My most recent book for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off was Phil Tucker’s Path of Flames. To be honest, I expected to like this one before I started. The glowing review of the blogger who submitted this book to Stage 2 was so convincing that I actually went and bought book No.2 simply with the expectation that I would be in love and would want to continue on. Thankfully that very much proved to be the case. This was both compelling and fast paced. To be honest I was captivated by the characters and found myself driven to keep on reading even into the early hours of the morning making this a speedy read indeed.
The book gets off to a great start, literally bursting out of the gates with a dramatic battle sequence. From there we quickly build up a picture of the world and it’s inhabitants as the author weaves together a rich story with protagonists that I really cared for and great world building that really helps to set the scene.
I don’t want to really elaborate on the plot as I think that way lies the path of spoilers. It’s probably easier to expand on the story simply by discussing the world building and characters.
Obviously when you read quite a few fantasy novels it’s easy to start to make comparisons and this book is no exception. For me this had elements of Tolkien, Martin Feist and Sanderson thrown into the mix. Not that the story was the same just that there were elements that put me in mind of certain books – but in a way that made me smile and that brought out my inner youngster – the one who first feel in love with fantasy after reading Lord of the Rings. This is well done and has a definite 80s type feel, there is strong world building and the author sets the scene well.
The story is told through a number of POVs.
We start with Asho. Squire to Lord Kyferin he may be but it isn’t a position that brings him any joy. All his peers despise him and his Lord and master, having raised him from the life of a slave on a whim, would like nothing more than to see him fail. Asho is stubborn though and although he’s set up to fail he’s determined to succeed. Asho is from Bythian – which, in a world where the religion is based on caste, placed him at the very bottom of the ladder. His life should have been one of slavery and therefore his elevation in life is greatly begrudged by many.
Lady Iskra. *Slight spoiler ahead*. Finds out fairly early on in the story that her husband has died in battle thereby releasing her from a very unhappy marriage. To say Lord Kyferin was not overly popular with most people is something of an understatement although among his knights he seemed to be well liked. I liked Lady Iskra, or more to the point I felt terrible for her – or just terribly annoyed on her behalf. she lives in a world where women are chattels and although she is quite a steely character she finds herself being mistreated and betrayed in a way that leaves her virtually stranded, in a dangerous world, with few belongings and a scant few friends to aid her.
Kethe – daughter of Lord and Lady Kyferin. Longs to be a knight! She spends all her free time, training in secret and when the time finally comes to prove herself she enters and is given permission to take part by her mother, a tournament. I confess that I loved this section of the story. Up until this point I think Kethe came across a little spoiled – yes, she wanted to break the mould but if she didn’t have such a privileged upbringing she would hardly have had the opportunity to scarper off to the forest to practice swordsplay at every opportunity now would she – a fact that she seems blissfully unaware of. But, her participation in the tournament was so well done. She doesn’t just rush onto the field and kick everyone’s butt – which is the one thing I was scared of, in fact she finds herself unceremoniously knocked to the ground.
Audsley is the bookish character of the piece. He’s a magister and his one aim in life is to be well read. He carries along a bag of tools of his trade and is followed by his faithful and fiery firecat. He’s not the most courageous of the book, at the start anyway, but he pretty soon finds himself pulled into the adventure, probably against his own better advice, and soon becomes rather fundamental to the survival of the group.
Ser Tirón is the dark character of the piece. Well, he has good right to be so. For the last few years he has spent his time imprisoned for trying to kill Lord Kyferin’s wife and daughter. Of course he didn’t simply wake up one morning with that notion. Rather it was brought out of him as a need to avenge himself for the death of his own wife, at the hand of Kyferin – a murder that was carried out simply as a result of petty jealousy. Tiron is released from prison by Lady Iskra because she basically needs all the help she can muster. Whether she can trust him remains to be seen but he is an interesting character.
The final character who we follow is Tharok. Tharok is some kind of Orc (I think). His is an interesting story that sees him, after a long pursuit and a fight to survive, discover a sword and headband that seem to imbue him with strength and power of thought. From here we see Tharok as his plans and ambitions start to take shape. I must admit that I was puzzled about his involvement until much later in his story when he buys, and then frees a human slave – a woman with a connection to one of our other POV characters. It will be really interesting to see how the two stories come together.
I really did have fun with Path of Flames. Admittedly, it’s not particularly ground breaking but even so it is very entertaining and kept me quite riveted. Gates that are used to travel between different realms, battles, tournaments, dark magic, and all sorts of critters.
I certainly recommend Path of Flames without hesitation and I shall be moving onto book No.2 shortly.
November 1st saw the start of the second stage of the SPFBO – the Self Published Fantasy Blog off organised by Mark Lawrence. All the details can be found here.
Today I’m highlighting the seventh book that I will be reading for the SPFBO. All the books have been drawn randomly. My books so far:
- Shadow Soul by Caitlyn Davis, review here.
- Paternus by Dyrk Ashton (review here).
- The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French.
- Larcourt K A Krantz ( Fire Born, Blood Blessed #1) My review is here.
- Ráth Bládhma (Fionn mac Cumhaill #1) by Brian O’Sullivan, review here.
- The Music Box Girl by K.A. Stewart. Review here.
- The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker. Review to follow
My next book (only two remaining now):
Three caravans have vanished traversing the Cowcheanne Way. The legendary Tahsis platoon, warriors thought by most to be invincible, are dispatched to investigate and are never heard from again. Rumours of native uprisings and bandit armies grow wilder and more widespread every day, while the more devout whisper about the return of the Horde, a mythic foe from ages past.
The truce between the warring Kael-tii and Ashai nations is put to the test when a new caravan is outfitted and they are forced to travel The Way together. As an ancient evil is unleashed upon them, a group of heroes, friend and foe alike, must band together for survival.
When the true nature of their mission slowly comes to light, the growing distrust between the Kael-tii and Ashai camps threatens to tear the caravan apart. Can they set aside their differences in time to combat the menace that imperils them all, or are they doomed to join the ranks of lost souls claimed by the cursed Cowcheanne Way?
The Music Box Girl was my sixth SPFBO book (details here.). This is a book that borrows very heavily from the Phantom of the Opera story but brings something new to the tale with the addition of steampunk elements and a most unexpected ‘phantom’. To be honest I had a good time with this one. It’s got a good pace, the focus isn’t all on the musical elements, which I did worry about going in but needn’t have done so, and whilst there is a bit of a cheesy feel to the ending I found this a quick and enjoyable read.
At the start of the story we make the brief acquaintance of a couple of characters sorting through the clutter in an attic when they come across an unknown manuscript and this is where the story begins.
We start with a hopeful young man called Anton as he follows his dreams to the Opera House hoping to become the next tenor. The role is currently filled, albeit it by a fellow who is past his prime and is also something of a prima donna to boot. Anton ends the day without an audition in sight but with a job under his belt working with the stage crew. Anton has a wonderful voice, full of promise, if in need of a bit of tutoring. Waiting in the wings, of course, is the character that everyone believes to be the ghost of the Opera House, a character that wants the performance to be perfect and sees in Anton the opportunity to accomplish that goal. All Anton needs is a few lessons from a master performer.
I won’t go too much more into the plot, this is a fast paced book that makes for a remarkably quick read so there’s no need for me to be throwing out spoilers left and right.
The characters – the primary focus is Anton and of course the woman who reappears in his life, an adventurer known as Bess. These two were childhood friends but as their relationship began to develop, and perhaps teetered on the edge of something more, Bess was sent away to school by her mother who was only too aware of the inappropriateness of such a match. For years Bess has travelled the world, taking part in adventures with her stories being written about on a regular basis in the newspapers back home. She doesn’t want to stay at home and wear corsets – and who can blame her – she longs for something more, only returning begrudgingly home to recharge her batteries after her last jaunt went a little bit pear shaped. Of course, the fates intervene and not only does Anton find himself performing on the opening night but Bess, accompanying her old friend and husband on a rare night out, find themselves with box seats. And voila – the two are reunited.
Again, I won’t go into the mystery character – other than to say here lies jealousy, obsession and danger.
The setting is Detroit. A bustling hive of activity. Home to the invention of automatons that are now used far and wide it has become the centre of innovation and culture. The Opera House is the gleaming gem in the Detroit crown.
What did I like about this, there’s mystery and intrigue, secret passages, ghosts, steampunk elements, a mild romance, jealousy, murder and chase scenes that end in escape by dirigible. This is a fast paced read, the pages just fly by and I found myself wanting to read on to find out what was really going on. There is enough attention to detail to put you into the frame without being overdone and the author manages to create a lingering feeling of creepy suspense and provides the place with a touch of old fashioned gothic.
Did I have criticisms. Yes. This could have used a little more finesse. Certain elements were rather cheesy, particularly the ending. The characters are not particularly deep and certain elements of the story didn’t entirely make sense, or at least certain actions of some of the characters. I think if you were of a mind to, you could probably pick a few holes here and there but to be honest, I wasn’t of a mind to – I was, purely and simply, enjoying the fact that I could so easily sink into the story and enjoy the entertainment.
