Review: Lord of Emperors

lordofemperorsTitle: Lord of Emperors (2000)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 580
Series: The Sarantine Mosaic #2 (Series Tracker)


Coming off the great Sailing to Sarantium, I was let down by part two of this duology. This book expands on several story threads and introduces new characters that I struggled to invest in. I would have been perfectly satisfied with a book solely focused on Crispin and the construction of his grand mosaic. Kay pushes the story well beyond the reaches of Crispin’s plight and, in doing so, created a story that feels uneven, unwieldy, and mostly uninteresting to me. It is still beautifully written and ambitious, so I certainly do not regret finishing it, but it falls towards the bottom of what I’ve read from GGK so far.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

Fellowship.jpgTitle: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Pages: 480
Series: The Lord of the Rings #1 (Series Tracker)


Thanks to the mysterious and interest-piquing marketing campaign for Amazon’s upcoming LOTR series, I’m embarking on a reread of the original “trilogy” for the first time in almost 20 years. This time, I’m equipped with this great readalong to guide and enhance the experience.

I enjoyed this installment immensely and it felt like I was reading it for the first time. For so long my understanding of LOTR was based on Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, which is brilliant in its own right, but Tolkien’s text is rich, detailed, and filled with so much fascinating lore. In fact, rereading the first book has enhanced my understanding of the film while the film has provided great visual references to characters and settings that appear in the book. I love story beginnings and The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the best of all time.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Sailing to Sarantium

A1xQ-hkfksLTitle: Sailing to Sarantium (1998)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 448
Series: The Sarantine Mosaic #1 (Series Tracker)


This first installment of the Sarantine Mosaic is wondrous, wonderful, and features some of the most beautiful passages that I’ve read yet from Guy Gavriel Kay.

The spirituality of the world and the exquisite mosaics that Kay describes are sights to behold. I’m fully invested in Crispin, his mosaic masterwork, the political web he’s fallen into, and the underlying mystical “half-world” that is nipping at his heels. The pacing of the overall story is uneven, but this is a great first half of a larger mosaic.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Test

TheTestTitle: The Test (2019)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 112


25 questions. Pass, you’re granted citizenship. Fail, you get a one-way ticket out of town.

Sylvain Neuvel follows up his excellent Themis Files series with this twisted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking dystopian novella. Much like Themis Files, Neuvel employs an unconventional storytelling structure to engage the reader and make the best use of his sharp, sense-of-urgency writing style. There’s an added element of reader participation here, as you’re left to wonder how you would respond to the events of “the test” as the questions suddenly go off the rails. It’s a tight page-turner that really works.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Gutter Prayer

TheGutterPrayerTitle: The Gutter Prayer (2019)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Pages: 512
Series: The Black Iron Legacy #1 (Series Tracker)


A ghoul named Rat, a man degenerating into stone, and an orphan thief with a mysterious gift work together to uncover a dark conspiracy in an ancient city filled with tunnels, monsters, and dangerous gods.

Author Gareth Hanrahan has built an undeniably cool world that crackles with dark energy. The monsters that patrol and infest the city of Guerdon are human enough to be comprehensible, but grotesque enough to be creepy and unnerving. The architecture of the city itself is imaginative and fun to explore, with layers upon layers built atop the haunted past they’ve tried to bury.

I had a difficult time connecting with Hanrahan’s writing style, which felt a bit stiff and difficult to lose myself in. The book never sucked me in the way I wanted it to, but the concept and tone were enticing enough to keep me going. I’ll be intrigued to see where the sequel goes after The Gutter Prayer’s game-changing final act.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Hod King

TheHodKingTitle: The Hod King (2019)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 608
Series: The Books of Babel #3 (Series Tracker)


In this third installment of The Books of Babel series, author Josiah Bancroft shakes up the narrative structure yet again and we’re presented with three distinct, non-concurrent storylines that all take place over the same period of time. This doesn’t push the overall story forward very far, but it provides us with sustained and worthwhile time with several wonderful characters.

Bancroft could write a kitchen appliance manual and I’d happily read it. The fact that he’s built such a wondrous world and a story that makes such perfect use of his unique voice and style makes it all the better. The witticisms, turns of phrase, vivid images, fully drawn characters, and the magnificent setting all coalesce into something truly remarkable.

In my review of Arm of the Sphinx, I concluded that this series “has the makings of a modern fantasy classic.” Well, makings have been made. This series is a modern fantasy classic.

Come the Hod King.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Lions of Al-Rassan

y648.jpgTitle: The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 510


As I continue to work my way through Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, I’ve arrived at The Lions of Al-Rassan, a book that many consider to be Kay’s best work. It certainly has the swiftest pacing of any of his books (that I’ve read so far). He deftly moves his characters around the map, while their allegiances shift and swirl and their cultures clash. It was a bit dizzying trying to piece together who was siding with whom at one point or another and sometimes the characters motivations didn’t always make sense to me. This made it difficult for me to connect with the main players. In the end, it was a solid story about complex heroes and compelling cultures. It was not my favorite GGK book, but I had a good time with it.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: A Song for Arbonne

ASongforArbonneTitle: A Song for Arbonne (1992)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 510


After Tigana and now A Song for Arbonne, it is clear that Guy Gavriel Kay can weave a complete, satisfying story in one standalone book. This novel is a beautiful tale of love and loss in the land of Arbonne. Kay’s character development and worldbuilding are outstanding and his lyrical prose is a perfect match for a sweeping story of troubadours amid a unique medieval world.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Atlas Alone

AtlasAloneTitle: Atlas Alone (April 16, 2019)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 336
Series: Planetfall #4 (Series Tracker)


Atlas 2 hurtles away from Earth, leaving a broken planet in its rearview mirror. Passenger Dee knows that those responsible for the mass genocide they left behind are on board as well, but who are they and how can she punish them?

Emma Newman’s writing continues to be very smooth and easy to read. She explores Dee’s complex emotional state quite effectively and I was invested in her journey. Her VR-like “mersive” environments were incredibly vivid and fun to read, as well.

The story itself, although dealing with big events and themes, is a little too straightforward and its perspective is so fixed on one character that I felt like I was reading about a ship of twenty people instead of the thousands that are supposedly on board. Because of this, some of the big moments lack the impact that they should have had.  

Luckily, Newman writes killer endings and this book was no exception to that trend. I wasn’t as intrigued by the buildup to the finale, but Newman certainly left me wanting more by the ending. I really hope there will be more Planetfall novels in the future as this continues to be a wonderful series with countless story threads left to explore!

★★★½ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.