I slapped myself for being so late to pick it up.

Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday

Happy TTT everyone!
I have been out of blogging for some time due to personal and health issues, I gotta admit missed the Top Ten Tuesday the most.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and this week’s theme is favorite book quotes. Here goes my top ten:

Prince of Thorns

“Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you’ll find an edge to cut you.”

The Judging Eye

“I remember… I remember asking a wise man, once… though whether it was last year or a thousand years ago I cannot tell. I asked him, ‘Why do Men fear the dark?’ I could tell he thought the question wise, though I felt no wisdom in asking it. ‘Because darkness,’ he told me, ‘is ignorance made visible.’ ‘And do Men despise ignorance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they prize it above all things-all things! -but only so long as it remains invisible.'”

The Court of Broken Knives

“A wise man who’s ignored is about as effective as an idiot who’s listened to.”

The Blade Itself

“Everything frightens me, and it’s well that it does. Fear is a good friend to the hunted, it’s kept me alive this long. The dead are fearless, and I don’t care to join them.”

darkness

“The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?”

The Liar's Key

“Still, children hope in ways adults find hard to imagine. They carry their dreams before them, fragile, in both arms, waiting for the world to trip them.”

Sojourn

“It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them.”

A Wizard of Earthsea

“For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”

A Feast For Crows

“I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.”

Beyond Redemption

“A sane man is simply a man afraid to unleash his inner demons.”

My SPFBO Reviews


Pilgrim Of The Storm is a story of otherness, lost identity and a journey to find answers. It starts slow, but gets interesting as the world unfolds and character relationships develop. Pilgrim Of The Storm is a rather short book compared to the massive fantasy tomes I have been reading lately, it is just 200 pages but a nice read.

Sidge is the lone bugman, an insectoid humans look down on, adopted and raised by his human master at the Stormblade Temple. The whole story has a melancholy undertone stemming from this theme. Poor Sidge is treated terribly by most people, his race is considered inferior and bestial, he knows nothing of his heritage and bloodline, and he goes on the arduous pilgrimage journey with his semi absent-minded master Izhar. A good part of the book takes place on the road, where Sidge and his master join the pilgrimage caravan headed to the Stronghold. Sidge discovers mysteries and finds more questions as he finds some answers along the way.

The story is overall decent, but has a few rough edges, especially in the beginning chapters. The pilgrimage journey is slow-paced for the most part, nothing much happens except for a few scary moments, the encounter with a troll and Sidge’s spiritual vision. The most interesting character of the whole story is introduced in the earlier part of the journey: Mistress Kaaliya, a street-wise woman who has a big mouth and a colorful personality.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/780-pilgrimofthestorm

Kindling features interesting main characters and great action scenes, especially in the last quarter of the book. It opens with a great prison sequence which reminded me of the Elder Scrolls games. The main protagonist Zahir left a great first impression on me, as did the realistically depicted inmates. However, after the first chapter it started to fall flat due to the dire need of editing. I can overlook a flaw or two, but they piled up rather quick.

Before I talk about those, I would like to talk about the positive aspects. Zahir and Marietta are definitely interesting and complex enough, also easy to root for. Absalom and Althea, are pretty cool, even though I did not connect with them as well as Zahir and Marietta. The buildings, castles, citadels and dungeons are realistic and interesting with vivid detail. Gore and splatter is well-executed. I am no fan of gore, but it was depicted pretty good without being too repetitive. The cannibalism and savagery of the zombified pit-dwellers is one of the highlights of the book, with the drama and tension aspects neatly woven into the brutal imagery. I found the the action in the last parts of the book quite impressive with the perfect pacing and suspense elements.

Unfortunately there are also quite a few issues. First of all, there is a major Wheel of Time derivative aspect. The order of sorceresses called the Flames sound like the Aes Sedai taken over by the Black Ajah. The symbol of sorcery (flame) is pretty much the same as the Aes Sedai symbol. Men’s magic is tainted and they turn into monsters when their power reaches the pinnacle. The Flames ladies hunt down and kill the men with magic, and they use the ones with rare powers as tools until those men go berserk. This was a tad too much for me to overlook as a reader who values originality above all else.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/849-kindling


This is a sword and sorcery tale, with a good amount of sword and little sorcery. It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn’t feel derivative at all. The characters and the general atmosphere were different enough.

Benjamin sets out with this group to help take his adopted sister to the City, where she will go to the mage school.The fighting scenes, action, adventures, political intrigue, journeys, city and market scenes are top notch quality and the book is a solid page turner. One great thing about this story is, the main protagonist is just a simple brewer from some backwater village. He has no special powers, no prophecies, no magic. He is not a chosen one or savior. He listens to his mentors and learns skills with hard work and daily practices. This was quite inspirational stuff, no special powers coming out of thin air, but with disciplined work and dedication. I really liked this about the story.

Ben is likeable enough, but my favorite characters overall were Rhys, the mercenary rogue, and Renfro, the little thief friend of Ben. However, as fun as it was to read, Benjamin Ashwood has quite a few issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/898-benjaminashwood

The White Tower is a big book at a whopping 624 pages, but it is a page turner in enough parts.It is a sprawling epic fantasy tale with a huge character cast and diverse settings. It starts as a typical run of the mill epic fantasy, which I didn’t mind at all cause everything I love about epic fantasy was there. The White Tower features a lot of Point of View characters, but the plots are centered around four of them. These are Ty, the fae-bred youth who seems to be some kind of chosen one, Ayrion the Guardian Protector, the heroic warrior figure, the magic wielding smith Ferrin, and the villain Valtor who is a dark magician hell bent on summoning the long-banished dark lord figure. Ty’s point of view scenes have a whimsical quality; I particularly loved the magic displays and the interesting secondary characters there.

Ferrin’s and Ty’s parts were among my favorites as well as Ayrion’s excursions and rather interesting battle scenes with a bit of a magic twist. The action scenes are impressive and the character perspectives get interesting as you progress through the story. Poor quarter and thieves’ guild parts were excellent. Another positive aspect is the presence of amazing female characters. These being said, the White Tower has several serious issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/942-whitetower

As severely underrated as it is, Pilgrimage to Skara is a highly engaging and entertaining flintlock fantasy tale.

This is the last book in my SPFBO batch, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much since I had two strong books which got high praise from the other folks. After checking its Goodreads profile, my expectations dipped further since it has only one rating, one review, and a cover that is far from attractive.

However, this book grabbed me from page one and I ended up turning the pages at the airport with 4 hours of sleep, during the flights and in whatever free time I could find during my extremely busy work travel schedule. I haven’t been so surprised by an indie book before.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/959-pilgrimageskara