reviews

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3.5/5 stars

I picked this book up in the mood for elves. And elves is what I got. 

Elvish follows two POV characters, Venick and Ellina. Venick is a soldier who has been banished from his people for murder. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that he fell in love with a northern elf - considered highly illegal according to elf law - and they were turned in by his own father. She is killed by the southern elves after his father turns on them, and in response, Venick kills his father in front of his mother. Off the bat, I was a little put off by Venick's choice to murder. Sure, his father is a world class a-hole, but murder in return for murder? I wasn't so sure about it. 

Ellina is a northern elf, a spy/soldier who prowls with her legion to keep her lands safe from both southern elves and humans. Any human trespassing on elven lands is put to death. She comes across Venick, who has come onto elven land in search of food. He's caught in a bear trap, and she convinces her legion to let him go in exchange for her staying with him and putting him to the question. But instead, she sees a necklace he is wearing and lets him go for unknown reasons. 

Venick keeps the fact that he understands elvish from her. The language is the backbone of this book. One cannot lie in elvish, so whomever speaks it is beholden to always tell the truth. Even elves don't always speak in elvish, and Ellina has become a master at manipulating her own language and that of the mainlanders. 

Ellina and Venick plan on parting ways, but when they come to a mainland city, there is something off. They are chased by southern elves for unknown reasons, and Venick feels something is amiss. He convinces Ellina to escape with him through water (elves cannot swim) and earns her trust. Over the course of time, it's clear they have feelings for each other. 

I really enjoyed the interweaving politics of this story. Humans, southern elves, and northern elves all try to live peacefully together, but as the book progresses, something is definitely off in this "peace". Venick soon comes upon a secret after he and Ellina part ways, and he risks everything to bring this information to the northern elves. He grew on me, although the murder still never sat well with me. And Ellina is fascinating. The elven culture and language was well done. 

3.5/5 stars for Elvish, and if you enjoy character driven stories, romance, well done politics, and worldbuilding that isn't too complicated, pick this one up. 

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5/5 stars

*Thank you to Orbit for this ARC. All opinions are my own*

I've heard John Gwynne's name tossed around here and there as being one of the premier fantasy writers out there. I've never read any of his stuff, so when the opportunity presented itself to get hands on his newest release coming in May, I jumped on it. After finishing this novel, I can certainly see why he has the reputation that he does. 

The Shadow of the Gods is a sweeping Norse epic tale, the type that makes you feel all the things. From the sweeping prose, to the in-depth characters, to the sprawling battles and grand adventures, to the intricate plots that tie up some places and leave ends hanging at others, this book had me engrossed from page one. 

It follows the story of three POV characters. Orka is on a rescue mission for her son, who was taken from her by a mysterious foe. Varg is a runaway thrall - in this world, a thrall is chained at the neck and a prisoner to their owner - who will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his sister. Elvar is a jarl's daughter who spurns her lot in life to create her own destiny, wanting nothing more than to carve her own path into the epic songs. Each character is distinct in their voice, with understandable and relatable motives. They aren't perfect, as no one should be. But you become invested in their stories, and the writing is so in depth that, as mentioned before, you feel what they feel, taste what they taste, smell what they smell. It feels as if you are there with them, riding in the waves, hunting in the forests, fighting in the battles. 

The worldbuilding is magnificent. The gods have destroyed the world, and in an epic battle for the sages, the great Dragon sister Lik-Rifa was betrayed by her siblings and chained beneath the ground to live in eternal torment hundreds of years ago. Each sibling left pieces of themselves into their children, called the Tainted. These are humans with special abilities derived from the gods, and most become thralls, chained and exploited for their powers. 

Orka's story arc begins in a quiet setting. She is married to Thorkel, and they have a son, Breca. There are hints that Orka is more than what she seems: a powerful warrior who put aside her bloody ways to live a quiet life. But the warrior surges back into living, breathing color as she sets out on a rescue mission, joined by two brothers, Lif and Mord. They will help her, in exchange for her teaching them how to seek vengeance on the one who killed their father. 

Varg's story arc begins with him, in a series of circumstances, joining the mighty Bloodsworn. They are a group of elite fighters for hire, seeking nothing but brotherhood, fame, and coin. Varg joins them in the hope of convincing their Seior witch to help him find out what happened to his murdered sister, the only person he ever loved in the world. They are soon conscripted to find out what is happening Queen Helka's lands, as children are disappearing and villages are being overrun by a mysteries force with unknown agenda.

