Fantasy book reviews, recs, raves and rants. We are six fantasy fans from six different countries; our love for speculative fiction and the common need to share our favourite works led to the creation of this blog.
Jade War picks up about a year after the events of the last book. While the No Peak Clan and the Mountain Clan are officially at peace, the truce remains exceedingly uneasy. Furthermore, a proxy war is brewing in a neighbouring country, and all the interested powers want jade to support their soldiers. Hilo and Shae must deal with pressure from outside and within, from governments and smugglers, from enemies and allies, if they want their clan to survive.
I think the best word to describe this sequel is bigger. The setting is expanded from one city in Kekon to include multiple other countries. The web of tensions are expanded from between two clans to include up-and-coming rogue jade users, jade smugglers, foreign governments, foreign gangsters, and immigrant communities. And the time period of the book is expanded from months to years. To be completely honest, I was a little overwhelmed at first. But eventually it clicks and when it does — oh wow. The scope just makes it feel so real, with the same messy complications and maneuvering as in our world.
Fortunately, the book is grounded by its strong characters, who are just as fun to follow as all the machinations. It continues to revolve primarily around the core of the No Peak clan: Hilo, Shae, Anden, and Wen. I loved the continued focus on family; the sisters-in-law relationship between Shae and Wen shone especially bright for me. However, what I find most fascinating is how easy it is to accept the clan’s worldview and forget that they are, well, fucking brutal gangsters. (Except for Anden, who’s a sweetheart even when he’s beating up some dude for insulting his honour.) It’s only when they stand in contrast to non-clan-involved characters that they slip from anti-hero to anti-villain. To be honest, if the whole saga ends in tragedy for them, no matter how much I adore them, I’d find it fitting.
For people who loved Jade City for its action, I have to say that Jade War felt a bit calmer in that respect. With the increase of politicking, there’s a corresponding decrease in crazy street brawls. For me though, there were definitely enough badass, brutal fights to quench my desire for blood to satisfy me. And even when there’s no violence, there’s always the threat of it, and that keeps tensions high for a lot of the book — especially the last third. I think there was a point that I actually had to stand up and pace for a bit before I could continue!
One last thing I wanted to mention was how much I loved the main new setting outside of Kekon: an immigrant community in Espenia. The culture there is Kekonese-but-not, some parts exactly the same, some parts more traditional than that of the rapidly changing homeland, and some parts integrated Espenian. It’s truly Kekonese-Espenian, a “hyphenated culture”, and I think it’ll ring true for a lot of people who are or have been part of an immigrant community.
Altogether, Jade War is a wonderful book and a wonderful sequel. It retains what made people fall in love with the first book, while also expanding on almost every aspect. If you loved the first one — what’re you waiting for?
Jade War comes out July 23rd or July 25th depending on your region.
Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in this debut epic fantasy about a world caught in an eternal war, and the young man who will become his people’s only hope for survival.
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
There’s so much to say about this book that I’m not entirely sure where to start.
The Rage of Dragons is one of those rare books that I can really see jumping into the stratosphere in terms of popularity. I’m talking face-out in airport bookstores, with the name “Evan Winter” in a font bigger than the title. It’s the sort of book that the right reader will adore. And, well… I guess I’m the right reader.
There’s a lot here that feels familiar. We have a main character, Tau, who is training be a warrior. When those closest to him are murdered, he swears revenge, and dives back into his training with a ferocious determination and devotion. There’s a military school, there are mock battles, and in the background there is a never-ending war.
But it’s the setting that sets this book apart. With an Africa/Xhosa-inspired world, a caste system, a freaky and intriguing magic system, demons, and of course, dragons, this book feels wholly original despite those familiar tropes. Winter shows you just enough to make you want to know more, but never over-explains or drowns you in exposition.
The pacing is bang on the money, too. It ramps up throughout the novel, keeping your eyes glued to the pages as the action gets faster and more intense. But never once while reading did I feel like things were getting too fast. Winter knows where to place his character moments, and knows how to tie them into his fight scenes so that it feels like one continuous, smooth ride. Only Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy has ever nailed that all-action-almost-all-the-time approach for me in the past, and actually, there quite a lot of similarities between Red Rising and Rage of Dragons. From the ever-present anger of the main character, to the team-based war training, to the progression in combat abilities.
Honestly, if you’re a Pierce Brown fan, then you should probably do yourself a favour and just buy this book right now.
