The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan – Review

Published: July 13, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: The Fall of the Gods #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 496 (Hardcover)

My Rating: DNF @ 55%

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

Synopsis:

Featuring boardroom intrigue, masquerade balls, gondola chases, street gangs, and shapeshifting mages, Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge continues the Fall of the Gods series as Buc and Eld turn from pirates to politics and face the deadliest mystery of their career.

The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many.

Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.

Stymied by boardroom politics and dodging mages at every turn, Buc and Eld find a potential patron in the Doga, ruler of Servenza. The deal: by the night of the Masquerade, unmask whoever has been attempting to assassinate the Doga, thereby earning her support in the halls of power. Blow the deadline and she’ll have them deported to opposite ends of the world.

Armed with Eld’s razor-sharp sword and Buc’s even sharper intellect, the dynamic duo hit the streets just as the shadow religious conflict between the Gods begins to break into open warfare. Those closest to Buc and Eld begin turning up with their throats slit amid rumors that a hidden mastermind is behind everything that’s going wrong in Servenza.

Facing wrathful gods, hostile nobles, and a secret enemy bent on revenge, Buc and Eld will need every trick in their arsenal to survive. Luckily, extra blades aren’t the only things Buc has hidden up her sleeves.


The first book in this series, The Sin in the Steel, was a surprisingly fun blend of Sherlock and Pirates of the Caribbean. Naturally, after such an adventurous seafaring adventure, I was expecting another round of something similar. What I got was a really big disappointment that lost the spirit the first book carried in abundance. 

This picks up about a year after the events of the first book. Buc and Eld earned their places on the board of the trading company and Buc began her plan to bring them down. Somewhere along the way after a string of successful implementations to the sugar refining process, a fire happened and Buc was deeply scarred by it. Sin, her resident brain-space occupier, is basically hiding it from her and Eld seems to know that. They also have convos without Buc knowing. Things are a bit shady. The duo are hired to find out who’s trying to assassinate the Doga (city leader) after someone spontaneously combusts near her after a failed attempt on the Doga’s life. 

There’s so much going on in this book and it does it no favors. Strife with the company board, confusing intrigue, murders, the whole mysterious factory explosion, and the growing tensions between Buc and Eld culminated into me DNFing this book at 55%. I never really got into the plot and the overall tone changed so much that I wasn’t enjoying it. I no longer liked Buc or Eld much and Buc’s impertinent charm and sharp intelligence were non-existent. The continued focus on the stagnant romantic elements was the icing on the cake. Buc and Eld spent so much time pining over one another and being jealous of others that it ultimately hurt the story. I’m all for a good angsty longing, forbidden love thing but this was kind of a let down. The vague references to things that happened between the two books was tiresome, particularly when so few nuggets of info were dropped in the hundreds of pages I did read. I even tried to pick this back up on two or three separate occasions after giving it a little break, but each time I was bogged down by the same things.

This clearly wasn’t the sequel I was expecting and it simply didn’t work for me. I greatly enjoyed the first book but I won’t be carrying on with the series after this installment due to irreconcilable differences! 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – Review

Published: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Series: The Scholomance #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 400 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year–and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .


Holy crapola Batman! The Last Graduate may have been THE most anticipated sequel on my TBR for 2021 and boy, did it live up to all my hopes and dreams! This book was so much fun that I couldn’t put it down for two days. Every moment of free time I had, I spent with my nose stuffed in the pages of this book (or rather, with eyes glued to my phone). 

This picks up hot on the heels of the enigmatic ending of A Deadly Education, where El’s mother sends her a note saying to stay away from Orion Lake. I spent nearly a year wondering what that vague note could have possibly meant. We aren’t given too much time to ponder it and El has little desire to dwell upon it, so we get right into the groove of things. Her senior year has started and it proves to be somewhat… unexpected. Since clearing out the graduation hall and fixing up some machinery, there aren’t many mals attacking people. Orion is devastated of course, because he draws loads of mana from them when he goes all monster slaying hero and he thinks it’s assloads of fun. El on the other hand, seems to be getting the brunt of the mal attacks and she is not amused. The Scholomance seems to have it out for her – she’s in tons of difficult classes, has a weird one all by herself so she can be ambushed, and one where she’s the only senior in a room full of dewy eyed freshmen and mals just keep trying to eat them. 

