The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst

queenofbloodI loved this.  What a great start to a series.  Wonderful world building and a competent but realistic lead character who knows her own limitations all help to raise this book above the norm and shed a unique light on old tropes.

The author has conjured a world full of humans and spirits that co-exist in a precarious way that threatens violence at every turn.  The spirits are essential to this world, they provide the air to breath and the fire to cook and feel warmth, they grow the plants to provide food – basically, without them, survival would not be possible. Naturally, they believe themselves superior to humans who seem to exist purely to use up the resources.  Spirits however are creatures that need to be reined in, without something to control them they would run amok destroying the planet with their own wantonness and lack of moderation.  A tentative agreement exists between the two.  The spirits select a woman who is named their queen.  She wields strong magic that helps to keep the spirits under control.  Every year, young women who have shown an aptitude towards magic and control of the spirits can be put forward to train as a future ‘heir’ to the throne.  It’s a very tentative balance  that requires tight control tempered with an even hand and, as events at the start of the story demonstrate, this control can sometimes slip with disastrous consequences.

So, basically, in terms of plot you could say that this story is the lead up to a selection of a new heir or heirs and this would be true but there’s a lot more going on here.  Manipulation, treachery and a bigger plot underlie the central theme.

The story begins with a small, outlying village suffering a dreadful attack from the spirits.  All the villagers die during the rampage apart from one family whose daughter demonstrates a sudden affinity to control the spirits keeping her own home protected from destruction.  If this was going to follow traditional lines the young girl who saved her family would naturally become the chosen one, gifted beyond any that have come before, etc, etc.  As it is, Daleina barely wields any talent, her abilities are weak and so rather than training to be a heir she takes herself off to train as a hedge witch with the aim of providing charms to protect homes. And so ends Daleina’s tale. But not really, I jest.  Eventually Daleina realises that she will be more useful to her people if she strengthens her abilities and so with no expectations of becoming an heir she takes herself off to undertake the tests required to enter an academy and improve herself.

Along with making Daleina’s acquaintance we’re also introduced to Ven.  A former champion who has been banished from the City following conflict with the Queen.  Ven and the Queen share a history and their relationship is twisted and complicated to say the least.  Ven spends his time on the outskirts of the wilderness protection those villages that come under threat of attack.  I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything by saying that eventually Ven and Daleina’s paths will cross and they will pair up, at first in a mentor/student type relationship that swiftly evolves into the two of them fighting against corruption.  Bigger things are afoot in the land of Renthia and the forests of Aratay are more dangerous than it’s inhabitants suspect.

The world building here is really well done.  The people’s villages and cities are built in the treetops.  A beautiful labyrinth of houses created amongst the canopy, connected with bridges and walkways.  Zipwires run the length of the forests for those brave enough to climb up to the tops and use them – sounds like a lot of good fun to me but then I’m also a bit dippy about heights.  The world really buzzes into life with people in the smaller villages going about the bustle of their daily routines.  It’s easy for them to sometimes forget the danger that overshadows them.  The spirits are not friendly.  They despise humans with a passion and long to cause havoc and bloodshed. Ironically, they themselves choose the Queen that rules them and give to her more power than any other being.  They’re conflicted because they want to destroy and at the same time they want to create they simply don’t have the self control necessary to stop destruction on a massive scale.  It’s a really clever concept, I enjoyed reading about the spirits they’re vicious pieces of work, barely kept in check.

As the story moves on we find ourselves at one of the training academies.  The old magic school trope.  I actually enjoyed this section, it doesn’t overdo things. We watch Daleina take part in the induction trials which are surprisingly harsh.  Daleina manages to scrape through but as suspected she certainly isn’t the most impressive of the bunch and this is a pretty good indication of the rest of the time she spends there.  It’s no secret that I enjoy the school setting and I think this is done well.  Daleina finds friends, friends that in actual fact defy expectations by not only helping her to fudge through things and not reveal just how weak her magic is but by also overcoming the need to play off the good looking, high powered girl against the main protagonist and instead making them befriend each other.  Did not see that one coming.  Fortunately we don’t spend too long at the school but jump forward to the final year, I do like magic schools but I seem to be reading a glut of them at the moment so I was relieved when Daleina got her chance and was chosen by Ven for training.  Oddly enough one of the weaker students was chosen by a disgraced champion – he clearly saw in her a determination and stubborness that could be used.  From here the pace really picks up.  I won’t go into details but there is one particularly motivated spirit that seems to enjoy making bargains.

The last third of the book really upped the ante.  The storyline was packed with tension, fear, fighting and blood.  I would say that this book is touted as a YA and the age of the protagonists would seem to confirm that but I think somebody forgot to tell the spirits.  They mean business, they are out for blood and they’re not taking prisoners.  The ending is painted with all the shades of red.

In terms of criticisms.  Nothing that really spoiled my enjoyment reading.  There is a romance involved.  Thankfully it’s not between the two obvious characters *breathes sigh of relief*.  And, I didn’t really buy the romance at all.  Perhaps it will grow on me but at the moment it feels very thin and lacks chemistry – almost like it happened just because it could.  I need to become a little bit more attached to Ven.  He’s a good character but I think he needs to develop a bit more.

I like Daleina, she falls outside expectations.  She’s realistic but more than simply knowing her own limitations she’s prepared to work hard to make herself the best possible version.  She was undoubtedly scarred by the attack on her village but instead of wallowing in self pity she’s doing something about it and also she’s different in the way she wields her magic, it’s not as strong as it should be and so she has to be a bit more cunning rather than simply relying on power.  It bodes well.

I thoroughly enjoyed Queen of Blood.  I went in with high expectations for this one and the book delivered.  I’ll be picking up No.2 very soon.

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Weekly Wrap Up : 22/04/17

Posted On 22 April 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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Hi, have you all had a good week?  I’ve got a miserable cold and a sore throat which is sucking all my will to read as I don’t seem to be focused on the page – that feeling where you read a sentence five times and think ‘what just happened?’.  I’ve gone off schedule a little and read Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence.  Couldn’t resist the next instalment of Nona’s adventures.  I’m reading Devil’s Night Dawning – which I have to admit is a bit of a struggle so far but hopefully will pick up,  And just started Noir – no real impressions yet as only about 5% into the story.

Books read:

  1. Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence – both covers below – which is your favourite?

Next Week’s Reads:

  1. Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black
  2. Noir by Christopher Moore
  3. The Poppy War by R F Kuang

Upcoming reviews:

  1. Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
  2. Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace
  3. Feeder by Patrick Weekes
  4. The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath
  5. The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
  6. School for Psychics by K C Archer
  7. The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross
  8. Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

I’d love to know what you’re reading this week.

Tiger Lily (Tiger Lily #1) by K. Bird Lincoln #SPFBO

Posted On 21 April 2018

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews

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Tiger Lily inspired mixed reactions in me.  It has so many elements that I love.  I was especially looking forward to reading a story set in ancient Japan and in that respect this story doesn’t disappoint at all.  The writing is beautiful, really really lovely and very easy to read.  And yet, for some reason, and I can barely put my finger on it I didn’t find myself loving this as much as I expected which is a real shame.

The story is told by Lily.  Born in the year of the Tiger, Lily is the outcast, the ugly duckling of the piece and something of a tomboy.  She’s always striking off into the woods to try and find some extra food to supplement the tiny amount that her family has to survive on.  These were very harsh times and life was certainly cheap.  Lily lives in a small and poor village and although her family have a little more kudos because of their father’s position as cook to the noble family their lives are still hard.  The year of the Tiger is not one you want to be born in as a female and although Lily tries hard and loves her family the year of her birth will always cast a dark shadow over everything she does.

Basically, one day, whilst Lily is yet again in the forest, in spite of her father’s express wishes for her to not go there, she stumbles upon trouble.  The Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, has been wounded by the Pretender Emperor’s men and Lily saves his life by calling on the spirits.  The Emperor has forbidden the worship of Jindo Gods with Buddhism being the practiced religion.  Lily’s mother, before she disappeared, taught her the songs that attract the spirits and Lily still sings these when she’s alone in the woods.  However, in saving Ashikaga’s life her secret has been revealed placing her in a vulnerable position.  If exposed she will be executed.

The conflict in the story revolves around religion.  The Pretend Emperor believes in the old ways and prays to the spirits.  The spirits are in everything, in the rocks, the mountains, the trees and the rivers but the songs of worship are largely forgotten.  Lily’s ability to sing to the spirits could become a turning point in the war between the old religion and the new and both sides would seek to use her gifts for their own ends.

My favourite aspect of this story is the writing.  The prose is a real treat to read and the descriptions are just wonderful.  I loved reading about the place, how people lived and how everything worked.  It just really felt like the time and the era came to life on the page and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.  I liked Lily – at first – she started to wear me down a little as the story progressed, but more of that to follow and there is a love story thrown into the mix.  Now, I freely admit that I’m not a lover of romance however if it’s not the main focus of the story I think it can play an important part and I would say that’s the case with Tiger Lily.   Without wanting to give too much away Lily and the noble born Ashikaga develop feelings for each other and whilst that might feel a little predictable there is an element of surprise to the relationship that I didn’t foresee.

So, why didn’t this quite work for me.  I think firstly Lily started to annoy me.  I understand that in this setting she’s a peasant, she has no place conversing with nobility and I could completely understand the fear and awe that she was swamped with when faced with certain situations.  I also understand the arrogance of the nobility, the privileged lives they led and the way that they lacked feelings or empathy for their lowly subjects.  But, as the story develops, as Lily and Ashikaga develop their own feelings I wanted something more.  I wanted Lily’s Tiger nature to burst out, it felt like she was more akin to a kitten than a tiger – yes, I appreciate that her life has been hard but although she starts out as something of a rebel, a tomboy and not particularly interested in gaining the good thoughts of the others from the village I felt that her own personality waned as the story progressed.  Put simply, although Lily saved Ashikaga’s life, and in spite of her being able to call the spirits I felt like her character became weaker and her actions more questionable as the narrative unfolded.

Tiger Lily is a relatively short story (I think under 300 pages) and it did feel like a quick read but at the same time this meant that the other characters felt a bit flat and the ending felt a bit rushed and a tad disappointing.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage others from reading this book.  I think the writing is really impressive.  For me, the plot felt it needed some more thought and the characters needed to be more fleshed out, particularly Lily who seemed to become a shadow of herself the more involved she became.  I understand that this is the first book in a series and I would read more, just to see if Lily really embraces her tiger nature and to see if a real spark ignites between her and Ashikaga.

I would like to thank the author for providing a copy of Tiger Lily.

I rated this 6 out of 10 which equates to 3 out of 5 on Goodreads.

 

 

Friday Face Off : Where there’s fire there’s…

FFO.jpg

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .   This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below. This week’s theme:

Where there’s fire there’s… – a cover featuring smoke

I thought I might struggle this week but I looked on my shelves and came up with a couple of books I could use but I absolutely couldn’t resist using : Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones.  I love this book.  I love the film too.

This is difficult to choose.  The green and purple (end of second row from the bottom) was the copy I owned and so obviously I like that cover, I also like the bottom left cover.  I also like the two top corners but,

My favourite this week :

howl4

I do like this cover although that is one rather big castle!  Still, I like this one

Next week – a cover that is mediaeval

Future themes:

27th April – ‘Those darling byegone times… with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture’ – a cover that is positively mediaeval 

4th May-  ‘A Hand without a hand? A bad jape, sister.’ – a cover featuring a hand/hands

11th May – ‘Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth’ – a cover featuring a dinosaur/s

18th May – ‘Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;’ – a cover featuring a gravestone

25th May – Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap – a cover featuring footsteps

1st June – clinging and invasive – a cover featuring creeping vines

8th June – Raining Cats and Dogs – a cover featuring a stormy sky

The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp

Posted On 19 April 2018

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The Atrocities, a haunting gothic fantasy of a young ghost’s education

When Isabella died, her parents were determined to ensure her education wouldn’t suffer.

But Isabella’s parents had not informed her new governess of Isabella’s… condition, and when Ms Valdez arrives at the estate, having forced herself through a surreal nightmare maze of twisted human-like statues, she discovers that there is no girl to tutor.

Or is there…?

the atrocitiesThe Atrocities is only a short story and I don’t want to give too much away so I’m going to keep this rather to the point in terms of focus.

The description above is taken directly off Goodreads and is a pretty good set up for what you can expect from this read- at least in terms of the majority of the book.  This definitely falls into the gothic category.  A dark and foreboding country home, a grotesque maze that acts as a barrier to the outside world, a rather starchy governess and a husband and wife who seem to be in the throes of grief.  The husband seems like a mad eccentric with a penchant for monstrosities and the wife appears to have lost her grip on reality somewhat.  To all intents and purposes this is a ghost story set within the walls of a very unusual, surreal and disturbing mansion but, believe me when I say that this is anything but a straightforward haunting.

For me this book reads almost like a dream sequence.  Anything can happen in your dreams after all and that’s the feeling that pervades this book.  It’s bizarreness is gripping to say the least and that oddity, coupled with the fact that this can be read in little more than an hour or so definitely held me captive.  The story is narrated by Ms Valdez and I must confess that she keeps her cool demeanour even under the most frightening circumstances.  There’s no way I would have been able to sleep in that house, in fact, to be honest, I would have turned back halfway through the creepy maze.  I’m a wimp.  What can I say.

You’re probably thinking I’m not really telling you much here but that’s because it’s difficult.  Put basically, if you fancy a creepy story, a ghost story that is something more than you expected coupled with some downright hideous imagination then this could be just the book for you.

The calmness of Jane Eyre meets the madness of Wonderland except Wonderland has turned into a dark nightmare, and, like nightmares I’m not entirely sure that I understand the ending, In fact, to be honest, I’m not even sure if there’s supposed to be a clear cut ending – it makes me wonder if people will take something different from this book.  It definitely made me reconsider things.

I don’t really have any criticisms.  I guess in some respects I’m a bit of a stickler for wanting more clarity in terms of the ending – it’s a bugbear of mine – but, in this case the ending kind of fits somehow.  Just be aware that this is dark, twisted and unusual.  It’s also shorter than I would have liked which leaves the ending feeling very rushed but, again, I don’t really make a secret that shorter stories are not usually my thing – just every now and again I get grabby hands and in this particular instance my greed paid off with a good story.  Would I have loved this to have been worked into something longer – yes and no.  I’m not sure, it might have been just too much to handle in an expanded version.

On the whole a creepy number, it would fit in well on the darker nights if your constitution can take it and it lives up to its name.

I received a copy, through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

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