I should note that I’ve actually read The Rage of Dragons twice. I picked it up as a self-published book before Orbit acquired the rights, and really enjoyed it on my first read through — though admittedly I did feel that some sections felt a little clunky. But on my second read — this time with the Orbit edition, fresh edits and all — everything was so much smoother. A great book was suddenly a fantastic book, and I don’t know what sort of magic the Orbit editors practiced to make that happen.
I should note that are a couple of things that some readers may not be too fond of, but I don’t know if these are flaws so much as things that will come down to taste. As you’d expect from a book with a single male POV in a male-only military school, women characters are unfortunately in short supply. Those that do show up are well-rounded, and the world is far more gender-equal than most epic fantasies, but this doesn’t change the fact that there might be too few women here for some readers’ tastes. In addition, those readers who have a hard time meshing with “overpowered” characters might want to give this one a miss.
But for those who love to follow a character with a strong sense of progression, to watch them grow stronger, and to rage with them and seethe at the injustices of their world… this is the book for you.
The Rage of Dragons is exciting. It’s action-packed. It has twists, it has growth, it has pain, and it has joy. And it has dragons.
Is it pretentious to add a subtitle to this review? The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Or: How Your Perception of What a Book is Going to be Like Can Be Completely Different From Your Actual Reading Experience of Said Book.
Yeah it’s pretentious.
From the moment The Cruel Prince was released (and I now realise, it has only been a year and a half), I’ve been hearing wildly contradictory things about it. It’s either hated or adored. And most importantly, the one thing I knew about it is that the main event, the topic fanartists are obsessed with, is the relationship between the titular cruel prince and our heroine. He’s cruel, she’s his victim, they fall in “love”.
That’s not what The Cruel Prince is about. I picked it up by sheer hype-exhaustion and a form of unhealthy curiosity. I was supposed to reach 20, 30% and consign it to the DNF pit of hell while ranting about YA and its toxic love affair with Bad Romance.
I finished it in one day.
The Cruel Prince is about a traumatised mortal girl, Jude, who – along with her two sisters – has been abducted and brought to the Court of Faeries. They live with their father figure, a general at the court, aka the dude who murdered their family. Yes, that’s fucked up. Jude and her mortal twin sister are abused by the fae scions because they’re imposters, mortals among “superior” beings, and yes, that too is fucked up. The ringleader of the abusive clique is none other than the Cruel Prince himself, Prince Cardan. But Jude is over that shit, and starts scheming and plotting to get the upper hand and carve herself a sizeable piece of “fuck-every-single-one-of-you” power in the treacherous Court.
The story is bloody and messy and, you guessed it, fucked up on so many levels. I have been living on wholesomeness and fresh air for the past…few months, reading-wise, and boy did the whiplash hurt. But it was honestly a compelling read, if you can accept that Everyone in This Book is Terrible (except Vivi, Jude’s eldest sister. Vivi is the best).
I understood Jude. I didn’t like her, but she’s not supposed to be liked. She becomes this ruthless power player, a former pawn emerging from a chrysalid of trauma and ambition. It’s fascinating. Her character arc made complete sense.
Prince Cardan is first shown as a sociopathic brat, and I’d like to say that he grows on you but we just don’t get to see him much. The title is misleading, and I understand the need to present the story as a sexual-tension-y conflict between a Big Bad Hot Fae Prince and a human, from a marketing point of view. But it’s mostly about my girl Jude getting power-swole and doing her thing. Her thing involves poison and stabbing.
The secondary characters range from interesting to “Villainous Jerk #3”. I loved how messy and complex Jude’s relationship with her “father” was, how complicated and understandable her feelings towards her twin sister became.
I was also pretty taken with the setting. The Faerie world is brilliantly crafted; everything from the different creatures inhabiting it to its magic is just fun to read about. Also, I’m a sucker for court intrigue and this book has it in spades. Plotting and backstabbing and poison and royals scheming for power? Yesyes, more of this please.
While The Cruel Prince is hardly flawless, it took me completely by surprise. I had a tremendous amount of fun reading it, not the “root for the characters” kind of fun, but more like “watching a violent melee of terrible people and sipping Pinot waiting to see who’s going to emerge victorious from this hot mess”. If that sounds like your kind of book, pick it up!
I think I can safely say that I’ve never read another book like Gideon the Ninth. Which is hardly surprising, given that the majority of the story involves queer necromancers and rapier-wielding warriors competing against each other in a haunted palace while slowly being killed off by eldritch horrors…in space.
Sounds like just another Tolkien clone hero’s journey that’s been done to death, right?
Muir wastes no time in establishing that Gideon is not your ordinary SFF hero. Sure, she may be an orphan with mysterious parentage who longs to escape her miserable life as a servant of the Emperor’s Ninth House at the edge of the universe. But she wouldn’t dream of doing that without her dirty magazines, vulgar jokes, and almost-but-not-quite occasional breaking of the fourth wall.
Gideon’s chance at escape comes when the immortal Emperor summons the necromantic heirs of each of the nine houses to a deadly trial of skill and wit. Harrowhark Nonagesimus—bone necromancer extraordinaire, heir to the Ninth House, and Gideon’s lifelong nemesis—forcibly recruits Gideon to be her cavalier. As cavalier, Gideon will have to use her considerable skill with the sword to protect Harrow throughout the competition…if she can avoid killing her first.
Harrow and Gideon are brilliant characters in their own right, and the murderous semi-sexual tension between them never grew old. Harrow’s unbending need for total control and Gideon’s irreverent inability to take anything completely seriously made them wonderful foils for each other as well. There are plenty of interesting side characters, some more memorable than others, but the core cast were some of the most interesting characters I’ve read in years.
For a book that so strongly centers around the characters, I was floored by the carefully structured plot and intricate worldbuilding. Muir unapologetically borrows elements of murder mysteries, gothic horror, and sword-swinging dungeon crawls, stitching them together into a beautiful abomination of necromantic awesomeness. If you like detailed, visceral magic systems that make you want to pump your fist in excitement and simultaneously take a long, hot shower…this is for you. Muir’s necromancy doesn’t come cheap, and sweating copious amounts of blood is nowhere near the worst cost the characters have to pay.
For much of the story, we’re as clueless about what’s going on as the characters. But once the pieces start to fall in place… Let’s just say I’ll be preordering the sequel as soon as I possibly can.
This was the perfect book to pull me out of a months-long reading slump. Muir’s debut novel is bone-rattling great and will undoubtedly make waves when it releases in September 2019.
I received an ARC of this book from Tor.com Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I received an ARC of this book from the publishing company Orbit in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Somehow, this book managed to plunge a hand deep into my childhood, root around, and pull out all that nostalgia-inducing wonder exactly.
January Scaller is a young mixed-race woman in early 1900s America. Her father travels the world collecting wondrous curiosities for his wealthy patron Mr Locke, a member of the New England Archaeological Society. While her father is away, January lives in Mr Locke’s mansion: well-cared for but desperately lonely. As a child she discovers a Door leading to Elsewhere, but soon starts to believe she imagined it. Then, when she’s 17, her father goes missing and January discovers her childhood Door may not be the only one.
If you’ll allow me an intensely unrelatable anecdote… So, the USSR and post-USSR countries were very, ah, loose about copyright law. I grew up not with Dorothy but with Ellie Smith, whose slightly re-written Wizard of Oz came with five original sequels. And in the 90s, an exciting new 11-book sequel series about Ellie, written by yet another author, started coming out. Then we moved to the US, and I found out Ellie’s name was actually Dorothy and that she’d been made up by F.L. Baum and not A.M. Volkov. And also, to my great astonishment, that there were 13 more sequels.
Reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January has given me the bizarre, off-putting, and wonderful feeling that I’ve found a fourth version, written by Alix E. Harrow, and her name is actually neither Ellie nor Dorothy, but January.
I don’t mean that The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a children’s book. But there is something magically old-fashioned about it. Both the characters and plot are straightforward and fun; the romance is adorable in that first-time-love way; the fantasy aspect feels limitless and wondrous; and the whole book is seeped deep in old-fashioned Americana. Whatever book-inspired delights you felt as a kid, whether it was scouring the book bazaar in the summer heat or curling up all rainy afternoon with a library book, Harrow aims to bring back.
It does update the familiar tropes to the 21st century however. Unlike many older works, it doesn’t shy away from examining race and gender. Although Mr Locke basically treats her as his foster daughter, most people in January’s everyday life do not fully accept her because of her skin colour. There is also a theme of anti-imperialism intertwined with the Archaeological Society, as January’s father steals priceless objects, basically people’s history, from around the world for it. I thought The Ten Thousand Doors of January struck a great balance between keeping the overall tone of the works it draws on while thematically exploring current ideas.
