Waiting on Wednesday: The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


 

Ooooo, new fantasy thriller series! The Helm of Midnight sounds brilliant with plenty of fantasy themes I love – heists, murders, and probably some magic. Thieves make off with a mask imbued with the spirit of a murderer and it’s now unleashed. Sounds like it’s up to the main character to investigate and stop the killings and the person who started it all. This will be released April 2021 from Tor Books.

Thoughts on Time’s 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time

First of all, let me say that there are many folks who have already commented on this topic and some were truly excellent pieces of writing. I’ll probably cover the same topics others have, but I want to share my thoughts on this rather… interesting… list.

I initially didn’t care about what was on this list one bit. And then I started seeing commentary from all over and found myself considerably more curious. I checked it out and was rather appalled at the contents. Really? The best fantasy of all time consists of so much Young Adult genre fantasy? And so many books by the same authors? Many of whom helped pick this list? 

The Choosing of the List
Let’s start with how the list was chosen – you can find the TIME summary here. A panel of popular authors rated a list of 250 books and then TIME staff ranked their choices into this list of 100 books. That’s all well and good. Seems like it should give a pretty well rounded selection, right? WRONG. While the authors couldn’t nominate their own works, others surely nominated for them as evidenced by the list. It was packed with their work and while not entirely unjustified, it stank a bit of favoritism.

The Author Panel
A couple of the authors on the panel just didn’t jive with me. Diana Gabaldon is more of a romance writer than a fantasy writer and Cassandra Clare, while immensely popular, has a whole host of scandal behind her work and isn’t exactly in the same league as Gaiman, GRRM, or Jemisin. 

The Contents of the List
Maybe this section should have sub-sections, because this is where the true issues lie.

  1. SO MUCH YA – So, so many of these books were young adult fantasy or adult fantasy that heavily leans toward being YA. Don’t get me wrong here – I love some good young adult fantasy – but some of these are quite new and/or have pretty average ratings. Lots of 3 stars from reviewers. I can also think of a number of YA books that I preferred over the ones listed, though of course that is a matter of opinion. As is the TIME list.
  2. So many duplicates! – For goodness sake, all THREE of the LOTR books were listed as separate entries! TWELVE other authors had multiple entries on the list! That’s at least twelve slots that could have gone to books that also deserved to be in the top 100. This could have been vastly improved by stacking series – all LOTR as one entry, the Harry Potter books as one entry, etc.
  3. Forgotten sub-genres – No grimdark? Very little urban fantasy? Where are the corny paranormal romances like Twilight? Sure, it wasn’t a good book per se, but it was tremendously impactful on the genre. The lack of Glen Cook is especially surprising as is oft considered one of the fathers/founders of the grimdark sub-genre that has been massively popular in the last few decades. And magical realism – no Seanan McGuire? None of that “new-weird” stuff that I don’t really read? No Lovecraft or Lovecraftian inspired stuff?
  4. Forgotten authors – This goes hand in hand with the forgotten sub-genres in some cases. One of the biggest surprises was that Sarah J. Maas did not have a book on this list – it ain’t quality writing but she knows how to sell a book and has been influential in the YA and New Adult markets. Besides, if Cassandra Clare’s book can be on this list, SJMaas should have surely made it as well. This is just one of many examples. Also – ONLY ONE BRANDON SANDERSON BOOK??????

The Unknown Books
I was a little surprised at the number of books and authors I had never heard of! This isn’t really bad, as it gives me some more research to do but it was surprising. I read a lot of books, most of which are fantasy and I read about fantasy books quite a bit too. I lurk r/fantasy and r/books on a daily basis, keep up with trending books, new releases, etc. and to have not heard of so many of these… just, wow. I attribute it to so many of them being written well before I was even born. 

Overall, I thought this list was a bit trash. I didn’t really care prior to seeing the drama and don’t care much now either, but if you’re going to brazenly create a list called “The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time” you shouldn’t have such an obvious bias toward authors on the panel and maybe don’t forget entire subgenres of fantasy. I’ll go back to ignoring the opinions of major magazines and stick with that of my fellow reviewers. Maybe I’ll even create my own list!

The Black Song by Anthony Ryan – Review

Published: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Ace Books

Series: Raven’s Blade #2

Genre: Fantasy

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

A matchless warrior is pitted against a near-God in the second epic installment of the Raven’s Blade series.

It has long been our lot in life, brother, to do what others can’t.

Vaelin Al Sorna was known across the realm as the greatest of warriors, but he thought battles were behind him. He was wrong. Prophecy and rumor led him across the sea to find a woman he once loved, and drew him into a war waged by the Darkblade, a man who believes himself a god–and one who has gathered a fanatical army that threatens all of the known world.

After a costly defeat by the Darkblade, Vaelin’s forces are shattered, while the self-proclaimed immortal and his army continue their terrible march. But during the clash, Vaelin regained some of the dark magic that once gave him unrivaled skill in battle. And though the fight he has been drawn into seems near unwinnable, the song that drives him now desires the blood of his enemy above all else…


I could sum this book up quite quickly – Vaelin uses his mad battle skills to kill lots of people, has issues with his new gift, and finds feelings for women that want nothing to do with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vaelin and appreciate that this series is a return to what I loved about Blood Song but he is certainly a predictable character. 

This picks up with Vaelin struggling with/against his new song, which he creatively dubs the “Black Song”. It is darker in nature than the blood song he lost and it revels in death, so much so that he stays drugged until he can reach the Temple of Spears. He hopes they will have a solution to more than one of his problems and they do join him to fight the Darkblade. The book is full of battles, reunions, and mysterious hoo-doo about the Tiger and the Wolf (two ancient spirits).

While I enjoy the characters in this series, I think they lacked in development this time around and ended up feeling somewhat flat. The story itself seemed to drag in places, though it was never actually boring. I think this suffered somewhat from second book syndrome, though it was in fact the end of the duology. It just didn’t quite capture me the way The Wolf’s Call did initially.

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis – Review

Published: May 18, 2021

Publisher: Titan Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 416 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

For readers of VE Schwab and The Witcher, science and magic clash in atmospheric gaslight-era Prague.

In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of otherworldly creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – a secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavica, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek find solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischer – a widow with secrets of her own.

When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp, a mischievous spirit known to lead lost travellers to their death, but who, once captured, are bound to serve the desires of their owners.

After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavica that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.


**The release date for this book was pushed back to May 2021, however it was initially supposed to be released in September 2020**

This is for all the folks who want a vampire book without the sparkles. I had hopes that this would be a proper, threatening story and that’s exactly what it was. The vampires are a deadly threat, though not all are necessarily evil and the monster hunters aren’t all good people. The setting is delightful – Prague is always a magical setting and the time period lends toward the dark atmosphere.

Domek Myska is a lamplighter, and as you may guess from the title, he is responsible for igniting the gas lamps that light Prague’s streets at night. The lamplighters are also hunters and slayers of the monsters that lurk in Prague’s dark alleys. Domek is a good man, if somewhat naive about certain aspects of the world around him. Lady Ora Fischerova is a vampire, or pijavice, as they are called in this tale. She longs for her humanity and is grieving a mortal husband that passed many years before. Ora wants nothing to do with pijavice politics and only wishes to partake in the human nightlife and culture that is available. Ora and Domek are acquainted with one another, though neither realizes what the other truly is. 

While both Ora and Domek are inherently decent folk, their respective avoidance of their own kind and naive/trusting nature do them disservice. Ora is blind to the machinations of her creator and actions taken by the new covens in Prague and she is unprepared when asked by a human friend to spy on them. Domek gets himself into a fair bit of trouble because he shares information with people he trusts… but can you blame him? These people have never given him a reason not to trust them. 

Anyway, I’m rambling. The story is delightful, tense, and action-packed with a decent amount of culture and worldbuilding to further spice things up. I love the tension between Ora and Domek – will he return her flirtations? The sudden disappearance of wisps (trapped spirits) and the discovery of a pijavice in possession of one adds a layer of mystery to an already interesting story. Both Ora and Domek are likable characters with a satisfying amount of depth – they have flaws, personal problems, interesting quirks – basically all the things that contribute to a well written character. 

I thought The Lights of Prague was a great story that perfectly suits a rainy day and a hot cup of tea. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more releases from Nicole Jarvis in the future!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

WOW! I was not expecting a return to this world after the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series and Skullsworn wrapped up. The promise of more Kettral action and now a monk turned con-artist?? Sign me UP. This will be released July 2021, so there’s quite a wait but it’s something awesome to look forward to!

Currently Reading: 10/5/20

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
I wasn’t going to pick this up… but then I saw 5 star reviews from several people who’s taste I trust. I’m going to check out the audiobook when it’s available on Tuesday and hopefully this will be as binge-worthy as the last book I zipped through!! I love the synopsis for this – a girl makes a deal with a devil for immortality but is forgotten by everyone she meets. Until someone remembers her name after 300 years. 

The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky – Review

Published: September 22, 2020

Publisher: Tor.com

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 176 (Paperback)

My Rating: 3.75/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Daniel Polansky returns with The Seventh Perfection, an innovative, mind-bending fantasy mystery

When a woman with perfect memory sets out to solve a riddle, the threads she tugs on could bring a whole city crashing down. The God-King who made her is at risk, and his other servants will do anything to stop her.

To become the God-King’s Amanuensis, Manet had to master all seven perfections, developing her body and mind to the peak of human performance. She remembers everything that has happened to her, in absolute clarity, a gift that will surely drive her mad. But before she goes, Manet must unravel a secret which threatens not only the carefully prepared myths of the God-King’s ascent, but her own identity and the nature of truth itself.


I had initially been excited about checking The Seventh Perfection out because it seemed like a good introduction to Daniel Polansky’s writing. Well…. This may not be the very best book to start out with. Or maybe it is and I won’t know until I pick another up. This is just a very odd book, primarily due to the writing style. It’s written so that you only get one side of the conversation, like eavesdropping on someone’s phone call. 

The main character Manet is somewhat of a mystery. She works in some capacity for the god-king and it’s clear that she holds some power because the folks she speaks to become deferential when it comes up. Small details are revealed as the story goes along and soon it becomes apparent that she is highly trained and has mastered all of the “perfections” which is quite rare. She is clearly searching for someone – a woman in a locket picture – and the questions she’s asking aren’t safe. 

The story follows Manet’s search for this woman pictured in the locket and each chapter is the next step in her search. It takes place over the course of a few days and escalates into quite an adventure by the end. The writing style leaves a great deal of room for the reader to interpret as far as Manet’s actions because you only get the side of the person she’s speaking to. 

Overall, this is one of the most unique short stories I’ve read and while I feel that it’s not representative of the author’s usual writing style, I can at least say it’s made me curious about his other work. This was a bold piece of art, perfectly suited for novella format.

Waiting on Wednesday: Call of the Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

Call of the Bone Ships finally has a cover!! I’ve been waiting on the cover reveal for months. The Bone Ships was one of my favorite reads of 2019 and probably kicked off my craving for pirate SFF in 2020. This will be released in November 2020, so only a couple more months until we can read it!