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

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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: 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: Kings of Paradise

KingsofParadiseTitle: Kings of Paradise (2017)
Author: Richard Nell
Pages: 601
Series: Ash and Sand #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a solid dark fantasy. The characters and setting are well-drawn and the writing is quite good. I connected with some POV characters more than others and this meant that there were long stretches where I was disengaged from the story as I just tried to get through the POV chapters I enjoyed less. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but I had a good time with this one.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Kingdom of Copper

9780062678133_bf554Title: The Kingdom of Copper (January 22, 2019)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Pages: 544
Series: 
The Daevabad Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)


It took me a little while to sink back into this story, but once I did it was a treat to return to Chakraborty’s richly drawn world. Her prose remains lush, fresh, and infinitely readable. Apart from an explosive finale, the excitement levels were dialed back a bit from the first book and the character building was more centerstage. Since Chakraborty has already established her main trio of characters, she could really focus on fleshing out their motivations and exploring the depths of their complex psyches. Even as each page crackles with magic, at its core, this is a captivating family drama that continues to ratchet up the tension as the book progresses.

Overall, I thought this was a really solid middle book. It charted new territory and told a contained story that was engaging, satisfying, and left me looking forward to what comes next.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: A Conspiracy of Truths

a-conspiracy-of-truths-9781534412804_hrTitle: A Conspiracy of Truths (October 23, 2018)
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 432


Based on the book cover and description alone, I was expecting this to be a deadly serious high fantasy tale. What greeted me instead was an unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.

Chant is an irascible traveling raconteur with a sharp tongue who tells stories to anyone who lends a year (and some who don’t). These stories are presented as interludes interspersed throughout the book — most come from Chant’s voice, but some are tales told to him from others. Each story is complete with Chant’s internal monologue criticizing haphazard storytelling techniques or adding footnotes and flair to his own words. Chant presents as an omniscient presence who understands so much about the world but he struggles to grapple with his own emotions. He would rather believe that he’s having a heart attack than feeling excited or that his face is sweating rather than tearing up. It’s a fun personality quirk that adds some depth to what could’ve been a straightforward, one-note character.

I wasn’t consistently sucked into the overall plot nor did I always understand the court hierarchies and politics at play, but this is The Chant Show, pure and simple — the story flowed beautifully from him and out into the world.

When writing a book about a gifted storyteller, it helps to be a gifted storyteller. Luckily, author Alexandra Rowland shows a knack for spinning a charming and heartwarming yarn.  A Conspiracy of Truths is an impressive and enchanting novel that was a joy to read. I hope to read Rowland’s subsequent works and perhaps more about Chant’s past and future adventures, as well.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Tigana

91wlmjEBnGL.jpgTitle: Tigana (1990)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 676


Two sorcerous lords battle for control of the territory they occupy, while the original inhabitants of the land attempt to win back control from their occupiers and reclaim Tigana, their (literally) forgotten homeland. Tigana explores imperialism, occupation, and memory through a fantasy lens and does so in an effective and thoughtful way.

This is a wonderful book an engaging, beautifully told tale, with well-drawn characters and clever storytelling. The first 100 pages were superb, then it spins its wheels for a few hundred pages, before finishing with a flourish. It all felt worthwhile in the end and I am grateful for the reading experience.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Mage Against the Machine

mage-against-the-machine-9781534403048_hr.jpgTitle: Mage Against the Machine (October 9, 2018)
Author: Shaun Barger
Pages: 512


In 2120, humans can no longer reproduce, artificially intelligent overlords have a stranglehold on humanity, and small communities of mages are hidden throughout the world. Nikolai, a newly minted mage Edge Guard, protects the border between his world and ours, while Jem, a cybernetically enhanced human, smuggles contraband away from the watchful eyes of Earth’s AI overseers.

What’s so alluring about this book is that its characters are basically living in two different genres. Nikolai is attempting to come-of-age in a Harry Potter-ish mage community, while Jem is just trying to survive and overthrow evil AIs in a Terminator/Fallout/Children of Men-ish post-apocalyptic world. Jumping between their perspectives kept me engaged and kept things fresh throughout this lengthy tome while I waited for their storylines to converge. It did seem that Nikolai’s story was more fleshed out than Jemma’s, but I enjoyed them both for what they were.

And although I winced at a few overexplain-y info dumps, bristled at some cringe-y romance, and was slightly disappointed by a concluding act that somehow feels both rushed and overlong, I found Mage Against the Machine to be a fun genre-mashup that was an utterly enjoyable ride.

★★★¾  out of 5

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

 

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