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!

Blackwing – a review

Blackwing
The Raven’s Mark Book One
By Ed McDonald

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

The stage is a grimy city of dust, pollution and decay. It is a place where humanity has been reduced in stature to such a degree (by war and the Misery that lays outside the walls of their home, and whose taints permeates everything) that base traits and are buried only by a thin veneer of skin. The people eke out a meagre living while trying to avoid becoming casualties in what is essentially a war between gods. Or beings of godlike powers. The Nameless and the Deep Kings are never overtly named as deities in the sense that they are not believed to have created the universe/life/everything, but the powers they wield place them so far above mortals the difference becomes moot. It is the type of dark and war-torn landscape that would be familiar to readers of Joe Abercrombie and Daniel Polansky and other grimdark authors.

Unlike many heroes of epic fantasy, Ryhalt Galharrow – through whose eyes the story is told – is a 40 year old war vet and agent of Crowfoot, one of the great powers in the land. He is charged by Crowfoot to protect a noblewoman and discovers a secret that could see his city and those he cares for destroyed. Thus begins a rip-roaring tale of conspiracy, treachery and murder that will keep you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the end.

BlackwingEd McDonald’s debut – is a finely wrought novel of grimdark fantasy, lightened by sparkling rays of rainbow hued magic, and anchored by a weighty sense of history (of which only a fragment is revealed in this volume). McDonald is also particularly talented at creating monsters!

Given Blackwing is a ‘book one’, yet resolves nicely and without any over cliffhangers I am very keen to see where McDonald will take us next.

Cadoc’s Contract – a review

Cadoc’s Contract
The Lords of Skeinhold, Book 0
By Chris Rosser

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

Cadoc wanted more than the life of a simple farmer. So, when Artur, Duke of Kas Mendoc raised his banner, Cadoc answered the call, marching south to enlist in a great crusade against the Oskoi. He travels to a distant land and carves his name in the bodies of the dead.

Yet Cadoc has a secret, a contract made with the gods to give him the strength he needs to survive this bloody war. One hundred souls — a debt of blood to a hungry god. But disaster strikes and Cadoc flees for his life. Can he face the men he left behind and account for those he killed? Has he paid his debt, or was his soul part of the price?

95 pages
Published by Chris Rosser Publishing
Published on March 1, 2019
Author’s webpage
Buy the book

I purchased this book.

If you read my review of Rosser’s debut novella, The Weaver’s Boy (which chronologically is the sequel to this book) you might recall that I felt it echoed some of Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I could easily say that this novella has the hallmark of a Greek tragedy and makes me wonder if Rosser has had a classical education. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not copying anyone, it’s just a timeless quality to his stories that evokes a half forgotten dream, or a memory of childhood. And to my mind that is a brilliant!

In this novella we are introduced to Cadoc, the second son of a minor noble house, who is not content with ploughing the fields of the fertile Valley Cae for his brother, the Lord of Skeinhold. So, he decides to enlist as a mercenary with a neighbouring Duke and march off on crusade in a far kingdom, seeking his own fortune, and to recreate the adventures of his grandfather. When reminded of a supernatural entity in the mountains around his home, Cadoc seeks a bargain with it ,as did his grandfather before him. But as the entity warns, the gods thirst, and dealing with such creature is never as straight forward as humankind like to believe. Cadoc’s Contract is the tale of that devils’ bargain and the price that Cadoc ultimately has to pay to appease the gods.

It’s hard to pin Rosser down stylistically for that exercise of comparing his work to any other author on the market today. In fact, I don’t think you can. There is that ‘classic’ feel to the core of his tales but the stories themselves are new and confidently crafted. He is definitely blazing his own trail. If I had to offer any comparisons, I might suggest one to Katharine Kerr in her Deverry novels, but I think that is likely the Celtic/Welsh stylistic influences in some of the localised world building coming through. Rosser’s work is fresh and compelling and with a timeless quality that will bolster his work against the test of time.

Cadoc’s Contract is an enticing read that further cements Rosser – for me – as one of the new breed of rising stars on the Aussie Spec-fic scene. There is a very visceral feel to Rosser’s writing, all the senses are brought into play and he doesn’t shy away from the grittier side of human physiology – it’s not overdone by any means, but it adds a touch more realism that heightens the experience.

With a sure and confident hand Rosser weaves his tale with the same skills as the mystical ‘weavers’ in his world, enthralling the reader with strong and heartfelt characters, engaging dialogue and heart pounding fight scenes.

Cadoc’s Contract, and The Lords of Skeinhold series, is something all lovers of good fantasy should have on their radar. Chris Rosser is an author to watch.

Of Sand and Malice Made

US Cover

Of Sand and Malice Made
A Shattered Sands Novel
By Bradley P. Beaulieu

Çeda is the youngest pit fighter in the history of Sharakhai. She’s made her name in the arena as the fearsome White Wolf. None but her closest friends and allies know her true identity. But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged aeons ago by the god of chaos.

The ehrekh are desert dwellers, but for centuries Rümayesh has lurked in the dark corners of Sharakhai, combing the populace for jewels that might interest her. Some she chooses to stand by her side, until she tires of them and discards them. Others she abducts to examine more closely, a thing that leaves them ruined, worn-out husks.

Çeda flees the ehrekh’s attentions, but that only makes Rümayesh covet her even more. Rümayesh grows violent. She threatens to unmask Çeda as the White Wolf, but the danger grows infinitely worse when she turns her attention to Çeda’s friends. Çeda is horrified. She’s seen firsthand the suffering left in Rümayesh’s wake.

As Çeda fights to protect the people dearest to her, Rümayesh comes closer to attaining her prize and the struggle becomes a battle for Çeda’s very soul.

This is a great story set in a fascinating fantasy world. Expanding some of the mythology of the main novels, this novella is a rip-roaring yarn full of action, adventure, mystery and magic.

Give me more!

UK Cover

Luckily there are (currently) 4 novels available in The Song of the Shattered Sands series, and 4 novellas.

Fans of Michelle West, Peter V. Brett and Brandon Sanderson will love this story and this series.

I’m moving into this series with a vengeance!

The Long Way Down

The Long Way Down
Daniel Faust Book 1
By Craig Schaefer

Nobody knows the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas like Daniel Faust, a sorcerer for hire and ex-gangster who uses black magic and bullets to solve his clients’ problems. When an old man comes seeking vengeance for his murdered granddaughter, what looks like a simple job quickly spirals out of control.

Soon Daniel stands in the crossfire between a murderous porn director; a corrupt cop with a quick trigger finger; and his own former employer, a racket boss who isn’t entirely human. Then there’s Caitlin: brilliant, beautiful, and the lethal right hand of a demon prince.

A man named Faust should know what happens when you rub shoulders with demons. Still Daniel can’t resist being drawn to Caitlin’s flame as they race to unlock the secret of the Etruscan Box, a relic that people all over town are dying — and killing — to get their hands on. As the bodies drop and the double-crosses pile up, Daniel will need every shred of his wits, courage and sheer ruthlessness just to survive.

Daniel Faust knew he was standing with one foot over the brink of hell. He’s about to find out just how far he can fall.

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I first came across Schaefer’s name with the inclusion of a more recent novel of his – Sworn to the Night – in the 2018 SPFBO.

Now, I am one of those readers who, on coming to an author with an extensive back catalogue, I has to start with the first. Especially as his website does advise that some of the books overlap through a shared world.

Luckily, I really enjoyed it! What’s even better, is that he has written a lot of books. So, I am going to have quite a few books to read – and what bookworm doesn’t love a large TBR pile?

As with most Urban Fantasy, The Long Way Down was written in first person. There was a time when I actively avoided first person books, and truth be told I can still find myself reluctant to pick them, but Schaefer writes with an assurance that belies this being a first novel. I was instantly captivate and really interested in learning more about Daniel and this world of Schaefer’s world. In fact, I think the description on his sites says it best:

Las Vegas. It’s a city of big winners and bigger losers, where fortunes tumble with a roll of the dice. Under all the glitz and sleaze, though, there’s another Vegas: a city infested by monsters in human skin, drenched in occult corruption. It’s the kind of place where a dash of black magic and a gun could be the only thing standing between you and the gates of hell. The kind of place a man like Daniel Faust calls home.

Faust is nobody’s hero. He’s a card-carrying villain by trade, a thief and sorcerer just trying to make a dishonest buck in Sin City. He doesn’t have to go looking for trouble, though: trouble finds him. Surviving by his wits, he does his best to save the day (if he absolutely has to), save his own skin (preferably), and beat the odds on his way to the next big score.

Reminiscent of Butcher’s Dresden Files, if a bit darker, The Long Way Down is a like a pulpy, noir detective novel – in the best possible way – with a shot of the occult. The action is thrilling and Schaefer’s page turning skills are on point.

I am looking forward to continuing me reading journey into Faust’s world and highly recommend it for lovers or urban fantasy in the P.I. Noir territory.