The Martyr by Anthony Ryan – Review

Published: June 28, 2022

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Covenant of Steel #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 576 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

The Martyr
is the second novel in The Covenant of Steel, a new epic fantasy series of action, intrigue and magic from Anthony Ryan, a master storyteller who has taken the fantasy world by storm.

Times have changed for Alwyn Scribe. Once an outlaw, he’s now a spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose visions of a demonic apocalypse have earned her the fanatical devotion of the faithful.

Yet Evadine’s growing fame has put her at odds with both Crown and Covenant. As trouble brews in the kingdom, both seek to exploit her position for their own ends.

Sent to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion, Alwyn must rely on old instincts to fight for his new cause. Deadly feuds and ancient secrets are laid bare as war erupts, a war that will decide the fate of the Kingdom of Albermaine and, perhaps, prevent the coming of the prophesied Second Scourge.

The story begins with Evadine Courlain’s claim that she is a Risen Martyr challenged by both king and church. Through some careful maneuvering, she is ultimately recognized as such but then she and the Covenant Company are sent southward to the duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellious duke and the unorthodox belief that has taken root. 

Here we get a fantastic siege set up and some truly excellent battle scenes. Think of men climbing siege ladders only to be furiously hacked down by the soldiers above, deadly arrows in the night picking guards off the battlements, and the tension within as the siege continues. At times I can find extended battle scenes somewhat tedious, but I never find that to be the case with Anthony Ryan’s writing. I’m always compelled to keep turning pages with nary a sign of boredom and perhaps that’s helped by the narration of Alwyn Scribe. I enjoy his narrative voice immensely and the fact that he tells this story in his old age, where he’s reflecting back on his younger days really fascinates me. It leaves me wondering what steps he might have taken to end up such an influential person in history, as the little snippets before each new section imply.

One of my favorite parts of the book was, unsurprisingly Alwyn’s sojourn with the Caerith people. You may recall that the Sack Witch in the first book was one of the Caerith. Ever since she was introduced I was super curious to learn more about her and her people, plus you know, cool magic. I loved this part – it was a nice refreshing break from the continuous battles and it sort of opened the door to the larger scope of things. This story goes beyond kingdoms and duchies, for the Second Scourge is coming.

This was a fantastic sequel that left me hungering for the next book. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m sure you’ll love the sequel just as much. Also, lemme just give a shout out to the cover artist for such a cool looking cover – Alwyn looks like such a badass!

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro – Review

Published: June 7, 2022

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Series: The Talents Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 672 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

A stunning new work of historical fantasy, J. M. Miro’s Ordinary Monsters introduces readers to the dark, labyrinthe world of The Talents.

England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

With lush prose, mesmerizing world-building, and a gripping plot, Ordinary Monsters presents a catastophic vision of the Victorian world—and of the gifted, broken children who must save it.

Far outside of Edinburgh is a mysterious estate called the Cairndale Institute, home to people dubbed “Talents”. They have all manner of abilities, from self-healing to the ability to craft golems from flesh and as one might expect, society isn’t all that fond of people with strange gifts. The proprietor of Cairndale is one Dr. Berghast, a Talent himself, who sends out those in his employ to track down Talents from all over the world. He’s looking for a particular boy, one who began his life at Cairndale but was kidnapped in the night and he might hold the key to their salvation. 

The story begins with Alice and Coulton tracking down rumors of Talents in America. One is Charlie Ovid, a young black boy who was sentenced to death, but who wouldn’t stay dead. The other is a mysterious glowing boy named Marlowe who’s been traveling with a small circus with his caretaker. As the two detectives make their way across the states, they realize they’re being followed by a dustworker who went rogue eight years ago and tried to steal away Marlowe from Cairndale. Time is of the essence and the race back to Cairndale begins!

There are powers at play beyond even the realm of the living. You see, Cairndale is home to a gateway to the spirit world and it’s beginning to crumble ever since the drughr, a powerful being bent on escape and destruction was aided by the dark dustworker Jacob Marber. There are several sections of flashback chapters that flesh out Jacob Marber and his motivation for assisting the drughr. Surprisingly, I found myself sympathizing with him and understanding his choices, for grief is a terrible thing to hold on to for so many years. These chapters also helped to introduce Ribs and Komako, two of the other young wards of Cairndale that Coulton and Marber picked up during their travels to Tokyo. 

This was an absolute tome of a book and it did take me a while to finish it (a solid week!) but I enjoyed every page. Imagine Victorian X-Men with a dollop of Harry Potter themes mixed in for good measure. Marlowe and Jacob Marber have sort of a Harry Potter and Voldemort vibe going on, plus you have a magical school setting in Scotland and a group of kids who get up to endless mischief. I’m sure you can see the parallels! I particularly loved Ribs (whose name is actually Eleanor) thanks to her roguish nature and the total abuse of her ability to become invisible. I mean, she’s constantly snooping around or playing pranks with her ability, which is completely and totally how anybody would use that ability.

Overall, this was an excellent read with a perfectly gloomy setting and creepy villains. J.M Miro wrote some incredible, edge-of-your-seat action scenes and some equally suspenseful scenes. I have to say, I’m going to be counting down the days until the second book is released thanks to the ending!

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah – Review

Published: May 17, 2022

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Sandsea Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 480 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One NightsThe Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Mildly anticipated, highly enjoyed! This wasn’t on my most anticipated list for the year, but it was quietly sitting on my TBR tempting me with promises of jinn magic and One Thousand and One Nights inspired themes. I’m so glad I checked it out because it was amazing!

Loulie al-Nazari, garbed in her midnight blue star speckled garments, sells rare jinn artifacts to wealthy collectors defying the sheiks law. Always by her side is Qadir, her jinn bodyguard. Of course it’s a secret that he’s a jinn because Prince Omar and his Forty Thieves hunt and kill jinn simply for existing. Loulie is forced before the sultan and given a deadly quest to find a magical lamp containing one of the seven jinn kings, who’s magic is powerful enough to grant any request, including killing all the jinn. She and Qadir are accompanied by the younger, kinder Prince Mazen in the guise of his deadly elder brother Omar, and one of Omar’s most trusted thieves, Aisha. 

The group of unwilling adventurers trek across the desert toward the Sandsea, home of the hidden jinn city and the magical lamp. Along the way they stumble across numerous dangers both natural and otherwise. Ghouls hunting in the desert, dark undead jinn queens, and murderers dressed all in black threaten the party at every turn. Their imminent peril kept me hooked, particularly when the group gets caught in a sandstorm and ends up in the hidden prison of the Queen of the Sands, a jinn who can infiltrate your mind and control the dead. The action was vivid and the scenery was exquisite and some of the implications were thought provoking. When jinn blood is spilled it causes flourishing growth, so it’s often pointed out that the beautiful palace gardens and one particularly lush city is thanks to the murder of countless jinn. 

This was an awesome debut that kept me reading late into the night! If you’re looking to fill the hole in your soul left by the Daevabad trilogy this might help, though there’s little in the way of romance in the first book. It has so many great elements that totally worked for my current reading mood – betrayal, secrets, and magic! Characters with long, dark histories that slowly get revealed as the story goes along! All my favorite things!

The Bloody Throne by S.C. Emmett – Review

Published: March 29, 2022

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Hostage of Empire #3

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 640 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

A richly detailed epic of ambition, honor, and sacrifice, The Bloody Throne is the masterful conclusion to Hostage of Empire, a medieval East Asia-inspired fantasy trilogy. 

The great Zhaon empire is in turmoil. The emperor is dead and the crown prince has fallen to hidden schemes, leaving the most dangerous prince to assume the throne. The imperial court is seething, and whispers of war grow to shouts. The once vanquished kingdom of Khir marches again to regain their honor, the savage Tabrak raid the borders after ravaging the South, and assassins lurk in the shadows seeking imperial favor.

Komor Yala, her position deeply uncertain, finds shelter in marriage to the cunning Third Prince―but there is little safety in Zhaon. Death and destruction mount as a blood-drenched summer ends, and to the victor will be left an empire—if it is not turned to smoking ruins first.

The wheel of destiny is turning, and all will be caught under its weight…

The Bloody Throne is the conclusion to one of the best political fantasy series I’ve read in ages, though I hesitate to label it as fantasy at all. This is set in a fictional world, has essentially no magic whatsoever, and is fantasy in the sense that many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books (aside from Tigana and Fionavar) are fantasy. But oh my goodness, the court politics and subtle intrigue truly shine in this book! Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to read about the gory cruelty of a horde of “barbarians” or the backstabbing tendencies of royal siblings this totally has you covered.

Komor Yala is alone in Zhaon yet she still searches for the hand behind the death of her beloved princess Mahara. With Zakkar Kai returned to the Northern Army, her only protection is her engagement and impending wedding to the surliest of princes, Third Prince Takshin, and even that may not be enough when the newly anointed Emperor Kurin begins cleaning house. Knives in the dark, poisonings, and the ever looming threat of the Pale Horde have the royal family of Zhaon in turmoil as Zhaon itself suffers. 

Yala remains a sympathetic and strong character, and though she isn’t a traditional badass fantasy heroine it’s impressive to see her small rebellions and intelligent moves she makes within the bounds of her societal role. Her skill with her yue blade and horses do make her stand out from the Zhaon ladies at court, though those are simply skills all Khir girls are taught. I appreciate that so many other perspectives are thrown into the mix, as it gives so much insight to events that might otherwise be mentioned in passing. A brief chapter is given to an assassin who just wants to leave the city with his beloved, several chapters are given to the First Queen’s maid Yona, and a few to a slave in the Pale Horde. 

I greatly enjoyed the rather proper, courtly romance between Zakkar Kai and Yala and was quite sad they were separated during this final installment but it was lovely to see Takshin admire Yala so caringly. I honestly hated rooting for either Takshin or Kai because I liked both of them for different reasons and loved the respect and care they showed to Yala! 

The ending was bittersweet yet satisfying and thoroughly wrapped up the tale. This could be considered spoilery, but MAN I felt so bad for Takshin at the end. Poor guy 😦 Overall, this was an amazing conclusion to the series. These aren’t exactly fast paced books, and I took my time up until Friday night when I stayed up until midnight finishing the story because I really, really didn’t want to put it down. So much of the actual action was saved for the concluding third of the book as so many events came to a boil and it was awesome!

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller – Review

Published: March 22, 2022

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.

Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.

But now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire— by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil—her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.

Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.

From the synopsis this sounds like a fairly normal fantasy-murder mystery hybrid – the emperor summons his mistress to his deathbed and charges her with figuring out which of his sons is responsible for his death. Oh, how wrong you are in assuming it would be “normal”! And honestly, the fact that it’s not what I expected was one of the best parts about this.

Mistress Charm, the madam of Orchard House, is an eccentric woman who wears only black and regularly dyes her hair all shades of the rainbow. She has a garden full of trees which bear fruit of bones that she uses to grow things. Usually small creatures like birds, but when she gathers enough human bones, she grows new girls to staff her house and take away the aspects of herself she can no longer tolerate. She has boneghost girls named Justice, Desire, Shame, Pain, and Pride. Even Charm herself is only a façade for the one they call the Lady. Charm’s duty is to bear the mindlock – the magical device the emperor implanted in her temple to prevent her magic from driving her mad. It also grants the emperor an unparalleled degree of control over any who bear the mindlock, and forcefully going against the commands can kill a mage who fights it too hard. When the emperor set this final task to Charm, he made it so that once it was complete Charm would be free.