Elvar's story arc begins among the Battle-Grim, who are much like the Bloodsworn in that they seek fame and fortune. She has left behind a privileged but constricting life with Grend, who is sworn to her, to be her friend and protector. The Battle-Grim's leader often tells tales of the infamous Skullsplitter, a warrior of such renown that songs are sung about them. They hunt down Tainted to return them for coin, and come across a particularly infamous Tainted, capturing him and his wife and son. A rival group attack and take the Tainted's son, Bjarn, and his wife Uspa convinces them to get her son back in exchange for revealing the final resting place of Lik-Rifa and her siblings, where much treasure is to be found. 

Their stories weave seamlessly, and in a final, broad stroke, pieces come together, mysteries are solved, and honestly, if I ever have a child that's a girl, I'll want to name her Orka (okay, maybe that's overreacting a bit). But seriously. ORKA. The ending had me holding the sides of my head with my mouth dropping to the floor. 

This engaging tale is full of battles, blood, friendship, and epic fame to be sung for ages. I can't rave about it enough. After finishing this, you will be left breathless, hungering for more. I will immediately be reading every book ever written by John Gwynne. 

A huge 5/5 stars for me, in what is sure to be a favorite read of the year. 

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4/5 stars

This is a worthy follow-up to the hit debut, Rage of Dragons, by exciting new author Evan Winter. It picks up right where Rage of Dragons lets off. Tau is now Champion to Queen Tsiora, and his ragtag band of friends are forming into a formidable defense, with Hadith being made into grand general because of his brilliant military mind. But not all is as it would seem. Demons are haunting Tau in the daylight, dragged from the mists of Isiogo. But Tau can't trust his own mind. Are they real? Or can demons really haunt and kill in the land of the living?

Tau and his queen face an impressive host of problems. First, Tsiora's sister Essie has been propped up by the nobles as the real queen. She has taken over the capital city, and Tau and Tsiora will be hard pressed to get it back. They have the Zidine to contend with, not just the armies of the nobles. And blood will flow as Tau continues to seek vengeance on the one who killed his father, and the one who stands at Essie's side: Abasi Odili. 

Tau will stop at nothing to quench his thirst for revenge. But what will it cost him? His sanity? His life? He makes Queen Tsiora promise him that vengeance will be his if he wins back her city. And with Tsiora falling for Tau, she can't say no. 

I was completely enraptured listening to his audio. The characters jumped out and grabbed me, from their snarky friendships forged into brotherhood bonds, to the slow-burn romance between Tsiora and Tau. 

One of the things that was especially difficult, although not in a bad way, was to see just how far Tau was willing to go to seek his revenge. He makes heart-rending sacrifices, including losing a part of his sanity, to losing his family - all except his mother - as the consequences of his choices catches up with him. This is a heavy theme throughout this book. Actions have consequences, not just for us, but also for those around us. Sometimes those we love get caught in the crossfire. 

Winter's continues to delve into themes of friendship and loyalty. He weaves a story full of blood, battles, war, betrayal, love, and redemption. You feel as if you are really there, for the voice talent of Prentice Oneyami is almost unparalleled. 

My one quibble with this story is that it is almost too much like Rage of Dragons, from the setting and worldbuilding to the character development. I would have liked to see the characters grow a bit more, but Tau seems stuck and stagnant, so narrowly focused on revenge that he makes little growth. It DOES fit the story, however, and it's just personal preference. 

4/5 burning stars for this follow-up story. I eagerly look forward to book 3. 

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3.5/5 stars

 

This book has much to commend. The magic system is quite unique and the writing fast-paced. Summernight reads as dark YA, and is sure to please fans in the YA genre who don't mind blood, gore, and tough themes. 

Tamerlan has just five days to save his sister from death. Every Summernight, at the end of a five day festival where party-goers dress as the infamous Legends, a Lady Sacrifice is killed to appease the dragon their city rests upon. Tamerlan catches a glimpse of this years' sacrifice, and he sees his sister, Amaryllis, being carted off as the sacrifice. 

Merielle is a Scenter, a part of the Watch who are tasked with upholding the law and peace in the city. She can scent emotions and intent, but cannot see in color. Instead, she smells in color. A chance encounter with Tamerlan leaves her disoriented, instantly attracted to him through his scent.

The story takes place over just five days, and therefore I found I wasn't connecting with the characters quite like I would have wanted to. This did detract somewhat from my overall enjoyment of the book, but the magic system made up for it. 