Speaking of other books, the power of stories is another important theme. January escapes her confines sometimes through Doors, and sometimes simply into books. A large chunk of the book is a story-within-the-story. That always takes me some time to warm up to, but it works well here. Fittingly, the prose is gorgeous, particularly the descriptions of other worlds. Here’s January trying to describe her first experience through a Door:
“I–I was just playing and I went through this door, see, and it leads to someplace else. There was a white city by the sea.” If I’d been older, I might’ve said: It smelled of salt and age and adventure. It smelled like another world, and I want to return right this minute and walk through those strange streets. Instead, I added articulately, “I liked it.”
And now after all that raving, I have to be a stick-in-the-mud and admit that I have problems with the book’s core concept. Doors are change, Doors lead to revolution, says the book both metaphorically and literally. The metaphoric version is beautiful: reading, dreaming, letting yourself imagine a different world can lead you to want to better the one you live in. Literally though, multiple characters mention that revolutions can only happen if somebody slips through a Door, and one character describes outright that that’s how the Indian Rebellion of 1857 started. Because of how central the Doors are, the book ends up with the idea that rebelling against an oppressive system can only happen through outside, magical interference. I find that uncomfortable on multiple levels. (Though I would tear through The Ten Thousand Doors of Mao Zedong on release day.)
In short then, I recommend The Ten Thousand Doors of January to everyone but stick-in-the-muds wholeheartedly, and I recommend it to us stick-in-the-muds with caveats. Find a long, sunny afternoon, crack open the book, and slip inside!
If you walk into the science fiction and fantasy section of just about any book store, you’ll likely see shelves of great books, mostly written by white men. We are not attempting to make a statement about whether this is right or wrong, but we wanted to provide a resource to help people find stories written by a more diverse group of authors.
For similar flowcharts with different focuses, check out these:
Inkle’s 80 Days is a text-based adventure game that adapts Jules Verne’s 80 Days Around the World, and it’s my latest obsession. (Available for Windows, iOS, and mobile devices!)
You play the valet Passepartout, whose new master has just made a wager that he can travel around the world in 80 days or less. Monsieur Fogg has left all the actual planning to you though. It is your job to choose the best travel routes, obtain the necessary funds, get into and out of all sorts of scrapes, and still iron your master’s shirts. On my first playthrough, I got us kicked out of the Trans-Siberian railway by a fake waiter; on the second, Passepartout kissed Death in New Orleans; on the third, Fogg calmly asked me to arrange a mutiny so we could cross the Pacific faster. I lost track after that!
My excuse for reviewing a SFF game on a SFF book review site is that 80 Days is a modern choose-your-own-adventure book. (While the graphics are lovely, they’re deliberately abstract, so the focus is on the words.) You choose both which city to travel to as well as how Passepartout interacts with Mr Fogg, the locals, and the world’s wondrous steampunk technology. To make the scope clear: there’s about 150 cities to visit; the full game is 750,000 words. But a run-through takes me under two hours, and I typically only visit about 20 cities per game. This makes 80 Days a crazy, extremely replayable, ever-changing novella.
To be fair, I have a particular weakness for the setting: post-colonial steampunk. 80 Days keeps the original book’s spirit of adventure. But Meg Jayanth, the game’s writer, purposefully updated its themes and morals. This not only helps the game discard a lot of the baggage associated with Victorian novels, it simply makes it more fun. There’s a mechanical travelling city in India, a Zulu Emperor who can control deadly automatons, a floating First Nations city, etc etc etc. That’s way more exciting than “Everyone else is a savage, may the British Empire last a thousand years”. I also found it endlessly amusing to play Passepartout as a kind-of travelling revolutionary, subtly and unsubtly encouraging revolt from Serbia to Peru.
Speaking of Passepartout, your choices can make him either snobby or with a zest for new experiences, either clever or bumbling. Regardless, he’s a very entertaining character to follow; his rare serious moments feel genuinely sweet. His employer Mr Fogg acts as a foil: ridiculously (and hilariously) unflappable, with a very deeply hidden heart. And of course there’s tons of others to find during your journey. They all have their own goals and interests, and may help you or hinder you, just as you may help or hinder them. Or you all can just flirt (Passepartout is bi).
In short, 80 Days is a wonderful game that I recommend to anyone who likes steampunk and/or adventure novels. Just be aware: there’s no back button/previous save reloading, so it’s near impossible to play a “perfect” game (I’m so sorry, Mr Fogg, I thought it said decide to jump overboard to rescue your top hat, not decline). If you’re really stuck, the wiki is very thorough. But honestly, without getting lost, getting cholera, or getting kidnapped by pirates, it’d be a pretty boring adventure, no?
80 Days is available on Steam for PC and Mac, and on Google Play and Apple’s App Store for mobile devices.
Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster…and spy. As Tomas’s power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series.
People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become–until they can’t take it anymore. And when they rise up…may the gods help their oppressors.
When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen’s Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined.
Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen’s Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.
In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion…or just a priest of lies.
The best books are those which feel alive. Those with a vivid voice, an engrossing story, and characters who feel so real that they jump off the page. Books that go beyond being just words on a page, and become an experience.
For me, Peter McLean’s Priest of Bones was one such book. If The Lies of Locke Lamora embodied the spirit of classic heist movies in a fantasy novel, then Priest of Bones did the same for the spirit of “gangster media” such as Peaky Blinders.
But for any sequel of a fantastic book, the question is always gonna be: “Does it live up to the first book?”. For Priest of Lies, the answer is yes. Emphatically, yes.
Tomas Piety picks up where he left off at the end of Priest of Bones. The city is pretty much aflame with the war on the streets, and the much more secret war going on behind closed doors. We see a little bit more of the latter this time around, but Piety still manages to get his hands dirty enough for us to roll around in the muck of the former.
There is a tonne of violence here, including the kind that is fun to read about and the kind which is… not so fun to read about. There are a few mentions of sexual assault and child assault, but these are thankfully painted as despicable acts by the characters and the narrative. Despite being a horrible man in some respects, Tomas Piety has a conscience and a strong sense of right and wrong.
It’s contrasts like this which fascinate me as a reader, and Piety is no exception. He has surprising depths for a character who can seem a little simplistic on the surface, and this complexity helps make these books a more rewarding read.
If you’re a fan of low fantasy, gangster-like stories, and haven’t read Priest of Bones yet… go and do that now. If you have read it and you’re waiting for the sequel, I can tell you that it’s well worth the wait.
Thank you to Jo Fletcher Books for providing a copy of this title via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Attention all Lightbringer fans! At the time of writing, there are only 114 days until The Burning White, book 5 in Brent Weeks’ fantastic and colourful series is released.
If you’ve been following the guys over at Orbit Books on Twitter, you’ll have noticed that in the lead up to this release, the Inn and a few other wonderful bloggers and booktubers are taking part in a re-read of the entire series.
The amazing Daniel Greene kicked us off in June with a re-review of book one, The Black Prism, and if you haven’t checked out his video on it yet, we really recommend taking 10 minutes out of your day to do so:
It’ll take something special to follow on from Daniel’s lead, but unfortunately you’re stuck with us. Over the course of July, we’ll be reading The Blinding Knife and sharing our thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #LightbringerSeriesReRead.
We’d like to invite everyone to join in the re-read with us, even if it’s your first time! Lightbringer is a series which really does seem to have it all: politicking, intrigue, twists and turns, a unique and exciting magic system, engaging high-action fight scenes, badass men and women, and an inspirational coming-of-age character arc.
At the end of July, we’ll be passing the baton over to the incredible Kitty G, who’ll be reading The Broken Eye over the course of August. Our friends over at Fantasy Book Review will then complete the re-reread with The Blood Mirror in September.
And then? We’ll be right up to October, when The Burning White will finally release!
We’re hoping that you’ll consider joining in the re-read and in the conversation on Twitter. For now, it’s time for us to get stuck into The Blinding Knife!
You can pre-order The Burning White by following the below links:
In the year 2062, everyone is gay. An evil dictator has risen to power and is determined to spread the gay agenda. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of a young boy with a deadly secret: he’s straight.
Oh, and the framing device is that the story was discovered as an unpublished YA fantasy written by Mike Pence. Yeah.
If the wild concept doesn’t sell you on Gay Future, the production quality might seal the deal. The story is tightly plotted and manages to poke fun at both cliche Young Adult tropes and the “gay panic” way of thinking prevalent today. The sound design is beautifully crafted, featuring a techno intro theme that has a knack for lodging itself in your brain and many clips of original songwriting throughout the six-episode story.
Gay Future is one of the most brilliant works of audio fiction I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. It’s an incredible work of storytelling, satire, and sound design, with an underlying political commentary couched in absolute absurdism. The crazier things get, the more entertaining the Mike Pence framing device becomes.
This might not be a podcast for everyone, but if you’re intrigued by this genre-aware fourth-wall-breaking comedy adventure, you should consider giving it a listen. You’ll be in for a wild ride.
Gay Future is a free comedic adventure audio drama. It’s available through iTunes or wherever you find podcasts. Check out its website for more information or listen to trailer now: