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Shadow and Bone

Publisher’s Description:

“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.”


Review:

I recently read young adult fantasy novel Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1) by US author Leigh Bardugo.

Shadow and Bone is set predominantly in East Ravka, ruled by a greedy king prone to excess, unaware of the growing power and dominance of the once-feared Grisha, those with the supernatural abilities of creation: weather, fire, the body, and metals known as ‘the little science’. Those of Grisha ability live in luxury compared to the common people of East Ravka. Protagonist, young female cartographer, Alina Starkov is on deployment with the First Army to the Shadow Fold, a supernatural barrier dividing Ravka into East and West. The Shadow Fold, first created by the most-feared Grisha, the Black Heretic, is a inhospitable wasteland populated by Volcra, winged monsters.

While making a crossing of the Shadow Fold, Alina’s childhood friend and fellow orphan, Mal Oretsev, a tracker and rifleman in the First Army is among those in the expedition attacked by the monsters and Alina’s dormant Grisha power is suddenly released, saving Mal and many of the expedition. Alina’s Grisha power is as rare as that belonging to the Black Heretic and General Kirigan or ‘the Darkling’, a power that Ravka have waited generations to see. Where the Darkling creates shadow, Alina creates light and together, their powers can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and re-unify Ravka.

Alina soon finds herself in the luxury and splendour of the highest Grisha ranks and training. But nothing is as it seems among the Grisha and Alina misses Mal and security he always provided. When her powers cannot reach the strength the Darkling needs for them to destroy the Shadow Fold, he suggests a specific amplifier for Alina; a collar of antler from a supernatural white stag. It is Mal who tracks the stag but when Alina receives the antler collar, she understands the horrible price she must pay and soon Alina can only hope to save Ravka from the darkest of deceptions.

Final Thoughts:

Shadow and Bone is young adult fantasy novel and has many fascinating elements to the world-building, the powers of the Grisha themselves are a interesting concept. The social and political intrigue that form the context to the main storyline is equally fascinating. But there is sense of a missed opportunity in the simple main plot which is predictable, making the interesting and diverse characters feel underwhelming in some instances. Nonetheless, Shadow and Bone has significant potential and hopefully, the political and social context of Ravka and the history of the Grisha will be fully explored in the remaining novels of the trilogy.

Conclusion:

Shadow and Bone is recommended for readers of young adult fantasy looking for a unique fantasy realm, and those who enjoy a fantasy concept that is intellectually challenging. The predictable storyline can feel a bit stale for more advanced readers but the characters are all interesting and engaging. Overall, a recommended read for those who enjoy young adult fantasy.

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Mongrels

Publisher’s Description:

“He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his aunt Libby and uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixed blood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrelsmust decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and narrow escapes—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will finally know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast now. Everything is about to change.


Review:

One of my recent reads was Mongrels by US author Stephen Graham Jones. I am a fan of classic horror themes and for me, the werewolf is one of the best, but it is also one which I feel is less explored. Mongrels promises to make up for this, and does so, delivering an authentic werewolf story.

The protagonist and narrator remain unnamed throughout the story, but follows a pre-adolescent boy through to his late teens growing up in a family of werewolves. Although, he has not yet changed into a werewolf himself- we learn early that most werewolves are born human and only become shape-shifters usually around puberty – or sometimes, not at all. Following his grandfather’s death, the boy and his aunt and uncle take to the road, travelling across the Deep South of America, never staying long in most places.

Mongrels changes between the past, the boy’s childhood years and his lessons learned, and the adolescent years as he waits, and wonders – hopes even- that he will change into a werewolf, that the blood he sees as a link to family, to his aunt and uncle, his grandfather, will prove itself. This is an insightful look at family, heritage and the broken aspects of society where those like the werewolves, who long for the freedom are restrained by society and its expectations.

Final Thoughts:

Mongrels is an entirely new exploration of a classic monster from Horror fiction. The style of writing adds a beautiful, literary prose with the occasional bursts of graphic violence that both shock and deliver emphasis to the ‘reality’ of a horror story. Although narrated like a ‘coming of age’ story, Mongrels is much more than that, with the selection of fascinating characters and situations that propel the storyline forward across time and space of the characters’ lives. Combining the ‘bigger than big’ tales of legend with the character’s histories, the sense of reality and fiction blend seamlessly. Skilfully written, and entraining even when the plot feels like it’s drifting, it feels comfortable given the narration style.

Conclusion:

A highly recommended read for those who enjoy contemporary horror and dark fiction. Stephen Graham Jones provides a wonderful literary approach to the werewolf theme, re-making a classic monster into an entirely new and authentic concept. Cannot recommend highly enough!

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Blood of Assassins

From the Publisher:

“In a desperate bid to escape the bounty on his head, assassin Girton Club-Foot has returned to Maniyadoc, but the kingdom he knew no longer exists.

Three kings battle for supremacy in a land ravaged by war-and one of them is his old friend Rufra. With threats inside and outside the war encampment, Girton races to find the traitor behind an assassination plot. But his magic can no longer be contained and Girton may not be able to save even himself.

It’s assassin versus assassin for the life of a king…”


My Review:

I read Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom, #2) by UK author R.J. Barker after enjoying the first instalment Age of Assassins. This second book does not disappoint.

Blood of Assassins follows from the events of Age of Assassins, Girton Club-foot and his Master, the assassin Merela Karn, have returned to Maniaydoc after years away employed as mercenaries. They return to find the kingdom divided, rightful ruler and Girton’s friend, Rufra, has been waging war against Tomas and Aydor. Brought into Rufra’s war camp, Girton witnesses Manyidoc pushed to breaking point, the people and the land suffering. Determined to find a traitor and murderer in his inner circle of advisors, Rufra asks Girton to find the instigators of a plot against him.

But Girton is haunted by the dark magic he struggles to hold, a powerful magic that has created sorcerers too easily in the past, and one that Rufra cannot abide, not even in his oldest and most trusted friends. In a battle to defeat Tomas and save Maniaydoc from tearing itself apart by war, Rufra finds an unlikely ally in the former heir, Aydor. While for Girton, repressing his magic creates a seething, dangerous power and, despite his intention never to use it, the magic has its own intentions.

My Thoughts:

Blood of Assassins continues the storyline established in Age of Assassins but now delves deeper into the characters, political intrigues and troubles of the kingdom many years later. While this is an epic Fantasy, there is insightful look at the ingrained trauma inflicted on a kingdom and a land ravaged by war.

Conclusion:

Blood of Assassins is great second instalment in the Wounded Kingdom Trilogy with fans of epic fantasy, political intrigue and magic sure to find this though-provoking read worthwhile. Highly Recommended.

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In Solitude’s Shadow

Publisher’s Description

“An army is at the gates of Haltveldt, a nation built on war, and nothing is as it seems.

Calene Alpenwood, a powerful warrior-mage gifted with the Spark, makes a shocking discovery that sets into motion events that put her at odds with the very masters she serves. Reuniting with her mother Zanna, a woman banished after a terrible crime, they team up with unlikely alias as they attempt to save the fortress of Solitude from destruction.

One thing’s for certain; ruin approaches if Solitude falls and life will never be the same when The Banished return.”


My Review:

I recently read In Solitude’s Shadow (Empire of Ruin, #1), the first fantasy novella by UK author David Green. I received an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

In Solitude’s Shadow follows four main characters in a kingdom divided by war and class, where the race of elves are treated as a lesser race of beings by the ruling and more numerous human lords. In this culturally hostile kingdom, the dwindling numbers of Sparkers, warriors and philosophers with a telepathic link among other talents, hold the mountain fortress of Solitude. Beyond the fortress of Solitude, the growing armies and numbers of the Banished bids their time to attack when human and eleven armies are at their most divided.

My Thoughts:

The premise of In Solitude’s Shadow is a tradition fantasy backdrop of a land at war, a disunited army that is fighting among itself, and a common enemy with the potential to threaten both. The threat of the Banished, returning from beyond the mountain fortress of Solitude may sound familiar. There are strong similarities with the basic premise of A Game of Thrones, itself based on older historical sags which provides strong-foundations. In Solitude’s Shadow, the limitations of a novella are more pronounced, where four main characters in the story arc and world-building can result in “info-dump” tactics at times rather than being incorporated into the storytelling which can feel overwhelming in the novella format.

Conclusion:

In Solitude’s Shadow is an ambitious novella, and the fantasy series promises to be just as ambitious. Recommended for those seeking traditional fantasy in a short-read novella format.

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Wait for Night

Publisher’s Description

A day laborer hired to clean up a flooded creek outside of Boulder, Colorado uncovers what could be a valuable find—if it doesn’t kill him first.


Review

Wait for Night is a novelette by US author Stephen Graham Jones. The story follows a day-labourer Chessup and a work crew cleaning up a flooded river site. After the day’s work, Chessup’s Buick won’t start and the last labourer on site, the mysterious and disfigured, Burned Dan offers to help re-start the car. But Chessup uncovers a skeleton in the roots of a tree, half-uncovered by the recent flood. Chessup makes a deal with Burned Dan to help restart the Buick but the sudden arrival of a county policeman begins a series of dangerous events when Chessup discovers the bones he had recovered hide a monstrous truth.

Final Thoughts

Wait for Night, although a shorter piece of long fiction as a novelette, it is a highly detailed character-driven story. The unusual take Graham Jones has on vampiric lore is another really interesting twist to this story. It is beautifully written, with the hallmark traits of Graham Jones’s writing style combining smooth storytelling punctuated by sudden action.

Conclusion

Wait for Night is highly recommended for fans of Stephen Graham Jones, those who enjoy dark fiction, detailed characters or anyone seeking a unique spin on vampire stories. A great read!

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Whispers in the Dark

Publisher’s Description

Two decades into an eternal sentence in the impenetrable Void for daring to rebel against the might of the Empire, and Agent Ivory is ready to give up on life entirely, even if the unseen Warden of the prison won’t ever let him die.

But when a mysterious voice in the darkness visits him in his isolation, the prisoner is determined to see the sun on his face once again, even if the outside world is not what it once was…


Review

I recently read Whispers in the Dark by Australian author K.B. Elijah, a novella blending science-fiction and dark fiction.

The protagonist, Agent Ivory, has been imprisoned in an inescapable cell, his body held in stasis where he cannot die nor have hope of escape nor rescue. From these bleak beginnings, it is the promise of hope that proves the greatest torment to Agent Ivory. Despite the improbable, Agent Ivory escapes the prison known as the Void, aided by the whispering voice only he seems to hear. Guided on his escape, Ivory cannot shake his paranoid thoughts of pursuit, of hope dashed should he fail to escape and seek revenge for his imprisonment. It is this dark offering which the Void failed to crush, the promise of hope that will prove to be Agent Ivory’s greatest weapon or failure.

Final Thoughts

Whispers in the Dark was an intriguing psychological story combining elements of science fiction and dark fiction, exploring the strongest emotion in the darkness, is always hope.

Conclusion

A great novella from a new voice in Australasian speculative fiction. Recommended for those who enjoy a psychological read, literary tale where dark fiction blends into science fiction.

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All the Murmuring Bones


Publisher’s Description

“Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.”


Review

I recently read All the Murmuring Bones by Australian author A.G. Slatter (Angela Slatter), a gothic folklore novel set in the historical fantasy world, akin to Ireland.

The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, raised by her grandmother Aoife O’Malley after being orphaned by her mother, Isolde O’Malley. Miren has lived her entire life at Hobb’s Hallow, the ancestral house of the O’Malleys, a prominent family, who have a traditionally ruled the oceans as brigands and later merchants, the uncanny wealth gained by the O’Malleys tied to legends of a bargain struck with the Mer, one that has lasted generations but required a female O’Malley to bear the name and offer one child to the sea every generation. However, with the waning of ‘pure blood’ O’Malleys, Miren is now the last bearing the O’Malley name.

After the death of her husband, Aoife O’Malley makes plans to marry Miren to her cousin, and strengthen the O’Malley bloodline and, through Aidan Fitzpatrick’s wealth and ambition, restore the once-prosperous O’Malleys.

But Miren O’Malley is independent and ha no desire to marry Aidan Fitzpatrick, a cruel man determined to restore the tradition of one O’Malley child given in sacrifice to the Mer. Miren learns her mother Isolde never died as she was told by her grandmother, and to avoid marrying Aidan and to find her mother at last, Miren embarks on a journey to the mysterious estate of Blackwater, where the last of the letters from her mother mentioned she was living.

Final Thoughts

All the Murmuring Bones is a wonderful gothic folklore story, weaving the legends of the dark and foreboding water sprites, beings like the the Mer, kelpies and rusalky maidens, which are not the kind beings from Disney movies, but cruel and calculating beings. Beneath the layers of folklore and story, there is a stronger theme of independence, knowing oneself and the power of love, in the context of a historical fantasy world, where love based on need, the supply of stability, sustenance and livelihood versus the power of love based on want, the desire to be with someone irrespective of need. Against the backdrop of the O’Malley tradition and sacrifices to the Mer to retain prosperity, the need to fulfil a bargain, there are many threads to All the Murmuring Bones that make it a complex tapestry of a novel.

Conclusion

All the Murmuring Bones is a great read for fans of gothic folklore, legends of mermaids, kelpies or or water beings, fans of Angela Slatter’s Sourdough tales and those who enjoy a heartfelt historical fantasy. Highly recommended, an absolute must-read!

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The Witch’s Heart

Publisher’s Description:

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


My Review:

I recently read The Witch’s Heart by US author Genevieve Gornichec, a reimagining of Norse mythology from the perspective of the witch Angraboda.

Angraboda is the name chosen by the witch Gullveig after she is burned three times and pierced through the heart with a spear after meeting with Odin, leader of the Aesir gods. Angraboda refuses to teach Odin sedir, the prophetic form of magic and in retaliation, Odin burns her three times from which she returns to life each time.

After fleeing the Aesir and taking refuge in the Iron Wood, Angraboda has only shadowy memory of her life as Gullveig and names herself Angraboda “the bringer of sorrow” in place of her previous name. She is soon visited by the Trickster Loki, who is also Odin’s brother (by bond but not by blood). Loki recovers Angraboda’s heart and enjoys her company. Keeping their friendship a secret from the gods and giants, it soon becomes much more. Although Loki asks Angraboda to be his wife, their relationship must stay a secret for Loki is later married to an Aesir goddess Sigyn, further binding him to Odin and the Aesir gods.

It is the three children from Angraboda and Loki’s union that proves to be the catalyst for their relationship and for the future of the Nine Worlds. Angraboda has three children with Loki, each more monstrous than the first. Their half-dead daughter Hel, son Frenrir in wolf form and Jorumungand, a sea serpent. But it is not just the strange children born from the union of two unusually powerful giants that causes Odin concern, but the prophecy Angraboda has of her children destroying the Aesir gods and bringing about the end of the Nine Worlds.

Odin desires the knowledge of Angraboda’s prophecy concerning the fate of the Nine Worlds in a hope to prevent the outcome and save himself and his children. Odin’s desire comes at the price of Loki’s freedom and Angraboda’s children who the Aesir cannot allow to fulfil their role in the end of the Nine Worlds, the great battle Ragnarok. So begins Angraboda’s struggle to preserve her family, shield them from the Aesir and survive the bitterest of betrayals. In the end, Angraboda must choose whether she wants vengeance against Odin and the Aesir, or whether she can save at least one of her children.

Final Thoughts:

The Witch’s Heart is a wonderful reimagining of the Norse myths from the perspective of one of the least well-known figures, the witch Angraboda. In many of the myths, Angraboda is mentioned only in passing as the wife of Loki and mother of the giant wolf Fenrir, guardian of the dead, Hel, and the giant serpent, Jorumangand. The mother of three monsters who are prophesied to kill the gods, Angraboda is a mysterious figure, a witch who dwells in the Iron Wood. The Witch’s Heart also examines another female figure in Norse mythology, the witch Gullveig who Odin and the Aesir burn three times and pierce her heart with a spear when she refuses to submit to Odin. A clever story that combines two important and mysterious figures in Norse mythology, Gullveig and Angraboda, giving substance to both in Gornichec’s reimagined Angraboda.

My Conclusion:

A highly recommended read for those who enjoyed the reimagining of the half-Titan witch Circe by Madeline Miller, those who enjoy stories with strong female protagonists or for readers who want a fresh reimagining of Norse mythology.

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Son of a Trickster

Publisher’s Description:

Meet Jared Martin: sixteen-year-old pot cookie dealer, smoker, drinker and son with the scariest mom ever. But Jared’s the pot dealer with a heart of gold–really. Compassionate, caring, and nurturing by nature, Jared’s determined to help hold his family together–whether that means supporting his dad’s new family with the proceeds from his baking or caring for his elderly neighbours. But when it comes to being cared and loved, Jared knows he can’t rely on his family. His only source of love and support was his flatulent pit bull Baby, but she’s dead. And then there’s the talking ravens and the black outs and his grandmother’s perpetual suspicion that he is not human, but the son of a trickster.


My Review:

Son of a Trickster (Trickster Trilogy, #1) by Canadian First Nations author Eden Robinson, a contemporary fantasy inspired by folktales and beliefs of several First Nations tribes in the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America and Canada.

The protagonist is Jared, a teenage boy struggling to find his place in the world, his self-destructive mother who, despite a fierce love for him, is often more a danger than a help. Jared has his own personal issues to fight and, despite caring for his elderly neighbour who offers what comfort his mother cannot, Jared is largely alone in his world.

The turmoil of Jared’s life begins to boil over when several strange experiences start occurring, ravens begin talking to him, and the lingering words of his maternal grandmother, insisting he is the son of a raven trickster. Struggling to hold his family together, his only money making venture (pot-dealing) is crushed, and desperate to keep his family afloat, Jared soon discovers his mother is more than he ever imagined as the supernatural world of Tricksters and those who oppose them seek him out.

Final Thoughts:

Son of Trickster is a fascinating exploration of Canadian First Nations culture with the ever-present backdrop of life in a small town. The sense of otherness caused from discrimination, whether it is racial or socioeconomic, adds lived heartache to the story.

My Conclusion?

A recommended read for anyone interested in Canadian First Nations cultures of the Pacific Northwest, the complex and quirky characters are delightful and bring the story alive with the uniqueness of each. A modern fable for growing up, finding strength and independence….with the added pressure of a Trickster heritage.

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Rosemary and Rue

Publisher’s Description:

The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.


My Review:

I recently read Rosemary and Rue by US author Seanan McGuire, the first instalment in the October Daye urban fantasy series.

The protagonist, October Daye, is a private detective and also a Changeling, the daughter of a high Fae and mortal man. October, also known as Toby, considers herself happily married, has a young daughter and has so-far, kept both her husband and daughter from knowing she is not as mortal as she seems. But Toby is also a knight in a Fae court and, when her liege-lord requests her aid to recover his kidnapped wife and young daughter, she is duty-bound to obey. While on a stake-out, Toby follows her prime suspect, one of the most powerful of the Fae lords but is caught. In punishment, Toby is transformed into a koi and, unbeknown to anyone except the Fae lord who cursed her, is left in a fish pond.

After seven years, the curse breaks and Toby is returned to her human-like form. As her mortal husband never knew she was a Changeling nor the Fae worlds she inhabited, Toby’s sudden reappearance after her presumed death and inability to explain her whereabouts, sees her marriage dissolve and her now-teenage daughter no longer a trusting child. Estranged from her family, Toby begins her life anew, ignoring the Fae worlds, her Changeling roots and trying to eek out a menial existence in San Francisco.

But when Toby’s friend Evening, one of the high Fae, requests in her dying moments that Toby solve her murder, Toby finds herself drawn back into Fae intrigue, politics and power-plays. For Toby, the price of failure is her own death as Evening cursed her in those dying moments, compelling her to uncover Evening’s murderer.

Finding herself without much help to uncover Evening’s murderers, Toby is forced to make unlikely allies with other changelings she had long left behind, a deadly bargain with the Caith-Sidhe, the court of cat lords, and indebting herself to her Liege-Lord again. Soon, Toby uncovers the real reason Evening was murdered, a powerful and deadly secret.

Final Thoughts:

Rosemary and Rue is an intriguing beginning to an urban fantasy series that relies strongly on Irish folklore and, with this solid foundation of lore, provides a detailed world-building and fascinating characters.

My Conclusion?

A great read for anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, Irish folklore, provoking characters and solid world-building. Highly recommended!