Tamerlan comes across a secret page from a book detailing how to access the Bridge of Legends. Essentially, a concoction of herbs is mixed together and smoked, opening a portal to the Legends who can then take over his body. He needs their help - and their set of skills - to try to rescue his sister. But he can't control which Legend overtakes him. First is Lila Cherrylocks, master thief, who takes him on a joyride through the city to steal and generally show off her skills. But she disappears before she can be much help to him. The next Legend is Byron Bronzebow, whose sense of justice at first seems perfect for rescuing his sister. But this Legend is distracted by injustice everywhere, and soon he, too, disappears before he is any real help. The next Legend to overtake him is Maid Chaos, and this is where the magic, and story, takes a very dark turn. Tamerlan goes through a killing rampage in the city, his (or, more accurately, the Maid's) only intent to create as much havoc as possible. Tamerlan is heartbroken over his actions, and this means he only Summernight left to rescue Amaryllis. 

Merielle is tracking Tamerlan through it all, and catches him on the night of Bronzebow, knowing he was the one who stole throughout the night he was Cherrylocks. He pleads with her to let him go, so he can rescue his sister. Merielle is torn, because she has a strong sense of the law, but also is exceedingly attracted to Tamerlan and his plea. She lets him go, and then he goes on the killing rampage as Maid Chaos. Merielle can Scent something else is going on underneath the surface, for she can smell the magic permeating what Tam is doing. She also knows that she herself also fits the bill to be the Lady Sacrifice. She is, after all, also Dragonblooded, part of the race of people who meet the criteria to satisfy the dragon and keep him slumbering. 

Thus we come to the Summernight. Let's just say, it is a bit predictable what happens, but was also quite satisfying. We see a slumbering dragon awake and tear the city apart. Tam and Merielle, along with their friend Jhinn, barely make it out alive. And then the story ends. 

Generally, I quite enjoyed this book. I've been enjoying a bit of dark YA recently. The writing is crisp, and save for a few grammatical errors, is easy to read. There were a few sticking points for me, the first being character development. But as seeing this is a series, this is most likely rectified as the story progresses. I also was a bit confused by the ending. Amaryllis does not, in fact, end up being the Sacrifice, and this isn't explained at all. How was Tamerlan so wrong? He saw his sister. And then, it wasn't her. 

I really enjoyed the magic, which was very unique. And the story was fast-paced, lending for a quick read. 3.5/5 stars for me. I'll be delving into the rest of the series, more than likely. 

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5/5 stars

 

Sometimes one comes across a tome so fantastic, so epic, that it's even hard to know how to review. Dragon Mage was one such story for me. Everything, from characters, to worldbuilding, to the plot, to the themes, hit every checkmark I have for a book. The prose was seamless, the characters endearing, the worldbuilding nearly perfect, and the magic unique. 

The story follows Aramon Raythe, an autistic boy who grows up in a small village and wants to be a sailor. Right off the bat, I absolutely adored Aram. He is quirky, sweet, and an underdog. He is obsessed with knots, and has a secret cave full of thousands of them. Next, we meet Markus Gallier, who stands up for Aram against bullies and befriends him. My heart swelled to twice it's normal size. Having family members on the spectrum, my heart melted as these two boys formed a tight bond, and it continued throughout the whole story. They weren't just friends. They were brothers, as Markus says later on in the book. 

The majority of the story is told from Aram's POV, so we get an inside look into his thought processes and what makes him different. Everything from not liking his food to touch, to not understanding sarcasm, to seeing in color, makes him unique and entirely endearing. 

The world building had me hooked from the beginning. We are introduced to two worlds - the World Above and the World Below. In a cataclysmic event called the Sundering, the world of magic was separated from the world of man by a Veil, and in between these two worlds is the void, where all manner of strange beasts roam, lost forever in their search for essence. Essence is what gives man and beast access to magic. The world of man has lost essence almost completely, save for a few individuals, such as Aram, who have some of the Auld blood and therefore still have essence in their body. The Exaliri are a group of sorcerers who hunt down those who have essence and drain it from them for their own purposes. Sergan Persigal is one such evil man, and in the process of hunting down Aram, the reader is introduced to the fact that not only is Aram considered a Savant, someone who can see the very threads that hold the world together, but Markus is a True Impervious, meaning magic cannnot harm him. 

This leads me to the unique magic system in this book. Strands of aether hold the world together, and bind the Veil so that two worlds don't intersect. Those who know how can rend the Veil, allowing for void creatures to seep into the world of man in their search for essence. And if they are strong enough, they can tear a rent into the two worlds at specific points. Through a series of unfortunate events, Aram is flung into the world of magic and Markus is left behind to train as a Shield, basically a body guard for the Exaliri. 

