Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5

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Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiTitle: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (2014)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 375
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1 (Series Tracker)

In this steampunk series-starter, protagonist Elizabeth Barnabus uses the powers of illusion and deception to evade capture while simultaneously solving the mysterious disappearance of a missing aristocrat. While never crossing the threshold from “good” to “great,” The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter tells a compelling story in a fresh world with a likable heroine. I think I’d like to see how this series plays out…moving on to book 2!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Words of Radiance

4c0b23458f5f8842c123386dfd9f37d0.jpg.b306f89f87c897671815e8470276f5f2.jpgTitle: Words of Radiance (2014)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 1,087
Series: The Stormlight Archive #2 (Series Tracker)

Brandon Sanderson’s follow-up to The Way of Kings (see review) is an ambitious and impressive display of epic fantasy storytelling. This is an expansive and detailed world that keeps growing with each additional book. Speaking of growing, this 1,000+ page monstrosity would certainly benefit from a tighter edit, but at this point Sanderson can publish whatever and however many words he chooses. Luckily, the story moves along at a decent pace, and I was never left bored with the book as it progressed, but it did take several hundred pages for the story to grab me.

The story features characters in a Good vs. Evil struggle, and almost all of them want to be on the Good side, but some attempt to better the world through Evil means. This adds an interesting wrinkle to a classic trope. While I’ve enjoyed following the heroic journeys that many of these characters are on, it seems that they lack the depth or authenticity that would allow me to truly care about them. I think I was spoiled by reading so much Robin Hobb in between books in this series.

My qualms aside, this is another enjoyable installment in an epic series that I’m excited to move forward with. 

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Assassin

FoolsAssassinTitle: Fool’s Assassin (2014)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 688
Series: The Fitz & The Fool, Realms of the Elderlings #14 (Series Tracker)

In Fool’s Assassin, we return to our beloved protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, who is living a peaceful life as Tom Badgerlock at Withywoods manor. Of course, said peace is quickly disrupted by events that threaten Fitz’s closest family and friends.

I would happily read an entire book about Fitz puttering around his retirement home, fixing things, and training apprentices (he’s certainly earned the break), but I’m equally delighted to see him called back into action. There is no permanent retirement for the “Witted Bastard”.

The narrative arc here is less defined than in previous Fitz books, as Robin Hobb once again delves into the dizzying array of complex characters and relationships that are so engrossing to read about. Even though these books are ostensibly about Fitz, no one book feels the same and with the addition of a wonderful new character POV, fresh life has been breathed into Fitz’s tale once more. The book ends with the first real cliffhanger I can remember in all of Hobb’s books — as if I need any other reason to read more of this series…

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Emperor’s Blades

The Emperor's BladesTitle: The Emperor’s Blades (2014)
Author: Brian Staveley
Pages: 571
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1 (Series Tracker)

This turned out to be a really wonderful debut novel from Brian Staveley; it’s the type of fantasy I can really sink my teeth into — excellent worldbuilding, compelling mysteries, and great action sequences. I really enjoyed the the setting and found myself poring over the appendix and the beautiful map trying to understand every aspect of this world.

The story follows the emperor’s three children: Adare, Valyn, and Kaden as they complete training in their respective disciplines. The two brothers have the meatier roles here, as Valyn trains to be a military assassin and Kaden works at a monastery honing his mental prowess. Although spread across the map, all three siblings fight against treasonous plots designed to bring down their family line. Their successes and failures are especially satisfying, as, despite their political standing, they receive no special treatment from their handlers and come by most of their skills honestly. Adare’s story is underserved but should see a larger role in book #2, which I am excited to start.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Traitor’s Blade

18947303Title: Traitor’s Blade (2014)
Author: Sebastien de Castell
Pages: 370
Series: Greatcoats #1 (Series Tracker)

Sometimes a book will lose me–I’ll be intently focused during the early-going before my interest wanes and I float aimlessly through the rest. This happened during Traitor’s Blade and I was disappointed I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped to. After a strong start, things get very uneven. By the midway mark, I was bored and disinterested in how the story would unfold. From there it devolved into a deus ex machina-fest with every jam being solved in exceedingly convenient ways.

The Duchal politics at the heart of the story were wholly uninteresting to me, as well. Falcio and his relationship with the deceased king was the only storyline that I was remotely invested in.

Finally, the main trio of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are an entertaining team that didn’t spend nearly enough time together. The witty banter and jesting evaporates once they are pulled apart and there was more fun to be mined from their interactions than we got. I expected to burn through this story and its subsequent sequels, but it was not to be, unfortunately.

★★¾ out of 5