Heart of Mist – Helen Scheuerer

34865933All Bleak wants is a cure for her power. The ability to hear the thoughts of others may seem like a gift, but when the only way to drown it out is through copious amounts of alcohol, it’s more of a curse. Despite never telling anyone of her abilities, Bleak is suddenly snatched from her home by the King’s Army and summoned to the capital. But the journey doesn’t quite go according to plan as Bleak is rescued by the queen of a nation if female warriors, the Valian Kindred. Saved from one form of captivity and pulled straight into another, Bleak finds herself right in the middle of a power-struggle, with a much bigger role than she ever could have anticipated.

It’s really difficult to guess which YA/New Adult Fantasy books are going to be good, and which are going to be mediocre. As a serious fantasy lover, I haven’t come across many that I thought were bad, but truly great ones are few and far between. Heart of Mist is one of them. I absolutely loved it, from cover to cover.

I pretty much loved every character. Bleak was probably my least favourite, but she’s got tough competition and, with the full cast supporting her, she’s a fantastic protagonist. I adored Fiore from the moment we meet him and thought he would be my instant favourite, but then we were introduced to the Valians and suddenly everyone was my favourite. Even Swinton really grew on me as the story progressed.

The plot is fairly slow paced, but because the characters were so fantastic and I know there’s more to come in the series, I was totally fine with the pacing. The story has a good amount of depth to it, with the main story line being backed up by a couple of mysteries which I’m really looking forward to finding out more about.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

39395857.jpgFor centuries, the Raven has watched over and protected the kingdom of Iraden. His power is sustained by the sacrifice of Iraden’s ruler, the Raven’s Lease, every generation. But when the Lease disappears without paying his debt and a usurper takes the throne, the power of the Raven appears to be dwindling. Is he even there at all? It is left to Eolo, loyal aide to the true heir, Mawat, to uncover the truth hidden inside the Raven’s Tower.

The writing style is really interesting. It’s written in the second person, from the point-of-view of The Strength and Patience of the Hill, to Eolo, the character who the story follows. This has the effect of placing the reader inside the story, using a really unusual technique. However, this was a bit of a double-edged sword because, while being new and different is both good and impressive, it took me a really long time to get used to the style which stopped me from being able to get into the story.

The lore in this book is very good. The system of the gods and their magics has been well thought-through, and I love gods and mythology so this really worked for me. It was interesting to be following the humans and the gods simultaneously, but it was sometimes a bit confusing because it took a minute to work out which thread we were on with each new chapter.

The Raven’s Tower is a good book, and a solid piece of fantasy-fiction. But the pace is slow and it took me a looooooong time to read, despite not being that long. For that reason alone, I can’t give it full marks, but it is worth a read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Bored Of The Rings – The Harvard Lampoon

45298617.jpgThis funny, rude parody of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings tells the story of Frito the boggie and his friends, Goodgulf, Arrowroot, Legolam, Gimlet and the rest as they head off to destroy a magic ring in the pits of Fordor.

Honestly, the best thing about this book is that they managed not to overdo it. The entire Tolkien trilogy is covered in less than 200 pages and, somehow, no vital aspects of the story are left out. The first book is parodied in a lot more detail than #2 and #3, but that’s really for the best because, although it’s funny, Bored of the Rings would have dragged if it had been much longer.

The humour in this book isn’t subtle in any way. It is silly, rude and childish, often falling back on the simplest forms of wit (Uncle Dildo being a prime example), and yet it is somehow very clever. There are quite a lot of cultural references that are out of date (e.g. Goodgulf is apparently a reference to a brand of gasoline), but enough of it has withstood the test of time and will be amusing to most generations.

The funniest parts were almost definitely the character names and their altered personalities. Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, a useless dolt instead of the handsome, heroic Aragorn and Tim Benzedrino (Tom Bombadill) as a drugged-out hippie were my favourites.

I’d never read a parody before this, and I can see both sides of why people do or don’t like them. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything having read this book. But on the other hand, it did make me laugh.

I received a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

36678391.jpgOn the night of the winter solstice in a pub on the Thames, the regulars are telling stories as they do most nights, when a stranger bursts through the door carrying the dead body of a little girl. A few hours later, the girl wakes up. Nobody knows who she is and, when multiple families come forward to claim the child as their own, nobody knows who to believe.

Once Upon a River is a magical fairy tale, but it has a very long-winded plot. There’s a lot of build up to “something’s about to happen”, ending in comparatively little actual climax. The book isn’t actually especially long, but it took me ages to read and I would have found it impossible to read in one sitting. It just didn’t flow particularly well and was quite hard work to get through.

There are loads of different characters, to the extent that we don’t really get to know most of them properly. The only ones I got to know well enough to particularly like were Rita and Daunt, because they appear in multiple threads of the story. Most of the other characters were very forgettable (in fact, as I sit here writing this, I can’t remember the names of any others).

I liked the way the story was told, from the point-of-view of a narrator who was not part of the plot but felt like an integral participant in the book. It is written in a way that feels as though the narrator is telling you the story, but without ever explicitly inserting themselves in the narrative. This has the effect of drawing the reader in and, had the story been more engaging, would have been a wonderful style.

Once Upon a River had a lot of potential to be a great book but, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Ravencry – Ed McDonald

36666672It’s been four years since the events of Blackwing when Nall’s Engline drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but all is still not well. A new power is rising: a ghostly apparition known as the Bright Lady has developed a fanatical following, and an object of great power is stolen from Crowfoot’s highly protected vault. Galharrow and his Blackwings must recover the object before it can be used, a mission which takes him deeper into the Misery than ever before.

Blackwing was an excellent, absorbing fantasy debut, and Ravencry is somehow even better. The story continues with one or two new characters as well as the wonderful ones we’ve already met.I loved following Galharrow again, he really is a brilliant main character and – after the loss of Ezabeth – he’s even more damaged and tormented than before. Luckily, this does absolutely nothing to make him weak or whiny. If anything, it makes him even more heroic.

The scene-setting and story-telling is exceptionally good. There is no extensive or excessive description of landscapes and events, and yet everything is super easy to picture. Another strong aspect is that there is no definitive ‘good’ vs ‘bad’. Apart from Galharrow who is the obvious hero, both sides of the fight seem to be relatively bad. Instead of working for anyone in particular (he’s under Crowfoot’s control, but is reluctant about it), Galharrow fights for the survival of his city and not a righteous ‘good’ side.

The story is emotional, funny, action-packed and addictive. It is a fantasy-adventure through and through, with some very dark, gritty elements. I am beyond excited for Crowfall.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Girl King – Mimi Yu

41832496Lu is destined to become Emperor when her father dies – to become the dynasty’s first female ruler – while Min, her sister, is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then, in a shocking betrayal, their father names their cousin, Set, as his heir instead. Lu is forced to go on the run to keep her life and fight for her birthright. During her escape, she meets Nokhai: a wolf shapeshifter and the last of his kind. Together, they set off to find an army to retake Lu’s throne. Meanwhile, Min is left behind with Set and his mysterious adviser, a monk named Brother, who is determined to awaken an ancient power hidden within her.

I enjoyed this book. It didn’t particularly stand out in any way, but it was a standard, enjoyable YA fantasy. It follows the same formula as many other YA novels, with your expected characters and tropes, but it was still good.

Lu and Nok’s story line was definitely the best part. Lu was a strong character, because she really developed. She started out feisty and stubborn (and kind of annoying), but as the story progressed she grew into someone more caring and determined. She wanted to get back what she felt she deserved, but she also wanted to make things better for other people as well. I also found Nok very likeable. His relationship with Lu was predictable and unremarkable but very sweet and I liked reading it.

Min, on the other hand, I didn’t like so much. She had so much potential to be a unique character and really make the book stand out from the rest, but instead she remained childish and pathetic even when she’d discovered her powers. She didn’t grow at all, all that happened to her was that she got some magic and had a tantrum. I didn’t particularly enjoy her story line, but it did provide a necessary break from Lu’s thread, which would have gotten kind of boring without the cuts to the palace to see how Min was getting on.

Another point of note is that this is supposed to be an Asian-inspired fantasy, which I’m sure will attract many readers. Unfortunately, other than the characters having Asian names and a few mentions of Asian-style clothing, there isn’t anything about the culture integrated into the plot. If you changed the names of the characters, the story would read exactly the same as any Western-based YA fantasy, which was kinda disappointing.

My overall view is that The Girl King isn’t a special or unique book, but it is enjoyable and I will certainly be reading the next book when it comes out.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Blackwing – Ed McDonald

36402955.jpgThe republic faces total annihilation at the hands of the Deep Kings. With Nall’s Engine failing, the only thing standing between the people of the Range and certain death is an unpredictable no-man’s land called the Misery. Tasked with the protection of a powerful spinner named Ezabeth Tanza, Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds himself wrapped up in a world of conspiracy, secrets and treason.

Blackwing is a piece of truly excellent fantasy fiction. It has everything you could possibly want (magic, adventure, epic battles), without any of the usual tropes or clichés. The plot is multi-layered, with the surface story of Galharrow and Ezabeth and the overarching fight between the Deep Kings and the Nameless. This two-tiered style of story-telling was excellently pulled off, without one overshadowing the other.

Galharrow is a brilliant lead character. He’s grumpy, gritty and determined; battle-hardened and flawed, in no way irritating or infuriating. I also really liked his mismatched team of soldiers, especially Nenn.

I liked the fast-paced and gritty nature of Blackwing. There is a romantic element in the book which, in my opinion, didn’t add much to the story but didn’t take anything away either. It is, frankly, shockingly good for a debut novel and an absolute must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour: Star-Touched Stories – Roshani Chokshi

36396341.jpgStar-Touched Stories is three magical stories set in the world of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes. You don’t need to have read either book to enjoy this one, but it would help in order to understand some of the characters. Roshani Chokshi’s writing is pure magic. I don’t think I’ve ever read any books quite as magical as hers (and I read a lot of fantasy).

All three stories are special in their own way, but my favourite was the first one: Death and Night. The Lord of Death and the Goddess of Night meet by chance and, contrary to their natures, fall in love. As their romance blossoms, both begin to question if they could be made for more than they’ve believed. Death and Night are both completely brilliant characters, and the setting of this story is just the best (especially the Night Bazaar). I loved the romance between these two, and all of the supporting characters were great as well.

Poison and Gold was my least favourite of the three (although, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it). In this one, Aasha is sent to train to become the kingdom’s new Spy Mistress. However, she has lost control over her power to kill and can’t understand why. That particular aspect of the story really got on my nerves, because it was SO OBVIOUS why she’d lost her control. She’s not a stupid character, so why dumb her down so much in this story? I also didn’t really like the romance between Aasha and the Spy Mistress (whose name I can’t even remember). It just came across as too forced and unnecessary.

Rose and Sword was a nice addition to the book. Vikram falls ill and is on the brink of death, so Guari travels to the land of the dead to retrieve his last breath and save his life. I was so happy to read more about Guari and Vikram (mainly Guari) that almost anything could have happened in this story and I would have enjoyed it. Just to make things even better, Kamala – the lovable demon horse – is back and as brilliant as ever. It was a lovely ending to Guari and Vikram’s story.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Balam, Spring – Travis M. Riddle

38322372.jpgIn the quiet town of Balam, people are dying. Following the loss of the town’s resident white mage, Aava – fresh from the mage academy – is sent to find the cause of the unknown illness and create a cure before the rest of the town becomes infected. When strange insectoid creatures start invading the town, seemingly attracted by the bodies of the illness’ victims, Aava seeks help from ex-mercenary Ryckert to get to the bottom of the mystery, before there is nobody left alive in Balam.

The story is a little bit slow. It’s a kind of cross between a cosy mystery story and a fantasy adventure. Overall, not that much actually happens, but it’s a good read nonetheless. The characters are likeable, and we get to know them quite well. There are a couple of lesbian/gay/bisexual characters, and these relationships are treated very casually and as not at all unusual in this world, which was nice to see.

My very favourite thing about Travis’ writing is that he invents his own new fantasy worlds and creatures. Balam, Spring is fully immersive and filled with fantasy beings, but not ‘common’ things like elves, dragons, and the other usual creatures. Instead, we meet Rocyans and Jeornish, and other original critters. Because of the immersive nature of the writing, the characters and settings are easy to picture, without ever being over-described or explained in excessive detail.

It’s a good, solid, fantasy/mystery about a small town filled with well-developed and lovable characters.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

37759491.jpgIn Orleans, beauty is valued above all else. People are born grey and plain, and only a Belle can make them beautiful. Camellia has always wanted to be the Favourite; chosen to tend to the royal family and their courtiers. But once at court, she quickly learns that everything is not as she has been told.

The Belles didn’t have as much depth as it could have. The kingdom is clearly unhappy with the prospect of Princess Sophie becoming queen (understandable – she is a piece of work) and poisonings are mentioned, but we get no insight at all into political matters or any attempts to stop her becoming queen. Instead its all about beauty and the belles. I get that the entire concept is kind of shallow, but the book didn’t have to be too.

The other big thing I didn’t enjoy was the pacing, which is rather slow. The plot isn’t particularly complex or detailed so I’m not entirely sure what all those pages were actually used for.

However, there were a couple of good things as well. I especially liked that, despite being all about beauty, there are no set ideas about what is beautiful. The people of Orleans change their hair, skin, body shapes and everything in all different ways without one being considered prettier than the other (outside of trending periods).

I’m not entirely sure if I liked it enough to pick up the next book. On the one hand, I found it pretty boring on the whole. On the other hand, the ending was EXCITING and I do want to know what’s going to happen next.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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