Review: Smoke In The Sun

May 28, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Smoke In The SunSmoke In The Sun by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame In The Mist #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 5th June 2018
Genres: Fantasy, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice - to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor's ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.

Following the revelations at the end of Flame In The Mist (warning, this post will contain spoilers for book one), I’ve been desperate to read book two, Smoke In The Sun.

With Mariko ‘rescued’ from the clutches of the Black Clan by her betrothed, Prince Raiden and her brother, the Dragon of KAi, Kenshin, she is taken to Heian Castle in the imperial city of Inako to face the future. With Okami imprisoned in the depths of the castle, Mariko desperately wants to find a way to free him. So she keeps up pretence of her kidnap, and works to convince Raiden of her loyalty to him and the Emperor of Wa.

I really enjoyed the conclusion to this duology. Largely set within Heian Castle and the city of Inako, it has a different atmospheric feel to the Jukai forest of book one, but it’s a setting that Ahdieh ones again captures beautifully with her descriptive writing.

The character development in this second book was so interesting. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone a bit more – with Yumi, Raiden and Roku standing out for me.

I actually discovered after I finished Smoke In The Sun that there are two short stories available that are set between books one and two – Okami and Yumi. They are available for free on the kindle. You definitely don’t need to read them for Smoke In The Sun, they are really just like extra chapters. Okami’s focusses on his ride in the wagon to the castle following his capture. Yumi’s was actually more interesting to me, it gives us a bit more of an insight into her character in preparation for the second book.

To be honest, my only real complaint about this book is that I felt the ending was rather rushed. To me, it lacked the detail that the rest of the two novels possess. I know it’s obviously at a faster pace than the rest, but I just felt like I wanted more. I was so near the end and started to doubt whether this actually was a duology; how could it finish in so few pages? But it does and I’d have liked a bit more from it.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this book and its predecessor. I loved the setting of Feudal Japan and everything that went along with it. Each character has their own individual struggles and issues, drawing me in and making me want to read more about them.

Then, of course, we have Ahdieh’s writing style which just adds to the journey of this tale. She, seemingly effortlessly, painted the feudal Japan setting in my mind, and brought her characters to life. I could smell Okami (warm stone and wood smoke), hear the creaking of the nightingale floors and envisage the colours of Mariko’s silk kimonos.

It’s an easy read, but it’s a fantastic tale and I’m definitely going to miss some of these characters.

four-stars

Review: King of Ashes

May 22, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, High Fantasy

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: King of AshesKing of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist
Series: The Firemane Saga #1
Published by Harper Voyager on 5th April 2018
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

A few years ago I read and enjoyed Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar Saga and have been meaning to read more of his work ever since. So I was delighted to get the chance to read the first novel in his latest series, The Firemane Saga, King of Ashes.

The book opens to the aftermath of a battle where Steveren Langene (aka Firemane), King of Ithrace, one of the five Great Kingdoms of Garn has been betrayed and defeated. He, along with his family, is put to death to ensure the destruction of Ithrace, Kingdom of Flames.

Baron Daylon Dumarch was one of the men to betray his friend, Steveren Langene. So when a baby who is said to be the last remaining Firemane is brought to him in secret, Baron Daylon ensures the child’s safety by sending him to the legendary “Invisible Nation” of Coaltachin, where is to be raised until he comes to manhood.

We then fast forward some 16 years or so and the story largely follows two characters, the first of whom is Declan, an orphan who has been raised and trained by Edvalt, former Master Blacksmith to Baron Daylon. The second character being Hatushaly, or ‘Hatu’, a student of one of the nameless schools of Coaltachin, a nation renowned for producing the finest spies and assassins in the world.

I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot than that!

Raymond E Feist’s world building is incredible. He weaves such detail into the narrative of his story that we feel ourselves transported to Garn.

Admittedly, I was initially somewhat concerned about being overwhelmed by all the names and nations but it didn’t take long for me to get up to speed.

Feist’s characters are so well-formed. Years on, and I still think of Pug from the Riftwar Saga,  if this isn’t the sign of a good character then I don’t know what is. I just know I’m going to feel the same about Declan and Hatu.

This is a thoroughly entertaining read, filled with action and never a dull moment. It is beautifully poised for the continuation of this series and I cannot wait to see where book two takes us.

If you are looking for an accessible, entertaining fantasy, then you can’t go amiss with Feist’s King of Ashes. I’m just sorry to have to wait for book two.

four-half-stars

Review: The Smoke Thieves

April 28, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Smoke ThievesThe Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
Series: The Smoke Thieves #1
Published by Penguin on 3rd May 2018
Genres: Fantasy, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter and a thief. Five teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Five nations destined for conflict.

In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a political marriage arranged by her brutal and ambitious father, while her true love, Ambrose, faces the executioner's block. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.

As alliances shift and shatter, and old certainties are overturned, our five heroes find their past lives transformed and their futures inextricably linked by the unpredictable tides of magic and war. Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?

I’m not even going to try to explain The Smoke Thieves. Usually, I like to attempt a wee overview but in all honesty, I don’t think I could do this book justice in a summary! So, read the one above!

Told from the perspectives of five characters; Tash, a demon hunter; Catherine, a princess betrothed to a prince she’s never met; Ambrose, a soldier and personal bodyguard to Catherine; March, a servant and traitor; and Edyon, a thief and bastard son of a trader.

I loved this book! I’m often wary of stories that are told through a host of different characters, as sometimes I can feel that we don’t really get to know the characters well enough. Or  I inevitably dislike a character and dread reading their chapter. The Smoke Thieves thankfully bucked that trend. I loved all of the characters, found their voices distinct and felt we got to know them all and the world around them.

I’ll be honest and say that I found the beginning a little slow at times, but before I knew it, I was swept up in this world and in the characters and I couldn’t put the book down.

I think Green has built a fascinating world, one that I didn’t want to leave: Brigant, with its cruel, oppressive king and attitude towards women in contrast to Pitoria with its colour, dance and customs. I’d like to have explored Calidor a bit more but I’ve no doubt that will happen in future books.

This story is packed with intrigue, deceit, and deception. There’s fighting, demon smoke, hatred, political manoeuvres, revenge and even love. I truly didn’t want it to end.

Now, I rarely pay attention to comparisons but when I finished reading I saw this…

“a new epic fantasy series perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Game of Thrones”

and bizarrely, I agree with that! As I was reading I did actually think of it as a YA Game of Thrones.  Maybe it was the travelling, the food, and the multiple perspectives, but I can see where they are coming from with that.

This is a wonderful epic fantasy that stopped my heart at times, made me chortle at others, and made me crave delicious foods!

I loved Green’s writing, this world, her characters and way the book is poised for the next instalment of the series. I seriously cannot wait for book two!

The Smoke Thieves

Image from Goldsboro Books.

Oh and if you fancy getting your hands on a signed, hardback edition I just noticed that Goldsboro Books have some copies available!

four-half-stars

Review: Scythe

March 13, 2018 in Book Reviews, Dystopian, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: ScytheScythe by Neal Shusterman
Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
Published by Walker on 1st February 2018 (UK)
Genres: Dystopian, YA Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
five-stars

In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed ("gleaned") by professional scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythes' apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn the art of killing and understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe's apprentice and as Citra and Rowan come up against a terrifyingly corrupt Scythedom, it becomes clear that the winning apprentice's first task will be to glean the loser.

Scythe has been out in the US for a wee while and I kept hearing great reviews about it, so obviously when it was published here by Walker I snatched up a copy. (I actually ended up with two copies so be sure to enter my giveaway if you are based in the UK.)

The world has evolved to a place where there’s no more sickness, little crime and humans are now immortal. There are no more governments, no war and if you do become “deadish” you are whisked to a revival centre and return as good as new. There are nanites in the blood to stop pain and when you grow older you can ‘turn the corner’ and continue life at a younger age. Basically, it’s a perfect world, which is under the watchful and constant gaze of the Thunderhead – essentially a ‘cloud’ that developed AI and now keeps the world in check.

The only issue with this new world is overpopulation, and so the Thunderhead has developed the Scythedom – the only aspect over which it has no control. Scythes are the only people with permission to take a life – to glean. They are responsible for meeting their quotas and gleaning in a non-prejudiced way that reflects the mortality of the old world. They are simultaneously feared and revered, for as well as being able to take a life they can also grant immunity.

This is such a fascinating concept, one that captured my imagination and I found quite thought-provoking.

We follow two main characters, Cintra and Rowan, who both find themselves with an opportunity to become scythes and thus secure their family’s immunity from gleaning. Taken on as apprentices, they must prove themselves in order to attain the position of Junior Scythe. As they become involved in the Scythedom they realise that there’s more to being a Scythe than meets the eye, with unrest within the Scythedom itself.

I really loved this book – every aspect, from the world building and characters to the storytelling itself had me enraptured. I’m absolutely desperate to get my hands on book 2, Thunderhead, which will be released in the UK in August. In the meantime, I might have to make myself more acquainted with the rest of Shusterman’s work.

Go enter the giveaway now! (ends 15th March 23:59)

five-stars

Review: The Girl In The Tower

January 20, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Girl In The TowerThe Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Ebury on 25th January 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic...

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior's training, recognises this 'boy' as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical...

Having read (and loved) the first book in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale last Christmas, I saved my  early copy of book two, The Girl In The Tower for over the festive season. Set in the Russian winter, this is a tale that’s perfect to read at this time of year. But truthfully, Arden’s writing will transport you to the Russian winter no matter the season outside.

If you haven’t yet read the first book, then make sure you check out my review of it here and go pick up a copy! This post will inevitably contain mild spoilers for that first book.

Where The Bear and the Nightingale was set in rural Russia, The Girl In The Tower takes us on an adventure through the rural landscape and into Moscow itself. Continuing from the first book, we follow Vasya who, with accusations of witchcraft lingering at home, looks to follow her dreams, break with convention, shun marriage or the convent and travel.

We also spend time with her older brother Sasha, the monk, who I personally really liked in the first book, as well as meeting other characters – old and new!

Once again, Arden engulfs us in a beautifully written tale, built around Russian history and folklore. Through Vasya she continues to explore the lives of, and expectations towards, women at this time in Russian history – weaving historical fact within her fiction.

Having become familiarised with the conventions of rural Russia, we arrive in Moscow as overwhelmed as Vasya herself. Together we uncover the lay of the land, the customs, expectations, and requirements of the upper echelons in the Russian city.

The development of the characters in this second novel is fantastic. I love the progression of Vasya’s character – she’s everything I hoped she would be!

Arden’s writing is once again a highlight for me. Her descriptions, turn of phrase and writing style swept me up. I felt I was, once again, there in the Russian snow. I loved the continuation of the story. For me, it felt more action-packed than the first book, filled with deception, death… and a sassy horse!

The story itself is unforgettable, the writing enchanting, what more can I say? It’s a must-read for fans of The Bear and the Nightingale!

five-stars