Tag Archives: dark fantasy

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.

Festivus Book Pimping: Blood of Heirs/Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

And so, as this year draws toward its end, we once again move into that most sacred of sacred times… Festivus of the Pimping of the Books! Praise be!

Ahem.

I’ll just… moving right along…

We all know that books make the best Christmas presents, so for the next twenty-four days, right up until Santa breaks into your house and eats your food, I’ll be dropping book recommendations of those I’ve read and/or worked on this year that would be most excellent gifts for loved ones and friends and colleagues and that weird relative we all seem to have. (If you are the weird relative, I tip my hat to you!)

Right, let’s get this party started with a double-shot of fantasy for the Festivus Pimping: Blood of Heirs and Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Yep, there are two books now released in The Coraidic Sagas, the latter of which was released just yesterday (Nov. 30), so you get to sink your teeth into books one and two in a relatively short period.

But let’s delve a little deeper into each.

Blood of Heirs is a current finalist in the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) competition. For those unaware of the comp, click here for info. Making the finals for SPFBO is a hell of an achievement — top ten of three hundred books submitted. And it well deserves the accolades. It’s a darker fantasy, with magic and monsters and mayhem all set to the backdrop of Australian-inspired lands and fauna. We follow two protagonists, Lidan and Ranoth, two polar opposites but both fighting battles that could change not only them, but their respective worlds.

bloodofheirs

Here’s the blurb:

Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

The sequel, Legacy of Ghosts, takes place four years after the end of book one, and ramps up the tension and action and magic. There’s a whole lot weighing on the decision both Lidan and Ran make, the consequences of which are brutal and unforgiving.

Legacy-of-Ghosts-cover.jpg

 

Here’s the blurb:

Four years have passed since Lidan’s world was ripped apart, and time is running out to change her father’s mind about the succession before the bargain with her mother expires. Torn between what she wants and what she knows is right, she is faced with an impossible choice; will her brother live, or will he die?

Within the walls of the Hidden Keep, Ranoth holds his secrets close as he tries to harness his wild magic. But when life in the Keep descends into chaos, he is cast once more into the outside world, forced upon a southward path toward unknown lands and untold danger.

With Ran set on seeking justice and revenge, and Lidan fighting to find her feet and follow her heart, journeys will converge, and the ghosts of a past thought long dead will rise.

I enjoyed the absolute shit out both of these books and can’t wait for the third in the series. And, full disclosure, I worked with Alicia on Legacy of Ghosts, but hand on heart (yes, I have one) you won’t be disappointed with the beauty of the prose nor the depth of the character’s she’s created.

Recommended for lovers of fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, character-driven stories, unique worldbuilding and monsters. Hell, those monsters

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 — 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: 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.)