The rest of the book details Aram's adventures in the world of magic, and was by far my favorite part of the book. There are Windriders, who bond with a dragon and keep their land safe. There are Elysium, magical horses who are so full of essence they must be protected at all costs. Through it all, Aram grows into a courageous young man who learns just how powerful he is. Only he can stop the destruction of their world by the Exaliri, who follow Aram into the world of magic in the hopes of reversing the Sundering and bringing both worlds back into harmony so they can harvest essence. 

This story is a behemoth at around 1000 pages. I found myself totally enraptured, and was sad when it ended. I can understand why Spencer's devoted fans raised an outcry when they were told this was a standalone story. My understanding is that we can now expect a sequel, and I must admit, I'm quite happy about this. More Aram and Markus, please and thank you. 

A hearty 5/5 stars for this classic epic fantasy, and one of my favorite reads in a long time. 

The Sentinel Mage (The Cursed Kingdoms #1) by Emily Gee - book review
07, Feb

 

3.5/5 stars

Her magic may be the only thing that can save a prince—and the Seven Kingdoms.

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4/5 stars

 

This book caught me by surprise. When I first picked it up, I didn't realize it was YA. But it takes dark turns throughout the story, so I'd probably classify it as dark YA, and it had me hooked.

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3.5.5 stars

Blurb: In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.

But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.

Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.

But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.

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*This is not the official SPFBO book review. I read it for my own enjoyment*

4/5 stars

 

Blurb: The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.


With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.

In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.

Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.

As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?

Strap in for this twisted fantasy road trip from award-winning author Justin Lee Anderson.

 

I had high hopes from the outset after hearing good things about this book. Part of me wished this had been a new find, though, since rarely does a book meet expectations when you all you hear is how fantastic it is and that you should read it. Not that I was disappointed, mind you, for The Lost War is certainly a good book. It just didn't blow me away like I'd hoped. 

We are introduced to Aranok, the main character, as he rescues a lad named Vastin from men sent by the king to claim taxes on Vastin's forge. He is accompanied by his bodyguard, Allandria, and together they loop Vastin into a quest from the King, Janeus. Janeus and Aranok are best friends, and Aranok is also the King's Envoy. Along with that, Aranok is also a draoidh, a type of magician who can control earth elements. As the story progresses, it's clear that most of the commonfolk fear draoidhs, but realize that in a lot of ways they are dependent on them. Aranok grew up privileged, as well as a magician, yet he comes across as humble, brave, and generally likeable. He has his flaws, including an impulsive streak that gets him into trouble at times. But I truly liked this character. I also liked the other characters in what becomes a troupe of travelers on a quest. Allandria brings sense to Aranok's impulsivity and they balance each other well. Samily is a Thorn, a well-trained warrior monk who is asexual (she's a woman, but isn't sexually attracted to any gender, so that was unique), a nearly unstoppable fighter, and one of my favorite characters in this book. She challenges Aranok's lack of faith in God without being preachy, and it was a nice element to the plot. Then there is Glorbad, a rough around the edges type of mercenary who has a dark past he doesn't want to talk about, followed by Nirea, a sailor whose soft side often annoys her, but endears her to the reader. Meristan also joins the group, a priest who is also Samily's teacher. All together, they set off on a quest for the King to rescue (maybe? or maybe not) a Queen from the clutches of the mysterious Mynngogg.

Now, from the outset the plan doesn't go as, well, planned. The group keeps getting sidetracked from their quest by anything from scary demons in cocoons (yes, you read that right) to murder. I found myself frustrated at times, wondering how these various smaller quests fit into the whole of the plot. And not every loose end made a lot of sense at the end, either. Perhaps they will be tied up in the next installment. 

The magic system is straightforward enough, yet left me wanting more information. As mentioned before, there are draoidhs who can wield various elements, such as earth, air, fire, etc. They specialize in one area. Then, as it turns out, Samily can change time. There is little explanation for how this actually works, and the information is leaked slowly through the book as to how draoidh power works, as well. It was a bit dissatisfying, in my opinion. However, this might also make more sense in the next book.

The worldbuilding was phenomenal, and my favorite part of the book. The author lays it out bit by bit, and each setting was as intriguing as the last. Each element, from zombie-like people to Reivers, seemingly a type of nomadic warrior people, to terrifying demons kept the plot racing along with little breathing room. I absolutely was enthralled by the fight scenes, mixed with debates on faith, joined by interpersonal relationships that seemed flawless and smooth. The writing was stellar. 

All in all, I really did enjoy The Lost War and will certainly be picking up the sequel when it is available. If you are a fan of high fantasy, mixed with magic, terrifying beasts, memorable characters, and don't mind loose ends or a little mystery to the magic, pick this one up. You won't be disappointed.  

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*This is NOT the official SPFBO review. I read this for my own personal enjoyment*

 

3.5/5 stars