ARTIFICIAL CONDITION picks up a few days after the end of ALL SYSTEMS RED. Murderbot, as it refers to itself, is unsure if anyone is coming after it after it ran from its human guardian. Either way, it wants to journey to the planet where the tragic incident happened that led Murderbot to choose its name. There, it hopes to find out what really happened to cause its glitch and the subsequent massacre. The readers, in turn, will discover another fun adventure, although perhaps one less novel than the first time out with Murderbot.
The better parts of ARTIFICIAL CONDITION come from the new character of ART. When Murderbot hitches a ride aboard a transport to travel in search of answers, it finds itself in the company of a lonely, if arrogant, ship AI, bored since the current trip is cargo only and it has no humans to protect. Murderbot introduces ART to media, and the two bond over Murderbot's favourite programs. ART also gives Murderbot some much needed outside perspective in needing to take ownership of your life and not just retreating into escapism when things get tough. This is a new adjustment for Murderbot, who has never had to really engage with life and take responsibility for its choices, always able to tune out the real world or mentally pass the blame to humans because of how they programmed it.
I found this story slightly less engaging than the previous book in part because some of the plot points felt like a retread. During the quest to discover its past, Murderbot runs across some humans being threatened by yet another corporation and steps in to protect them. The difference here is that Murderbot now for the first time in its life has to act as an agent of free will, and not pretend to be a soulless automaton. In fact, the choice to even intervene on behalf of the humans is Murderbot's choice entirely. How Murderbot copes (or doesn't) with that responsibility is part of what drives the story.
ARTIFICIAL CONDITION is not a story that is going to provide all the answers, but it does give Murderbot the time to process its newfound freedom and understand the full ramifications that freedom brings. For those who enjoyed ALL SYSTEMS RED, your favourite deadpan security bot is back for an engaging, if slightly repetitive, ride.
Anna Smith Spark captures the dark heart of grimdark fantasy with her poetical prose in this beautifully violent sequel to The Court of Broken Knives.
The Tower of Living and Dying begins exactly where its predecessor left off: with blood and death in vast quantities. Marith has really come into his own; he harnesses some dark force that makes him an indestructible killing machine. Men, armies, dragons alike fall before his sword and his fury. When he wields his blade, he is like a painter with a brush: the battle field is his canvass and he is ready to cover it in blood. He does not fight like a normal man but is driven by some maniacal savagery that pummels every foe he faces into the ground. Nothing can stop him, except, perhaps, himself.
His biggest weakness is his mind. He is plagued by several mental health problems and he uses drugs to switch them off and keep his daemons at bay. For a long time, he has denied what he is. He has denied what he can do. He is now a King and he is ready to conquer the world. As a character, I find him fascinating to read about. In a weird way, I think he secretly wants to be good. He absolutely hates himself and everything he does. There are glimpses of humanity in him, but they are overshadowed by this dark force that drives him. As the series goes on, more about his history is revealed and it becomes easier to understand why he is like he is. There are still a few questions to be answered though as the series draws to a close.
Like all second books in a trilogy, this one is a vessel to reach the third. There’s a lot of set up here. Marith has strong ambitions and there isn’t really anyone who can oppose him. He is unmatched and his only equal is the one he loves most in the world: his queen. She is shocked by his behaviour too, though her history is just as bloody and violent as his. The love he bares her is one of his only redeeming features, and it has grown across books. It has an obsessive, possessive and unhealthy quality to it. And, I must say, I don’t think it will end well. It’s a dangerous relationship. It will end with blood, I think.
So, this is another strong book in a very strong series. The plot and characters have developed tremendously, and Anna Smith Spark has retained her sharp edge when writing combat scenes. It’s a pleasure to read, and in my opinion one of the best trilogies released in recent years. The House of Sacrifice looks like it’s going to be quite explosive.
I’m very excited to see how this will end. For now though, this is a solid 9/10*
Note: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher. It has not affected my review in any way.
The Afterward is a book that begins with an interesting premise: how easy is it for one to fit back into "regular life" after you've spent a year on the road, Questing to overthrow a Big Bad? Unfortunately, while the premise and characters are well-introduced, the overall follow through in this book fell flat.
Kalanthe and Olsa have a complicated history. Kalanthe is an apprentice knight, and Olsa is thief. Together, they were part of a group that spent a year traveling the realm on a Quest to save the kingdom from a great evil. The Quest was successful and the party returned home heroes, but that also meant a return to obligations and social strata. With Kalanthe entertaining a marriage proposal to cover her training debts and Olsa returning to her life of crime, the easy romance these two women found on the road is shattered - and it may take another threat to the realm to mend it.
One thing I did really enjoy was how Johnston balanced using familiar medieval fantasy world tropes while leaving most of the sexist coloring behind. Both men and women can become knights without any kind of commentary (and the Quest group itself is partially comprised of 4 female knights and their female apprentice). Even same-sex relationships don't seem particularly frowned upon in this world, except when it comes to that pesky matter of producing an heir. Kalanthe needs to find a marriage match to pay off her training debts (essentially student loans); the new husband would pay her a "bride price," but it's expected she will produce an heir to take over the estates, which of course will put a woman in a physical job out of commission for several months. Women in this society have more autonomy than this genre usually sees, but still have some very natural complications in their lives. These kind of gender relations are a fresh wrinkle in a genre that can run dangerously stale.
The rest of the story, however, wasn't my cup of tea. This is less an adventure tale (although there are spurts of action) then a contemplation on two women of very different backgrounds trying to navigate their lives and figure out if they can ever make a relationship work in the "real world." I would have been perfectly fine with that if it had felt like the story was going anywhere. Although some of the initial setup caught my attention (Olsa, for instance, is thief who is constantly thwarted when she tries to ply her trade because she is recognized everywhere she goes as a Hero), the momentum quickly sputtered out.
That in part has to do with the structure, which flashed back and forth between "present day" Olsa and Kalanthe and "before," when they were traveling on their quest. The "before" parts showed the development of their relationship, but didn't feel like it was adding anything truly necessary to the tale. In the "after" sections, the two main characters go about their separate lives until a disaster occurs in the last third of the book. Kalanthe is busy meeting a future husband, and Olsa is recruited by a mage to deal with leftover business from the Quest - time that is mostly spent on the road discussing Olsa's future. In both cases, the problems Kalanthe and Olsa are having are solved by other people making incredibly generous offers, resulting in little character growth. By the time the two women were reunited, I didn't particularly care where the relationship was going. There simply weren't enough stakes in this books, personal or otherwise.
All-in-all, The Afterward may prove a swoon-worthy read for some, but didn't click with me. I really appreciated the society that the author created and some of the initial setup, but there wasn't enough drive here to make me truly want to see the story through. What few complications were thrown in the path of the romance are swept aside with very handy deus ex machinas, without either of the characters really having to really dig in to overcome the obstacles. Unfortunately, this is a rare read I just can't recommend.
Orchestra of Treacheries is the sequel to Songs of Insurrection. I read the latter when it came across my radar a while back. I finally got around to Orchestra of Treacheries and I had pretty high expectations for where things were going to go after the first entry in the series. This sequel ended up being a little bit of a mixed bag, however.
To begin, there is a great deal to like about Orchestra of Treacheries. Kang’s world building is extravagant and fascinating on every level. One of the things I loved about Treacheries was that we were treated to a much wider view of the world than in the first book in the series. This means we’re able to see more cultures, more cities, more geography, and all of it shines. There are myriad small touches, from phrases to customs to interactions between people that reveal just how much care Kang has put into this world. The history and legends of the world are deep enough that even after two full novels it feels like we have only scratched the surface of this world. The magic system continues to be enticing, as well. There are hints of a much deeper system, but we get to see Kaiya growing into her power as someone who can manipulate emotions through her music. It’s interesting that no where does Kaiya or another character question the morality of manipulating someone in this way. Nevertheless, while the magic system remains mysterious it’s definitely something I enjoyed seeing more of. I was engaged throughout, the story itself having a certain je ne sais quoi, something that just keeps you reading and engaged.
While I enjoyed the setting and magic, I found other elements of the novel frustrating. My main frustration was with the first two thirds or so of the novel, where the protagonists know next to nothing about what the antagonists are doing, and thus make no moves whatsoever to stop them. Even once the protagonists start being proactive about doing things, rather than reactive, they don’t know much of what the actual enemy factions are doing. This creates almost the feel of two novels—the novel that the “good guys” know about and act in, and the secret novel shown through viewpoints of the “bad guys” where basically the protagonists do exactly what the antagonists want them to do, without knowing they are, falling perfectly into their plans. If something doesn’t go well for the antagonists, it’s because they’ve gotten in each others’ way, there being something like three or four antagonist factions. While I like things to be challenging for the protagonists, I do want them to eventually take steps to actually overcome the antagonists. On a related note, Kaiya—while not nearly as naïve as in Insurrection—is not a character I particularly connect with. One of my favorite characters from the first book, Jie, essentially gets stuck being Kaiya’s babysitter and my other favorite character from that book, Tian, is nowhere to be seen. No doubt this lack of connection affected my enjoyment of the story, and so others may have a very different reaction.
For me, Orchestra of Treacheries, is a story with a wonderfully crafted setting, unique magic, and an overarching plot that hints at enticing elements. All these are tempered somewhat by an MC that I don’t connect with and a story that makes the antagonists far more interesting than the protagonists. Even so, I’ll be picking up the next book to see where things go. 6.5/10
This is a very strong dark fantasy debut that will appeal directly to fans of The Poppy War and The Name of the Wind. It’s intense, mystical and brutal.
The novel is Asian inspired, depicting a fighting academy that has an eastern quality to it. The masters who rule their and teach their ways despise the use of magic and hoard it in their secret vault to protect the world from its effects. They hunt and kill magic users and will gladly slay an infant at birth if they bare the taint of magic. They are an order that appear benevolent but have many dark secrets they hide from the boys they claim to train for the benefit of humanity.
Driving the plot is a strong undercurrent of destiny and dark magic. Our hero (Annev) is being hunted by dark forces. Dark gods want him; they want to use him for the power he can channel. He lives in secret at the academy training to become an avatar of the order. The masters have no idea that one of their enemies is in plain sight. And this made the novel quite tense in points, there were several close moments when Annev’s identity was almost revealed. Such a thing would mean his death and banishment from the place he calls home. The story took several unexpected directions, so I was certain this reveal could happen at any time.
Fans of The Poppy War will, undoubtedly, really appreciate this one. Both novels begin in a training academy, but slowly burst out into the real world as death approaches quickly. I really do recommend trying this if you like R.F Kuang’s writing. Justin Travis Calls’ novel is much darker from the outset, though he uses the school trope just as effectively. And I really liked how quickly the book moved forward, it didn’t mess around as the story constantly developed as more elements were added in. It also contains a very dark and dramatic prologue, which I couldn’t wait to find more about. And when the reveals came, I wasn’t disappointed.
As a protagonist, Annev is the archetypal reluctant hero. He is unaware of his potential. His greatest strength is his ability to question and to think independently aside from the brainwashing that occurs at the academy (similar to Kvothe’s ingenuity.) This allows him to succeed time and time again where he would potentially fail because he has not yet fully come to trust his own physical abilities. It also makes the action quite interesting as the characters begin to work together as a unit rather than as independent warriors. And I think as friendships and trust grows across books, this could become much stronger. He is quite a compelling character, genuine and honest, so it becomes hard not to root for him. It will be intriguing to see what the dark magic he possesses does to his personality as it begins to manifest itself more strongly.
For now though this is the beginnings of a new and exciting fantasy series that kept throwing surprises my way – a solid 8.5/10. ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.
This is actually my second trip through the outstanding ALL SYSTEMS RED, book one of the four-part novella series, THE MURDERBOT DIARIES. With the final installment, EXIT STRATEGY, released, and a full length follow-up book announced earlier this year, I decided to make time and finally read the complete adventures of Murderbot.
ALL SYSTEMS RED features the self-named Murderbot, an AI construct in a humanoid body made of both artificial and organic parts. Murderbot is supposed to be a fully regulated security robot, but it’s managed to hack its governor module and can do whatever it damn well pleases. To hide in plain sight, Murderbot does the bare minimum amount of work to make its human owners think that it’s following its programming. When its not on mandatory duty, Murderbot prefers to act like any good introvert, hiding in its room and binging entertainment programs. But when a series of near-lethal accidents start happening to the survey team Murderbot is supposed to be protecting, it has to find a way to get everyone safely off-planet — even if that means revealing its true nature.
The genius of THE MURDERBOT DIARIES is the complete deadpan delivery of Murderbot’s inner thoughts. The tale is told from its first-person perspective, so the reader gets Murderbot’s reactions to everything from monster attacks to sex-scenes in entertainment programs. But what really endeared Murderbot to me was its introverted musings, its desires to hide behind its opaque helmet and avoid human interaction as much as possible. I’ve certainly had those impulses, and it was these touches to Murderbot’s personality that made it, for lack of a better word, human. Add to that the fact that Murderbot chose its name out of a feeling of guilt and insecurity, and you have a truly compelling AI character.
As for the plot itself, it is short, sweet, and to the point, and that isn’t a bad thing. Wells utilizes her time effectively, including both action-filled moments, and some nice beats for paranoia and empathy among the human crew members as they try to figure out who is trying to kill them, and what to do with a creature that has taken to referring to itself as Murderbot. There’s a wide range of reactions to the AI’s sudden revealing of itself, and they’re all believable. The author doesn’t let contemplation of AI rights get in the way of moving the story forward, and the two elements dovetail nicely.
After a great introduction to THE MURDERBOT DIARIES, I’m looking forward to checking out the next novella, ARTIFICIAL CONDITION!
Josh Erikson has given us a sequel that improves on everything the first book did well. 2018’s Hero Forged was a uniquely styled urban fantasy that provided readers a great deal of fun. 2019’s Fate Lashed takes everything that Erikson did in his debut and turns it up to 11. From the cinematic quality of the prose to the deep character development and to the witty banter, Erikson’s second novel hits perfectly in nearly every way.
It’s difficult to know exactly where to start singing Erikson’s praises in regards to this novel. From the very first pages we’re presented with an astoundingly well-voiced main character. The third person limited perspective is done so well that there were moments talking about the book with others when I had to pause and really think about whether the book was written in first person or third person. Gabe’s internal thoughts are done incredibly well. This allows humor to come off perfectly. The entire novel is wonderfully humorous without becoming a comedy. There are moments that approach just on the far side of breaking the fourth wall, but never cross the line. The strong character voice doesn’t only benefit the humor and tone of the book, it also allows for brilliant character development. Erikson has done a stellar job of allowing us to see Gabe grow. We see growth for him not merely as a character on a page or as someone who is learning more about the world in which he lives, but as a human being. This feeling of growth as a person is part of what makes Fate Lashed connect so well.
The plot itself is also beautifully crafted and amazingly well-paced. While I criticized Hero Forged for having some pacing problems in the end game, Fate Lashed is perfectly paced throughout the entire novel. The final 30% flew by for me and the ending had me laughing at moments and aching at others. The prose is nothing short of cinematic and I could easily see Fate Lashed being turning into a movie—preferably an anime. Just a couple of these elements coming together would have made an excellent read. Erikson’s ability to pull all these things together and execute on them so well is what truly sets this novel apart.
The criticisms I have are few and far between. There is a bit of a love triangle in parts, and my own feelings on love triangles are decidedly against. I also continue to long for more explanation on how in the world magic actually works. Not only do I enjoy magic in fantasy, and learning how that magic works, but magical stuff plays an important enough role in this novel that there were a couple times that I felt like Gabe’s inability to use magic was a convenient plot device more than a logical or reasonable result of the way magic worked.
Don’t hesitate to pick up Fate Lashed as soon as you can. It’s wonderfully humorous and witty, a brilliantly crafted story with a pulse-pounding finale. The voice and cinematic quality of the prose are outstanding. Yet in all of this, it’s also a deeply personal story about the life of Gabriel Delling—and I think that’s what makes it work so well. 9/10
Never Die is an exhilarating read. It’s excellently paced, keeping things moving from the very first pages. The novel is difficult to describe; a creepy boy named Ein brings warriors back from the dead to join him on a mission. Sometimes those warriors help him to kill other warriors so he can in turn bring them back and have them bound to him. It’s what we would get if Dynasty Warriors and Pokemon had a creepy book baby.
I’ve already mentioned the pacing, which is something that truly shines in this novel. Hayes starts the action early and never really lets up. There are certainly moments when you can catch your breath, but just the right amount before another battle begins or something about the plot deepens. It’s quite well done and it means the pages keep turning, making this already shorter book go by very quick. In the midst of this quick pacing, however, Hayes still manages to flesh out his characters well. Each of the main heroes feels real and alive, not a servant of the plot but someone whose story has intersected with the story that Hayes is telling. Again, it’s very well done and Hayes deserves praise for managing to keep the plot moving while simultaneously allowing for character depth. The setting, inspired by east Asian countries and folklore—particularly Japan—is very engaging. To have a fast-paced plot with excellent characters all in a unique setting makes this book an absolute stand out. I also need to give Hayes accolades for having well-developed voices for his characters. Each character felt different, whether we were seeing a scene from their perspective or observing them from another character’s perspective. I really appreciate that, and it can sometimes be difficult to achieve, especially in a shorter book that has a fairly large cast.
There were a couple things that I felt could have been improved. While I loved the uniqueness of the setting, I did feel like the worldbuilding was at times a little general. I would have liked to have seen a little more depth there. Honestly though, I can’t really complain as one does have to keep in mind that this is not a huge tome where pages and pages can be devoted to deep worldbuilding. A bigger issue, for me, was the ending. Without giving spoilers, the big reveal at the end left me with more questions than it answered. Don’t misunderstand, it was foreshadowed well and didn’t feel out of left field. It’s just that I still haven’t quite figured out some of the details of how it worked.
Rob Hayes’ stand-alone has wonderful characters in a unique setting. It’s a great introduction to Rob’s work if you haven’t read any of his other novels. A fast-paced page-turner that easily keeps one up at night. If you enjoy unique fantasy settings, fast-paced action, and fun characters, this one is for you.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Itami Cho is a warrior for hire known as Whispering Blade. At least, she was, until she was finally killed in battle, cut down by a bandit army. But that's just the beginning of her story, because shortly after dying, Whispering Blade finds herself "mostly alive" again, thanks to the mysterious power of a young boy named Ein. Ein has been given an impossible task by a shinigami, a god of death: kill the despot Emperor of Ten Kings. To complete his mission, Ein is putting together a group of legendary warriors. But to make sure that they are committed to the task, Ein's team must be bound to him through his magic - which means that first, they must die. Whispering Blade agrees to Ein's quest, which means she must confront and defeat several of the world's most renowned fighters before they are ready to storm the capital city and defeat the Emperor himself.
