Category Archives: Books

Review: The Second God by Pauline M Ross

The Second God is the seventh book in Pauline M Ross’s richly fantastical Brightmoon world, and serves as a sequel to The Fire Mages’ Daughter. Five years after a devastating war with the Blood Clans, Drina, her lover Arran and her husband, Ly-haam the living god of the Blood Clans, have settled into a routine, but when a second living god appears in the Clanlands and a mysterious golden army attacks Bennamore’s neighbours in the east, Drina, Arran and Ly must bring all their powers to bear, united as one, to protect Bennamore and aid its allies.

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One characteristic held by many good books, I think, is to want to keep reading it after you’ve already finished it. That is how I felt last night as I climbed into bed – “just one chapter, maybe two, then I’ll go to sleep,” I thought, before remembering I’d already finished reading it. That’s not to say the book felt incomplete – far from it, it ended brilliantly – but that I could easily continue reading more in that world, and in Ross’s style, if there were more to read.

Ross has a great strength in her style of prose. It’s engaging, well-paced and eminently readable. She has the skill to know when plain language is needed, but the vocabulary to expand when the scene calls for it.

The Second God is a well-balanced adventure. Drina’s position within society, as the Drashona’s heir, lends itself to the political elements of the plot well, and Ross skillfully avoids the pitfall of making the political elements dry or uneventful, masterfully weaving in these parts of the story with the more hands-on aspects of Drina’s role: flying about the world on the back of a giant eagle to observe, discuss, fight or learn.

Whenever I read books by Pauline M Ross I am delighted to explore more of her world. It is an abundantly complex world about which there is always more to discover. Its magic is enchanting and it is filled with cultures whose development and society are influenced in different ways by that magic and its various facets, as well as geography and history. The beauty of the world is enhanced by the optimism with which Ross writes – even when circumstances are dire and threats loom, there is still a sense of joy and hope which brings a refreshing contrast to the gloomier outlooks of a lot of modern fiction.

As with all of Ross’s works, The Second God explores romantic relationships within different social frameworks to those found in Western Earth cultures, and this time takes it a step further than The Fire Mages’ Daughter by adding a new magical component. But as always, the romance is perfectly integrated into the plot, an essential element of it. As someone who tends not to read the Romance genre, I felt it was handled well.

The Second God is an exciting, captivating read showcasing Ross’s signature positivity, unconventional romance and inspired worldbuilding, with a strong plot and enjoyable characters. I rate it 9/10, and eagerly await the next one.

I received a free ARC in exchange for a review; and can only apologise that the review was so late.

Review: Empire Games by Charles Stross

Empire Games continues the Merchant Princes series, following on 17 years after the events of the earlier books. While the previous books’ protagonist, Miriam, continues as a major character, Empire Games introduces a new protagonist, Rita Douglas, a freelance actor living in a high-security America that’s aware of parallel timelines and extremely paranoid about terrorist attacks from world-walkers. Recruited by the Department of Homeland Security because of her world-walker genes, Rita finds herself railroaded into the role of a world-walking spy. But there’s a lot more going on in the parallel timeline than the US government anticipated.

empire games cover

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Review: Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

Touch of Iron is the debut novel and first part in the Living Blade series by Timandra Whitecastle. It follows Nora Smith and her twin Owen as they flee superstition and rumour in their home town and find themselves caught up in a dangerous quest for a legendary weapon, mixing with an exiled prince, a mysterious half-wight, rough warriors and sinister magic-users.

I was given an ARC of this book.

touch of iron
That’s a pretty damn awesome cover.

Touch of Iron is also one of the books involved in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016.

Okay, so, first I’ve got to say this: I love Nora. She is such an enjoyable protagonist to follow. She’s full of fire, she’s exciting, she’s relatable and she’s immense fun to read about. I found myself thinking “yeah, right” when she’s told not to do something and rolling my eyes when she did it anyway – then grinning stupidly as I read the antics she got herself into and how she got herself out of them.

And there are plenty of antics to be had. The world of The Living Blade is a magical and dangerous place, a beautifully crafted setting bringing in elements of real-world places and times as well as being inspired by the rich array of worlds fantasy has to offer. It truly is a fantasy world in the best traditions of the genre, melding human communities, dramatic landscapes, dangerous threats and unsettling beliefs into a remarkable setting that frames the story beautifully.

The story is fast paced and full of action as Nora and Owen criss cross the continent pursuing their dreams, fleeing their fears and chasing down the Living Blade with the exiled Prince Bashan, who seeks to wield it to reclaim a throne stolen from him. The witty, engaging narrative makes for enjoyable reading that drew me in and wouldn’t let go – not that I wanted it to.

Whitecastle has included numerous tributes to some of her favourite fiction too, but in subtle ways you wouldn’t notice unless you were a fan too. Including a few allusions to my favourite animated TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. They’re well done – enough to make me smile upon recognising them, without disrupting the flow.

I am thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to read Touch of Iron and enjoyed every moment of it. Once I started it was hard to put down, and in fact this may be the fastest I’ve read a book this year – under 36 hours from the first page to the last, and then I read the afterword because I didn’t want to put it down! It can hardly be surprising, therefore, that I rate it 10/10.

I hope Touch of Iron does well in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.

Review: The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

The Dragon’s Egg is the sixth book in the Brightmoon Annals by Pauline M Ross. Like its predecessors it stands alone, introducing a new cast of characters and bringing in a few from previous books to help the protagonists along. As with the previous books, this latest fantasy adventure explores the strange magics of the Brightmoon world, and how the civilisation from before a mysterious ancient Catastrophe sought to preserve magic as they faced down their own extinction.

Disclaimer: I recieved an ARC (Advanced Reader/Review Copy) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

dragons egg

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Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Usually I stick to fantasy on this blog, with occasional forays into historical fiction and science fiction. I’m making an exception for this book. Partly because I really just want to talk about how awesome it is, and partly because I read it as part of my attempts to read more books written by local authors – Shropshire authors.

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah tells the story of Ivo, a terminally ill 40-year-old looking back through his life as part of a game suggested for him by Sheila the nurse at the care home where he now lives. It’s a life of fun, regret, love, pain, friendship and crochet. As time runs out, Ivo uses the A to Z game to put things back together before it’s all too late.

a-z of you and me

Continue reading Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Review: The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

After reading The Fire Mages at the end of last year, I was eager to read more from Pauline M Ross, and I picked for my next read the sequel to that one, starring as its protagonist Kyra’s daughter, Drina.

Drina is a rather sickly girl with a strong attachment to her mother, so when she is summoned by the Drashona (equivalent to a queen) who wishes to assess whether she would make a suitable heir, Drina isn’t too happy about it. Drina finds herself trained as a diplomat, and in this role meets with the new living god of the Blood Clans – a mysterious people possessing a strange and threatening type of magic. When Bennamore goes to war with the Blood Clans, Drina must protect those she cares about and see through the complications to bring about peace.

fire mages daughter

Continue reading Review: The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

Review: The Fire Mages by Pauline M Ross

The Fire Mages by Pauline M Ross is an imaginative fantasy novel which tells the story of Kyra, a young village girl with an ambition to become a scribe and have the ability to write spellpages – and leave her boring village behind. She meets interesting and mysterious characters, learns about magic, and travels far and wide as she learns more about magic, the politics of her home country, and herself.

fire mages pauline m ross

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Review: Iron Winter by Stephen Baxter

Iron Winter is the third book in the alternate history Northland trilogy by Stephen Baxter, set in a world where the prehistoric peoples of Doggerland, a region of land which once linked Britain to the rest of Europe, built an immense wall to hold back the sea, and with it a powerful civilisation. Iron Winter follows the stories of several Northlanders and others, millennia after the wall was built, as they struggle to survive amidst the start of an ice age – with glaciers advancing, huge numbers of people migrating and great empires going to war. Pyxeas is a scholar in search of answers; Rina, once an Annid, a leader of Northland seeks to protect her family by migrating to Carthage. Her son Nelo likes nothing more than drawing and painting the people and landscapes that inspire him, but finds himself witness at the heart of the big events of the world.

iron winter

With the multiple perspectives of characters experiencing different facets of the disaster, Baxter creates a depth to the story that grounds it in humanity. Each character has unique experiences of the advancing winter, and drives their own story – and influences those of others – through their desires, wants and flaws. This is not merely the story of climate change, mass migrations, plague, and empires in conflict, it is the story of individuals battling to survive, to understand, to record and to prosper under circumstances they are not prepared for and could never have predicted.

The weakness, with regards the characters, is emotional depth. While each character has goals and motivations, flaws and skills, they lack emotional depth. The sheer number of characters cannot be blamed for this, I think, since other facets of their personalities are clear. The result is that the emotional moments – the moments of loss and grief, of fear and revelation – don’t have much impact.

Iron Winter is quite a long book, dense with story and action. There are perhaps some scenes which could have been cut without much lost, and others which dragged, but overall the story is well-paced, with strong if emotionally shallow characters and plot lines which pull the reader onwards. The story feels organic, the plot developing naturally on the basis of the decisions of the characters.

I rate Iron Winter 8/10. It is a powerful and dramatic story with varied characters giving unique perspectives, but lacks emotional depth. It’s a good read, and a strong conclusion to a fascinating trilogy.

Review: The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann, is an historical novel set in Stockholm in the late 18th century. It follows Emil Larsson, a Sekretaire working in customs, who has been told by his employer that he needs to marry in order to retain and improve his job and his social position. The enigmatic Mrs Sparrow performs a mystical card reading called an Octavo for Larsson, giving him hints of eight people whom he must find in order to find the love and connection her vision has foreseen for him. Larsson’s story is set within a period of unrest and political intrigue which influences and is influenced by Larsson’s aims.

The-Stockholm-Octavo

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Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence, with covers by Jason Chan. UK on the left, US on the right.
The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence, with covers by Jason Chan. UK on the left, US on the right.

Okay so here’s the thing. It’s no secret I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence. I read his first book, Prince of Thorns, and I was hooked. I’ve reviewed every book as he’s released them – beforehand, in one case, since I managed to get hold of an ARC. I pre-ordered The Liar’s Key in September last year. Mr Lawrence has got a great voice to his prose, one that keeps me reading – this time round til 1:30am two nights running – and fantastically fun protagonists. There was never any doubt in my mind that once again he’d pull it off and I’d of course review his book and say it’s great. Which it is.

And therein lies the problem. There’s only so many ways you can say “this author’s great”. But I’ll see what I can manage.

Continue reading Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence