Displaying items by tag: JD Evans
Storm & Shield (Mages of the Wheel #2) by J.D. Evans 19, May

3.5/5 stars

 

Storm & Shield is the second book of the Mages of the Wheel series, following Reign & Ruin which won SPFBO 7. I was looking forward to this sequel, since I really enjoyed Reign & Ruin (review here). 

It follows the story of Aysel, who was briefly in the first book, who is the daughter of a noble from the land of Sarkum and friend to Makram. From the outset, it's no secret that she's a spy (see what I did there?) and a good one at that. Her magical ability to manipulate air allows her speed and stealth, but she's been forced to hide her magic for as long as she can remember. She's a firecracker, full of life and impish humor. Then there is Bashir, guard to Sultana Naime, who's stolid approach to life has made him indispensable, and subsequently he was promoted to Captain of the Guard. He's trustworthy, and sees the world in black and white. 

Aysel and Bashir find themselves at odds - she's a spy, he's a guard. She can control air, and he can control earth. She's witty, flighty, yet knows what she wants. He's no-nonsense, immovable, and stubborn. Yet their chemistry can't be denied, and the author's ability to create flirty yet not overdone relationships really shines. 

If you've read Reign & Ruin, you know how unique the worldbuilding is. Much like old-world Arabia, the setting and culture are alive with life and color and texture. The author is incredibly gifted at descriptives without being there being too much purple prose. However, I wanted to see more of the world. The vast majority of the book is once again in Tamar, like the first was. I would have liked to see more in Sarkum, or even the Republic. 

Hence lies my main issue with the book. The Republic, a supposed empire with advanced technology, is still on the outskirts of this story like it was in the first book. There isn't a real sense of threat. The issues facing our protagonists remain somewhat similar to Reign & Ruin. Naime is threatened by assassins, and Aysel and Bashir are trying to neutralize the threat. There are other plotlines, of course, but the issues seem to remain close to home, with the Counsel almost always needing to be kept in check. However, where Reign & Ruin was absolutely stellar in its politics, this takes a back seat in Storm and Shield. I know that sequels are incredibly hard to write, because everyone compares it to the first book, but still... where there were still good characters, good worldbuilding and sizzling romance, the plot and politics fell off a cliff. 

Now that's not to say I didn't enjoy the book. I really did. The things I didn't like weren't enough to outweigh my overall enjoyment. And Evans is, quite simply, an outstanding writer.  You should definitely give this series a try. 

3.5/5 stars, and I will be reading the third installment in the near future. 

Reign & Ruin (Mages of the Wheel #1) by J.D. Evans 15, Apr

4.5/5 stars

*Mild spoilers*

When I saw this book making the rounds on SPFBO, I decided it looked like it was up my alley. I'm so glad I picked this one up.

The setting is much like old-world Arabia. The author paints a gorgeous picture, with sprawling deserts and mountain ranges and the sea. It feels like you are really there. Primarily, the story focuses on two people groups - those of Tamar, and those of Sarkum, across the mountainous ranges. They are sworn enemies, and have been at odds for at least 300 hundred years, since the Sundering. 

The magic system is a bit complex - time is marked by the turning of the Wheel, with six spokes so to speak (called Houses). Each House represents a different magical power structure. Mages are all about balance, so for instance fire and water balance each other, as does air and earth and so on. There is a hierarchy of mages - Charah's being the most powerful, yet they are rare. 

The characters were very well done. Naime is a princess, whose father the Sultan of Tamar is slowly losing his mind due to an unknown cause (which is revealed later on in the story). The Grand Vizier, a truly hateful man, is vying for power, convincing the ruling Council to join his side in a bid for the throne. But Naime has other plans. She's a brilliant politician, and since she is a beautiful woman, most underestimate her - to their peril. The Wheel is broken, and the balance is shifting. She seeks to restore the balance by uniting six Charah's of each House. But to do so, she needs the help of Sarkum, and their death mage, Makram. She also needs to be the Sultana, taking her father's place. But since she is not a man, this is no easy task. Makram, on the other hand, is prince in Sarkum, and his brother is the Mizra. Naime sends a missive, asking for a treaty so that Sarkum and Tamar can unify against the Republic, which is slowly taking over the world using higher technology than the other nations have. However, the Mizra senses a trap and refuses to answer. Makram is more forward thinking, so against his brother's wishes, he personally sets off for Tamar to try to suss out their motives. 

The politics of this this book is, quite frankly, phenomenal. I absolutely love fantasy heavy in politics, and this book delivers just that. You feel the urgency of Naime as she desperately tries to save her country from impending annihilation while simultaneously trying to keep her Council from turning on her. Her hold is tenuous at best. Makram, on the other hand, is a soldier first. He cares little for political maneuvering, yet finds himself in the middle of his brother's... interesting... decisions, and Naime's need of him. Sparks fly between them, and inevitably they fall in love. Yet, in a twist, Naime finds out Makram is actually a death mage, able to break down anything into dust, people included. And he's a Charah, at that. 

This was a great read. Politics, romance, intrigue... this book has it all. I find it hard to believe it hasn't been picked up by a major publishing house yet. Naime and Makram are easy to relate to. They must fight to try to do what is best for their people, all the while facing backlash for it. Naime is all logic and ice until Makram breaks down her reserved nature. He is all tempest and storm, and she softens him. 

My one complaint about this story is that the Republic is barely a threat. You only hear what they are capable of (and barely at that) and don't see it. I wish there had been more in that regard. Otherwise, this story is nearly flawless.

4.5/5 stars. If you like fantasy, romance, and politics this book is definitely for you. 

Reign and Ruin (Mages of the Wheel #1) by J.D. Evans - SPFBO 7 Finalist Book Review 29, Mar

For my final SPFBO 7 finalist review, here is Reign and Ruin by J.D. Evans

Beginnings and endings. That is why there must be balance. To relieve the terrible with the beautiful, to make the beautiful more precious, for the threat of its absence.