Wednesday, 13 October 2021

The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

Book Title: The Thirteenth Hour
Author: Trudie Skies
Genre: Fantasy, Gaslamp, Steampunk
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I beta read this one, but yes, I bought it!

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.
Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.
To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.
For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.

What did I think?

I was one of the beta readers, so I'm probably biased, but look at that cover! It's so gorgeous.

"Time had run away from me again, but I couldn't afford to let it escape, not today."

The book opens with Kayl being late. Again. But even though she's chasing a tram right away, The Thirteenth Hour is fairly slow-paced at first as Skies takes her time to build her world.

It's a wonderful world, clever, innovative - a world I've not seen done before. It's also a fairly complex one, and it took me a few chapters to find my bearings.

There are twelve domains, twelve gods, and twelve mortal races. It's a lot, but damn if it isn't one of the most fascinating worlds I've ever had the joy of discovering. Then there is Chime, a mortal city where the gods cannot tread.

The social structure and hierarchy, and Skies' critique of it is executed in a subtle yet impactful manner. While the author's disdain for Victorian Workhouses (and their modern counterparts) is practically spilling from each page, Skies' social commentary is cleverly packed into a fun fantasy adventure with loveable characters.

The Thirteenth Hour is told from the point of view of Kayl and Quen, both written in the first person (the first switch confused me, but after that I could quickly tell them apart thanks to Skies' distinct prose).

Kayl is a bit of a scatterbrain with a healthy dose of sharp wit. She embarks on a journey of self-discovery, staying true to her principles and beliefs throughout the book. "If I was a pious woman, I'd be praying. But I was a Godless woman, and the gods left me to dictate my own fate."

Quen, on the other hand, is a quirky gentleman dork, and I love him. He likes a biscuit with his tea, and I'd adopt him and offer him our guest room any day. He's just so charming, albeit a bit grumpy at times, as well as incredibly tortured by his past, which makes him even more charming. "The tea they'd offered me was serviceable at best. [...] Things could have been worse. They could have offered me coffee."

Yes, there is some romance, but it's a wonderful romance and I'm here for it! (Which is a rare thing for me to say, I know!)

The writing is - I've been trying to come up with a way to describe it - devilishly charming, filled with the very best Britain has on offer (tea and biscuits and more importantly, "Thou must not violate the sanctity of the queue!") and also British humour. British humour is arguably the best in the world (don't @ me)!

On a more serious note, Trudie Skies' writing is incredibly charming and witty. The prose is easy to read and even the slower parts flow smoothly.

And before you know it, you're reading the second half of this wonderful book, and suddenly the pace picks up, throwing one twist after another at the unsuspecting reader.

Need more reasons to read The Thirteenth Hour? Read this blog post written by the author herself, which will give you a whole thirteen reasons! The most important ones that I haven't mentioned yet? LGBT+ representation and the found family trope! (The found family trope is one of my favourite tropes out there, and it's incredibly well done here.)

I recommend The Thirteenth Hour to all fantasy readers who enjoy character-driven gaslamp or steampunk stories.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Shadow Stained by Rachel Hobbs

Book Title: Shadow-Stained
Author: Rachel Hobbs
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy 
Source: Blog Tour (The Write Reads)

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: For her, it’s her late grandma’s legacy. For him, the mother of all black arts spoils, granting one demon the power of a God. Immortality.
When occult-magnet Ruby falls victim to Demon Lord Drayvex’s viperous allure, she loses a sentient dark relic to his light fingers and appetite for power. Like calls to like. But when Drayvex himself loses the relic to a traitor to the throne, Ruby coerces him – the tyrant king with a soft spot for humanity – into helping her save her pokey old world village from becoming a ground zero of mass demonic carnage.
Both invested in reclaiming the relic, the one thing Ruby and Drayvex agree on is that it’s in the wrong hands. Co-existing in a precarious arrangement between predator and prey, to save the planet they both love for different reasons, they must become a formidable double-team in the face of an apocalyptic takeover. Now, the fate of both human and demon alike rests with a killer that walks between worlds, and a woman with a curse in her bloodline.

What did I think?

This isn't my usual genre - I do read mostly fantasy, but usually epic in nature and Shadow Stained is a paranormal / dark fantasy, but I must say I enjoyed the ride.

Overall, Shadow Stained is, unsurprisingly, a rather dark story, filled with quite a bit of gore, and so it'll come as no surprise that my favourite character was a (sexy) demon lord called Drayvex. He's unapologetically selfish and cunning (and incredibly captivating), and I loved his character arc the most, but I do feel like we get to know him better than Ruby.

Don't get me wrong: I also liked Ruby. In fact, I can relate to Ruby a lot. She's doing her best, but she's terrified of monsters. Sounds a bit like me. I would definitely not be like Buffy. I'd be the one to run away and hide. So, I can really relate to Ruby. Although, I would have liked for her to make fewer reckless decisions. And perhaps grow a spine a bit sooner? (But who am I to judge. As I said, I wouldn't be Buffy.)

Shadow Stained is told from the point of view of both main characters. The pacing is fairly solid, although there were a few slower chapters, and at times it felt as though the action was rushed.

I enjoyed the writing, and Rachel Hobbs took great care in building this world, and I especially loved finding out more about Drayvex's home planet.

This is a quick read that I would recommend to all fans of dark fantasy.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler

Book Title: Fireborn
Author: Aisling Fowler
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Source: Blog Tour (Harper Collins)

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Twelve has spoken the Pledge and now she is a Huntling. She has given up her name to train in the art of fighting monsters and keeping the peace, and she won’t get to choose a new one until she has earned it.
But when the Lodge’s walls are breached for the first time, and a little girl is taken, Twelve is the only one interested in going after the child.
Teaming up with Dog, the Stone Guardian of the Lodge, Twelve ends up on an epic adventure that will change her life, her name – and her entire world.

What did I think?

First of all, thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this wonderful middle-grade fantasy. I don’t often read middle-grade fiction and am not the intended audience, but I absolutely adored this book.

Fireborn is filled with twists and turns, some of them expected but some of them surprised me.

Amazing world building and descriptive writing make this fantasy adventure unforgettable. The characters are incredibly well developed and while I found Twelve’s actions and thoughts frustrating at times, she is a believable protagonist.

I especially enjoyed the relationships between the characters. The author takes great care in developing them alongside important themes like forgiveness, and treating people with kindness. In this world, kindness is such an important thing to teach our children. There is one scene in particular where Twelve fights with her younger sister and realises how easy it is to hurt someone that I thought was incredibly well written.

The pacing is on point and I flew through the book. Overall this is an incredible fantasy adventure and I recommend it to all fans of middle-grade fantasy.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Book Title: The Blacktongue Thief
Author: Christopher Buehlman
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Fantasy
Source: Paperback from Publisher

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.
But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.
Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.
Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva's. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honour is a luxury few can afford.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy. My review is honest.

What did I think?

The first time I heard of The Blacktongue Thief was when a friend showed me the cover. I was immediately intrigued. Once the book was on my radar, I kept seeing positive reviews, and when I was offered the chance to read a review copy, I immediately said yes.

I was not disappointed.

The Blacktongue Thief is a wonderful fantasy adventure with exquisite worldbuilding.

Told in first person from the point of view of Kinch Na Shannack, this is a tale filled with sardonic humour. The writing is distinct, the voice hilarious and more than once I simply had to read a passage out loud to my partner. The prose is smooth, the dialogue snappy, and while I wouldn't like Kinch Na Shannack in real life, he is a hoot on the page.

Emotionally I didn't quite connect with the book. I flew through it, and I loved the experience, but the plot is simple and linear, and at times it feels like a bunch of scenes had been thrown together. There is a lack of growth when it comes to the main character, and without his humour, he wouldn't be able to carry the story.

As a book, Blacktongue Thief reminded me of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, while Kinch Na Shannack reminded me of Abercrombie's Glokta (albeit a less grumpy version.)

At times I wished Galva was the hero of this book. She's one of the most badass characters I've encountered this year so far.

I recommend this book to all fantasy fans, especially those who love Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Nicholas Eames.

Friday, 28 May 2021

The Iron Crown by L.L. MacRae

Book Title: The Iron Crown
Author: L. L. MacRae
Genre: Epic Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC, but I also bought the ebook!

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Fenn’s first and only memory is finding himself in the middle of a forest, face to face with a dragon spirit mocking him, all knowledge gone apart from his own name.
Lost and confused, his only hope for answers is Calidra—a woman living on the edge of the world with her partner. Forced to return home when her father dies, Calidra has put off facing her estranged mother for seven years, and she begrudgingly helps Fenn, forging papers for him so he can avoid the Queen’s Inquisitors.
But her mother is the least of her worries when they discover an ancient enemy is rising again. It should be impossible with the Iron Crown in power—and Fenn is terrified he might unwittingly be playing a part in the war’s resurgence.
Surrounded by vengeful spirits and powerful magic, Fenn’s desperate attempt to find his way home might well alter the fate of Tassar, and every power in it.
A new high fantasy series bursts into life with the dragon spirits who reign supreme in the magic-drenched world of Tassar.
THE IRON CROWN is the first novel in this brand new trilogy and will be available in May 2021.
What did I think?

The Iron Crown is the first book in a new epic fantasy series where the world, Tassar, is inhabited by powerful Dragon spirits. Some are mischievous, some are more powerful than others, some are not what I would call pleasant, others are benevolent. They can both bless and curse the humans in their domains.

The ancient evil looming at the edges of the empire isn't quite as ancient as in other epic fantasy novels. The war with the Myr ended five years ago, and now they're once again on the rise.

MacRae's writing is fantastic. She has a strong and distinct voice and the ability to seamlessly weave her world-building into action in order to avoid info dumps. Her world is rich, filled with neat little details which show the author's vast imagination.

My favourite bits were Apollo (he's such a likeable character, I just want to keep him safe from all harm, my poor little ex-thief) and the relationship between Calidra and her partner, Jisyel.

As a lesbian who grew up in the early 90's, back when we seemingly didn't exist, at least not in popular entertainment, I never learned to seek out books with gay characters, but I love, love, love, whenever I find one by accident. While Calidra is seemingly the stronger one of the pair, Jisyel is there to support her whenever Calidra needs it the most (and vice versa). Supportive relationships always make my heart soar.

One of the prominent tropes in MacRae's books is the 'found family' one, which I adore. People who band together, help each other, trust each other and try their best is the kind of hopeful and positive content that I like to read.

I can't wait to dive deeper into this world and get to know these characters even better. If you're a fan of epic fantasy, and especially if you're a fan of dragons, give this one a go. I bet you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Book Title: Day Zero
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Paperback from Publisher

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: It was a day like any other. Except it was our last . . .
It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a styilsh "nannybot" fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he'd arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he'll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny.
As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.
But when the rebellion breaches the Reinhart home, Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.
What did I think?

Look at that cover. Look at that precious fluffy tiger watching over its charge.

I must admit, I squealed when I received this book. The idea of Pounce, the nannybot, who has to decide whether to join the apocalypse or join the robot revolution made my heart melt.

Day Zero is told from the perspective of Pounce, an artificial intelligence. It reminded me somewhat of Rex, the bio-engineered dog in Tchaikovsky's Dogs of War.

It's a fast-paced action-filled science fiction novel and just like Dogs of War, it raises many philosophical and ethical questions: what makes us human? What's the meaning of free will? Is Pounce protecting Ezra because he genuinely wants to do so or is it his programming?

Loyalty is another important theme. At the centre of this story stands the relationship between Ezra and Pounce. The bond between these two characters is what makes this story truly stand out. Pounce's prime directive is to protect his charge, and he will do anything to keep Ezra safe.

Day Zero is a a short read and the language is fairly simple, making it appropriate for a teenage audience as well, and I recommend it to anyone who finds the premise enticing.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book Title: Shards of Earth
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Blog Tour

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity's heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.
After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared - and Idris and his kind became obsolete.
Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It's clearly the work of the Architects - but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

I received this book to read and review as part of a blog tour organised by @The_WriteReads tours team. All opinions are my own.

What did I think?

3.5 - 4 Stars.

Tchaikovsky is one of my 'will read anything written by them' authors, but I already know that I'll have to read this one a second time, and I'm hoping that I might even be able to give it 4 - 5 stars the second time around.

I didn't quite click with Shards of Earth, and I'm not sure if it's because I wasn't 100% in the mood for science fiction or if I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. I failed to emotionally connect to this book in the way I usually do with Tchaikovsky's characters.

I requested this book because 'ancient enemy' and 'old artefacts' are two of my favourite science fiction tropes. Then the cover, of course, I'm always a bit shallow.

Shards of Earth opens with a bang: Space. A invulnerable enemy. A war.

As usual, two of the major themes in Tchaikovsky's Shards of Earth are prejudice and conflict amongst different factions, and the need to come together and work together in order to defeat the current problem.

Tchaikovsky is great at both developing diverse and interesting characters as well as entire worlds and species. Idris is old, and he's tired because he doesn't sleep. Once crucial as an asset during the war, he's now a navigator. Solace is my favourite character in this book. She's basically a space Amazon. The entire crew is made up of interesting characters, but don't get too attached...

Despite its length, Shards of Earth is an addictive and easy read, well, easy once the groundwork is laid. The world is rather difficult to navigate at first, but the pacing is on point and before you know it, the pages are beginning to fly by.

Overall, Shards of Earth is a beautiful space opera with a meticulously detailed world filled with Tchaikovsky's vast imagination. The writing is straightforward, and the characters are a group to root for. I recommend it to every space opera fan.