Book Review: Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla by Steven Brust

Title: Teckla

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The third to be published, this is actually the fifth entry in the timeline of the VLAD TALTOS books, and it represents a darker, more serious turn in the series. Vladimir Taltos is a short-lived, short-statured Easterner (what we would call a human) in a world mostly populated by the long-lived, extremely tall Dragaerans. He is also an assassin and petty crimelord. His lifestyle and career require some difficult moral choices. When his wife Cawti joins an uprising of Easterners and peasant Dragaerans (the Teckla of the title), it causes a severe strain in their marriage, and Vlad begins to question those choices. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is one of the few series where I spend most of my time enjoying rather than analyzing. It’s complex enough to keep my interest (with random splashes of sarcasm that usually make me laugh), but easy-flowing enough that I can sit back and relax into it.

Nothing about this series is typical. Of the three I’ve read, so far Teckla was the least unconventional, but still boasted 100% world immersion. The author never explains anything, choosing instead to throw you into the deep end. It works though, because I pick up many intricacies of the world without having to be expressly told a thing. A good comparison is the principle behind the Rosetta Stone language program (where you learn the language organically as if it’s the only one you’ve heard). Brust’s storytelling works a lot alike that, which is why I feel so immersed with these books. Each novel seems to focus on a different culture/race, and as I read and recognize their names as titles of future books, making me all the more eager to get to those and find out more.

Overall, I’m in for the long haul of this series. They’re perfect palate cleansers between other novels and I appreciate what seems to me like a true merging of genres (with fantasy being the most prominent).

Recommendations: I’d hand this series to someone relatively well-read in the fantasy genre with emphasis on its originality. And humor.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Title: Dragon Hunters

Author: Marc Turner

Series: The Chronicles of the Exile #2

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted. Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power. But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand. -Goodreads

The Review:

Dragon Hunters delivered all the elements that were missing from book one, with flare (and by flare I mean dragons). Sluggish plot progression wasn’t a problem here. I wouldn’t say Dragon Hunters was a particularly fast-paced book, but the things that happened within each perspective advanced the plot much more sufficiently than in the first book. Same with the plot-transparency – a lot of the devious plots remained shrouded in mystery until the end, which was not the case in book one (and a major component of my dissatisfaction). I said in my review of When the Heavens Fall that Turner had all of the components I look for in a storyteller, he just made some outlining decisions I wasn’t thrilled about. His skill shows itself nicely in this sequel and confirmed my guess that with a different outline, he’d be awesome.

The only thing Dragon Hunters still lacked for me was sufficiently distinct characters. They were all interesting to read about (and had great backstories), Turner just never took the time to give them any introspection or depth (with maybe one exception). There are two main male POVs and two main female POVs, and I had a hard time telling them apart. With each switch I had to consciously wrap my mind around which one had the spotlight. I probably missed a few details early on due to character confusion. Even so, I still enjoyed their basic profiles. But I can also see how improving them would’ve taken this story to the next level.

Since every other aspect was done to my satisfaction, I still value the book highly. I especially loved the setting (costal/island nations centered around pirates, political intrigue, and powers) and the extra bit of subtle world building in the form of a stone-skinned race and people with gills (both of which I’m eager to learn more about). Oh! And the different religions (specifically the Chameleon one) really sparked my interest. So overall, I had a ton of positive takeaways from this book.

Recommendations: Dragon Hunters was a lot stronger than the first book, containing a good mix of action, world building, religion, politics, and sea dragons. The characters probably won’t make you feel a lot of things, but they’re still fun to read about. This series wouldn’t be my pick for new fantasy readers, but is a good pick for Malazan fans looking for something slightly less intense.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Project Redwall: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

[4/5 stars] I freaking loved these books as a kid. I read every single one of them multiple times and stayed up to date with the series until I graduated high school. Then for some reason, even though 5 more books were published in the series, I felt myself reluctant to pick them up. What if I didn’t like them as much? What if I was too old for Redwall?? What if the characters referenced a character I didn’t remember because it has been so long and I had to go back and reread them all to get the full experience??? Well, thankfully I finally decided to stop freaking out about all the things and took the plunge into my first Redwall book in 13 years: Rakkety Tam.

And you know what? I LOVED it. The storytelling was every bit as special as it was when I was a kid and my biggest takeaway was a newfound admiration for an author who produced 20+ books in a series and still took the same care to create amazing characters, fun situations, and compelling quests in book 16 as he did with book 1. You can truly see how much passion Jacques had for his stories (and how much creativity!).

Rakkety Tam offered a dashing hero, sufficiently wicked foebeasts, brilliant acts of courage, and a good lesson against greed and avarice. I especially liked the many scuffles and battles throughout and was actively cheering for the good guys by the end. And the bird!! This is the first book I can remember where a bird has a role in the story. They’re super funny in their mannerisms and I think I like them almost as much as the moles. Overall, this was a nice addition to the series.

I tried something new with this book: I listened to the audio while following along in the book. Normally I would’ve just breezed through the audio, but I felt the need to really take my time with this series. And after a few chapters, I decided to try both. I admit the decision wasn’t made totally out of nostalgia. The audiobooks contains a full cast of actors for the characters, with Jacques himself reading the narration. People, I couldn’t understand a freaking word he was saying at first (imagine Sean Connery reading to you… without enunciation). I’m used to his dialect now, but I would’ve missed so much had I not changed what I was doing.

It worked out though, because while listening I discovered how much unbridled FUN it was listening to a cast of voices, especially when they start singing the adorable songs & ditties Jacques loved to include throughout his books. It turned the entire story into an experience, and one I’m beyond happy to have had. Overall, I love that I’m finally continuing, and that I’m having as much fun (if not more) than I did as a kid.

Recommendations: these books aren’t like Watership Down or the Fire Bringer where the reader is thrust into the unassuming lives of woodland creatures (snore), but robust, well-spun adventures where the heroes brandish swords and the villains come for blood! It’s brilliant because it has everything you’d expect from a adult fantasy novel, but it’s use of mice, otters, etc. make it accessible to kids. It’s a series with so much fun and adventure that I’d recommend it highly to any middle grade kid looking to discover books she/he could love.

My favorites in the series (so far):

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Title: Child of a Mad God

Author: R.A. Salvatore

Series: Coven #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home. The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent.

I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona world until I was about halfway through. Even though I’ve only read two other Corona books (Demon Awakens and Demon Spirit), Child of a Mad God felt self-contained enough to be read on its own. It will transport you to an isolated, indigenous  landscape, and set a mood that is almost otherworldly in its delivery. There were a few minor characters (including an unknown (to me) POV in what I call the “Drizzt letter” at the beginning of every part) that felt a little like cameos from previous books and made me feel like I was missing a bit of historical depth. But none of them had any direct impact on the main story. I’m actually looking forward to reading the backlist in this series to find out if we really have seen these characters before.

The main POV characters had so much depth that it sort of took me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to have so much emotion pulled out of me, and that introspection is probably the strongest element of the story. He really digs into the motives and carnal wants of these characters, which slowed the pacing considerably even though it still had a lot of impact. As I touched on already, the world building was fantastic. It was totally immersive into this culture without ever dwelling on the mundane aspects of their daily lives. Instead, it focused 100% on the things that made the plot special. Even though it was slower, not a single page was wasted. 

So, while I absolutely loved all of the elements I usually rate books on (writing, characters, world building, etc.), I need to be honest about my general enjoyment-level of the book. You see, it’s pretty brutal. It often danced on the edge of what I can tolerate (take this with a grain of salt because I’m the first to admit that I’m a wimp), meaning a lot of my reading experience involved an odd juxtaposition of loving it but absolutely hating the awful things that happened within it. Even so, from an analytical standpoint, I can appreciate how those brutal moments helped raise the stakes for the story and really ground the reader in this unforgivable society. By no means is it a happy story, but it’s certainly a compelling one. I usually need a strong ray of hope to keep me engaged in books, which Child of a Mad God was pointedly lacking. I yearned for vindication for these characters and was rewarded with a punch to the gut every time. Even so, the potential for satisfaction in future books is what has me eager to continue the series.

