Tag Archives: dark fantasy

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.

the-wheel-of-osheim

I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.

 

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

 

 

Review: The Silent Army by James A Moore

Woe, the story be done, and I am sadder for it. A tad too dramatic? That may well be, but that’s the thing will brilliant storytelling, you don’t want it to be over. And that’s exactly how I felt as I was nearing the end of the fourth book in James A Moore’s Seven Forges series (Angry Robot Books).

noooo

It’s a terrible thing watching your bookmark move ever closer to the end. Part of you craves the conclusion while that other part of you is yelling to slow down, to prolong the read for as long as you can. But I finally closed the cover on The Silent Army, and I can say without a shadow of doubt this is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read.

Now before I embark on the small breaking-down of the book, let’s get the spoiler alert over and done with. While that’s happening, don’t mind me while I clean the cobwebs out of this blog – s’been a while, folks.

Okay, *clears throat*

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS! EVERYWHERE, SPOILER SPOILERS!

the-silent-army

Now I’m going to give you one final chance to bail now, because if you haven’t read book three (City of Wonders) then the beginning of the next paragraph is going to rob you of an epic reveal so turn away now. Go on. No sneaky-peeks.

So The Silent Army picks up right where book three left off: the city of Old Canhoon is still sailing through the sky toward the mountains, the Sa’ba Taalor are warring their way across the empire, and the gods and magic are amping up for a hell of a showdown. War! What is it good for? Absolutely epic reading, that’s what! (Yeah, I apologise for that.)

The story is told from both sides – from characters fighting for the empire of Fellhein, and from the Sa’ba Taalor. Multiple viewpoints only increased the connection I felt with all of the characters. Sure, there are some that don’t resonate as well as others, there are some that are… well, asshats, but diving deep into the beliefs and motivations for both sides makes it difficult to pick a side – there’s an honesty in that.

There are also those now caught in the middle: Drask Silver Hand (he’s a fave), Nolan March, and Tega – their venture in the Mounds has them almost lifted to the power of gods, and causes much introspection about their involvement in the war. Then there’s Andover (Lashk) Iron Hands – once Fellhein, now very much Sa’ba Taalor. These four play pivotal roles in the outcome of the war, although Moore gives you only just enough to wonder what’s at play before slapping you upside the head with the revelations – and there are many.

I can’t go further without again sending a big kudos to Moore for his magic system – especially that of the Sa’ba Taalor. It’s brutal, it’s beautiful, and it brokers no dissent. The gods of the Seven Forges are moving house, and they’re usurping mountains, creating their own if need be, and they’re doing it on a grand scale – their kings will die, and die well, to ensure it.

The Sa’ba Taalor are born for battle, while the Fellhein army has somewhat fallen on its laurels. Moore shows the reader the difference between warrior and soldier. But the Fellhein have the Silent Army – large stone soldiers that protect Old Canhoon. Stone soldiers that move via the walls, stepping out and attacking those Sa’ba Taalor who have hidden in the meat-sacks of Fellhein individuals as they wreak havoc on the city before it settles back to earth (ah, King Swech, you kick serious bum, girl!). It’s an army that’s the match of the Sa’ba Taalor, and their battles are ferociously good.

There’s so much good about this book, about this whole series that I can’t even begin to explain why you should be reading this. I was completely and utterly immersed in this world, and I damn well didn’t want to leave it (or be forced out by the end of The Silent Army). The only recompense is that there are three more in the series, the first of which is at least a year away. But don’t think you need to wait for those before starting on this series – books one through four have a complete story arc.

And a special shout-out to cover artist Alejandro Colucci, whose covers for the whole series were just gorgeous.

With a glut of books on the market, take my word that this is a series you’re going to love. You’ll be invested, you’ll be immersed, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t pick these books up earlier. It’s epic fantasy at its best. The writing is strong, the characters beautifully flawed, and the magic systems are wonderfully unique. James A Moore is one of those writers that as a reader, you love; and as a writer, he makes you want to be better.

On a Goodreads scale I give it five stars (if I could give it ten, I would. Or eleventy-million – either or.)

