#SPFBO Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon

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SymphonySymphony of the Wind is the second finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO and I can say that I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I will also mention that there’s a heck of a lot going on here and it all takes part over a fairly short period of time with lots of different people and organisations, many levels of deception and a whole heap of action all topped by quite a hefty page count – long story short, this isn’t a book that you’re going to romp through with gay abandon!  You need to pay attention, to everything.

The story begins with an introduction to one of the main characters, Serena. Serena lives in an orphanage and as such is apprenticed to become a raincatcher, the nuns wanting the children to be capable of taking care of themselves when they come of age.  Serena is out with the crew, working overtime to bring in more water into the city.  The City of Dalthea is struggling to recover following the recent war with Idari and the fall out from that war means water is in short supply.  In this steampunk novel airships take to the air to gather that most rare commodity that so many take for granted but unfortunately on this occasion things go horribly wrong.  The crew that survive, upon their return, fall under suspicion and from here on out things escalate.  A friend of Serena’s is murdered and having recently died her hair to the rather unique green of Serena’s own the obvious conclusion is that the murderer killed the wrong girl.  This is enough to send Serena seeking answers.  Serena is a mystery character and there’s something unusual about her that will be slowly revealed.

Now, I’m not going to really go into the plot any further.  Twists and turns don’t even cover this and it would become just plain silly to try and give any sort of an outline here.

I think the world building is really impressive.  It’s really thoroughly thought through and it just plain makes sense.  Things are introduced in a very casual style as the story progresses, although there is the odd conversation here or there that has an exposition feel – but nothing that spoils the read.  The writing is really good and the place is easy to imagine.  Dalthea is struggling to recover from the war with Idari.  This is very much a post war setting with all the grim reality that the fallout serves.  Poverty, slums, starvation, drugs, criminals and an extreme shortage of water that means many people die of thirst whilst at the other end of the scale the privileged few use their water tokens to shower and bathe.  For most, this is a difficult world in which to survive made even grimer by the loss of loved ones when the bomb that finally ended the war killed people in their thousands and became known as the ‘Night of the Amberfire’.

Tyson Gallows is struggling to come to terms with the death of his fiancee.  He still desperately seeks any information about what happened to her on that infamous night.  Gallows is a hunter and he and his partner Damien Fieri undertake work on behalf of the Hunter’s Guild, like bounty hunters they track down criminals and bring them to justice.   Dalthea has a wealth of Guilds – Hunters, Raincatchers, Courtesans, Musicians – well, you name it and there’s probably a Guild.  On top of this there is the Watch, controlled by the Government – All these different factions have their place although some of them seem to sit tentatively on a knife edge that threatens chaos at any moment.  At the same time that Serena is trying to stay ahead of her would-be killer Gallows and Damien find themselves following an unusual trail that leads to their discovery of betrayal and corruption, putting their own lives in danger in the process and eventually leading their paths to cross with Serena’s.

I think I mentioned above that this story has plenty going on and I really wasn’t joking.  We uncover some bitter truths about the war and the atrocities that took place under cover of a nation under attack.  People being taken for questioning, never to be seen again.  Hidden bunkers with labs that point to experimentation and genetic modifications, not only on animals but on humans too – the results of which led not only to the creation of powerful wolves but also the reanimation of the dead to form an army of wraiths.

There are so many different aspects to this tale that it staggers me that the author managed to keep it all under control in such an impressive way.  I want to tell you so much more about what actually happens and what is involved but seriously I simply couldn’t do it justice.

Gallows and Serena are the main protagonists and whilst they’re well fleshed out they’re not actually my favourites. Which isn’t to say I disliked either of them and I certainly would like a little more background about Serena.  I find myself totally fascinated by Damien and Tiera.  I have no idea what Damien actually is although we do acquire some of his history – I would like to know more – and similarly with Tiera.  Both of them seem to have gone through experiences that have honed them into something quite lethal – thankfully both still have a conscience that keeps them in check – to a degree.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think I mentioned there’s a lot going on?  It’s not really a problem in terms of keeping the pace cranked up but I did at points feel like I wanted something of a lull, you know, that quiet before the next storm.  The whole story seems to take place in a very short period of time and to an extent I think it could have been slowed down just a tad.  As it is the revelations come thick and fast, the momentum is furious and at times I had to reread things just to make sure I had a proper grip of what was going on – and even then I’m pretty sure I missed things.  On top of this there’s a lot of action and fight sequences.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all very vividly executed and there’s plenty of drama, we go from burning buildings to racing through underground tunnels to escape scary animals to almost Star Wars-esque fight sequences in the sky.  It’s a bit mind blowing but at the same time I almost became exhausted with it all.  I don’t really know how to put it into words, I suppose a good example would be Gallows, who is under a constant barrage of torment.  Fights, saving people from burning buildings, running at length, being stabbed and almost beaten to within an inch of his life – only to undertake it all again, in spite of his severe exhaustion, a few hours later. At the same time that I feel this could have been cut slightly to tighten some of the chapters I also think the action could have been spread out a little.

All that aside I think this was a very good read.  It’s gritty and dark but also tempered with some proper laugh out loud moments and it manages to impressively straddle both the genres of sci-fi and fantasy.

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

I would rate this as just above a four star read on Goodreads and 8.5 for the terms of the SPFBO.

 

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#SPFBO – Finalists No.4 and No.5

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Today I’m highlighting the fourth and fifth books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here .  (My reviews for Symphony of the Wind and The Anointed will follow in the next week or so).  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on the finalists and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my 4th and 5th finalists will be:

Aching God (Iconoclasts #1) by Mike Shel

Aching God“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.

 

Sowing (The Purification Era #1) by Angie Grigaliunas

Sowing.jpgThey can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.

For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.

#SPFBO – Finalists No.2 and No.3

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Today I’m highlighting the second and third books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here.  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on those books and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my 2nd and 3rd finalists will be:

Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon

SymphonyA bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.

Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin’s knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.

 

The Anointed (Red Proxy #3) by Keith Ward

The Anointed.jpgBeing a hero is a choice.

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew — at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas — with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river — stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes.

Will Xinlas become that hero, or break under the weight of his destiny? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.

#SPFBO Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc

outofnowhereOut of Nowhere is the first finalist that I’ve read for the SPFBO competition.  All my books are randomly chosen and I will be shining the spotlight on my second book shortly.  In the meantime here are my thoughts on Out of Nowhere.

Out of Nowhere is urban fantasy.  I enjoy urban fantasy and so I’m always happy to pick up something new and this is a novel that feels very original in it’s approach.

The central character is an immortal called Sean Danet.  Sean has a special healing ability that he puts to good use here by working as a paramedic.  He’s learnt over the years to keep his talent for healing hidden as people are quick to break out the pitchforks and so working in an occupation that allows him early access to the injured before they’ve been diagnosed gives him the chance to correct some of the damage without being discovered.  However, as the story sets off Sean does a patch up job on a patient with an unusual accent that he can’t place and he can’t help having a bad feeling that this stranger knows more about Sean than he’s entirely comfortable with.  From here things start to go wrong for Sean starting with a random attack that takes place on a job, followed it seems by somebody asking questions about Sean, who is he?  Where does he live.  Things finally escalate when Sean’s friends get caught in the crossfire and it becomes apparent that there are two choices: flight or fight.

Sean’s usual instinct and strong sense of self preservation would lead him to pack up and go, start over somewhere new, but this time things have changed.  He likes his job, he has friends now and has just started a very promising relationship.  He decides instead to do some of his own digging.

I would start by saying that I enjoyed this.  It was an easy and in fact quick read.  I liked the attention to detail that the author pays to Sean’s role that brought a level of interest to the story that was unexpected and I thought the writing was impressive.

In terms of the characters.  I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about Sean.  He’s a decent character, don’t get me wrong and having been around for such a long time he’s knowledgeable and competent and when the proverbial starts to hit the fan he feels moved to take action.  I think at this stage Sean and his love interest maybe still feel a little bit flat for me, but, that being said I usually find that the first in an urban fantasy series can leave work still to be covered in future instalments.  Sean has no real memories of his early years.  He’s aware of his own immortality but he doesn’t have much other knowledge and although this is explored later in the novel it only really scratches the surface – which is much as you might normally expect but, at the same time, I think I wanted to be fed a little bit more information about the whys and wherefores.

I really enjoyed the writer’s style which makes this a very easy read indeed.  I think that the only thing I would mention however is that the pacing feels slow, or at least it feels like very little happens in the first half of the book, in fact, strictly speaking I wouldn’t say that the plot here is the strong point.  It revolves around Sean finding out why this stranger is seeking him and trying to stay alive in the process.  The second half is a different kettle of fish with much more action taking place and Sean stepping up to the plate and showing his mettle.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I would have liked more information but I chalk this up to being the first instalment and the author wanting to pace the way in which he delivers his story.  I thought there were definite areas where the story felt like it was becoming a bit testosterone fueled but then, again, the banter and such didn’t feel out of place.  I think my main issue would be that very little happens during the first half and in fact that’s a testament to the strength of writing that this wasn’t more of an issue for me during the read.  I also had some questions in terms of how the ‘bad guys’ went about looking for Sean – I just couldn’t help wondering, as they knew where he worked, why not simply follow him when he finishes one of his shifts – it felt a little bit convoluted to be asking around and harassing others about Sean when they could have gone right to the source but, maybe I missed something in that respect.  And, I felt like the conclusion felt a little bit rushed and too easily tied up and I didn’t completely buy into the resolution.  It didn’t spoil the end, don’t get me wrong, but I think I wanted something more dramatic – but, that being said, this is an ending that definitely leaves potential for more yet to come.

Overall I think the author makes a great start here and leaves the potential to really build on the characters and their pasts.

If I was rating this on Goodreads I would give it 3.5 of 5 stars or for the purpose of the competition 7 out of 10.

 

#SPFBO Forsaken Kingdom (The Last Prince #1) by J.R. Rasmussen

forsakenkForsaken Kingdom was another of my SPFBO books that I enjoyed enough initially to roll forward and read completely.  This is a fantasy adventure that is engaging and easy to read.  It has a YA feel to it although that’s just my perception – it doesn’t have the grim and brutal quality that many books in the realms of fantasy seem to have these days and I think it would make a good read for somebody just beginning to explore the genre.

The story sets off with an introduction to three friends training in magic.  One of the young people, Wardin Rath is a Prince, Wardin’s father has been fighting a war and when news reaches the magistery of his father’s death Wardin takes drastic action to prevent the Magistery from being discovered – he hands himself over to the new king – Bramwell.  At this point things take a rather unexpected turn, the new king, rather than kill the Prince, leaving no heirs with a claim to the throne, instead has him put under a spell so that he forgets who he is.  For seven years Wardin lives as a tutor at the court of his enemy until one day the spell begins to unravel and little snatches of his memory return.  Realising he’s in danger Wardin once again goes on the run and without really planning to do so finds himself subconsciously heading in the direction of his former magical school.

What I really liked about Forsaken Kingdom is that it’s written in a very accessible style, it isn’t overloaded with minutiae and the main character is easy to get along with.  On top of that it has an interesting system of magic where the users have to balance their magical acts out either by performing physical or mental work – or face the consequences.  I liked the friendships that eventually develop between Wardin and his two childhood friends Arun and Erietta and between the three of them I thought their magic (which was different for each of them) made for entertaining reading.

This is basically a quest style story of a rightful heir returning to claim what is his.  I think it shows a lot of promise in a number of ways.  For example, when the friends eventually reunite there is a good deal of mistrust and this is something that has to be regained gradually.  Wardin was realistically portrayed – he may be the rightful heir, and many people may flock to his banner, but for the last seven years he’s only known life as a quiet and humble tutor and I was pleased that he didn’t have a miraculous overnight transformation into an eloquent and driven Prince who can rally the masses with ease and a bit of sabre rattling.

The world building felt a bit thin to be honest but I wouldn’t say that it detracted from the novel.  I imagined the place as a medieval world, swords and sorcery, castles, magical hounds. etc.  There is talk of enchanted objects and also mention of an enchanted sword – which I suspect will crop up at some point in the series.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t have anything that really hindered the read for me but there were a couple of small issues that stuck with me.  Wardin’s original reasoning for running away for example.  I understood that he wanted to protect the Magistery, I also understand that he was a young boy trying to do the right thing, but placing yourself in the hands of your enemy always feels like a strange step – surely if somebody used magic, or torture – your secrets would come spilling out and your sacrifice would be in vain.  In that respect I don’t really understand Bramwell keeping alive the last remaining heir – particularly after his previous actions which were neither just or merciful.

All that being said though, I enjoyed Forsaken Kingdom.  It’s not reinventing the wheel or trying to be overly ambitious in terms of avoiding tropes but it was easy to read, fun and had an ending that was entertaining and promising in terms of future books in the series.

I would rate this as 7 out of 10.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.

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