Tag Archives: dark fantasy

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.

Review: Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson

Well it’s the first of the month here (those of you in the northern hemisphere will catch up soon enough), and I’ll be leading August off with a review. Yes, it’s review time!

Today (tonight) it’s Australian author, Donna Maree Hanson, and her book Shatterwingbook one of her Dragon Wine series. I met Donna at Sydney Supanova when I was trawling for books. Now the only thing better than books, is signed books; as an author, I know there’s not much better than having someone ask to sign the book you wrote – so it was a win-win on both sides of the table.

It was great to have a chat about the books, too, as I really had only a vague idea about their content, although the cover does point you in the general direction.

dragon_wine_1_dev06

Now before I move on, it’s requisite spoiler-alert time:

THE SHIFTING OF AIR UNDER WING WARNS OF INCOMING SPOILERS. RUN. NOW. LEST YOU BE BURNED BY THE RUINATION THAT IS THE SPOILER.

Okay, so yes, from the cover, Shatterwing is a book with dragons, but dragons form only part of this story. At its essence, this is a story about a world on the brink and how society (or what’s left of it), deals with an apocalyptic world – not well, I have to say. The white cover and golden wings are a great juxtaposition for a tale that firmly sits on the grim-dark side of things.

The book is divided into two parts, and in the first we’re introduced to the major players: Salinda, Brill, Danton and the Inspector. The Inspector runs the winery, which is more prison than lush vineyard, and from the beginning the reader is left in little doubt the Inspector is a cruel, sadistic son-of-a-bitch.  The scenes underground with both Brill and Salinda are brutal – not at all for the faint-hearted, you’ve been warned.

The vineyard is where they make Dragon Wine, which is vital to those of Margra for not only its healing powers, but as a source of currency and political power.

The story is told mostly from Salinda and Brill’s point of view, but even so, I found it difficult to connect with either of them. It wasn’t until under-dweller, Nils, is introduced that I felt that connection. I slowly warmed to Brill and Danton (Danton especially), and it took longer to really connect with Salinda, which was a shame as she’s quite vital to the story.

Now there are dragons, but they are creatures to be feared, especially by those working the vineyard. Run and hide or become a meal. All but one dragon – Plu – a fledgling Salinda briefly raised and to whom she can call on when needed.

Shatterwing, however, isn’t a dragon as I’d first thought, but one of the moons that orbits Margra. Only Shatterwing is a fragmented moon, and those fragments are continually falling to the earth. There’s a lot going on with this world, and Hanson does a great job of drip-feeding the world and its culture through her storytelling rather than the laborious info-dumps I’ve found in other books (authors take note!).

It’s a slow piecing together of what’s happened to bring the world to the brink, and how the different cultures within this world interact and try to survive – some for purely selfish reasons, and others for the good of all. And I have to say, there isn’t a lot of good in this world.

blood spatter

There are those, however, who have magic. Salinda is one, although she doesn’t quite know its power or how to harness it. The ‘cadre’ (a collection of memories and untapped power) was passed to her via her mentor. Another with power we discover in the second part of this book.

Here, we’re introduced to Thurdon (rather briefly), and to his apprentice, Laidan. Thurdon has the cadre, which he passes to Laidan before his death. Of course she has no idea what’s happened or what it is that she now possesses. Held prisoner by the fratricidal prince, Lenk, she has a rather fortuitous rescue from a childhood friend, Garan who has the cool job-moniker of ‘Skywatcher’ (note: this is the title of book 2 in the series).

Fortuitous might be the wrong word, as things really don’t go well for the pair. At all. This really is a fucked-up world, and that Hanson doesn’t shy from the brutality humanity can bestow on one another is to be commended.

This is a desperate world made up of desperate people, which makes the journey of Salinda, Brill, Danton, Laidan and Garan all the more treacherous and desperate. It’s Nils, though, who sees the world and its people for whom and what they truly are – he’s almost the conscience of Margra. It’s to him, though, I believe the fate of this world rests.

I liked this book, and it was an easy read as well. I would have liked to have found that connection with the characters a lot sooner, and I think a lot of that has to do with being unable to find something within each of them that resonated with me. It came, just later than I wanted.

I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment, as the book really did pick up the pace from about the halfway mark. I’m invested now, and that’s all a reader (and writer) wants.

I’ll repeat my warning here that this isn’t a high-fantasy book about dragons, but rather a grimdark, brutal fantasy that delves right into the depths of inhumanity. For me, it’s these types of books that show humanity at its best. Small band though they may be.

On a Goodreads scale, I give Shatterwing 3.5 stars.

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