reviews

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5/5 stars

 

It goes without saying that Brandon Sanderson is one of the best fantasy writers of our time. Oathbringer highlights why. I could write about how perfect the worldbuilding is, or how well-fleshed out the characters are, but many others have done so, and probably much better than me.

 

What I want to focus on are the themes in this story. The redemption arc is wide and sweeping, yet within this arc are nestled themes of racial justice, equality, identity, just wars, friendship, and finding meaning in suffering. 

 

The parshman are awakened, and nothing will stop them from overthrowing their unjust oppressors - humanity. And as the story progresses, it becomes more and more clear: the parshman are not the invaders of this world. People are. Much like the white man’s invasion of Native American land, the parshman were forced into slavery thousands of years ago, their land stolen, their identity stolen. Who truly are the Voidbringers? Certainly not the parshendi. Dalinar and Kaladin in particular are struck by this truth, and must face their own identity crisis’ as the truth of the situation starts to smack them in the face. Is their war just? And if it’s not, what are they fighting for? While their struggle is both internal and external, both are forced to reckon with the reality humanity has wrought upon the so called Voidbringers. 

 

Shallan’s story arc remains one of my favorites. Her theme of wrestling with her identity is brilliant. She splits off into three different personalities: Veil, a roughened spy who crushes on Kaladin, and gives Shallan courage to face certain situations, particularly with the secret society she infiltrates. Then there is Radiant, the firm, in control version of Shallan who is cool and serene no matter the situation. Then, of course, there is Shallan herself. She wrestles with who she really is, and these different versions of herself. Who is the real Shallan? What makes her unique? Can she live with the past part of her that she so desperately wants to get rid of? As she grows in her powers as a Knight Radiant, she hides this part of herself from those around her, struggling to rectify who she wants to be with who she really is. Don’t we all struggle with similar ideals? Don’t we all struggle with who we want to be with who we are? Her story touches on the commonality each of us face. Will we step into the role we know we are made for, or will we shirk back when all is said and done?

 

Oathbringer raises many moral questions, and doesn’t necessarily answer all of them. Dalinar in particular is forced to face the truth of what the world has become, what it was, and what it’s future will be. The Alethi are no heroes. What does that make him? Conqueror? King? Invader? Defender? Could it be all of the above? 

 

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the phenomenal voice acting of Kate Reading and Michael Kramer. Miss Reading's fantastic depictions of Shallan in particular, and Pattern's unique style, was perfection. Mr. Kramer's deep baritone didn't stop him from changing it up so we knew who exactly was talking when. So well done.

 

5/5 stars for this phenomenal story. I can’t wait to get started on Rhythm of War.

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4/5 stars

 

This is my first read by this author, and certainly won’t be my last. This was a surprising find for me, since I haven’t heard of this author. I love stumbling across new reads by new voices.

 

Sword of the Archon follows the POV of several characters, which is always a plus for me. You really get a good sense of the world this way. I don’t think I remember ever reading a book that crossed genres quite like this one. It’s part epic fantasy and part postapocalyptic, with a smattering of sci-fi at the end. It’s set in the future of our world - technology is a thing long in the past (or so we think). Yet the feel is fantasy, with swords and magic and dark creatures and a villain in the shadows pulling strings that we just get glimpses of. I loved the overall feel of the setting, and the worldbuilding is very well done. 

 

The main character, Deacon Shader, isn’t immediately likable, and throughout the book, his relationship with his “love” interest fell flat. Besides this complaint, the characters are well fleshed out. Shader is a priest gone rogue, yet his past religious affiliations keep catching up with him. He wins a battle to claim a sword, which makes it feel like we are flung into a story halfway through. The reader must pay close attention for the first half of the book, for there are terms and stories that are already set in motion and the reader plays catch up. I don’t necessarily mind this, but it does make for a bit of confusion. 

 

One of my favorite characters, the villainous Dr. Cadman (I’m so very partial to villain POVs) is so well written, I found myself jealous. He is funny, undead (yay), thousands of years old, and quite the character of paradoxes. Sometimes you think “Wow, he actually has a soul” and then he will do something so truly horrible you shiver. He’s not the only character who has several sides to him, either. This book is full of characters with mixed motivations, well developed voices, and development throughout the story that weaves almost perfectly into a tale of rip-roaring fun, intriguing mysteries, magic, mayhem, and horrifying beasts. 

 

The prose was also fantastic. It was lyrical without being overdone, and well edited. The author certainly has a good grasp on the English language. All in all, I will certainly be finishing this series. Trigger warning: there is a rape scene, but it wasn’t a throwaway trope with no purpose. It plays a vital role in the story. 

 

4 of 5 solid stars.

 

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4/5 stars

 

I highly anticipated this follow-up to The Gods of Men (review here, one of SPFBO18's finalists) and it was a worthy wait. Barbara Kloss has quite a knack for storytelling, engaging characters, and solid writing. 

Of Myth and Monster

4/5 stars

I love anthologies. I love that I can curl up with a good story and be through start to finish in thirty minutes. The Phoenix Fiction Writers do anthologies really well. They are a collection of spec-fic writers who write mostly clean stories (I'm a member, but did not participate in this anthology due to extenuating circumstances) and tackle themes that most authors shy away from. This anthology, as its name suggests, centers around myths and magical beasts. I've given short reviews below, in no particular order. This anthology also crosses age and gender gaps, so if you are a fan of many different types of spec-fic stories, and enjoy everything from YA to NA to middle grade, you'll enjoy this collection of tales. 

The Boy Who Listened by Kyle Robert Schultz - A delightful tale of a nonverbal autistic boy (allllll the feeeeeeeels), and the power of really listening and true friendship. It challenges the reader to rethink labels and how we judge people based on what they have to offer a society that isn't tailored to them. 5/5 stars. Absolutely loved this one. 

Mistakes Were Made by Hannah Heath (I've reviewed her other works here and here) - A fantasy based on Mexican folklore. A college girl finds her deadline quickly approaching for an assignment, but a pesky Chupacabra messes up her plans. With the help of a friend, she manages to make her deadline before her homework is eaten. 3/5 stars. This wasn't really to my tastes, and differs a lot from previous works by this author, who I usually love. 

The Gods of Troy by EB Dawson (I've reviewed her here) - a fascinating take on the aftermath of the battle of Troy, except in space. It tackles the subject of the cost of pride. 4/5 stars. Really unique, and I wished it had been longer. I really hope the author dives more into this setting. 

H.E.R.O. by Beth Wangler - a provocative story that challenges the reader to face their fear and see the brokenness that lies beneath suffering. A truly powerful look at the good that can come from stepping out of ones comfort zone to come to the aid of others that are in trouble. 5/5 stars. A phenomenal read, that really challenged me personally. One of my favorites in this anthology. 

The Eyes of the Barghest by JE Purrazzi (I've reviewed previous works here, here, and here) - a moving tale of two sisters and a monster, who isn't quite what it seems. It delves into processing grief in a powerful way. 5/5 stars, and another of my favorites in this anthology. It takes a hard look at how we view suffering in death, and how everyone processes grief differently. 

The Unicorn Tamer by C. Scott Frank - a perplexing tale of cute furry creatures on a quest. I couldn't quite get a feel for this one, and skipped it after a few pages. 2/5 stars. 

The Staff of Callewhyr by Deck Matthews (he is a new to me author, but has been reviewed on Booknest here) - an academic is sent on a journey that was supposed to be simple, but turns into a fantastical adventure with a battered soldier who has a secret. It addresses the difference between true understanding and just having mere knowledge. 4/5 stars, and intriguing enough to make me want to read more by this author. 

Lamp of Silver by Grace Crandall - a pirate is trapped and forced to listen to a the tale of an old man, and not is all as it seems. A genie who isn't a genie helps with the discovery that death is a truth that can't be ignored. 3.5/5 stars for creativity and uniqueness. 

Aura by Nate Philbrick (I've previously reviewed his middle grade book here) - complete with more adorableness that this author is known for, this story follows the tale of two young lovers - one with a gimp leg the other with tuberculosis - as they take on a dangerous mission to find a cure for their ailments. They encounter more than they expected. It touches on the price of true love and how the end doesn't always justify the means. 4/5 stars, with a touching ending and it has my favorite 'beast' out of them all. 

