Review: The Bone Ships

Barker-The-Bone-ShipsTitle: The Bone Ships (September 24, 2019)
Author: R.J. Barker
Pages: 512
Series: The Tide Child #1 (Series Tracker)


What a wonderful adventure! This was my first experience with R.J. Barker’s work and I came away quite impressed with his skill as a storyteller. He drops us into the fully-formed world of the Hundred Isles, a sea-dominated region that’s peppered with small islands. Two warring territories, each equipped with extremely valuable ships made from ancient dragon bones, are stuck in constant and endless conflict. When the first dragon in generations is sighted, the race is on to be the first to track it down.

Barker’s prose is rich but rough and perfectly suited for a seafaring tale. You can taste the ocean spray and feel the sway of the ships as they traverse the angry seas. The world is filled with unique flora and fauna, but the setting still feels familiar and accessible.

The book also features really satisfying character work, most notably through the main characters Joron and Lucky Meas and the cultivation of their relationship with each other and with the rest of their crew. The connection that is forged between Joron and the Gullaime, the ship’s enigmatic, bird-like “windtalker,” is particularly touching. I hope we see more of the Gullaime in future books because the page (and I) lit up whenever it would appear.

Generally, I like to finish books quickly so I can move on to the next thing in my stack, but it was really gratifying to spend extra time with such a well-crafted novel. Even the artwork on the chapter headings is meticulously crafted and beautiful.

All in all, this is a superb start to an exciting new series. The worldbuilding, the prose, the character development, and the story beats are all top-notch. I’m already anxiously anticipating book two. In the meantime, I’m going to jump back and give Barker’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy a try to see if that is also to my liking.

★★★★½ out of 5

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

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Review: The Darkest Road

81FzxP5pc6LTitle: The Darkest Road (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 424
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #3 (Series Tracker)


And thus ends my three-week long journey with The Fionavar Tapestry, a solid if unspectacular series.

Kay’s story itself is undeniably epic and this book features satisfying conclusions to each of the story threads, but throughout the second and third books I found myself scanning paragraphs for plot progression rather than hanging on every word of a page, which is a clue to myself that I’m ultimately disengaged from the proceedings. The Arthurian elements that were introduced in the second book never quite landed for me, but I appreciate Kay’s attempts to overlay several different mythologies onto his story.

Although this trilogy won’t become one of my favorites, I’m very interested to see the television adaptation of this series, as well as continuing to read through Kay’s other works.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Wandering Fire

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Title: The Wandering Fire (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 375
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #2 (Series Tracker)


After really enjoying the first book in the series, I thought this second book had a major drop-off in quality. The story went in several head-scratching directions that left me disengaged and confused. I’m hopeful that this can be explained away as “middlebookinitis” and that the third book can recapture the magic of the first.

★★½ out of 5

Review: The Summer Tree

A1K5aqlUQUL.jpgTitle: The Summer Tree (1984)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 383
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #1 (Series Tracker)


I have wanted try out Guy Gavriel Kay’s work for quite a while but haven’t known where to start. The collective wisdom I’ve seen says to skip his first books, a trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry. They say that he hadn’t quite found his voice yet and that the story plays as a cheap Lord of the Rings knock off. I didn’t necessarily want to read his best novels first and be disappointed later on, so I ignored the advice and dove in at the beginning. I was pleased to find that this first book was quite compelling and enjoyable. Yes, it’s a bit uneven and the similarities to Tolkien are present, but I set these things aside because I saw sparks of brilliant storytelling. The world building and character work are particularly strong.

At first the characters seem interchangeable (and weirdly unskeptical when a wizard offers to whisk them away to another world), but as the story unfolds, each character embarks on their own emotional journey and I’m fully invested in it. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out in the next two books and am excited to read his subsequent (supposedly better) work.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Curse of Chalion

the-curse-of-chalionTitle: The Curse of Chalion (2000)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 512
Series: World of the Five Gods #1 (Series Tracker)

The Curse of Chalion is beautifully written high fantasy novel with court intrigue, an interesting religious structure, and a varied cast of likable characters. The story follows a former castillar named Cazaril who attempts to put his life back together after being wronged by a rival. Cazaril is incredibly easy to root for and his story arc is very satisfying.

This book has done a nice job of filling the Robin Hobb-less void in my life and I look forward to reading the other novels and novellas set in this world.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World US.jpgTitle: The Eye of the World (1990)
Author: Robert Jordan
Pages: 814
Series: The Wheel of Time #1 (Series Tracker)

Last year I tackled Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series in its entirety — this year (and probably into next year) I’m hoping to conquer The Wheel of Time. I’ve been following the new Tor.com readalong to supplement the experience, so we’ll see how it goes.

I can understand why this is such a popular series. There is a Tolkien-esque level of epic storytelling and worldbuilding that made for a familiar and pleasant reading experience.  There are countless parallels to The Lord of the Rings that continuously hit you over the head, so I hope Jordan branches out and sets his own course in future books.

My major issue with this first installment was the pacing. This book moves slooowwwly. Every incremental movement of the adventurers across the map feels earned and as laborious as it must have been for the characters. This is not always the case in quest novels, so I respected that element, but was still frustrated with how it hindered the swiftness of the narrative. I look forward to seeing where the overall story leads, but this first book felt too hung up on the nitty gritty details.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Armored Saint

armoredsaint_rev.jpgTitle: The Armored Saint (2018)
Author: Myke Cole
Pages: 192
Series: The Sacred Throne #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Upon witnessing the horrors wrought by the Order, the oppressive ruling authority, village girl Heloise begins to fight back in any way that she can. Author Myke Cole pivots from his usual military fantasy genre to deliver a solid first installment in a new epic fantasy trilogy.

I was impressed with how swiftly Cole orients the reader into a brand new world, a very important factor for a book of this size. I was immediately aware of the customs, religions, societal hierarchies, and just how high the stakes are.

My biggest issue was with the characterization of Heloise, the main character. She has a heart of gold but displays some incredibly poor decision making abilities. Most of the action in this novel is the direct result of Heloise acting recklessly. Hopefully this flaw gives her plenty of room to develop into the hero that she seems destined to become.

Overall, The Armored Saint is a fun, quick read that packs a lot in without feeling overstuffed. I plan to continue with this trilogy and see how it all plays out!

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Blinding Knife

Weeks - Blinding Knife.jpgTitle: The Blinding Knife (2012)
Author: Brent Weeks
Pages: 671
Series: Lightbringer #2 (Series Tracker)

The Blinding Knife is certainly better than the first entry in the Lightbringer series — there’s less exposition, stronger pacing, and many of the flaws/edges that bugged me in the first book were smoothed over. Unfortunately, these improvements were not enough to make me fall in love with the series. For me, the storylines oscillated between “can’t stop reading” and “disinterested to the point of skimming,” with the latter mode being more prevalent as the book went on. I wanted to read all four books before this year’s release of the final book, but I think this is where I will leave the series. I can see why people enjoy it, but it’s just not for me.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Black Prism

9780316246279.jpgTitle: The Black Prism (2010)
Author: Brent Weeks
Pages: 678
Series: Lightbringer #1 (Series Tracker)

I’ve been meaning to start this series for a while, so I was excited that my initial impression upon starting this book was very positive. I was immediately hooked on the cool magic system and worldbuilding, but the hook eventually wore off as I became frustrated by the uneven pacing, the way the characters are drawn, and the sometimes clunky/cringey dialogue that is used. Several characters are sharp-tongued, flawed, and unlikable, but I’m hopeful that this will lead to further character growth as the books progress.  There are seeds of great storytelling here that I hope can be more consistently implemented in future installments. Hearing that this is not the high point in the series leaves me hopeful for future books, as I do plan on continuing to book 2.

★★★¼ out of 5