Book Review: Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham

Title: Blade of Dream

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Kithamar #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories endure. This is Garreth’s. Garreth Left is heir to one of Kithamar’s most prominent merchant families. The path of his life was paved long before he was born. Learn the family trade, marry to secure wealthy in-laws, and inherit the business when the time is right. But to Garreth, a life chosen for him is no life at all. In one night, a chance meeting with an enigmatic stranger changes everything. He falls in love with a woman whose name he doesn’t even know, and he will do anything to find her again. His search leads him down corridors and alleys that are best left unexplored, where ancient gods hide in the shadows, and every deal made has a dangerous edge. The path that Garreth chooses will change the course of not only those he loves, but the entire future of Kithamar’s citizens. In Kithamar, every story matters — and the fate of the city is woven from them all. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is shaping into one of my favorite ongoing series…

…and yet I’d have a hard time recommending it to the masses. It’s an incredibly slow-burn story that requires more patience than most fantasy novels. But it’s also one of the most beautifully written, immersive series I’ve ever read. Every single moment grounds you deeper into the culture or Kithamar, and experiencing this city alongside expertly constructed characters makes me feel like it’s a place I’ve actually been. The author doesn’t hit you over the head with lengthy descriptions of this world but instead let’s you discover it organically through the daily actions of his characters. It’s subtlety is profound.

Another thing I love is the unconventional construction of this series. Each book takes place over the same time span but from different perspectives. Normally whenever I know anything about what’s going to happen in a book, I lose investment, but this seems to be the sole exception! Each bit of new information adds depth to the story as you gradually work closer and closer to the most heated action. While the overarching plot is compelling, the selling point of the series is the deep immersion you get with the characters. All of them make mistakes and have flaws and feel like real people. If you don’t like the character profiles or aren’t totally interested in what they’re working towards, you’re not going to be into the book at all. I, for one, have been completely enamored from the very first page, loving every moment and gushing about it as often as I can.

Recommendations: pick up this series for an exhibition on great character work and a slow-burning plot that draws you deeper into Kithamar with each turned page. I loved it so hard. If you’re not into the characters or what they’re doing from the very beginning, as I was, you might find the pacing a struggle.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Title: Age of Ash

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Kithamar #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.This is Alys’s.When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything. -Goodreads

The Review:

Abraham’s writing sings to my soul.

I find his stories incredibly addicting. I had a massive TBR in between me and this book, but kept finding myself opening it to read a couple pages at a time. The first several passages were so gripping, by the time I was “supposed” to be reading it, I was already almost 20% in.

There are so many things I love about Abraham’s stories. One being the subtle, yet robust world building that just oozes off the pages while you’re focused on other things. He doesn’t take a lot of time setting the scene, but when he does, it’s beautiful and absorbing. Kithamar feels like a real place, a familiar place. Yet at the same time it’s unique in so many ways that only living day-to-day with another culture can bring. I loved spending time on these streets, filth and all, and can’t wait until I get to go back.

Another thing I love is the deep character immersion that only happens when an author isn’t self-conscious about taking his time to really immerse you with his characters. I thrive on that kind of connection and found myself despairing, angry, and a whole myriad of other emotions right alongside them. I talked to the book a couple times, which for me is a sign of true investment. And the cool thing is he probably hasn’t even scratched the surface on what’s planned for this series (with upcoming perspectives for characters we saw only on the periphery here), and that’s incredibly exciting.

This was one of those books I enjoyed so much, I could set aside my over-critical mind and just appreciate the journey. It’s only in retrospect while trying to compose this review where I consider what might not work for other readers. There were no major earth-shattering revelations in this story. Very few what I’d call “action” scenes. And in truth I find it hard to describe exactly why reading it was as wonderful as it was, aside from highlighting broader themes of Abraham’s work. It’s one of those cases where if his writing and unique perspective of subtle, character-driven storytelling works for you, then this book is a grand slam. And after hearing some things about the big-picture development of the series as a whole, I’m so there for every last word.

Recommendations: if you love subtle, immersive world-building and highly character-driven novels, then Age of Ash will be right up your alley. I loved my experience with Long Price Quartet and so far Kithamar is starting out just as strong.

I’d like to thank Orbit Books, Daniel Abraham, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Age of Ash – y’all made my year!

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

Spider's War by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Spider’s War

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all. In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world. -Goodreads

The Review:

Spider’s war was an unconventional series-ender, and I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. On one hand, the atypical resolution was satisfying because it was so far outside the norm. Many of the series I’ve been reading lately have ended with formulaic story arcs, so Spider’s War felt refreshing by contrast. On the other hand, I think it still could’ve ended with a bit more fanfare… the story kind of petered out, missing any sort of momentum. My favorite series tend to be the ones with that amazing snowball careen towards the end where the energy is poignantly felt. This one rolled steadily out the way it rolled in – plodding and consistent. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t leave me with a lot of takeaway (which is in stark contrast to how other works by this author have left me – I’m still reeling from those!!).

I think in part it lacked the external momentum because the majority of the focus was on character dynamics and individual story arcs. This is actually my favorite part of Abraham’s writings because he always manages to make me feel connected to the characters – even the villains. The human connection is very much the driving force behind the plot, and that’s why the series is still very much worth reading….

But even so, there were some missed opportunities.

The end of book three introduced a couple of new incredible dynamics to the series that never got expanded on to my satisfaction. In fact, they were almost afterthoughts within the story and added no real value to the final destination. What an opportunity wasted!!! This also could be part of the reason I felt the lack of momentum because my imagination of where it could go was incredible.

Without going into too much detail, I also had trouble with some character inconsistency in this final book. While I love the fact that the series drew me in enough to even care about inconsistencies (I’ve been really apathetic lately with that… meaning I’ve also had nothing to contribute to buddy read discussions lol), a lot of my dissatisfaction stems from not liking where the characters ended up. Some were perfection, some not so much.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this series, and I’ve come away with a stronger than usual love for the characters. I think, however, I’m going to have a difficult time remembering how the series ended a few years from now.

Series status: COMPLETE!

Recommendations: the Dagger & Coin is not your typical fantasy series. It’s highly character-driven and focuses more on the small moments between people than any grand external conflicts. I would probably only suggest it to seasoned fantasy readers who need a break from the formulaic, cookie-cutter series out there. On the whole, it’s worth the read.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

Title: Tyrant’s Law

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The great war cannot be stopped. The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it. Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul. Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee. -Goodreads

The Review:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit despite the fact that not much happened. Well, that’s not strictly true… there were a lot of moving parts within the characters – internal revelations and forming convictions. There was just less focus on the external mechanisms (until maybe the last 10%). I can’t put my finger on exactly why Abraham’s exploration of character absorbs me so completely, but he has once again managed to capture my attention.

The characters really are the selling points of this series, and almost all of them have these fascinating inner stories and poignant motives for all they do. It’s amazing that even the “villain” inspires a deep compassion from me – these aren’t characters I’ll likely forget soon. Clara is especially interesting for the choices she’s making, and I can tell you she’s 100% my main motive for continuing the series. I just can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next.

Compared to Expanse and Long Price Quartet, I admit I initially found the Dagger and the Coin series a bit slow. It took all the appropriate steps to immerse in character, but something about the external conflicts had me a bit bored. That is…. until the surprise at the end of this book… NOW I’m fully engaged, but it took a while to get here.

Series status: I plan to continue with the final two books as soon as possible. It’s finally starting to show some momentum and I’m eager to hop on for the ride.

Recommendations: this is one of those dry, character-driven fantasies that will appeal to GoT fans for its multiple POV delivery (albeit much less gritty). I personally would endorse Abraham’s Long Price Quartet series first, but these books are still solid entertainment.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Unclean Spirits by M.L.N Hanover

Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Title: Unclean Spirit

Author: M.L.N. Hanover

Series: Black Sun’s Daughter

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 starts

The Overview: Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn’t quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it’s all hers — and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College.Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric’s heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means — magical or mundane — so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life. -Goodreads

The Review:

After finishing Unclean Spirits, I’d like to lament a few disappointments with a wishlist:

#1: I wish the characters had been developed, not just better, but at all.

#2: I wish the concept of the “unclean spirits” would’ve played a stronger, more direct role in the story.

#3: I wish the plot hadn’t been so simple.