Grab this anthology if you like eclectic spec-fic and deep themes of redemption. 

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4.5/5 stars

When I first picked this up in my quest to read all the SPFBO finalists from last year, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d heard great things, of course, but I tend to not get my hopes up when it comes to high reviews of books. I’m so happy this book exceeded my expectations.

The start of the book was a bit too brutal for my tastes, so I almost DNF’d it. But the characters made me love them right off the bat, so I kept with it. Although the violence is heavy, and the content dark, I was sucked into this world where light shines in unlikely places.

First, the characters are fantastic. Rah, with his honor, and the way he stands up for even his enemies. Miko, with her courage and loyalty. Cassandra, with her wit and intelligence. All three fight against internal and external struggles, making them well-rounded, fleshed-out, and downright believable.

Second, the plot has just enough twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, but without sacrificing world building. This is a hard balance to navigate when writing fantasy. The author does a phenomenal job.

Third, the magic system is understated without being forgettable, and unique without being overdone. Again, the way the author balances this tightrope act is incredible. There isn’t any explanations for WHY some things are the way they are, which is one reason this isn’t a total 5 stars for me, but I’m hoping it comes out in the next book. I don’t mind a good mystery, or leaving the reader questioning, but my personal preference is to have a broader understanding of the magic in the world.

All in all, this is a phenomenal read if you like dark epic fantasy with creative work building, well balanced magic, deep characters, and flashes of light to break up the shadows. Can’t wait for the next book.

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This was (almost) everything I wanted it to be. A solid, rip-roaring epic fantasy, with all the beloved elements of the genre. Usually when I pick up such a story, I rate it on four (albeit completely arbitrary and unique to myself) elements: magic, monsters, (wo)+men, and mayhem. All four of these things were *very* nearly there, and made my fantasy-loving heart oh so happy.

First, magic (and the only category with a docked half-point). The magic system was solid, but didn't completely do it for me. I don't mind unclarity (is that a word? If not, I declare it so) with magic. In fact, I prefer a little mystery to accompany the system, but this had a little TOO much fogginess with how it worked. I'm assuming it will become more concrete with the next installment of the series. But I would have preferred a little more clear lines with what it is and how it works. I feel like with certain POV's, it could have been fleshed out more, particularly Rasmin's. But generally, I enjoyed the unique element of music being a part of it, and the Shah was certainly an interesting concept. It will be cool to see how it (hopefully) becomes more defined in book 2.

Second, monsters. I love some good scary beasts adding unpredictability to a narrative. This book had it in spades. The shades were super scary and unique, and the chakran was downright terrifying. They kicked the intensity up a notch, and raised the stakes at times, so it had this element that I really enjoyed.

Third, (wo)+men, which is just a dumb way of talking about the characters while having everything start with an "m". I thoroughly enjoyed ALL the characters, which is unusual for me. Usually there are one or two that I have complaints about, be it their character arc or motivations. But every single actor in this story was well-written, had believable motivations, and flowed well with what the author seemed to be trying to accomplish. Even the Maker, the god in this story, wasn't typical. I love how the characters each interacted with him differently, had various ways they believed or didn't believe, and how that affected each of their stories. Sable was a compelling main character, and the Wolf, while somewhat typical (at least, IMO) had elements to him that made him a bit different, too. I really loved the "is he a good guy or bad guy?" question throughout the whole book, and how it made him unique. There were snippets here and there throughout the book of fun, believable relationships. Wolf/Braddok and their friendship, the complicated Wolf/Sable thing going on, and even the sibling relationships the author delved into were awesome. My only complaint (very, very minor) was what happened with Astrid's character arc. It was heartbreaking, in a way, but also made me both angry and unsatisfied. However, I think this is probably what the author was going for, and it in no way detracts from the story.

