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: 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: 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: 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!

Book Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King

Faithless

Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Author info: http://www.grahamaustin-king.com/

I loved Riven Wyrde Saga, which is the debut trilogy by Graham Austin-King. I expected high quality from this book, but Faithless exceeded my expectations by far. Riven Wyrde Saga books were great reads, and already on my re-read list (I can afford to re-read very few books given my swamped schedule) but Faithless is totally different. I must give the trigger warning though: There are scenes involving child sexual abuse. Nothing graphic, but might be disturbing for survivors. Read at your own discretion.
The editing is top notch and superior to no small number of mainstream published fantasy books for one. The worldbuilding, realism, details and action scenes blew me away.

The story is told from the perspective of two main characters, Wynn and Kharios. The tale starts with Wynn being sold into slavery at the Temple of Forgefather and dumped into the underground mining city called Aspiration to do hard labor.

The Aspiration is a living nightmare. Law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. Wynn joins the first crew he encounters, it’s impossible to survive in this harsh place alone. Life is hard. The whole town is ruled by vicious tyrant. If you can’t make the tally,you are screwed. Sometimes crews who are unable to meet their tally go around robbing others. It’s the law of the jungle all the way. The place is fascinating to read with all the cool details, and the stark realism of it gives you the feeling of being trapped there along with poor Wynn.

The only way to get out of this hell is to go through difficult tests to become a temple novice. Few can qualify to apply for the test. Out of thousands, less than a handful can make it. But in the Kharios point of view chapters, it seems the temple isn’t so much better. Corruption, degeneracy and tyranny rule supreme, only it’s not filthy like the mines and the living conditions are better. But are they really? A different kind of evil plagues the temple and the bad gut feeling never leaves you.

Faithless is a gritty fantasy story, but it reads like horror in places. The story takes a sharp turn halfway through and the haunting darkness gives way to breathtaking action scenes. It would make such a great movie!
One thing I loved about Faithless is the exquisite detail about the mining work and smithing. Graham Austin-King has done an insane amount of research and it shows. The world is so realistic, not only the hyper-realistic setting but with its myths and religious beliefs, customs, culture and way of life.

The other thing I loved is the male-female friendship without romance. That was a real nice thing to see. I’m sick of every male-female friendship turning into romance, I have been wondering why the fantasy authors can’t take a page from the police procedurals where men and women work together as just colleagues, with absolutely no romantic interest. When I see such things in fantasy, I bounce with joy. Kudos to Graham Austin-King for that nice touch!
The smithing parts, with the touch of magic and religious rituals, were my favorite parts after the kickass action. They had just the right amount of suspense and tension, making the incredibly well detailed forge work so much fun to read.

Faithless is a high quality book with amazing worldbuilding, fast-paced action balanced with suspense and a bit of horror, well-written and realistic side characters. A great read overall, I highly recommend it. I think people looking for dark fantasy that isn’t too grimdark, fantasy books without romance, books with underground settings and religion politics.

As far as indie published books go, Faithless belongs to the top shelf with highly engaging storytelling, realistic characters, flawless editing and brilliant setting.