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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: Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson

Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson

Title: Empire of Dreams

Author: Rae Carson

Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns #4

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Even though Red Sparkle Stone is a foundling orphan with an odd name and a veiled past, she’s about to be adopted into the royal family—by Empress Elisa herself. Sixteen-year-old Red can hardly believe her luck. Then, in a stunning political masterstroke, the empress’s greatest rival blocks the adoption, and Red is left with no family and no future. Grieving and lost, but determined to find her place, Red hatches a daring plan: she will prove herself as a recruit for the world’s most elite fighting force, the legendary Royal Guard—something no woman has done before. But it’s no coincidence that someone wanted her to fail as a princess, someone whose shadowy agenda puts everything she loves at risk. As danger closes in, it will be up to Red and her new friends—and maybe some new enemies—to save the empire. If they can survive recruitment year. -Goodreads

The Review:

The first book in the Fire and Thorns series happens to be my favorite YA book of all time. The first two Goldseer books also rank high up on the list. I love Carson’s writing, characters, and knack for storytelling. That said, I enjoyed Empire of Dreams (which felt more like a spin-off than a continuation – it follows a side character), but not quite as much as I thought I would.

The basic premise is a girl joining the royal military in the hopes of proving her worth. It offers a bunch of flashbacks to her rough childhood, which gave her a lot more depth than we got in the trilogy – I particularly enjoyed those passages. It balanced that with a plethora of interesting training sessions. I complain a lot about YA books that include training but don’t take time to let the reader experience any of it. This novel had sparing and practicing in abundance, which was the highlight of the novel for me.

Now, I realize the book is a YA and not meant to really be compared to robust adult fantasy novels, but even taking that in consideration, I thought the military training and Red’s relationships with the other initiates was rather juvenile. There was some good “us vs. them” dynamics at first, but then all the other characters got SUPER emotionally supportive and communicative about their feelings. It made the recruits come across much younger than they were. I think the story could’ve benefitted from a bit more grit. However (a big however), that sort of cooperation and teamwork wasn’t unpleasant to read about. It’s a feel-good story for sure, and I’m fighting some guilt at criticizing it for something I should probably be appreciating it for. So I’m splitting the difference by celebrating the expanded training sequences with the disclaimer that they’re not robust, they’re just fun.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I have a lot of patience for narrators in general and can usually work past ones I’m not particularly enjoying (heck, I even tolerate text to speech on my Kindle app). I’m sorry to say that the narrator for this book was one of my least favorite I’ve ever listened too. Literally every line and piece of dialogue was delivered with this sharp conviction that pierced my ears. There were no dynamics or variety in the performance, so the entire book was an endless experience of being snapped at. It was really unpleasant. I half wonder if my rating would’ve been higher had I physically read the whole thing rather than just part of it.

Recommendations: this is a YA fantasy for fans of the Fire and Thorns series. I don’t think it added anything to the experience as a whole, but I do think it was a lot of fun. Skip the audiobook for this one.

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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Top Ten Books Read in 2020

2020 was a year of a lot of negative things, but thankfully reading wasn’t one of them. Upon consideration, it’s probably the only thing in my life that remained consistent, for which I’m grateful. Out of the 75 books finished, I managed to pick ten favorites to highlight in this post.

Top Ten Books Read in 2020

1. The Light of All That Falls by James Islington: Really, this is for the entire trilogy, as I reread the first two this year before finishing it out. Such great characters, complex plot lines, and absorbing writing. To decide on which book/series would get my top spot, I thought about which one I would most regret not having read. This series edged out my #2 and #3 spot by a smidge. Mostly because of the fantastic ending.

2. Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan: I also read the whole Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy this year and loved it just as much as the Powder Mage trilogy (Promise of Blood is still my favorite book of the lot). I love the dry humor, the subtle magic system, and the many evoking relationships between all the characters. With his works to date, McClellan is now in my top 5 favorite authors category. I can’t wait for his next book to come out.

3. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie: my final full trilogy read this year to make the list, and one I can’t believe I hadn’t read before now. It took a while to get going, but this series is one of the best in the genre for so many reasons. It has one of my all-time favorite characters (Glokta) and is written brilliantly. I swear I don’t know how the author does it, but he someone managed to make me laugh out loud during a brutal torture scene. Of all the authors in my TBR, Abercrombie is the one I’m most excited to devour in 2021.

4. Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs: having not liked the previous book in the Mercy Thompson series, I was thrilled how much I loved this one. It brought back everything I appreciated about the series, had a fun mystery, and was the exciting page-turner I’d been hoping for.

5. Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews: I swear any new book by these authors ends up on my top lists. They are so good! Catalina is one of their most relatable characters to date, and I love her relationships with the other characters – I really can’t wait to see how some things play out. For a series with cheesy covers that’s technically supposed to be marketed to paranormal romance readers, it is a massively robust and complex world on par with the best urban fantasies I’ve ever read.

6. Deadly Education by Naomi Novik: this book took me by surprise in the best way possible. It started out with a really unlikable character who somehow evolved into an unlikable character I enjoyed reading about. The premise for the school was great and there was plenty of classes and magic workings to satisfy my cravings for that brand of fantasy. I can’t wait for the next one.

7. Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells: I gave book #5 a high rating, but I feel like this newest novella was even better (which made me question my rating for book #5). In any case, any time I get to spend with Murderbot is golden. Its character profile is only getting stronger and this novella offered a fun mystery to boot.

8. Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon: finally a middle grade series I enjoyed almost as much as Fablehaven. It doesn’t hurt matters that I love Haydon for her Symphony of Ages – an adult fantasy series set in the same world. This series had great pacing, a good sense of adventure, and enough complexity to keep my attention. I wish I’d read these ages ago.

9. Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst: I liked Queen of the Blood, but I LOVED Race the Sands. It had interesting characters (who were perhaps a bit simplistic, but still charming), a great element of competition, and a fun story. The author’s philosophy on writing and what she’s trying to achieve with her stories really sings to me, and I think that’s why I have such good feelings about this book months later. To top it off, it’s a stand-alone.

10. Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson: I’m not quite finished with Rhythm of War, but it would do my list shame to not have a Sanderson in the lineup. His novellas are always good, but this one sang to me. I loved the setting and world building, I loved the flora and fauna, and I loved the major “omgsh” things I learned in these pages. Such a cool piece of work, and I hope I see more from these side characters within the main novels.

What were some of your favorites this year?

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [65]: January 2021

tackling the TBR

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:

January 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

After 65 months of experimenting, I finally found a Tackling the TBR system that completely works for me, start to finish. The ah-ha moment seemed to be a reality check I faced mid-September where I realized I’d only be able to get through a finite number of books before the end of the year… and that I could calculate fairly accurately what that number was. This brought me out of my ambitious reading TBR and lofty goal-setting (both of which are my natural tendencies, but were leading to major frustration). So I gave myself five slots a month to fill with what had better be the most important titles on my list (reserving one for review obligations, so actually four) and stuck to those titles with a determination I hadn’t been able to find up to that point. It worked so well. I’ve been able to finish everything I set myself to read and have felt MUCH more relaxed about my reading pace – more so than I have in years, if I’m honest. Who knew the key would be recognizing how delusional I am when it comes to ambitions lol.

With this type of planning in place and a fully-realized system I’m loving, I’m extremely excited for 2021. Because I’m no longer stressed about getting through everything and am truly focused on the best books first, I’m somehow squeezing in more than my five pre-allocated titles every month. I think it’s because I’m feeling reinvigorated, reading is fun again, and I’m reading only quality books.

Another change I made happened around the same time as my ah-ha moment: I became committed to becoming more digitally minimal – deleting social media, deleting gaming apps, setting limits on other time wasters, and generally making my phone a resource for only reading, writing, and adulting. It has taken some practice, but living more intentionally and getting away from the mindless scrolling that was sucking HOURS out of my days has definitely freed up a lot of time for reading and other creative projects.

In September I also decided it was time to get my eyes used to reading physical novels on a regular basis again. I used to read 100+ novels per year without audiobook or ebook (back in the day) but an eye strain injury over five years ago stole a lot of that from me. I finally realized that my eyes were as healed as they were going to get, and a lot of the trouble I was having with reading had more to do with being out of practice more than being injured (at least, I hoped that was the case). So I committed to picking up a physical book at least once a day to see how it would go. I’m not going to lie – it was touch and go at first and a little uncomfortable, but after consistently trying it and moving in baby steps for a couple of months, I’m THRILLED to be back to reading 40+ pages an hour without any major discomfort. I feel like I’ve been gifted new life in this. As a side note, I’d be willing to bet staring at backlit screens fewer hours every week per my new digital minimalism goals also increased to the amount relative eye-power I had to spend on reading. Total win.

I have a lot of new fantasy series I’m hoping to try in 2021. This month I’m adding a couple in while still reserving most of my focus for the authors I know I already love. Wish me luck. :)


Have a great month in reading!

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