Lastly, mayhem. This book delivers on complicated plots, battles, fight scenes, and general madness that makes epic fantasy so fun and engaging to read. The author has a knack for pacing that is pretty unusual with epic fantasy, too. Most authors (usually unique to epic fantasy writers) can't quite strike a good balance between worldbuilding and pacing the plot forward, but the author has mastered this. There wasn't ever a point where I was bored by the descriptions of the world, because it was so masterfully woven into the narrative. Yet there wasn't ever a time I was confused, either, by parts of the world because there wasn't an explanation of it. YOU GUYS. This is so hard to do. I write epic fantasy, and this is the hardest part of writing it, hands down. It seems like this author literally had no issue with mastering this, and it makes me jealous. It seemed so effortless, so immersive, and kept the pacing of the book flawless. Major kudos.

All in all, a very solid 4.5/5 stars. I'm really looking forward to book 2, and following this author's career.

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3.5/5 Stars

 

This was my first introduction to ML Spencer, and certainly won't be my last. Chains of Blood follows the story of Rylan Marshall, a suffering, poor soul whose son was killed and daughter kidnapped by demons. He's haunted by the incident, and is determined to rescue his daughter no matter the cost. The plot is straightforward, and my initial impression was "Yeah, we've read this before." But I'm never one to be off-put by a common plotline, so I continued. I'm really glad I did.

Without a doubt, this is dark fantasy. I love me some good dark fantasy reads. Rylan faces challenges to his quest, of course, and it comes in the form of secret oaths, betrayal, and everything he thought he knew about himself being a farce. The cast of supporting characters get some POV's in this story, which I loved. As the story progresses, it becomes clear his daughter Amina has been taken by the Turan Khar, a large enemy force bound to the will of the Warlord, and she is being used as a bargaining chip to force Rylan to the Warlords will, because he is the son of powerful mage. The concept of the Warlord being in complete control of his subjects was fascinating. 

I had a few complaints, although they weren't enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story. Rylan as character was a bit hard for me to relate to, except for his fierce love for his family. I’m not sure what made it hard for me to really like him - maybe the fact that we are kind of thrown into his POV and the story itself without really getting to know him? He came across as quite clueless, and some of the decisions he made were a bit confusing. There were times he killed dozens of people at a time, usually in quite convenient ways, and was confused at how he did so. Maybe it’s a product of me not understanding the magic system, too.


Speaking of, the magic system at times was really, really cool. One really neat aspect was the idea of mages being chained together - it reminded me of the Mord Sith from the Sword of Truth series, or the Wheel of Time’s Seanchan and how they chained Aes Sedai. This chaining not only connected the two mages together so they could share and use each other’s power, but it connected them to the entirety of the Turan Khar empire, funneled through a chain worn by the Warlord. It ensured their everlasting love and Devotion to the Khar cause, and took away all semblance of free will. So it usurped everything that makes one human- emotions, physical body, soul, and mind. Quite clever, and quite scary at the same time.

What I was confused about was the source of Magic itself. Users could control this magical force, and it didn’t seem to have limitations. It seemed to take a physical toll on the user, but then there were ways around this - chains (as mentioned previously) to share the power, or magical artifacts such as the one Gil uses to increase that power to unstoppable ends. It felt a bit too convenient at times. Rylan could accidentally kill as many people as he needed to, and Gil could pretty much stop anything that came at him.

All that to say, this book was very well written and soundly structured, prose-wise. The author has an incredible talent to plop you right into the action and uses descriptives without being too flowery, and yet doesn’t sacrifice beauty in the telling. There was just the right amount of “show don’t tell” mixed with backstory and, well, telling.

3.5/5 for me. I’m sure this is going to hit the right spot for a lot of readers, and I won’t hesitate to pick up another book from the author.

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4.5/5 stars

"It's a dangerous game to try to rid yourself of weakness. You never know what else you might be losing in the deal."

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4/5 stars

This epic conclusion to The War Eternal series was almost exactly as I expected - which isn't a bad thing. Eska's story has been full of twists, turns, and a character arc that is almost flawless. Book one set the stage by introducing her as an arrogant, self-centered little prick, but book 2 expanded that arc to reveal the reasons WHY she was the way she was. The first-person narration, told in the past tense, was unique and well done. Book 3 brought Eska's story to the foregone conclusions that have been hinted at throughout the whole series. 

While I wasn't totally sold on how things wrapped up, I wasn't disappointed. The scope of the story, especially in a world as complicated as this one, is hard to contain in just three books, told from one perspective. Not only do cities float, or come out of the ground, not only do gods fight and humans pay the price, not only do other realities exist and intersect with each other, but there's a character whose story needs to be told, and her voice heard. And this is where Hayes really shines. He weaves the complexities of world-building, prose, and plot without sacrificing his characters and their needs and voices. It's a skill that takes honing, hard work, and diligence. The War Eternal shines as a series that manages all the complexities of the fantasy genre and the masters the difficulty of immersing a reader entirely into a new existence. It's why readers love fantasy, and Hayes nails it. 

So, to this book in particular. Eska has reached the point where she is focused solely on her mission: revenge at all costs. There were moments where she was side-tracked, but this book brings her to the climax. The ultimate showdown. Everything Eska has worked for and sacrificed - the costs to her soul have been huge. She has given everything for her mission, and it's not just impacted her personally but also impacted her friends. One of the outstanding themes of this book is that our choices don't just affect us, they affect everyone around us. It's a hard truth, especially for choices where the consequences end up hurting those we love. Eska barrels through the warning signs that her choices are leading to destruction, so intent on her revenge that she damns those around her, too. 

It's a revenge story that doesn't end like most. It's not tied up in a neat bow. Nothing, in fact, is ever neat and tidy with Eska. She's a whirling tornado that leaves destruction in her wake. And while I would have liked to have seen something a little less chaotic as far as a conclusion to a story goes, it also fits the theme of Eska's story. One thing I will say - don't get started on this series if you like neat, tidy endings that threads all the pieces together. But I'm not that type of reader. I don't mind messy conclusions, because I feel like that's more like real life. I mean, nothing in this world is foregone. Nothing ever ends how we think it will. Not every loose end in our own stories plays out and is tied off. 

And therein lies the beauty in this story. It shows the darkness, but the darkness also reveals the light. People matter. Choices have consequences. Friendship is vital. And choosing your battles wisely, and for the right reasons, can make the difference in your life, and the lives of your friends and family. 

4/5 stars for this book, and  4/5 for the series as a whole. The War Eternal is a fast-paced ride, so buckle up and enjoy the chaos. Get the series here

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5/5 stars

 

I think I've been living under a rock. A rock that prevented me from listening and/or reading this before this month. This masterful work was originally published in 2017. Did you catch that? TWO ZERO ONE SEVEN. Okay, I'm done beating myself up.

This story primarily follows Tau, an Omehi higher common, who exists in a world of castes, war, and an alternate reality known as Isihogo, where demons prowl and try to steal your soul. From the outset, it is clear the dragons are used by certain mages, or Gifted, as a terrible last resort to win battles. They are controlled by terrible means (no spoilers), to manipulate these beasts into serving them. Tau is thrust onto a path of revenge at all costs. 

This African-inspired fantasy is fast-paced, full of memorable characters, unique magic, and a revenge plot that feels oh-so-familiar in fantasy, and remains one of my favorite tropes to date. Winter has created a masterful world, and takes favorite elements of the fantasy genre - swords, magic, dragons - and made them his own. 

Tau is one of those characters that you love one minute and want to wring his neck the next. It's what makes a character believable -  that mixture of realistic, fallible humanity yet also the intrinsic ability to rise above bad circumstances and make something better. Tau is set on a course that brings him to the brink of insanity yet he perseveres through horrible situations, and becomes someone to admire. His character arc is nearly flawlessly executed. 

The plot itself isn't too unique, but the building blocks around it buffer it up. The majority of the book is set around a training school for warriors, yet Winters uses this trope in different ways so that it doesn't feel too familiar. The cast of supporting characters bring lighthearted relief, soul crushing sorrow, and the type of community we all wish we had - friendship is the backbone of this novel. Tau just doesn't realize it. 

I highly recommend this audio book. The narrator, Prentice Onayemi, has the perfect voice for this story. His deep, smooth baritone and knack for making characters stand-out so you always know who is talking creates an atmosphere of complete immersion. I can't wait for the next installment! The fall can't come soon enough.