This is truly an impressive debut novel, if for nothing other than the sheer volume of PLOT. It’s a symphony of plot lines and the execution is beautiful. Charm is managing Orchard House, solving the murder of the emperor, staying alive as she defends herself and her girls from two of the more sadistic princes, and meddling in politics. Of all the boneghosts, Pain is the most autonomous and regularly runs errands away from Orchard House and she has a strong connection to the Firedrinkers – the mindlocked police force within the city of Borenguard. Pain’s connection to the Firedrinkers is both unusual and imminently important, as they never let anyone see their faces or know their former identities but she knows who they are. Charm and Pain are the two most prominent characters, but there are numerous others who make essential appearances. There are politicians hoping to overthrow the princes, the princes themselves (who are all monstrous in their own ways), the empress… you get it – so many essential characters to keep track of! Pain was probably my favorite because I loved her determination to be her own person and her intimate connection to the Firedrinkers (particularly Captain Oram). Charm was obviously a close second and I appreciated that she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and do whatever it took to survive, even if that meant becoming the mistress of the man who destroyed her home country.

The world itself is not incredibly well fleshed out since this is almost entirely located within the city of Borenguard, but as the story goes along we get more details about Charm’s home country Inshil. I don’t feel that the lack of detail about the other locations mentioned detracted in any way. In fact, I think too much detail would have been confusing and unnecessary. This is all about character and plot! And oh, how I enjoyed it!

Overall, this was a weird and wonderful book that defied my initial expectations in the very best of ways. I didn’t even begin to get into the story in all of what I’ve written here because it’s so detailed. The short of it is that I’ll be thinking about this book for quite some time to come and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Sara Mueller has in store for future novels!

Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan – Review

Published: August 3, 2021

Publisher: Grim Oak Press

Series: The Rise and the Fall #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 480 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

This was a really strong entry to the Rise and Fall trilogy and I am hyped! I always get really excited for new books from Michael J. Sullivan and have backed all his kickstarters thus far just to get my hands on sweet, sweet early hardcovers and bookmarks. This book managed to return to the glorious sense of camaraderie and banter that the Riyria books had and I am so happy about that!

Nolyn is the half human/half elven son of Nyphron and Persephone. The story begins with him having been deployed to the front in the latest goblin war, where he is certain his father sent him to die along with the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary. Fortunately for Nolyn the Sik-Aux is made up of the best soldiers in the military because they’ve been trained by the renowned human blademaster Amicus Killian. For those who’ve read The Riyria books, Amicus’ three blade fighting style will be wonderfully familiar, because Amicus is trained as a Teshlor. The remainder of the Sik-Aux go on the run after a series of violent faux-pas and Nolyn decides he definitely needs to overthrow his father to fix the blatant disparity between humans and elves.

The other primary character in this book is Sephryn, the only other half human/half elf and Nolyn’s oldest friend. The two have been close since childhood and Sephryn is also the daughter of Moya and Tekchin. Sephryn has been an advocate for human equality and rights for centuries and that position makes her a prime target for extortion – the extortion being the kidnapping of her baby. The voice inside her head told Sephryn she would get her son back when she had acquired a certain artifact. 

The story is pretty dang good. Between Sephryn’s desperation to get her baby back and Nolyn’s journey back to Percepliquis there was plenty of entertainment and action to keep most readers totally hooked. The secondary characters really helped to round out the story, particularly the members of the Sik-Aux. There were a few other POV chapters from other characters, but I think going into too much detail on those might spoil some of the fun.

I would definitely recommend this for readers who’ve enjoyed Michael J. Sullivan’s other series set in this world. While this is a standalone story, it will help to be familiar with the characters and events introduced in the Legends of the First Empire series as they are mentioned quite frequently and they tie in with the events of this book. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Farilane, when it is delivered a bit later this year. It sounds like it will be an excellent adventure story!

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas – Review

Published: February 15, 2022

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Series: Crescent City #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 805 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode―and the people who will do anything to save it.

Guys, I feel like it goes without saying but Sarah J Maas’s new releases are ALWAYS at the top of my TBR each year and for good reason. They are utterly addictive. So much so that all I did for a week straight when I got home was read these books. I did a re-read of House of Earth and Blood which was amazing (I amend my rating to 5 stars) and then started House of Sky and Breath (HoSaB) immediately.

House of Sky and Breath picks up a few months after the events of the previous book, which I like because it gave the characters time to sort things out (like new jobs) off page. I don’t really need to read an entire chapter about fantastical interview processes. It jumps off on quite a dark note in the prologue, which is set in Pangera and features a rebel girl going into a death camp to rescue her younger brother and then follows their flight to the coast where he’s off on a boat to safety and she gets captured. This really sets the tone for the whole book, which is a bit darker than the first. Where the first book was a murder mystery and tons of worldbuilding, HoSaB is more a discussion about turning a blind eye to the horrors that exist in favor of a normal life vs. standing up against the tyrants who enact the horrors. With a side of romance of course.

Bryce, Hunt, and the entirety of Crescent City are still recovering from the deadly demon incursion that happened in the first book and our MCs are just trying to stay out of the spotlight. Bryce is dealing with her newfound and unwanted fame whereas Hunt is now freed from the bonds of slavery, but seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. And when the new Archangel Celestina is assigned to the city and she seems kind, he’s understandably mistrustful especially when her triarii belonged to Sandriel. Pollux and Baxian are his new co-workers and all he can remember is how he suffered at their hands under Sandriel’s regime. 

The plot really kicks off when Bryce, Hunt, and Ruhn (and associates) are recruited by Tharion (the mer shifter) to help him find the boy who escaped on the boat from Pangera. Apparently he’s rumored to be a thunderbird, which is an incredibly rare gift that is highly coveted by those in power, whether in be Tharion’s River Queen, the Ophion rebels, or the Asteri. They really do spend most of the book looking for the boy, Emile and it takes them to the Bone Quarter, the Viper Queen, and even the Ocean Queen’s court. 

In between all this, Bryce is trying to master her powers, deal with an unwanted engagement to the newly arrived and completely douche-y fae Prince Cormac from Avallen, and continue her investigation into what exactly Danika was involved with. There are soooo many POVs and different plot threads and Sarah J. Maas handles them well but it still gets a little overwhelming! As her books progress and get more complicated, I’ve noticed she tends to pop in these sudden, well timed info drops or plot twists that you would never in a million years see coming. For instance, everyone is searching high and low for Emile and suddenly Bryce is like oh yeah, I know exactly where he is, let’s go get him! And then how so many things tie back to Danika – it was getting ridiculous by the end. Sure seems like Bryce didn’t know her friend nearly as well as she thought!

As always, I really loved the book despite some quibbles that I’ve had with every one of her series thus far. I zoomed right through this and at some point, probably before book 3, I’ll do a re-read and pick up on some of the details I might have missed the first time through. But let me tell you what, I will never EVER forget the ending of this book and I am SHOOK, EVEN DAYS LATER. I….. I am so unbelievably excited for the third book that I am looking up fan theories. I never do this, but my excitement literally cannot be contained and I am seriously hoping the third book won’t be a whole year away. I need some resolution, stat!

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart – Review

Published: February 22, 2022

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

An impossible crime. A detective on the edge of madness. The future of time travel at stake. From the author of The Warehouse.

January Cole’s job just got a whole lot harder.

Not that running security at the Paradox was ever really easy. Nothing’s simple at a hotel where the ultra-wealthy tourists arrive costumed for a dozen different time periods, all eagerly waiting to catch their “flights” to the past.

Or where proximity to the timeport makes the clocks run backward on occasion—and, rumor has it, allows ghosts to stroll the halls.

None of that compares to the corpse in room 526. The one that seems to be both there and not there. The one that somehow only January can see.

On top of that, some very important new guests have just checked in. Because the U.S. government is about to privatize time-travel technology—and the world’s most powerful people are on hand to stake their claims.

January is sure the timing isn’t a coincidence. Neither are those “accidents” that start stalking their bidders.

There’s a reason January can glimpse what others can’t. A reason why she’s the only one who can catch a killer who’s operating invisibly and in plain sight, all at once.

But her ability is also destroying her grip on reality—and as her past, present, and future collide, she finds herself confronting not just the hotel’s dark secrets but her own.