Recommendations: I’d hand this book to fantasy readers who often list “good characters” as their main criteria, but it also fits the bill for excellent world-building and beautiful writing. If you can stomach indigenous brutality and slower pacing, Child of a Mad God is a great pick for you. I felt it stands alone well enough that you don’t have to have read previous Corona books to enjoy it, but that’s speaking from someone who doesn’t yet know quite what she’s missing. :)

I’d like to thank R.A. Salvatore and the publicists at TOR/Forge for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Child of a Mad God! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

Title: When the Heavens Fall

Author: Marc Turner

Series: The Chronicles of the Exile #1

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering. A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost. -Goodreads

The Review:

Although When the Heavens Fall didn’t knock my socks off, I’m still glad I read it. The elements that didn’t quite work for me were basic plot construction choices, which means the author had all of the world building, characterization, and writing skills, and even executed his vision to my satisfaction, he just didn’t give me a satisfying journey on top of it all. Because of that, I am super excited to dive into his second book and see how a new plot structure with a new cast of characters unfolds. Plus the second book is called Dragon Hunters, which already has my immediate attention. :-)

The first third of When the Heavens Fall was stellar. Turner set a really cool atmosphere with his world building – a rather ominous overtone shrouded with secrets. I knew immediately there was going to be a lot of things to discover about this world, and I couldn’t wait to find out more. He also introduced a handful of POV’s characters, all of whom I really enjoyed reading about (even the “unlikable” ones). He even hinted at several cool magics and gave us a glimpse into some fascinating nonhuman characters.

So, even though he set the stage brilliantly, where he took the story left a little to be desired. The multiple POV’s were actually part of the problem. They were perspectives from each aspect of the mystery surrounding a magical book, and the reader learned very early on what was going on. So it was a case of dramatic irony as the characters slowly got onto the same page as the reader. The use of dramatic irony usually drives me crazy, but I will say at least its use here allowed the reader to dig into the motives of all aspects of the conflict, which in itself is entertaining, I just wish I hadn’t know quite as much upfront.

Another issue that perpetuated this problem was pacing. It’s okay to have all of your characters focused around a single problem, but after the first third of the book, every time the character perspective switched, nothing significant had happened. Everybody just kind of maintained status quo for a good bulk of the book and so at times it felt like we were switching POVs just for the sake of and not because that perspective had something interesting and new to show us. So for that reason, I feel the book could have been stronger had the plot been tightened with a bit more focus within each POV. This is also likely the main reason why it took me a full two weeks to get through.

All that said, I still have an overall positive attitude towards the book and thought the things it did well, it did really well. I love the world and its dynamics and can’t wait to explore more of it, I liked the characters and hope they get a little more depth in the future, and appreciated the writing style and overall voice. This was a buddy read with some friends at Fantasy Buddy Reads, and there were a lot of comments referencing similarities to Erikson’s Malazan series, so chances are if you liked that one this one will give you some kicks.

Recommendations: this is a slow burn fantasy that built a great foundation to this cool world and had a cast of highly interesting characters (even if they were a tad flat). This wouldn’t be the first book I handed to someone if they needed a recommendation for a good fantasy, but it’s definitely one I would talk positively about with someone who is well read in the genre. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start and I can’t wait to see more of what this author can do.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [30]: January 2018

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. <-November 2017 I’m trying something new and reading them in a specific, carefully pre-determined order.

Here’s what mine looks like:

January 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I didn’t get through a handful of last month’s books, mostly because I decided on a whim to join the Buddy Read for When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner. Dang book took me a full two weeks to get through (3 stars). In any case, my first TBR Tackler Shelf in 2018 contains series I’m trying to complete along with a bunch of books I’m reading with my FBR Goodreads group. We’re embarking on the Malazan Ultimate Reading Order adventure, which I’m super excited for, and continuing on a few series started in December (I’m most excited to continue with Staveley’s Unhewn Throne Trilogy). Overall, I have so many good reads planned this month, I doubt I’ll get through them all, but it sure will be fun to try! 

Niki’s Incomplete Series Challenge [Via Fantasy Buddy Reads]

Year-End Update:

Series Finished: 25
 Series Brought UTD: 21
Series Progressed: 56
New Series Started: 22
DNFed: 5
Abandoned: SOOO Many.

I’m thrilled with my progress in 2017 to reduce the number of open series I had going. I started my challenge with 129 incomplete series (O_o) and ended the year with only 45 open (24 of which are UTD). Of the new series I started in 2017, I’m only carrying 6 into the new year. My goal is to be under 10 series within the next few months and I hope to maintain that going forward. Here’s to a good year in reading!



What books are you Tackling this month? Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments. :)

by Niki Hawkes