Articles tagged with: fantasy

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

the blinding knifeWhile I did enjoy The Black Prism to an extent, I remember feeling as though something was missing from the Lightbringer series, some kind of connection I felt instantly while reading Weeks’ The Night Angel trilogy. I often share the books I read with my best friend, and as I recall she came away feeling the same way, a part of her wishing there’d been something more to that first book to make the time investment feel worthwhile. I took a break from the series, but deep down I had hope for The Blinding Knife.

One of the issues I had with the first book in this series was how much terminology Weeks introduced. When your book’s glossary is larger than many of the chapters in your book, that can be a real issue, but the thing about all that terminology was that it paid off to a certain extent. I didn’t need a glossary to immerse myself in this world again, and the concepts felt immediately familiar from page one. The characters had also started to grow on me a little, so as he reintroduced them in the early chapters of The Blinding Knife, they felt like people I’d met before. By the end of the book, they came to feel like old friends. I guess we could say it was a slow warm up to more comfortable relationships.

I really didn’t care much for Gavin Guile in the first book. He was trite and egotistical, but as the story expanded, so, too, did his character. Unraveling the intricate relationship he had with his brother did wonders for strengthening him as a character I originally felt very little for. Discovering near the end of the first book that Gavin wasn’t even who we thought he was at all was one of the only things at that time that kept me intrigued with him, and Weeks really rewarded that fascination in this second book, fleshing Gavin out in ways I honestly didn’t expect. Gavin knows he’s dying, knows that he’s already long outlived the ruse he’s been performing for years, and it’s only a matter of time before the people around him begin to recognize him for what he truly is: an impostor, a liar, a fake.

Kip Guile was my favorite character from the first book, so I was eager to see him continue to grow and explore his new surroundings. He went from sniveling whiner with no hope for a future worth living for into occasional whiner who all but refuses to just lay down and die, no matter how many times you try to kill him. He is the underdog, the hero you long to see come up because maybe he’s just as insecure and self-deprecating as you are, and if he can rise to the top with the cream, maybe you can too! He endures so much between these first two books, it’s almost impossible to image what he will become before all is said and done. He’s still ‘fat’ and at times that’s all he really thinks about, which makes his internal dialogue sad but genuine. The things he’s been his entire life hold him back now that everything’s changed–even him.

The full introduction of Andross Guile, Gavin’s awful father, makes from some very interesting interactions, pushing Gavin to take matters into his hand he might not have otherwise pursued, while also pressuring Kip to become the man he is obviously meant to be. The sessions during which Kip and his grandfather play Nine Kings are as terrifying as they are exciting because Andross’s entire life has seemingly revolved around mastering Nine Kings.

Kip is also introduced to a number of other students as he trains to become a Blackguard, and as he makes friends the narrative includes an interesting new character, a slave named Teia, whose adventures and peril (if you’ve already read these books, you’ll think that was the worst dad joke ever) coincide with his own. She almost began to outmatch Kip as my favorite character, if that tells you anything.

The concept of magic in this world is unique and intriguing, with each chromatic color only allotted so much power they can expend before they go rogue and become wights. Their belief system is built around this concept, with people offering themselves up at the end of their lives peacefully before they become wights. The opposition they face believes there is nothing wrong with breaking the halo, that becoming a wight is only the first step on the ladder to greater power than any of them could possibly imagine. And that opposition is just as invested in tearing the world apart as Gavin is invested in holding it all together–even if holding it together is a sham, a lie, a smokescreen.

By the time I reached the end of this book, I was more than eager for book three, the review for which will be forthcoming shortly. I gave it four out of five stars and definitely recommend it for readers who love relatable characters and intricate fantasy plots that grow more interesting as they advance. I’d say if you read The Black Prism, but felt lukewarm about it, definitely give The Blinding Knife a chance. It was well worth it.

Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn’t it beautiful?

This year’s birthday brought with it one of the most bittersweet gifts in the world: Tyrant’s Throne, the final installment in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series. I received this book (signed by the author) as a birthday gift from one of my musketeers (who is super awesome, btw, and you should totally go follow Shiri on Twitter because she writes some pretty excellent stuff for nerds like you and me!) It was a fitting gift, you see, because Shiri actually turned me onto the Greatcoats a couple of years ago, a recommendation I have been eternally grateful for because I adore this story and these characters more than you can even imagine. Every year when a new book came out, Shiri ordered a signed, hardcover edition from the UK because they always seem to get the these books about two months before us. This year, she ordered one for me as well because the release just so happened to fall around my birthday. I have the most amazing and thoughtful friends, seriously!

