All posts by Amanda J Spedding

Writer, editor, caffeine-addict, wannabe-ninja.

Festivus Book Pimping – The Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff

All right folks, I’m cutting it fine with recommendations and the looming of Festivus so I’m going to try and pump these pimps out… okay, could have worded that a little better, but onward!

First Festivus Pimpus for today is the first two novels of Aussie author Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight ChroniclesNevernight and Godsgrave. I came late to the party for these novels, yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it meant I got to read the two in quick succession. The only drawback being the third in the series, Darkdawn isn’t due for release until late next year. But don’t let that hold you back from diving deep in the darkness that is these chronicles.

Nevernight follows the life of Mia Corvere from child to assassin for the Red Church in all things murder. Vengeance is the driving force behind Mia’s assassin schooling, having watched her father executed and her mother and little brother exiled to an island prison. It’s Mia’s travelling companion, Mister Kindly – a shadow cat that allows her to slip between the shadows and bend them to her will… of a kind. The world-building is intricate, and the characters (first and secondary) are brilliantly fleshed out. Kristoff makes you care for them, and as the self-named bastard that he is… well, I’m not going to spoil that for you.

Blurb for Nevernight:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

So Nevernight leaves off on a hell of cliffhanger, so I couldn’t wait to dive into Godsgrave to see how further Kristoff could fuck with my emotions – I think it’s like sport for him. And I wasn’t disappointed. Now a fully-fledged assassin, Mia is thrust into the world of the gladiatori, where she must fight on the sands for the truth and the chance for revenge upon those who destroyed her familigia. Godsgrave ramps not only the tension but the stakes. Giving you more to care about and thus more to lose. Truths are revealed and paradigm shifts are made (and all the while, I’m sure Kristoff is laughing his arse off).

Godsgave blurb:

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone – they are dark and brutal and don’t shy from violence or sex (there is a lot of sex happening, I’m just sayin’, and the descriptions of said sex can go on for pages). There are footnotes throughout both books that provide a greater understanding of the world and what’s going on. Most of the time this works, but not so much when the tension ramps up – at time it did take away from it, especially in those moments where the info wasn’t necessary to the forward momentum of the story. But I found you could skip some of these without losing anything from the story.

Oh, and the covers are beautiful.

Recommended for lovers of dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, assassin tales, vengeance/revenge stories, subterfuge, great world-building.

Not recommended for those who struggle with in-your-face violence, graphically-depicted sex scenes (of all iterations), swearing/cursing (although, that worked a treat for me).  

Festivus Book Pimping – Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks

Hark, the Faerie Apocalypse sings! Well, likely more screaming than singing, but work with me here. Breaking through the Pimpus of Festivus veil is Aussie author Jason Franks’ most weirdly wonderful Faerie Apocalypse (IFWG Australia). As you can probably tell by the title, this is some darker reading but Franks has fleshed out this oddly-magical world with characters that verily leap off the page, and the storytelling is masterfully done.

We follow the story of four unnamed protagonists, each with their own story of venturing into the Faerie world. I wasn’t sure whether not knowing the names of the protags would work, but the writing is so well done that the names don’t matter – the stories, the journeys (gods how I hate that word) do.

It’s clever storytelling with sardonic Australian wit that deconstructs everything you ever thought about fairy tales (or faerie tales – absolute bonus for that spelling, too). Faerie Apocalypse draws you in with its fable-esque narrative then continues to hammer any thoughts of hope from you – this isn’t a bad thing. It’s sharp, it’s twisted, and the threads between all four protags and those special faerie world characters are skilfully woven.

And as killer lines are shaping up to be a thing in the Festivus Book Pimping, how’s this: The magus racked the uzi.

Back cover blurb incoming…

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.

A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

Franks has taken a risky approach to the narrative, and it pays off. There will be those, however, who probably won’t quite take to the quirks, to the brutality, to the mirror Franks places on humankind… the worst of humankind, no matter their intentions. But it’s these types of books that really stand out for me, that hit at the heart of humanity and aren’t afraid to show it in all its ugliness, in all its beauty – you can’t have one without the other.

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

Not suited for those who struggle with violence, horror, and all things dark and nasty. (Huzzah!… Ahem.)

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

Festivus Book Pimping — Plague War Trilogy by Alister Hodge

Keeping with the spirit of Festivus Pimpus, there ain’t no silent night in the Plague War trilogy (Severed Press). Stepping away from the fantasy genre for a moment, Australian author Alister Hodge has crafted an apocalyptic horror based on home soil – and with the plethora of apocalypse/post-apocalypse tales set in either the US or <insert generic setting here> it was a real treat to read a trilogy set in my backyard.

Hodge has created a virus-born cataclysm that produces zombies — first infection via bat (no vampires here). And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill shuffling kind of zombies, but the fast, nasty-as-shit kind that make survival pretty damn hard. As it should. I mean, we’re talking end times here, and Hodge taps into one of the reasons I love apocalyptic fiction –choice. The ‘who we become’ in these moments, who we want to be and who we are at our core. Where the mark of the person comes to the fore in moments such as these.

Now, I have to admit I’ve only read the first two in the trilogy – my paperbacks are taking forever to get here – but if the third is anything even remotely as good as the first two, then it’s going to be a hell of a final ride. Hodge doesn’t shy from making the tough decision of killing characters (even favourites), and he gets that exactly right. The apocalypse doesn’t discriminate – we’re all meat.

So here’s the blurb for book one – Plague War: Outbreak

In an Emergency Department, Doctor Harry fails to resuscitate a young woman suffering from an infected bite wound. While her body awaits transfer to the morgue, Harry is stunned to witness the corpse lurch off the bed and attack his staff. It’s not an isolated incident. Lysan Plague has crossed the species divide from bat to human and mutated with devastating effect. Burning across the country in a tide of bloody violence, it overwhelms an unprepared police force and government. Bite victims re-animate as plague ‘Carriers’, creatures lost to conscious thought, consumed by rage and an urge to feed on the non-infected. No-one is safe in the apocalypse, and only those who are willing to fight will survive. Harry forms an alliance with several other survivors, but will it be enough for them to hold out until the Army regroups to fight back?

And for Plague War: Pandemic

Hope is battered, but not lost.
After jumping the species divide from bat to human, Lysan Plague has torn across mainland Australia in an orgy of bloody violence, decimating the population and smashing an unprepared army onto the back foot.
Off the coast of Victoria, a mission to capture Queenscliff Fort and regain a military foothold on the mainland is about to launch. Mark is a soldier in the first landing party.
Erin awaits evacuation from King Island to Tasmania, however, her safety is far from assured. While storm winds drive a plague-riddled ship in their direction, a sadistic guard begins to target women within the camp.
The time for retreat is over. Neither Mark or Erin will back down from the coming fight, but when faced with monsters, both human and undead, will determination be enough for them to survive?

And the final, Plague War: Retaliation

The Australian Army has won its first victory, but the gore-spattered streets of Melbourne await. Buried under a mega-swarm, Lysan Plague has transformed the state capital into a slaughterhouse of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, famine threatens, and more troops are needed before the final assault. When Mark’s platoon is sent to a rural town to re-establish food production and conscript soldiers, they face violent opposition from an outlaw motorcycle club, ‘The Spartans’.
Across the water, Tasmania is in the grip of a terror campaign led by the Patriot’s Party who aim to sever ties with the mainland.
With supply lines and troop numbers secured, the Army prepares to attack the Melbourne swarm. But with a traitor in their midst, will this epic battle seethe armed forces obliterated in an orgy of violence?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a sucker for great apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, and Hodge has created a pretty fucked-up world here that doesn’t shy from the brutalities of the ‘quietus’, but it’s the characters that carry these books, and the decisions they make that really hold it alltogether… well that, and the damn fine storytelling.

You really should be reading this.

Recommended for those who enjoy horror, zombie tales, apocalyptic and post-apocalypse fiction, apocalyptic fiction with an Aussie flavour, great characters, military fiction, killer fight scenes. 

Festivus Book Pimping — We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Jingle Bells, mofos! It’s Festivus Booking Pimping time again, and up on today’s humble stone is Devin Madson’s epically awesome We Ride the Storm, the first in her Reborn Empire tetralogy. And it’s a hell of a story – one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read. Like ever.

In my last Pimpus, I spoke of killer opening lines, and Madson more than delivers with hers: It is harder to sever a head than people think.

That should give you some idea of the tone of the book, but you’d be mistaken in thinking the act of beheading is barbarous, cruel in its intent. Far from it. And that’s the thing with Madson’s work, it’s beautiful in its storytelling, the language and imagery a joy to read, and her characters burrow deep beneath your skin and take root.

We Ride the Storm is told through the eyes of three point-of-view characters, each told in first-person narrative. A symbol at the beginning of each chapter marks through whose eyes you’ll be viewing the world for a time, but the voices are distinct, individual, unique. And you will have favourites (yup, in the plural).

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

We Ride the Storm has also just become a finalist in the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off’ (SPFBO), gaining a top ten spot out a whopping three hundred entries. That’s the quite the feat, and a testament to the brilliance of this book.

Yes, this book is self-published, and for those who think SP-books are of lesser quality, you couldn’t be more wrong. We Ride the Storm is self-publishing done right. And that divine cover is original artwork by the uber-talented John Anthony Di Giovanni, with layout and cover design by Shawn T King (the two officially known as the ‘dream team’). As you can probably tell, the setting for the book is non-Euro centric, and the descriptions of the lands of Kisia and Chiltae are superb. And there are horses, lots of horses.

The magic is low-level, and there are hints at a greater magic that underlies those such as Cassandra and secondary character, Leo. But as the first in the Reborn Empire, the intrigue of what’s at play carries damn well throughout the story.

I cannot recommend this book enough (GO BUY IT! NOW!), and for those waiting on the next instalment in the series, We Lie With Death is on schedule for a March 2019 release.

Recommended for (everyone) those who love dark fantasy, political machinations, grimdark, epic fantasy, clash of cultures, and just damn fine writing.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence – war is not filled with rainbows and unicorns… although unicorns do come with their own weapon…

Festivus Book Pimping – City of Lies by Sam Hawke

The next book to be Festivus Pimped (so a thing) is by the wonderful Australian author Sam Hawke. Her debut novel, City of Lies (Tor Publishing), is the first in the Poison Wars series but operates as a standalone. And what a brilliant read it is… and has a hellof a first line: ‘I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.’ 

Blurb:

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

While City of Lies sits firmly in the fantasy genre but it’s the murder mystery that drives this story, and it’s quite the suspect list. Let’s not forget the political machinations once the chancellor is murdered. With the city under siege and the enemy closing in, time is running out to find the killer (or killers) and save the Heir from being next on the hit list. Hawke’s world-building is grand in scope yet intricately detailed, and even though most of the story is set within the city’s walls, the world is completely realised.

And oh, the chapter separators. Each new chapter is preceded by a poison (usually plant-based) with an illustration and description of its properties. Due to the ‘whodunnit’ style of the story, these little titbits of information have you guessing as to which was used to kill the Chancellor, and whetherJovan will succumb to a poison for proofing the food for the now Chancellor of a besieged city set with assassins unknown.

City of Lies is a big book, sitting at just over 500 pages, but the skill with which Hawke tells her tale, it is by no means a laborious read. The characters are fully fleshed out, relatable, and with both Jovan and Kalina dealing with personal/physical limitations (Jovan with OCD and Kalina with chronic health issues), the reliance on each other, the skills they’ve acquired and their honour-bound duty to protect the chancellor and his heirs, adds extra depth to the storytelling.

It was a hell of a read, intricately plotted and with a satisfying end that tied up its threads nicely.

Recommended for fans of fantasy, epic fantasy, mystery, political shenanigans, murder mystery.


Festivus Book Pimping – Godblind & Darksoul by Anna Stephens

As promised, Festivus Book Pimping is here! And first cabs off the rank are Godblind and Darksoul by Anna Stephens. Yes, this is a two-for, and if you’re looking at hitting some grimdark, then buckle-up, grab your sword or axe (or both) and get ready for battle.

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS

The first in Stephens’ trilogy, Godblind, is a story of gods, sacrifice, political machinations, and no little amount of bloodshed.  It’s a brutal story, no bones about it, and it doesn’t shy from the horror of war and those caught up in it. Told from multiple points of view, the chapters are short, pushing you through the book at a cracking pace as we’re introduced to the main players – and even with those, everything is not as it seems. The Red Gods are rising, and they will drown the world in blood.

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbours deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

Godblind Darksoul

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although there’s one scene that, even as a seasoned horror reader, had me wince, but there are no rules in a war between gods, and sacrifices must be made… the torturous the better.

It had me clamouring for the next in the series, Darksoul. The war is in full swing, and the kingdom of Rilpor is under heavy siege. Like, shit is really hitting the fan at this stage. This is hardcore battle here, with some pretty gruesome deaths, and a whole lot of sacrifices to please the Red Gods and bring about their victory, but hidden in plain sight is the Fox God, and the moment he comes to the fore… well, there are two scenes within this book that ripped out my heart and handed it to me. Stephens quite happily puts all your feels on an emotional rollercoaster. As a second book, it hits all the right notes. It’s a tough read in places because you feel for certain characters and are invested in their plight, and Stephens takes full advantage, as a great writer should.

Back-cover blurb below:

The Wolves lie dead beside Rilpor’s soldiers, slaughtered at the hands of the Mireces and their fanatical army.

The veil that once kept the Red Gods at bay has been left in tatters as the Dark Lady’s plans for the world come to fruition. Where the gods walk, blood is spilled on the earth.

All that stands between the Mireces army and complete control of the Kingdom of Rilpor are the walls of its capital, Rilporin, and those besieged inside.

But hope might yet bloom in the unlikeliest of places: in the heart of a former slave, in the mind of a soldier with the eyes of a fox, and in the hands of a general destined to be king.

It’s clear Stephens knows how to weave a tale and weave it well – her characters are well-drawn, fully fleshed out individuals, the magic is both awful and beautiful, and gods that pluck the strings of those major players are some harsh taskmasters.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone, no doubt, but if you’re looking for fantasy on the darker side of the reading spectrum filled with unique characters going through shitty things (and good things, too – yes, there is balance), then these books are definitely worth the read.

And the covers, oh my those covers. Mine are in beautiful hardback, and they are divine.

The third in the trilogy, BloodChild, is set for release next year, so why not grab the first two and in the lead-up for the release – you won’t be disappointed.

Recommended for those who like some grim in their fantasy and aren’t afraid to wade into bloody battle for their fix.

Rated for: blood, gore, violence, torture scenes, sex.

Not Dead, I Just Look That Way

Seriously, I’m not. Though it may appear that way considering the lack of posts these last few months. The lead-up to Christmas is one of my busiest times when it comes to work, so it’s been head down, bum up, and loooong hours in the editing chair.

But fear not, good readers! Things are about to change!

The tradition of Festivus Book Pimping is upon us! Can I get a book-a-lujah! (It’s a thing, work with me here.) For those unfamiliar with the tradition, every few days in the lead up to Christmas, I will be pimping a book I’ve read and/or worked on this year that I believe deserves to be wrapped in shiny paper and gifted to a loved one, friend, colleague… or even Secret Santa that baby. Hell, want to give an author friend a present? Gift their book to someone — two turtle doves and all that.

As you know, books are the best gifts (fight me), but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming knowing which books to choose for someone (or someones). Enter, Festivus Book Pimping! Each pimping will come with a mini-review and recommendation, plus a link to where you can purchase — be it print or ebook.

As Stephen King said, “Books are uniquely portable magic.” The man’s not wrong, and what better gift to give someone, than magic.

Stay tuned…
book magic