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Book Review: The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

Spider's War by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Spider’s War

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all. In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world. -Goodreads

The Review:

Spider’s war was an unconventional series-ender, and I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. On one hand, the atypical resolution was satisfying because it was so far outside the norm. Many of the series I’ve been reading lately have ended with formulaic story arcs, so Spider’s War felt refreshing by contrast. On the other hand, I think it still could’ve ended with a bit more fanfare… the story kind of petered out, missing any sort of momentum. My favorite series tend to be the ones with that amazing snowball careen towards the end where the energy is poignantly felt. This one rolled steadily out the way it rolled in – plodding and consistent. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t leave me with a lot of takeaway (which is in stark contrast to how other works by this author have left me – I’m still reeling from those!!).

I think in part it lacked the external momentum because the majority of the focus was on character dynamics and individual story arcs. This is actually my favorite part of Abraham’s writings because he always manages to make me feel connected to the characters – even the villains. The human connection is very much the driving force behind the plot, and that’s why the series is still very much worth reading….

But even so, there were some missed opportunities.

The end of book three introduced a couple of new incredible dynamics to the series that never got expanded on to my satisfaction. In fact, they were almost afterthoughts within the story and added no real value to the final destination. What an opportunity wasted!!! This also could be part of the reason I felt the lack of momentum because my imagination of where it could go was incredible.

Without going into too much detail, I also had trouble with some character inconsistency in this final book. While I love the fact that the series drew me in enough to even care about inconsistencies (I’ve been really apathetic lately with that… meaning I’ve also had nothing to contribute to buddy read discussions lol), a lot of my dissatisfaction stems from not liking where the characters ended up. Some were perfection, some not so much.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this series, and I’ve come away with a stronger than usual love for the characters. I think, however, I’m going to have a difficult time remembering how the series ended a few years from now.

Series status: COMPLETE!

Recommendations: the Dagger & Coin is not your typical fantasy series. It’s highly character-driven and focuses more on the small moments between people than any grand external conflicts. I would probably only suggest it to seasoned fantasy readers who need a break from the formulaic, cookie-cutter series out there. On the whole, it’s worth the read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

Title: Tyrant’s Law

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The great war cannot be stopped. The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it. Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul. Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee. -Goodreads

The Review:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit despite the fact that not much happened. Well, that’s not strictly true… there were a lot of moving parts within the characters – internal revelations and forming convictions. There was just less focus on the external mechanisms (until maybe the last 10%). I can’t put my finger on exactly why Abraham’s exploration of character absorbs me so completely, but he has once again managed to capture my attention.

The characters really are the selling points of this series, and almost all of them have these fascinating inner stories and poignant motives for all they do. It’s amazing that even the “villain” inspires a deep compassion from me – these aren’t characters I’ll likely forget soon. Clara is especially interesting for the choices she’s making, and I can tell you she’s 100% my main motive for continuing the series. I just can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next.

Compared to Expanse and Long Price Quartet, I admit I initially found the Dagger and the Coin series a bit slow. It took all the appropriate steps to immerse in character, but something about the external conflicts had me a bit bored. That is…. until the surprise at the end of this book… NOW I’m fully engaged, but it took a while to get here.

Series status: I plan to continue with the final two books as soon as possible. It’s finally starting to show some momentum and I’m eager to hop on for the ride.

Recommendations: this is one of those dry, character-driven fantasies that will appeal to GoT fans for its multiple POV delivery (albeit much less gritty). I personally would endorse Abraham’s Long Price Quartet series first, but these books are still solid entertainment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Title: Throne of Jade

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await. -Goodreads

The Review:

Throne of Jade offered a relaxing continuation to the story, containing all of the elements I enjoyed in His Majesty’s Dragon. “Relaxing” might seem like an odd term to attribute to a military dragon story, but the smooth writing and slow pacing had me snuggling into my seat under a pile of blankets, enjoying what I would earnestly call a true “armchair adventure.” Exciting action scenes are spliced throughout the tale, but for the most part my expectations for this series has developed into a knowledge that I can just ease back into the immersion and trust that the gradual flow of the story is taking me somewhere worthwhile.

