Book Review: The Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Title: Guardian

Author: A.J. Hartley

Series: Steeplejack #3

Genre: Either YA Fantasy or Adult Fantasy… it’s one ofthose that straddles both genres and I keep changing my mind on where to shelve it. It reads more YA, but the format of the books suggests it belongs in a different category. Perhaps even Mystery.

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The city of Bar-Selehm is tossed into a whirlwind of scandal when the Prime Minister is found dead on the floors of Parliament: and Anglet Sutonga’s friend and employer, Josiah Willinghouse, is the one holding the knife. Determined to prove his innocence, Ang investigates leads throughout the city, only to discover even more chaos wherever she goes. A mysterious but fatal illness is infecting the poor. A fanatical politician seizes power, and rolls out his plans to make Bar-Selehm great again. Amidst these surrounding dangers, Anglet Sutonga must gather her friends from places high and low to form a resistance… and hopefully, protect everything she knows and loves. -Goodreads

The Review:

There are a lot of things I liked about about this series, but unfortunately The Guardian was just a bit too ridiculous for my tastes.

The author does a great job hanging a lantern on diversity, discrimination, and racism in this series. In fact, the whole plot of this book kind of hinges around those ideas. I just wish the story hadn’t gotten so far-fetched because it stole momentum from other really solid components.

For one, the writing. The author has a very sophisticated yet accessible writing style and I quite enjoyed it. Another great element is the cultural immersion through settings, dialogue, world-building, and plot. It has a 1920s vibe with some South African indigenous people and wildlife along with a subtle albeit weird fantasy twist. It’s such a unique atmosphere, I’ve never read anything like it, and that’s saying something these days. I’d also never heard of a steeplejack before but loved every single page describing the profession. It’s just now occurring to me that I don’t even know if it’s a real thing or just made up for the series. Whatever the case, it gave the main character some interesting background skills and knowledge that played an active part in the unfolding mystery of each book. I really loved that aspect, even when things got weird.

There were a few eye-rolling moments where I thought “okay, I know I’ve been pretty amiable about just going with all the weird ideas up to this point, but that was so completely far-fetched. I just can’t.” A few such scenes really cheapened a lot of the other fantastic things going on. I also thought the overall conflict was too oversimplified; resolved a bit too seamlessly. The idea behind it was great, it just needed a more realistic approach and a longer timeline to satisfy what I wanted out of it.

Recommendations: read this series if you want something fun, unique, and slightly odd.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The King’s Own by Lorna Freeman

Title: The King’s Own

Author: Lorna Freeman

Series: Borderlands #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: When Rabbit joined the Royal Army of Iversterre, he was just trying to get off the family farm. Instead, he got mixed up with a magical from the Border, learned he couldn’t escape his noble lineage, and developed some surprising talents that he can’t always control. But with Iversterre sliding toward the abyss, Rabbit needs to master his powers quickly-before someone else does it for him. -Goodreads

The Review:

I still think this series is a hidden gem for all of its great components, but the King’s Own was a bit of a random tangent.

The first book did such a great job in gradually expanding the plot and the settings. The ultimate culmination of events left things wide open for the second book to push the boundaries even further. The stage was set for the conflict to get much broader, and I honestly thought this middle book would be a setup for some sort or final throwdown in the last book…. not so much.

The entire book was one random trip to a random town to solve a random mystery. And as far as I can tell, none of these random things added a single thing to the overall arc of the series. What’s more, it was a bit odd that, despite the interesting political maneuvering in the first book that shook the framework of this world, the king and his entire retinue decided to pack up and join the main character in this random town. For no compelling reason I could see other than the author just wanted include him.

It was a head-scratcher.

I normally don’t have the patience to continue series when too many tangents are in play. And although this was the Great Bambino of tangents, it was written beautifully and I somehow still actually enjoyed it. It did take me a good 30 or 40 percent in to figure out that it wasn’t going to go beyond its narrow framework, so I’m sure that was a factor. The main character is cool – I like how the author writes him with a subtle yet very distinctive voice. To my surprise, I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the world building despite the fact that they didn’t add anything new of value to the series this time around (or so it would seem… I have yet to read the final book, so I could be eating crow at some point).

Overall, I both acknowledge that it’s a little weird and random yet appreciate most aspects of this book. The final novel will be telling and I’m hoping it’s good enough for me to continue endorsing the series.

Recommendations: this is an old hidden gem series (so far) that’s heavily character driven – the kind of slow-burn story that makes you feel like you’ve really gotten a lot out of your time reading it. The King’s Own lacked trajectory from the first book, but it was still an entertaining read. The jury is still out for the series as a whole…

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Rhythm of War

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained anadvantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength. At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rhythm of War was a satisfying addition to the series, offering a lot of cool new revelations. Not the least of which was finally learning how to properly spell “rhythm.”

I seriously can’t figure out how these 1000+ page books never feel as long as they are. Every page yields something of value and while I prefer some characters and settings to others, never once have I ever been bored while reading this series. Even on the reread! Probably even less so then. And that’s another thing – I almost never reread books (too many on my TBR to justify the time) but have zero compunctions reading these several times over in preparation for each new release. Considering how colossal they are, that’s a huge time commitment and should illustrate how much I love the series.

