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Coming Soon: Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan

Title: Empire of Ashes

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Draconis Memoria #3

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: July 5, 2018

The Overview: For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it. A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Empire of Ashes is my #1 most anticipated release of 2018 – AND IT’S ALMOST HERE!! This trilogy conclusion has the power to solidify Draconis Memoria as one of my all-time favorite series (no pressure). I love the characters, I love the dragons (drakes), and I love the expansive adventure I go on every time I pick up one of these books. If Empire of Ashes is even half as good as the previous two novels, I’m in great shape. I can’t wait! :)

Who else is excited for this one??

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. -Goodreads

The Review:

Woe is me for not having read this years ago!

I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about alt-history as a focus (even though that was an essential setting component) and more about the forming bond between a man and his dragon, I’d have been on board the Temeraire ship years ago. Unfortunately first impressions caused me to hold off. When it came out I was in the middle of college and the last thing I wanted to do was put down one text book and pick up another (even if the new one had dragons). I thought I’d be bored with the historical elements and recycled battle scenes. All the discussions I’d had about it with customers made me think I was getting into a dry historical retelling that took itself too seriously. This is SO NOT THE CASE!!

The relationship between man and dragon is 100% the appeal of the book for me. It’s a slowly paced plot that focuses on the bond and establishes the groundwork for what’s to come. Because of the aforementioned expectations for the series, I’m certain some ventured in looking for battle sequences, military strategy, and loads of historical references, but were bored with their lack (which is an irony considering my boredom might have stemmed from those things being present if I’d read it 10 years ago). As I said, perhaps the series as a whole will offer those things, but for me this book offered perfect immersion into what it’s like to be a dragonrider (or Aerialist) in training.

Now that my tastes have broadened, I’m actually looking forward to seeing the historical immersion in future books, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to get me to pick up the series. The dragons are my main motivation. Not only was Temeraire a fascinating creature, but so were the many other varieties of dragons (aka Niki’s dragon heaven). I loved the training aspects and can’t wait to see those put into good use, I loved the commander of the training encampment (you’ll see), and I loved the relationships and dynamics beginning to form between all the trainees and their dragons. Basically, this is the book I’ve been hounding to find all my life. 😭

The slow burn of this novel might have bored a few people, but I reveled in every single moment. It had me so wrapped up, I even shed a tear or two (I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry). The combination of a fantastic main character, sentient dragons (filled with awesomeness), and the overall theme of the series set His Majesty’s Dragon up as one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

Recommendations: Read this book if you like dragons. It’s a bonus if you also like alt-history. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Title: Twisted Citadel

Author: Sara Douglass

Series: Darkglass Mountain #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In a time of magic and danger, three new heroes have stepped forward—Ishbel Brunelle, priestess of the Serpent Coil; Isaiah, the Tyrant of Isembaard; and Maximilian, the Lord of Elcho Falling. Yet despite their best efforts, the Dark God Kanubai has risen. And worse yet, war approaches—backed by the evil, insidious DarkGlass Mountain, hordes of insatiable Skraelings ravage the land. While the trio struggles to keep its armies and alliances alive, the SunSoars have their own challenges, including the chance to rejoin the magical Star Dance at long last, and the appearance of the Lealfast, long-lost kin to the Icarii. The Lealfast and the Icarii may be friends . . . or deadly enemies. And as tensions rise between the two races, Axis SunSoar revives his elite Strike Force in a desperate bid to stop the darkness. -Goodreads

The Review:

Reading Twisted Citadel provoked a lot of nostalgia for how much I enjoyed Sara Douglass’ Wayfarer Redemption series. As it turns out, The Darkglass Mountain trilogy is an indirect continuation, something I wish I’d known – I’d have devoured it ages ago! I quite enjoyed The Serpent Bride – the first book in this trilogy, but Twisted Citadel dragged a little bit for me. There was a lot of talk and interpersonal drama, but the overall conflict only moved forward a few paces. I’m always weirdly engaged in these books even though the pacing is often sluggish – but there always seems to be enough moving parts and dynamics to keep me interested, which is why I ended up giving Twisted Citadel a 3 star (I liked it) rating. What kept me engaged in this one was the amount of character growth Ishbel, the main character, experienced (it might have been a little too 180 to be totally realistic, but I still enjoyed it). I also like where I think the story is headed, which bodes well for the final book, The Infinity Gate.

