Review: Black Sun

Black SunTitle: Black Sun (October 13, 2020)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Pages: 464
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1 (Series Tracker)


This is pitch perfect epic fantasy. Everything works so well together — propulsive pacing, exceptional characters, excellent world-building, and a fascinating mix of cultures, politics, religion, and lore.

The story builds and builds as each chapter moves us closer to the ill-omened “Convergence” (a solar eclipse). I could not stop turning the pages until the explosive finale, which does not disappoint. It also leaves a tremendous amount open-ended, which makes me excited for the future of this series, as it feels like Roanhorse has barely scratched the surface of where to go with these characters and this world. Altogether, this is one of the best books of 2020.

★★★★½ out of 5

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

Review: The Obsidian Tower

The-Obsidian-Tower-cover-July-24Title: The Obsidian Tower (2020)
Author: Melissa Caruso
Pages: 448
Series: Rooks and Ruin #1 (Series Tracker)


The mages of Vaskandar have the power to give life to their land and to their kingdoms. Ryxander of Gloamingard is cursed with broken magic that takes life and destroys all that she touches. In order to save her kingdom from an unfathomable threat, Ryx must use her weakness to her advantage whilst holding off a cavalcade of determined interlopers.

I had a really fun time with this book. Each page crackles with magic. Caruso’s writing flows well and moves the narrative forward at a swift pace with a steady stream of action and court intrigue throughout. The world of Eruvia is nicely fleshed out, as well. It helps that Caruso has already written a trilogy in this setting, but she lays out the conflicts, local histories, and magic systems in a clear and digestible way for a new reader.

Ryx is a worthy protagonist with very obvious flaws to overcome. Her humanity and search for connection keep her relatable and easy to root for. While the book’s ending does not offer much closure, there’s enough magic in the pages of The Obsidian Tower to bring me back for book number two.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Shorefall

shorefall-2Title: Shorefall (2020)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 496
Series: The Founders Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)


Foundryside, the first book in this trilogy, was really well-balanced. It told an engaging story, was populated with unique characters, and took place in a vibrant setting. While I’m still taken with this world and the city of Tevanne, most of what I enjoyed about the first book was left behind.

I had been intrigued (and somewhat confused) by scriving, the reality-altering magic system introduced in Foundryside. Because of its complexity, each act of scriving requires considerable explanation and exposition. Shorefall doubles down on scriving and this magic is so integral to the plot that if you’re not on board with it you’ll be left searching for other things to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the characters seem stagnant and there’s no room for them to breathe amongst the massive set pieces and high stakes of the story. In many ways, this felt like a trilogy capping novel instead of a middle book, so it’s unclear how the momentum will carry over for another book and I’m unsure if I’ll be along for the ride.

★★¾ out of 5

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

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea

HouseintheCeruleanSeaTitle: The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020)
Author: T.J. Klune
Pages: 393


This was a very satisfying read and it served as a balm in troubled times for me. Linus, a mild mannered case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth is given a classified assignment to investigate an orphanage on a remote island where six seemingly dangerous children reside along with their mysterious caretaker. Shenanigans ensue…

It was not hard to predict how the story would play out and the moral is not subtle, but the book is filled with so much heart that none of that matters. I was just happy to be along for the ride. 

TJ Klune has written something truly wonderful here – a positively delightful book that warms the heart and soul. Each page brims with life and joy and it gives me hope for a better world. I’m not sure what else you can ask for from a book.

★★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: Prosper’s Demon

Prosper's DemonTitle: Prosper’s Demon (2020)
Author: K.J. Parker
Pages: 112


The protagonist makes it very clear right off the bat – he’s unlikable…and that’s by design. Of course, his self-deprecation, supposed misdeeds, and biting wit make him lovable, nonetheless. This is a short and sharp story that turns in several unexpected directions. For instance, I was not expecting the casting of a giant bronze horse statue to become such a central plot point! Ultimately, I enjoyed this novella for its brevity and its distinct voice.

★★★¼  out of 5

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

Review: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man

9780857668448.jpgTitle: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (January 14, 2020)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 400
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #3, Gas-Lit Empire #6 (Series Tracker)


Elizabeth Barnabus, our intrepid adventurer, having made it to the Free States of America, is pursued, caught, and eventually escapes the custody of Gas-Lit Empire agents. She flees to a kingdom in Oregon, where a power-hungry monarch has plans for eastward conquest. Only a grand illusion and an assist from a long-lost ally can save her skin and keep the world from falling into ruin.

This is the sixth and final(?) adventure for Elizabeth and these books have been really enjoyable. This specific trilogy has improved with each subsequent installment, with each book exploring a new frontier and story type. Book 1 was a seafaring tale, Book 2 a revenge story, and Book 3 now deals with court intrigue and politics. While I’m less interested in the world-altering events that Elizabeth continues to be mixed up with, her personal journey is the hook that keeps me coming back for more. The smaller moments of this book that deal with Elizabeth finding her identity, her family, and her real place in the world are exceedingly well done. 

In all, this is a satisfying conclusion to a six-book, two-trilogy saga that has been supremely entertaining and well-told by an author with a wonderful flair for storytelling.

★★★★ out of 5

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

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.

Review: A Choir of Lies

A-Choir-of-Lies-cover-683x1024Title: A Choir of Lies (September 10, 2019)
Author: 
Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 
464
Series: A Conspiracy of Truths #2 (Series Tracker)


Alexandra Rowland’s A Conspiracy of Truths took me by surprise in 2018. I deemed it an “unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.” I was just as surprised, in this follow-up book, to see Chant left by the wayside in favor of a story focusing on Ylfing, Chant’s former apprentice. Ylfing is now a wayward soul, untethered, searching for purchase in a new city, having left his name, his master, and his personal connections behind. In many ways, his experience is mirroring that of the reader. Without the anchor of Chant and his splendid narration, we’re left to pick up the pieces along with Ylfing.

It’s a bold choice to change gears so drastically from one book to the next, but it pays off well. The overarching plot about a mysterious flower serves as a backdrop to the real story of Ylfing’s personal growth. The book itself is “written” by Ylfing in a manuscript format with a bevy of footnote comments by an opinionated newcomer who slowly comes into focus.

In the end, this book is charming, heartening, and well worth your time. It feels like Rowland is just getting started here. They’re an exciting, fresh voice in fantasy and I’m excited to see what yarn they spin next.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Harrow_Ten-Thousand-Doors-of-January_HC-1Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January (September 10, 2019)
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Pages: 384


The hype surrounding this book has been building for several months now – I was lucky enough to land an ARC and do believe the buzz is warranted. The writing is beautiful and lush. The story is sad and sweet in equal measure. The world is captivating and I truly felt transported back in time. January is a well-drawn character, full of life and verve and nuance. She was a wonderful window into this fantastical world. 

The way the first half of the novel is structured kept me from getting into the flow of the story until the second half, but the payoff of that structure is worthwhile. This, coupled with some uneven pacing and a few unearned twists, kept me from going above 4 stars. Nevertheless, if you enjoy Seanan McGuire’s ongoing Wayward Children series (with the whimsy turned down a bit) or other portal fantasy stories then you’ll have a marvelous time with January and her Ten Thousand Doors. 

 

★★★½ out of 5

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