 

Review: City of Wonders by James A Moore

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book here, but as the current word count on reading for work sits at 2, 148, 400 (that’s right, over two million words so far this year), I can be excused for my slow reading-from-my-bookcase rate… and why it took me way longer to read this book than it should have.

So… grab a battle axe, or any self-forged weapon you have handy, wrangle a pra-moresh and mount up – it’s time to make war.

City of Wonders is the third book in the Seven Forges series by James A Moore, and it carries on beautifully and brutally from the first two books. And brutal it is. The kingdom of Fellein is at war with the Sa’ba Taalor – grey-skins born for battle. There’s no pussy-footing around when it comes to war, and Moore doesn’t shy from the savagery of it.

City of Wonders

Now we’re really getting into the meat of battle (can I get a ‘hell yeah!’). The Sa’ba Taalor are ferocious opponents, not given over to fear or mercy. The Fellein are woefully outmatched. Too long they’ve sat comfortable, idle, and they’re paying a damn high price for it.

While there are a lot of players in this series, and the story is told from multiple viewpoints, this only adds to the understanding of both sides of this war. That’s the thing with Moore’s writing, and why I am enamoured with this series – you can’t pick a side. There are no essentially ‘bad guys’ in this war; each side is fighting for their gods; each side has their story and you when you’re in the mind of one of the storytellers, you wholeheartedly understand why they’re fighting – be they Merros Dulver, commander of the Imperial Army, or Tarag Paedori, the King in Iron; or Andover Lashk, Swech, Drask Silver Hand, or Empress Nachia… you side with them, no matter which side of the war they sit.

There’s magic here – sorcery and necromancy. And you can’t forget the gods. The seven gods of the Sa’ba Taalor are one of my favourite parts of this series – so different from anything I’ve read, and while we see more of them through Andover Lashk and his trials, there’s still mystery surrounding them and I’ve no doubt we’ve yet to see the power they can truly wield. Through their gods, the Sa’ba Taalor have had a huge advantage (well that, and they’re a fearsome bunch – even the children are fierce warriors, able to disembowel a soldier with an adept flick of their wrist and weapon), and have destroyed a large portion of the Fellein empire and its people.

The Fellein put their faith in their (mostly) well-trained army, and that of their sorcerer, Desh, but City of Wonders brings the Fellein’s gods to the fore in the form of The Pilgrim. Enigmatic leader of a the faithful he’s collected on his journey to the city of Canhoon, the City of Wonders.

Gods fighting gods, monsters aplenty, warriors pitted against soldiers, and within it all, individuals just looking to survive. Through their eyes we see this looming apocalypse – there can be only one winner. That’s the thing here, though, I don’t know whose side I’m on. It’s Moore’s ability to get the reader inside the head and heart of those telling the story that makes it difficult to pick a side. And there’s a beauty in that – it shows that war isn’t a thing of the masses, but that of the individuals that make up the world and the battle, what they risk and why.

Seven Forges

Moore’s writing completely transports, his characters are fantastically fantastic, and the tension he weaves through it all is expertly done. Oh, and the twists? You’ll love those too. There are few authors I read where I wish I could write as well as them, but James A Moore is one them.

I can’t recommend this series enough. If you’re looking for fantasy on the darker side of things, and a magic system and gods that mess with any preconceived ideas you have, then you can’t go wrong with City of Wonders, let alone the whole Seven Forges series.

 The Blasted Lands

Special shout out to the cover artist for all the books, too. I don’t at all subscribe to the adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s bullshit. If you’re a print-reader like me, covers are what make you pick up a book, and the covers for all the books in the Seven Forges series are just gorgeous, and perfectly capture the characters they depict, and the world in which they live.

Book four, The Silent Army, has just been released, and while I’m desperately looking forward to reading it, part of me wants to hold off, to prolong this series for as long as I can. The world Moore has created is one I’d happily spend a long, long time in. And if that’s not the mark of a great storyteller (and books), I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars… big gold ones ten feet high.

five stars

Festivus Book Pimping – Carole Nomarhas

It’s the 19th? Better get my Festivus Pimping moving along if I’m going to squeeze as many pimpalicious books in before I head away in three days (woo hoo! Three days!). Ahem. Sorry. As you were…

This time we’re back on home soil, with Australian author, Carole Nomarhas, and her wonderfully creepy short story collection, The Fading.  The stories in this collection run the gamut of horror, dips it toes into some fantasy, and gives you a little bit of urban as well – but the running theme through the diversity of stories is that not everything is as it seems. Like ever.

Now before I move on, a little background here. There are moments editors dream of – finding those stories (be they shorts, novellas or novels) where you know you’ve encountered a true storyteller. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few instances of, what I like to call my ‘holy shit’ moments. And I got that with the first story of Nomarhas’ I read – Black Glass. That was when I knew this collection was going to be something special, and it was the first two lines of that story that dragged me in: The dead came back. All of them.

The Fading

In that moment, I knew I was working with something special. Each story built on the last; each one delivering their own sense of bleak storytelling that only reinforced my belief that Nomarhas is an author to watch.

Of course, I have my favourites, but the standard of this collection is so damn high, these were difficult picks indeed. Especially when you add in the almost poetic prose Nomarhas employs to visually transport you to her worlds: Moth-flutters of dark, tattered mist came to his call…

The Fading consists to eleven stories, each one a world, a horror unto itself, and each told with the same desire to take you places you will never forget, places that will haunt long after you’ve stopped reading. Nomarhas’ words tell you so: The wind sang thinly, ghost notes through hollow bones.

I can’t recommend this collection enough. Anyone who loves horror, dark fantasy, and the magic of words will love it.

Currently only available in ebook format, which makes it the perfect gift with just the click of a mouse.

Go. Now. Buy it.

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.

Festivus Book Pimping – Rowena Cory Daniells

Festivus Book Pimping, come on down! Sticking with the current theme, it’s Aussie author time once more.  Please welcome to the stage, Brisbane-based novelist, Rowena Cory Daniells! If it’s high fantasy of the darker kind you’re after, then you really can’t go past the The Outcast Chronicles.

This series was recommended to me by a friend, and I’ll be forever grateful to him (thanks, Ash!) for putting Daniells work onto my radar. Not only that, but Daniells has become one of my favourite authors – her imagination, creativity and wordsmithing truly dragged me into her worlds.

There are three books in the series: Besieged (reviewed here), Exile, and Sanctuary. It’s only now that I’ve realised I haven’t reviewed the other two books in the trilogy, but I absolutely loved the series, the magic, and the characters were so fully-fleshed out they most certainly had to be real.

Besieged

The Outcast Chronicles are told from different view-points, with each of those characters immersing the reader further into the races that make up this world, and how they all interact (sometimes in so not a good way). There’s an honesty in this storytelling – it doesn’t apologise for the violence or barbarity of its ways, or the culture in which those within find themselves, or the rules that oft appear unfair and unkind, but have (so far) managed to keep the peace between all.

But the magic, oh, the magic is a beast all its own… for those who have it. There’s a great diversity in the dynamics between the different races, and magic binds some, terrifies others, and also has a class-system all its own. It’s an intricate world Daniells has created, and I think that’s part of the reason I loved this series – there’s always something new to discover, all of which is relevant to the plot and/or story-arcs of the characters.

Exile

These are books with a good chunk of wordage in them as well (as fantasy books are wont to be), so there’s much meat to sink your teeth into – who doesn’t love a big ol’ book? With the promise of two more big ol’ books to come.

These books are seriously good Festivus stocking-stuffers. And if you’re only looking at getting someone a single book, that’s fine. Start with Besieged, then wait for your loved one to demand the rest in the series.

Oh, and as a bonus? (And believe me, after finishing the trilogy, the reader will want more.) The Fall of Fair Isle is the omnibus set 600 years before the trilogy (which is on my ‘to read’ mountain).

And if all of the above isn’t enough to get you buying her work, Daniells is one hell of a nice lady who happily engages with her readers.

Sanctuary

Recommended for those readers who enjoy fantasy, dark fantasy, epics, sagas. Hell, anyone you know will love these books.