#SPFBO 8 The World Breaker Requiem (Adjacent Monsters #2) by Luke Tarzian : Review

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

This year we have chosen four Semi Finalists.  See the announcement posts here and here.  I have since read both of the CC’s SFs and will now be reviewing both in fairly short order.  My review for Ever Alice is here.  Then we have the difficult job of choosing just one book to move forward.

Today is my final review for Phase 1 of the competition. Today I will be reviewing The World Breaker Requiem (Adjacent Monsters #2) by Luke Tarzian.

The World Breaker

What an unusual story this is.  On the face of it, looking at the description, you could easily be forgiven for thinking this would be typically fantasy(ish) following the age old and much beloved trope of the ‘quest’.  And, indeed, this does very much follow a journey for two key characters searching for, effectively, a magical artifact, but more than that seeking redemption.  However, this has a totally different quality to it.  This is dark, surreal fantasy that places us in the middle of hostile territory whilst at the same time surrounding us with beautiful, almost poetic, prose that absolutely belies the gruesome nature of the story.

In Requiem we essentially follow two characters who are searching for The Raven’s Rage, a sword that is believed to hold the key to new beginnings, to roll back time taking  people back to happier times and places wiping the slate clean of wrongdoing or regret.  Imagine having the ability to turn back time, to whisper apologies to loved ones or breach yawning caverns of separation that have grown over the years.  This is the Raven’s Rage and Requiem takes us on a journey for two people determined to find redemption.

Avaria Norrith is a Prince who seeks the sword to try and change the past,wipe it out and return to times long since lost.  Erath is born of the mountains where her people have long been imprisoned. She seeks release and is curious about the sword and whether or not it can change the fate of her people.  Ultimately the two will accompany each other on their search. However, interfering ‘others’ not to mention hell hounds with destruction in mind are in pursuit.

This is a dark and unkind world.  In fact I think the best description I can think of is nightmarish and horror filled.  It feels like a world trapped in the aftermath of an apocalypse with a lack of anything warm or endearing but, before you balk at that description, the author gives the story an hypnotic feel that makes you read the pages too quickly, if truth be told, in a desperate rush for information.

The writing.  How to describe this without becoming repetitive.  Tarzian as a style of his own, a modern voice in fact, lyrical and quite entrancing.  Short punchy sentences help to keep the momentum and emotions high.  There are quick paced chapters and frequent changes to characters.  In fact, at this point, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that I’m not totally sure I have a handle on the characters involved.   There’s a certain element of unreliableness to the characters and a decidedly unsettling feel of chopping and changing, being given alternate names and the unexpected confusion that this causes.  Bear with me though.  For me, I was reading into this story on a different level.  To me the journey felt more like a mental voyage and maybe one of self discovery and coming to terms with things as much as anything else and read in such a way this is undoubtedly a powerful narrative.  Which isn’t to say that everyone will read this story in this way.  This feels like a book that could resonate with people in many different ways, particularly given the grief and heartache that the two central characters are trying to overcome.

In terms of criticisms.  Not really a criticism for the book so much as myself, but I definitely feel like a second read would be helpful.  My problem is this constant race to discover what’s taking place and this was exacerbated with Requiem due to the different quality and feel of the story as a whole which just pushed me forward at an almost breakneck speed. Undoubtedly a dark read and one that will be received differently by readers dependent on mood variations.

Overall, I thought this was a powerful story of grief and loss and the lengths people will go to in search of redemption or the possibility to turn back time.  It strongly sits in the grimdark genre and yet it has an hypnotic style that makes you stop and backtrack at certain points in order to really capture the essence of what’s being said.

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

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#SPFBO 8 Ever Alice by HJ Ramsay : Review

Posted On 27 October 2022

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

This year we have chosen four Semi Finalists.  See the announcement posts here and here.  I have since read both of the CC’s SFs and will now be reviewing both in fairly short order.  Then we have the difficult job of choosing just one book to move forward.

EverAlice

Anyway, today I’m reviewing Ever Alice by HJ Ramsay.  I really enjoyed this, it’s beautifully written and made me feel quite whimsical as I read.

Ever Alice is not a retelling but a sequel. Alice’s Adventures involved a young girl named Alice who fell down a rabbit hole when she was chasing a white rabbit and from there ensued the utter magical chaos of Wonderland. The next instalment showed us a slightly older version of Alice as she travels through the looking glass to experience the back to front world of Wonderland.  In Ever Alice, a teenage version of Alice finds that her sweet ramblings about white rabbits are no longer cute or fanciful and her family, worried about her mental health, proceed to engage a string of doctors.  Eventually Alice is placed in an asylum where the treatment she will receive is scary to say the least.  Once again, she manages to escape to Wonderland but is it a mistake to come back, the Queen of Hearts once asked for her head after all.

What I really enjoyed about this is that the author brings to us with Ever Alice a sequel that very much moves the story forward whilst maintaining the essence of Wonderland.  So, we still have the utter chaos, the crazy behaviour and the nonsense and it all relies very heavily on the original body of works but at the same time we’re now observing this through the eyes of a 15 year old who is feeling disillusioned (to say the least) and her perspective lends the story a much darker view.  There’s also an alternate history running through this, what started in Alice’s adventure with the slightly veiled reference to the War of the Roses has progressed to the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth 1 (the Queen of Hearts) and Mary Queen of Scots (The Queen of Spades).  To be honest, that might be something that readers pick up on or not but I felt like it added an interesting layer and although I’m definitely not a history buff I could see certain elements leading the story, particularly the Queen of Heart’s paranoia about plots against the throne.

Alternate histories aside, I enjoyed returning to Wonderland and meeting up with familiar characters over again. In Ever Alice everyone is called by their own names which, whilst a little confusing at first, does actually make a certain sort of sense.  So, for example, the White Rabbit is Ralph and the Queen of Hearts is Rosamund. The characters here do feel different but this is an element to the story that I like, it makes you stop to consider, have the characters changed or is Alice seeing them more clearly now she’s a little older.  The Mad Hatter (William) is something of a schemer, Ralph isn’t quite the softie he first seemed although he’s still regularly late, often disappears and simply can’t be relied upon. Rosamund’s character has also intensified. Heads are now rolling at such an alarming rate that Wonderland might be empty if someone doesn’t put the breaks on soon!

Wonderland itself proved to still be crazily chaotic. I loved all the upside/downness of it all and thought the author managed to come up with some wonderfully witty and silly creations of her own.  I frequently found myself smiling at the world, the place and the characters and had no problem with racing to the conclusion.

In terms of criticisms. Well, not much from me. I do think this relies on a certain knowledge of the world and characters, that being said, having read the original works and a few adaptations over the years I don’t think I could reliably say that this couldn’t be read as a standalone – I just think it’s better to be read with some prior knowledge. I would also say to moderate your expectations.  This is not quite the charmingly innocent and silly children’s tale that you might want or expect.  This can be quite shockingly dark, even unexpectedly brutal and the ending is definitely one to ponder. Bittersweet- maybe.  Possibly leaves room for manoeuvre and undoubtedly provides plenty of food for thought.

I had a good time reading Ever Alice.  It’s definitely a lot of crazy mixed in with a strange alternate history and a harsh look at the brutality of asylums and early treatments where mental health issues were concerned.  It took me in a direction I didn’t expect and kept me thinking long after I’d turned the last page.

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

#SPFBO 8 Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson : Review

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

MissPercy's

Today I am posting my fifth and final review for the books that I rolled forward (see my feedback posts for batch No.12 and 3).  All told I carried forward five books, The Hidden Blade by Marie M. Mullany, The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce, Scarlight by Evid Marceau, Between Ink and Shadows by Melissa Wright and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson and over the next few days I will review each book in the order I read them.

So, without further ado here’s my review for Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson:

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a fantasy reader in possession of a gargantuan stack of unread books, must surely be in want of just one more book containing an outrageously cute dragon.

Miss Percy is an absolutely delightful, regency period, fantasy of manners style story that won me over with apparent ease.  The writing is wonderful, the plot is well thought out and totally absorbing, the characters are Austen-eque but with a slightly more uptodate sensibility and for those readers out there who usually shy away from fantasy elements, but who are in good need of a period drama, I implore you to give it a try, because, whilst I cannot deny that the inclusion of a dragon definitely falls most firmly into the realm of make-believe, the way this story is told, it feels almost less sensational than forgetting to wear a bonnet.

As the story begins we make the acquaintance of Mildred Percy, a spinster in her forties who lives on the slightly begrudging charity of her younger sister in the quaint village of Upper Plimpton, Wiltshire.  Immediately you are given to understand that Mildred’s life is given little significance by the family at large.  Her sister, Diana Muncy, gave Mildred a place to live following the death of their father and never fails to boss and belittle her sister as she sees fit.  Secreted away in a dusty room beneath the attic Mildred fills the role of Governess, childminder/entertainer, trouble shooter, housekeeper, general dogs body come beating block together with ‘any other duties as and when required’.  I’m probably making it seem a lot more dreadful than it was because Mildred certainly doesn’t seem to complain until her circumstances alter slightly and she begins to look at things through a different lens.

Following the death of their Great Uncle Forthright, Mildred is set to inherit certain items.  Neither of the sisters are quite sure what this inheritance will entail although Diana is hoping for something worthwhile (i.e. money) that she can no doubt take control of.  Meanwhile, a trunk arrives at the house one evening whilst the family are out.  It contains all sorts of fascinating objects, rocks and the like, journals and books and although Mildred doesn’t imagine her sister will have any interest in the contents she becomes strangely possessive and decides to hide the trunk, an escapade that is more strenuous than she first imagined and eventually concludes with the local vicar, Mr Wiggan, assisting with the endeavour.  From here the two form a friendship with Mildred visiting the Vicarage to discuss the contents of the trunk – now imagine, one of those unassuming rocks cracks open and delivers a, not-seen-in-I-don’t-know-how-many years, dragon.  Surely these are creatures of fairytales and myth – or maybe those tales arose out of truth that has long since been forgotten.

To be honest I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot but instead go into my thoughts and feelings.

Firstly.  Mildred.  What a wonderful creation she is.  I loved her.  She likes to talk to the readers and share little snippets of what she’s feeling and I couldn’t have enjoyed these interactions more if I tried.  It’s an absolute revelation watching her develop an understanding that her life is worth something, she’s not just an add on for the Muncy family and seeing her stand up to her bully of a sister made me want to do a little air punch. Her slowly developing relationship with Mr Wiggan is cosy and heart warming and comes with the added benefit of friendship with  Mrs Babbington (the vicarage housekeeper and a dab hand with anything baked – you might want to invest in a supply of biscuits before picking this one up because the constant descriptions of tea and sweet delights are indeed mouth watering).

Secondly, I can’t deny that I love reading stories set in this sort of period and this is executed so well.  The writing is positively delicious, I found myself immersed and actually a little resentful when interruptions, such as eating or sleeping, interrupted proceedings.

Thirdly, the plot develops a winning thread when a new character appears on the scenes, believing that the inheritance should rightfully be his.  This takes the plot out of its comfort zone and what I particularly enjoyed was that this took Mildren totally out of her comfort zone, like Bilbo, she goes on an adventure leaving her cosy little hole shaped life behind – whist also realising that it will be difficult to ever return to it.  Of course, Mildred is blissfully unaware that she is being pursued and this only serves to heighten the tension.

Fourthly, Fitz.  Fitz the dragon, I mentioned above his excessive cuteness.  He’s a great judge of character and immediately develops a strong attachment to Mildred, perching on her shoulder and trying to protect her when situations arising.

What else can I say? I loved the chapter openings, I really enjoyed watching Mildred’s awakening to the fact that she could have a life of her own, there’s a lovely, slow blossoming relationship and I thoroughly enjoyed sinking into a period novel with a difference.

Overall, I had a thoroughly good time reading this and can’t wait to read what comes next when I suspect Mildred’s actions will become positively scandalous.

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

#SPFBO 8 The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce : Review

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

Bloodof

Today I am posting the third of five reviews for the books that I rolled forward (see my feedback posts for batch No.12 and 3).  All told I carried forward five books, The Hidden Blade by Marie M. Mullany, The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce, Scarlight by Evid Marceau, Between Ink and Shadows by Melissa Wright and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson and over the next few days I will review each book in the order I read them.

So, without further ado here’s my review for The Blood of Crows:

I had a good deal of fun with Blood of Crows.  It started strong and the momentum was continuous. A well thought out story with magic and heists and a murder mystery that threatens the stability of the realm.

As the story begins we meet Ren and his Partner Martin, they’re on a job which involves stealing a precious book from the Praetorian Order.  Both are under contract to the Order’s militia to act as peacekeepers so they are ultimately biting the hand that feeds them.  From the outset we’re thrown into the world and it is immediately apparent that magic exists.  Sigils are used for protection and on top of this the Order uses Inquisitors – feared greatly these are more akin to feral animals than human beings.  What also becomes immediately apparent is that Ren is different, he’s contracted to the militia and must wear the bracelets that seal his knack (elemental magic) – but, he actually doesn’t have a knack – or at least it hasn’t awakened so far.  What Ren does have is an ability to see the magic sigils that are used throughout the city for any number of purposes and this undoubtedly gives him an unknown advantage in terms of getting in and out of difficult situations.

The pacing for the story is really good.  It’s not chaotic or rushed but at the same time it feels like there’s always something going on to keep your attention and it’s written in a way that delivers information smoothly as you find yourself becoming immersed in the plot.

Speaking of plot – we start with a robbery, we move on to murder and to cut to the chase this becomes a race for our character Ren to discover the identity of the murderer before the whole shebang is hung at his door.

Firstly, I liked the characters.  Ren has a lot to discover during Blood of Crows, a few home truths that are unsettling and a further mystery that we haven’t even touched on at this point, and we are along for the ride.  Ren is an easy to like character, he’s young, sometimes a little over confident but then that’s swiftly countered as he blunders around or finds himself in an embarrassing situation.  He cares about others even though that puts him at risk and he’s usually fighting against the odds. Ren’s apparent lack of magic puts him at a massive disadvantage in terms of strength, speed, even quick thinking.  He is thankfully quick on his feet and has a couple of very good friends.  Molly is a young woman who over the years Ren and his partner tried to help.  I really liked Molly, she is a master with gadgets and has a way of winding Ren up in a playful sisterly fashion.  Haim is a young student who helps Ren through a tricky situation.  She becomes involved in the investigation and is quick thinking and very capable and she and Ren eventually start to develop feelings for each other – although no romance as such at this point – just lots of side eyeing each other followed by furious blushing and awkward moments.

I thought the author also did a really good job of drawing her ‘bit’ characters, especially the victims – hear me out – they only have short starring roles unfortunately but they’re brought to life, albeit momentarily, in such a way that made me care about them and want somebody to come to their rescue.

Secondly, I liked the sense of place. I wouldn’t say it was groundbreaking as such but there’s a sense of comfort in reading something that’s so easy to imagine.  We don’t travel outside the boundaries of the city but this is a place broken easily into different layers, the wealthy situated on the upper terraces moving slowly down according to status until you have the lower echelons known as the Sprawl -aptly named for its sprawling twisted streets of crumbling ramshackle buildings and alleys.  The City has an uneasy alliance that seems to teeter on the edge of failure.  Many years ago peace was struck and the Accords were agreed upon and signed up to – signatures from the University, The Praetorian Order and the Royal Family keep the individual stakeholders from breaking the peace.  However, certain elements within the City are now straining against those boundaries drawn up years ago.

The magic is element related and people can have the knack for one or more elements.  Earth relates to strength, Air to speed and agility, water for healing, Fire for intelligence and there is a further strand which I won’t mention here as it needs to be uncovered as the story expands.  Sigils can be used for any number of things from protecting entryways to making it impossible to scale walls and elemental magic can be used to imbue these sigils.

Finally, the plot has a good pace, I enjoyed the writing and more than that I really enjoyed the fact that the story has the sort of balance that I enjoy.  The author makes good use of certain moments to lighten the moment and not only does this give the reader a bit of respite from some of the darker elements but it also does make those moments more shocking somehow.

In terms of criticisms. Well, I don’t have much to be honest.  I did have a small query concerning Ren and his abilities and I don’t, even now, feel that I really know what’s going on in that respect (I won’t mention what my query relates to as it would involve a spoiler).  Also, – that ending!  What?!  I am looking at you Alex C Pierce.

Heists. Easy to like characters. A murder mystery.  Potential civil unrest. An unresolved mystery that I’m thinking may be touched upon in the next book and an ending that throws everything up in the air.

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

#SPFBO 8 Scarlight (Castles of the Eyrie #1) by Evie Marceau : Review

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

Scarlight

Today I am posting the second of five reviews for the books that I rolled forward (see my feedback posts for batch No.12 and 3).  All told I carried forward five books, The Hidden Blade by Marie M. MullanyThe Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce, Scarlight by Evid Marceau, Between Ink and Shadows by Melissa Wright and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson and over the next few days I will review each book in the order I read them.

So, without further ado here’s my review for Scarlight (Castles of the Eyrie #1) by Evie Marceau:

The story begins with a six year old princess, Bryn, sneaking out of the castle during a celebratory gathering to rescue a small animal believed to be a potent of war.  Unfortunately, the little princess is attacked by wolves and would surely have died if a young boy had not come to her rescue, a Baer Prince in fact.  The Baer Royal family are a wild sort that rely on magic, scorned by the rest of the Kingdoms their lands lie in the Outlands overlooking the sea.  The Baers believe that a life saved is a soul owned and so having saved the little Princess the Baer Prince and Bryn are now soulbound.

We then jump ahead ten years where the same princess is being outfitted for a ball for another gathering.  One in which it is hoped she will draw the eye of a good marriage prospect, a Baron no less.  As the guests arrive the Baer King and his family are unexpectedly amongst the number. They haven’t visited the castle since the ‘wolf incident’ and their appearance takes Bryn by surprise, not entirely unwelcome as she seems as fascinated by the youngest Prince, Rangar, as he is with her.  Unfortunately, an uprising is planned, to take place during the distractions and the castle descends into violence and fire.  Bryn only escapes with the help of the Baer Prince and his family and is taken to the Outlands.

I enjoyed Scarlight, it was easy to get on with although to be honest I wouldn’t say I was the target audience for this.  This falls into the kind of enemy to lover YA fantasy romance that I tend to stay away from these days, primarily because they don’t usually have the level of detail that I enjoy and this definitely felt a little light in that sort of detail, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Now, take my YA reference with a pinch of salt, I’m not an expert and I would also say that including a certain level of sexual content this would be on the higher side of YA – maybe NA. Basically, I’m unsure so if you’re thinking of picking this up and have concerns then check with the author.  Put simply, given the ages of the characters, the slight naivety, particularly on Bryn’s part, the fairytale feel, the lack of bad language and gore (there is of course bloodshed but it really takes place off page) –  I jumped to the YA conclusion, but there is some sexual activity present which gave me pause for thought and so I hold my hands up and say I’m not the oracle here.

The world building is one of the areas that felt a little flimsy.  We have a number of kingdoms that exist with a tentative peace. The Mirien, where Bryn is from seems to flourish, the Baersladen, on the other hand, appears to be remote and considered a more harsh way of life, the people there practice magic and are considered outdated and barbaric by some of the other kingdoms.  I didn’t pick up much about the rest of the country other than there are people from the Hytooths and the Surins.  The Mir people seem to be more genteel or refined, or at least that’s how they wish to appear, but this seems to be more face value as Bryn’s family are considered tyrannical – which is the reasoning behind the uprising – and are generally disliked by their own people.  The Baersladen do indeed lead a simpler life, less focused on possessions and wealth but overall their lives seem to be generally on the whole, happy ones.

The characters.  Well, we predominantly focus on Bryn and Rangar and I thought the author succeeded well in creating great chemistry between the two going from a smouldering, broody, untrusting sort of relationship to one that really fizzles.  There are other characters involved, particularly Rangar’s middle brother Valenden who seems to be the rogue of the family and enjoys stirring up rivalry with his younger sibling.  I did enjoy Mage Marna.  She seems a little more switched on than some of the other characters.  She is covered with hexes that help to focus her magical ability and she takes Bryn under her wing and teaches her some simple magic.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, as mentioned above I can be a stickler for information and this one is a little light in that respect.  That being said, this has a fairytale feel to it so I did cut it some slack and went with the flow, and,.I won’t deny that I was enjoying the build up of tension between the two central characters.  I didn’t quite buy into the whole aspect of Bryn’s family being tyrants – surely she would have noticed this – I realise that she’s quite innocent and protected in a fashion and was never really included within the ‘inner sanctum’ of the realm’s machinations, but, at sixteen I think she would be able to detect something out of order if her family were so universally unpopular with the people of their realm?  It felt a little flimsy to me but it didn’t spoil the read, it just nagged me a little.   Also, the whole ‘soul bound’ idea.  I like this but I would say it comes across more like an individual belief than something physical – I may be reading it wrong but to me Rangar and Bryn both seemed romantic by nature and the idea of them being bound felt more like an ideal or ‘fancy’ than something that could be felt.  Just my take of course at this point and things could change as the series progresses.

All that being said this was an enjoyable read.  I felt like it really gained strength as the book continued and I do enjoy a good story with a fairytale style and a little bit of romance where nothing is totally set in stone.  In that respect I would mention that this concludes on something of a cliffhanger.  Not my favourite way to end a story but I can see the reasoning as it certainly makes you keen to pick up the next instalment.

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

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