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Book Review: Transformation by Carol Berg

Title: Transformation

Author: Carol Berg

Series: Rai-Kirah #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place… -Goodreads

The Review:

Transformation was a mixed bag for me.

I liked the flowing writing style right away and found the basic premise of the book interesting. The characters showed some dynamics early on and there were a lot of interesting court politics to follow. I was sure this was going to be a 4-star read.

But ultimately I didn’t enjoy the execution of the characters and some of the plot points.

Inconsistency of character is probably my biggest criticism. One person in particular would swing wildly from one extreme to the other, and while I appreciate the duality of his profile, it was a bit overdone and not realistic in the slightest. Subtlety would’ve gone a long way here. He wasn’t the only one – a few of the characters flipped the switch on what had been established for them a couple times throughout the book and about the third time it happened, I lost investment in them completely. They just didn’t feel like real people.

As mentioned I also had trouble with the premise. It seems like the only reason for the heavy secrecy regarding demons was because it was convenient for the plot. Exposure by those fighting them would offer way too many solutions and then we wouldn’t have a plot. With some stories, if all the other elements are working for me I usually can just go with it and accept whatever premise I’m given, but because I was already not jazzed about some of the other plot points it was hard not to nitpick the whole thing.

I also don’t particularly like reading about metaphysical realms, and while that didn’t play a huge role in the book, during those parts I found myself dozing off.

Overall, despite how many people have told me they really enjoyed this trilogy, I’m coming in at a 2.5/5 stars – meaning I can grudgingly admit it was better than “just okay” but I’m not sure I liked it. For my personal tastes it was mediocre at best. I’m truthfully not sure if I’ll be reading on or not.

Recommendations: this story had a lot of ideas that were off the beaten path (to its benefit), however neither the overall premise, nor the character trajectories worked for me. That said, this was recommended to me by people who usually offer slam-dunks (they loved it), so take my underwhelming review with a grain of salt.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: City of Songs by Anthony Ryan

Title: City of Songs

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: ATHERIA—THE FABLED CITY OF SONGS THE SHINING JEWEL OF THE THIRD SEA WHERE THE MASKED EXULTIA CASTE HOLD SWAY AND VIE TO OUTDO EACH OTHER IN THEIR PATRONAGE OF THE ARTS, SOMETIMES WITH DEADLY CONSEQUENCES… (Nik’s Notes: copied from GR… why the caps? Don’t yell at me.) Guyime, wandering, dethroned King of the Northlands, is drawn to the Atheria by his quest for the Seven Swords, the demon cursed blades of legend. But to claim the next sword he must first solve a seemingly impossible murder—a puzzle that, once untangled, will unveil secrets so dark they could bring the City of Songs to utter ruin. Continuing the epic tale of The Seven Swords, City of Songs is an action-packed, darkly magical mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria trilogies. -Goodreads

The Review:

This installment was a little different than the last two. It focused more on the plights of a third party, still relevant to the overall advancing plot, but felt more tangent as a result.

I still really like the trajectory of the series and think it massively creative. Because the page count is so small, things have to progress more quickly, and I think that’s why some of the happenings in this book seems a bit too easy or convenient. But I’m happy to go along with it because of how much I’m enjoying the journey. I’ll say it again – it amazes me how expansive and rich the world building is in this series considering how short the books are. It’s as full and imagined as any full-length fantasy series I’ve read, the only drawback being we don’t get to explore it in quite the same depth.

Overall, another good installment, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await in the next book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

Title: Legends & Lattes

Author: Travis Baldree

Series: N/A (<-This is being hyped as a stand-alone but I heard rumor that the author is planning a second book set in the same city with a different character focus)

Genre: “Cozy” Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention. Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen. However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve. A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. -Goodreads

The Review:

I expected to like this one, but didn’t expect to set it down feeling all the warm fuzzy feelings so many have experienced. No wonder it has gained such good momentum in the Booktube community.

The book was a match made in heaven for me when it comes to the types of shows I consume outside of reading. I love renovation shows (Fixer Upper, Fixer to Fabulous, Good Bones… give me all the things), and I also love cooking competitions (Top Chef, Tournament of Champions, etc.), and while this didn’t go into a ton of detail for those aspects (and it didn’t involve a competition), I found my cravings for those types of shows satisfied by this book. I also love seeing things grow from the ground up and the day-to-day monotony of running businesses. Add to all of that a fantasy twist and charming characters, and you have yourself a winner.

Aside from loving the type of story, I also appreciated the overall writing style. There were a lot of slower, poignant moments that worked well because they were written well, and I think that’s where the sentimentality of the book shined.

And among all of that, there was actually an interesting external conflict not related to running a coffee shop that I wasn’t expecting. It added more depth to the story and made me feel like I was getting something of substance despite it being generally more lighthearted than most fantasy novels.