Reading NEVER DIE felt like reading the book equivalent of a wire works martial arts film, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a world of warriors, where people commonly go by monikers like Whispering Blade or Death's Echo. It has that heightened folktale kind of feel, where it's like "our" world but just a little bit more. Every warrior has their "technique," an ability that is theirs and theirs alone - one can make his skin impervious to harm while another can use her voice as a kind of sonic wave. All of these abilities are used to great effect in the fighting set pieces, which are the highlight of the book. The descriptions are incredibly cinematic, allowing you to see every cross of the blade, feel the tension in the standoff as master warriors evaluate their moves.
One of my few complaints is that after a bit, the narrative did begin to feel slightly repetitive. While I loved the individual set pieces, there are a number of them: every hero recruited has their own fight, not to mention fights with supernatural creatures on the journey to the final showdown in the capital city. At a certain point, I was ready to be off the road and at the finale. And while I knew and loved a lot about Whispering Blade and Emerald Wind, I wish I had gotten to know some of the later characters better, particularly the Master of Sun Valley, the last member to join the team.
All that being said, this is still a book I highly recommend. There was great camaraderie between the various members of the party, banter that started out disgruntled as each person came to terms with the fact that they were now "mostly alive" and traveling with people they didn't necessarily trust. Friendship born of battle soon begins to blossom, creating a team that will put their lives on the line to make sure that the mission succeeds. Fans of films in the vein of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON should definitely check this out, as well as those who like action-driven books in general.
To people that don’t read much self-published fiction, Rob J. Hayes is here to prove exactly why you should!
This is a great price of fantasy writing. It reminds me of Mortal Kombat, as the characters duel to prove who is the best warrior. And they are quite a memorable cast, pulled together to serve the whims of an undead boy. Cho, the Whispering Blade, is as quiet as she is deadly. Zhihao Cheng, the Emerald Wind, can project images of himself and sneak up behind his opponent to deadly effect. Iron Gut Chem has impenetrable skin, Death Echo is a fiercely accurate leprosy riddled sniper and Bingwei Ma is a master of unarmed combat. They are a motley band, but they are all great heroes forced to fight for a cause not their own.
As such, the characters really drove this story forward. It’s Asian inspired and captures a warrior culture based on honour and reputation against a backdrop of feuding warlords. And because of how much reputation these five have, they have been bound together to fight for the little boy’s desires. He wants to see the Emperor dead, and they must oblige. He has brought them all back from the dead with necromantic magic, and if they stray away from him, they will perish. The price of freedom, a new life, must be bought with the blood he desires. It’s quite an interestingly awkward dynamic, legendary heroes being ordered around by an eight-year-old undead boy.
There are many funny moments as characters that clearly don’t belong together in the same band, clash and bang heads together. At one point, I thought a big fight would erupt and they’d all just kill each other (again). But somehow, yes somehow, they manage to crush their differences and work together. And it’s quite compelling. They all have completely different motives, values and outlooks on life, but they were able to come together to get the job done. And considering how volatile a few of them are, that’s a real achievement. It was hilarious at times, but it was also very tense with a plot that explodes into a dramatic conclusion that delivers everything it promises.
I would even go as far as to say that the book had a certain cinematic quality to it. I would genuinely love to watch an anime movie about these characters and this plot; it would be fantastic because it’s such a slick piece of writing, with katanas flying everywhere and monsters making things difficult. It would work so well on the screen. The cover really captures the feel of it all. It’s a real strong piece of awesomeness that will appeal directly to your inner geek. There’s some brilliantly described combat scenes and the action is constant. There’s never a dull moment. The story was immediate and engaging, I read it in one sitting. Real good stuff, I can’t fault it whatsoever.
So, I really do recommend this one; it’s quite a quick read but it’s lots of fun!
Many thanks to the author for sending me an ARC. Never Die is out on January 29th and can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.
This is such an incredibly clever resurrection of storytelling. The Mistborn Trilogy is driven by mysterious powers; it's not until the end that we were given the full facts. Or were we? In this Sanderson reveals more of what happened beyond the mists.
Originally, when I picked this up I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I’ve been putting off reading it ever since it was released. My expectations were low. Brandon Sanderson has written some truly awesome novels, but he also has released a few things that probably didn’t need to be published. Things like those little novellas he released in between books. They never add much to the series in question. Some of them are okay, but the majority seem to be for the purpose of creating hype and a bit of money. When I saw this, I thought it was pretty much the same thing. So, I didn’t read it for a very long time.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best things Brandon Sanderson has written. The mechanisms behind what happened in The Mistborn Trilogy are complex and difficult to grasp at the best of times, but this complicates things even more. And this is, of course, a very good thing. There’s lots of secret magic behind what happens, and this book helps to explain where some of it came from. Its source is both familiar and unfamiliar. It is something readers know well but not in its current form.
When reading The Mistborn Trilogy, I was always surprised by a certain character's lack of presence and when they reappeared towards the final moments of the last book, I was surprised to how it actually happened. The answers are in here. Well answers to these questions, but, of course, such things only raise more questions. Now that probably sounded all a bit cryptic, but I don’t want to give any spoilers away! All I really can say is that if you’re a fan of the original trilogy, you simply have to go and read this because it adds so much to the story.
Trust me, you won’t regret it. Part of me wishes all this material was in the final two books. It could have worked. They would have been considerably longer, but these chapters would have slotted perfectly into the main narrative. Perhaps Sanderson hadn’t figured it all out yet, perhaps his editor told him no, either way this is so important in understanding the ending of The Mistborn Trilogy. They need to be read alongside each other.
Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this work for review.
Tales of Kingshold is a fun collection of novelettes and short stories set in the world of D.P. Woolliscroft’s Kingshold. Short story collections are always a little challenging to review, since one’s enjoyment can vary greatly from one story to the next. While I’ll mention specific stories in the review below, the rating reflects the entire collection. These stories give us glimpses of characters before, during, and after the events of Kingshold, so if you enjoyed that novel and want some titbits before the second book comes out, Tales of Kingshold will satisfy that itch.
The same humor and tongue-in-cheek take on things that Woolliscroft used in Kingshold is on display in Tales of Kingshold. One of my favorite stories in the collection involves a trio of characters hunting down a necromancer who had previously used zombies to take over a town and dubbed the subsequent fledgling kingdom Zomtopia. It’s definitely a funny take on necromancers—basically what I’d imagine if my college roommate became a necromancer—but it was very entertaining. There were several laugh out loud moments for me in that one. There is also variety, however. One of my other favorites from the collection was “Hollow Inside” which let us see the internal workings of the Hollow Syndicate, basically a guild of assassins. This introduced us to a new character I hope we’ll see more of in the future and had a much more serious tone. This one was more of a character story with a more standard fantasy tone, but I really enjoyed both the look at gave us at the Hollow Syndicate as well as the character it introduced. There was a good variety in both tone and setting to the stories, which helped to keep things fresh.
Some of the stories included in the collection did feel a little like filler material. There are a series of brief interludes in the form of a letter Jyuth has written detailing how magic works. I normally really enjoy magic systems, but I didn’t find the descriptions here overly gripping. There was also a series of letters from Lord Eden, which serves to finish out his own story line post Kingshold and no doubt set things up for book two. While it was interesting, it didn’t capture my attention much. In fact, that may be the issue for me in several of the stories, particularly the shortest ones. They just didn’t do enough to draw me in. This isn’t uncommon in short story collections I’ve read. Some of them grab you, others you forget.
Tales of Kingshold is sure to please those who enjoyed Woolliscroft’s debut. If you haven’t yet read Kingshold pick that up first and then enjoy these short stories that further the characters and set things up for book two - 7.5/10