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Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Title: The Emperor’s Blades

Author: Brian Staveley

Series: Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again… The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation. Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move? -Goodread

The Review:

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of of the things others found fault in. ;P

To start it off, y’all know how much I love books that have training sequences and competition, and Emperor’s Blades had both in abundance! These Kettral warriors train endlessly in a really brutal regiment to become deadly strike force… and I ate up every single moment. What’s more, the giant birds (badass mofos (cover image background) that for all intents and purposes are feathered dragons), were the cherry on top of what was an already riveting segment. I found this POV (Valyn) the most compelling through the series, made even better by all the great side characters around him.

And then we move into another POV (Kaden) who is going through training for a religious order and brings with him a whole host of skill-honing (more along the lines of mind-over-body and minor magic-wielding). While Valyn’s POV was fast paced action and excitement, Kaden’s provided a slow burn to break it up. Both were equally interesting to me at this point in the series (this is the problem I get into with waiting too long to review – reading the rest of the series inevitably affects my overall impressions).

And then we have the final POV, Adare. I really liked the political intrigue this perspective offered, and spent most of the book fascinated with this character. I sincerely couldn’t figure out if she was that painfully nieve, or if there was a grander plan in place I’d yet to discover (you’ll have to tell me what you think – I won’t spoil anything here). What I saw in this first book was the potential for some really great character growth with Adare, and that prospect enticed me.

This book also contained a mini murder mystery that had me actively trying to narrow down “whodunnit.” I absolutely love when a book gets me analyzing things about it when I’m not actively reading it, so you can see why Emperor’s Blades was such a success for me. I’m just going to try my hardest to forget that someone spilled the beans on whodunnit before I got that far… I’m not bitter.

Overall, Emperor’s Blades had all of the things that excite me about reading fantasy – in abundance! I won’t endorse it as the perfect read, but it was a perfect match for me and I loved every single gut-wrenching moment.

Series status: I’ve since finished the entire series and enjoyed it as a whole. The last two are perhaps not quite as good as this first book, but they’re still very much worth reading (mere 4/5 stars ;P). I’ll definitely be picking up anything else Brian Staveley chooses to write.

Recommendations: if you glance at that cover and are even mildly interested in what you see – give the book a go! It’s a well-done trilogy that offers lots of action and excitement. I would feel comfortable handing this to both seasoned fantasy readers and those new to the genre. A great pick! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Title: Nyxia Unleashed

Author: Scott Reintgen

Series: Nyxia Triad #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one. Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population. But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late? -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m really pleased with this sequel. The story seems more in line with what I think people were expecting from the first book: highly-trained teens dropped on an alien planet to mine Nyxia. There was less competition in this book than the first, and I missed a bit of that head-to-head drama, but the good character dynamics remained strong. What it offered instead was a new world to explore – complete with diverse flora and fauna, a fascinating planetary history, and indigenous beings with a breathtaking culture. Nyxia Unleashed was filled with countless moments of wonder and awe.

The world-building was superbly done and by far my favorite element of the book. There was so much creative and beautiful imagery throughout that I’m left with a solid vision of this alien world. Very well done. The natives were a lot of fun to learn about, especially when their culture clashed with our earthen norms. It was an experience for sure, and one that truly transported me.

So, while the world-building and diverse cast of characters were enough to satisfy this harsh critic, I admit the logistics of the plot – primarily the “grand scheme” on all three sides of the conflict, were a little thin. It required a “just go with it” attitude at times and made me nervous that the final book isn’t going to culminate to the satisfying ending I’m craving. It doesn’t lessen how I feel about the wonders this book showed me (truly awesome), but it might play into how I feel about the series as a whole depending on how the complexities of plot are handled in the final book. Fingers crossed.

It’s also worth noting that I really like the narration of the main character. He has a lot of depth that comes from good backstory and continues to get better as he’s shaped by these experiences. I especially love the whole “file this under C – for creative” thing he’s got going on because it speaks to a deeper coping mechanism that allows him to compartmentalize trauma and just get things done. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I love it.

Series status: Going strong. It has the potential to end up among my all-time favorites. You’d better believe I’ll be hounding for a copy of the final book, asap. :)

Recommendations: As I said with the first book, this is an awesome recommend for Red Rising fans who don’t mind all of those gritty components watered down to fit a YA market. It has the same competitive edge, interesting characters and camaraderie, and overall atmosphere. I’m a fan.

I’d like to thank Random House Children’s, Scott Reintgen, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Nyxia Unleashed. Approval for this title made my day!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan

Title: Empire of Ashes

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Draconis Memoria #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it. A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know. -Goodreads

The Review:

Empire of Ashes solidified Draconius Memoria as one of the best series I’ve ever read!

For me this book started out with a bang and didn’t let up until the whirlwind finale. So much action and conflicts coming to a head that I wouldn’t recommend venturing into the last 25% if you have to get up early the next morning. This isn’t the kind of book easily set aside.

