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Book Review: Yendi by Steven Brust

Yendi by Stephen Brust

Title: Yendi

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Vlad Taltos tells the story of his early days in the House Jhereg, how he found himself in a Jhereg war, and how he fell in love with the wonderful woman, Cawti. -Goodreads

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The Review:

If I had to sum up the Vlad Taltos series in one word, it would be: unconventional. The writing voice is all over the place, flitting between past and present, from in-the-moment to addressing the reader directly. It’s as if Steven Brust took one look at the rules of writing and said, “eff those, I’m going to write however I please.” In my opinion, that’s playing with fire, but some of the most poignant writers take those risks all the time (I’m a firm believer that you must know them well first to break them well). There are places where I thought he took it a little too far, and the heavy voice definitely takes a bit to get used to, but his odd writing style is part of what makes the story so interesting.

Brust also throws you in the deep end of this world to either sink or swim, explaining precisely nothing about the dozens of references he makes throughout the story. He will throw in an occasional anecdote here and there, but for the most part you’re on your own. The first 25% of Yendi required a lot more concentration than normal and I didn’t start enjoying the story until I got (mostly) acclimated.

My favorite thing about the series so far is what feels to me like a merging of genres. It’s definitely a fantasy world but it’s presented with a mystery-driven plot and overlay of humor that reads more like an urban fantasy. I will definitely be continuing on. I plan to use this series as a palate-cleanser every time I get sick of the same old stuff.

Recommendations: Venture into this series with a “just go with it” mentality and be prepared for the atypical. I’d hand this to anyone who might appreciate a fantasy/urban fantasy/mystery tale all bundled into one. I would avoid handing it to someone with risk-adverse reading tastes (or people trying to get their feet wet in the genre).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Crown Imperiled by Raymond E. Feist

A Crown Imperiled by Raymon E. Feist

Title: A Crown Imperiled

Author: Raymond E. Feist

Series: The Chaoswar Saga #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: War rages in Midkemia but behind the chaos there is disquieting evidence of dark forces at work. Jim Dasher’s usually infallible intelligence network has been cleverly dismantled; nowhere is safe. He feels that the world is coming apart at the seams and is helpless to protect his nation. Quiet palace coups are underway in Roldem and Rillanon; and King Gregory of the Isles has yet to produce an heir. In each kingdom a single petty noble has risen from obscurity to threaten the throne. Lord Hal of Crydee and his great friend Ty Hawkins, champion swordsman of the Masters’ Court, are entrusted with the task of smuggling Princess Stephané and her lady-in-waiting, the lovely but mysterious Lady Gabriella, out of Roldem to a place of greater safety. But is there any safe haven to be found? Meanwhile, Hal’s younger brothers Martin and Brendan are attempting to hold the strategic city of Ylith against an onslaught of Keshian Dog Soldiers, and a mysterious force from beneath the sea. The Kingdom might lose Crydee and recover; but if Ylith falls, all is lost. An unknown player appears to be orchestrating these conflicts. Can Pug and the Conclave of Shadows track down this source before Midkemia is destroyed? -Goodreads

The Review:

Unfortunately, A Crown Imperiled didn’t do much to improve my opinion of these later Riftwar books.

I’ve torn apart the first book in this trilogy (A Kingdom Besieged) for its lack of plot advancement and over-dependency on nostalgia for the original characters. The lack of plot advancement continues in the second book with a vengeance, where all notable events can be counted on one hand (made worse by diction that refuses to use contractions, making every sentence annoyingly drawn out… much like the story (ouch)). If Feist spent the same amount of effort developing these new characters as he did reminding us how great his past ones were, I might have been more forgiving about the pacing. The scenes where he was in the moment, focusing on the here-and-now were the best bits of the book and likely the only parts I’ll choose to remember. Overall, though, I found very little value in most of what was presented in the first 80% of the book.

And then he bomb-dropped a 5-star final chapter.

This pissed me off, frankly, because it’s more evidence towards my theory that he was just phoning it in at this point and the publisher was letting him get away with it. The last chapters prove to me that he still knows how to work his magic when he wants to. In fact, the last chapter was so interesting, I’m crossing my fingers that Magician’s End, the saga-ender, makes me eat crow about every negative thing I’ve said about this trilogy so far.

Please keep in mind that I’ve loved EVERYTHING (except for the Krondor Trilogy) up until these last several books. At this point, I’d advocate stopping after the Conclave of Shadows trilogy… maybe after the Darkwar Saga. However, the jury remains out until I finish the final book. Wish me luck…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Fall of the Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Fall of the Dagger by Glenda Larke

Title: The Fall of Dagger

Author: Glenda Larke

Series: The Forsaken Lands #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Sorcerers, pirates, and thieves collide in this thrilling conclusion to Glenda Larke’s epic fantasy adventure series, The Forsaken Lands. -Goodreads

I guess that sums it up.

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The Review:

There are a lot of reasons Glenda Larke is one of my favorite authors: 1. Her beautiful, seemingly effortless writing that lets me just sit back and immerse myself in the story, 2. Her exotic world-building that always takes me to the coolest places (all of you Sanderson fans clamoring for more in the Sixth of Dusk world should pick up a Glenda Lark series for the same encompassing atmospheres spread throughout her trilogies), 3. Her characters, who aren’t perfect, but are endearing in their humanity, and 4. Her infusion of nature (flora/fauna) into the stories. She’s one of my trusted guaranteed-good-read authors.

I can’t decide whether Fall of the Dagger or Dagger’s Path (book 2) is my favorite of the trilogy. Daggers Path had so many good moments (and my favorite setting of the trilogy), but Fall of the Dagger was a very satisfying trilogy-ender with more action. I especially like this series because of the characters. Each POV, while not terribly complex in motivation, always seemed earnest and realistic. I can’t quite put my finger on why I like them so much, suffice to say that I was always invested in their plight. The magic system in this series is also a selling point – there’s an avian-centric magic system that I’ve never come across before that appealed to me with its originality.

Compared to Glenda Larke’s other books, my favorite is still either the Isles of Glory Trilogy or the Watergivers Trilogy, but this one has definitely earned its keep among them. If I’m honest, it’s not a complete “knock-your-socks-off” fantasy read that will shred your soul (like Robin Hobb), but it’s still fun adventure to get absorbed in. I enjoyed them immensely.

Other books you might like:

 by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock [+Giveaway!]

Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

Author: Curtis Craddock

Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: [Nik’s Note: I think this book is better if you DON’T read the summary first… it gives a lot of things away that were fun to discover on my own while reading.] A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war. Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum’s clouds. Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family’s blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors. -Goodreads

The Review:

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was such a cool book! It had interesting character profiles, totally immersive world-building, and an abundance of drop-in details that I found totally original. When I first received the book for review and saw cover quotes from Brandon Sanderson and Lawrence Watt-Evans (two of my all-time favorites), I knew I was in for a good read, I just didn’t know how good. Curtis Craddock did not disappoint!

Right off the bat I was impressed with the unique setting for this story – a gas-giant planet where the only way to travel between floating rock “islands” is through use of airships. The author describes the science of how things stay aloft within the first few chapters as:

“A vast downward-pointing cone of rock bristling with an upside-down forest of salt-encrusted, aether-emitting cloud-choral stalactites that kept the Skyland aloft.”

A mouthful, for sure but technical jargon aside, his world-building goes well beyond setting. Craddock also infused multiple blood-inherent magics, a few carefully placed steampunk elements, and an elegant culture borrowing from French influences. I was truly dazzled by the combination of all of these components, and the unique atmosphere they created is easily my favorite aspect of the book. If you pick it up, you’re in for a bombardment of cool ideas. Left and right they’ll hit you, and the discovery process of so many minor aspects of this world is a lot of fun.

The book also offers an interesting plotline filled with court intrigue, intelligent characters, and an unravelling mystery. I enjoyed every aspect of the characters and thought their relationships and individual developments throughout the book were highly satisfying. Especially Isabelle. Her academic mindset and struggle to acclimate to situations well beyond what she ever thought she’d have to face were especially compelling. Compounding her already great character profile was a second POV from her faithful Musketeer, Jeane-Claude, who was every bit as interesting and savvy as Isabelle. I did wonder a few times if their insights were a tad unbelievable, but for the sake of plot advancement, it didn’t bother me too much. The constant intrigue in the book kept it a page-turner and even surprised me with a few twists. It astounded me how such a slowly paced book could still be totally immersive and exciting. It did take a bit for the book to find it’s stride, but once it did, I couldn’t put it down!

Overall, and Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a delightfully original start to a series that has the potential to be among my favorites if it continues on with the same gusto. If it isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Especially if you love fantasy. And great world building. And Musketeers…

I want to thank the publicists at TOR/Forge and Curtis Craddock for a chance to read and review an early copy of An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors – I enjoyed it thoroughly!

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors Giveaway!

Open to US and Canada Residents!
Click on the link to enter:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Winner has been chosen and notified – Congrats!

 I wish this went without saying, but please verify your GR friendship/blog-following status before claiming entries (all of your entries will be disqualified if you’re dishonest or mistaken). I’d rather you provided too much info than not enough. :)

This giveaway will run until midnight [MST] on Friday Sept 8, 2017. Good Luck! :)

Other  books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Title: Twisted Citadel

Author: Sara Douglass

Series: Darkglass Mountain #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In a time of magic and danger, three new heroes have stepped forward—Ishbel Brunelle, priestess of the Serpent Coil; Isaiah, the Tyrant of Isembaard; and Maximilian, the Lord of Elcho Falling. Yet despite their best efforts, the Dark God Kanubai has risen. And worse yet, war approaches—backed by the evil, insidious DarkGlass Mountain, hordes of insatiable Skraelings ravage the land. While the trio struggles to keep its armies and alliances alive, the SunSoars have their own challenges, including the chance to rejoin the magical Star Dance at long last, and the appearance of the Lealfast, long-lost kin to the Icarii. The Lealfast and the Icarii may be friends . . . or deadly enemies. And as tensions rise between the two races, Axis SunSoar revives his elite Strike Force in a desperate bid to stop the darkness. -Goodreads

The Review:

Reading Twisted Citadel provoked a lot of nostalgia for how much I enjoyed Sara Douglass’ Wayfarer Redemption series. As it turns out, The Darkglass Mountain trilogy is an indirect continuation, something I wish I’d known – I’d have devoured it ages ago! I quite enjoyed The Serpent Bride – the first book in this trilogy, but Twisted Citadel dragged a little bit for me. There was a lot of talk and interpersonal drama, but the overall conflict only moved forward a few paces. I’m always weirdly engaged in these books even though the pacing is often sluggish – but there always seems to be enough moving parts and dynamics to keep me interested, which is why I ended up giving Twisted Citadel a 3 star (I liked it) rating. What kept me engaged in this one was the amount of character growth Ishbel, the main character, experienced (it might have been a little too 180 to be totally realistic, but I still enjoyed it). I also like where I think the story is headed, which bodes well for the final book, The Infinity Gate.

I’m no military strategist, by any means, but I’d like to think I’ve read enough fantasy books with militaristic components to recognize when it’s done well. Unfortunately, I thought the strategy in Twisted Citadel was very poorly executed. A lot of the decisions made by the leaders didn’t make any sense. Many times the explanation to an odd move was: “well, it’s not a typical tactic, and I’ve no presentation to make to tell you why it’s a good idea, but let’s try it anyway and gamble with the last remnants of humanity and see how it goes, shall we?” It was definitely written more to get the characters from point A to point B than to provide any kind of interesting tactics. While there are a lot of things I’d recommend this series for, masterfully coordinated battles are not one of them. I think the author was more focused on the interpersonal drama than anything else, which she definitely does with flair.

It was only after diving into this trilogy that I realized many of Sara Douglass’s books are connected. I prefer reading things in published, if not chronological, order and wish I had known which to pick up first. If you’re interested in Sara Douglass, I’d recommend the following reading order:

Wayfarer Redemption [6]
Threshold [1]
Beyond the Hanging Wall [1]
Darkglass Mountain [3]

Darkglass Mountain contains heavy spoilers for Threshold and Beyond the Hanging Wall, but also refers back occasionally to Wayfarer Redemption in a way that makes me glad I picked those up first. There is also one carryover character from Wayfarer Redemption who won’t have any significance to you if you haven’t read that series first. At this point I don’t believe her Crucible or Troy Game series have anything to do with this world, but I’ve been mistaken before…

Overall, I’m very excited to see how this saga ends. They’re the type of books that you can put down for years and pick back up without missing a beat. They’re very immersive, relaxing reads that have a lot of unique and interesting story elements. While Sara Douglass is not my first fantasy recommend, I definitely think she’s worth a looksie if you like the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Title: Kings of the Wyld

Author: Nicholas Eames

Series: The Band #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: GLORY NEVER GETS OLD. Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld. -Goodreads

The Review:

I read Kings of the Wyld as part of a Buddy Read with my favorite Goodreads group, Fantasy Buddy Reads (where the author even showed up to say a few gracious words – how cool is that?!). This is one of those unique books that got devoured as soon as it came across my radar. If you have any knowledge of my colossal TBR pile, you know that most things that land on it sit there for 5+ sometimes even 10+ years before it gets read. The premise for Kings of the Wyld sounded so interesting, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it asap.

The book was hysterical.

And not just mildly amusing, but the kind of funny that still has me laughing at some of the moments several months later. To set the stage, a retired band of mercenaries (who have become old, fat, and in some cases drunk) pull themselves back together to go on a quest. The main character goes reluctantly, and his sardonic attitude towards everything is what gives this book such a strong voice. All of the characters were individualized and funny in their own way (my favorite of which being Arcandius Moog – the gay wizard who’s quite comfortable questing in a onesie, thank you very much), but they all had to put their differences and arguments aside to accomplish their goal. Add to that a ton of nerdy references, and you have one hella fun book!

What surprised me the most was not just the funny stuff, but how equal of an impact the more serious, deeper moments had on the story. They may have been far between, but the emotional investment I felt was just as strong as for a fantasy without all of the humor. It meant to me that Nicholas Eames was in it to write more than just a fun book – he also succeeded in producing one with substance.

I’ve discovered throughout the years that I am a somewhat inpatient reader. There are so many books on my TBR that it becomes increasingly difficult to stop everything and just enjoy each book for the journey it offers. Kings of the Wyld was mostly about the journey – the pacing focused more on character-building and humor than it did the destination (that is, until things got rolling near the end, then it didn’t let up). What I’m trying to say is, Kings of the Wyld reinvigorated my passion for discovering new authors, took me out of my carefully laid reading plans, and made me appreciate the journey for the first time in a long while.

Overall, this is going to be a very easy book for me to recommend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers ask me for a funny fantasy book and all I could do was point out two popular authors whose humor didn’t quite work for me (Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett… masters of their genre, but not works that I could personally stand behind based on my own experience… don’t be mad at me.) Finally, I have the start to a killer fantasy with tons of humor and substance – one that I can recommend with confidence. If you’re sick of the same old stuff, or are in the mood for a good laugh – Kings of the Wyld is my pick for you!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes