Tag Archives: fantasy

Nicole’s Review: THE WAY OF SHADOWS

Since the fourth book in Brent Weeks’ LIGHTBRINGER series is inching closer and closer to its planned 2016 release date, I thought it’d be fun to turn back the clock and share my review for the very first Brent Weeks book I read–the first in his Night Angel trilogy, THE WAY OF SHADOWS.

Way of ShadowsTitle: THE WAY OF SHADOWS

Author: Brent Weeks

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Grimdark fantasy

Pages: 645

Synopsis: For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

Review:

This book was flat out amazing! It tells the story of Azoth, a young street rat who sees his chance to get out by apprenticing himself to reknowned assassin (aka wetboy) Durzo Blint. Through his training, Azoth becomes Kylar Stern, a low-ranking aristocrat with new friends in high places…and the skills to kill. One problem – wetboys don’t have friends.

THE WAY OF SHADOWS is gritty, it’s action-packed (be prepared to read the last 200 pages in one sitting!), and it has twists that even I couldn’t see coming. Not many books can keep me guessing, but this one did. You know those moments when you’re reading a chapter and you realize you’re physically sitting up straighter because the story has just punched you in the gut? Well, you get a lot of those in this book.

I’m a character girl, no question, and THE WAY OF SHADOWS has one of the most fascinating characters mixes I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Azoth from the very first sentence.

These are real, flawed, hurting, wonderful people. There is a depth here that stole my breath several times. From Kylar and Durzo, all the way down to the secondary characters. There are only a handful of authors who can make me forever remember a secondary character who gets only one scene. Brent Weeks does it! He also comes up with one of the most awesomely horrible bad guys ever. I loved hating this guy!

One of the things I really enjoyed was the way Weeks writes from the periphery. Even at their best, Kylar and Durzo are, for the most part, in the shadows of the kingdom. They’re not in a position to make big bold moves. We never really see things from the POV of those in power, but we know them and love or hate them based on Kylar and Durzo’s reactions.

Weeks also writes so that the reader eventually pieces together all the details…but the characters never do. It created such a cool dynamic!

When I originally read this, it was the best book I’d read that year, and it remains near the top of my all time list. Brent Weeks is a master, and this is one of those rides that leaves you breathless and thinking “Holy crap, I wish I could write like that!”

Five stars.

5star

Find this book on Amazon.

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Nicole’s Review: PROMISE OF BLOOD & THE POWDER MAGE TRILOGY

Is this not the most gorgeous cover ever? I LOVE the excerpt lines on all three of the trilogy's covers. Brilliant!

Is this not the most gorgeous cover ever? I LOVE the excerpt lines on all three of the trilogy’s covers. Brilliant!

Title: Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, The Autumn Republic

Author: Brian McClellan

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 608

Synopsis: It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed PROMISE OF BLOOD and the entire Powder Mage Trilogy! Brian McClellan pairs highly compelling characters with a gritty setting that seems an alt mix of the French and American Revolutions era. It’s one heck of a fun read!

While each of the POV characters is well written and engaging, it’s Tamas and Taniel (individually and in their dicey father-son dynamic) that kept pulling me on. They’re very different and intriguing each in his own way.

Taniel is young, already a frontier war hero, but a little anchorless and hot-headed. It’s a fun combination to read, especially when McClellan pairs him with a feisty mute frontier mage named Ka-Poel. Their chemistry is delightful, all the more so because it’s unspoken.

Tamas is the brilliant veteran Field Marshal who simultaneously rallies the country and seeks revenge for his murdered wife. He’s borderline arrogant, carries of a burden of responsibility that makes Atlas look like a lazy child, and somehow always seems to find the solution. He’s one of those leaders who does what needs doing no matter the cost and, even when I didn’t like or agree with him, I still admired him and wanted others to follow. I LOVE seeing characters like this done well!

McClellan also does an excellent job blending his magic system with the technology and weapons of the time–guns and guillotines, not the chivalrous longswords of traditional fantasy. Instead, soldiers known as powder mages can internalize gunpowder themselves and manipulate its effects in battle in a range of skills that unfold into incredible fight sequences. They’re just plain cool!

The world of PROMISE OF BLOOD includes a few other “magics” as well. Privileged are those who can touch an essence of magic known as the Else. They fill the role most familiar from other fantasy series, where characters can “tap into” the magic and wield it at will. Part of what I loved about the Powder Mage trilogy, however, was these traditionally high-power mages weren’t front and center. They’re side characters–important, to be sure–but they take a back seat to the far more fascinating military prowess of the Powder Mages.

I also enjoyed the “Knacked” class of magic users in the trilogy. These are everyday folks who happen to be very gifted in one specific area (i.e. having a knack). Not needing sleep. Having a perfect memory. McClellan takes full advantage of the Knackeds’ abilities, and it’s brilliant! Olem, Tamas’ right hand man who requires no sleep, is one of my favorite characters.

The presence of Knacks left me wondering why we fantasy authors have overlooked this simple trick in the past.

If I had one nit-pick it’s that I wanted a little more creativity in the naming of places and landmarks. Everything (and I mean everything) stems from the country’s name of Adro – the capital city of Adopest, the Adsea, the Addown River, etc.

But, beyond that niggle, McClellan’s world is beautifully and deeply crafted, anchored in detail. It has to be since so much of the stakes revolve around saving the nation of Adro. McClellan adds multiple high fantasy layers, with warring gods and prophecies, but at its heart, the Powder Mage trilogy is about soldiers’ love for their country and the lengths to which they’ll go to keep it free and alive.

And I absolutely loved it!!

5star

Five stars.

Find this book on Amazon

 

Nicole’s Review: THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS

Untitled-14Title: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Publisher: DAW

Genre: Fantasy, companion piece to The Kingkiller Chronicles

Pages: 159

Synopsis: Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own.

Review:

I’m typically not a short story or novella girl, and I was lukewarm on NAME OF THE WIND (though I did like Auri), so when a friend recommended THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.

Luckily, the story entranced me from the outset. The writing is downright gorgeous: lyrical and rhythmic and infused with life. Pat Rothfuss chooses each word with a pristine care that makes book nerds like me weep tears of joy for the perfection of such moments. (Seriously, this happened more than once)

Auri herself is wonderful! She is mysterious, ethereal and a little bit broken. She’s genuine, thoughtful, troublesome and troubling. You can’t help but feel for her, and as someone who—ahem—still occasionally names inanimate objects, I couldn’t help but relate to her on some deeper level as well. Her world is small, lonely and well-ordered (the girl is OCD to say the least)…and yet, in her eyes, it’s also vibrant, full of inert friends who need her care, and warm in its familiarity.

I’ve seen some mention of the book as insight into mental illness, and while I think there are elements of that, for me the story rose to a higher, more profound and touching level. It is the simplicity and goodness of wrapping a warm sweater about yourself on a cold winter’s day and plopping in front of a fire. SLOW REGARD is one of those rare books that leaves readers looking at the world with new eyes. There are passages that made me feel like a kid again, delighting with Auri in a new discovery or treasure, and passages that were so stunningly poignant my breath caught.

Many people say this book lacks a plot—and it does in the traditional sense, so be forewarned—but I thought it had a beautiful plot: Auri’s search for the perfect gift for Kvothe. Yes, it’s scaled to Auri’s narrow world and intensely personal for her (since she is essentially the only character). And she gets distracted from it. A lot. But the point in her meandering action is that there IS a point and a connectedness to even the smallest action.

Each motion has purpose and leads her toward what’s right and proper and good in her eyes. It takes immense skill on Rothfuss’s part to maintain any sort of drive or plot momentum in Auri’s voice, and he carries it off well.

This is a book I want to share with anyone and everyone who’s a writer, reader or language fan, because it’s such a remarkable example of the power of woven words. Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is this: I’ve never actually bought a stand-alone novella before. I will be buying this one.

Five stars.

5star

Find this book on Amazon.

Ashley’s Review: Illusions of Fate

IllusionsFate_cvrTitle: ILLUSIONS OF FATE

Author: Kiersten White

Publisher: Harper Teen

Genre: YA FANTASY

Pages: 288

Synopsis: Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets the gorgeous, enigmatic Finn, who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility. It’s a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status . . . and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, and the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess them. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits, can stop him.

Review:

Illusions of Fate is enchanting. I loved it. I loved the magic (though it wasn’t intense), I loved the characters, I loved the love. I loved Sir Bird (I’ll explain).

Illusions of Fate centers around a girl, Jessamin, who is trying to get an education in the face of a lot of discrimination (a very admirable trait). She is from the island of Melei and has dark skin and hair. She doesn’t look anything at all like her Albion counterparts. Jassamin doesn’t have enough  money to pay for school, either, and works in the kitchen at a hotel nearby. She’s very smart and at the head of her classes, though no one pays much attention to her and everyone makes terrible comments.

From what I gather, Albion colonized Melei and all the Albions make terribly assumptions about Melenese people, culture and languages and all of the Melenese people are displaced, killed, stripped of their culture. Jessamin is actually the daughter of a Melenese woman and an Albion man, who happens to also be a professor at the school she attends.

One day, Jessamin meets Finn after she wonders down the wrong street. He saves her and the rest is history. Sort of.

I admired Jessamin because she found it really hard to fit in and yet tried really hard everyday. In the face of adversity, she persevered. She had goals. She wanted to learn as much as she could, then go back to her home and teach. She wasn’t really interested in getting married. I could relate to all of these things. I couldn’t relate to the math analogies though. Nope.

Finn is mysterious in many ways–almost to the point where he’s not completely grounded for me in this book. He’s also a magician and a political figurehead who really wants peace while others push for war. When he meets Jessamin, he’s almost instantly in love with her. Normally, this bugs me, but with Jessamin and Finn, it didn’t as much. I think it’s because the whole idea of this novel was FATE, and also because I liked the dialogue between Jessamin and Finn.

I also liked that while Jessamin didn’t have many friends, she could come to rely on Finn and Eleanor (someone she meets at a party). At first I was afraid that Eleanor wouldn’t be good–that she would betray Jessamin in some way, but that wasn’t Eleanor’s intent. I do wish I would have gotten to see more of how Eleanor schemed. It was hinted at a lot, and shown on a small scale, but we never really got to see how powerful Eleanor could be–and we won’t, apparently, because this is a standalone.

In White’s world, only the elite of society can do magic, which I found disheartening. I’m also not sure how the magic works all that well. I know that Finn stores magic in his cane to use for spells. There’s some physical stuff like powder that makes you speak the truth and some cards that Jessamin pulls from (always the same cards, LOVERS and FATE). Despite not knowing much about where magic is drawn from, everything felt so MAGICAL and I loved that. Like the way Finn and Jessamine escape from Lord Downpike. I just loved it. I also liked that healing magic wasn’t an instant fix. It took time.

Lastly, my favorite character was Sir Bird. He didn’t even speak, but I loved him! He was Jessamin’s savior more than once and comic relief.

Now, I will say, one thing that made me sad was that *spoiler* as things get more dangers, Jessamin leaves school.

I’m a huge advocate for education.

I know things are dangerous, but did she really have to leave? I know at the end she’s considering where she’ll go to school next, but this irritated me.

Overall, LOVED.  4 stars

 

4star

 

Friday Fandom: Galavant

Why We Love Galavant

If you missed out on season 1 of Galavant, never fear! It’s available on Amazon and Hulu, and ABC has promised a second season. Let me explain. No, there’s not time. Let me sum up. Galavant was a four-week “medieval musical comedy” put on by ABC. The phrase “medieval musical comedy” was enough to intrigue me and every episode delivered on the hilarity in a big way.

Joshua Sasse, Tim Omundson and Vinnie Jones are fantastic, as is the rest of the cast!

Here’s more on what makes it so great:

The trailer

I dare you not to hum along!

The songs

The combo of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater is pretty unbeatable. As my cousin likes to say, Alan Menken composed the soundtrack of our childhood (Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast), and Galavant’s tunes deliver in a similar way. They’re catchy, and fun, and definitely get stuck in your head!

The guest stars

John Stamos as a pansy jerk of a knight is hilarious! (See the joust scene below) Weird Al, Rutger Hauer and Ricky Gervais also turned in excellent guest spots and cameos, though I must say Hugh Bonneville’s “Lords of the Sea” ditty might be my favorite!

The tongue-in-cheek fantasy tropes

Like the old Monty Python classics, Galavant is able to make fun of itself and the larger fantasy/ fairytale genre, while never veering far from its love of those same tropes and stereotypes. The noble knight, the fair maiden, the evil king. Galavant turns them delightfully on their heads, but still speaks to the heart of what we all love about those tales.

The joust scene

In traditional medieval showdown style, Galavant and his knight nemesis (John Stamos) face each other in the joust…only they’ve both been either drugged or overtrained into a stupor.

So, there you have it. A little glimpse of why we love Gaaaa-laaaa-vaaaant!!

And, if you’re looking for even more comedic fantasy gold, look no further than the Harry Potter tribute episode of Psych. It had me snorting and crying in laughter about two minutes in.

Have you seen Galavant? Does Monty Python have a classic place in your collection? Are Shawn and Gus your go-to comedy duo?

Author’s Couch: Q&A with K.A. Stewart

JJD1When I stumbled upon the cover of K.A. Stewart’s first Jesse James Dawson novel–A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS–several years ago, I knew it needed a home on my shelves. A demon-fighting Samurai-sword wielding Midwestern father? What’s not to love about that main character?! 

I devoured the other Jesse James Dawson books, including Stewart’s most recently self-published fourth in the series. Turns out, it’s not just JJD that I love. I also enjoyed Stewart’s steampunk-mythology mash-up SECOND OLYMPUS. You can find my full review here in the archives, and we’re thrilled to have her on the blog today to share a little more about it.

-Nicole

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00025]Synopsis

The war amongst the Greek gods lasted over three decades and when it was ended, the sun was snuffed from the sky, Artemis sat on the throne, and the muses were murdered.

Without the power to create or invent, the human race languished for generations, trapped within the walled city of Elysia, their lives governed by the steady tick of the great world clock and the watchful eye of their increasingly erratic goddess.

But in the lower wards, far from the shining beacon that is Olympus Tower, a crippled boy named Geoff has grown to manhood, unaware of the legacy contained in his own mysterious bloodline. When his loved ones are threatened, the world will finally wake under the power of the muse, and the insane goddess Artemis will remember the very dangerous power of human imagination.

Q&A

1. What’s the story behind the story? Tell us a little about where you got the idea for your book.

SECOND OLYMPUS came about when a friend of mine was lamenting that he seemed to be able to inspire others with great ideas, but he wasn’t good at creating anything himself (his opinion, not mine). That got me to thinking about what a world without inspiration would be like, and I was watching the movie Dark City at the time, and so a world of perpetual night seemed logical to add to the mix. Which then begged the question, what happened to the sun? It just kind of went from there.

BFF: Isn’t it funny how things come together to spark that inspiration? I loved the perpetual night angle – it added the perfect ambiance for your world.

2. What’s your personal favorite part about the story? A character you loved writing, a scene that gives you shivers in all the best ways, etc.

Even eight years after I first set down words on this story, there are still pieces that give me chills and bring tears to my eyes. I hate to say too much, for fear of spoilers, but the scene where Geoff finally exercises ALL his power is… Yeah, that’s my scene. Goosebumps, just thinking about that last heartfelt cry.

BFF: Love hearing this! It’s all about making us readers weep with you. 🙂

3. What do you hope readers take away from your story?

Really, I just hope the reader comes away with a sense that they’ve visited another world, and they had a good time. I’ve never been one for deeper meanings, or lessons to be taught or anything. I just want to entertain people.

4. Who/what are some of your favorite authors or books? Can you share how they’ve inspired you?

My absolute favorite author is Jim Butcher, and most people know him for his DRESDEN FILES series (which I adore). But my true favorite series is also his, the CODEX ALERA, and I’m just in awe of the world building that went into that. I’m kind of a world building junkie, it’s my favorite part of the writing process, and with every new book, I try to push and challenge myself to come up with a world that is truly my own.

BFF: We should share bookshelves! Jim Butcher has a hefty portion of mine too.

5. What is most likely to draw you in to a book?

Like I said above, I’m looking for unique worlds. Give me something with unusual rules, but make them work. If your character has an odd trait, give me a crazy, but totally plausible, reason why. I want to spend time in another world too. 😉

6. What do you wish authors would do more of?

This one was hard. We’re currently in a time in publishing where more things are possible than ever before, both with traditional and self-publishing. I think maybe I would just say that I want authors to take more risks. Not sure a book will sell traditionally? Write it anyway. Someone, somewhere, will love it.

BFF: Fantastic advice! We might need to turn it into a bumper sticker.

7. Tell us a little about your publishing journey.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil (literally), but I didn’t actually try to get anything published until I came up with A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS (JJD Book 1). I got an agent in 2008, sold the book in early ’09 and it came out in 2010. Since then I’ve had three more books traditionally published, and two books self-published, and I’m loving every second of it.

8. What’s next on your plate?

I am currently writing the fifth book in the Jesse James Dawson series (BFF: Pause for excited dancing!!), to be self-published hopefully toward the end of this year, and my agent is shopping around something else unrelated but that I’m very excited about.

BFF: And, of course, the fun stuff…

Favorite dragon: Ruth, from the Dragonriders of Pern series
Favorite Shakespeare: Sonnet 29 – “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”
Favorite fantasy food: Klah, also from the Dragonriders of Pern series. Get the recipe!

BFF: What we’re hearing is we basically all need to visit Pern together. Done! Thanks so much for joining us on the Author’s Couch, and best of luck on your upcoming projects.

More About K.A.

KA StewartK.A. Stewart has a BA in English with an emphasis in Literature from William Jewell College. She lives in Missouri with her husband, daughter, two cats, and one small furry demon that thinks it’s a cat.

More About SECOND OLYMPUS

SECOND OLYMPUS: Nicole’s Review

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00025]Title: SECOND OLYMPUS

Author: K.A. Stewart

Publisher(s): Pirate Ninja Press

Format: Paperback

Genre(s): Fantasy/Steampunk

Release Date: April 21, 2015

Synopsis:

I loved this book! It felt like a breath of fresh air among the sometimes stale mix of Greek gods-themed storylines.

In case you haven’t guessed from the cover, SECOND OLYMPUS has steampunk overtones, and that’s part of what makes it great. K.A. Stewart opts to mash up Greek mythology with air ships and the gas-light street-born grittiness of a WWI-esque era.

As a result of Apollo dying in the long-ago war between the gods, the world has been left without a sun, so all light comes from Artemis’ tower and the lamps flickering in the streets. Stewart does an excellent job conveying the consequences of living for centuries within a crowded, walled city with no natural light: deep mining projects that cause the very ground to become unstable, tenement housing built and rebuilt on top of itself year after year, the challenge of growing and cultivating enough food for people.

Review:

I quickly found myself steeped in the world. It’s a haunting take on our own industrial revolution and shows a world on the brink without veering into the stereotypes of true dystopian territory.

The book also shines in Stewart’s portrayal of the gods themselves, mainly Artemis (we’ll get back to her in a moment), Persephone, Demeter, Hades and Hephaestus. Yes, these characters are still gods, but they are gods brought to their KNEES in a way that flips our old assumptions of power on their heads and gives even the most powerful very human-seeming flaws, vulnerabilities, and redeeming qualities.

The story is driven largely by two pairs of characters.

On the mortal side, we have Geoff and Lia, who have grown up together in the dirty wards of Elysia and have managed to steal a good bit of happiness from rather terrible circumstances. I loved the normalness and everyday love of their relationship!

Geoff has been crippled from birth by bad knees, not that he ever lets it stop him (he navigates mine tunnels and freehand climbs a rope to an airship), and he’s been gifted with a unique power to influence those around him as a muse. Most often, I’ve seen the muses used as a convenient nudge for a heroic MC. Stewart takes a broader approach that captures the true power of inspiration and imagination inherent in the muses. I really liked that switch.

Geoff is an unassuming and very grounded MC, which is a brilliant contrast to his antagonist in Artemis. He carefully guards his power, understanding full well the level of influence and control he could have over others should he so choose.

On the more-than-mortal side of the board, we have Artemis and Heracles. I loved these two! There is so much dark backstory hinted at here…it’s incredibly compelling. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Artemis might take the prize for most intriguing and well-crafted crazy villainess of the year. Stewart expertly gives us revealing glimpses of the once great, noble and innocent huntress, while also making it painfully clear that by the book’s opening the virgin goddess has fallen to near-total insanity. Artemis is clever, strong…and lives in complete fear (and occasional regret) of what she’s done in the past and of losing what she’s wrought for the future. I alternated between wanting her to die a drawn-out painful death and wanting to see her redeem herself because she’s just so darn fun to read.

Heracles, then, is the perfect foil for Artemis. We learn that the former hero teamed with Artemis for good reason at the war’s beginnings, but over the millennia he’s become aware that he’s now playing bodyguard for the evil side. His reactions and actions in light of that realization drive the heart of the plot. Stewart’s Heracles is neither the plucky hero nor the annoying too-perfect rival—roles all too commonly assigned to him in other tales. Instead, he’s more remorseful, jaded. A man searching for a way to earn redemption while keeping his word, and that makes him altogether FAR more interesting.

One other aspect worth mentioning is Stewart’s clever interpretation of Artemis’ “hunt.” The hunt is another Greek element that’s been done in several ways. For SECOND OLYMPUS, Stewart puts a paranormal twist on the goddess’ ability to create and manipulate the hounds of her hunt, formerly men in their own rights. It’s eerie and telling, and strikes the perfect tone for this epic Greek tale.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this one immensely!

5 Stars

-Nicole

(Originally posted on FantasyFaction.com)

Find this book on Amazon.