Image

Book Review: The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winters

Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Title: The Rage of Dragons

Author: Evan Winters

Series: The Burning #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine. Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rage of Dragons was a promising start to a new series.

The dueling/battle scenes were fantastic! Among the best I’ve read. They offered a lot of variation in execution and tactics and the focus was always more on the motives of the characters within them then just and endless stream of sword bashing. I generally find battle scenes boring, even in books I’m loving otherwise. It’s rare to find some this engaging. This is a good thing, because it felt like the book was about 75% fighting with little room for anything else. If you’re going to highlight something at that volume, it had better be done well. Truthfully, how well they were executed (pun) is the main reason I rated the book so favorable. They went a long way to compensate for the book’s flaws, and it did have a few.

Character development left a little to be desired. Many of the profiles felt contrived, especially at the beginning. The relationships and feelings were conveyed, but they weren’t shown with any depth. Then, somewhere around the 80% mark, that changed. I began to feel the bond between the main character and his comrades and from that point on the book lived up to its potential. I also had a hard time with the single-minded focus of the main character. He was kind of an idiot in that regard and didn’t really serve his end-game that well with some of his rash decisions. I will at least concede that he was a consistent character – kind of an idiot in all aspects – so it felt like his behavior was a part of his construct rather than a means to advance plot. And actually he was probably more realistic because his obsessive pursuit of vengeance at any cost defied rational decision making in itself. I also liked that he was an underdog. Not even particularly gifted in swordplay, he had to work hard for everything he achieved, and that sort of development is always massively satisfying to read about. The author got major bonus points for taking the time to develop that aspect of character thoroughly. Overall, this area was decent enough as a whole to keep me entertained, but I can see how those who desire a stronger connection to the characters from the get-go might struggle.

For a book with such interesting concepts and exotic setting, the world-building felt like a missed opportunity. The premise is a people trying to aggressively settle a new land after fleeing their own. There’s not a satisfying explanation about their origins, their magic systems, or their end-goals. Just a lot of fighting. What’s more, the indigenous people who are defending their homeland don’t get any screen-time until near the end. I’m hoping many of these things will be expanded on in future books (I think it’s slated as a 4 book series), but at the moment I wish I’d learned a bit more. After talking to some peeps here on Goodreads and my book club members, there’s a consensus that the overall plot is hard to get behind. The entire perspective is from the invaders and it’s very difficult to root for a people who are so obviously the instigators. It didn’t bother me as much while I was reading, but after all the discussion it’s clear that is an issue.

And speaking of world-building, there was a distinct lack of dragons. I expected them to be integrated into the story more, but through the entire thing they were only on the periphery. When they did make an appearance it was vague, lacking a lot of detail and description to really ground the imagery into my head. I get it – they’re important to the entire plot, but not the main focus of the book – but I wanted more (I always do with dragons).

I did like the writing style. The author mentions in his clever review of the book that he was going for a Pierce Brown/Red Rising affect and I could definitely see the influence. It was very fast-paced and in the moment (which is probably why the fight scenes were so good), and highlighted events and action more than anything else. Note that I say “fast-paced” to describe the writing within each scene. The overall plot progression was actually kind of slow (not a bad thing). In comparison, I think it could’ve used a few more slower moments for reflection and character development to make it feel more robust, but the overall style was a mark in its favor.

Recommendations: This is a battle-rich novel with an interesting if controversial premise. It has some of the most entertaining fight scenes (in abundance) that I’ve ever read and a fast-paced writing style. The character development took a while to feel authentic and the world-building had some missed opportunities. However, the strengths outweighed the weaknesses and I would recommend this as a good start to a series. Great for those who want a good action flick. Warning: there be few dragons.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Covenants by Lorna Freeman

Title: Covenants

Author: Lorna Freeman

Series: Borderlands #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Rabbit is a trooper on the Border Guards, just another body in the King’s army. But when his patrol encounters a Faena-one of the magical guardians of an uneasy ally-Rabbit is thrust into a political and magical intrigue that could start a war. Because Rabbit isn’t just another trooper. He is the son of nobility-and a mage who doesn’t know his own power… -Goodreads

The Review:

I’d call this a hidden gem.

I went through my entire collection of unread books and combined my highest priorities into a bookshelf on Goodreads. Of them all, Covenants happened to have the highest average rating among my peers. Aka, a perfect place to start.

And I was not disappointed.

This is one of those slow burn classic fantasy reads that focuses on character development and immersing the reader in the world. If you sit down and map out all of the major plot points it wouldn’t take you very long because the story was more about the journey than the destination. I enjoyed the flow of the writing so much that I didn’t even really notice this was the case until about halfway through the book.

If a book is going to be highly character-driven, those characters better be good. Rabbit was understated and relatable but also strong-willed and funny. It made for a good combination. My favorite moments were the banters between him and the other characters. Almost all of them left an imprint on my memory, which is saying something considering I don’t always retain even the names of main characters in books.

