Blackwing (#1 Raven’s Mark) by Ed McDonald

I think I can say with a good degree of confidence that Blackwing will be on my end of year list of favourite reads.  This was so good it’s given me a whole new bout of faith in grimdark, which, I confess, I was becoming a little jaded with just recently.   Why did I love this? I’m not really sure I can’t explain to be honest, other than this is a book that is rounded. It has plenty of action and yet has taken the time to establish the roots of some excellent world building.  It has characters that feel familiar, they’re maybe not breaking the mould, but you will end up liking them with all their flaws.  It has surprises that really do surprise but more than that it manages to achieve a balance that keeps you teetering on a knife edge between hope and despair and for that I raise my glass to Mr McDonald.

This is a world where past wars have left a grim reminder of the price of super weapons. Many years ago The Nameless (long lived, powerful sorcerers) and the Deep Kings  (immortal and almost Gods would be my best description) went to war.  As a result the sorcerers unleashed their super power, Nall’s Engine.  Killing vast swathes of innocents and blighting a huge expanse of land (known with good reason as The Misery) in the process they succeeded in killing one of the Kings, stopping the war and holding off future attacks by the mere threat The weapon posed. The Kings are immortal though, they have patience and they haven’t really given up, they’re simply biding their time and gathering strength, waiting for weaknesses to be exposed.

The Misery is a haunted and poisonous wasteland full of dark magic, teeming with ghosts and inhabited by the strangest and deadliest critters.  Spending more than a couple of days under its brooding skies is enough to give the most battle hardened a case of the violent shakes and a need for alcohol in sufficient quantities to induce otherwise unattainable sleep.  But, more than that, The Misery is almost like a character in itself with its constantly changing landscape, deadly terrain and unnavigable skies it certainly is a fascinating place to read about although I wouldn’t personally want to pay it a visit.  Cowardly am I.

At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of Captain Galharrow as he heads into The Misery with his team of mercenaries in search of his latest bounty.  That is until he receives a mission from one of the Sorcerors.  Galharrow is in service to Crowfoot and one does not ignore a sorceror’s demands, therefore he and his team find themselves crossing part of The Misery to one of the outlying forts where they will pick up a young woman and return her to the safety of the City. The woman in question turns out to be a blast from the Captain’s past and the two of them are about to be thrown together in pursuit of a conspiracy that will threaten the lives of everyone outside The Misery..

in terms of characters.  The story is told through Galharrow’s POV and this is definitely one of the strong points to the book.  There is much more to Galharrow than at first meets the eye.  He’s an intriguing fellow.  A cynical veteran who isn’t afraid to do what’s necessary to survive and yet he also displays a touching display of loyalty to his band of reprobates. He’s plagued by memories that eventually help to bring together a portrait of his difficult past and it hasn’t always been pretty and to all extents he’s a man who has given up hope of anything better.  Much more than that though, he’s interesting.  A conflicted character who firmly gets you on his side and during the course of the book will have you glued to the page with his exploits and smiling to yourself at his sarcastic banter.  The supporting cast are also excellent, my favourite being Nenn.

The plot is fast moving and unpredictable.  Every time I made a stab at second guessing the outcome or thinking where the story would go next I was pretty much, on all but one occasion, wrong.  There are battles and fights and plenty of magic and the creativity on display is excellent. I’m not going to elaborate too much, the author has come up with a whole host of evil doers such as Darlings, Brides and, my personal favourite, Gillings that are creepy, nasty or plain revolting. Yes, there is bloodshed but not enough to steal the show and although the battle scenes are brutal they don’t feel too overwhelmingly so.

Finally, I felt the world building was really strong.  I got a good feel for the places involved and the political hierarchy involved. I loved that this has an almost mediaeval feel but one that also feels strangely more advanced with gunfire and lighting provided by energy sourced from one of the moons.  We have Spinners, who seem to be able to work with the energy drawn from the moon and use it more physically and then a lesser version known as Talents who are treated terribly and live their lives like slaves working day in and out drawing threads of power to feed the master weapon.   I look forward to seeing how the world develops in further instalments, maybe travelling further afield and maybe broaching a little more on the history of the Sorcerors and Kings and why they went to war.

All told I have no criticisms to level at Blackwing,  it was a thoroughly engrossing read, I could barely put it down, I loved it and I want more.  I can’t recommend it enough basically.   Do yourself a favour and read it.

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

Waiting on Wednesday : The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black


“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was created by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we get to highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  My book this week is : The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black.

the cruel princeOf course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Expected Publication : January 2018

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Posted On 18 July 2017

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spoon1I loved this book, it’s my first by this author but on the strength of this one I’m keen to go and check out more of his work.  To be honest I wasn’t sure if this would be for me, it doesn’t really sound like there’s going to be much fantasy and I must admit that when I started the book it reads like a contemporary family saga, and yet there is so much more to this as I soon found out.  Within the first few pages I was intrigued by the Telemachus family, they worked their magic on me and pretty soon I was tearing through the pages desperate to know what came next.  A clever story, full of emotion,  great characterisation and laugh out loud moments. Imagine the dysfunctional Royal Tenenbaums, but with psychic abilities thrown into the mix, meets the Sopranos.  Magic, the mob, a sprinkling of love and a twisting over arching storyline that will keep you gripped. What’s not to love?

The Telemachus family have psychic abilities.  For a brief spell during the 1970s they looked set to achieve fame as the whole family appeared on tv, each using their abilities for a different act to wow the audience.  Unfortunately things didn’t quite pan out and the family retreated home in shame and this incident, followed fairly soon afterwards by family loss, left them all wanting little more than to live normal lives.  Now jump forwards approximately 20 years and witness the family as they all struggle with their own problems and witness the absurdly crazy events as they spiral further and further into the genius that makes up the grand finale of this story.

This is a story that jumps back to the past, allowing plot lines of espionage and the Cold War to creep in, but also jumps forward into the future (depending on whose storyline you’re currently reading) so that you can glimpse intriguing snippets of what is yet to come.  I was so impressed, in fact more than impressed, staggered at the way this story comes together. There are so many plates spinning here that I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the inevitable crash, which, unbelievably, never came.  This truly is a masterfully told story and on top of that its tense with anticipation, I was reading and alternately shaking my head or nodding or laughing or just plain wanting to jump to the conclusion to kill the suspense!

What really shines for me in this story are the characters.  All of them are so well rounded.  You know that you’re in love with a character when you find yourself wishing you could meet them or be part of what they’ve got going on and as crazy as the Telemachus family is I found that to be the case here, and not just with one character but them all.  The father is Teddy.  He’s the one exception to the rule as he has no psychic ability at all.  He’s a conman, even down to his made up Greek heritage and yet he manages to marry the woman of his dreams after he was wowed by her at their first meeting.  Call it love at first sight if you will.  Maureen is probably one of the world’s greatest psychics and all of her children inherited some form of ability from her.  Irene is the human lie detector, Frankie can move objects and Buddy can predict the future. Sounds almost too good to be true and yet at the start of the story their strange abilities have not prevented them from free falling into dire straits.  Irene is now bringing up her son Matty alone, cash problems have forced her to return to the family home and she’s working long hours, in a job that she doesn’t enjoy, for minimum pay.  Frankie’s own company has gone bust.  He’s working hard but he has massive debts and has found himself in over his head with the mob.  And Buddy, well, he seems to have retreated into his own world, he very rarely talks and is constantly working on ‘projects’ of his own that are unfathomable to everyone else.  Now add in the next generation and all their mixed emotions, especially the teenagers and their own budding talents that are just becoming apparent.  Between them they gave me moments of reflection a lot of entertainment, a number of laughs at the sagas of everyday life and genuine feelings for this oddball family.

I don’t really want to say too much more.  I really liked that this is a standalone novel.  I love that it has a storyline that seems to be playing second fiddle until it becomes apparent that it’s the key to the whole thing and I think there’s almost a message here about being careful what you wish for.  The Telemachus family are all talented but their own special abilities have not led them to be happy, and in a world where people are constantly wishing to be the next supernatural, immortal or magical character that they read about I found this refreshingly different.

I’m probably not doing this book credit so I’ll finish by saying, if you’re reading this review and it hasn’t convinced you to pick this up, then ignore everything I’ve said and pick it up anyway.  I simply can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this book and I want everyone to give it a shot.

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

Godblind by Anna Stephens

Posted On 17 July 2017

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godblindGodblind is Anna Stephens debut novel.  Set in a brutal world this is not a story for the faint hearted and I would start by saying that it definitely will not be a book for all.  I have mixed feelings for the book and I confess that my thoughts have been difficult to pin down so this review may ramble.

In terms of the plot.  Basically, we have a swathe of people, the Mireces, formally of Rilpor, who have been cast out of the city for their worship of the Red Gods.  They live in the mountains and although there is a tentative peace their thoughts of resurrecting their Gods from beyond the Veil is never far from their thoughts and with a blood thirsty Priestess goading them into action and a new ambitious Warlord with plans of making a name for himself the threat of imminent war looms.

Meanwhile, in the City of Rilpor, unrest stirs.  Ruled by a King who is slowly descending into madness following the murder of his wife the City is vulnerable.  They’ve become complacent and seem to lack knowledge about the real threat that they face.

The catalyst to the story is a young woman, a slave of the Mireces who finally takes drastic action and escapes into the mountains where she is eventually picked up by a ranger patrolling the borders.  The Wolves, who take her in have little idea of the danger she really poses.

So, Godblind is a story with multiple POVs.  I enjoy stories told in this style although I admit that there are quite a lot here and for a while the short chapters really made it difficult for me to get a grip of them all.  I think overall there were possibly 8/9 different characters so I’m not going to elaborate on them all here.  Personally, I would have liked to have spent a little time with some of these characters, the main ones in particular, to get a better feel for them before moving on to the next one. I understand that the author was probably going for a fast pace but in a way I felt this led to the characters suffering from a lack of individuality.  They all eventually became distinct for me but I felt that this was something I had to really think about and even now I haven’t developed any strong attachments other than to a fairly minor character called Gilda who really pleasantly surprised me.

The world building is also a little light to be honest but I think in a book of this scope with so much action and such a lot of character shifts it’s difficult to really elaborate too much.

In terms of strengths.  Anna Stephens can certainly write.  This story bolts out of the stalls and pretty much doesn’t come up for breath all through.  Her writing is vivid and she has a real talent for painting action scenes and although this first in series may suffer a little bit from over ambition there is a distinct promise of bigger and better things to come.

Criticisms.  Well, this is probably where the rambling begins. I enjoyed this but at the same time I definitely felt irritated. There’s a lot of violence contained in this book and whilst that’s something that you expect from this type of story I couldn’t help feeling that the ‘shock’ factor was being strived for a little too hard.  I confess that I’m becoming a little exasperated by the constant need to paint books in blood and viscera in order to provoke a reaction from readers.  I have an excellent imagination and I don’t need everything placing in front of me and in fact sometimes I would like this to be tempered with something that prevents the story becoming too bleak and full of despair.  This is clearly a personal thing but I like a spattering of humour to accompany the spatters of blood and I think that this is missing here.  The other problem I had was the nagging question throughout of why anyone would follow the Red Gods in the first place.  To do so seems to mean you have no love for life or even desire to remain alive as you constantly face numerous threats, such as being used for war fodder or for the constant, and randomly chosen, blood sacrifices that the Gods (or their priestess) seem to demand.

Now, that probably all sounds overly negative, which isn’t my intention.  This is an impressive debut but I hope that as a series this will perhaps draw its claws in a little and offer a few rays of hope.  That probably makes me sound like a raging softie and doubtless the more bloodthirsty of you out there will be shaking your heads in disgust but there it is, warts and all.

So, a definite contender for most ‘grimdark’, a fast moving plot, lots of clashing of swords and an author with plenty of promise.  But, be warned, this book should come with a health warning and perhaps a cushion to hide behind.  I’m away now to think of happy thoughts, whiskers on kittens, and lots of hand clapping whilst whispering ‘I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies’.

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

 

Weekly Wrap Up : 16/7/17

Posted On 16 July 2017

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I hope you’re all having a great week and enjoying some sunshine?  This week I’ve read the following:

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory -review to follow
Godblind by Anna Stephens – review to follow

Next week I’m hoping to get to:

  1. Princess of Blood by Tom Lloyd
  2. Graveyard Shift by Michael F Haspil
  3. Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Of course I might not get to them all but we’ll see.

My cover highlight this week is:

Isn’t that a stunning cover?

How was your week? What you currently reading?

 

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