This novel felt more narrowly focused than the previous three. There weren’t a lot of new world discoveries and most of the story took place between only two different locations. I missed the adventure a little, but what it lacked in breadth it made up for in depth. It boasted more academic discoveries, particularly advancements and insights into fabrial construction and uses, which essentially meant we gained more knowledge on how the magic system of this world functions (more than in the previous three books combined). I ate up every moment, but I can see how those more drawn to the action scenes might not have enjoyed it as much. We also learned a lot more about the Spren and I love that even after everything Sanderson has revealed about them, they still seem enigmatic. It’s those kinds of gradual reveals/payoffs that keep me coming back for more.

I’ve read so many books that these days something really has to stand out for me to carry more than a vague imprint on what the story was about. And names? Forget names. At least, I do even while I’m actively reading a book (my brain takes a general impression of each name enough to tell the characters apart and that seems to suffice). But this series is different. I recall the tiniest details. I remember even minor characters names. I feel a connection to the characters (rare, indeed). My mom joked that it’s probably only because of the large page count, which no doubt helps, but I think it’s also that they sing to me on another level and I actually want to carry them with me beyond the pages. All the characters are interesting and fun to read about. And it’s surprising to me how much I value them considering they’ve always lacked a bit of complexity and depth. You get what you see with Sanderson’s characters, with just enough profile exploration to balance all the other elements he does so well. Somehow, it just works.

All that said, this was probably my least favorite so far (not by much) because I was missing a bit of that exploratory appeal even though it made up for it considerably with its academic focus. And is it just me, or did the writing feel a little rushed? Like things weren’t quite as flushed out or detailed as they used to be? Even so, I loved all of the revelations, and there were a few key scenes that still have me reeling. I can’t wait to see how the first arc of the series wraps up in the next installment.

Recommendations: among my top three series, this is definitely a must-read for fans of the fantasy genre.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Best Served Cold

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play adeadly game to choose who will be king. War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started… Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge. -Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t believe I’m only just now reading this series.

I had my doubts when people told me the books after the initial trilogy were just as good, but if all the others are anywhere as amazing as Best Served Cold then I’m in for a fantastic year of reading. I would be hard-pressed to name anything I didn’t like about it.

I’ve heard mention that BSC is essentially a Count of Monte Cristo type story, and as I’ve made a habit of avoiding classics like the plague since grade school, I can only take their word for it. Presumably the similarity is the relentless pursuit of vengeance at any and all costs. I normally find plot structures like that boring. After all, if you kind of already know where it’s going, where’s the excitement? But I tell you what, Abercrombie added so many interesting characters and dynamics – the story felt anything but a tropey knockoff. I was glued to the pages the entire time and loved every moment of it.

Upon reflection, this may have been my favorite story in the First Law world to date, which is saying something considering Glokta (easily one of the best characters in the genre) doesn’t even make an appearance. It’s an amazing combination of gruesome, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and depressing all wrapped up in an angry little package. I think I might be adding it to my very short list of all-time favorites.

Overall, this was an excellent tangent novel that did a superb job expanding the world-building of the series and giving us a whole new cast of characters to love/hate. I can’t wait to devour everything Abercrombie has on the market. And to think I was only so-so after reading the first book. This author is now a favorite.

Recommendations: if you loved the First Law trilogy and are wondering if you should keep reading, the answer is an emphatic yes!! Best Served Cold was written brilliantly, with careful care given to all the characters and a plot that will have you cringing and laughing and loving every moment. Consider it a new Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs

Title: Wild Sign

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha & Omega #6

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face. Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before. –Goodreads

The Review:

Reading a Briggs book always feels like a warm hug.

This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And it’s one of the rare few that I don’t complain about the story being dragged out too long. Each novel (both Mercy and Alpha & Omega) adds just a little more depth to the series. The new supernatural beings introduced in each book are always fun to read about, but the real draw is any new information we learn about the Marrok and his pack. There are so many great characters to expand on, it’s easy to see how this series has been able to sustain itself for so long.

In Wild Sign we got to explore the past of Leah, a character who has been a complete enigma up to this point. Her backstory was fascinating and I love that I can go forward knowing a little more about what makes her tick. By extension, we also learned more about Bran in this novel which is a huge bonus. It’s actually kind of funny that I’m so exited about the revelations for these two characters considering they weren’t even the stars of the show.

I heard Patricia Briggs talk about how she comes up with stories at an author signing (which, by the way, was the single best author interaction I’ve ever had. If you have a chance to make one of her events, go! She’s so kind). She starts by giving the characters a problem, then stays in tune with them as she writes to see how they’re going to solve it. In this case the problem was something making the residents of Wild Sign disappear… I’ll leave it at that. I always love the mystery element in her stories. It makes for an engaging, page-turning experience as the characters reason things out and make discoveries. And something about the settings lately have been giving me a modern-day western vibe, which is fun.

This particular book had some cool revelation, but it didn’t advance the plot of the overall series to any significant degree. It did, however, provide some good foreshadowing of what’s to come, for which I’m excited.

Recommendations: this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series for a reason. They’re fun, engaging books with great characters, good mysteries, and decent action, adding more depth with each book. I’d strongly recommend reading Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega in tandem by publication date, as the overall arc of the series progresses in both series.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the review copy of Wild Sign!

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by Niki Hawkes


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.

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by Niki Hawkes