Of course, on the day it arrived I dropped everything else I was reading and dove right in because I knew this was it… the grand finale, and I was anxious to see how this story ended. We followed Falcio Val Mond, Kest Murrowson, and Brasti Goodbow through a great many terrible things, and I was beginning to wonder how de Castell could possibly make their lives any worse. I never doubted him, honestly. He is an authorial mastermind, and he did not disappoint.

Squeeee!

Squeeee!

After years of hardship and more near-death encounters than one man should ever be forced to endure, Falcio Val Mond continues to hold true to his king’s plan: put Aline, the king’s heir, on the throne and restore law and order to Tristia. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! The nobles, who’ve dominated the kingdom since they dethroned and killed King Paelis, follow their own set of laws. They have no love for the peasantry, and even less for the Greatcoats. It’s no surprise to discover they will stop at nothing to prevent the child who would be queen from taking the throne. To make matters worse, the trio’s longtime nemesis, Trin, has been stirring trouble. Sent to capture and bring her back for trial, Falcio not only uncovers Trin’s next plot, but what happened to the missing Greatcoats he’s been searching for, and they’ve got plans of their own.

As powers collide, the fallout is enough to destroy a kingdom that’s been on the verge of collapse for years. For once, Falcio’s skills as a lawful orator committed to his king’s vision don’t seem as though they’ll be strong enough to hold it all together. As everything he’s worked for crumbles through his hands like so much dust, even Falcio has no idea how in the world he’s going to save Tristia this time.

As far as final installments go, this was an incredibly satisfying read. Adventure, swashbuckling, justice, hardship, and joy… I used half a box of tissues during the last half of the book, but I used them gladly. Tragic, beautiful, gripping… I was sad to see the adventures of my three favorite Greatcoats come to an end, but a part of me is hopeful we haven’t seen the last of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti.

Five out of five stars, I highly recommend this entire series to lovers of adventure, fantasy, and outstanding storytelling!

If you’re interested in my thoughts on the overall series, check out my reviews of the first three books here:

Traitor’s Blade

Knight’s Shadow

Saint’s Blood

Homeland: The Dark Elf Trilogy Part 1 by R.A. Salvatore

homelandThe words below will likely fall into the realm of unpopular opinion. Be that as it may, they are an opinion. My opinion is my own, just as yours belongs to you, and I don’t dispute that there are people who love these books and this character. I simply do not think this series of books is for me. That being said… on to the review.

A lot of years ago I read a bunch of R.A. Salvatore books because I love fantasy, and it seemed like the thing to do. They were okay, and I remember enjoying them well enough, though I also recall thinking they weren’t “spectacular,” just sort of average.  I read books with Drizzt Do’Urden in them, but I never got around to reading any of The Dark Elf Trilogy. Recently I thought to pick up Homeland and see what I’d been missing, because obviously I was missing something since everyone and their mom seems to love this character and his many, many books.

For starters, this was a relatively short book, and yet it took me about a week and a half to muddle through it because try as I might I just could not get into the story.

Drow society more or less devours and destroys itself, backstabbing, murdering, lying, and cheating their way to the top of the hierarchy. Sounds exciting, and in some instances it sort of is.  You have a massive collection of powerful dark elves run completely by the matriarchy–super empowering for women, right? Yeahhhh…. not so much.

The houses of Menzoberranzan thrive based on their favor with Lolth, the Spider Queen, which means if you fall out of favor, you’re pretty much screwed unless you can convince (with generous sacrifices,) you’re worthwhile. The matriarchy holds all seats of power, including the coveted priestess position, and the men of the Underdark are considered idiot fools good for little more than fighting, breeding, and playing the role of sacrifice. So many of the female motivations within the society, and the story itself, felt petty. It’s how the society is–petty, underhanded, backstabby, cruel–and I get that, but I kept asking myself while I was reading how it could be made better. How they could still be powerful, evil even, without seeming so ridiculously narrow-minded, self-defeatist, and trite. Why must powerful women in positions of dominance be… awful? There was absolutely nothing redeeming about any of the female characters at all, and for me that’s often a deal breaker with books. Give them something, even a reason for their utter hideousness, and I can be a little more forgiving, but as it was there was no established reason for their evil. They were just… evil. Meh.

I do give the book a little slack, considering it was published over 26 years ago, and a lot has changed even in this last 26 years, but still… It was disappointing for me, to say the least.

The character of Drizzt Do’Urden felt a little lackluster. He was the proverbial diamond shining in the darkness, the incorruptible slice of light that refused to give into the blackness of his inborn nature. That is a great lesson if you dig deep:  No matter what you face in life, it’s up to you to stick to your guns and stand against the darkness that would devour you. I took that away from the story, so it wasn’t all negative.

On the other hand, the writing wasn’t as polished as I expected it to be. More than once I found myself skimming back over a sentence and trying to make sense of the word order, looking for a pause that was absent, and wondering how the problematic nature of a few of these issues allowed the story to thrive as it has for more than two and a half decades. I guess it doesn’t matter, because for some people Drizzt is/was a necessary character to help them through whatever darkness they faced, and I respect that, but for me personally I just didn’t get it. To each his/her own.

Overall, I gave the book 2.5 stars and will likely not continue the trilogy unless I find myself stranded in a library during an apocalyptic event and I’ve run out of other books to read.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

the black prismAfter falling in love with Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, I was eager to dive into The Black Prism. A world dominated by magic crafted through light spectrums, pistols, musketeers, war, and right at the center of it all a powerful magic user the world reveres called The Prism. And he’s not just any powerful magic user, Gavin Guile is the most powerful man in the world.

The problem with power is that it never lasts. The ruling cycle for a Prism expands seven year periods, and Gavin is currently in the third seven-year period of his cycle. Time is running out, and he has a list of the amazing things he’s going to accomplish during his rule, but when word reaches him that he fathered a bastard during the war he fought against his brother, Dazen, Gavin doesn’t know how to feel about this news.

Sixteen year old Kip is a fat bastard, literally. He’s fat, he’s a bastard, and his addict mother’s more or less spent the duration of his life making sure Kip knows just how worthless and pathetic  and unwanted he is. He’s a burden, good for next to nothing… Even as a self-proclaimed king burns Gavin’s town to the ground, and his mother is dying, she’s sure to tell him how much he’s ruined her life and let her down just before thrusting a priceless treasure into his hand and taking her last breath.

As Kip narrowly escapes the blaze of his burning city, it’s happy circumstance (a little too happy for this reader,) when his estranged father happens along to save the day, whisking him away to Chromeria and claiming him as his nephew in public. It’s here things started to get interesting and we discover Gavin’s entire life is a lie, and the prison he keeps chained beneath Chromeria holds the key to exposing that lie. Meanwhile, a war brews on the horizon, Gavin’s love, Karris, has been taken captive, and the only people it seems he can count on to aid him are the mages who’ve grown too old and wild to control their magic and a host of enemies who once served his brother Dazen during the Brother’s War that secured Gavin’s rule.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book at first. Weeks crafted a unique and intriguing world, chock full of so much terminology and vocabulary they had to include a glossary at the back of the book to make sense of most of it. To a degree it was self-explanatory after a while, but diving straight in without that glossary could seriously deter a less-determined reader. The plot was intriguing, but at times the character development was skewed. There were some seriously well developed characters, and a few who fell a little flat, balancing the story in a way that kept me reading, even at times I didn’t know if I was going to stick it out.

I did struggle with some things, namely the ease with which certain instances transpired without much explanation. For example, Kip’s first meeting with Gavin is completely random. You have this boy standing amid an army about to destroy him because he is the last remaining citizen of the city they just burned to the ground, and in swoops Gavin and Karris (rather literally,) to save the day. The thing that made this sort of ridiculous for me was they had no idea who they were saving, but after a moment of (not-so-careful) consideration, Gavin determines this lone survivor of the still-smoldering city must certainly be the bastard son he only just found out existed a few hours ago. Too random to be believable, and as the story continues to unravel there are moments I kept coming back to that, not only because it felt ridiculous, but because the ease with which everyone just accepted this random boy Gavin said was his ‘nephew’ as they brought him into the city and began testing his ability to wield magic.

Overall, the good outweighed the questionable, and I enjoyed the story. I docked a star for those moments I found hard to believe and gave The Black Prism, the first book in the Lightbringer series, four stars. I will definitely pursue the next book in this series after a little break to read something else.

Blood Mage by Stephen Aryan

bloodmageUnlike the first book in this series, Battle Mage, I came into Blood Mage by Stephen Aryan with a few expectations. The war that took place in Battle Mage was wrapped up with a smoldering black bow, a world ravaged left in its smoking ruins, and while it was the combined efforts and sacrifice of the land’s battle mages that ended the war, the people now fear magic and all its implications. This makes life difficult for a magic user like Fray. Before the war, he could openly practice his art without much derision, but now he must hide in the shadowy cracks for fear of persecution. He barely earns enough in trade goods to survive, so when his father’s old partner, Byrne, arrives to ask for Fray’s assistance in catching a strange, magic-wielding serial murderer, Fray knows he can’t refuse. Despite is stubborn refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Guardian of the Peace, his father’s death left Fray feeling detached, and perhaps the similarities between the case Byrne needs his help with and the case that took his father’s life will bring the young man some closure.

