reviews
The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston - Book Review
09, Aug

Rating 4.5/5

A bloody brilliant standalone and a wonderful dark fantasy homage to Kurosawa.

There’s no real need to set the premise of The Maleficent Seven since it’s in the title. Most people will be at least familiar with the seven samurai trope (unless they have been living under a rock the last seventy years). What makes Johnston’s take on one of storytelling’s most compelling tropes so good and work so well is that his seven heroes are the vilest, most twisted and downright evilest crew of bastards you can imagine. Like some fantasy Suicide Squad

Characterisation is integral to a good story and I’m delighted to say that Johnston nailed it here. Each character felt multi-faceted and unique, including their villainous tendencies, inner conflicts, perceptions of things (and people), and even the way they literally speak. Black Herran is a worthy successor to the wise strategist Kambei and gun-slinging Chris Adams (I can just imagine them giving her that famous Robert Redford nod). A natural fear-inducing leader with an eye for the long game, her goal of stopping the fanatical fire-wielding Lucent Empire may seem suicidal but the old demonologist has a few tricks (and demons) up her sleeve. 

The Coward (Quest for Heroes #1) by Stephen Aryan
19, Jul

Title: The Coward

Author: Stephen Aryan

Series: Quest for Heroes

Publisher: Angry Robot

First Published: 2021

Pages: 412

Rating: 4/5

A fun fantasy adventure with a lot of heart. 

The moment I read the opening lines to The Coward by Stephen Aryan, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Set in the land of the Five Kingdoms, it tells the tale of the reluctant hero, Kell Kressia, on a quest to slay an evil for the second time. However, this is not exactly your run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, with Aryan taking his characters and story a somewhat different route to what we are used to. 

The best thing about The Coward is Kell himself. A living legend renowned for braving the ice of the Far North and slaying the Ice Lich to save the Five Kingdoms, all he wants to do now is live out the rest of his life in peace. But being a hero comes with expectations, and when a new threat rises all eyes turn to Kell to save the day again. The thing about Kell though is that he doesn’t want to. He is not the glory-craving seventeen-year-old that set out with the Five Kingdoms’ greatest heroes a decade ago; he is haunted by what he witnessed and experienced the first time and would rather run away than face the same ordeal again. Unfortunately, circumstance sees him reluctantly back on the same road north, this time with less heroes, and weighed down by trauma. I really like how Aryan gradually delves into Kell’s mind as the story unfolds. Kell might project confidence and charisma but inside he is a victim of PTSD, and that manifests more and more the closer he gets to his destination. 

Priest of Gallows (War for the Rose Throne #3) by Peter McLean  - Book Review
30, Jun

Priest of Gallows is another brilliant instalment in the ongoing War for the Rose Throne series, perhaps the best book yet. 

The first time I came across Peter McLean’s work was the lead up to the release of Priest of Bones in 2018. I remember reading somewhere that it was Peaky Blinders meets fantasy and I was immediately intrigued. Like a hungry dog, I devoured it upon release, then did the same thing for Priest of Lies in 2019. I was shocked when I heard that the War for the Rose Throne series was nearly cancelled. Thankfully, the awesome people at Jo Fletcher Books took the reins and made sure that this fantastic series continues because without them we may never have gotten our hands on this absolute gem of a book.

‘One murder can change the fate of a nation.’

Picking up a few months after the end of the second book, Priest of Gallows kicks off with the assassination of the queen. As a reluctant member of the Queen’s Men, Tomas Piety is summoned to the capital and political battlefield of Dannsburg by his superior, the Provost Marshall Dieter Vogel, to help deal with the crisis. What follows is a compelling story filled with secrecy, murder and political intrigue. Whereas the first two books revolved around Tomas’ rise from gang boss to governor, here McLean focuses on the bigger picture. Another war is on the horizon, and Tomas, still haunted by the previous one, will do anything to prevent it from happening, even if it means working with the worst humanity has to offer. Not only does it feel like a natural evolution of the overarching plot but also of Tomas’ character, and McLean handles both masterfully. 

A Time of Courage (Of Blood and Bone #3) by John Gwynne - Book Review
27, Jun

Title: A Time of Courage

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Of Blood and Bone

Publisher: MacMillan 2020

Pages: 648

Rating: 5/5

Gwynne delivers a mind-blowing finale seven books in the making.

I have a confession. I was hesitant to start A Time of Courage. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, for the simple fact of knowing that this is the end to one of the best fantasy sagas to grace the genre in the last decade, and secondly, if Wrath is anything to go by, I needed to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for what was about to happen. Two days after finishing it, I am still left reeling from what I just read. A Time of Courage, the final book in the Of Blood and Bone trilogy is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. 