At once a dazzlingly time-twisting murder mystery and a story about grief, memory, and what it means to—literally—come face-to-face with our ghosts, The Paradox Hotel is another unforgettable speculative thrill ride from acclaimed author Rob Hart.

Holy moly, this was a fun read! Imagine this – an ultramodern hotel in upstate New York full of wealthy patrons waiting for their turn to travel through time and witness history first hand. At the onset of the story a massive snowstorm is bearing down on them, a handful of the world’s richest men are arriving to bid on ownership of the hotel and timeport, and there are… aberrations occurring. Oh, and most of the hotel patrons are assholes, but so is the main character and she doesn’t care one bit to air her grievances or share her opinion.

January Cole is head of security at the Paradox Hotel and this unholy trifecta of events has exponentially increased her workload and stress levels which isn’t great, since she’s officially Unstuck. It’s the not-so-technical term for someone who has spent way too much time in the timestream and now she’s seeing ghosts from the past and having weird glitchy moments where she’s no longer in the present. She’s also the only person who can see the body in room 526, so in addition to all that other stuff, she now has a murder investigation on her hands. Her boss is also trying realllllly hard to get her to take a cushy job far away from the effects of the timestream, where she can relax and hope her symptoms don’t progress.

This book was honestly wild from page one and I loved it! I personally loved January though I could see how she might not be everyone’s cup of tea, or in her case, probably whiskey. She’s got a bad attitude and a job to do and no one is going to get in her way while she does it. Not senators, not the ultra-wealthy buyers, not even a trio of hangry dinosaurs. Between January and her trusty robot assistant Ruby (equipped with googly eyes for extra personality) nothing can stop her! She’s sweary and rude, but I appreciate that she takes zero shit from anyone. When you learn a bit more about her history you see that it’s really a defensive mechanism of sorts and she’s got some serious trauma that she needs to address.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, but let me reiterate how darn delightful this book was to read. It’s literally one terrible event after another, but looked at through the lens of January Cole it’s just a nasty puzzle that can’t stop her and I love a tenacious character. I love a good mystery and a well-done wonky time travel theme is pretty cool so this ended up being a win for me! I’d definitely recommend this for fans of Dark Matter and Recursion by Blake Crouch!

A Swift and Savage Tide by Chloe Neill – Review

Published: November 30, 2021

Publisher: Berkley

Series: Captain Kit Brightling #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 368 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Chloe Neill’s bold, seafaring heroine Captain Kit Brightling sets sail for high seas and high sorcery in this swashbuckling fantasy series.

Captain Kit Brightling is Aligned to the magic of the sea, which makes her an invaluable asset to the Saxon Isles and its monarch, Queen Charlotte. The Isles and its allies will need every advantage they can get: Gerard Rousseau, the former Gallic emperor and scourge of the Continent, has escaped his island prison to renew his quest for control of the Continent.

Gerard has no qualms about using dangerous magic to support his ambitions, so Kit and the crew of her ship, the Diana, are the natural choice to find him—and help stop him. Sparks fly when Kit’s path unexpectedly crosses with that of the dashing and handsome Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, who’s working undercover on the Continent in his own efforts to stop Gerard. But he’s not the only person Kit is surprised to see. An old enemy has arisen, and the power he’ll wield on Gerard’s behalf is beautiful and terrible. Sparks will fly and sails will flutter as Kit and crew are cast onto the seas of adventure to fight for queen and country.

Somehow this was even better than the first book!! A Bright and Breaking Sea was a surprise favorite when it was released and I was eager to return to this alternate Napoleonic War setting, mostly to see if Captain Brightling and the handsome Viscount Queenscliffe would finally fall madly in love. I’ve been on such a romance kick lately and this is the perfect blend of slow burn romance and delightful historical fantasy.

The story begins with Kit Brightling assigned to track down Gerard’s warship and hopefully Gerard himself. This takes Kit and the crew of the Diana into enemy territory, where she finds none other than Rian Grant working undercover. She also sees firsthand that a powerful Aligned who was thought dead in the first war is very much alive and leading Gerard’s military forces. This new revelation means the threat to the Saxon Isles is even greater than was thought and it must be ended.

Thus begins the Diana’s magically fueled dash back to the Isles to deliver crucial information to the Queen and to save a wounded crewmember. The Diana is shortly sent back out with a fleet of other ships, but then sea dragons, magic, shipwreck, declarations of unrequited love, and Pirates happen. I 

This story was excellent and kept me glued to the audiobook, which has great narration by the way. I did miss the other Brightling sisters who didn’t get as much page time in this installment- perhaps we’ll see more of them in book 3.

Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford – Review

Published: January 18, 2022

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Age of Uprising #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 624 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

This epic fantasy tells the tales of clashing Guilds, magic-fueled machines, intrigue and revolution—and the one family that stands between an empire’s salvation or destruction.

The nation of Torwyn is run on the power of industry, and industry is run by the Guilds. Chief among them are the Hawkspurs, and their responsibility is to keep the gears of the empire turning. It’s exactly why matriarch Rosomon Hawkspur sends each of her heirs to the far reaches of the nation.

Conall, the eldest son, is sent to the distant frontier to earn his stripes in the military. It is here that he faces a threat he could have never seen coming: the first rumblings of revolution.

Tyreta’s sorcerous connection to the magical resource of pyrstone that fuels the empire’s machines makes her a perfect heir–in theory. While Tyreta hopes that she might shirk her responsibilities during her journey one of Torwyn’s most important pyrestone mines, she instead finds the dark horrors of industry that the empire would prefer to keep hidden.

The youngest, Fulren, is a talented artificer, and finds himself acting as consort to a foreign emissary. Soon after, he is framed for a crime he never committed. A crime that could start a war.

As each of the Hawkspurs grapple with the many threats that face the nation within and without, they must finally prove themselves worthy–or their empire will fall apart.

I had my eye on this release, then I got an ARC (yay!), read it before the end of 2021 and added it to my best books of the year list. To be honest, I was surprised to find I liked it as much as I did because I was expecting sort of a generic book starting off. I had to reevaluate that opinion shortly thereafter because it took some unexpected turns and found myself thoroughly engrossed.

Engines of Empire is set in a world where there are powerful guilds and steampunk technology, yet there are still knights, an emperor, and a fading religion based on the worship of dragons. This tale of change and upheaval follows the three heirs of the powerful Hawkspur Guild as they go down their separate paths in life. Conall, the eldest son, has joined the military and is headed to the frontier lands to prove himself. Tyreta, the only daughter, is destined to take control of the Hawkspur Guild but she’s a bit of a rebel and resents being sent to a pyrestone mine to learn the trade. Fulren, the youngest son, is a talented artificer but his life is forever changed when he is accused of the murder of an important emissary and is sent back with the emissary’s entourage as a prisoner. 

As you follow the three heirs and their mother Rosomon it quickly becomes apparent the empire is crumbling from the inside. The religious order is taking advantage of the instability to assert its power, the oppressed tribal nations are preparing for war, and the guilds bicker among themselves as usual. Political upheaval and conspiracies abound making for an exciting read and that’s in addition to all the action! Plus, since the emperor is Rosomon’s brother and the religious leader is Rosomon’s nephew all the drama is essentially within the family and that makes everything delightfully fascinating.

I found this to be a great story with a solid foundation for even further worldbuilding in later installments. It’s also pretty exciting (and rare, it seems) to get reptilian humanoids that are more than just vaguely unsettling filler material or straight up villains. I really enjoyed Tyreta’s chapters because she was experiencing a whole new culture and abandoning many of her notions about the people forced off their land by the guilds. To be fair Conall’s chapters weren’t as exciting at first, but they got better as the story progressed. Fulren’s POV chapters were pretty awesome, especially as the reader was introduced to a whole new country that had been in isolation for ages. Whole new, rather dark magic system and all that good stuff! I’m most definitely picking up the next book when it’s released!