The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark – Review

Cover- The Court of Broken Knives1

Published: August 15, 2017

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Empires of Dust #1

Pages: 512 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

In this dark and gripping debut fantasy that Miles Cameron called “gritty and glorious!” the exiled son of the king must fight to reclaim his throne no matter the cost.

It is the richest empire the world has ever known, and it is also doomed. Governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The Yellow Empire is on the verge of invasion–and only one man can see it.

Haunted by prophetic dreams, Orhan has hired a company of soldiers to cross the desert to reach the capital city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from the ashes can a new empire be built.

The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Young, ambitious, and impossibly charming, something dark hides in Marith’s past–and in his blood

Dark and brilliant, dive into this new fantasy series for readers looking for epic battle scenes, gritty heroes, and blood-soaked revenge.


Months prior to its release, The Court of Broken Knives was already receiving significant and consistent praise from basically every fantasy reader that had managed to snag an advanced copy. That in itself, regardless of synopsis and fancy cover design, was enough for me to add it to my ever growing list of books to be read. At long last, I received my own copy and the anticipation was over! It was well worth the wait, as this is one of the most striking debuts I’ve read this year.

If you’re looking for an epic fantasy with heroes galore, happiness, and high moral standards this book doesn’t meet those requirements. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read The Court of Broken Knives anyways though – it’s way too awesome to ignore! The book starts out with a company of mercenaries that are willing to knife their own men in the night if they can’t keep up the grueling trek through the desert, so we don’t exactly have any heroes in the mix. It only gets more interesting from here as additional characters are introduced, storylines weave together, and situations get progressively worse. Our main protagonist, Marith, is a particularly interesting piece of work. Entire character studies could be done on him and his host of personal demons. He’s has the appearance of naïve innocence at first, but as the story progresses you realize he’s a bloody monster and he’ll be watching the world burn to ash before it’s all said and done. I loved to hate him and hated to love him and can’t wait to read more in the sequel.

Anna Smith Spark’s writing style is unusual and suited perfectly to her story – I would describe it as elegantly blunt, if such a thing is possible. She details the world, the characters, tidbits of history, and incredible battle scenes with an artist’s touch. I could easily visualize EVERYTHING. Whether that is actually a good thing is still up for debate. This book has all the interesting stuff you could ever want – battles, politics, betrayal, attractive love interests, flawed characters – so if you haven’t already you should really check this book out. Unless you’re only into heroes, then maybe not.

Overall, this is definitely one of the coolest debuts of the year. The continual reinforcement of dual natures/feelings was really interesting and made me think harder about, well, life in general. This was particularly strong for Thalia, as she was both attracted to and abhorrent of Marith, depending on which side of him he was showing. Their relationship was an interesting one and I’m curious to see how it will play out over the course of the next two books. Excitingly enough, we already have a cover, title, and exceprt for the second book, The Tower of Living and Dying, at the end of The Court of Broken Knives.

Currently Reading: 8/14/17

Cover - With Blood Upon the Sand

With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Finally, I’m going to catch up on this series and before the next installment will be released! I’m a bit less than halfway, but it’s proving to be just as amazing as the first book.

 

 

Cover- An Echo of Things to Come

An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington

Another book I’ve been dying to get my hands on for awhile. This book is pretty hefty, but if it’s as good as I hope, I’ll blow through it in record time.

 

Wicked Like A Wildfire by Lana Popovic – Review

Cover- Wicked Like A Wildfire

Published: August 15, 2017

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Hibiscus Daughter #1

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?


When I first came across Wicked Like a Wildfire I was initially drawn in by the gorgeous floral cover art. Then there was the synopsis. The idea of manipulating beauty (or appearances) is nothing new in the realm of mythology and fantasy, but the exact brand of manipulation in Wicked Like a Wildfire is unique.

Iris and Malina are the youngest in a long line of women who were beautiful beyond compare and used beauty as a weapon. Iris can create mesmerizing fractals while Malina has the voice of a self-harmonizing angel (or a Mongolian throat singer).  Their mother runs a bakery where she creates sweet delights that can call up memories of places you’ve never been. I loved the whimsical concept of each woman’s gift, but I felt they didn’t translate to paper as well as I had hoped they would. Iris’s gift (or gleam) in particular wasn’t done justice in my imagination by the words on paper. I could only visualize something akin to what you would see through one of those cheesy plastic kaleidoscopes. I was also pretty unclear as to whether this was a tangible thing or a purely visual media, which is an important distinction later in the book.

Aside from the cool magic, the setting of Wicked Like a Wildfire may have been my favorite part. This book is set in the small, Balkan country of Montenegro of which I was very unfamiliar with prior to now. I took frequent reading breaks simply to google pictures of the locations mentioned, from the idyllic seaside town of Cattaro, to the cliffside Ostrog monastery, to the wild, ragged peaks of Durmitor. I was absolutely enthralled and my sense of wanderlust was screaming at me to book a plane ticket and fly away and visit this country.

I was rather impressed by Lana Popovic’s debut novel and will absolutely be reading more by her. It wasn’t perfect and I wished the secondary characters would have been developed as lovingly as the scenery was, but it was lovely nonetheless and had a nice flair to it. Iris and Malina had a great relationship and the Jerry Springer meets fantasy family aspect was pretty interesting. It’s rare that a dysfunctional family is portrayed quite so believably in a more contemporary era fantasy book. There’s so much more to this book, but I refuse to give away the smallest spoilers!

Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker – Review

Cover- Age of Assassins

Published: August 1, 2017

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Wounded Kingdom #1

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN . . .

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.


Books about assassins are awesome. That could literally be a one-line review, but I suppose I won’t be lazy and I’ll go into more detail. Orbit has been rolling out a phenomenal array of books this year and the fantasy debuts I’ve read have been quality reads, including Age of Assassins.

Age of Assassins is the story of the assassin Girton Club-foot, which is an accurately descriptive moniker as he does have a club-foot. The story is told by an older Girton, largely focused on the events unfolding in the city of Maniyadoc when he was about fifteen, with a few flashbacks from prior years thrown in for added detail. Girton and his master Merela Karn are captured on a job and brought before Queen Adran who blackmails the duo into protecting her son from an assassin. As the saying goes, who better to stop an assassin than another assassin? Adran’s son turns out to be a power crazed little maggot that isn’t worth protecting, so it’s probably a good thing she had serious leverage otherwise Girton or Merela would have let him have an ‘accident’ about 45 minutes after taking the job. Girton is charged with playing the son of the noble ap Gwynr family and playing the part of a squire in training. His squire training introduces him to a host of boys around his age who are more cliquey than your average high school girls though for good reason. One group has thrown their support behind the loathsome Aydor ap Mennix and the other has decided to support Tomas ap Dhyrrin, who some claim is the rightful heir. This, plus about a dozen other things combined, means that literally anyone could be the assassin.

This book is a nice introduction to the very likable (if occasionally whiney) Girton, his master, and a cast of characters that I think will play significant roles in upcoming books. I liked that there was some variety between the characters – some were likable, others not so much. Some kind, cruel, suspicious, honest, elderly, sickly, etc. Not everyone was a hardened warrior and they had realistic flaws because this isn’t an epic fantasy. No, it’s a bit more down to earth than that. I also liked the air of mystery here… I spent the entire book wondering who the assassin was and when it was finally revealed, I realized I had been SO WRONG the whole time!! That was a great surprise and I all but cackled with sinister delight.

Age of Assassins was a pretty great debut, but it isn’t without its flaws. First of all, I would have liked some more in depth world building and better descriptions of certain things. I was particularly enamored with the mounts (not horses!), with their antlers, tusks, toed feet, and long lives, but there was little description of them beyond the most basic characteristics. The magery and the ‘soured’ lands were also lacking in description for something that played such a profound role in shaping the world and characters. Overall, I really liked the book and would definitely recommend the audio version for its solid narration. I can’t wait to see what the sequels have in store for us and I hope that Rufra makes more appearances as he was one of my favorites! He reminded me of Sevro from Red Rising for some reason – perhaps the fact that he didn’t fit in well, but was the most loyal of friends.

Waiting on Wednesday: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where bloggers feature a book that we just can’t wait to get our hands on!


 

Cover- Grey Sister

IT’S BASICALLY PERFECT. If you’re on the up-and-up, you’ll know that the cover for Grey Sister was released yesterday and that means it’s time for it to be my Waiting on Wednesday feature! I really enjoyed Red Sister and found it to be somewhat more appealing to me that his Broken Empire series, mainly due to the main character, Nona. She’s not an innocent person, but she’s much more likable than Jorg Ancrath and the story maintains enough violence and action to keep me entertained. I love the cover for Grey Sister and can’t wait for April 2018!

The List by Patricia Forde – Review

cover-the-list

Published: August 8, 2017

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Genre: Middle Grade

Series: ???

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

My Rating: N/A

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.


I don’t usually read middle grade books since they’re geared for an audience much younger than me, but I couldn’t resist the synopsis for The List. This is a dystopian book where a great flood has covered much of Earth’s landmasses and the only civilized sanctuary is called the Ark. In the Ark, citizens have fresh water, food, and occasional electricity, but their language is being limited by mandate of John Noa, leader of the Ark. He thinks that by limiting language he can prevent what he sees as the failures of the previous society, but not everyone agrees with his decisions.

The Ark may be the only truly developed sanctuary, but there are a few other small enclaves of humanity left – the town of Fearfall and an enclave of artists known as the Desecrators, many of whom fled the Ark when restrictions were placed on freedom of artistic expression. The Desecrators regularly stage rebellious expositions of their talents (from art to music) to protest Noa’s ridiculous laws. What surprised me was how docilely the citizens seem to accept the new impositions on their language and everyday life… when your freedoms are taken slowly and every day is about survival, I suppose you don’t think about things like that. Letta, the wordsmith’s apprentice was just like everyone else – meekly accepting each new law handed down from above – until an injured boy entered the shop. Marlo was a Desecrator, or as they refer to themselves, a Creator and should have been turned in to the gavvers who enforce Ark law.

Letta was a likable enough character, though I was frustrated with her on several occasions because she couldn’t accept that Ark law was wrong and John Noa wasn’t such a beneficent ruler after all. This was a believable and expected reaction, and I was mostly annoyed that she didn’t see what I (the knowing reader) could see from an outside perspective so it wasn’t a big deal. Overall, the story was pretty good and I think that to a reader of the right age group, it would be awesome. I’m a little old to appreciate middle-grade to its full extent, but The List was creative and pretty entertaining!

Stacking the Shelves: 8/5/17

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!


Received for Review:

An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington

Since reading the first book in Islington’s series, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the sequel. This is definitely something fans of The Wheel of Time should check out! Thanks to Orbit for the finished copy.

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

This is one of my most highly anticipated debut novels for 2017 and I got my hands on a finished copy thanks to Orbit.

Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

Assassins are always a fun feature in a fantasy novel, so I had to snag an audio copy of this one. Thanks to Orbit and Hachette Audio for the audiobook!

 

A Secret History of Witches  by Louisa Morgan

This was a surprise ARC  arrival from Redhook that I hadn’t heard of, but I have to say it sounds awesome!

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

This book sounds incredibly awesome and I can’t wait to dive in to a new sci-fi adventure! Thank you to the publisher for providing a finished copy.

Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor

I’m pretty stoked about getting an ARC of this from The Novl, since this is my first book from them and I LOVE Laini Taylor’s writing. This is a cute little novella about Zuzana and Mik’s date night.

 

My Purchases:

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

I decided to catch up on this series with the audio version of Lord of Shadows. Not a bad format, but the story was not as awesome as I hoped. Review to come.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

This was a free ebook from Tor.com (check out their monthly newsletter for info!) that I’ve been curious about for some time. Not sure when I’ll ever have time to read it!

 

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell – Review

Cover- Traitor's Blade

Published: July 15, 2014

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Greatcoats #1

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

 

Synopsis:

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…


It’s been about a week and a half since I finished Traitor’s Blade, but between writing other reviews and life I nearly forgot to review this! Shame on me because this book was such fun and I guess you could say that I’ve joined the Greatcoats fan club now. I can’t believe I’ve never picked up any of de Castell’s books prior to Traitor’s Blade, but at least the series is finished now and I can read them in quick succession!

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment of what readers and reviewers alike call the greatest Three Musketeer’s trope since Dumas’s original tale. While I’ve never read the original, I know the general plot (thanks Wishbone) and can safely say that this does in fact channel the same feeling. Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats and perceived traitor to the throne, has resorted to guarding caravans with comrades Kest and Brasti. They’ve sunk low from their former positions as traveling adjudicators to the realm, but it’s more honorable than thievery and they have ulterior motives anyways. Being labelled Trattari doesn’t stop them from being the finest swordsmen, archers, and fisticuffs brawlers in the world… plus, such skills are useful when you’re searching for the dead king’s lost jewels (his final request).

Falcio, Brasti, and Kest are fantastic and lovable characters that will by turns have you laughing and shedding tears. Falcio in particular had some very moving scenes and as a result was the easiest to connect to while reading. Brasti never misses a target with an arrow, but doesn’t always have as much luck with the ladies he’s so fond of chasing. Kest is an artist with the blade and you’ll find that he’s quite a saint by the end of the book (hehe). Sebastien de Castell has done a marvelous job of writing the story as a first person narrative (I’m no English major, is that the correct term?) that weaves past and present events together flawlessly.

I can’t even tell you how glad I am to have finally begun my journey through the Greatcoats series! I already have book 2 ready and waiting once my schedule slacks off a bit and I really wish they were available in audio format so I could get to them quicker.  If you haven’t read these yet and love fantasy, then do yourself a favor – take my advice and read this book!

Currently Reading: 7/31/17

Cover- Age of Assassins

Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker

Books about assassins are pretty much always good and this is no exception to the rule! I’m listening to the audio version (thanks Hachette Audio!) which is well done with good variation in character voices. Can’t wait to finish it up and share my review!

 

 

I’ll also be finishing up Wicked Like A Wildfire this week which is proving to be considerably more interesting than I expected! Woo!