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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

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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

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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

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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

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Book Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: R.F. Kuang

Series: The Poppy War #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted toopium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies. With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do. But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall The Dragon Republic was a good continuation even though it lacked a bit of the magic from the first book.

The Poppy War ended with such a bang, I kind of expected this second book to maintain that epic, large-scale momentum. Instead it kind of regressed and had more of a narrow focus on characters and their various relationships and connections. The larger conflict of the series did eventually make some good progress (in a way I really liked), but overall not a lot for the page count. I’ll admit I wasn’t in much of a hurry to pick this up after finishing the first one. The main draw of PW was the testing/schooling/training aspects and I was skeptical the author would be able to keep my interest without that huge selling point. As it turns out, I still quite enjoyed the book even though there were a few specific things that kept me from loving it.

I did not particularly like the main character’s growth arc (or lack thereof) in this novel. In the first book she was an understated badass who was willing to burn herself bloody to instigate change. Flaws aside, one thing that could always be said about her is that she knew what she wanted and fought with everything she had to get it. To have her suddenly become a pawn who just bends over at everyone else’s whims was really disappointing. I mean, this girl ::insert spoiler on what happened at the end of the first book:: clearly has the world at her fingertips but can’t stand up to a few petty rulers? It just didn’t make any sense. I know there were a few factors at play surrounding her mental health and PTSD, but it’s how easily she gave in and accepted pathetic threats and ultimatums as the only possible choices that bothered me. She was so passive! And I didn’t like how stagnant it made the story. This was not the same character. Plenty of things were happening TO her, but not a whole lot happened BECAUSE of her, and that distinction is why I rated the book sort of low.

I also got kind of tired of hearing her dwell on certain tragic events from the first book. It reminded me a bit of YA love stories where the MC’s whole world is a boy and nothing else really matters. I wouldn’t have minded it as much had it not lasted almost the entire book. Angsty. That’s the word I’m looking for. The book felt angsty.

One thing I really love about the series is the writing. Kuang is a brilliant writer who knows how convey the deep emotions of her characters in a way that makes me feel it in my gut. I can blather all day about criticisms of plot, but when it comes down to it I’ll not soon forget how this series has made me feel so far. It’s rather gut-wrenching. I also am fascinated with the overall idea for the story and can’t wait to see where she takes it in the final book. Although it has elements I’ve seen before, I’ve never read anything quite like it, and the originality is very refreshing. I’ve heard the final book is one of the better trilogy-enders out there, so I’ll definitely be reading on to see how she wraps everting up.

Recommendations: a breath of fresh air in the market, the series continued well in this second book. Not quite as strong as the first novel, it still had beautiful writing, lots of action, and a few memorable moments. I’d hand the series to fantasy fans who value originality and cultural diversity in books.

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by Niki Hawkes

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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.

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by Niki Hawkes