There was enough solid world-building to spark my interest, and the author did a great job expanding on it as the book progressed. It’s a cool combination of magicals and non-magicals many years after a war between them, and I liked the role the magical world had on the mundane. It explores prejudices, self righteousness, religious zealotry, and fear of the unfamiliar in ways I thought frighteningly applicable to real life. It’s a great example of how fantasy novels are just as adept at teaching empathy and understanding as “serious” fiction. As much as I enjoyed the world and the concepts, I’m not sure the author left a lot of room for expansion in future books, but we shall see.

Because I was enjoying it so much, I gave it a lot of leeway on the few “just go with it” scenes. The book isn’t perfect, but what it does well, it does well enough to compensate for the flaws. I’ll be continuing the series with delight, even if that means reading the old, nasty copy I found secondhand (my only option – book #2 was rather difficult to get ahold of). I will be wearing gloves to read it (germaphobe alert!), so that should tell you my commitment to the series at this point.

Recommendations: Covenants was a delightful surprise and one I’m glad I read. The writing style, heavy focus on character development, and memorable plot reminded me strongly of Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. The first two are only available in print format, so that might be my only holdup for recommending. Other than that, it was great!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson

Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson

Title: Empire of Dreams

Author: Rae Carson

Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns #4

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Even though Red Sparkle Stone is a foundling orphan with an odd name and a veiled past, she’s about to be adopted into the royal family—by Empress Elisa herself. Sixteen-year-old Red can hardly believe her luck. Then, in a stunning political masterstroke, the empress’s greatest rival blocks the adoption, and Red is left with no family and no future. Grieving and lost, but determined to find her place, Red hatches a daring plan: she will prove herself as a recruit for the world’s most elite fighting force, the legendary Royal Guard—something no woman has done before. But it’s no coincidence that someone wanted her to fail as a princess, someone whose shadowy agenda puts everything she loves at risk. As danger closes in, it will be up to Red and her new friends—and maybe some new enemies—to save the empire. If they can survive recruitment year. -Goodreads

The Review:

The first book in the Fire and Thorns series happens to be my favorite YA book of all time. The first two Goldseer books also rank high up on the list. I love Carson’s writing, characters, and knack for storytelling. That said, I enjoyed Empire of Dreams (which felt more like a spin-off than a continuation – it follows a side character), but not quite as much as I thought I would.

The basic premise is a girl joining the royal military in the hopes of proving her worth. It offers a bunch of flashbacks to her rough childhood, which gave her a lot more depth than we got in the trilogy – I particularly enjoyed those passages. It balanced that with a plethora of interesting training sessions. I complain a lot about YA books that include training but don’t take time to let the reader experience any of it. This novel had sparing and practicing in abundance, which was the highlight of the novel for me.

Now, I realize the book is a YA and not meant to really be compared to robust adult fantasy novels, but even taking that in consideration, I thought the military training and Red’s relationships with the other initiates was rather juvenile. There was some good “us vs. them” dynamics at first, but then all the other characters got SUPER emotionally supportive and communicative about their feelings. It made the recruits come across much younger than they were. I think the story could’ve benefitted from a bit more grit. However (a big however), that sort of cooperation and teamwork wasn’t unpleasant to read about. It’s a feel-good story for sure, and I’m fighting some guilt at criticizing it for something I should probably be appreciating it for. So I’m splitting the difference by celebrating the expanded training sequences with the disclaimer that they’re not robust, they’re just fun.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I have a lot of patience for narrators in general and can usually work past ones I’m not particularly enjoying (heck, I even tolerate text to speech on my Kindle app). I’m sorry to say that the narrator for this book was one of my least favorite I’ve ever listened too. Literally every line and piece of dialogue was delivered with this sharp conviction that pierced my ears. There were no dynamics or variety in the performance, so the entire book was an endless experience of being snapped at. It was really unpleasant. I half wonder if my rating would’ve been higher had I physically read the whole thing rather than just part of it.

Recommendations: this is a YA fantasy for fans of the Fire and Thorns series. I don’t think it added anything to the experience as a whole, but I do think it was a lot of fun. Skip the audiobook for this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Mini Book Review: The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin

Title: The Ice Dragon

Author: George R.R. Martin

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: From ancient times the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember. Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child — and the ice dragon who loved her — could save her world from utter destruction. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

This was a gorgeous little book. Luis Royo is my favorite artist, so I knew I had to get my hands on this collaboration sooner than later. And it’s about a dragon. Sold. The story itself was good. A little darker than the typical “girl and her dragon” tale, which I liked. It was perhaps just a bit too dark for kids, but teens would have no issue with it. The illustrations completely enhanced the text and I’m sure that alone raised my rating by at least a star. Overall, I’m thrilled to add this gem to my collection.

