Seraphina’s Lament

Seraphina’s Lament
The Bloodlands Book 1
By Sarah Chorn

The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.

First, you must break before you can become.

I must admit I found this book a little tough to start with. It is written with beautiful prose but it took me some time to connect truly connect with the characters. Maybe because it is such dark subject matter – and while I have read ‘grimdark’ before I don’t think I’ve read anything as grim or as dark as this- or the Holodomor that Chorn used to anchor her world (an actual real life historical event that is appalling – check it out).

I’ve read Chorn mention that she deliberately chose such vibrant and beautiful language because the subject matter is disturbing and confronting. It certainly makes for a remarkable and intense foil.

But I’ve followed Chorn online for a very long time so I stuck it out – and I am so glad I did. When this story shifted gears, when we reached the cliff – and were pushed off – the story exploded into an epic conflagration. And I am still reeling from the shock-waves.

Seraphina’s Lament is a brilliant grimdark fantasy with lyrical prose set in a world where love is love and same sex couples not a thing, they just are; Chorn also gives voice to the many readers out there who live with a disability but never see themselves reflected in the books they read.

If you enjoy fantasy that pushes boundaries while remaining epic in scope, that delves the soul while reaching for the stars, then I highly recommend you give this book a try.

I can’t wait for book two – An Elegy for Hope – when it’s done.

Dragon Hunters

Dragon Hunters
Chronicles of the Exile
By Marc Turner

Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords, but she has no intention of standing down graciously. As part of her plot to hold onto power, she instructs an order of priests known as the Chameleons to sabotage the Dragon Gate. There’s just one problem: that will require them to infiltrate an impregnable citadel that houses the gate’s mechanism a feat that has never been accomplished before.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. And when Imerle sets her scheme in motion, that enemy uses the ensuing chaos to play its hand.

559 pages
Published by Titan Books
Published on February 9th, 2016
Author’s webpage
Buy the book

I purchased this book.

Those of you who have read the preceding volume in this series – When the Heavens Fall – would be forgiven for wondering why this books has none of the characters from book one in it. The only connection between books one and two is the shadowy background presence of the emperor of Erin Elal, a character from the Guardians (like Luker in book one) and one scene with the Goddess known as the Spider.

So if you haven’t read book one you can start here and go back. Or just keep moving forward.

I’ve read some reviews that When the Heaven Fall as more ‘traditional fantasy and Dragon Hunters as more grimdark fantasy. I don’t see that at all. In my opinion Turner is writing neither traditional or grimdark fantasy, but it certainly epic fantasy.

Anyone who has read Steven Erickson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen – or has wanted to but been unable to get past Erickson’s steep learning curve – could easily find a home reading Turner’s work, which I find to be incredibly similar to the Malazan books but much more accessible. Don’t get me wrong, Turner is not copying Erickson – his story is very different and his world almost feels more like Essos, with some Westeros thrown in (Game of Thrones), but has a lot more magic and a meddlesome, greek-like pantheon of gods.

It also has a huge scope. There is a lot floating around in the background. This doesn’t detract from the main story, which focuses very much on the characters and their struggles and ambitions, but rather adds weight to realms and political machinations that are stage the tale is set upon. Also it is at the end of this novel that you finally get an idea of just what the series title ‘The Chronicles of the Exile‘ might be referring to – and I am eager to jump into book 3 to find out more!

Epic in scope and history, Turner writes books filled with characters who jump of the page and has a scene of pace and world-building that ranks him amongst the best fantasy writers around today in my books. This perfect for readers of Erickson, Martin and Staveley.

To Ride Hell’s Chasm

To Ride Hells Chasm
By Janny Wurts

A stand-alone novel – written by Wurts while taking a break from the mammoth Wars of Light and Shadow series – this roller-coaster of intrigue and mystery is not a book you could call a ‘light read’. Set over the period of one week, so much happens in this novel that you question just how much you can fit into one day!

The Kingdom of Sessalie is a land-locked mountain Kingdom that longs for an outlet to the sea. To this end, its King and Chancellor have arranged a marriage for Princess Anja with the High Prince of Devall, which will give Sessalie access to Devall’s seaport, as well as offer a Royal Alliance between the realms. As Devall’s High Prince arrives for his upcoming nuptials, the city opens its arms in welcome and wild celebration. But when Princess Anja suddenly disappears before her betrothal banquet, King Isendon assigns the task of recovering his missing daughter to two men – and for them to determine if she has been kidnapped or has simply run off.

The warriors charged with recovering the kingdom’s beloved daughter are Taskin, Commander of the Royal Guard, and Mykkael, Captain of the Garrison. As the Crown’s right-hand man, Taskin’s competence and lifelong record of service to the Kingdom has earned him the respect and support of the court. Mykkael, though, is a stranger. He is unproven and new to the post of Captain and to the Kingdom itself; though he is a veteran soldier with a legendary reputation in the field of combat, his foreign breeding is held in suspicion by court society.

As the princess’s trail vanishes outside the citadel’s gates, anxiety and tension escalate. Wurts’ masterful use of language, rhythm and pace grabs hold of the reader and doesn’t let go. Mykkael’s investigations lead him to a radical explanation for the mystery, but he finds himself under suspicion from the court factions. It remains to be seen whether Commander Taskin’s famous fair-mindedness will be enough to unravel the truth behind the garrison captainís dramatic theory (that the resourceful, high-spirited princess was not taken by force, but rather fled the palace to escape a demonic evil?).

Wurts’ writing is always multi-layered. On the surface, you have the intriguing mystery and the engaging adventure, as well as vivid descriptions and superb characterisation that create a real world and believable characters. Every character you encounter has their own insight and vision. Limited or experienced, their passionate views and choices are woven seamlessly into the tale, with high-stakes action and more than survival set on the outcome. Below the surface of this high fantasy adventure, there is the opportunity for the reader to explore – in as little or as much depth as they wish – larger questions that are as pertinent to our own society today as they are in this medieval fantasy setting: Where does the right and true course of the warrior lie, when the man bearing both sword and responsible knowledge must tread a collision course between the ethics of human justice and law, when not all things are as they appear and the disappearance of a young princess catapults a small kingdom into a crisis beyond precedent?

This book is a fantastic read. Each time I re-read it, I pick up more. It is also the perfect place for anyone new to Wurts’ writing to jump on board. Enjoy the ride!

Holy Sister

Holy Sister
Book of the Ancestor, Book 3
By Mark Lawrence

They came against her as a child. Now they face the woman.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.

The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

I love, love, love Mark Lawrence and have since the first day I read Prince of Thorns in 2010. This trilogy cements that for me – which some of you might find strange as it is not a ‘doorstop’ sized epic. But it is – and that might be a lesson for me – because even though the Trade Paperback edition only came in at just over 330 pages, it was packed full of battles and revelations as Lawrence confidently directs his reader through the last book of Nona’s journey.

Part sci-fi, part fantasy (much like The Broken Empire trilogy/setting) Lawrence hints at so much history and back story that he could very well have written a book twice the size and a story that lasted many volumes more. But as he has noted in the past, that’s not the type of writer he wants to be – and props to him for that (although he does write doorstops if the story warrants it) regardless of my own preferences – but he doesn’t have to.

Lawrence has a style that grips your attention utterly and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think the story is going one way, he shifts direction and you drags you along another thread. His magic systems are brilliant and I love how he binds them with science – unlike some writers who do this, it is not a magic by numbers offering, but leans on the more ‘mystical’ theories of quantum mechanics offering something truly unique yet oh so familiar.

Holy Sister is a satisfying conclusion to the Book of the Ancestor trilogy (if trilogy it is, his next book from HarperCollins looks to be set in the same world) and one you are sure to devour. I enjoyed every second in this world and would love to spend more time in the corridor and the amongst the twisting politics of the noble Sis.

Daughter of the Empire

Daughter of the Empire
Empire Trilogy Book One
By Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

Magic and murder engulf the realm of Kelewan. Fierce warlords ignite a bitter blood feud to enslave the empire of Tsuranuanni. While in the opulent Imperial courts, assassins and spy-master plot cunning and devious intrigues against the rightful heir. Now Mara, a young, untested Ruling lady, is called upon to lead her people in a heroic struggle for survival. But first she must rally an army of rebel warriors, form a pact with the alien cho-ja, and marry the son of a hated enemy. Only then can Mara face her most dangerous foe of all—in his own impregnable stronghold.

I come across quite a few readers looking for a book with the kind of noble house politics of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones; and I am always surprised that they haven’t read the Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts because, when it comes to Machiavellian manipulations and politics, I haven’t found a more enthralling read.

I guess the greatest difference between the two stories is that Martin’s is set amidst a world reminiscent of medieval Europe, while the Empire Trilogy plays out in Feist’s world of Kelewan, which is very reminiscent of feudal Japan – a world in which ‘face’ and ‘honour’ are the lifeblood of all etiquette and the bench mark of social standing. The playing of politics is called the ‘Great Game’ in the Empire and it is a vicious bloodbath of backstabbing and wheeling and dealing, where the Great Houses can fall and Lesser Houses rise to prominence. And if you cannot play the Great Game, you may find yourself stripped of all you hold dear, maybe even your life.

And it is at this extreme of the Game that we are first introduced to Mara of House Acoma.

Taking her final vows to enter Temple life, the Daughter of the Acoma finds her plans destroyed as she is informed that her family has died and she is the only surviving heir – if she does not take up the mantle of Ruling Lady, House Acoma, its servants and vassals, will all fall into ruin. Unable to turn her back on the ancient lineage of the Acoma, she leaves the Temple before her vows are spoken and returns to the devastated House that her family’s enemies have left her. Without any of the formal political training her brother had received as future heir, Mara must rally the Acoma’s depleted resources and protect her House against not only those who orchestrated the deaths of her father and brothers, but also those who would take advantage of the Acoma’s weakened state. She must navigate a social and political minefield in a world where women are consorts, but rarely the Ruler of a noble House. Using her intelligence, wits and cunning, she slowly reveals she has a greater talent for the Great Game than any could have imagined.

Feist and Wurts have produced a masterpiece of fantasy that I view as a classic. This is a beautifully written book, the prose is fluid and descriptive enough to bring the world to life and the society has been painstakingly pieced together to seem at once familiar, yet alien, without taking away from character development or plot execution. Although this trilogy fits within Feist’s larger Riftwar series, it can be read independently – however, you might find yourself intrigued enough to read more of the authors’ solo work too.

Firstborn

Firstborn
Hose War Book 7
By Michelle West

Jewel ATerafin has never wanted to be a power. What she truly wants, she built in the streets of the poorer holdings. To protect what she built, to protect what she values above all else, she has accepted that power is necessary.

But with power comes responsibility.

Jewel has forced herself to do what would have once been unthinkable: She has surrendered her den-kin, Carver, to the wilderness, because she must if she is to have any hope of saving the rest of her family, and the city in which they dwell.

But she cannot leave him with nothing. Into his hands, she has placed the single, blue leaf that came from the wilderness and the dreaming combined. She doesn’t know what it does or what it was meant to do—but it is the most powerful item on her person, and it is the only thing she can leave him.

That leaf, however, was created to serve a purpose that Jewel does not understand. Nor does Carver, who now possesses it. With Ellerson by his side, Carver intends to traverse the wild Winter in an attempt to reach home—and the people who are waiting for him.

There are those who do understand the significance of Carver’s gift, and the disaster that will prevail if it remains in his hands. But time is of the essence. These lands are not unclaimed, and the Lord of these lands is waking from his ancient slumber.

Nor is the Lord the only threat. Firstborn, demons, and wild elementals are swirling around two mortal men in a storm that threatens to end the only chance the city of Averalaan has of surviving what is to follow.

Michelle West is one of my all time favorite authors.

No West book is a quick read, she layers her stories with nuance and rich characterisation on a set of fabulous world-building and deep history and mysticism.

Now the story that began in 1997 with ‘The Broken Crown’ is coming to a close. One more book in the House War to go and I have to admit I am already anxious about the series ending. There is something comforting in the knowledge that when you finish a book in a favoured series there will be another one coming.

But still, it is also satisfying to read along as the story matures and grows to it’s conclusion.

If you like big, epic fantasy, with gods and demons, magic and history, and stunning prose, then you can’t go past Michelle West.

Bound by Mark Lawrence

Bound
A Book of the Ancestor 2.5 (Short Story)
By Mark Lawrence

This is a 16,000 word short story, primarily featuring Nona, Ara, Kettle, Regol. It should be read between Grey Sister and Holy Sister.

Again, I stress SHORT STORY.

It really is a short story coming in a 49 pages. But if you enjoy Lawrence’s work then you will definitely enjoy this.

To be honest, part of the what happens in it seems rather significant for the next book in the series, and unless Lawrence plans a ‘flash-back’ or info dump I am not sure how he will explain the nature of what has changed between two of the character.

But I am looking forward to it.

Buy this short story – it’s really good!