Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone matters. It shows that chains can be broken, that stories have a profound effect on how we humans perceive the world and what actions we take, and it has something to say about vengeance, justice and mistaking one for the other. This is a genuinely touching story, thanks to several memorable protagonists.
MD Presley’s second novel in the Sol’s Harvest series is a solid follow-up to The Woven Ring. It develops the plot of the first novel in unexpected and surprising ways in the present while constructing a part of the world that was only hinted at in the past; yup, dual narratives a la Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives are back once again!
Some Spoilers for Book 1, Priest of Bones, below. I've tried to keep them to a minimum but it's been out for a year and I've permitted myself some liberty in discussing a few points of that novel's plot.
Symphony of the Wind is impressive in its scope, a novel that’s intricate in its characters and ambitious in its worldbuilding; more impressive is the fact that it’s Steven McKinnon’s first self-published book. Ambition, McKinnon certainly does not lack.
I am very impressed with Craig Schafer’s Sworn to the Night. Coming into this, I’d never read any of his previous books; I’d not even come across his name up to receiving this novel for review as part of 2018’s SPFBO. I was oblivious to the fact that Sworn to the Night is the beginning of a third series set in a shared world between Schafer’s other works. Reading it, I didn’t at any point feel I needed to be familiar with previous novels, even if familiarity with one particular side character by the name of Daniel Faustus (the main character in his own series), would have given me a greater degree of context.
Sworn to the Night’s story kicks off in a familiar enough way to anyone who has viewed a police procedural show All the staples of the genre are present – a main character cop with issues forcing her to take what should be a normal case personally; a loyal partner trying to keep her reigned in, a sagacious best friend/roommate, and a captain who demands the badge and gun of his best detectives (incidentally, the same main character spoke mentioned earlier, along with her partner). Our disgruntled detective is a woman with a tragic past by the name of Marie Reinhart, and she is the first part of the absolutely fascinating duo of main characters Sworn to the Night introduced me* to.
The second half of this dynamic duo goes by the name of Nessa, an anthropologist obsessed with the study and practice of witchcraft. She is also somewhat mentally unhinged, a condition for which Nessa is heavily medicated by her personal therapist. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a successful businessman (the son of a U.S. senator with a bright future ahead of him), Nessa feels like her control over the direction of her own life is slipping away. Until, that is, she comes face to face with a certain NYPD detective.
The relationship between Nessa and Marie fascinates me. It’s the emotional center of the book and, though it has been criticized by some, the romance between these two women worked for me, and I say that without reservations. The dynamics of this relationship and how it changes both the main characters as they take their first steps in its exploration was something I didn’t expect to like as much as I did.
An aspect of this story I love is the structure – framed after classic fairy tales, this is instead a modern dark fable, compelling and not for the faint of heart. By additionally embracing some of the longest held conventions of the detective thriller, Craig Schafer delivers a subversive story that delves into the fantastical and the dynamics of love and loyalty, as well as the ever-fascinating conflict between law and chaos.
One issue I had that took away from my otherwise stellar opinion of this novel has to do with the ending, which at the last moment was rendered far less consequential than I originally thought after reading through the culmination (which is something truly wonderful, let me tell you). I suspect Schaefer was following his grander design for the trilogy as a whole but having read only this instalment of the series, I can’t help but feel that it was a cheap way of recycling certain villainous characters further down the line.
The quality of writing is exceptional; Craig Schaefer is a stellar example of excellence in indie authorship, his skill in the calibre of Ben Galley, Benedict Patrick, Josh Erikson and many, many others. Schaefer shows an excellent grasp on narrative voice; all his point-of-view characters come across as unique. Characterisation is indeed strong in this one.
My final score for Sworn to the Night is a 9 out of 10. It’s a solid read, with minor pacing issues at the beginning and a disappointing conclusion that took away from what was otherwise one of my most pleasant reads over the last few months. After having read this book, I can only say, I can’t wait to read the follow-ups!
You’ll enjoy this novel if:
*If you’ve read one of Schaefer’s previous series, you might actually have come across these two characters.
Josh Erikson continues to amaze with this follow up to one of the finest urban fantasy debuts out there. Fate Lashed picks up from where Hero Forged closed, with protagonist Gabe and his faithful partner-in-crime, the succubus Heather trying to learn more about the mysterious powers possessed by the cocky conman with a heart of gold.
I listened to the audiobook, kindly offered to me by the author in return for an honest review. What I found was a continuity of all the voices from the first book, as well as a variety of new, unique voices for many of the newcomers. Josh Erikson again voices this one, if that wasn’t clear already and I am continually astonished by his range – he has talent in spades, and I would be happy if someone paid him to read other books, as well. The voice of Akamanah continues to be a blast to listen to, he’s just so delightfully evil. Slimy, sinister Philip, too…but I could go on and on all day long; Josh nails every single character, imbuing them with life only the way their author could.
