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Novella Review: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Dawnshard

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #3.5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: When a ghost ship is discovered, its crew presumed dead after trying to reach the storm-shrouded island Akinah, Navani Kholin must send an expedition to make sure the island hasn’t fallen into enemy hands. Knights Radiant who fly too near find their Stormlight suddenly drained, so the voyage must be by sea. Shipowner Rysn Ftori lost the use of her legs but gained the companionship of Chiri-Chiri, a Stormlight-ingesting winged larkin, a species once thought extinct. Now Rysn’s pet is ill, and any hope for Chiri-Chiri’s recovery can be found only at the ancestral home of the larkin: Akinah. With the help of Lopen, the formerly one-armed Windrunner, Rysn must accept Navani’s quest and sail into the perilous storm from which no one has returned alive. If the crew cannot uncover the secrets of the hidden island city before the wrath of its ancient guardians falls upon them, the fate of Roshar and the entire Cosmere hangs in the balance. –Goodreads

The Review:

Stormlight Archive fans: this novella is totally worth your time!

And so far it’s one of my favorite tangents to date. Following one of my favorite tangent characters to date: Rysn. I must love books that take place on the high seas because I seem to enjoy all of them. Maybe it’s the sense of adventure and discovery they offer. The excitement of facing the unknown. In this case the adventure was to a storm-shrouded island, the discovery was everything on said island (and a bunch of technological revelations along the way), and the many unknowns of this world in general are what keep me eagerly coming back for more. I want to know what else has been lurking around this series that I haven’t noticed yet. I love how much depth Sanderson has already built into Roshar, and I’d be willing to bet we’ve only just scratched the surface. World-building is one of the things I value most in books, and this one had so many cool additions. All in a very satisfyingly short number of pages. I can’t wait to see how it all ties in to the series as a whole. Also, I would like a pet Chiri-Chiri.

Recommendations: read it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: R.F. Kuang

Series: The Poppy War #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted toopium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies. With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do. But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall The Dragon Republic was a good continuation even though it lacked a bit of the magic from the first book.

The Poppy War ended with such a bang, I kind of expected this second book to maintain that epic, large-scale momentum. Instead it kind of regressed and had more of a narrow focus on characters and their various relationships and connections. The larger conflict of the series did eventually make some good progress (in a way I really liked), but overall not a lot for the page count. I’ll admit I wasn’t in much of a hurry to pick this up after finishing the first one. The main draw of PW was the testing/schooling/training aspects and I was skeptical the author would be able to keep my interest without that huge selling point. As it turns out, I still quite enjoyed the book even though there were a few specific things that kept me from loving it.

I did not particularly like the main character’s growth arc (or lack thereof) in this novel. In the first book she was an understated badass who was willing to burn herself bloody to instigate change. Flaws aside, one thing that could always be said about her is that she knew what she wanted and fought with everything she had to get it. To have her suddenly become a pawn who just bends over at everyone else’s whims was really disappointing. I mean, this girl ::insert spoiler on what happened at the end of the first book:: clearly has the world at her fingertips but can’t stand up to a few petty rulers? It just didn’t make any sense. I know there were a few factors at play surrounding her mental health and PTSD, but it’s how easily she gave in and accepted pathetic threats and ultimatums as the only possible choices that bothered me. She was so passive! And I didn’t like how stagnant it made the story. This was not the same character. Plenty of things were happening TO her, but not a whole lot happened BECAUSE of her, and that distinction is why I rated the book sort of low.

I also got kind of tired of hearing her dwell on certain tragic events from the first book. It reminded me a bit of YA love stories where the MC’s whole world is a boy and nothing else really matters. I wouldn’t have minded it as much had it not lasted almost the entire book. Angsty. That’s the word I’m looking for. The book felt angsty.

One thing I really love about the series is the writing. Kuang is a brilliant writer who knows how convey the deep emotions of her characters in a way that makes me feel it in my gut. I can blather all day about criticisms of plot, but when it comes down to it I’ll not soon forget how this series has made me feel so far. It’s rather gut-wrenching. I also am fascinated with the overall idea for the story and can’t wait to see where she takes it in the final book. Although it has elements I’ve seen before, I’ve never read anything quite like it, and the originality is very refreshing. I’ve heard the final book is one of the better trilogy-enders out there, so I’ll definitely be reading on to see how she wraps everting up.

Recommendations: a breath of fresh air in the market, the series continued well in this second book. Not quite as strong as the first novel, it still had beautiful writing, lots of action, and a few memorable moments. I’d hand the series to fantasy fans who value originality and cultural diversity in books.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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

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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

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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

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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