Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I once described Mark Lawrence thus: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Many a night I have sacrificed sleep and my ability to function as an adulting adult, so immersed have I been in Lawrence’s worlds. This holds true with his last book in the Red Queen’s War series – The Wheel of Osheim.

It’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to get to this book, but it was damn well worth the wait. The Wheel of Osheim continues the epic tale of Prince Jalan Kendeth of the Red March and gargantuan Viking Snorri Ver Snagason. Fated to stop the ‘Wheel’ and save the world, these two characters are polar opposites but more alike than perhaps Kendeth would care to admit. Snorri? I’m sure he saw the kindred in Jalan early.

While I bought this huge tome in its beautiful print edition, I read it on my Kindle (because I am in love with my Kindle, and that’s a revelation that still hurts sometimes, but what’s one to do?). And while my husband has adjusted to the dim reading glow from my side of the bed, I haven’t quite adjusted to his: “it’s two in the morning… it’s three in the morning… no amount of coffee is going to make you human.” (He’s wrong, so very wrong.)

Ooh, would you look at that. Three paragraphs in, it must be spoiler alert time.

SPOILER WARNING… … SPOILER WARN… … SPOILER… … … FIRE BAD, TREE PRETTY. (Shut up.)

the-wheel-of-osheim

 

So where to begin? Well, with Jalan being spat from Hell (or Hel) and back into a quest he wants nothing to do with. All he wants is to go home and forget about the whole sorry mess – those are the words he speaks, yes, but Jal is the quintessential character of juxtaposition – he is both brave and cowardly, cruel and kind, indifferent and devoted. Human. That’s his appeal; he’s tremendously flawed, but when push comes to shove (and that’s often a literal shove), he surprises himself by doing the right thing, because despite his protestations to the contrary, that sense of righteousness within has grown to a formidable force.

A lot of that, I think, has to do with Snorri and the friendship the two have forged. While Snorri is quite open with his admiration (and remonstration) of Jalan, there’s a vulnerability in the Viking that perfectly balances the violence within. It’s that balance that’s slowly working its way through Jal. Though demonstrably different, the two are cut from the same cloth. Something Snorri sees far more than Jalan.

It’s an intricate world Lawrence has woven, and intricate players he’s put within. We see more of Jalan’s brothers – the two he’s hated most his life. But as with all relationships, it’s complex and we see the contempt Jal has had for his brothers superseded by the familial ties none of us can escape. In The Wheel of Osheim we see the depth and growth of Jalan more than in the previous books – we see the humanity he’s always tried to cover, to shield from the world. It’s achingly brutal.

The same can be said for Snorri’s ventures through Hel to find and rescue his wife and children. This melding of faiths – Jalan’s Christian Hell, and Snorri’s Norse Hel – showcases the layering Lawrence has put into each character. Snorri is a Viking on a mission, and nothing will stand in his way – not demons, not undead, not Hel’s warriors… that battle scene where Snorri finds his son is one of the best I’ve read. It’s bloody, it’s cruel, it’s heart-wrenchingly incapacitating – all that it should have been.

As with any final book in a trilogy, there’s much to tie up – both long game and short. This is a story that needs investing from the reader. You can’t half-arse it through this. The foreshadowing is there, and it’s subtle, but it all comes to play as you head into the final battle – the saving of the world… or rather, the saving of it for just that little bit longer.

Past, present and future all lay their cards on the table in The Wheel of Osheim, and fate, oh what a fickle mistress she is. The gods (whichever you choose them to be) have had their hands in this from the beginning. Which beginning? From the time of The Builders – the gods that never were – the world has been ticking so very quickly down. And magic, she is tearing apart the fabric of this universe faster than anyone realised.

It’s this urgency Lawrence plays to throughout this book, while still taking the time to address all that’s been built into the previous two books: the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Garyus (by far one of the most interesting and underplayed characters), Lady Blue… it’s quite a cast. And while not everything is concluded (possibly leaving it open for more stories in Jalan’s world), there was enough to make the ending satisfying.

Look, I could go on and on about the different aspects, the plots and sub-plots, the narrative, mechanics, architecture of the book, but I’ve no time to write a dissertation on how good this book is. Yes, sometimes it does fall into cliché (the usurpation of the throne by the Red Queen’s brother, and the subsequent death), but this can be forgiven based on the prose alone. As with The Red Queen’s War, and The Broken Empire series, Lawrence can take and twist words into the most sublime of writing. When the ‘wordsmith’ is used, I’m sure Lawrence is one of the authors meant to wear this moniker.

Overall, The Wheel of Osheim is a dark, gritty, often humorous storytelling of a world in its dying days. Of political machinations, of haunting past deeds and the price one pays. And monsters, oooh, there be monsters. A totally immersive, roller-coaster ride to tie the series off.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars.

Book Review: The Tide by Anthony J Melchiorri

Aaaand, we’re back! Two posts in two days? If this keeps up the world will spin off its axis…unless you’re a Flat-Earther, then it’s more a tilt of the space turtle and four careening elephants. Ahem. Where was I?

It’s review time! We love review time. Well, I love review time, especially when I come across a new author (or rather a new author to me). It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was introduced to Anthony J Melchiorri’s work, and what a fun and frightening introduction it’s been. Melchiorri’s stories drag you in and don’t let you go. And yes, that was a deliberate plural. While I’m only reviewing the first book in The Tide series, I’m currently halfway through the third.

Two things before we go forward: 1) big shout out to Geoff Brown for putting me onto the series – you rock, dude; and 2)…

SPOILER ALERT! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE’S A SPOILER BENEATH THAT CUSHION, AND ANOTHER UNDER THE CAT. BECAUSE CATS, MAN.

the-tide

The Tide, as you can probably tell by the cover, is apocalyptic military horror – one of my favourite genres. It’s also a genre that can be difficult to get right, but Melchiorri hits all the right notes with this first book. What he doesn’t do, is bog down the beginning with over-explanation and character introduction but rather drops the reader right into the horror of what’s to come.

The prelude gives the reader a graphic understanding of the potential of a genetically-engineered bioweapon crudely developed during WWII by the Japanese. It ain’t pretty, and I was hooked. Fast forward to current times and we’re introduced to Captain Dominic Holland and his ‘Hunters’, a group of covert operatives who work for the CIA off-the-books. And these Hunters have some serious firepower and a kick-arse ship at their disposal. Not to mention hackers and scientists that complete the diverse bunch.

Melchiorri is a bioengineer by trade, and it’s abundantly clear with the monsters he creates in the books, that he knows his stuff (as an aside, please don’t give the man free-rein with pathogens without a steady stream of caffeine). There’s a good deal of science involved in the story, but if you’re like me and have a rudimentary understanding of it, you’re not going to get lost when it comes to the biology et al. And biology it is. The monsters in The Tide are some of the best I’ve read. The virus developed back in WWII has been expanded upon, and what it turns humanity into is… hell. Called ‘Skulls’ due to the victims’ human skeleton becoming an exo-skeleton of disturbing sorts, this is nightmare fuel for all involved. And fast, these monsters are fast and voraciously hungry.

While Melchiorri doesn’t let up on the action, there’s a good balance in the peaks and troughs he’s worked throughout the story. Just when you’re getting some downtime (reader and characters alike), the tension ramps up and you’re back into the thick of things. When you add in Holland’s daughters needing to be rescued as the world turns to shit (although eldest daughter Kara can hold her own), the stakes are raised even higher. It’s this type of storytelling that can literally be called a page-turner.  I finished this book in four days… well nights, as I read before bed, and Melchiorri seriously owes me some nap time.

This is some seriously good storytelling with well-rounded characters, high action, and intense tension. And monsters, damn but Melchiorri’s monsters are unique and unnerving. You won’t be disappointed.

On a Goodreads scale, I give The Tide five stars.

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

Review: Extinction End by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Lookit me finishing a book! It’s been a crazy year, and I’ve not read anywhere near the amount of books that I’ve wanted… although that hasn’t stopped me buying books because that’s just crazy talk. What has been all kinds of great is the discovery of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Extinction Cycle series (big up Geoff Brown for putting me onto them).

I’d been sitting on Extinction End (book five in the series) for a while, which is no reflection on the book itself, rather on my complete lack of time to give it the reader-respect it deserves. Two minutes before bed with eyes feeling like sandpaper does not good reading make. Also makes AJ cranky-cranky-something-something.

So between moving house and all the “fun” that goes along with that, I managed to get away for five days to my father’s farm where there is nothing but the call of birdsong, verdant hills as far as they eye can see, and steer fights over mounds of dirt (don’t ask). The perfect reading environment.

Before I go any further, time for the requisite spoiler warning:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE, BIG MOFO SPOILERS THAT WILL SPOIL IN ALL THEIR SPOILERY SPOILMENT. CLICKETY-CLACK, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

extinction-end

In my Amazon review, I called this series military-horror at its finest, and I have a foot in this world (not the Variant world, ‘cause I don’t think I’d have enough clean underwear to make it through a Variant meet-and-greet), but the military-horror publishing world – I read a lot of it, and I know stand-out when I read it.

Extinction End was supposed to be the final book in the series, and while book six is about to hit the bookshelves any day now, this tale is told with finality and the tying up of threads for the characters trying to survive in this new world. Although part of me has to wonder whether Smith was truly finished with Team Ghost tales, as the epilogue really did leave it open for more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Variants have evolved with each book, and are now thinking, strategizing and some are speaking – crude though it is – but it’s a kind of mental… telepathy that has the Variants working as soldiers. Desperate, now, for the only food source available – people. They’re also breeding – evolution really is kicking it up a notch here.

With a great mix of science and military action, Extinction End is hard-core – and it should be. It was written as the last book, so things are always going to get worse before they get better… if only slightly better. There are several threads running through this, but it’s held together by the two main characters: Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and Dr Kate Lovato – now expecting their child.

From beginning to end, there’s no let up on the tension; it’s fast-paced, and tightly packed with action and gunplay. And to add to it all, there’s mutiny afoot. That’s the thing with an apocalyptic event, people (by definition) are going to come at the problem in different ways, and they’re always going to believe their way is the right way, the only way.

Smith plays with these threads like a puppeteer, manipulating and shifting the players on the stage like a macabre dance. Nothing is guaranteed in this world. And going into this book with the knowledge Smith isn’t afraid to maim or kill major characters (you and I need to speak about Riley, Nick), each chapter was like the tightening of a bowstring – there’s only so much give before it snaps and takes you out.

There’s no doubt Smith has a great regard for the women and men who serve in the armed forces; it’s evident in the way he’s drawn those who don the uniform, in their character and their willingness to sacrifice all to save those they’re meant to protect. And some do. Not all make it through this book, nor should they, and with a possible advantage over the Variants, it’s Team Ghost that goes in again.

The last few chapters of this book were a hard read. You know not all of the team will make it back, that the shit will really hit the fan – you’ve been following these characters for five books now, something’s gotta give. And it did, in a big way.

Now if you’ve read this far despite the spoilers, I’m giving you one last chance to look away – major spoiler ahead.

I admire a writer who takes the hard road with a main character, and Smith does that by having Reed hit with Variant venom. It’s a death sentence by all accounts, but the quick thinking of Big Horn via two field amputations saves Beckham’s life. The loss of his right hand and his left leg from the knee down, plus impaired vision means he’ll never be the soldier he once was. His war is effectively over. Tough call it must have been, but it was the right call.

