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Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick. Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much. Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged. –Goodreads

The Review:

The first book was good, with flashes of brilliance… this one was better.

I’ve heard so much about this series. When talking to normal people (those who don’t read more than just casually), Abercrombie’s name comes up a lot. It’s a mainstream series that, for the most part, lives up to all the hype. It’s credited as one of the first Grimdark novels, and that sentiment is much more apparent in this second book than the first. Authors these days are taking things a lot further, but you can definitely see the base influence here. I held off on reading it for several years because said normal people kept talking about how hard the torture scenes were to read. As it happens, almost every other Grimdark series I’ve read so far has been worse (much worse), so don’t let that scare you if you’re holding off for similar reasons (or don’t let it overly entice you haha).

The Blade Itself (book #1) came across very much like a setup novel. The characters were worth spending time with and the overall story was interesting, but when it came down to actual plot-progression, not a whole lot happened. That’s where Before They Are Hanged improved: pivotal moments happened left and right and the story finally caught up with all the other brilliant story components. I loved it. There were a few moments in particular that I’m still thinking about weeks later, which says a lot about the content. I’ll be reading everything I can get my hands on from this author.

My only criticism at this point is the lack of relatable female characters. The women are either conniving, simpering, or so hard they might as well be men with breasts. And so far their contributions to the story has more to do with what they can offer the men rather than instigators of plot advancement. It’s a minor criticism because I still enjoyed the hell out of this book, but it did affect my rating, so that’s why I’m highlighting it. When compared to Brian McClellan (a writer I’ve been reading alongside Abercrombie who has incredibly similar components but ALSO manages to give satisfying characters of both genders), you can see why my current reading experiences would lead me to believe the lack of relatable female characters is was a missed opportunity worth mentioning. However, Glokta might be good enough on his own to compensate tenfold…

Recommendations: Before They are Hanged was a fantastic continuation to the First Law Trilogy – removing all reservations I had about the series from the first one. It has one of the best characters in fantasy (Glokta), some gritty action, and a lot of substance. I’ll happily recommend it as a staple of the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [4]

Mini Book Review Blitz!

It has been a while since I’ve put one of these together, but I’ve come across a lot of stories lately that were either too short or just didn’t garner enough emotion (good or bad) to warrant full reviews. Here are some snapshot opinions:


Book Info: Ark [Forward Collection] by Veronica Roth

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ark had it not been a review obligation (audiobook production review), but I’m glad I did. It was a lot more understated than I was expecting – a story more about human connection and the little things that make us tick rather than some grand tribute to the end of the world. The main character was a horticulturist trying to catalogue as many plant species as possible before earth gets hit by an asteroid. Humanity had already gone through the grieving process and has settled into a subdued acceptance of Earth’s fate, and the MC’s calm, somber voice was my favorite thing about the story… it was intentional and fitting. All that said, I was expecting a twist or something to change the energy level of the story… to amp up the excitement or pull on my emotions. But it kind of faded out the same way it came in: chill. Overall it was an entertaining short, yet I’d caution you to throw out preconceived notions of Roth’s writing patterns before diving in and just enjoy it for the subtle short that it is.


The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Book Info: Stone in the Skull [Lotus Kingdoms #1] by Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 2/5 stars

I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lot happened. Two of the female characters were so similar, it took me more than half the book to realize they weren’t the same person (this is also a good time to point out that Bear used a lot of pronouns instead of calling the characters by name). It was an interesting, exotic world that I enjoyed reading about, there just wasn’t enough meaningful plot advancement to give me something to really dig into (… and there was a distinct lack of advertised dragons). One thing I did enjoy – I absolutely loved Bear’s writing voice. This is my first book from her, and the prose was one of the most lovely I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel (seriously). So I’m not done experimenting with her yet. I just wish I’d had more to rave about with this one.


The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Info: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As my second time through this novella by Sanderson (this time experienced via graphic audio for a professional review), I liked the reread just as much. The basic premise is rife with authentic Sanderson creativity and world-building – a magic system using detailed stamps to reforge items into something new. I love reading about any magic element that requires a lot of skill, so the craft descriptions throughout the story were my favorite sections. I also thought the main character had a lot of interesting dualities. There were a few moments where her decisions surprised me, and I love that. Overall, of all the shorts from Sanderson (I think I’ve read them all), this is a top 3 for me.


Book Info: Randomize [Forward Collection] by Andy Weir

Rating: 1/5 stars

Upon finishing this short story for a published review, my first thought was: “what the hell did I just read?” My second was “where have I seen this author before?” Um, yeah, it’s the author who wrote the well-know book “The Martian.” I had to reconcile the seemingly pointless story with the weight behind a name like that. I haven’t read the The Martian yet, but I’m surprise he took the direction of hacking casino systems instead of something even more futuristic. I could definitely see a scientific thinker behind the words while reading, which now makes me think I’ll love the Martian even more, but the story left me feeling kind of “meh.” And I think the only reason is that I didn’t find the subject matter particularly interesting. There are so many heist stories now, you have to have a lot of fun with them to gain any traction, and this one was very straight-laced. It also delved into heavy technical description which almost made my eyes roll back into my head a few times. It was close. Overall, I’m interested in the brain behind this story enough to read more works from Weir, but I could’ve happily passed on this one.


by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Title: Part-Time Gods

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Life in the magical mess of the Detroit Free Zone is never easy. When you’re laboring under the curse of a certain prideful, overbearing dragon, it can be down right impossible. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner. At least, I used to be. Thanks to the supernatural bad luck that turns everything I do against me, these days I’m more of a walking disaster. Getting rid of this curse is the only way to get my life back. Unfortunately, dragon magic is every bit as sneaky and deadly the monsters behind it, and just as hard to beat. But I’ve never been one to take her doom at face value. Cornered doesn’t mean defeated, and in an awakened city that rules herself, dragons are no longer the biggest powers around. -Goodreads

The Review:

More adventures in the DFZ!! This delightful spinoff series is shaping up to be even more solid than Heartstrikers… I’m loving it.

I binged Part-Time Gods in a single day – its one of those fun, lighthearted books that function as palate-cleansers between heavier fantasy novels. The story revolved around MC Opal going to creative extremes trying to shake off a dragon curse laid on her, which was my favorite element of the book. It added on to the already interesting premise (reminiscent of the show Storage Wars), and gave a much more in-depth exploration the DFZ – a place/entity that has captured my attention since the first Heartstrikers book. And I haven’t even mentioned the dragons and how much I love their haughty, stubborn personalities (the hard-headedness between Opal and her father is a really satisfying contest of wills – I can’t wait to see it played out). All the things, people. This is a killer series.

The only thing holding me back from full praise is the budding love story… I have a few reservations. The characters are adorable and a total perfect fit, but the romantic tension isn’t working well for me. The characters are behaving almost unnaturally to avoid that “getting together” moment and I feel like there’s a lot of extremely forced and unnecessary conflict in play to keep them apart (plus a dose of uncharacteristic stupidity). It’s coming across as more of a writer’s construct to save some of the tension for the next book (which I can appreciate), but there was so much clear chemistry between the characters in this book (also a good thing) that dragging it on felt contrived. Hopefully this means the next book will be on fire.

Recommendations: If you like dragons, fun characters, and books that don’t fit the mold, this is my pick for you. Heartstikers was awesome – containing some of the best “omg!” moments I’ve read in ages, but it lacked a little consistency (I thought books 4 & 5 should’ve been tightened into a single story). This DFZ spin-off is so far much more even, and I’m loving every moment. Rachel Aaron/Bach is among my shortlist of favorite authors for a reason. Give her books a try for some fun!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Blade Itself

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #1

Genre: Fantasy

The Overview: Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult. Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

After finishing my second read-through of The Blade Itself, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on it.

The book is a slow burn, which should not be confused with “boring.” Slower pacing can be incredibly effective if all the scenes have great character development and purpose. This tale took its time, and it was mostly time well used. The first time through, I found myself constantly distracted during one section of the book (about 20% shortly after the halfway point). At the time, I chalked it up to a mood thing on my end. After losing interest at the exact same section during this read, I can trust that something about that part just didn’t work for me. It was a small struggle to get through, but not enough of one to steal my enthusiasm for the rest of the book. Another thing I’ll point out is that I reread the book because I couldn’t remember very many pivotal plot-advancers and I wanted a refresher before continuing. As it turns out, I recalled most of it really well, there just aren’t that many things that happen in the whole book lol. What I’m getting at is, it’s an excellent book (among what I would call the staples for the genre), but it’s definitely not for the reader who needs a ton of action scenes.

It’s a multiple POV story. If you read my reviews for McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, you’ll recall how highly I praised the characters for playing so well off of one another (the relationships are everything). These characters weren’t quite as brilliant as those, but were still incredibly strong and memorable. And for a story with not much pacing and a fairly narrow focus, I think good character development is the main reason most people rave this series. I’m especially excited to see how they develop in future books because there’s definitely a ton of growth potential there.

Can we talk specific characters for a minute? Notably the brilliance that is Sand dan Glokta? If you want a master class in how to develop characters with duality and depth, study Glokta. Even though the character’s physicality is repulsive, and his profession as torturer for the crown deplorable, it’s his frank way of seeing the world and sardonic dialogue that still manages to make him one of the most likable characters I’ve ever come across. I’m thrilled to read more, if only just to spend more time with him.

I’d been eyeballing this series for years, but hesitated to pick it up in my younger days because of how often I heard about the gritty nature of the story. You’ll often hear it described as one of the original Grimdark novels…. which might be true, but I have some hesitations selling it with that impressions. Series like Malazan, GoT, and Sword is Truth we’re already on the market, and, in my humble opinion, contained scenes that were significantly darker and grittier than I’ve read here (so far). So for anyone hesitating to read it because of what you’ve heard about the content, it’s not that bad. Comparatively, anyway. It’s still torture lol.