This is how pretty much the whole first half of the book goes – El’s trying to figure out why the school has it out for her, she sneaks peeks at Orion at every chance (while also trying to avoid him??), and she’s blowing up mals. The second half shifts focus quite a bit to graduation preparation, which was rather exciting at first. It did wear on me after some time because it goes on for so long. It never really stopped being fun, I just wanted them to move on to the next big, fun thing. The ending was a real cliffhanger – I mean, absolutely jaw dropping – and I am dying to get my hands on the next book to see how that turns out!

Overall, if you enjoyed the first book, this is more of the same awesomeness with slightly less acting on romantic tendencies and slightly more trying to avoid Orion. Mostly so El doesn’t get all stupid for him right before she’s about to fight for her life. The snark is still present, though somewhat toned down since she’s actually made some real friends, and there’s more focus on her insecurities about having actual friends. It’s loads of fun and I can’t wait to see more reviews as it gets closer to release day! Also, I couldn’t resist adding the hardcovers to my library and pre-ordered this already and picked up A Deadly Education.

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman – Review

Published: May 25, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Blacktongue #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.


What an unexpectedly hilarious adventure!! 

Kinch na Shannack owes the Taker’s Guild money for his training and we’re introduced to him as he’s about to unwisely help rob a dangerous looking traveller. It was most definitely a mistake, but the travelling warrior lets Kinch go. As fate would have it, he’s instructed by the Guild to travel with Galva to save her queen from a city invaded by giants. He’s also assigned a watcher, but he doesn’t know that quite yet.

In Kinch and Galva’s travels they pick up a few new companions – one a young girl witch and one a man who survived the Goblin wars who resents Kinch for their shared past. It’s a bloody and fierce path they tread towards the fallen city and the misadventures along the way are fascinating, plus they help to flesh out the world and make it feel truly alive and awful. The Goblin Wars are in the not too distant past, but they still haunt those who survived. Few men of a certain age range are left, almost no horses at all remain alive, and women are largely ruling things. It’s truly quite an interesting combination of circumstances and it keeps things fresh and somewhat thought provoking. 

I liked all the characters immensely, though Kinch is the most memorable of the bunch since he is the narrator after all. He’s irreverent, quick-witted, and hilarious, keeping you on your toes and keeping me in constant peals of laughter. Galva is quiet and deadly. I mean, she has a ferocious war corvid magically tattooed into her chest and survived the Goblin Wars. The witchling Norrigal was equally fierce, as one has to be in a hard world, and her relationship with Kinch was nice to watch grow. Malk was kind of unlikable at first, but he grew on me a bit by the end.

Wow, this review feels really all over the place (stressfully prepping for vacation!) but if you get nothing else from this, I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS! It was awesome and I had a great time listening to the audiobook. Christopher Buehlman narrates and you can really feel the enthusiasm and passion for his work coming through in the performance. I loved it!

What We Devour by Linsey Miller – Review

Published: July 6, 2021

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Series: Standalone (?)

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 336 (Paperback)

My Rating: 2.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

From the author of Mask of Shadows comes a dark and intricate story of a girl who must tether herself to a violent ruler to save her crumbling world.

Lorena Adler has a secret—she holds the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile, inside her. She has spent her entire life hiding from the world and her past. She’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, marry her best friend, Julian, and live an unfulfilling life so long as no one uncovers her true nature.

But when the notoriously bloodthirsty and equally Vile crown prince comes to arrest Julian’s father, he immediately recognizes Lorena for what she is. So she makes a deal—a fair trial for her betrothed’s father in exchange for her service to the crown.

The prince is desperate for her help. He’s spent years trying to repair the weakening Door that holds back the Vile…and he’s losing the battle. As Lorena learns more about the Door and the horrifying price it takes to keep it closed, she’ll have to embrace both parts of herself to survive.


What did I just read? It was certainly dark fantasy, which is why I requested What We Devour in the first place, but… wow. It was so confusing! You just get dumped into a world that clearly has some issues going on, but nothing is ever actually explained. I’ll be honest, I almost DNF’d this around the 30% mark but apparently I’m a masochist because I kept reading. It was just interesting enough to keep me turning pages, even if I didn’t care about the characters or the end of the world.

Lorena Adler is dualwrought, meaning she can use the power of both the noblewrights and vilewrights, which I think of as little invisible shoulder demons. She can both create and destroy and she isn’t bound by any contract like most wrought are so she can literally do anything she wants if she can make a big enough sacrifice (memory, pain, blood, etc). She has been hiding out in a village since leaving the capital city Mori several years before to prevent being scooped up and bound by one of the nobles. She’s safe until the Heir comes to town and finds out her big secret when she tries to save her boyfriend’s father from being arrested for treason. Lorena is carted back to the capital, agrees to help the Heir destroy this big magical Door that they sacrifice people to every so often, and begins researching alongside the other wrought – Basil, Creek, and Carlow. 

So many concepts and plot lines are introduced so quickly that I never quite caught up with what was going on until near the end. The pace was so rapid that I also never found myself caring for any of the characters whatsoever, which is not good for a character driven book. There was some worldbuilding, but if you asked me to describe what anything looked like I couldn’t tell you – not even the castle or the lab where they spent so much time. Lorena and Alistair (the Heir) are clearly morally grey characters which is becoming more common in YA fantasy. They are definitely not good, though they strive for what they believe to be the best thing for the citizens, but the means they use to achieve that are often horrible and bloody. 

There are many individual components of this book that I should like (and often do like in other books) but they don’t mesh well and because I never connected to the characters this really didn’t work for me. It felt almost slapdash and sometimes the ever present violence seemed more for shock factor than anything else, even if the magic system often requires a terrible sacrifice. I mostly read to the end to see what happened and with a little hope that it would eventually grab my attention. Sadly, it never did and I won’t be continuing on with any future books that may come out in the series (the ending definitely left room for more).

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley – Review

Published: July 6, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 752 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor’s Blades, gives readers the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy based in the world of his popular series the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Empire’s Ruin.

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used.

In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates.

But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.


I cannot even express my joy at having returned to this world and finding Gwenna Sharpe being a badass once again. Gwenna and her Kettral wing are in Dombang arming the resistance, but Talal and Qora have been captured and are being hauled off to the Purple Baths – one of two main garrisons. Things go badly, and I mean BADLY, wrong and Talal is captured, death reigns supreme, and Gwenna is ultimately thrown in the brig. Empress Adare sends Gwenna packing on another ship to the continent of Menkiddoc, where she is tasked with finding Kettral eggs so that the Annurian empire might rebuild their flying special forces. Thing is, the continent is corrupted and everything but the coastal regions are tainted and full of horrific murderous beasts.

Back in Dombang we have Ruc Lakatur Lan Lac, priest of Eira the goddess of love. Ruc has tried to forge a new future for himself, away from the gods that raised him and away from the death and suffering that comes from living in the delta. When a mob razes the Temple of Eira, only Ruc and his lover and fellow priestess Bien escape. He and Bien are brought to the Arena and forced to become participants in a gladiator-style competition to become priests of the Three. As three is a holy number, Ruc and Bien are paired with Talal who was in fact not executed upon capture. 

Our third POV is another that you may find somewhat familiar. Akiil, described as a monk turned con-artist, was a Shin monk alongside Kaden hui’Malkeenian in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Akiil has turned back to a life of petty crime since the monastery burned so many years before and is constantly in desperate need of money. So desperate in fact  that he decides to run a con on Adare herself, telling her he can teach her to use the kenta gates. The gates allow instantaneous travel to any other gate but if the user is not properly trained they will immediately be eradicated from existence. 

The Empire’s Ruin is the beginning to the next segment of the Unhewn Throne series and it rivals (if not exceeds outright) the quality of the first three Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne books. It’s a visceral tale of loss, love, redemption, and inner strength. I am blown away with how much I loved this book and completely fell back in love with Brian Staveley’s incredible writing. 

The world is already a well-established one at this point, but the addition of the continent of Menkiddoc further expands an already richly detailed setting. As I pointed out so long ago in my review of Skullsworn, Dombang and the river delta are such vibrant settings that you can almost feel the sweat beading on your brow and hear the insects buzzing. This is a world that has a sense of weight and history to it as well, since the supposedly extinct Csestriim and Nevariim are repeatedly brought up and their weapons and fortresses still exist and are used by those who hold them. There are ancient things in this world and the present inhabitants merely trod on history.

If you’re craving a book with depth, violence, and emotional connection to the characters I would highly recommend you check this out, but perhaps consider picking up The Emperor’s Blades first. You’ll enjoy the references and the long history behind many of the characters to the fullest, though it’s certainly not necessary if you want to jump in head first. The Empire’s Ruin is without a doubt a strong contender for Best Book of 2021!

A Deal with the Elf King by Elise Kova – Review

Published: November 6, 2020

Publisher: Silver Wing Press

Series: Married to Magic #1

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Pages: 338 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The elves come for two things: war and wives. In both cases, they come for death.

Three-thousand years ago, humans were hunted by powerful races with wild magic until the treaty was formed. Now, for centuries, the elves have taken a young woman from Luella’s village to be their Human Queen.

To be chosen is seen as a mark of death by the townsfolk. A mark nineteen-year-old Luella is grateful to have escaped as a girl. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to studying herbology and becoming the town’s only healer.

That is, until the Elf King unexpectedly arrives… for her.

Everything Luella had thought she’d known about her life, and herself, was a lie. Taken to a land filled with wild magic, Luella is forced to be the new queen to a cold yet blisteringly handsome Elf King. Once there, she learns about a dying world that only she can save.

The magical land of Midscape pulls on one corner of her heart, her home and people tug on another… but what will truly break her is a passion she never wanted.


I’ve been in the mood for fun fantasy romances lately and thought this looked like the perfect fit. I had read a few of Elise Kova’s other books, and this in on par as far as quality goes – good fun, good writing, and characters you can quickly begin rooting for! Plus, the cover art is fantastic. 

In this world humans and elves are separated from one another by a magical barrier and a treaty established long ago. The first Human Queen joined with the Elf King to form the treaty and a magical bargain and thereafter, a new human queen is sent to the elves to replace the one who has passed on. This time the human queen cannot be found and the new Elf King comes to search for his bride because the elven lands are trapped in endless winter. 

Enter Luella – her greatest desire is to provide medical care to the people in her town, especially since they contributed so that she might attend school to do just that. When the Elf King shows up and she is revealed to be the Human Queen, her world is shaken. She will be leaving her family and all her patients behind – what will they do without her? How can she possibly abandon her duty to the people she cares for? She is married to Eldas, the young new Elf King and whisked off to the elven lands where she will live for the rest of her life, aside from a brief visit home at Midsummer. Her magic is necessary to sustain the elven lands, so that the seasons might flow as they should and food can be grown and harvested.

Honestly, it was delightful and just a teensy bit frustrating while Luella and Eldas got to know one another. It was quite tense and purely business-like at first and they slowly started to fall for one another. But Luella was also vocally determined to find a way to break the bond tying the Human Queen to the throne, so that created a bit of distance between the two characters as well. Overall, it was just a delightful journey.

I’m so glad I picked up this fun little read. Elise Kova seems to always write such good fantasy romances and this one was a fairly low-stakes read despite Luella’s quest to break her bond to the throne. No terrible wars, no saving the world (despite the drama of the synopsis), none of the world ending melodrama so often associated with fantasy romance (LOL)! If you need a nice lighter read in the midst of all the heavy SFF this might be the book for you. There’s also another standalone book set in the same world coming out in August which I’m VERY excited for! 

**I changed my rating between 3.5 and 4 stars like 4 times… sometimes it’s so hard to decide on a rating!**

The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes – Review

Published: April 20, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: The Divide #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 480 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes’ fast-paced, sf adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake, commanding the Argus, has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted.

They’re humanity’s only chance.


Space marines!!! 

A collapsing universe!

Threat of (another) alien invasion!

How cool is all that? Way, way too cool. I couldn’t resist picking up the audiobook, especially after so many glowing reviews from my fellow bloggers. I’m glad I listened (though I was already keeping an eye on it) because it was a pretty darn cool story.

At some point in humanity’s long history the universe stopped expanding and just stopped, forming an edge. This border of the abyss is called the Divide and there are ships stationed there full of the military’s troublemakers. That’s where Adequin Rake, Titan war hero and captain of the Argus is now stationed. It’s also where the disgraced and disowned heir to the most powerful family in the human universe has been shuttled off to. Cavalon Mercer blew up his grandfather’s new genetics laboratory/cloning facility to prove a point – that he hates him and all he stands for – and now he’s stuck at the edge of the universe. Cavalon, Adequin, and a few other crew members from the Argus must try to save the universe as it begins its inevitable collapse and the threat of alien invasion from the Viators is renewed.

This was an exciting, edge of your seat type story with plenty of action and calamity. What could possibly be worse than the edge of the universe violently rushing inward? Well, the threat of a third Viator war after the immeasurable destruction caused by the first two is actually just the icing on the cake, especially since Adequin Rake was supposed to have eradicated the last breeding Viator. The characters were likable and I easily found myself rooting for all of them – Adequin and Cavalon are merely the tip of the iceberg. The secondary characters are just as likable and have interesting pasts of their own that the story slowly begins to unveil.

Overall this was an enjoyable read, though I did find myself wishing things would just hurry up toward the end. I can’t even recall why I wanted the book to move along so much – impatience probably. Despite my impatient tendencies, I’m looking forward to the next book, The Exiled Fleet, which will be published in August 2021.

Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller – Review

Published: May 4, 2021

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Series: Bladesmith #1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

 

Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Ziva prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her, using her magical gift to craft unique weapons imbued with power.

Then Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord, and the result is a sword capable of stealing its victims’ secrets. A sword that can cut far deeper than the length of its blade. A sword with the strength to topple kingdoms. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister and flees.

Joined by a distractingly handsome mercenary and a young scholar with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a worthy wielder or a way to destroy it entirely.


This was for sure one of my most anticipated YA releases of 2021 AND it was by an author that was new to me! I’ve had my eye on several of Tricia Levenseller’s books in the past, but never quite made the time for them. Blade of Secrets had such a great synopsis that I couldn’t possibly avoid it for very long! And thus, I picked up the audiobook (which had fab narration!) and was swept off into a fascinating fantasy world.

The main character Ziva is a tremendously talented Smith who can make magical weapons. She’s  been working hard for many years so that she and her younger sister Temra might move to another safer continent. Their homeland has been splintered by the death of the previous king years prior and it’s not as stable as it once was. Ziva sees a chance for safety when Warlord Kymora, former general of the Dead King’s armies, offers to take her and Temra in in exchange for Ziva’s finest work. So Ziva crafts a masterpiece that she unintentionally makes the wielder able to hear the thoughts of those it cuts… and she hears Kymora’s intent to make herself Queen. Thus begins the journey of Ziva, Temra, Petrik the scholar, and Kellyn the handsome mercenary as they seek a way to destroy the sword called Secret Eater.

The characters are well written and have their own flaws and facets that make them unique from the others. Temra has a fiery spirit, and is defiant of her sister’s rules at times. Petrik is somewhat of a stereotypical scholar, but with a sense of adventure otherwise he would have never begun on such a fraught path. Kellyn is the brave, handsome warrior but he has kindness within him and a deep love for his large family. Ziva, being the focal point, shines the brightest. She is talented obviously, but is extremely self-conscious and critical of herself due to terrible social anxiety. It quickly becomes apparent that it can be almost debilitating for her and she envies Temra’s charm and comfort in the presence of others. Ziva journey not only destroy the sword but to also manage and overcome her social anxiety were well handled. Her inner monologues were at times relatable and at other times somewhat irritating,  but I appreciated her tale and the insight it brought. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and one I’m likely to pick up the sequel to when it’s available. It’s definitely character driven and the details and scenery left little impression on me, so if you’re hugely into heavily detailed scenery descriptions this might disappoint you. I think what little worldbuilding was introduced will be further expanded upon, but it is character-centric! I’m fortunate to have a backlog of Tricia Levenseller’s other books to check out when I get bored. So many books to read!

Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R. Matthews – Review

Published: June 22, 2021

Publisher: Solaris 

Series: Standalone 

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 550 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

A new grimdark fantasy for fans of Anna Smith-Spark, GRR Martin and Mark Lawrence.

The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.

General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.

Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.

Seven lives and seven deaths to seal the fate of the Empire.


Seven Deaths of an Empire is such an appealing title for a book that I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick it up and see what it entailed. The synopsis prepares you for the story, but it doesn’t have the vitality that the entirety of the story holds. It’s also pretty much the fall of the Roman Empire with some magic thrown in for added excitement which is quite awesome. 

As the synopsis so kindly outlines, General Bordan is the aging though well respected leader of the empire’s military. His Emperor has fallen and all he can hope to do is guide the heir and keep them alive until the Emperor’s body and the magical amulet he carried can be returned to the capital. Kyron is an apprentice mage accompanying the Emperor’s body back to the capital from the warfront. He’s learning how the world truly works outside of the safe walls of the capital and honing his magic skills during the somewhat perilous journey. These two characters are the points of view you’ll follow through the story and they have an interesting connection to one another.

The story was definitely a slow burner. It felt like it took a hundred years to get through the first 30%, but after that it really started to pick up and by the end I was wondering if and when there might be a sequel (there will be). General Bordan’s chapters start off with the chaos in the capital as the news of the Emperor’s death arrives and the his son becomes the Emperor-in-waiting. Spoiler alert – the prince is a massively privileged dipshit and I felt genuinely bad for the general. Kyron’s chapters grated on me a little at first, even though they were interesting. He comes off as a whiner for a while and while he doesn’t exactly grow out of that he sort of grows on you. There’s plenty of action, political intrigue, assassination, and several very emotional moments that left me rather speechless. 

While Seven Deaths of an Empire didn’t exactly blow me away, leaving me raving about it for days, I did really enjoy it and found the payoff worthwhile. G.R. Matthews is an author I’ll be keeping my eye on because I’ll be needing news of the next books set in this world, as they necessarily be direct sequels. This sated my thirst for Roman inspired fantasy, military fantasy, and all things remotely political.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – Review

Published: June 1, 2021

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Wilderwood #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 448 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.


For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.


I assumed this book would be a Little Red Riding Hood retelling based on the synopsis and cover, but (blessedly) it wasn’t! I’m getting a bit sick of retellings of classic fairytales, but I admit I fall prey to temptation sometimes. For the Wolf is only in the loosest sense inspired by a classic fairytale and that’s mostly based on generic symbolism and naming. 

Redarys is the Second Daughter and as such, she is destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf of the Wilderwood. Red has long ago accepted her fate, if only to protect those dear to her from the burgeoning and deadly magic she carries, so when she turns twenty she gladly readies herself to meet the Wolf. Her twin sister Neverah is less eager to let her sister go and even once Red has gone to the wood, Neve plots to find a way to free her. Red isn’t quite as imprisoned as Neve thinks though, for the Wolf is just a man with an unasked for duty that he must carry out. He is linked to the Wilderwood and struggles to keep the sentinel trees intact and keep the real monsters at bay. Neve’s efforts to free her sister only cause more trouble and reveal the the Five Sleeping Kings are trapped beyond the Wilderwood for a reason. Spoiler alert – it’s not because they were kind and just rulers either. 

I liked that we got POVs of both Red and Neve, given that both are in such different environments and dealing with interesting problems of their own. Neve is trying at all costs to find a way to save her beloved sister without realizing her efforts are hurting her instead. Neve’s desperation leads her to a sect of their religion that is trying to destroy the Wilderwood to free the Kings. Red on the other hand is learning to protect the Wilderwood and getting to know the strange folk that dwell there, for she isn’t the only one to owe a debt. The Wolf is not some fearsome man of legend, but rather a man desperate to fulfill his duty even if that means pushing himself over the edge. I loved the characters, even Neve when she was so clearly being manipulated that it hurt me to read (how could she not see it?). Once I picked it up I was thoroughly engrossed and invested!

I really enjoyed For the Wolf and will now be impatiently awaiting it’s sequel, For the Throne so I can find out what happens next! I expect much doom to be unleashed upon the lands, many gloriously sweet romantic bits, and SUCH TENSION. This might be a new favorite series!