#4: I wish all of the things I’ve come to love about this author had been represented in this novel.

Daniel Abraham (aka MLN Hanover, aka 1/2 of James S. A. Corey) has a pretty solid spot in my top authors list for his Long Price Quartet and Expanse series. I appreciate the subtle beauty of his writing, his interesting story ideas, and (most importantly), the rich characters he creates filled with so much depth they feel like real people (are you all sick of hearing me talk about Avasarala – aka my homegirl?). He’s literally my number one example for how to write amazing characters, so what happened here?

My disappointment in Unclean Spirits was a little more acute due to the lack of all of the essential components I’ve come to associate with this author. I’m actually kind of shocked that it was so sub-par of his usual standard. Minus the profanity, the delivery of this book read very much like a thin YA novel, lacking in any real substance or development (with an insta-lust on top of it all). It was practically a case study in telling vs showing where the characters would spring up feelings, convictions, and even magical talents without any groundwork to show the reader how they got to those points. Because of this I was never invested in the story – almost comatose with impartiality.

The concept of the book (revolving around parasitic “unclean spirits”) was an interesting one, and in fact my only positive takeaway from the book was the scientific discussion about the spirits vs earthen parasites. However, they didn’t play a significant role in the story other than on the periphery. I wanted to see some badass body-hopping and instead I got a big thug possessed by a spirit and lots of speculation and theory.

Overall, the book didn’t give me anything to sink my teeth into and had it been any other author I may have DNFed. It wasn’t the worst urban fantasy I’ve ever read, but it was far from the best.

Series status: I probably will not continue anytime soon (if at all). At least until I knock out the dozen or so other UFs on my TBR. I own this whole series, so we’ll see if it makes it past the next library purge. I admit to being mildly curious if all of the things I was missing develop later in the series because, despite my experience with this first book, I know the brilliance the author is capable of. We’ll see.

Recommendations: This would be a difficult one for me to recommend. If you’re thinking to read because you love the author (as I did), my inclination is to suggest you pass (on this one – everything else by him is superb). If you’re thinking to read this because you like urban fantasy, I wouldn’t say pass, but there are plethora of titles I’d hand you first.

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by Niki Hawkes


Novella Reviews: The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

Whenever I’m tackling a new series that contains novellas as an option, I’m always pestering people to see if they’re worth reading. Some shorts add missing/deleted scenes back into the mix (generally tangents the authors had to cut), while others stand as solid works all on their own as true “bonus” content to the main series. The Expanse novellas definitely fall into the latter category, as most of them have very little impact on the overall arc of the series. Which is not to say that they don’t enhance the series, so I count them solidly in the “worth reading” category.

One of the things I appreciate about these authors is their ability to capture the raw essence of humanity. Motivations, fears, and all the other driving forces behind their actions. These stories will carve out your heart with their earnestness. Vital Abyss and The Churn were the most thought-provoking for me in this regard, but I have to appreciate the raw, relatable emotion in The Drive. I suppose the same is true for Gods of Risk, though I was a little less connected to that one (I did end up appreciating the sum of the whole by the end).

The story with the biggest tie to the series was The Butcher of Anderson Station. Any fan of the series has heard tell of Fred Johnson’s pseudonym and wondered what events earned him the title. This perhaps was the short I was most interested in reading initially, but it was also the one I walked away with the least from, save a little more insight on what drives Johnson’s moral compass.

Of all the works, the most recent one, Strange Dogs, was the most unsettling. It gives me a pit in my stomach on what’s to come in future novels, but at the same time makes me really excited to see where they’re going with the story.

Overall, Vital Abyss was my favorite, but The Churn is the one I’m most excited for people to read. It’s the type of story that leaves a little grit behind, but it was such a fulfilling insight into one of the series’ best characters that it’s a must-read. If you only read one, however, it seems that Strange Dogs, while the most bizarre, might actually have the most impact on the next book, Persepolis Rising… time will tell.

Recommendations: Each of these novellas adds momentum to the Expanse universe with a quality of writing that always knocks my socks off. more great stories from great writers. I wouldn’t call any of these essential to the main series, but they definitely help broaden your perspective. As an added benefit, they’ll help hold you over until the next book comes out.

by Niki Hawkes