Other books you might like (I’m being cheeky here by listing other books I’ve read with Royo’s cover art – some of my favorite images!):

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Title: Night Shift Dragons

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy (ish)

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: They say family always sticks together, but when you’re your dad’s only lifeline and the whole world—humans, dragons, and gods—wants you dead, “family bonding” takes on a whole new meaning. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m in way over my head. I thought getting rid of my dad’s bad luck curse would put things back to normal. Instead, I’m stuck playing caretaker to the Great Dragon of Korea. That wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t such a jerk, or if every dragon on the planet wasn’t out to kill him, or if he was my only problem.

Turns out, things can always get worse in the DFZ. When a rival spirit attacks my god/boss with the aim of turning the famously safety-optional city into a literal death arena with Nik as his bloody champion, I’m thrust onto the front lines and way out of my comfort zone. When gods fight, mortals don’t usually survive, but I’m not alone this time. Even proud old dragons can learn new tricks, and with everything I love falling to pieces, the father I’ve always run from might just be the only force in the universe stubborn enough to pull us back together.
 -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve read almost everything Rachel Aaron/Bach has published and she’s easily one of my favorite authors. Even so, this little Heartstrikers spinoff series takes the cake as one of the best I’ve read from her.

Some of her series have these amazing 5-star moments but don’t sustain the same consistency of momentum. She’s an exceptional writer who even has a book on how to write 10000 words a day, but sometimes that significant word count comes at the cost of conciseness and efficiency. The final two Heartstriker books, for example, I think could’ve comfortable been edited down to a single, amazing novel. As it was, the drawn out plot and endless discussions about the plot had me questioning whether I’d still enjoy her as a self-published author as much as I did when she went the trad route.

Well, this trilogy alleviated all of those concerns. The DFZ trilogy is the most consistently good from start to finish she’s written to date. And also one of the most fun, which is saying something considering how awesome her story ideas always are.

I most appreciated the character growth, specifically between the main character and her familial relations. The dynamic was relatable and downright hysterical at times and I thought the growth felt more organic than not. I also loved getting more immersed in the DFZ (basically a living city) and learning more about how it has evolved. The main conflict for this book was completely satisfying and even involved an element of competition.

Recommendations: while I think this trilogy might be fun on its own, you’d miss a lot of nuance about the city and the dragon society if you didn’t read Heartstrikers first. Not to mention that reading these first would spoil the entire Heartstrikers series. So proceed at your own discretion. These are an absolute delight and a really cool mix of urban fantasy setting & writing style, fantasy concepts and creatures, and YA-reminiscent characters (without all the annoying tropes). Highly recommend!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

Title: The Light of All That Falls

Author: James Islington

Series: Licanius #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Light of All That Falls concludes the epic adventure that began in The Shadow of What Was Lost, the acclaimed fantasy blockbuster from James Islington. The Boundary is whole once again, but it may be too late. Banes now stalk Andarra, while in Ilin Illan, the political machinations of a generation come to a head as Wirr’s newfound ability forces his family’s old enemies into action. Imprisoned and alone in a strange land, Davian is pitted against the remaining Venerate as they work tirelessly to undo Asha’s sacrifice – even as he struggles with what he has learned about the friend he chose to set free. And Caeden, now facing the consequences of his centuries-old plan, must finally confront its reality – heartbroken at how it began, and devastated by how it must end. -Goodreads

The Review:

A superb conclusion to one of my new favorite fantasy trilogies!

My reread of the first two book in preparation for the finale was definitely a highlight of 2020. It hadn’t been that long since I’d read them initially, but there’s a lot of complexity to the story and the characters that made the refresher necessary. The added benefit is that the books were even better upon my reread, as I was able to retain all the details.

I’ve said it before, but part of the reason this series appeals to me so much is the overall writing style. It takes classic fantasy elements and then twists and enhances them into something modern and complex. I felt the comfort you only get from old novels of the genre, but was completely engaged in the endless plot dynamics. The series definitely requires more concentration than normal. Not quite Gardens of the Moon level, but up there if you want to appreciate all the nuances. I wish the first time around I’d paid more attention to name distinction because it was really easy to slip into character confusion (via audio, anyway). It’s not a light read by any means, but it’s well worth the effort.

Spoiler-free, I found the conclusion really satisfying. The ultimate resolution was something I predicted, but it was written so well that I still had all the feels (that’s a mark of a good author – even when you know it’s coming, you can still experience the gut-punch). Overall, I think in this case the quality of the ending and conflict resolutions was weighted more heavily for this series because of how layered the plot had been. I’d been so patient, trusting that the payoff was worth wading through the complexity, and I was not disappointed. There were so many fantastic “reveals” in this book, and I can’t help but feel a little like a gushing fangirl whenever I talk about them.

Recommendations: I was holding out for the conclusion before making my final assessment, and it absolutely did not disappoint. The Licanius Trilogy is now a favorite and an official Obsessive Bookseller recommend. I’d hand it to anyone who loves classic fantasy but wants more complexity and dynamics in their novels.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes