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Dark Currents

Dark Currents is the first instalment in a new urban fantasy series Agent of Hel by American author Jacqueline Carey.
Set in the picturesque Midwestern tourist town of Pemkowet, protagonist Daisy Johanssen is a hell-spawn, daughter of a demon and mortal mother and the chosen representative and enforcer for the Norse goddess Hel, ruler of the Underworld and the Fae community of Pemkowet. Daisy acts as an intermediary between the mortal community in her role as official Fae liaison for Pemkowet Police Department and the Fae creatures that call Pemkowet home, vampires, fairies, pixies, nymphs, ghouls, werewolves, brownies and many other eldritch beings drawn to the magical powers centered around Yggdrasil and the Underworld ruled by Hel. On initial appearance, Pemkowet is an ordinary tourist town but the sudden death of a wealthy college student and involvement of the Fae community requires Daisy to act as liaison and solve the issues quickly without disrupting the balance between mortal and Fae communities.
But Daisy has her own issues, not controlling her demonic heritage could have consequences for her ability to succeed as Hel’s liaison, where Daisy’s temptation to unleash her anger and high emotions often leads to unintended violent effects on the world around her. Daisy has a race against time to discover who murdered the human college student and the purportaitors of crimes against the Fae before the delicate balance of Pemkowet dissolves into chaos.
Dark Currents was an enjoyable urban fantasy with a well-researched folkloric and mythology background which provided great foundations for the unusual setting of the novel. It was a novel of opposites that matched the town it is set in: a story that was light and dark, amusing but also with serious undertones. I look forward to reading the other novels in the Agent of Hel Trilogy!

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Darkdawn

I recently read Darkdawn, the third and final instalment in the Nevernight Chronicle by Australian author Jay Kristoff.
Darkdawn follows from the preceding volume Godsgrave where protagonist, the assassin Mia Corvere has succeeded in her plans on the arena sands of the grand gladiatorial games in Godsgrave. But Mia’s plans were not as unforeseen as she had hoped. With the Blades of the Red Church on her heels, her young brother Jonnen resisting his liberation from Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo’s corpse behind her, Godsgrave erupts into chaos where Consul Scaeva takes control of the Republic as Imperitor, a king in all but name. As Mia plans to rescue her old mentor Mecuro used as bait in a trap laid for her within the protection of the Red Church, Mia must use all her skills as an assassin, help from her friends in the collegium, her lover Ashlinn, and master the skills of her darkin heritage to defeat Scaeva and finally avenge her familia. Hardest challenge of them all, Mia must try not to lose who she is in the process. Darkdawn is a dramatic conclusion to the adventures of the Nevernight Chronicle, the characters and plot staying true to intention, still maintaining a high-octane adventure with a satisfying conclusion. Kristoff is true to his characters and this fabulous series is not for the faint of heart. Highly recommended read!

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The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by US author Brandon Sanderson was a recent recommendation. This first instalment in The Stormlight Archive series is definitely an epic fantasy not just in the scope of the novel itself but the incredible detail paid to the world-building and the unique characters.

The Way of Kings follows a handful of characters, all very different storylines with protagonists in different social, political and life-stages but linked either directly or indirectly through an event that changed all their lives. The Way of Kings begins with the assassination of King Gavilar at the time of a peaceful pact between the opposing Parshendi and Alethi forces. Many years later, battle continues on the Shattered Plains where Brightlord Dalinar leads armies to avenge his slain brother, King Gavilar, waging war against the Parshendi armies. Years of on Shattered Plains have turned the war-camp into permanent barracks and villages supporting Alethi highprinces and brightlords all competing for the favour of King Gavilar’s son.

The years of war have drained the Alethi kingdoms of men and wealth where Kaladin, forced to abandon his surgeon-apprenticeship and support the war effort finds that the honour of the ruling brightlords is little more than words. Although blessed with power he cannot fathom which sees him survive every calamity while others die, Kaladin soon finds himself a slave on the deadliest battlefields of the Shattered Plains. Only Dalinar Kholin upholds the honour Kaladin expected long-ago from the ruling brightlords and Dalinar‘s influence weakens as his obsession with the mythic past, the mysterious Order of Knights Radiant increases. But Dalinar’s niece, the scholar Jasnah Kholin seems certain the a truth lies behind the Knights Radiant, their defeat at the Last Desolation and terrible ancient beings called the Voidbringers. Jasnah has her own secrets that her ward, a young woman and thief named Shallan is determined to uncover. The connection between these four strengthens as the mysterious assassin who murdered King Gavilar becomes active once more.

The Way of Kings is an epic tale exploring the chain-of-events where a cause-and-effect scenario had multiple ramifications for all levels of society and long into the future. Although The Stormlight Archive are very much still in their infancy after The Way of Kings, it is a masterful piece of storytelling and world-building. I look forward to reading the next instalments. Highly recommended!

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Vigil

One of my recent reads was the paranormal urban fantasy, Vigil by Australian author Angela Slatter. The first book in the Verity Fassbinder Series follows the paranormal private detective Verity Fassbinder set in an alternate version of Brisbane city, Australia where Verity acts as a mediator between the mortals (Normals) and the paranormal community (Weyrd). Verify herself is a half-blood, orphan daughter of disgraced and executed Weyrd criminal. While her only inherited trait from her Weyrd ancestry is a remnant of the infamous strength her father once possessed, she acts as an investigator for the Normal police system and the Weyrd Council.

Set in an alternate version of the modern day city of Brisbane, both resembling and not similar at all to the real Australian city, Verity is tasked with investigating the darker side of the Weyrd world and closely linked to her own father’s demise. Those in the Weyrd community who refuse to discard the old traditions of hunting and consuming Normals have continued their predelications despite the Weyrd Council outlawing such traditions when Verity’s father came to the attention of Normal and Weyrd communities alike. Now Verity must confront those aspects of her own past and family connections when a wine is sold among the Weyrd community made from the tears of Normal children. To keep the peace between the Normals and prevent them from discovering the Weyrd community among them, Verity begins to investigate deep into the old, traditional families among the Weyrd and close to the Council itself. Into this already atmosphere fraught atmosphere, a powerful and uncontrollable force is hunting both Weyrd Councillors and normals alike. As if the issues Verity needs to investigate were not dangerous enough, the sirens inhabiting Brisbane, near-immortal winged bird-like women are being murdered around the city. The threat to the peace between Normals and Weyrd begins to escalate and the potential for disaster increases as Verity needs to solve three cases or risk the Weyrd of Brisbane being revealed to the outnumbering populus of Normals.

Vigil is a debut novel by Angela Slatter and the first in a trilogy of urban fantasy with a basis in myth and folklore. Likened to US Urban fantasy author Jim Butcher I also found similarities with US urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs. However, Angela Slatter’s Vigil was refreshingly different, the style and characters as unique as the world-building behind the novel. The strong research in myth and folklore is clear in Vigil and it is woven throughout the story to create a new work without the dreaded ‘info-dump’ moments which make the history and lore of the Weyrd feel a genuine component of the world-building process. In sum, Vigil transports you to an alternate Brisbane which feels like it could be real if you just look close enough. A highly recommended read!

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Orphan Warriors


I recently read Orphan Warriors, the first installment in the Children of the Otori duology by British-born Australian author Lian Hearn. In the events following the aftermath of  the Tales of the Otori series, Orphan Warriors follows a young protagonist, one of the orphan sons of Arai Zenko, former friend and betrayer to Lord Takeo Otori.

Orphan Warriors takes place several years after Takeo’s death, Sunaomi and his younger brother Chikara have escaped execution alongside their parents providing they remain within the secluded protection of the Terayama temple monastery. Although Sunaomi and Chikara were raised as warriors, they now live as monks under the protection of their aunt, the late Lord Takeo’s wife’s Kaede.  However, Sunaomi’s grandmother is Muto Shizuka, now a prominent leader in the Tribe. Soon, Sunaomi begins to discover his own inherited talents from the Tribe and he must choose between the honurable ways of the warrior class he is forever now excluded and the less honourable paths followed by the Tribe. 

Closely bound to Sunaomi’s own story and self-discovery is that of another orphan warrior at Terayama, Lord Takeo’s own son Hisao, who was stolen and raised among the Tribe to assassinate his Takeo. Events in the Eight Islands suddenly change when Saga Hideki, the Emperor of the Eight Island’s most powerful Warlord becomes increasingly unstable. Sunaomi escapes Terayama when Saga Hideki sends forces for the remaining Ortori heir, but Hisao also escapes capture.  Sunaomi forms a complex bond with Hisao, who has a rare Tribe talent as a ghostmaster, controlling the spirits of the dead. Yet Sunaomi is reluctant to condemn Hisao as morally corrupted as easily as the Tribe and the warrior class. Sunaomi works to understand and reverse the effects of a lifetime of privation, suffering and darkness that Hisao has endured. In the end, Sunaomi must confront his own rare gifts inherited from the Tribe to either directly combat or outmaneuver Hisao as the ghostmaster brings the threat of war and destruction closer to realization.

Orphan Warriors was a wonderful story following the aftermath of the Tales of the Otori series while combining important elements from The Tale of Shikanoko series. I look forward to reading the second volume and conclusion to the Children of the Otori

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Gideon the Ninth


I read Gideon the Ninth by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir after hearing many great reviews for this magic-induced, science-fiction adventure.
Gideon the Ninth focuses on the central character of Gideon from the Ninth House, an orphan raised alongside the ruling heir, the extraordinary necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Harrowhark is a powerful necromancer but like all those in the ruling Houses, the talent wield such magic has a physical cost. The necromancers are protected by their swordweilding cavaliers.
The Ninth House is the last of the great ruling Houses and when the Emperor Undying calls the representatives forth, Harrowhark Nonagesimus seizes the oppurtunjty to rescue her crumbling House, it’s future bleaker than the skeletons that keep the illusion of a prosperous House alive. But Harrowhark finds herself with a problem. The Ninth have no cavalier and the only swordsman capable of defending Harrowhark is the military trained Gideon. For her own part, Gideon has tried to escape the Ninth House countless times and being indebted to serve Harrowhark and protect her is less than appealing. In the end, to survive, both Harrowhark and Gideon must unite forces and mascquerade before the challenge the Emperor sets forth. The necromancer among the Nine Houses who succeeds and defeats the challenges put before them and their cavalier, becomes an immortal necromancer, capable of wielding the combined powers of necromancer and cavalier, able to stand alongside the Emperor in battle.
It is not unsurprising that Harrowhark and Gideon discover many secrets best left buried and learn the darkest truth about the Empire, each other and themselves. To succeed, both must work together and the uneasy alliance soon becomes a firmer friendship built on the decades in each other’s vicinity. The truth of Harrowhark’s true power remains unknown and the true parentage of Gideon is another mystery which will aid them both in the dangerous battles of wits and lies to outmanoeuvre the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses.
I throughly enjoyed the fast-pace of Gideon the Ninth and the witty, refreshing characters. The world-building is solid and intriguing. I can’t wait for the next instalment. A highly recommended read!

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City of Lies

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me . . .”

City of Lies, Sam Hawke

One of my belated book reviews is the debut Fantasy novel City of Lies by Australian author Sam Hawke.
The opening line is the best hook for a novel of political intrigue, murder, mystery and the social disquiet that fill the once peaceful city of Silasta. The story revolves around three unusual protagonists, the irresponsible and unprepared heir to the Chancellory, his quiet best friend Jovan, also the master of Poisons whose family duty has been protecting the life of Chancellor by consuming all food and drink intended for the ruler. The last of the group is Jovan’s intelligent but physically frail sister Kalina, damaged by the poisons training her brother withstood, Kalina relies on her education and intellect.
The three friends represent the next generation of Silasta and are not yet initiated into the secrets, policies or threats that are directed at the mighty trade city. When the Chancellor and Jovan’s uncle die prematurely, Silasta is immediately besieged by an unknown military force and rumours of a secret sect within the populous emerge, rebel groups intent on overthrowing the ruling classes. Jovan and Kalina must now uncover the truth behind the murder of their uncle and the Chancellor before the city falls to the outside forces and try to get word to the commander of the army when all routes from the city are closed.
City of Lies is a story of intrigue within the ruling classes, the need to uncover the truth of a history kept hidden and the struggle for Jovan and Kalina to keep their friend, the new and unprepared Chancellor alive long enough for the city to be rescued by their returning army. The siblings uncover many truths that had been deliberately hidden from them and the principles of equality they believed the city stood for seems false and the uprising awakens the angered ancient forces of the land, Silasta must be genuinely united if it is to survive.

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Circe

I recently read Circe, a historical fantasy by Madeline Miller, a retelling and exploration of the maligned figure in Ancient Greek mythology, the witch Circe.

Circe follows the unusual female figure of Ancient Greek literature, the witch daughter of the Titan god Helios, exiled to Aiaia by Olyimpium Zeus. The details of Circe’s strangely mortal-like voice, her yellow Titan eyes and seemingly lack of powerful gifts make her unwanted and taunted among the Titans and Olympians alike. Yet Circe raises her brother from infancy and it is he who discovers the hidden powers of the Titan and Nyrad heritage. Aeëtes later becomes the infamous god, creator of the Golden Fleece, father of Medea and challenged by Jason and the Argonauts. Their sister Pasiphaë is wed to King Minos of Crete, the extravagant courts of Knossos later falling to Pasiphaë’s own vengeance when she gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur. Circe’s gifts for witchcraft are later revealed when she transforms mortals into gods and rival nymph Cilla into a monster.

Exiled on the island of Aeaea, Circe enters the legendary heroic tale of Odysseus who, shipwrecked on the Isle, stays for several years on the course of his travels back to Ithaca. Unbeknown to Odysseus, Circe bears him a child and earns the wrath of the powerful Olympian goddess Athena, Odysseus patron and protector. The prophecy of Odysseus death relates to his son and desperate to protect her child, Circe obscures the Isle in a powerful illusion, keeping all the gods away except the trickster Hermes and challenges Trygion, the ancient god of the deep sea for a weapon powerful enough to inflict pain upon the immortals.

Circe was vividly described and detailed, the explanations of Ancient Greek mythology and literature were wonderful. As a former scholar of Ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology, I loved the originality of Miller’s witch Circe while still adhering to the foundations of the broader mythologies. A surprising and exotic storytelling! Definitely well recommended!

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The Institute

I read The Institute by US author Stephen King after many reviews discussed the social issues within the novel and the similarities with the psychologically challenging novels Firestarter and Carrie, both sharing with The Institute, children with powers of telekinesis and telepathy.

The Institute focuses on twelve year old Luke Ellis, a boy of exceptional intellect who is kidnapped one night from his home, his parents murdered. Luke is taken to an isolated and secret government research center known only by those inside as ‘The Institute’. Luke has very a minor talent with telekinesis which like many of the other children in the The Institute labels him a “Pink”, the more expendable children exposed to riskier experiments designed to provoke greater talents in telepathy or telekinesis. Within ‘Front-Half’ of The Institute, Luke meets Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon who are all, like him, kidnapped children, now orphaned. The true horror of The Institute is not just the experiments or dissociated manner of the staff, Luke learns that ‘Back-Half’ is the real horror of the secret experiments. Once children have undergone and survived the initial experiments of Front-Half, they are quickly transferred to Back-Half where no one hears from them again.

Luke’s intellect and kindness helps gain him a friend on the inside operations at The Institute. Through this network, Luke plans an escape and a way to expose the inhuman experiments and treatment of the children kidnapped from their families, lives forever changed. The secrets Luke discovers are dangerous to The Institute and the truth more horrific than anyone realised.

The Institute is a strong novel about our modern social condition and the ease with which society accepts actions for the ‘greater good’. This is the social context that Stephen King explores with detailed historical references to Facist and Communist ideologies. The Institute does have many elements reminiscent of Firestarter but is hard-hitting in its delivery where it shares the emotional weight of social injustice with The Green Mile. Ultimately, I found The Institute without true comparison. A must-read novel.

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The Bee and the Orange Tree

I read The Bee and the Orange Tree by Australian author Melissa Ashley. A wonderful historical fiction set during the early stages of the French Revolution but focused on the female literary circles surrounding Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy established as an author in her own right after successful publication career of several novels and fairytale collections. The darker, more disturbing undertone throughout the novel is that of female oppression during the reign of the French King Louis XIV, where the fairytales of young heroes and heroines overcoming impossible odds is a glittering hope for the oppressed women and subjugated peasants of France.

The Bee and the Orange Tree follows Angelina, Marie Catherine’s daughter, raised in a convent with barely any contact with her mother or father. Angelina is recalled from her only known world of the convent, to aid her ageing mother as an assistant. Soon, Angelina finds herself among the literary salons of Paris, attended by some of the most talented writers and poets but also many wealthy or noble families. Angelina is disheartened to discover the popularization of the craft and art her mother worked hard to establish herself and which Angelina greatly enjoys. Angelina is quickly confined by the existence of a respectable woman, suddenly missing the relative freedom of the convent especially as Marie Catherine has not written a single word after suffering an unusual form of writers block.

At one literary circle, Angelina is introduced to her mother’s protege, a young talented writer named Alphonse. Although unsure of her feelings toward Alphonse, Angelina is soon aware that Alphonse’s attempts to court her are only aimed at gaining Marie Catherine as a potential benefactor. This revelation hardens Angelina’s mistrust of Parisian society, which only deepens further when Marie Catherine’s good friend, Nicola Tiquet is accused of adultery and attempted murder. The subsequent trial of Nicola Tiquet, an independently wealthy and powerful woman without the need of a husband to support herself, becomes a focal point for Angelina’s realization of the oppressive nature of French society and the discrimination against women and any of unequal status. Against this is the greater landscape of the early French Revolution and the the determination of the powerful to hold onto power. Throughout these dramatic social challenges, Angelina learns disheartening truths about both her parents, discovering both are willing to sacrifice for their own aims and Angelina soon finds she has more in common with Alphonse than she imagined.

The Bee and the Orange Tree was an engrossing, complex historical fiction where the stories of each of the characters were as much the focus as the development of the fairytale literature and women’s rights in France during the eighteenth century. A wonderful read and highly recommended!