For me, that was the core plot of the book. The story of the “Flesh Mage” serial killer. However, much like Battle Mage, the story was separated by character perspectives exploring several aspects of life in the city, including a crime syndicate preparing to collapse in upon itself on account of the “Flesh Mage’s” careful ministrations. Aryan also returned to the underground spy network, combining the overall plot with an assassination attempt on the queens of two nations. The politics tend to overshadow the actual magic in these books, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for me I wanted far more magic and fantasy than I got with this book. A little balance and more emphasis on the actual magic would have been nice. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in Thedas over the years, and my expectations of blood magic is way too specific; I don’t know.

This is not to say it isn’t well-written. Stephen Aryan develops his characters really well. He takes a lot of time to get inside their heads and hearts, and works hard to make them believable people–something a lot of other authors skimp on, regrettably–but at times the characters feel like they overshadow the story itself. After the time spent developing the magic of the world in Battle Mage, I expected a little more about the actual “Flesh Mage,” perhaps more time in his head might have provided the balance I was personally looking for. There was mention of an end goal, motivation for these “Flesh Mages,” but it wasn’t explored as deeply as I would have liked. Instead the story kept returning to the crime families and the assassination plot, so the actual magic didn’t feel like it was done nearly as much justice as it was in the first book.

Which leaves me torn about whether or not I want to finish out the series in October when Chaos Mage releases. As I said above, Aryan is a decent writer. One of my favorite things about his work so far is the attention to character building he pays. This is only his second book, and on that account it is very well done, I’m just not sure the series is meeting my personal fantasy and magic needs at this time. I think I’m going to sit with it for a couple of months and make my decision about finishing out the series closer to release date for the final book.

I give Blood Mage three out of five stars, and recommend it to fantasy readers who find themselves slightly more intrigued by politics and intrigue than magic when it comes to their fantasy.

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy #1) by Brent Weeks

the way of shadowsEvery time I walked through the book store this series called to me. I can’t count the number of times I picked up book one, read the back cover, and thought, “I should read this book.” I finally picked up a copy near the end of January and added it to the growing TBR pile on the shelf beside my bed. As soon as I finished The Wishsong of Shannara, I dove into The Way of Shadows, mostly to dispel the Shannara series from my mind.

This book started with a huge bang. Street kids Azoth, Jarl, and the adorable little Dollgirl they protect spend their days serving the acting ringleader of an underground thieves guild. Gutter rats is what they are, orphans left to fend for themselves, and there is little to no hope they’ll ever be anything more. Jarl, though, he’s been refusing to pay his dues, hiding his earnings away to create a purse large enough for Azoth to escape. He’s the only one of them Jarl believes has what it takes to get out, and with the money he presents to Azoth it’s quite possible he can earn himself an apprenticeship with the city’s most dangerous wetboy–Durzo Blint.

The thing about Durzo is he doesn’t take on apprentices. The most talented (and arrogant) wetboy in the city has no time for such things. When Azoth approaches the wetboy, Durzo refuses to train him, and Jarl pays the price with his body. Raped and tormented by the guild’s acting leader, the longing for vengeance grows inside Azoth. It’s a nightmare watching his best friend suffer such torture, but so long as Dollgirl remains safe nothing short of death itself could prod him to stand up to the bastard abusing his best friend. When Dollgirl’s life is on the line, Azoth refuses to be turned aside another time. He insists Durzo take him on so he can enact vengeance on the bastards who hurt the little girl Azoth held close to his heart.

In order to become Durzo’s apprentice, Azoth must turn his back on his old life. He must destroy himself entirely and swear to never look back, not even at Dollgirl, but first he has to kill his enemy and bring Durzo proof of the deed.

It’s one thing to think about murdering your enemies, to imagine yourself strangling the life out of those who’ve made you miserable for as long as you can remember, but to actually do it takes balls. Balls Azoth isn’t sure he has. But Dollgirl is his everything, and when she is in danger he discovers he’ll do whatever it takes to save her–even kill.

Shedding his old identity, Azoth the street rat becomes Kylar Stern–a minor noble under tutelage of a well-respect family by day and wetboy in training by night. Through his new foster family, Kylar meets Logan Gyre. An unlikely friendship forms between the two boys, the kind of bond powerful enough to surpass even the lies Kylar tells and the games he must play to satisfy his brutal master.

