Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards(Bloodsounder’s Arc #1)

Scourge of the BetrayerScourge of the Betrayer is the first of the Bloodsounder’s Arc series by Jeff Salyards.  I really enjoyed this I have to say although when it comes down to writing a review I confess it’s quite difficult.

The story follows a relatively small band of characters, soldiers, on something of a military adventure.  We get off to an immediate start and learn in relatively short order a few of the key characters and what they’re about.  Arkamondos (or Arki) is a scribe.  Having lived the majority of his, albeit short, life in relative comfort chronicling the narratives of merchants and other people lacking in excitement he takes a job that he believes will make his name.  His new employer is the head of a bunch of Syldoon soldiers who are about to embark on  a mission and Arki is about to go on an adventure.

We start the narrative in an inn where a number of the key characters are introduced as they exchange banter.  And, let me just say that these are a bunch of lively characters who are not shy of a bit of creative cursing – you have been warned!  Now, I understood on picking this up that this was going to be dark fantasy but after the first couple of pages I was wondering just how grim and dark this would really become, in fact I momentarily had doubts as the start of the book really does set its stall out quite early.  However, a few pages later I found myself pretty much intrigued and compelled to read.

I can tell you absolutely nothing about the plot whatsoever and the reason for this is twofold.  First, and most obvious, I don’t want to give away spoilers.  Secondly the plot is revealed as the story progresses.  Basically we learn what’s going on through Arki and as he’s kept in the dark by his new boss then we are also pretty much kept in the dark too.   When Arki learns something – then so do we and sometimes it’s a while before the information is forthcoming.  That isn’t to say that nothing happens however – in fact far from it.

This is a very character led story and for the length of the book I would say it packs in an incredible, not to mention surprising, amount of worldbuilding.  The characters primarily consist of the following.  Arki – and I must say what a clever device for an author to use!  Arki is bookish, well read and studious.  He’s setting out on an adventure with a bunch of reprobates but in actual fact he’s far from rough and ready himself.  How cool is that really.  It feels like, as a reader, I almost have an affinity with this guy already!  Don’t get me wrong, I love to read about action and adventure but in this respect all the events are chronicled by Arki and in such a way as to tell you how terrifying it all is in vivid detail.

We also have the surly and little spoken Captain Braylar Killcoin.  Braylar is a fascinating character who I really enjoyed reading about.  He’s a no nonsense, surly, rude and quite violent character.  He carries a flail (although it isn’t naturally his first weapon of choice and the reasons do become clear as you read) and this flail seems to be, well, I’m not sure how to describe it really – magical? Possessed?  Anyway, let’s just say that this weapon seems to lend Braylar certain abilities.  However, it certainly doesn’t make him invincible and it’s a bit of a double edged sword as it also ensures that he’s haunted by his memories.  The compelling thing about Braylar – well, you’re sat on the edge of your seat waiting for him to tell you something and he shares information quite grudgingly.  Also, he’s written in such a way that you like and dislike him, then like him again, etc, etc, as the story progresses.  On top of this we make the acquaintance of some of the other soldiers but for me the other character that really stood out was Lloi.  Lloi has a lot of mystery in her life and I really enjoyed the scenes in which she took part – she just has a way of looking at things that is quite refreshing.

To be honest I would say that this book is more about the journey than the destination and I really do say that in a good way.  We spend quite a bit of time in the company of Braylar and Arki with the occasional appearance of Lloi and during that time we really get to see the characters develop.  This is particularly true of Arki who ends up surprising himself towards the conclusion of the story.

I think the writing is very enjoyable and the author manages to throw mystery, battles, strange creatures, shrines and other encounters along the way.  The final reveal is definitely intriguing and actually incredibly gripping.  In fact I reached a point where I actually wondered if anybody was going to survive!  Anyway, enough of that – no spoilers.

I think my only criticism was that the ending felt a little rushed compared to the rest of the story.  That being said I have No.2 lined up already and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

 

 

 

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

I love this series!  It seems like every book just gets better than the last – which is a pretty awesome accomplishment considering I enjoyed all the previous books in the first place.  How can they just keep getting better and better?  Well, I suppose it’s because we find out a little bit more about Harry during every adventure.  A little more about how he got where he is today and what motivates him, so that whilst every story is individual and self contained, they also follow on and link into one another – that just sounds total nonsense but if you’ve read this series you’ll know what I mean!  If you haven’t then – firstly, what are you waiting for? and secondly, get on with it!  This is a really entertaining series with some great characters.  If you’re not already aware Harry is a private detective working out of Chicago.  So far so normal.  However, he’s also a magician and he has fairly regular encounters with a range of unusual creatures ranging from demons to brownies.  He’s got a great sense of snarky humour, a soft spot for a damsel in distress and an ability to very quickly find himself in masses of trouble.

Blood Rites gets off to a fiery start with Harry rescuing a box of puppies from the clutches of some evil demon monkeys – demon monkeys who throw pooh!  In his escape he’s assisted by Thomas, one of the vampires from the White Court who we’ve met in previous instalments.  Thomas seems to show up unexpectedly on a number of occasions and this time he has a request for Harry.  It seems that somebody who he knows may have become the subject of an entropy curse and two unlucky people have already died as a result of getting in the way of this curse and Thomas wants Harry to intercede before its too late.  This involves going undercover a little bit and in this respect Harry poses as an assistant on a movie set.  The person he is assisting (or protecting) is called Arturo, the producer of pornographic movies who has recently broken away from the main studio to go it alone.  The plot quickly branches out from there with more than one thread being explored.

As you’ll know by this point we’ve been introduced to the White, Red and Black courts – all vampires, but all different in terms of their behaviour.  In this particular story the black court are still determined to make Harry pay for his past misdemeanours (at least in their eyes).  The Black Court vampires are particularly nasty!  The White Court on the other hand have always felt somewhat ‘softer’ somehow – that impression is set to change slightly in this story as we become familiar with some more of Thomas’s family and in particular the feared head of the family.  As we do so we get to see a different side of things altogether.

Straight away Harry is thrown in at the deep end.  He has the black court jumping out of dark corners at him at every opportunity and on top of this he’s trying to come to grips with the entropy curse and exactly what the motive is behind it.  He ropes in Murphy to help make discreet enquiries without drawing attention and then further needs her aid in helping to try and destroy a Black Vampires nest that has been established in the town.

Why did I really love this particular story.  Well, although it doesn’t appear to have any out and out wars in this one, more Harry trying to stay alive and solve a case whilst surviving no end of cuts, bumps and bruises, I really enjoyed the extra knowledge that comes with this story.  Thomas gains family in a most unexpected way.  He also finds out a few home truths about his mentor Ebenezer which don’t sit too easily with him.  We get an insight into Murphy and what takes place in her personal live – and OMG – her sister!!!  On top of this Bob obviously makes an appearance and Kincaid also reappears on the scene – and we get to see a different and darker side of him than previously, particularly when Harry uses his ‘sight’ to see what’s really there.

Harry’s adventures are always fast paced, rough and tumble.  There’s always plenty going on.  If you like dark urban fantasy with plenty of humour thrown in for light relief plus a mystery to be solved then you’ll love Harry.  Clearly Jim Butcher, has found in Harry, a character that is going to keep growing with every story thereby endearing him more to his readers and, as is proving to be the case, ensure his longevity.

I love this character and definitely recommend this series.

 

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Just finished reading Cormorant by Chuck Wendig, the third book in the series about a psychic called Miriam, the first two books being Blackbird and Mockingbird.  Seriously I love this series.  It’s brutal.  And, it’s grim.  Miriam is no sweet and fluffy little girl and there’s a whole seedy world out there which reading her story is going to suck you right into.  (Stop reading now if you’re worried about potential spoilers).

In the last book Miriam tried to control her abilities but this ended up in an explosive situation.  In this instalment she’s still trying to come to grips with it, more to the point trying to come to terms with how to live with it.  She’s been experimenting with the gift, trying to change the visions she sees, but fate finds ways to intervene.  Death won’t be cheated.  A life for a life.

So at the start of the story Miriam is barely scraping together a living and the situation is going to become worse as her flatmates have decided to throw her out of her accommodation, apparently she’s too difficult to contend with!  The sugar coating is that one of her flatmates has found her a bonus.  A job where she can use her special talents for a rather lucrative reward.   Apparently there is a guy down in the Keys whose curious to find out about the way in which he will die, so curious that he wants to pay Miriam $5,000 to give him such an insight.  And so Miriam heads out to Florida.  It feels like a trap.  And, that’s because it is a trap.  And things are now going to go from wish you didn’t get up in the morning to absolutely wished you stayed in bed for the rest of the week!

Basically, Miriam is going to end up again following a serial killer, or at least, not so much following the killer as he’s following her. The serial killer seems to be watching her and anticipating her every move.  He’s using his victims to send her messages, it’s a creepy plot line.  You have Miriam, who when she makes contact with someone can see the way in which they die, and when she has this vision there’s a message there for her in the future.  It twists with your brain for sure.  The story is interspersed with scenes that jump backwards and forwards which seems to be oddly fitting given Miriam’s special abilities.  We also, again, have the strange connection to the birds.  Plus the trespasser, as Miriam has come to think of him who seems to be a spooky message carrying ghost.  Miriam is stronger than she realises though, she just needs to come to terms with her own new found talents and find out the boundaries.

The storytelling is excellent.  It’s gripping.  It’s compelling.  It’s like a train wreck that you can’t tear your eyes away from.  The language is, well, let’s just be honest here, the language is a little bit coarse!  But, this is Miriam and she’s a force of nature to say the least.  If you’re easily offended then it’s probably best to steer clear but if you’ve read the other books you’re no doubt very familiar with Miriam already.  She’s offensive but even so you can’t help liking her especially as she seems to have these moments where the real Miriam comes to the surface and you can see the person she could or would have been if her life hadn’t become so messed up.

The pace is constant as Miriam ricochets from one situation after another, barrelling out of control for a good part as she tries to come to grips with what exactly is going on as the people around her become the murderer’s next target.  Miriam seems to have drawn the attention of not only some badass drug dealing gangster types and a stalking serial killer but also the FBI seem to be on her trail.  I suppose you can only go for so long leaving death and destruction in your wake before you finally gain a following of sorts.

Did I mention that I loved this book?  It pulled me right in and I couldn’t put it down until I reached the conclusion.  It’s not like Miriam is perfect.  She rushes into a situation even when its obvious that she shouldn’t.  There were occasions where it was clear what would happen and you could see things would turn out badly and yet Miriam still walked into those scenes!  Boldly going where no woman has been before I might add!  She has such a devil may care attitude about her own safety it’s like she almost thinks shes become invincible or something or perhaps it’s just that she really doesn’t care any more.  You can’t help feeling exasperated with her at certain points and yet even with that frustration the story still grabs you and shakes hard.  Even as the story races towards it’s grand finale you can’t help racing along with it.  I think my biggest regret is that I didn’t take a little more time to savour the story and certainly my biggest problem will now be finding the patience to wait for the next instalment.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, in exchange for a honest review.  The above is my own opinion.  I think this series is excellent: dark, twisted fantasy.  I definitely recommend.

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

My most recent book was The Grim Company by Luke Scull which I thoroughly enjoyed!  In fact, let’s not be stingy – I loved.

The Grim Company follows the fortunes of a number of people who eventually come together, not always amicably, on a mission of sorts.  Many years ago the magelords of the world united to overthrow and kill the Gods and yet far from creating a perfect world the remaining mages have grown into tyrants, the power in the world is slowly ebbing away and the remaining traces or elements of the Gods result in abominations and demons that spill forth and threaten to overpower entire villages.

The book certainly starts how it means to continue.  No messing about or hand holding here.  We are introduced, albeit briefly, to a couple of the inhabitants of Shadowport who are celebrating the news of their victory over the war with Dorminia.  This is to be a short lived celebration as Salazar, the Magelord from Dorminia, has other plans (which I won’t elaborate upon here).  Basically we have a number of threads that we follow.  Not necessarily in this order we have a remote highlands village where a young sorceress, Yllandris, lover of the King of Fangs, plots to become Queen.  The Highlands are a tough place to live.  Brutal and uncompromising and seemingly the first in line for any potential demonic attacks.  In Dorminia we are introduced to a band of would-be rebels (called the Shard) who plot to overthrow Salazar.  And, alongside this we meet up with two lone Highlanders on the run from their village and under constant threat of discovery and death.  The plot, bluntly, is kill the tyrant and live happily ever after.  The means of achieving this is far from that simple however and the reading along the way is grisly, entertaining, adventurous, sometimes downright funny and at others horrific.

For me, the world was easy to imagine, there’s plenty of action which is very well described and brings the fighting scenes to life rather than feeling like a running commentary, there’s plenty of the unusual with some pretty horrendous demonic characters and there are twists and turns that I didn’t expect, but the best part of the story is without doubt the characters.  The characters are well rounded with interesting back stories that build slowly sometimes turning your initial impressions on their head.

Cole, one of the members of the Shard is a total arse!  I’m sorry but he really is.  Having been brought up with the constant reinforcement of his own would-be-hero status, he’s all blown up with self importance.  Constantly flourishing his magic sword and spouting his name in what he believes to be a dramatic fashion.  In spite of his buffoonery (and let’s face it, I wasn’t really expecting the hero of the piece to be an annoying so and so) Cole does provide a lot of entertainment throughout the story as he dives enthusiastically into any given situation only usually to find himself unstuck.  I must confess that Scull does turn Cole around in the latter chapters when he finally realises that the actual ‘doing’ part of becoming a hero is far removed from the dream he’s always envisioned.  The actual real hero is Brodar Kayne, one of the two Highlanders on the run from the Higlands magelord.  Both tough old dudes with creaky knees and filthy mouths – don’t underestimate them.  They’re tougher than leather these two and provided a great deal of entertainment.  On top of that we have a bitter and highly sarcastic half mage – half, because his legs were removed by Salazar when he culled all the mages within his territory leaving only Eremus alive.  On top of this we have Sasha – a feisty female member of the Shard.  The object of Cole’s devotion she’s handy with a crossbow and goes into battle with the guys.  We also have the sorceress, Yllandris – she’s definitely intriguing.  I wait to see how she develops given how the story ends!  And, the Grey Lady – her and her followers are one bunch of creepy dead eyed women!

I didn’t have any real criticisms although I thought the confrontation with Salazar could have had a bit more oomph!  Minor niggle though.

Undoubtedly this will be compared with other recent fantasy works which I suppose is inevitable.  I won’t deny that there are a good few nods to other works but I still thought this was a great debut.

Anyway, enough!  I thought this was a compelling read and providing you don’t mind a bit of cussing and profanity, a bit of slashing followed by glistening entrails and a bit of grit then get right on this.  After all, the grim and the dark are not all that’s going on here.  It’s going to be a long wait for No.2!

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is the author who brought to us Prince and then King of Thorns.  Both excellent reads.  The first book a quite unique experience for me in fantasy and the second which I felt actually surpassed it!  (No small achievement)   So I confess I went into Emperor with a certain amount of trepidation about whether or not the author could pull the rabbit out of the hat yet again.  Personally I think he managed to pull not only a rabbit out of the hat but a long line of knotted hankies and a bunch of other random magical props!  I loved it and in fact would go so far as to say it is the perfect way to conclude the series.

How to begin.  If you’re reading this review you’ve probably already read the first two books and so the violence and bloodshed that make up a part of Jorg’s life are more than likely known to you.  If you haven’t, what the hell are you doing here – get out right now and go and read these in sequence.  Believe me when I say you can’t join this story half way along in some half ditched attempt to find out what’s going on.  Get thee to the beginning!

Okay, I always try to write a review that doesn’t contain spoilers and this review will be no different.  Obviously with the proviso that a review of a third book is actually already spoilery before you even put pen to paper!  The very fact that there are sequels clearly means that the lead character has survived thus far after all.

So, again, with Emperor we have a dual time line taking place.  Jorg has grown a little older but we still flit to his earlier self.  He’s just as ambitious as he ever was and still equally afraid of the memories he carries around with him (quite literally).  His father remains the only person who can instill fear in him – something that never happens to Jorg at any other point or with any other foe no matter how terrible.  Looking at the current time line, Jorg’s wife is pregnant.  He still thinks occasionally of Catherine but he’s now set his sights on attending the meeting of the 100 and becoming Emperor.  He’s going to this meeting of his peers and he’s determined that nothing will stand in his way (and knowing Jorg you kind of think he’ll make it happen).  In Jorg’s younger timeline he’s travelling the world in search of knowledge and also support.  Led on by the ghost of one of the builders from the past he goes from pillar to post – almost without knowing it being led by the nose – and yet even under those circumstances never failing to cause surprises and manipulate even the most dire circumstances to his advantage along the way.

As with the last book you need to think of the bigger picture.  It may feel at points as though you’re simply reading a little anecdote from here or there.  A faint reminisence of something from Jorg’s past.  But this isn’t the case.  The stories are, of course, all entertaining by themselves but this isn’t the overall intention so take note.  Lawrence is the master of looking at the whole and nothing contained within these pages is unnecessary.  Every word plays a part.  Lawrence wrote a masterful story and then deconstructed it in such a way to make it both incredibly compelling and much more difficult to second guess than if it was told in a linear fashion.  This may seem like a fairly simple plot device, or even like a lack of straightforwardness but for me it made all three books riveting.  That’s not to say that I didn’t sometimes feel like growling when I was dragged away from the current story, just  as it reached a critical scene, to be taken either backwards or forwards to another part of Jorg’s timeline.  And yet, no matter how begrudgingly I might tear myself away before I knew it I was completely immersed in the new story which then seemed to gain equally compelling status.  To be honest Jorg’s stories are gripping and in this final instalment we get to see so much more of his inner emotions.  The more human side of him if you will.  I’m not trying to say he’s become a bit of a simpering faint heart but he has developed.  He longs for certain friendships, he doesn’t really love his wife but he cares for her in his own way, he’s scared to be a father.  On the flip side of course, and just in case you’re getting all worried round about now, he’s still a raging psychopath who stabs and beheads people first and asks questions later.  I’m not saying it’s big or clever but the way in which this is done never really gives you much sympathy for the victims because they’re frankly usually pretty horrendous and the sort who you can’t help thinking he’s doing his world a favour in getting rid of.  Okay, there are a few victims who you have a degree of sympathy for, who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time but I think Lawrence has a reason for all this.  Put simply I love what Lawrence has done with all of these individual threads.  Basically I think that in writing a character such as Jorg there are very few limits.  He will do and say virtually anything and as a reader you’re never quite sure what to expect.  You still hang on in there each time a new situation arises and foolishly expect Jorg to act in a typical fashion and of course he never does and this is his surprise.  This must be such a liberating experience for the author.

The other thing that I loved in this last instalment is the resolution and the coming together of the story in a way that leaves you no internal niggles.  The answers to all the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’.   Okay, I’m not talking about a straightforward show and tell here.  But, as far as I’m concerned every piece slotted into place for the grand finale. Unlike that really annoying puzzle where you get to the end and there’s a piece missing, or, the bookshelf you’re putting up only to find you have a piece missing, or more worrying a few pieces left over.  This all comes together like a symphony.  Taken individually and the pieces might be pleasing to listen to, interesting or amusing even but put them all together, the full orchestra and now you’re listening to something amazing that will for a moment make you sit perfectly still and listen, take you some place else.

So, as a fairly brief synopsis we have a convergence of worlds here.  As in previous worlds the veil between things living and dead has grown thin.  The Dark King and his necromancers, also not content with their lot in life and equally as ambitious as Jorg, are crossing that veil.  The other rulers are also all trying their hand for the ultimate prize.  Jorg, blood thirsty and afraid of nothing is marching forward with his retinue and another faction, not previously acknowledged as a threat, now enter the fray – the ghosts of builders past.  They’re all going to come together for an explosive ending.  It’s a brave ending and I think it’s perfectly fitting not to mention has a couple of twists that I didn’t see until they were upon me.  It’s obvious that ML had an amazing time writing this character and threw convention to the wind and it makes it a great reading experience.  As a result Jorg is unlike any character I’ve ever read before.  He’s terrible but in such a way that I still want to like him!  That’s just so wrong isn’t it?

Be in no doubt though – there is violence here not to mention other scenes such as torture that some people may find uncomfortable to read.  You’ve been warned.

End result. A great trilogy.  Dark fantasy at it’s grimmest and an absolute must read.

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