My favorite part was the convergence of storylines. This multiple POV series is unique for me because I feel equally drawn to all of the characters. It made for an amazing read because no matter which perspective had the stage, I was enjoying the ride immensely. Seeing how each person’s tale ended was particularly satisfying, as was the conclusion. I was really nervous this final book was going to be a letdown after how hard I’ve been fangirling for the series. It had a lot to live up to, and I’m so happy to report that it delivered.

As you would assume, this final book focuses more on action and conflict than exploration. The discovery of so many breathtaking places in the first two volumes is what helped solidify this series as a favorite. However in Empire of Ashes exploration is set aside in favor of action, conflict, and momentum. I missed that component a little, but at some point I guess it had to end (maybe I’m most upset that it ended at all – I want more!!). The story also contained quite a few answers to some burning questions I’ve had throughout the series. I find that the more I know, the more I want to discover. I’ll just throw it out there that this world is screaming for a prequel trilogy – there’s so much cool stuff packed into the histories that I feel we’ve only just scraped the surface thus far (Anthony Ryan, please write more!). :)

Let’s talk a minute about the dragons (or drakes, if you want to get picky). I absolutely love how well this series portrays dragons. Every aspect of their existence on this world and how it’s in conflict/harmony with humanity was in line with my favorite types of dragon stories. They’re not magical or ethereal, but their raw bestial attributes makes them feel magical, but still like the type of beings that could exist in our world. It might be funny to call them “realistic” dragons, but that’s how my dragon-obsessed mind thinks about them and why I loved them so much. Add to all of that practical uses for their blood (in the same vein that metals are useful to humans in Sanderson’s Mistborn series), and consider me sold.

Overall, Empire of Ashes had a lot of expectations to hold up to, and I’m thrilled it met all of mine. I’m still kind of reeling from the ending, but I’m certain that these gorgeous hardcovers will have a place of honor on my favorites shelf from here on out.

Recommendations: this series has quickly become my #1 recommend for fantasy readers, especially those who love dragons. It’s a cool flintlock fantasy that promises adventure, excitement, and intrigue at every turn. It is among my personal favorites and has the Obsessive Bookseller’s official stamp of endorsement. ;)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Anthony Ryan, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Empire of Ashes. It was my most anticipated release of 2018, and you seriously made my year! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Twelve Kings of Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Title: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu

Series: Song of the Shattered Sands #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first. -Goodreads

The Review:

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a book I’ve had high on my priority list ever since that enticing cover came across my radar in 2015. The cover is actually a pretty good indication of what to expect from this book – excellent attention to world-building and a main character determined to shake up the status quo using swordsmanship and stealth. It was a very entertaining read, but it did leave a few elements on the table.

Pacing was by far the biggest miss for me. This book is riddled with flashbacks that, while interesting, effectively killed momentum for the main story. Actual forward plot advancement took forever. It’s only saving grace was that the flashbacks contained a good number of “reveals” that I think were supposed to serve as plot advancing tools (where the story moves forward in concept instead of action), but I think it could’ve done with far fewer (as it was, I occasionally got confused and forgot which timeframe I was reading and had to reorient). Eventually, it all came together, but the lack of momentum made for the type of read I didn’t have qualms setting it aside for other reads.

The characters also lacked a little bit of depth. They had great backstory (as was emphasized practically every other chapter), but never really pulled me in more than surface level. Perhaps this issue was also caused by so many flashbacks taking away time from development. Whatever the case, I’m sitting here really liking the characters but not feeling anything for them.

To that effect, other than the occasional language and sex scenes, both the character profiles and love story came off very YA (okay, maybe a leveled-up YA), but fantasy readers will probably find it a little thin when compared to the likes of Malazan or even Game of Thrones. I actually think Twelve Kings in Sharakhai could be a great recommend for those in that transition between YA and adult Fantasy, as several elements (the setting and fight scenes) reminded me strongly of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (specifically the prequel, Assassin’s Blade). When I say something “came off YA” I usually mean that in a disparaging way, but in this case I didn’t count it a bad thing.

Overall, this isn’t the strongest I’ve read in the genre, but the world building and story were enough to keep me engaged when the pacing started to lag. Good drop-in details about a new world always goes a long way with me, so I definitely came away from this happy to have read it.

Series status: I liked it, but if it wasn’t for the scheduled buddy read for the sequel I signed up for, I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to continue. Especially since discovering that it’s planned for a six book series instead of what I thought completed as a trilogy. Even so, I’m hopeful for the best in the next one.

Recommendations: I’d hand this to fantasy readers in the mood for something light and creative, or to YA fantasy fans who want a good translation series from Throne of Glass to adult fantasy. The world building was easily the biggest selling point for me, so if you like to immerse in new places, give it a try. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

[August 28, 2018] Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Triumphs

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Kate Daniels #10 [The FINALE!!!]

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: August 28, 2018 [This date is subject to change]

The Overview: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be. Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up. Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Considering how hard I’ve been fangirling these last few months over all things Ilona Andrews, it’s no surprise my most anticipated release of Fall 2018 is Magic Triumphs, the Kate Daniels finale! I’m so sad it’s going to be over, but I take comfort in the spinoffs and various other amazing projects these authors are working on. I don’t even need to read the finale to tell you that Kate Daniels has already beat out all competition to become my favorite urban fantasy series. And to think I almost didn’t read past the first book!

Who else is excited for Magic Triumphs??!!

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

This month saw the official launch (on my blog) of my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge. Along with that went a complete library reorganization and newfound commitment to getting a handle on my overwhelming physical TBR.

Last month I complained that I wasn’t good at prioritizing time to read – something I really wanted to change. I feel as though I’ve made excellent strides by setting myself a few goals. They included a stricter “bedtime” of 11:30 (where I don’t actually have go to sleep, I just need to be in bed with a book winding down from the day). My goals also entail setting my phone out of reach when sitting down to read. If my phone is handy, I grab it. I found myself picking it up to “check something” on average every two pages because I guess my addicted brain can’t focus without extra stimulation at the point (it’s maddening). In any case, both of those things seemed to work, and I got through at least twice as many pages in June than previous months. Win.

Now if I can only bust through five times my normal, I’ll get through my collection in no time. ;)

On to the Mini Reviews:

Saint's Blood by Sebastien De Castell

Saints Blood (Greatcoats #3) by Sebastien de Castell [3.5/5 stars]

Even though Saints Blood contained my least favorite story components of the series, I still was 100% totally on board with the writing and the characters. De Castell manages to strike a brilliant balance between making you cringe at truly awful events and making you laugh at the way the main characters think about and handle them. You know you shouldn’t be laughing because of what just happened, but the Greatcoats are just so damn funny you can’t help yourself. All I can say is, de Castell has completely won me over from the rough start in book 1, and I’m genuinely excited to finish the series out (and move on to Spellslinger).

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

These authors continue to impress me with their ability to deliver consistently amazing stories filled with action, romance, mystery, magic, and a whole lot of fun. What I liked most about White Hot is how it advanced the overall arc of the trilogy, and how we got to dig a little deeper into what makes Rogan tick. What I didn’t care for too much in this one was the behavior of Nevada – she came off really stubborn and immature at times (a trademark of Kate Daniels is that she’s stubborn, but she usually at least acknowledges the irrationality and uses it to calculatingly prove a point… Nevada was just being petty). The dynamic didn’t work for me, but it was a small issues in the whole scheme of how much I’m enjoying this series. It’s very much on par with what you can expect from an Ilona Andrews novel, and I’m eager to devour all the things they’ve written. 

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4) by John Scalzi [4/5 stars]

Discovering that this cheeky sci-fi series continued book 4 with an even cheekier YA POV was a bag of mixed emotions. I haven’t had the best luck with YA lately, but I loved the character Zoe. If anyone could pull off integrating this unconventional new perspective into an adult series, it would be Scalzi. Happily, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it may have revitalized the series for me. At first I was a bit bored with it’s shared (or dual) timeline with Last Colony (book 3) because I’m not the biggest fan of backtracking. However, Scalzi quickly shifted focus to new events that actually added to the “big picture” of what happened in Last Colony and, as a result, improved my opinion of both perspectives. The end of Zoe’s Tale was particularly satisfying, and overall it reinvigorated my interest in the series. Nice. :)

Broken (Women of the Otherworld #6) by Kelley Armstrong [3.5/5 stars]

Broken was a decent bounce-back from Haunted, with the added benefit of Elena once again as the POV. I’d heard this was another Elena book before diving in, and I admit to setting some expectations that it would also be another “werewolf” book with all the same intense feels as the first two. Er… kind of not the case. If anything, I’d call this a “zombie” book – a hybrid of Elena’s great POV and the plot structure of the Paige books. Not a bad combination, because it made for a fun mystery read, but I’d be remiss if it didn’t admit I missed a little of that carnal component that was so strong in the first book (not just the sex, but the overall intensity between every character). Even so, I’m at the point in the series where storylines and characters are starting to cross and I’m loving the convergence enough to keep my enthusiasm pumped for what’s to come. As with Haunted, Armstrong incorporated a mystery based on real world infamous criminals (Jack the Ripper, in this case), and I appreciate how creatively they’re being integrated into this supernatural world. I hope this book marks the upward swing of the series. :)


Overall, I think I’m on my way to establishing good reading habits, but I still have a lot of work to do. My question for you is: when do you prioritize time to read? Is it something you have to work at?

by Niki Hawkes