Underneath Kylar’s training, a plot simmers. A dark force is coming for Cenaria, and leading the charge is an unexpected enemy Kylar thought he dealt with in his Azoth days. The darkness behind that force is powerful, seemingly unbeatable, and the closer it gets the more secrets Durzo kept from Kylar begin spilling into the air between them, shattering the tenuous bond they built as master and apprentice and bringing them face to face in a final showdown that will change Kylar’s life forever.

This book… It was my first Brent Weeks‘ book, so I had no idea what to expect. It had mostly positive reviews, so I was hopeful, and I will tell you flat out I was not the least bit disappointed. Weeks does things with words and characters and plot that left me breathless and so eager to continue the story I actually ran out and bought the second and third book in the trilogy so I wouldn’t have to stop reading and wait. There’s just enough fantasy blended with intrigue and magic in this series that it’s the perfect balance blended with an intriguing plot powerful enough to break the heart.

Five out of five stars without question. I will be posting my review for the second book in the series, Shadow’s Edge, very soon, so stay tuned.

The Darkling Prince Audiobook is Now Available

darkling prince audiobookKrayven has only ever wanted one thing: his mother’s love. Cold and beautiful as starlight, he trails after the queen, an unseen shadow vying for affection she would never lower herself to give. Enshrouded in secrets and mystery, he watches each day as she travels to the Nether Lake and stares longingly into the deep.

He knows not what she’s looking for, and following her is forbidden, for her secrets are her own. When his father’s jester informs him that she speaks to spirits there, the boy cannot resist the lure to spy upon her in the act. Perhaps he will overhear something to shed light on the aloof woman who brought him into the world, and then went on about her life as though he wasn’t even a part of it.

What he learns while spying is enough to send him running, for some secrets are better left undiscovered, lest they wake the darkness in a heart that was born to know only pain.

The Darkling Prince is an Into the Green novella. Narrated by Jay Langejans of New Fiction Writers, the audiobook is now available on Audible, iTunes and Amazon.com

If eBooks are more your style, you can pick up a copy from any of these fine online retailers:

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US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, The Netherlands, India, Japan, Australia

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Battle Mage by Stephen Aryan

battle mageI had no expectations going into this book, not even after reading the back cover description. I was itching for a good fantasy read, something rife with magic, intrigue, and war, and that’s more or less what I got.

Returning home after years abroad, Balfruss doesn’t know what awaits him. He only knows his king needs battle mages if there is any hope of winning a war against a deranged tyrant with a rogue warlock on his side. With a small band of powerful battle mages under his command, it’s up to Balfruss to protect those on the battlefield from magic. Vargus is little more than a common soldier, or so it seems, who takes it upon himself to rally the forces to keep them alive. He fills the hearts of his troops with a love for one another, forging a bond not even death can break, and it’s soldiers such as these who will fight beyond death–their names heard in the rallying calls of their brethren as they battle to hold onto freedom and each other. Daughter of the king, Talandra is not a typical princess by any means. She is well-connected, well-informed, and every secret whispered finds its way back to her ears. Acting as her father’s spymaster and adviser, Talandra must work behinmd the scenes to turn the tides of war through cunning and wiles the likes of which lesser men could never achieve. We are granted a fourth perspective in the narration that gets sort of glossed over in the description, but feels equally important–Gunder, a master of disguise employed within Talandra’s spy network.

Through the eyes of these four characters, we see a kingdom at war, shaken to its very foundation by a sense of hopelessness and inevitable defeat in the face of the enemy. Balfruss will do whatever it takes to cut down the warlock and his strange cell of mages. Vargas will push the soldiers on the front line beyond their will to survive, weaving together a force so strong nothing can dishearten them, not even the death of those they call brother. When Talandra finds herself in a position she never expected, it is up to her to set aside her personal freedom for the good of the kingdom. She’ll have to be cold, ruthless, unwavering in the face of the enemy, even if it means tearing out her own heart.

For a debut effort, I was pleased. Battle Mage had just the right amount of bloody battle and magic to keep me entertained, and the underground movement of the spy network was nicely done. My only complaint was that at times I felt like the author sacrificed character growth and development to further the war effort.  I would have really enjoyed spending more time getting inside Balfruss’s soul, coming to understand more of who he was as a person. This is not to say the characters are completely underdeveloped, they have definite depth. I would have just liked to see more. The title, while not entirely deceptive, suggests this book focuses on the battle mages, but that wasn’t the case. The overall focus of this story was the battle itself.

4 out of 5 stars, and I will definitely be reading the next book in this series when it comes out next year.