Recommendations: as a (well-deserved) staple in fantasy, I highly recommend The Blade Itself to anyone who wants to experience the best of the genre (based on mass appeal and quality of content, not necessarily on my own personal top books list). So far its Grimdark appeal has been surprisingly moderate, so I think it would appeal to a wider range of readers than I initially predicted. It’s packed with great characters, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Title: Sins of Empire

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: Gods of Blood and Powder #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: An epic new fantasy series from Brian McClellan, set in the world of his wildly popular Powder Mage trilogy. A world on the cusp of a new age…The young nation of Fatrasta is a turbulent place — a frontier destination for criminals, fortune-hunters, brave settlers, and sorcerers seeking relics of the past. Only the iron will of the lady chancellor and her secret police holds the capital city of Landfall together against the unrest of an oppressed population and the machinations of powerful empires. Sedition is a dangerous word… The insurrection that threatens Landfall must be purged with guile and force, a task which falls on the shoulders of a spy named Michel Bravis, convicted war hero Mad Ben Styke, and Lady Vlora Flint, a mercenary general with a past as turbulent as Landfall’s present. The past haunts us all… As loyalties are tested, revealed, and destroyed, a grim specter as old as time has been unearthed in this wild land, and the people of Landfall will soon discover that rebellion is the least of their worries. -Goodreads

The Review:

So damn good! McClellan is now definitely among my conservative list of favorite authors, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for me next!

Just like the entirety of the Powder Mage Trilogy, Sins of Empire absorbed me completely from start to finish. It’s a slow-burn story that built beautifully to a snowball ending that had me on the edge of my seat!

External conflicts aside, the true beauty of this author is his ability to develop characters. They feel like real people, which might be the magic X-factor that pushes books over the edge into “phenomenal” for me. These characters have so much depth, and he doesn’t even bother telling you outright some of their quirks and tendencies, but chooses instead to reveal them casually so you can make your own assumptions. It’s brilliant. But what’s even more impressive to me, and what makes these stories so damn good, is how these amazing characters relate to one another. The bonds between them are magic. And because of that, every single scene has meaning and relatability. Of all the novels I’ve read, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it done better. Add to that situational humor that delights me to no end, and we have a winner.

After finishing the book, I checked out a bunch of other reviews and was surprised to discover how many people don’t like Vlora (not as a side character, not as a main character, not in a house, not with a mouse). I guess I can understand to a degree their objections, because she’s a little more understated (not underdeveloped, imo) than the other characters in the series. But… that’s kind of what I liked most about her. She has this calm, unfaltering conviction that I loved seeing played out in different situations. I like that she’s had to put personal needs and wants aside to maintain her high-ranking position, but she still has a few soft spots that come out during more vulnerable moments (which I personally found the most endearing). And I love that her success is often based on the good relationships she builds with others. So, zero objections here on that front – I’m excited to see where her story goes next.

Recommendations: It is truly few and far between that a book can hook me as wonderfully as this one did, and I’m grateful it’s only the first book of a continuation trilogy. I don’t hand out 5 starts very often anymore these days (perhaps 2 or 3 per year), so take this as an endorsement of a series I really stand behind as a solid recommendation. Start with Promise of Blood (which incidentally got one of my precious 5-stars last year). Amazing characters, great story, good magic system, brilliant writing… all the things! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: Clean Sweep

Authors: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy (kinda)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ilona Andrews are my feel-good authors.

It’s pretty much a guarantee at this point that I’m going to enjoy everything they produce. And they’re only getting better with time. Innkeeper happens to be my last unexplored series from them, and I plan to savor it.

Clean Sweep was delightful. One of the funniest I’ve read from them, it’s biggest selling point was how much fun they clearly had with it. The world building is wildly random compared to other books in the genre (low fantasy setting and feel, urban fantasy beings, and a slight science fiction influence) but somehow it worked. There’s a lot of unexplored territory that bodes well for an interesting expansion in future books… I can’t wait. :)

The characters were also 100% Ilona Andrews trademarks, meaning they were strong-willed, capable, cheeky, and a complete pleasure to read. Dina might be one of my favorites because she’s a little more understated and I like the depth of the backstory driving her actions. The male lead fits the carbon copy, but he’s just different enough that I didn’t mind it.

For such a quick read, the book did have a few small pacing issues. Everything was engaging and interesting, but I think there were too many info-drop scenes. It is a slightly more complicated world and setting than usual, but hopefully it will go more smoothly in the next novel. My rating also reflects comparisons to other books they’ve written, some of which have completely knocked my socks off! Clean Sweep was just a solid, entertaining story by comparison.

Recommendations: these authors (it’s a duo writing under one name) are among my favorites for a reason – they always produce fun, creative, and exciting stories. Clean sweep was an excellent start to this ongoing series, and I’d recommend it as a good starter if you haven’t tried an IA yet. I’m going to start calling Ilona Andrews my “instant mood-boosters.” :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes