Friday 28 April 2023

The Shadow Gate by L.L. MacRae

Book Title: The Shadow Gate
Author: L.L. MacRae
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Full disclosure: I read this book as it was written, and I'm friends with the author, but my review is fair and all thoughts are my own. I bought it for my collection. My other half will be getting the audiobook.

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Opening the shadow gate is the only way Fenn’s memories can be restored—and with them, his life and family.
It could also destroy the world.
Guided by dragon spirit Hassen and manipulated by the Myr, Fenn fights the corruption spreading through Tassar—and himself—in an attempt to find his family. Separated from his allies and unable to trust even his own mind, the arduous journey takes its toll.
Far from home and reunited with her sister, Calidra battles to keep her loved ones safe. But when the fickle loyalties of dragon spirits shifts, and darkness lurks around every corner, running from her fears is no longer an option.
And in the far south, consequences of the past catch up with those fighting for their freedom.

Read my review of the first book, The Iron Crown, here. 

What did I think? 

I can confidently say that this book does not suffer from middle book syndrome. It's better than The Iron Crown. I won't talk too much about the actual plot because it's a sequel, but I do have a few thoughts about some of these characters.

Firstly, they really get to grow, especially Torsten and Calidra. Secondly, we get to know them better, especially Selys, who I originally wasn't that interested in, and Jisyel.

I was a fan of Torsten in the first book already, but here he really stands out to me as a morally grey, conflicted person, who is trying to be dutiful, but also cares so very much about his brother, a dying dragon spirit.

Calidra, on the other hand, must learn that she cannot control everything, and that sometimes it's better to let go. I adore the way MacRae explores the dynamic between the two estranged siblings who both grew up with an abusive mother. They carry a lot of emotional baggage, and I love them to bits.

And then there's Fenn. Fenn, my dear, Fenn. I wanted to smack the man, but bless him, he tries, unaware just how much he's fumbling around in the dark.

In The Iron Crown we meet a handful of powerful dragon spirits. Some are mischievous, some are more powerful than others, some are not what I would call pleasant, others are entirely benevolent.
In The Shadow Gate, we get to see even more of these spirits, and it's really one of the aspects I enjoy the most about this series, and this time around they get to fight.

Epic dragon battles? Yes, please.

MacRae's writing is fantastic and has evolved even more. I love watching an author grow. She has a strong and distinct voice and the ability to seamlessly weave her world-building into action in order to avoid info dumps.

Overall, The Shadow Gate is an exciting sequel to The Iron Crown, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy with rich world-building, complex characters, and of course, dragons.

MacRae has once again delivered a thrilling and engaging adventure, and I can't wait to see where the series goes next.

Saturday 15 April 2023

Gates of Hope by J.E. Hannaford

Book Title: Gates of Hope
Author: J.E. Hannaford
Genre: (Coming of Age) Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Full disclosure: I read an early version of this book and I'm friends with the author, but my review is fair and all thoughts are my own. I will be buying this upon release for my collection.

GoodreadsAmazon UK

Plot: The Watcher shattered the Gates.
Now hope must arise from the shards.
Darin and Suriin enter the Black Palace of the So’Dal, at a time when monstrous Edgelands creatures return to the skies over Caldera.
After exhibiting magical traits thought lost, Darin is drawn into a secret society charged with keeping the Watcher’s secrets. Now he must balance learning to control his magic, caring for Star, his new companion, and finding a way to sustain the Howlers’ power for long enough to protect Caldera from the predatory creatures of the Edgelands.
Before she arrived at the Black Palace Suriin broke the ancient rules of the So’Dal to save the life of the person she loves the most. As her search for a cure delves deeper under the mountain, is there any price she won't pay?
On the outer moon of Tebein, Elissa’s newly awakened magic will endanger her home and family. Now she must race to find help for those she leaves behind as she escapes those who want her, and all those like her, dead.
One wrong decision by any of them could return legends to life and end five hundred cycles of peace. Will they find the solutions they need in time?
What did I think?

Gates of Hope is the first book in a new trilogy by J.E. Hannaford, Aulirean Gates. 

I'm simple. I hear the word "gates" and I see a hint of a good boy, and perhaps some dragons in space, and I'm there. I'm a fan of works that blur the line between genres.

Looking at the cover, you'll spot Star, the Moonhound, and you'll be pleased to hear that he is indeed a very good boy. I feel like when it comes to the magic, you mostly need to know one thing: it's possible, at least for some, to telepathically connect with the Moonhounds.

Surely, that alone makes this a must-buy?

While the worldbuilding is fascinating, and I do so love the concept of gates connecting worlds, Hannaford's newest effort is primarily character-driven.

There are three main characters, Darin, Suriin, and Elissa. Two of them are quite young, only just embarking on their journey, and as a result I'd call Gates of Hope a coming of age fantasy. And because I'm rather old and grumpy, my favourite character turned out to be Elissa.

Elissa is strong, stubborn, grew up in captivity, but never let it break her spirit. My kind of character.

This isn't a dark book, that's not to say bad things don't happen, but overall the tone remains hopeful and it reminds me of the adventure stories I used to devour as a child.

I can't wait to see what's in store for these character and am eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

The Children of Chaos by Trudie Skies

Book Title: The Children of Chaos (The Cruel Gods #2)
Author: Trudie Skies
Genre: Fantasy, Gaslamp, Steampunk
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I beta read this one, but yes, I bought it!

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Chaos stalks the steam-powered city of Chime and threatens the existence of the gods and their domains.
Kayl swore to protect Chime's mortals from their gods' cruel whims, but when she agrees to represent the mortals of a god long thought dead, Kayl is thrust into a political role that goes against everything she's ever stood for.
As the newly appointed ambassador to the god of time, Quen's goal is clear - protect Chime and the domains by any means necessary. But as the gods make their demands, Quen is caught between his loyalties and his conscience.
To ensure a future for all mortals, Kayl and Quen must unite the gods against the threat of chaos and decide what they're willing to sacrifice for Chime - before the gods choose for them.
For the gods are capricious and have their own divine plans.

What did I think?

This is the second book in The Cruel Gods series, and there are no spoilers in this review!

I was a beta-reader for this book, and I'm friends with the author.

That, however, doesn't change or influence how much I love this series. Besides, my gf bought The Children of Chaos on release day, and is now spamming me with live commentary while reading it. She's loving it.

This book does not suffer from middle-book syndrome and that is all you really need to know, so if you like steampunk/gaslamp and British things like biscuits and tea, go ahead, buy it now, and read this series because it's worth it. I swear.

The world-building. Seriously. The world-building...

Skies created twelve domains, ruled by twelve gods, and inhabited by twelve mortal races. And in this book we get to explore the domains.

I could just see Netflix pick this one up and set each episode in a different domain and I wouldn't care if they just strolled along a path for forty-five minutes because the domains are just THAT interesting.

Each domain is its own little world, worthy of its own stories. They are incredibly developed, original, and display Skies' endless imagination.

The Children of Chaos is a tad darker, definitely dirtier, and is filled with a lot more explicit language.

And that fits the development of the story.

Personally, I don't like Jinx (that's not to say she's not an excellent character), but Kayl and Quen continue to steal the show and my heart.

And then there is Ben, a Diviner that works for Quen, and of all the new characters Skies introduced in this sequel, Ben is my favourite. Why? Read it and find out. Just kidding. It's Ben's relationship with his god that made him so interesting.

The writing is incredibly...British. It's devilishly charming and witty. I adore Skies' prose.

I cannot wait for the next book and as I said further above, give this one a chance, especially now that the first book is a finalist in 2022's SPFBO competition.

You're not mispronouncing scone, are you?

Thursday 18 August 2022

The First Binding by R.R. Virdi

Book Title: The First Binding
Author: R.R. Virdi
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Source: A hardcover copy from the publisher. Thank you to Jenna Petts and Gollancz. My review is honest.

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.

I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.

My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.

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

What did I think?

I've been following R.R. Virdi's inspiring journey for a while now and have been eagerly awaiting this release.

The First Binding is the first novel in a new epic fantasy series, Tales of Tremaine, infused with South Asian world-building elements, and if you've read The Name of the Wind, you will without a doubt compare the two. 

I have been in a reading slump for months, basically for most of 2022, and I was worried that I wouldn't manage to tackle this 800 page book, but the opening drew me in right away, and I rarely looked up to check Twitter on my phone. That's a rarity nowadays.

The opening and pacing in general is slow, and Virdi takes great care to build the characters, world, and plot without rushing, but at no point did I feel impatient. On the contrary, I enjoyed every single tangent Ari, the Storyteller, takes the reader on.

Virdi uses, much like Rothfuss, a frame narrative. At the beginning Ari arrives in an inn, just like Kvothe, and ends up telling his story. Told in first person, The First Binding jumps back and forth between the past and the present, but there isn't just a story within a story, several narratives are woven through the main plot, and I found all of them gripping.

The world-building and magic system are rich and immersive, and Virdi's prose is beautiful, even lyrical at times. Ari is a fascinating character, flawed, troubled, and can't keep his mouth shut, but he's also caring.

There is a magic school (of course) and I'm not a huge fan of that setting or the coming-of-age theme, but this is mostly a novel about stories and storytelling, and the emphasis lies more on the importance of found family, friendship and kindness.

I recommend The First Binding to every epic fantasy fan and am assuming that in a decade it'll be remembered as one of the cornerstones of this genre.

And last but not least: look at this GORGEOUS map!

Wednesday 13 July 2022

Cover Reveal: The Children of Chaos

Thank you to Trudie for giving me the opportunity to show off her cover on this fine Wednesday.

Here's my review of the first book: The Thirteenth Hour

When the saints call, the sinners answer.

Chaos stalks the steam-powered city of Chime and threatens the existence of the gods and their domains. Kayl swore to protect Chime's mortals from their gods' cruel whims, but when she agrees to represent the mortals of a god long thought dead, Kayl is thrust into a political role that goes against everything she's ever stood for.

As the newly appointed ambassador to the god of time, Quen's goal is clear - protect Chime and the domains by any means necessary. But as the gods make their demands, Quen is caught between his loyalties and his conscience.

To ensure a future for all mortals, Kayl and Quen must unite the gods against the threat of chaos and decide what they're willing to sacrifice for Chime - before the gods choose for them.

For the gods are capricious and have their own divine plans.

Artist: James T. Egan of Bookfly Design

Release Date: October 13, 2022
Pre-order Links:

Doesn't it just look GORGEOUS? I cannot wait!

About Trudie Skies: Trudie Skies has been living inside fantasy worlds ever since she discovered that reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Through the magic of books, she wishes to share these worlds of hope and heroes with other weary souls. Living in North East England, Trudie spends most of her free time daydreaming about clouds, devouring whatever fantasy books or video games she can get her hands on, and chasing after her troublesome dogs, who would like to reassure you they are very good boys.
Her debut YA fantasy series, Sand Dancer, was published through Uproar Books. Trudie is now writing adult gaslamp fantasy with her new series, The Cruel Gods.
You can chat with Trudie on Twitter @TrudieSkies

Sunday 20 March 2022

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Book Title: The Kaiju Preservation Society
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction Adventure
Source: Blog Tour (Thank you to Black Crow PR for the copy!)

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Jamie’s dream was to hit the big time at a New York tech start-up. Jamie’s reality was a humiliating lay-off, then a low wage job as a takeaway delivery driver. During a pandemic too. Things look beyond grim, until a chance delivery to an old acquaintance. Tom has an urgent vacancy on his team: the pay is great and Jamie has debts – it’s a no-brainer choice. Yet, once again, reality fails to match expectations. Only this time it could be fatal.
It seems Tom’s ‘animal rights organization’ is way more than it appears. The animals aren’t even on Earth – or not our Earth, anyway. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures roam a tropical, human-free world. And although Kaiju are their universe’s largest and most dangerous animal, they need support to survive.
Tom’s ‘Kaiju Preservation Society’ wants to help. However, others want to profit. Unless they’re stopped, the walls between our worlds could fall – and the consequences would be devastating.

What did I think?

Lately I've found it hard to read. Have you seen the world? Bring me a tub of ice cream and let me weep.

Books require focus, a lot more than mindlessly watching Netflix (or worse TikTok), and at the same time they allow the mind to wander (unlike video games.)

I've opened dozens of books in 2022, read a few paragraphs, closed them again.

Along came Scalzi. Finally. I'm not kidding when I say I was really bloody grateful for this book!

I ended up reading the Kaiju Preservation Society in one afternoon. I didn't want to put it down. It was far too much fun. It made me forget about the world, my responsibilities, and I felt like a little kid watching a Godzilla movie at the cinema.

That's all you really need to know.

With his newest book Scalzi offers a vibrant world, dialogue filled with impeccable humour, giant beasts, alternate dimensions, and pages filled with light-hearted fun. The plot moves at a break-neck pace, the characters are authentic and likeable, and the villain is a total prick.

Overall, the Kaiju Preservation Society is silly entertainment much like a popcorn movie but in book-form. Filled with cultural references, and served with a dollop of genuine humour, this read is sure to bring some joy to a rainy afternoon.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Spotlight: Princess Ever After

Title: Princess Ever After
Series: The Rosewood Chronicles
Author: Connie Glynn
Genre: Middle Grade (Fantasy; Fairytale)
Publisher: Penguin

Check out the entire series on Amazon UK.

And on Goodreads.

Read my review of the first book here.

I love the covers, they've chosen wonderful colours, and this series looks beautiful on my bookshelf!

Blurb: Ellie is a rebellious princess who is no longer hiding her real identity.
Lottie is her Portman, wishing that she could shield Ellie from the threat of Leviathan.
Jamie is Ellie's Partizan, a lifelong bodyguard sworn to protect the princess at any cost - but has mysteriously disappeared.
Not all of the trio have made it back to Rosewood Hall. Can they be reunited? And at what cost?
With the crown at risk, the stakes have never been higher...

About the Author:

Connie Glynn has always loved writing and wrote her first story when she was six, with her mum at a typewriter acting as her scribe.

She had a love for performing stories from a young age and attended Guildhall drama classes as a teenager. This passion for stories has never left her, and Connie recently finished a degree in film theory.

It was at university that Connie started her hugely successful YouTube channel Noodlerella (named after her favourite food and favourite Disney princess). After five years of publicly documenting her life and hobbies to an audience of 900,000 subscribers on YouTube, Connie closed the book on the Noodlerella project in a bid for more privacy and to pursue her original passions in the performing arts.

Connie now writes music and fiction full- time. Follow Connie on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr @ConnieGlynn