A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone #2) by John Gwynne - Book Review
09, Jun

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Of Blood and Bone 

Genre: Epic fantasy

Publisher: MacMillan, 2019

Pages: 476

Rating: 5 stars 

There will be blood…and lots of it. 

In A Time of Dread (AToD) we returned to an altogether different Banished Lands than the one we left at the end of The Faithful and the Fallen. A creeping sense of dread permeated every page, and we witnessed horrors enacted by both the demonic host of Kadoshim and the angelic order of the Ben Elim in their eternal war against each other. Caught right in the middle were our protagonists Drem, Sig, Riv and Bleda. By book’s end, things could not have been worse for these characters. Then John Gwynne gives us A Time of Blood (AToB). 

A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1) by John Gwynne - Book Review
05, Jun

Title: A Time of Dread

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Of Blood and Bone 

Genre: Epic fantasy

Publisher: MacMillan, 2018

Pages: 458 

Rating: 5 stars 

 

The Banished Lands are darker and more dangerous than ever before. 

(Warning: contains some spoilers for The Faithful and the Fallen)

John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen (TFatF) is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series to date. Upon finishing Wrath, I chose to take a break before jumping into A Time of Dread, the first book in the sequel trilogy, Of Blood and Bone, (OBaB), because I wanted to savour it as much as possible. That did not last long. 

Over a century has passed since the Day of Wrath, when Corban and the forces of the faithful defeated Asroth and the forces of the fallen. Leaderless, the remaining Kadoshim scattered to the furthest corners of the land and the Ben Elim and Order of the Bright Star have been hunting them ever since. From the very first page it is obvious that this is a darker story than TFatF. A foreboding prologue sets the tone and a creeping sense of dread imbues every page. This is an altogether different world than the one we left behind at the end of Wrath. I love the approach Gwynne went for here. 

Hellmouth by Giles Kristian - Book Review
10, May

Title: Hellmouth

Author: Giles Kristian

Series: Standalone

Genre: Historical fiction. Horror. Fantasy(?)

Publisher: Self-published 

First Published: 2021

Pages: 52

Rating: 5 stars 

 

In absentia lucis, tenebrae vincunt. In the absence of light, darkness prevails. 

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Giles Kristian’s writing. I have digested three of his books so far including his stellar Lancelot & Camelot duology and God of Vengeance, the first in his epic Viking series, The Rise of Sigurd, and have praised his excellent characterisation, lyrical prose and remarkable storytelling. His new novella, Hellmouth, not only boasts all three but is also permeated with a raw horror that genuinely terrified me as I listened to it in the middle of the night.

Sistersong by Lucy Holland
01, Apr

 

Rating: 4/5

‘…the only song people will remember is the other song, the sistersong, with its easy rhyme and grisly story that ends in blood.’

Lucy Holland’s Sistersong first appeared on my radar when I came across the cover while scrolling through book twitter. I was absolutely blown away by how stunning it looked and jumped over to Amazon and Goodreads to find out more. The blurb hooked me. Ancient Britain. Magic. Saxons. Sign me up! Then I read that it was a retelling of the tale of The Twa Sisters. I had heard of that name before, but could not for the life of me remember where. However, I chose not to google it as I wanted to go into Holland’s version of the tale blind and enjoy it for what it was without any spoilers. And enjoyed it I did, for what I found was not just magic and Saxons, but a heart-breaking tale of family, loyalty and identity. 

Blood Red Sand by Damien Larkin - Book Review
06, Mar

Title: Blood Red Sand

Author: Damien Larkin

Genre: Military Sci-Fi, Alternate History

Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.

First Published: 6th July 2021

Pages: 248

Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

An explosive mix of top class military sci-fi and alternative history. 

Blood Red Sand is a unique book in that it serves as both a prequel and sequel to Larkin’s debut novel, Big Red. Like its predecessor (or successor depending on how you look at it), the story follows an alternate history timeline where the Nazis fled Earth and colonised Mars. Set in 1954, it follows the allied invasion of the red planet in a massive operation similar to that of Operation Overlord. And that premise alone had me hooked from the start. 

The Deacon of Wounds (Warhammer Horror) by David Annandale - Book Review
22, Feb

Title: The Deacon of Wounds

Author: David Annandale

Series: Warhammer Horror

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Publisher: Black Library

Published: 2021

Pages: 146 (ebook)

Rating: 4 stars

Even the most faithful can walk in dark places.

Horror has always been a staple feature of the Warhammer 40k universe, integral to its atmosphere and tone. When the Black Library first introduced its new Warhammer Horror franchise a couple of years back, I was immediately intrigued, digesting its audio dramas (highly recommend The Way Out by Rachel Harrison) and novels like Nick Kyme’s Sepulturum and The Oubliette by J.C. Stearns. The recently released novel, The Deacon of Wounds by David Annandale, is perhaps the best entry in the series yet. 

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