I’m no military strategist, by any means, but I’d like to think I’ve read enough fantasy books with militaristic components to recognize when it’s done well. Unfortunately, I thought the strategy in Twisted Citadel was very poorly executed. A lot of the decisions made by the leaders didn’t make any sense. Many times the explanation to an odd move was: “well, it’s not a typical tactic, and I’ve no presentation to make to tell you why it’s a good idea, but let’s try it anyway and gamble with the last remnants of humanity and see how it goes, shall we?” It was definitely written more to get the characters from point A to point B than to provide any kind of interesting tactics. While there are a lot of things I’d recommend this series for, masterfully coordinated battles are not one of them. I think the author was more focused on the interpersonal drama than anything else, which she definitely does with flair.

It was only after diving into this trilogy that I realized many of Sara Douglass’s books are connected. I prefer reading things in published, if not chronological, order and wish I had known which to pick up first. If you’re interested in Sara Douglass, I’d recommend the following reading order:

Wayfarer Redemption [6]
Threshold [1]
Beyond the Hanging Wall [1]
Darkglass Mountain [3]

Darkglass Mountain contains heavy spoilers for Threshold and Beyond the Hanging Wall, but also refers back occasionally to Wayfarer Redemption in a way that makes me glad I picked those up first. There is also one carryover character from Wayfarer Redemption who won’t have any significance to you if you haven’t read that series first. At this point I don’t believe her Crucible or Troy Game series have anything to do with this world, but I’ve been mistaken before…

Overall, I’m very excited to see how this saga ends. They’re the type of books that you can put down for years and pick back up without missing a beat. They’re very immersive, relaxing reads that have a lot of unique and interesting story elements. While Sara Douglass is not my first fantasy recommend, I definitely think she’s worth a looksie if you like the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Title: Voyage of the Basilisk

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m happy to say that Voyage of the Basilisk was a combination of everything I’ve been hoping to see since the beginning of the series. The foremost of which being the heavy focus on dragons (and not all the other crap she included in the first book… although a lot of that is now becoming relevant, so I’m kind of eating my words). I especially appreciated the infusion of fantasy, naturalism, and archaeology into this adventure.

I feel like I’m living vicariously through the main character, and am loving the chance to explore new territories, study dragons, and come up with new theories on how they impact the world. If I could have any fantasy job, dragon naturalism would be near the top of the list. Part of the reason this was my favorite installment to date is because it let me appreciate the breadth of Brennan’s dragon creation. I think she did an excellent job of incorporating a wide variety of species while keeping in mind what’s biologically feasible for each territory. VotB also hinted at a cool mystery involving ancient dragons (which just might be the overall arc of the story), which shows a depth of world building I also hadn’t truly appreciated. All the things have me super excited to pick up the next book.

I still have a slight hold-up about the main character – I like so many things about her, but she still has a tendency to make hair-brained decisions. Even though Brennan did an excellent job addressing it in this volume, it still required a bit of that eye-rolling acceptance near the end. At least the character is consistent, I guess. The best advice I can give is: just go with it.

Overall, there are moments in this series I’ll love forever, and those memorable moments seem to happen more and more with each book. If you are as obsessed with dragons as I am (and are patient enough to wait for the payoff), this is an excellent series for you. I highly recommend the audio – Kate Reading is the queen of narration.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Series Review [So Far]: Heartstrikers by Rachel Aaron

The Heartstrikers Series:
Nice Dragons Finish Last – 4/5 stars
One Good Dragon Deserves Another – 3.5/5 stars
No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – 5/5 stars
  by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron (who also writes as Rachel Bach) is easily one of my top ten favorite authors – I’ve read everything she’s published so far and have been blown away with every book (check out her Eli Monpress fantasy series and Paradox scifi series if you have a chance – you won’t be disappointed!). Then along came the Heartstrikers series – an urban fantasy about a clan of shapeshifting dragons and one who doesn’t quite fit in – and I was beside myself with excitement!

The coolest thing about Heartstrikers is that it’s a true hybrid of all my favorite genres. The story and presentation is very urban fantasy, but the dragons and other magical elements give it a low-fantasy feel. Also, even though it’s an adult series, it has that same accessibility and fun factor of a young adult novel. Regardless of how you classify it, the most important thing is that it’s a dang good series!

The books have so many interesting dynamics! Especially surrounding the characters. Starting the series, I thought they were all going to be pretty surface level. Fun to read about, but not much depth. Boy, was I wrong! Each book takes you deeper into specific characters and they just get more and more fascinating as time goes on. After finishing book 3, I’m agonizing that it’ll be at least 8 months before I can unravel even more mysteries about these great characters.

I also love the relationship between the two main characters, Julius and Marci. They are enamored with one another, but too uncertain and insecure to act on those feelings. It’s a dynamic I have never seen work well before, but Aaron found a way to make it charming rather than insufferable.

Last but not least, my favorite element of the books are the dragons. They’re every bit as powerful, greedy, and cruel as they are supposed to be, which is why Julius (a nice dragon) has so many problems fitting in. The dragons have strict hierarchy, lots of interfamily dynamics, and plenty of cultural backstory to make the society feel rich and well-rounded. For this reason, the world building gets top points in my book for creativity.

Overall, heartstrikers (particularly book 3) was one of my favorites of the year, and I highly recommend them to anyone wanting a fun series to read!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Title: The Tropic of Serpents

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Overview: Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

The Review:

In case you missed my review of A Natural History of Dragons, I should start out by explaining my love/hate relationship with it. The first half was SO AMAZING that I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. However, the longer the story progressed, the more disappointed I became with how things were going. There were two main issues: 1) somewhere along the way, the focus shifted from the dragons and 2) the main character started making harebrained decisions that were way beyond what I would call realistic behavior. To sum it up, I valued the first half at a solid 5 stars and the second half at 1.5 stars. That’s a pretty wide spectrum for a single book.

However, I’m happy to report that The Tropic of Serpents was an even-keel 3 stars the whole way through.

I’ll admit, the end of the first book let me down so much that I was afraid to pick up the sequel. I finally decided to because the author did manage to completely dazzle me for that first half and I had high hopes that she could do it again (and that the second half was just a fluke). Although The Tropic of Serpents started out a bit slow, it eventually grew into the kind of dragon-centric adventure I’d been hoping for!

In Tropic of Serpents, the Lady Trent’s adventures took her to the marshlands where her and her team tried to unravel the mysteries of the swamp dragon (the specific name of which escapes me right now, but you get the gist). It was an awesome adventure and I loved the immersive setting, infusion of local culture, and great interspersal of biology to illustrate how swamp dragons live. I devoured every minute of it. This book went a long way towards reinvigorating my passion for the series and I can honestly say I’m eager to read on.

As for character, Lady Trent did make a few decisions that I would call questionable, but at least this time around they were more plausible. At the basis of it, I genuinely like her character – she’s incredibly passionate about her pursuit of knowledge, she’s brave enough to stand up against societal norms to chase her dreams, she strong enough to stand on her own accomplishments, and she loves dragons (we could totally be besties because of that alone). So when this incredibly intelligent and resourceful woman started making stupid decisions (in the first book), I got hostile. It was incredibly frustrating to try to live vicariously through her when she did that, you know? Like I said though, things were much better in The Tropic of Serpents and I’m extremely hopeful for the next few books.

Overall, Tropic of serpents goes a long way towards reinstating my faith in the series and its overall recommendability. There are certain elements to this series so far that I LOVED… however, it is a bit of a dry read (it didn’t bother me, but I could see how it might other readers). I would definitely recommend it to any fellow geek out there who has ever thought it would be cool to study dragons.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes