Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates series) by AK Larkwood was a gift in more ways than one. Big shouty thanks to Devin Madson for the birthday present in the form of the book, and big shouty awesomeness to AK Larkwood for the joy the story brought.

It’s hard to really box The Unspoken Name into definitive genre (apart from speculative, of course). It’s fantasy, yes. Has a shit tonne of horror (no, it doesn’t quite hit grimdark as there’s hope here). It’s part sci-fi, part portal fantasy… part space opera. Sword and sorcery, It’s a touch of everything to create something unique in its unfolding.

The world-building is wonderfully done, just enough to bring the images to incredible (and sometimes terrifying) life in our heads. The focus, however, is on the characters, their relationships, the choices they make and the repercussions of those choice – both good and bad. A lot of this book is based around choices; those we think we make and those we actually do. How relationships are not always what you think they are when you peel back those layers, when you peak behind the curtain. And not for the main character – Corswe – is this the case.

Corswe is… orc-like, although it’s not stated outright, the description of her lends it credence. As does Sethennai (Corswe’s mentor/liberator/kidnapper) is of elven appearance. As is Corswe’s nemesis, Tal – I loved his interactions with Corswe. Tal is crass, snarky, belligerent to a fault, and has very little boundaries… and conscience, really. He’s such a great character, and I’ve no doubt he was a blast to write.

The Unspoken Name

Thing is, we see growth in all of the characters in the book. Sure, not all of it is good, but as we spend most of our time with Corswe, we are her cheer squad. And when she finds what she suddenly understands is love when she meets Shuthmilli. The gentle way this moves from friendship into the more romantic is everything. There’s queer-love in this book and it is wonderfully and beautifully done.

There’s so much to rave about – magic and gods and portals and dead worlds, necromancy, revenants, fight scenes, loyalty, love, sacrifice… it’s… READ THIS BOOK!

I’ve been stupidly lucky that all the books I’ve read this year have been amazing, and AK Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is no different.

Five out of five stars, plus a bonus star for the pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book… so SIX OUT OF FIVE STARS!

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

There are books that sneak up on you, teasing you with glimpses of the fantastique, of possibilities within possibilities, shaded with darkness and radiating light. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow is a tale that defies expectation, folds in on itself in a compelling origami, creating shapes and stories and Doors both beautiful and terrible.

I didn’t know what to expect from the book; I had little idea of the plot or the characters or the path the story would take… and that discovery as I turned each page was the best way to step through the Door Alix Harrow opened into January’s world.

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My partner, who’s had to put up with me reading to the wee hours while he’s trying to sleep, asked me what it was about. I explained it woefully of course, because words – my words – don’t do it justice. A book within a book within a book, and magic and love and adventure and Doors and self-discovery and self-belief. It breaks the fourth wall and fifth wall… and god, all the walls. It shows the good in people and the evil, the struggle of trying to find your place in the world and of the worlds. It’s knowing you’re different, that you don’t quite fit, that an in-between girl has a foot in each world but stands in none. Defiantly so.

It’s words. Not just words upon the page (although the narrative is divine) but the power of them, the way they twist and turn and shape themselves and those around them and those who gaze upon them.

January Scaller would have the right words, and they would be beautiful. It’s her story… and the story of beginnings and middles and not-quite-ends. Even thinking of it now, I’m smiling. There’s hope, even in the darkest lines of the pages, and that spark lights January’s way… with her ever-faithful dog (I love him).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January goes onto the top shelf of my bookcase, alongside other tales that will stay with me for a very long time, and each time I walk past, I will think of Doors and magical places… and oh the possibilities.

GET THIS BOOK IN YOUR EYES!

Ahem.

Eleventy stars out of five.

 

(Oh, and a special shout-out for the cover — much pretty, such sigh.)

Review: The Poison Song by Jen Williams

It’s been a while since my last review, but I entered a bit of a reading slump about halfway through Jen Williams’ The Poison Song because… well… <gestures at everything>. The upside of this is that it stopped me from leaving a world and characters I could spend forever reading.

So, in keeping with my short-arse reviews this year, I give you whiny bitch:

Why? Why is it over? Whhhhyyyyy… WHHHYYY? No, nope, na-ah <shakes head vigorously>.

Ahem.

The Poison Song

It’s damn clear I loved not only The Poison Song but the entire The Winnowing Flame trilogy (which now sits top shelf in my bookcase with other books that tore out my heart and handed it to me). Oh, how I will miss Vintage’s wit and optimism, Berne and Aldasair’s deep love, Noon’s bad-assery, and Tor being, well, Tor. The relationships between them all, and how they just make each other better without wanting to make the others better.

I could go on and on about the world-building and the divine prose, the connections between the characters and their war beasts, but I could never do it justice. Read this trilogy, like go right now and buy them, order them from your library… whatever you need to do to get it in your eyes.

I will miss hanging out with Tor and Noon and Vintage and Aldasair and Berne, and what I wouldn’t give to see Kirune, Vostock, Helcate, Jessen and Sharrik soaring through a Sydney sky (Jure’lia notwithstanding, of course).

Eleventy-hundred stars out of five.

Why are you still here? Go. Buy. The. Books. G’orn, get.

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

There’s a lot to be said about book recommendations from friends, they know your reading habits, but they also know when you need a change of pace, a change of genre, and something they know you’ll enjoy because the writing and the story are just so damn good. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch hit all those marks for me.

In keeping with my short-arse reviews, let’s get to this!

It’s part police-procedural, part murder-mystery, a whole lot of magic and mythos, and violence and horror and humour. And ghosts. And demi-gods. And whole other worlds that exist on the edges of this one. Sometimes those worlds overlap, and this is where the main character, Constable Peter Grant comes in. Drawn into this world of ghosts and gods and ghoulies, where magic is a stalwart, Grant comes at it with science, practicality, and sometimes just pure dumb luck. His partner in crime (or former partner), Lesley May, creates good balance when it comes to how the two tackle the serial murders and general brou-ha-ha they find themselves entangled in. And Grant’s mentor, Thomas Nightingale (and his secret society) is a bit of a stubborn enigma, but his teaching habits seem to work. They make for quite the trio.

The characters are great, and the friendships developed throughout set this up really well for the next books in the series. There’s a lot going on, but Aaronovitch layers this world and its characters with enough information for you to connect with its players while leaving just enough unexplored to want you coming back for more.

Rivers of London

The mythos surrounding the rivers of London, and how it all links together in control of the rivers and lakes and ponds and even the sewers was masterfully done. And the horror that woven through it was right up my alley. Add in the humour peppered throughout, and I was hooked.

Those familiar with London are surely going to love all the references within, and while I am unfamiliar with the ins and outs, I never once felt lost. This book was a whole lotta fun, and while the main plot was tied up nicely, there are threads definitely being explored in future books (there are eight so far).

Rivers of London wasn’t ever on my radar, but I’m damn chuffed it was put there. I enjoyed this immensely, and very much looking forward to the next in the series.

Review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

Right, so I’m a touch behind on my book reviews, but… well, it’s not like the Greek mythos is going anywhere… Ahem.

Sooo long time reader of Greek mythology, first time reviewer… not of the mythos as a whole, but the Mythos that is the book from Stephen Fry. As you can no doubt guess, Fry delves into all that is the Greek myths that most of us probably have more than an inkling of understanding, and as someone who adores the mythology from a wide variety of cultures (here and gone), this was right up my alley. Add in the cleverness and wit that is Stephen Fry and Mythos was a delight.

Fry takes the gods and demi-gods with all the foibles and their strengths to create a vivid retelling of some of the stories that I’ve come to know and love. There’re monsters and mortals and mayhem – just the way mythos should be. What sets this apart from other bland mythos retellings (I’m looking at you Neil Gaiman), is you can see the love and enthusiasm Fry has for the mythology. Also, I swear I read this in his voice.

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All the players are here: Gaia, Cronos, Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Hades, Persephone, Demeter, the Muses… it’s quite the list! The births and deaths and the oh-so-much sex are given a contemporary flourish and humorous bent that only Fry could pull off (yes, I see it, let it go…). He makes them relatable, makes them, well, I guess you could say ‘human’, and that always been the joy of the Greek gods and goddesses — they are who they are and you just need to deal.

One of the things I most loved about the book were the footnotes. Fry’s love of language shines through here, and the footnotes show the birth of words into our common lexicon – word nerd’s delight!

Highly recommended.

Heroes is the next Fry instalment, and I plan to hit that later in the year.

Oh, and the covers are all the pretty, too.

Review: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

I am not a boat person. Or a ship person for that matter. My gut doesn’t agree with the waves other than to paint them with some technicolour. I am irrationally rational about my fear of the beasties that live in the deep. But I would walk the fucking slate with Joron Twiner and Lucky Meas.

The worldbuilding in The Bone Ships is spectacular, and those that inhabit not just the cruel seas but Tide Child are a cut above… a cut above a jib (take that seafaring lingo!). The bone ships in The Bone Ships are literal ships made of bone – sea dragon bone. And while most are of glorious white, lit by corpselights, and the pride of The Hundred Isles, we sail with Joron and Meas on a black ship. A death ship where all onboard have been condemned, they just await the Hag’s justice, their fate as black as the bones that make up Tide Child.

I’ve decided that all my book reviews will be short this year, because time and poor and all that jazz. But I can’t go past making special mention of the gullaime, the bird-like creature who commands the winds. It was a stand-out for me, but more so the friendship it develops with Joron. The characters make this book, and they are as different as they are wonderful and awful and sad and hopeful. The battles are hard and desperate, but the characters who walk the slate of Tide Child, truly do make this book. From Farys to Solemn Maffaz, Mevans and the Courser, the gullaime and Garriya.

 

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I loved this story, and cannot wait for the next in the series. RJ Barker has created a vivid, atmospheric world and peoples that are rich in their layering and resonate in their being. There’s a little bit of us in all of them.

Special shout out for that cover, too. Swanky AF.

(Small mention re the language and created words in the book; I’ve seen some people balk at this, but I had no trouble with it at all — they were close enough in spelling, and context really is everything, ey?) 

Review: The True Bastards by Jonathan French

FUCKING GLORIOUS!

 

True Bastards

I should say more; go into delicious detail about Fetching driving this story and the beautiful inner and outer conflict of her struggle as chieftain of a hoof. Of the revelations and hits given along the way. About the roller-coaster of emotions I rode and how I laughed and commiserated, and even how one scene had my Fitbit log my reading of it as exercise (I shit you not). I mean, it has half-orcs riding hogs, elves and halflings, centaurs and frails, thicks and thrices, wizards and magic, barbarians and gods and fighting pits… But FUCKING GLORIOUS covers it.

The True Bastards is the second book in The Lot Lands series, and if you loved The Grey Bastardsthen you’ll adore this.

Ten stars out of five (fuck you, math!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING: THE GODBLIND TRILOGY BY ANNA STEPHENS

Hear ye, hear ye, FESTIVUS PIMPUS! FESTIVUS PIMPUS IS HERE!

Cutting it right to the wire here for the Pimpus of the Bookus, but I can’t let this year’s Festivus go past without shouting from the rooftops how fucking excellent The Godblind Trilogy by Anna Stephens is. Like, stop reading this post, click that link, and go buy it. I’ll wait. <flaps hand> Off you go.

<insert Muzak here>

So… we good? Brilliant.

The grimdark trilogy consists of three books (obviously): Godblind, Darksoul, and Bloodchild. I finished the last this year, and it was bittersweet. So attached had I become to the characters and the storytelling that I didn’t want it to end. But end it did, and I had serious bookhangover afterward. There’s a brutal beauty to Stephens’ storytelling; it drags you in and doesn’t let you go. The characters, though, the characters…

I could wax lyrical for hours on these books, but trust me when I say the only disappointment you feel from this trilogy is that it has come to an end.

Let’s look at some blurbs, shall we?

GODBLIND:

Godblind

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 harbors 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?

DARKSOUL:

Darksoul

In the besieged city of Rilporin, Cdr. Durdil Koridam orders the city’s people to fight to the last rather than surrender to the surrounding armies of the Mireces and their evil Red Gods.

Outside city gates, the uneasy truce between King Corvus’s Mireces and the traitorous Prince Rivil’s forces holds, but the two armies are growing desperate to force a breach of the walls before the city’s reinforcements arrive.

Meanwhile, prophet Dom Templeson reaches Rilporin. The Red Gods have tortured and broken his mind, and he ends up in Corvus’s clutches, forced to reveal all of his secrets. And what he knows could win the war for the Mireces.

Elsewhere, in Yew Cove, only a few survivors remain from a Rank of thousands of Rilporian warriors. Dom foresees the important role one of those survivors, Crys Tailorson, will take on as the events to come unfold. As Crys grows into his position as a leader, that role becomes clearer—and far darker. Will he be willing to pay the price to fulfill his destiny?

BLOODCHILD:

bloodchild-final

In this epic grimdark conclusion to the Godblind Trilogy, heroes, armies, and gods both good and evil will battle one last time, with the fate of the world itself at stake. . .

The great city of Rilpor has fallen. Its walls have crumbled under the siege by the savage Mireces; its defenders have scattered, fleeing for their lives; its new rulers plot to revive the evil Red Gods using the city’s captured, soon-to-be-sacrificed citizens.

Now, with the Fox God leading the shattered remnants of the Rilporian defence and the Mireces consolidating their claim on the rest of the country, it’s up to Crys, Tara, Mace, Dom and the rest to end the Red Gods’ scourge once and for all.

While the Rilporians plan and prepare for one final, cataclysmic battle to defeat their enemies, the Blessed One and the king of the Mireces have plans of their own: dark plans that will see gods resurrected and the annihilation of the Dancer for all time. Key to their plan is Rillirin, King Corvus’s sister, and the baby–the Bloodchild–she carries.

As both sides face their destinies and their gods, only one thing is clear: death waits for them all.

There’s a fuck-tonne to love about this series, and I can do nothing more than scream into your face: BUY THESE BOOKS! So…. BUY THESE BOOKS!

Special shout-out to the cover artist, too. I have the trilogy in hardcover, and the art is divine.

Recommended for everyone, but also those who love grimdark, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, swords and shit, gods both good and evil, characters that dig into your soul, epic battles, and killer storytelling. Oh, and this ain’t for the faint-hearted, either. You’ve been warned… or challenged, either or…

BUY THESE BOOKS!

Festivus Book Pimping: The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams

In this instalment of Festivus Pimpage, we’re dipping our feet back into the fantasy waters with Jen Williams’ most epic The Winnowing Flame Trilogy. This was another trilogy I picked up on the recommendation from a friend, and I couldn’t be more pleased he pushed me in books’ direction (hat tip, Tam – I owe you!).

Right off the bat, I’ve only read the first two in the trilogy: The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins. The final book in the series, The Poison Song, is out in audiobook but I am waiting for my print copy to arrive before digging in… for three reasons: 1) anticipation is half the fun, 2) I do so love my print books, and 3) I am so invested in this series that I do not want it to end.

That last point alone should tell you how good this series is. The characters are diverse and unique, and it’s also so damn refreshing to have one of the main characters be a smart, capable woman over forty who can damn well hold her own (oh, how I love Vintage!).

The world-building is exquisite and the characterisations of each of not only the main players but the secondary ones is masterfully done. From early on I was invested, and that had me devouring the first two books, and now I am in that dreaded no-man’s land of so wanting the third book… but not. While this is definitely a story seated in fantasy, there’s a touch of sci-fi to it when it comes to the monsters and the threat they pose, of how those of the world try to deal with that and the mythology within said world that is on the cusp of death.

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Blurb for The Ninth Rain:

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.

When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.

But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…

Blurb for The Bitter Twins:

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The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…

Meanwhile, Hestillion is trapped on board the corpse moon, forced into a strange and uneasy alliance with the Jure’lia queen. Something terrifying is growing up there, in the heart of the Behemoth, and the people of Sarn will have no defence against these new monsters.The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Blurb for The Poison Song: (pre-orders at that link)

The Poison Song

All is chaos. All is confusion. The Jure’lia are weak, but the war is far from over.

Ebora was once a glorious city, defended by legendary warriors and celebrated in song. Now refugees from every corner of Sarn seek shelter within its crumbling walls, and the enemy that has poisoned their land won’t lie dormant for long. The deep-rooted connection that Tormalin, Noon and the scholar Vintage share with their Eboran war-beasts has kept them alive so far. But with Tor distracted, and his sister

Hestillion hell-bent on bringing ruthless order to the next Jure’lia attack, the people of Sarn need all the help they can get.

Noon is no stranger to playing with fire and knows just where to recruit a new – and powerful – army. But even she underestimates the epic quest that is to come. It is a journey wrought with pain and sacrifice – a reckoning that will change the face of Sarn forever.

I can’t rave enough about this series, and if the first two books are anything to go by, then The Poison Song will be heat-punchingly wonderful. Seriously, you need to be reading this series.

As I mentioned, while The Night Rain and The Bitter Twins are out in print with glorious covers, The Poison Song is out on audiobook – and hell, audiobooks are also a great gift this Festivus season! As are ebook and print… any format of book is a thing of wonder and magic, and what better gift is that?

Recommended for those who love fantasy, dark fantasy, (very) low sci-fi, diverse characters and relationships, character-driven tales, and giant kick-arse creatures of mythology. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Festivus Book Pimping – The Long War: Tales from the Pharos Saga by Justin Coates

All right, I have been Sucky McSucky-Claus (clause?) when it comes to Festivus Pimpage these last few days, but in my defence, there just aren’t enough hours in my smoke-haze-filled days. Also, smoke haze gives the shit gift of headaches.

PIMPAGE! IT’S PIMPAGE TIME!

For a change of pace, it’s story collection time! One of the authors I’ve worked with a few times in the SNAFU series is a hell of a writer and I wish more people knew just how talented he is so I’m gonna shout this from the rooftop… carefully, you know, ‘cause we have a pitched roof…

Right then, Justin Coates’ collection, The Long War: Tales from the Pharos Saga, hits all the marks for edge-of-your seat horror. Fast paced and action-filled, it covers a gamut of monsters and themes that cover an array of time periods that are all linked within this crazy cosmic world of his. This is a mix of previously published stories as well as original content that is melded perfectly together to form one hell of a reading experience.

 

The Long War

Here’s the blurb:

Demons. Aliens. Vampires. The undead. These and more prey on humanity from the shadows, and from the shadows, arise those brave or foolhardy enough to stand against them. These are their stories: a disgraced priestess on a mission to kill a god, an agent from a secretive government organization sent to investigate a series of grisly murders, a soldier on the front lines of an apocalyptic war, a slave haunted by the whispers of a dark spirit, a reluctant serial killer desperate to stop a far greater danger, and more. Featuring stories previously published in military horror anthologies, as well as exclusive content not published elsewhere, the Long War collection introduces the reader to the world of the Pharos Saga, a setting that spans from the distant past to the not-so-distant future, and invites them to stand against the night in a battle for the very soul of humanity.

 

Even knowing the skill with which Justin can craft a story, I flew through this collection and it cemented an even greater appreciation for the imagination and unadulterated visceral connection he can make between character and reader. I fucking loved it. And as this is Volume One of the Pharos Saga, I cannot wait for him to get Volume Two done and dusted.

Recommended for those who enjoy horror, military horror, cosmic horror, thrillers, dark fantasy, weird horror, sci-fi, short story collections, and just general bad-arsery (or assery for those of the US persuasion).