Recommendations: this was a completely satisfying and fun read that I’d highly recommend if you need a break between denser books. Everything about it worked for me.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Kraken’s Tooth by Anthony Ryan

Title: Kraken’s Tooth

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: THE GREAT MERCHANT CITY OF CARTHULA—RAISED FROM THE BONES OF A KRAKEN ON THE WHIM OF A GODDESS WHERE NOBLE HOUSES CALL UPON DARK MAGIC TO TRIUMPH IN THEIR ENDLESS AND DEADLY GAME FOR DOMINION… Landless one-time king Guyime, once called Pilgrim but known to history as the Ravager, has survived the fall of the Execration — an event that set him on a path to find the legendary Seven Swords. Guided by sorcery, Guyime journeys to Carthula in the centre of the First Sea to claim the mythical blade known as the Kraken’s Tooth. Aided by three companions — the beast charmer Seeker, a powerful sorceress and a scholarly slave — Guyime ventures into Carthula’s perilous underbelly to secure a prize guarded by ancient magics, cursed spirits, and lethal traps. But can he survive an ultimate ordeal crafted from his worst nightmares? -Goodreads

The Review:

I gave a fairly detailed review of Pilgrimage of Swords, so I’ll keep it brief here: I don’t know how Ryan manages to pack such rich word-building and depth into such a short book.

I’m really on board with the type of story being told in this series and have loved all the fun (aka perilous) adventures so far. Everything about this series is singing to me, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next! It’s a very bite-sized series and is a perfect refresher between denser reads.

Is the story good enough to merit $40 hardcovers? Probably not, but thankfully the ebook/audio combo is affordable. Unless you’re like me and must have all the hardcovers…

Recommendations: read them, they’re good.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan

Title: Pilgrimage of Swords

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: It is two hundred years since the deity known as the Absolved went mad and destroyed the Kingdom of Alnachim, transforming it into the Execration, a blasted wasteland filled with nameless terrors. For decades, desperate souls have made pilgrimage to the centre of this cursed land to seek the Mad God’s favour, their fate always unknown. Now a veteran warrior known only as Pilgrim, armed with a fabled blade inhabited by the soul of a taunting demon, must join with six others to make the last journey to the heart of the Execration. Allied with a youthful priest, a beast-charmer, a duplicitous scholar, an effete actor and two exiled lovers, Pilgrim must survive madness, malevolent spirits, unnatural monsters and the ever-present risk of treachery, all so that the Mad God might hear his prayer and, perhaps, grant redemption. But can sins such as his ever be forgiven? -Goodreads

The Review:

Pilgrimage of Swords is a breathtaking start to another amazing world from Anthony Ryan.

I think Ryan has a split personality in his writing. One Ryan loves to tell adventurous novels with expansive world building and the sorts of discoveries that leave you in awe and wonder at what you’ve just experienced. This is very much the case with Draconius Memoria (my all-time favorite series). The other Ryan gives you deep, slow-burn character novels where the focus is almost completely on a single POV making his way in the world, as with Blood Song and Pariah. Pilgrimage of Swords falls into the latter category. Even though it’s a novella, he managed to cram a great deal of exploration and discovery within, and I can’t wait to see what sort of cool things we’re going to come across next!

I really didn’t think there would be enough substance in such a short book to win me over, but I was wrong – it was really good. The only thing that perhaps suffered is that I didn’t feel I had enough time to get to know all of the side characters, and even continued to mix a couple of them up until the very end of the book. They didn’t seem particularly fleshed out (or is it flushed out? I could make a case for both words, lol) and after finishing the book, I can sort of see why. But I could’ve gone for a few extra pages establishing character because then I may have felt more invested when stuff started happening to them.

What I liked most about the novella is how most of the cool things about this series were revealed gradually, providing a huge payoff at the end that instantly hooked me into wanting to read on. It seems like many books start out telling you exactly what the characters are struggling with and give you a road map on how they’re going to fix it. This novella is a beautifully written showcase on how to show readers rather than tell them the point of your story. I continue to hold this author in very high regard.

Recommendations: this could actually be a great introduction to Ryan’s works if you haven’t tried him yet. If you love stories with expansive world-building as much as I do, then this one is a must-read! I feel like he’s only just scratched the surface on what this new world has to offer, and what I’ve seen so far is epic!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [84]: October 2022

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

October 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

::sits down to compose this post::
Shit. Did I really miss posting a TBR for September?? That can’t be right…

I did it again!! And this time I didn’t even notice until this very moment. Obviously my current post organizing system is working splendidly… not.

Well, while August was a month dedicated towards tomes, September has been a delightful expedition into series novellas along with a whole bunch of other fun reading.

Around the beginning of the month I borrowed a reading system from Matt’s Fantasy Book Reviews (he’s a content creator on YT and GR) which entailed scheduling out reading based on the speed at which I usually consume content. I took a whole day and recreated my version of his spreadsheet and started tracking my daily reading pace. And it is AMAZING.

I’ve tried to do all of this before, but only with pen and paper, which doesn’t leave any room for rearranging or adapting and simple data tracking, so it has always been a major flop. But with the spreadsheet I’ve been able to completely customize my schedule to something dialed and wonderful while still being able to plop in mood reads here and there. I’m embracing my need to plan and leaning fully into this very structured new system. I ran it all last month and had SO MUCH FUN with books. It has effectively taken away my anxious need to read all the things right now, and allowed me to fully immerse into just the book in my hand. I love it.

So I’m continuing on into October with this new schedule, which has been constructed with my continual goal to complete series in mind. I do have a few new series starters planned for Patreon Book Club (Jade City) and my Read/Burn/Hoard series on Youtube (Howl’s Moving Castle), but otherwise everything is focused on advancing and completing series. And I must say, I’m particularly excited about the lineup in front of me! And because I have an accurate prediction of how long each one will take, this isn’t an ambitious list, it’s a realistic one given my time and reading habits. :D Curating my reading to this extent may be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself with this hobby.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes