Weekly Wrap Up : 9th June 2019

Again, I’ve missed a weekly wrap up and so I am combining two weeks in one post.  Actually I quite like doing a twofer so perhaps that’s what I’ll do in future – although I’m still torn because the weekly wrap up does keep me more focused and on track.  I’ll see – the jury’s still out.  Anyway, my reading has been very slow – in fact I had about four days of no reading whatsoever.  We’ve been travelling and also spending time with friends so reading has taken something of a backseat.  In fairness, slowing down my reading has meant I’m catching up on reviews – so it’s swings and roundabouts.  Hopefully my reading will be back to par next week.  So, what have I read since my last update:

My books:

  1. The Red Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear
  2. The Fall by Tracy Townsend (RTF)

Next scheduled reads:

  1. Nocturna by Maya Motayne
  2. Across the Void by SK Vaughn
  3. Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
  4. The Whisper Man by Alex North

Upcoming reviews

  1. King of the Road by RS Belcher
  2. Council by Snorri Kristjansson
  3. Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
  4. The Fall by Tracy Townsend

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

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The Red-Stained Wings (Lotus Kingdoms #2) by Elizabeth Bear

RedStainedThe Red Stained Wings is the second instalment of the Lotus Kingdom series following on virtually immediately after the conclusion of The Stone In the Skull.  I loved the first book and so was really looking forward to this one and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint.  The Red-Stained Wings continues to provide a beautifully crafted world full of amazing and inspired beasts and some wonderfully deep, well rounded characters.  I would mention at this point that if you haven’t read the first in series this review may contain spoilers.  I would also suggest that you read the first in series before reading this one. I think that you could probably jump in and read this on it’s own as there is some backstory – very subtly provided – but I would recommend not skipping The Stone in the Skull.

The Stone in the Skull introduced to us four primary characters.  Two travellers on a mission and two ruling queens trying to save their people from disaster.  The Red Stained Wings sees them continuing in their endeavours.  The two travellers become divided, each with their own obligations.  One queen finds herself under siege and the other finds herself taken captive and desperately trying to find a way to recover her son.

I had a conundrum writing this review to be honest, not because of any fault in the story but more what to include and how to go about it.  At the end of the day this book is both similar and also dissimilar to the first.  The similarities obviously extend to the characters and place which are built on admirably here.  The dissimilarities occur because the partnership founded in the first book is broken apart here.  It was something of a risk in some respects because I really liked these two characters and the bonds they shared, but, I think it’s a risk that paid off because it allowed so much more to be incorporated and explored.

I’m not going to discuss the plot in this review for two reasons.  I want to err on the side of caution firstly and, secondly, I think the plot is not really the focus here – or, more to the point, this is much more a character driven story with some fascinating creatures and events inserted along the way.  I guess this does give the book, similar in fact to the first instalment, something of a slower pace.  This didn’t give me any issues to be honest because the world building and characters are so well done and this is all about the subtleties of politics.  Of course, if that sounds a little bit tame there are also plenty of fantastic critters from familiars, to gigantic floating insectile cities, a powerful, if slightly bemused and recently awakened Goddess, and even an ancient dragon – did I mention that the dragon talks? No??  The dragon talks.  *swoons clean away*

So, to the characters.  Mrithuri is Rajni of Sarathai-tia.  Her City is under siege and you can almost feel the weight of her burden, constantly having to maintain a brave face and boost morale whilst all the time fighting off an ever increasing panic.  Mrithuri has something of an addiction.  She relies on the poison of her pet snakes to boost her energy and increase her brain function.  Sayeh is Rajni of Ansh-Sahal, her city has fallen, her people now refugees, her son has been captured by one cousin and she has been taken prisoner by another, Anuraja – who is currently laying siege to Sarathai-tia in a bid to force Mrithuri into a marriage she doesn’t want.  There’s a complicated history involved in this world.  The Alchemical Emperor built a throne that not everyone could sit upon and used magic to protect his legacy.  The two Rajnis appear to have the will of the Gods on their side enjoying certain gifts such as an affinity with animals.  The males of the line don’t seem so well favoured and have tried to take matters into their own hands in order to take control.  Anuraja is, well, let’s be honest here, he’s not a very nice fella (to say the very least).  I could have joyfully strangled him (I’m not usually a violent person – truly) and the notion of anybody being forced into a marriage with him made me so angry.  The other antagonist is Himadra – oddly enough I quite liked him.  He’s one of those characters that isn’t fully good or bad, I like the ambiguity that he brings.  He has his own issues to deal with – being born with a brittle bone condition that leaves him vulnerable most of the time.  He’s also being manipulated by Anuraja and due to his inferior position is unable to do too much about it, but, like I said, I couldn’t find it within me to dislike him in fact I can’t help feeling like he’s going to play a much more significant role somewhere down the line.

Finally, the Dead Man and the Gage.  These two characters stole the show for me in the first book and then did the same thing again in this instalment.  Well, if I had to choose the Gage would be my overall favourite but the Dead Man also plays a good role – although he doesn’t get to go on an adventure like the Gage.  The Gage is in search of an artefact that means traversing across lands poisoned by dragons.  He’s the only one capable of making the journey and the interludes along the way make for compelling reading.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have any to be honest but I would mention that this isn’t a battle fuelled plot and some people may find it a little slow.  I enjoyed the depth of character and the strength of the world building so the pacing wasn’t really an issue but I would say this isn’t a quick read.  This is a book that demands your full attention.  It needs to be read with patience and respect and definitely isn’t a book that you’ll just pick up and breeze through.

I very much look forward to reading what comes next.

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

 

 

The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

the stoneI’m going to start this review by saying that I loved The Stone in the Skull.  This is a beautifully written story, truly epic in scope, resplendent with creativity and graced with wonderful characters that you can’t help feeling attached to and caring about.

The story gets off to a breathtaking start and a speedy introduction to two of our main characters.  A caravan travelling south across the Steles of the Sky is attacked and only the quick thinking of two of the mercenaries hired as protection saves the day.  Gage and The Dead Man.  They carry an important message and are anxious to reach the Lotus Kingdom in a timely fashion.

Meanwhile we witness two important ceremonies.  The first introduces us to Mrithuri as she embarks on an age old ceremony that will bestow a prophecy upon her kingdom for the forthcoming months.  Mrithuri is ruler to a prosperous kingdom.  As such she has been pursued by plenty of suitors and whilst she has managed to fend off proposals for many years, not wishing to hand over her power to a man, the issue is becoming more critical and her neighbours, tired of waiting for an alliance through marriage are amassing armies on her doorstep.  The second ceremony is a more dangerous affair that involves divers seeking fresh water to sustain the people of the kingdom.  Reyna, cousin to Mrithuri, is currently acting Regent for her three year old son.  Her kingdom is much poorer and her people frequently struggle to survive.  Unfortunately, the water gathering doesn’t go exactly as planned and whilst this will once again cause unrest and undoubtedly prompt the people to call for Reyna to marry, it also highlights a much greater threat to the kingdom.

To the characters then.  The main four are as above, although there are also a number of intriguing peripheral characters.  The two main females play strong roles and I really enjoyed reading about both heir stories but I can’t deny that, for me, the Gage and the Dead Man stole the show a little with their friendship and strange, yet compelling, banter.  The Gage, once a human being, is now an automaton, created by a Wizard who no longer exists.  The Dead Man was once a bodyguard to a deposed Caliphate.  Both, lacking purpose, have become mercenaries.  Strangely enough, and in spite of the scope of the story here, I would almost say that the real focus for this instalment at least, is for these two to find a purpose – which they certainly manage to do by the end of the book.  What I really liked about all the characters is the amount of emotional depth that Bear succeeds in bestowing upon them, it’s enough to make you weep with joy.  Seriously, this author is an expert at characterisation.  I think where she also really succeeds is in finding their individual motivations and this is what makes them so compelling to read.

I’m not going to elaborate on the plot, suffice to say that there is truly a lot of scope here not to mention an elaborate set up for the next book – in a good way.  However, if you’re expecting 10,000 orcs marching into battle with all the resultant bloodshed then you may be slightly disappointed.  This story may be epic but the majority of the action takes place off page.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably making it sound as though nothing happens, which is far from the truth, there are disasters and betrayals that inevitably lead to bloodshed and violence, but the nature of this story focuses much more intently on the central characters and the political and court intrigue surrounding them.  There are riddles, poets, magicians, revenants and kidnapping and a final uncovering of certain inevitable truths that will no doubt be the focus of the next book.  The writing is compelling and beautiful and the overall result is a gradual but deep connection to the main cast and for me an irresistible urge to have the next instalment in front of me right now.

Put simply, I loved this.  The setting is well portrayed, the cast are easy to embrace and the overall plot is intriguing.  I’m not going to deny that this is a slow build and that once the initial burst of excitement from the opening chapters is out of the way this does calm down considerably but personally I didn’t find that a problem because I was so engrossed in the Lotus Kingdom and it’s rich descriptions.  A real beauty of a book.

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

 

Waiting on Wednesday : The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear


“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was created by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

stone.jpgThe Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Due October 2017 so not too much longer to wait.

An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

An Apprentice to Elves is a beautifully written story that takes us to the land of the North – a harsh place to survive not only because of the fearsome winters but also because of attacks from invaders and trolls.  The latest threat posed is from the Rheans – a relentless invader with endless resources and ruthless determination.  This is book No.3 of the Iskryne Trilogy.  My original review appears over at The Speculative Herald and this is a condensed version.  I haven’t read the first two books but feel this reads well as a standalone.  I would also mention that not having read the previous books this may include spoilers.

At the start we are introduced to Alfgyfa who has been sent by her father to become an apprentice to a Mastersmith of the Alfar named Tin.  I think both Tin and Alfgyfa’s father have a vision for a more peaceful understanding and Alfgyfa’s apprenticeship is a gesture in that direction..

The story is based in an imaginary world that draws on Norse myth and Roman history  We have men, elves and wolves. The Trellwolves are enormous, intelligent beasts with the ability to share a telepathic link with certain men (the men who form such bonds are then known as wolfcarls).  We have the race of elves, two groups, the svartalfar and the aettrynalfar who share an old enmity towards each other.  We also have the Rheans, who bear a strong resemblance to the Romans. The Rheans would ‘supposedly’ come in peace to trade.  In truth they would then exercise such control over the people they conquer until the dominated race became indistinguishable from the Rheans themselves.  Understandably, the men of the North are not too keen to bend their knee and pay tribute or to lose their own sense of identity.

In terms of story there is the threat of war and the steps needed by the men of the North to prevent defeat and we also follow in the footsteps of Alfgyfa and watch her development.  Alfgyfa is headstrong.  She longs for the bond with a wolf that the men from her home enjoy.  Such a bond is forbidden to females but Alfgyfa is determined to follow her own heart, even if this leads to problems along the way.

If you’re expecting a fast paced story with battles and swordplay then you could be in for a surprise as this isn’t what you’ll find here.  This story is rich in detail and slowly builds up the personalities of all the main characters, including the wolves, and sets the scene of their daily lives.  I enjoyed the attention to detail, it paints a vivid picture which I found fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the information about the wolves and their behaviour which made me want to laugh out loud. As I said, this probably isn’t for everyone as it is definitely a slow burner but I enjoyed the finer detail.

In terms of characters.  Alfgyfa wasn’t my favourite – odd as she is the main character – and I did have a degree of sympathy for her situation.  Having lived almost half her life in one home and half in another – and never having been truly accepted in the latter – she’s now like a fish out of water belonging to neither place.  I liked that she decided her own path and stood by her actions and also that she was determined to help her people survive.  My favourites, however, were Tin, a matriarch and master of the Alfa. Patient and intelligent and able to look at the bigger picture.  I liked her sense of right and wrong and that she was determined to help Alfgyfa choose the best path..  The other character that stood out for me was Otter, a former Rhean slave, she makes a really intriguing addition to the overall dynamic.

Criticisms?  Considering the detail displayed throughout the book the ending felt a little rushed and maybe too easily sewn up.  Also, some of the names are, at first, difficult to read and stop you in your tracks and I have no doubt I was reading them wrong in my head.

Otherwise, I enjoyed this.  It’s a very detailed exploration of an unusual world full of strange creatures told by a young woman who is determined to prove herself.

Also, I simply have to raise the matter of the beautiful cover.  Just look at it.

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

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