While Hero Forged took its time to set up the world, Fate Lashed doesn’t pull any punches – the action starts early on and does not let off as the book progresses well into its sixteen hours or 375 pages. Gabe is no longer quite the freshly faced newcomer to the supernatural world of the Umbra. Though he’s by no means an expert, he now takes most of the reality-warping madness that makes its way into his life in stride. What more can a guy ask for, really?
The emotional heart of the novel is the relationship between Gabe and Heather. Whenever they’re working to save each other’s skins, bickering like an old married couple, having a heart-to-heart conversation that leaves much untold, these two characters have an enormous amount of chemistry going on between them. The “will they, won’t they” trope is well-known but Josh makes it feel fresh; whether because one half of this relationship is a succubus or because he’s got a knack for the kind of dialogue that’s thick with unspoken meaning, I can’t quite decide. Maybe it’s both these factoring into it. But one thing’s for sure, the development of this relationship is even more rewarding here than in Hero Forged.
I was quite pleased with the plot. Great factions within Umbra society are angling to gain an item of cosmic importance, the Igla; to that end, the leader of the Crones, Esme, has entered into an agreement with two other Umbra factions, one represented by your friendly neighbourhood evil god, Akamanah, the other – by salesman-next-door type of mystery-man, Phillip (if the personality and name remind you of this reviewer, it’s mere coincidence). The agreement? Choose human champions and set them one against the other in a race to decide which of these three factions will wield the reality-altering artefact.
Gabe and Heather are, quickly wrapped up into serving the interests of about all three of these factions (and a smaller faction, to spare!), but they’re not alone. Mutambe, a hexen (minor sorcerer using hexes and trickery), the leader of the team Gabe and Heather agree to work for; Dante, a minotaur who definitely doesn’t look like Dante from Devil May Cry but, I’ve been told by author Josh Erikson, will strike out on his own in upcoming series Revenant May Die*; and Lorelei, the grand-daughter of an Umbra and capable academic scholar whose abilities are invaluable in the search for the Igla. Some excellent team dynamics are on display and I’m looking forward to seeing how the members of this team move forward come whatever’s next for the Ethereal Earth series.
Of the twists I saw coming along the way, all of them did an excellent job of developing the characters further and moving events swiftly along in an exciting direction. Those that I didn’t see coming were even more thrilling and well set up along the way, on reflection.
Erikson delivers masterful pacing with every chapter – not a dull moment is to be had, our group of characters forced from one conflict into the next, many of the entirely unexpected.
I went through this novel as a buddy read with Timy from RockStarlit BookAsylum(check her blog out!) It’s nice to have someone to talk through different points of the book and swap thoughts and theories with. I did some serious theory crafting as to the cosmic order of things in the Ethereal Earth series, based on what we have so far seen, and Timy humoured me for the better part of twenty minutes. Thanks, Timy!
Without further ado, I give this novel a 5/5! Fate Lashed is a solid read with excellent characters and dialogue, non-stop action, and a world you’ll enjoy diving into time and time again!
You might enjoy this novel if:
*I might’ve made up the bit about Revenant May Die but I’m hoping that this review will inspire yet more greatness in Josh Erikson.
Arkady Martine’s science fiction debut is one of those rare novels that haunts me in my sleep. It’s been days since I put it down, and yet scenes from “A Memory Called Empire” will come back to me, as vividly as something I’ve lived through instead of just reading about. I’ve relived its climax several times, in fact; Martine’s prose has imprinted in me such an unforgettable scene as few others I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent months.
In current parlance, I am shook.
I had no clue what to expect when I spent a credit to pick Hero Forged up on Audible. It was one of those impulse buys we all make, influenced by a tweet by Esme Weatherwax of lovely book blog “The Weatherwax Report” fame. Without a doubt (and I usually have plenty of doubt, trust you me!), Hero Forged is a purchase I’ll be forever thankful I made. It’s one hell of a journey, and I’ll say just enough about it to sharpen your appetite!
Breaking Chaos is the brutal, climatic ending to one of the finest dark fantasy trilogies in recent memory. If you haven’t read the previous entries in the series, do yourself a solid – get them!
Everything Brian McClellan has written, that I have read, I have loved. The original Powder Mage trilogy, Sins of Empire, the novellas in-between – I’ve lost myself in that world for long, sleepless nights filled with unforgettable characters and the smell of gunpowder.