This series is playing havoc on my expectations for it. In His Majesty’s Dragon, I got a beautiful dragon/human bonding story that focused on their budding relationship… when I expected a full-blown military showdown and very little character development. In Throne of Jade, I got a nautical adventure with some great inter-character moments… when I was expecting most of the book to focus on some sort of military conflict with China (are you seeing the pattern here?). Honestly though, a lot of that has to do with marketing. If they really wanted to represent the contents of this book, a more accurate title would’ve been “Voyage to the Throne of Jade,” lol. Slight discrepancy aside, it was still a journey I was on board to take (pun), and the payoff with wonderful things experienced at the end of the book was worth the wait. The beautiful imagery surrounding the unique dragon culture Novik created was stunning, and I love the dynamics it added to the overall story and to Temeraire’s character profile. I can’t wait to see what surprises like this I’m in for in future books. :)

As impressed as I was with the story-weaving and world building, Temeraire and Lawrence are still the selling points of this series, and I imagine that will always continue to be the case. There was a lot of introspective dialogue between them in this installment, and I love how the dragon is beginning to shape some of his convictions. I also love how much I’ve learned about Novik’s vision for dragon culture evolution in this alternate world, and, as with fun surprises, look forward to seeing how she develops this throughout the series.

Series status: Temeraire is currently my #1 priority at the moment, and I’m trying to strike a balance between satisfying my cravings for them with my desire to also avoid burnout lol. Good stuff. :)

Recommendations: I would recommend this series to fantasy readers who don’t mind a slow-moving, character-focused plot. It’s a bonus if you like alternate history stories, but so far that aspect seems to be taking a backseat to general dragon awesomeness.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Title: The Promise of Blood

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: The Powder Mage #1

Genre: Fantasy (Flintlock)

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it. It’s a bloody business overthrowing a kingField Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail. -Goodreads

The Review:

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Promise of Blood.

The best components were the characters. It struck me as profound in several places of the book how damn good McClellan was as creating deep connections between his characters to the point where it felt like reading about real people (making it all the more poignant when something happened to one of them). Most authors tell you there’s a connection, McClellan makes you feel it. The character profiles were nuanced and detailed, and they always played brilliantly off of one another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done as well as it was in Promise of Blood, so for that alone the book jumps up a few notches.

And then he took those fantastic characters and made them funny as shit. And not in that “I’m clearly adding a joke here” kind of way, but rather he infused humor in the details – subtle gestures, the ways the characters thought about things, and dry wit within the dialogue (aka, exactly the type of funny I prefer in my books). It sent the book up a few more notches.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I also found the plot highly engaging. There was a lot of political maneuvering and a “traitor in the midst” mystery to uncover, from which I found additional entertainment trying to puzzle out.

And then there was even a cool magic system (or two). Before diving in, I would have almost guaranteed you that my biggest takeaway from the book would’ve been the magic system (that sort of world building always amps me up), but surprisingly it was perfectly content to take a backseat to all the other interesting elements. Its casual inclusion in the story was brilliant, and pretty much notched this book into the solid 5-star category for me. Well done, is all I can say. :)

Were there a few pacing issues? Possibly. It’s a slow burn with multiple POVs and allocates a lot of time for dialogue and establishing relationships between characters. I can see how that might cause some to lose interest, especially if they weren’t as engaged with the mystery, humor, and subtle character development. Personally, I ate up every single moment and would gladly sit through a reread. If anything the slower beginning made the whirlwind of the end that much more exciting by contrast.

Series status: I’m on a long waiting list for the next two books, but liked this book well enough to consider buying them outright. Either way, book 2 has the highest priority spot.

Recommendations: Promise of Blood is a highly recommendable flintlock fantasy that will likely appeal to most fantasy readers (especially those who don’t mind a slow burning plot). It had the perfect blend of mystery, magic, humor, and an extra splash of brilliance when it came to the characters. Depending on how the series goes, this could shape up to be a top recommend for me.

Other books you might like (these recs are borrowed from a great post DragonsandZombies did on flintlock fantasy – I’ve read 3 of the 5 listed and can attest to the genre amazingness):

You can check out more great flintlock fantasy recs through her full post. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Title: Grey Bastards

Author: Jonathan French

Series: The Lot Lands #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Live in the saddle, die on the hog. Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs. Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. -Goodreads

The Review:

What a fun, irreverent read!

I’ve had Grey Bastards on my radar since before it was picked up by a publisher (I went to buy it and had a freak out because it wasn’t available anymore). Lately I’ve been really enjoying this type of story – where the characters don’t take themselves too seriously and even manage to give me a few laughs while they’re doing awful things. It falls perfectly in line with that cheeky dark fantasy I’ve been craving.

Grey Bastards had a unique concept that piqued my interest right away – human/orc half breeds on the edge of society who protect the lands from full-blood orcs. The tale wasn’t terribly complex, but it did surprise me how many good character dynamics and twists it provided. My favorite scenes were anything to do with the conflicts within the council of the Grey Bastards, which I feel took a decent story to the next level.

The characters are easily the selling point of this book (with overall concept a close second). This is going to sound an odd comparison, but it reminded me a bit of the dynamics between characters and their handling of certain situation in Firefly. You know what I mean – the same irreverent humor and causal ass-kicking that made that series so memorable. Obviously all context is different, but chances are if you liked the “spirit” of that show, you’ll enjoy this book.

Series status: where the hell is the second one? I need it yesterday.

Recommendations: if you like cheeky fantasy with a fun plot and loads of debauchery, look no further! Grey Bastards is easily one of the most entertaining books I’ve read this year and I think a lot of fantasy readers will have fun with it (if they haven’t already).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Song in the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner

Song in the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner

Title: A Song in the Silence

Author: Elizabeth Kerner

Series: Tale of Lanen Kaeler #1

Genre: Fantasy (almost Fantasy-Romance)

Rating: 1.5/5 stars <- a pretty rare rating from me. It means “I didn’t like it, but it had some merit”

The Overview: Lanen Kaelar has spent her life being told just how wrongheaded and foolish she is by her entire family. When Lanen’s father dies, she chooses to leave her abusive relatives and search out the great dragons she has always dreamed of, though she knows what she seeks may not be real.

But those who hold true power know that prophecies have been told of Lanen Kaelar since before her birth. They fear the destiny she may fulfill, the mysteries she may unravel–and the strange and terrifying love she may find on the legendary Dragon Isle. -Goodreads

The Review:

A Song in the Silence had a lot of problems.

Not the least of which included a narration that kept forgetting its parameters, a plot that dragged for days, and a bizarre instalove that then (ironically) proceeded to dominate most of the page count. The story was riddled with “wtf?” moments and more than a handful of “just go with it”s.

And yet, I managed not to DNF it.

The overall story was just interesting enough to keep me reading. The basic writing was… actually pretty decent if you’re only taking into account how well the words flew off the page. Before I started having issues with the plot, the slow beginning didn’t feel like a big deal because I found the writing immersive and relaxing.

It was just such an oddly constructed book. I don’t think half of the convenient plot-advancing ideas within it would hold up in today’s competitive fantasy market. I also think the meat of the story could’ve been told beautifully in about 150 pages instead of 400. It spend a great deal of time hashing and rehashing concepts, all of which felt unnecessary. I seldom have patience for endless discussion in books, even if it involves dragons.

Ultimately, the writing, general appreciation for the unconventionality of the book, and a mild curiosity where things would end up kept me reading, but it was a close thing. I can’t say as though I’m thrilled I made it all the way through (I started speed reading at the 80% mark just to get it over with), because of how much time it took me to get there.

Series status: after a lengthy debate (which involved a blog post you’ll never see because I made up my mind before it went live), I decided to abandon this series. I snooped around Goodreads to see if I could find some spoilery reviews for the next two books. As it turns out, I’m not missing much. Had I read on I was most definitely in for another 600 pages of the elements I didn’t like about this one. These books will be donated. :)

Recommendations: This book is not very recommendable from my point of view. Most of the books I had this many issues with were DNFs, so I guess it had some redeeming qualities, but none that I could endorse. I will say that it hit me out of the blue as a fantasy romance tale, a genre I’m not well-read in, so if you like books of that variety you might have better luck with it than I did.

Other books you might like (…better):

by Niki Hawkes