There’s a strange satisfaction in that; Beckham’s not invincible, that war claims everyone in some way or another. From the man in the street who sides with the Variants for survival, to the colonel aboard a battleship who orchestrates a mutiny for launch codes (now that was a satisfying death!). No one is immune, and Smith shows this in both harsh and subtle ways.

There is so much to like about this book – it grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. That’s what a story should do, it should drag you into the world, kicking and screaming if it must, but it makes you a participant, makes you invested, and makes you both want to turn the next page while dreading it also.

If you haven’t read this series, you need to rectify this immediately. And with book six – Extinction Aftermath – due out today… or tomorrow (time zones are weird), you won’t have to wait to see where Team Ghost ends up next. It’s Europe. Told you there’d be spoilers.

Well, don’t just sit there reading this, *flaps hand* Go. Now. Buy the books!

On a Goodreads scale, I give Extinction End five stars.

Festivus Book Pimping – Mark Lawrence

Let’s get some Festivus grimdark on, shall we? Why yes, we shall! This time I’m taking it off-shore, and pimping out Mark Lawrence (yes, I see it, let it go) and his books – trilogies, to be precise. I came late to Lawrence’s books, but that’s worked out remarkably well for me, as I’ve read five of his this year and am waiting (rather impatiently, as is my wont) for the final instalment of his latest trilogy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with The Broken Empire series, which was another recommendation from a friend –you rock, Tracy! The first, Prince of Thorns (reviewed here), was the beginning of my addiction to Lawrence’s work. Seriously, his writing’s like crack – just one more page, just one more page… just one more… Many a night I sat up reading to the wee hours, forsaking sleep for story.

The Broken Empire trilogy follows Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath and all-round immoral character. Jorg is both personally driven and nudged along the way by outside forces, but ultimately he’s a character who is incredibly self-aware and unapologetically so. I loved him. It’s a book beautifully told in its barbarity, but it’s a violent, chaotic world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem. It’s Jorg’s world and he’ll be its king – no matter who he needs to step on, kill, maim, or sacrifice in that endeavour.

broken empire

I read King of Thorns (reviewed here), as quickly as I read the first – I couldn’t get enough of the characters or the world-building, let alone the political manoeuvrings from those vying for the role of emperor. It’s a ‘broken empire’ and there are those who want to see it whole and rule it accordingly, and then there’s the Dead King, slowly working his way into the world of the living.  There’s death on a grand-scale here, so if you’re of the more… delicate reading sensibilities… take a leap into the honesty of the brutalities of war.

I began Empire of Thorns (reviewed here), with a little trepidation, not because I thought it wouldn’t stand up to the grandeur of the first two, but because it was the final in the series – it was coming to an end. I devoured this book (not literally, books aren’t for eating – you should know this), and simultaneously tried to draw it out. It was a battle of epic proportions, as are the battles contained in this last instalment of the trilogy, but no less satisfying when it came to its end. Did I want more? You bet I did. Was I disappointed with the ending? Hell no.

This series is told in the first person point of view, which keeps the reader close, and Lawrence has a gift for wordsmithing that is beautiful and poignant. Oft times a phrase would stop me, and I’d have to read it again purely for the beauty of it. Oh, and when you figure out what this world is… that’s pretty awesome. There are those who call Jorg an ‘anti-hero’ or ‘villainous-hero’, but I disagree – he’s determined, driven, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. I kinda like that.

Prince of Fools

Lawrence’s current trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, is set within the same world of The Broken Empire series, but with completely different characters – and I mean different in every way. It runs concurrently with Jorg’s quest, but in Prince of Fools (reviewed here), it is Prince Jalan Kendeth we follow. Jal is, in his own words: a coward, a cheat and a womaniser… and tenth in line to the throne. He’s a wholly different beast to Jorg, and he should be – this is a different story. We’re also introduced to the very cool Norseman Snorri ver Snagason. Magic has bound the two and they must set off for Snorri’s homeland to undo that magic. Again, nothing is ever what it seems with Lawrence’s storytelling, and the clues and tid-bits he leaves the reader only make you read for longer and again sacrifice sleep.

This continues with The Liar’s Key, which is being lauded as one of the best fantasy books of 2015, and with good reason. I haven’t yet got around to reviewing this book, but… tough call that it is, I’d put it in my top three of all the books I’ve read this year. There’s a criss-crossing of timelines and some characters from The Broken Empire series, but that only cements the ‘realness’ of this story within the large, large world Lawrence has created. For world-building alone, you can’t go past either series.

The Liar's Key

I can’t recommend these books enough. So if you’ve loved ones who like to read fantasy, especially of the dark, unapologetic kind, then The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies are one’s you can’t go past. Or buy them for yourself – everyone needs to treat themselves to some dark stuff every once in a while!

And if you’re wondering if these books are as good as I say they are, I sacrificed so much sleep to finish these books, I’m sure I unwittingly sold parts of my soul. I also gave the man a handle:

Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn.

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I don’t get anywhere near the amount of time to read for pleasure as I’d like. This hasn’t in any way curbed my book buying – that’s a joy in and of itself; it does mean the reading time I do have is so damn precious the book better be good. And by ‘good’ I mean convince me I can absolutely function as an adulting adult on two hours sleep.

Enter Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. That’s him there, sauntering in with Prince of Fools in hand. Words, he offered, places brutal and beautiful. So I sold my sleep, my ability to reason, and any resemblance to something remotely human when the alarm screamed at me to wake up, dammit!

I should have known; enamoured as I was with Lawrence’s first offering of Jorg Ancrath in the Broken Empire trilogy. While Prince of Fools is told in the same first-person point of view, it travels (mostly) within a single timeline. There are flashbacks of a kind, moments of reminisce and rediscovery, but there is no real time-jumping as those from the Broken Empire.

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools is the first in the Red Queen’s War series, and while it’s set within the Broken Empire (and runs parallel to Jorg’s story, with a nice little crossover that kept this reader happy), don’t for a minute think you’re in for the same thing. Here, it’s Prince Jalan Kendeth, womaniser, gambler, coward, and tenth in line to the throne who tells the story. While he’s not a ‘likeable’ character in the true sense of the word, I couldn’t help but like him and his wit (he has some of the best pieces of dialogue I’ve ever read).

When you add the huge Norseman, Snorri ver Snagason, with whom Jalan’s fate is tied, you’ve got two sides to the one coin. Light and dark, coward and hero, honourless and honour-bound. The Silent Sister’s magic has bound the two and set them on a path across the empire to the Bitter Ice, to the place Snorri lost his family to one of the Dead King’s minions, to where both hope to break the magic that binds them, and be rid of the ‘angel’ and ‘demon’ that ride the magic with them.

At the beginning of their journey, it’s clear Snorri is Jalan’s conscience (despite the ‘dark’ side of the magic he holds) – he instructs him in the ‘right’ of things, lures him with the honour of familial bonds that transcend death, and dig into that part of Jalan that is good, despite Jal’s thick veneer of shallowness rooted in self-preservation (oft in the form of running away). The closer the two get to the north, however, the more Snorri retreats into silence and the darkness of his magic, and the less Jal is able to resist the pull of the ‘light’ side of the magic he carries. He’s resistant, of course – doing the right thing often ends in losing more than Jal’s willing to give. Both hold magic, and both can use it, although neither tends to do this well, or with any true understanding of what it is and how it works.

There’s so much more at play here – and a game it is. Jalan and Snorri are both pawn and player, each drawn to their own paths, but so intrinsically entwined, there has to be stronger forces chipping out those paths.  Simpering though Jalan is, and a self-confessed coward (and happily so), when push comes to shove (despite his ‘better’ judgement), he becomes quite the warrior… although much of it within an almost fugue-like state.

jalan

Prince of Fools is very much a character-driven story, and Lawrence delivers two vastly different, fully-fleshed out two in Jalan and Snorri. But there’s no phoning-it-in when it comes to the secondary characters either, and I was especially taken with the characters of the North (I’m a sucker for Vikings). But it’s moving through these lands, that we see not only Lawrence’s ability to weave lands and peoples with an almost ease of believability, but both Jal and Snorri’s understanding that this is the long-game. Paths again diverge with Snorri now hunting for Loki’s Key, the only thing that will open the door (any door, anywhere) to Hel, and to his murdered family. Jal just wants to be rid of the magic and to go home to the warmth of the Red March.

Loki’s key is… well, key. It’s the driving force behind all the players in this game – those who’ve been in the long-game and those who’ve just sat down at the table. Jal and Snorri’s isn’t an easy journey, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Dead King wants them (and Loki’s key), and sets monsters, Unborn, mercenaries and necromancer on their tail. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) There are battles and skirmishes pretty much the whole way to the Bitter Ice, but those pale in comparison to the combat at the Black Fort. It’s all or nothing here, and while this is Snorri’s way, it sure ain’t Jal’s but… nah, you’re just going to have to sell your own sleep to Lawrence to find out.

Lawrence has interwoven many a sub-plot, but take note of the word ‘interwoven’ – the foreshadowing for future… events is often a subtle nudge but it all comes together nicely, and there’s no doubt some of these will be continued in the next book. The Red Queen’s War is the long game, and so too is Lawrence plotting – there’s… stuff to be resolved, big stuff, and questions that need answering and secrets to be divulged. There’s magic, both dark and light, and not all is as it seems… at least I think not… or maybe I do…

All I know is that Mark Lawrence is waiting in the wings, a copy of The Liar’s Key in one hand and my hours of sleep in his other.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars (and my supposed sanity).

five stars

Review: Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

I should be writing, I should, but I’m starting to get ridiculously behind on my book reviews, which isn’t a bad thing really – it means I’m reading faster than I can write reviews… or someone’s seriously messing with time (if so – STOP IT!).

Aaaanyway… it’s book review time! Today we’re venturing into the fantastical world of Rowena Cory Daniells’ Outcast Chronicles. While I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, here I’ll be chatting about the first in the series – Besieged. (Oh, and a special shout out to Ashely Capes for putting me onto this trilogy, too! Thanks, buddy!)

Now before we go any further, I have a marching band mustering stage right with the requisite spoiler alert, and they’re getting antsy…

<Enter marching band to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Master Blaster’ – because Stevie>

EVERYONE’S SEEING SPOILERS! IT’S A SPOILER IN JUNE! THOUGH THE WORLD’S FULL OF SPOILERS, THEY COULDN’T SPOIL US EVEN IF THEY TRIED!

Well technically you could be spoiled if you continue reading. So as the marching band exits stage left, either take your seat and continue reading (ignoring my dancing) or follow the band out to the parking lot…

Besieged

Alrighty, let’s get to this, shall we?

Imagine a world split definitively between those with differing physical attributes. Daniells’ world is ruled by ‘True-Men’, perfectly-formed and pure of blood, they believe themselves better than those unlike them. On the other side is the T’En, white-haired, blue-eyed, six-fingered people with mind-bending abilities that strike fear (and superstition) into the hearts of True-Men everywhere. Caught somewhat between are the Malajune (Wyrds), copper-haired, purple-eyed, six fingered men and women born into the service of the T’En – honoured they believe themselves to be, this indoctrination is hard-wired into them through history.

But the above is just the main structure, the loom if you will, of a rich tapestry of lives and loves, culture and magic that hold this world together. Daniells weaves her world with care and precision, but one tug at those threads and it all unravels, as we will come to see.

