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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

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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: 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