A good read, not particularly ground breaking I suppose but a new twist on an old tale with plenty of action and drama to help you power through it.
November 1st saw the start of the second stage of the SPFBO – the Self Published Fantasy Blog off organised by Mark Lawrence. All the details can be found here.
Today I’m highlighting the third book that I will be reading for the SPFBO. All the books have been drawn randomly. Book No 1: Shadow Soul by Caitlyn Davis. Review here. Second book Paternus by Dark Ashton (review here). My next book is The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French. Check it out below:
LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.
Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.
Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs.
When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious.
Paternus is the second book I picked (at random) to read from the nine books that I will be reading for the final stage of the SPFBO. Details of the competition and the other finalists can be found here. Here are my reviews for Outpost and the Shadow Soul.
So, the short and pithy version of this review probably goes something along the lines of ‘what the fuck?’ Put bluntly, this is a read of epic proportions. It’s like a fantasy library exploded and somebody gathered up all the scattered pages and wove them into a story. Literally there is something of everything in here, I kid you not.
I’m not going to try to explain everything contained here, it’s not like I want to write a dissertation and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to read one. So, this is a story of Gods, myths, demons, angels – call them what you will. A story that encompasses billions of years and brings together multiple myths in a compelling and fascinating way, a story of good and evil. This is also a story of war. In a world of Gods and firstborn a thousand years is a mere bagatelle and here we have the story of a continuation of war that has spanned thousands of years but, worry not, this particular story takes place over the period of one day – all that came before will eventually be revealed but for you, the reader, just sit down and enjoy the unbridled chaos that is Paternus.
The story is told in alternating chapters that take us between the different groups of protagonists, the main ones being Flowers and Figs, Order of the Bull and Mendip Hills. There are others but those are the predominantly recurring headers. Flowers and Figs brings to us the main characters that we follow, Fi, Zeke, her uncle and his dog, and Peter. The other chapters I will leave you to discover.
Basically, as the story starts we are introduced to Fi. Fi lives with her uncle. She works at a local hospital for old folk and she has a crush on Zeke who also works/volunteers at the hospital. Fi and Zeke actually go out on a date and to cut a long story short it doesn’t go terribly well. The next day at the hospital, as the two of them prepare for a day of tippy toeing around each other in embarrassment things get a whole lot worse when a strange bunch of visitors come to visit Peter, the patient that Fi usually looks after. From here on in, the phrase ‘having a bad hair day’ becomes something of an understatement. War is about to break out and the fallout is anything but pretty.
Now, what did I enjoy about this book. It’s an adventure packed riot of action, fast paced and definitely furious. There is so much going on that there is never a dull moment and you find yourself really enjoying all the references to characters and myths that you have already read about or watched in films. In fact I think that aspect of the story is really good – I think readers always find themselves enjoying a story that leads them onto a path of discovery where they can enjoy picking up references to things they already know and can relate to. Yes, you might not know everything here, and I’m pretty certain I didn’t, but even so you can’t help but enjoy the aspects of the story you feel familiar with and also reading the twists that the author brings to those myths. The amount of world building is really quite phenomenal and the characters are actually really likeable, so much so that I felt really concerned for them at certain points of the story (plus I have to give a little shout out to Mol the dog). The amount of research that this must have involved is really impressive and to bring a story together with such a multitude of characters and threads is quite an achievement.
In terms of criticisms. Well, the whole, ‘lots going on’, is something of a double edged sword – it’s really great, but, it takes a little time to get into. I felt like I needed a good hundred pages before I really felt like I had a handle on all the characters. Now maybe I’m just not as sharp as all the other knives in the box but with all the unusual names, strange descriptions and different places there is a lot to take on board and I was almost concerned about if I was really taking it all in and, more to the point, wondering how it all played into the story. I think I would have preferred for the main storyline to be a bit more established first before the other chapters came on board. To be fair though it is all relevant and surprisingly as each of the revelations occurred I had no difficulty at all remembering who, why, what, when and where everything fit. Like I say, for a while there I wondered if I was going to really grasp the central thread but the author does manage to pull it all together. If you take my advice, the Figs and Flowers is the main storyline, the others are chapters that will play a part but don’t let them hamper your enjoyment, their purposes will all be revealed as the story progresses. My other criticism is just a small niggle concerning one particular fight sequence – and again this feeds into the whole action packed theme that’s going on here – this fight scene was so long that I felt like I needed a time out. It just felt a bit much and became a little repetitive.
On the whole though, a very enjoyable, (certainly) fast paced and action packed read. Never a dull moment with plenty of revelations that, whilst some of them you might have guessed along the way, I still think there are a few surprises tucked away here for everyone.