At times the precision of Daniells’ world-building worked against the forwarding of the story, especially within the first one-hundred and fifty or so pages. I understand the need for this world-building at the beginning of a trilogy, but there was a lot of information I felt could have been drip-fed through the story, not spelled out so completely with those early chapters.

It’s all about balance, and that Daniells’ storylines for the characters were so compelling, it was sometimes frustrating to feel bogged down in some of her descriptions when I wanted to follow the characters through their stories.

Besieged is told from several points of view, and works well to give us a taste of the different people that make up this world. While Imoshen takes somewhat centre stage for the trilogy, it’s the character of Sorne, the disavowed son of the mad king, Charald, to whom we are first introduced as a babe – I’m talking straight from the womb and (almost) directly to his father’s blade.

It’s with Sorne we spend the beginning of the book; saved (and raised) by former High Priest Oskane – for purely selfish reasons, mind – he is an experiment in the abilities of the Malanjune to find a way to defeat them. Tortured and indoctrinated into subservience, Sorne’s is a pitiful, yet strangely happy childhood, until he becomes aware of who he really is. Things really go from bad to worse when he delves into the higher planes where monsters dwell, and becomes an even greater pawn in Oskane’s plans for revenge.

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Running concurrently with Sorne’s story is that of Imoshen. The T’En’s are also a divided race – the Sisterhood and Brotherhoods (yes, men and women split with power-plays happening all the time). History has the Sisterhoods raising all children, with the boys moving to a Brotherhood when they come of age. It’s an interesting dynamic Daniells plays out here – each Brother and Sisterhood has its own standing, but each also vies for greater standing and power with the T’En. Each T’En also has their own gift, which can range from being a Warrior, Healer, and taster of truth to communing with animals (which is so low on the scale, it’s considered tainted).

Those within the Brotherhood usually have children with Malanjune, and Imoshen was not handed over to the Sisterhood as per law but raised by men. Though loved by her father, she too, is a pawn in bringing prestige to the Brotherhood but the pact was broken and… well, all hell breaks loose when Imoshen arrives at the Sisterhood after escaping a murder-plot.

Besieged is the set-up book for Daniells’ created world, characters and the story arcs of said characters. It’s a bloody, in-your-face world that doesn’t shy from the harsh reality of a world that is bound by rules and laws that at times seem unfair, but so far have worked to keep the peace. Of course you know that the peace is going to be broken, that there are those within the book who will set out alone to make their own destinies, even when they are tied so tightly to the people they’re meant to be guiding and protecting.

It’s no secret that the Mad King Charald wants the city the T’En occupy – beautiful and bountiful that it is. He’s determined, ruthless and uses the magic and history of the gods to further his cause while taking wife after wife in an attempt to sire the perfect True-Man son.

There are parts of the book I’d like to mention here, but they’re also parts as a reader you should discover yourself. Daniells has woven an intricate world and characters that are wholly likeable and unlikeable, but there’s an honesty to this world that I really enjoyed.

While it sits squarely within the fantasy genre, there’s a darkness and brutality to it that won’t appeal to all fans of fantasy. For me, though, I liked that unashamed storytelling. Lives aren’t all pristine and happy unicorns, that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the cracks in those veneers and the dirt that hides beneath.

As I said earlier, there were times where I felt the story suffered a little under the weight of the world-building, but that’s a personal preference. Daniells’ world is extremely well constructed, the magic systems and culture, though unique to each race, they’re cleverly entwined and deftly delivered. There’s political and religious power-plays, revenge, betrayal, love and horror all finding their place here — a little something for everyone.

It’s difficult to express within a thousand-or-so words how good this book is (without it turning into a dissertation), but I’d highly, highly recommend this series. Daniells said she wanted to write a trilogy that had the reader wanting more, and she definitely delivered with Besieged. I finished the book (which is 672 pages) in about five days because I wanted to spend more time with the characters in this beautifully fucked-up world.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this 3.5 stars

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