#SPFBO Review : Hall of Bones (The Brotherhood of the Eagle #1) by Tim Hardie

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Stage 1 of the SPFBO competition is nearly complete and team LB=TC2 (Lynnsbooks and the Critiquing Chemist) will be posting final reviews for the semi finalists before making a finalist announcement this forthcoming Saturday.  This week I am therefore aiming to post my thoughts on the three SF’s put forward by my teammates.

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Today I will be reviewing Hall of Bones which was a very enjoyable Norse inspired saga that brings us Vikings, clans clashing spectacularly, betrayal, magic and a narrator who simply pulls you in from the prologue.

As the story begins we meet Rothgar, youngest son of the chief of the Raevesburg Clan.  Rothgar is imprisoned and slowly dying and has plenty of time to reflect on the chain of events that brought him to this sorry state. To be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve read a book that started in this way but  I can genuinely say that I was immediately drawn in by Rothgar’s voice and confess to being hooked from the first page! 

From this rather grim, but effective, opener Rothgar takes us back to happier times within Ulfkell’s Keep, this may be the seat of power for the clan but it is also the family home and the love and warmth shine through as he recounts his tale.  Rothgar is but a boy, still young, innocent, desperate to be more like his brother and completely unaware of the cruel twists of fate that lie ahead of him.  Even in these earlier chapters there is a jostling for power between the five clans but the hatred for the Vorund clan (their shared enemy) helps to strengthen their bonds. The chapters quickly pass as do the years, tragedy strikes and allegiances swiftly turn until a much greater threat, rooted in evil, begins to take shape.

I don’t want to elaborate on the plot in this review so will instead focus on my thoughts and emotions during the read.

I loved the start.  Rothgar has a wonderful storytelling voice that keeps the pages turning swiftly.  His life in these early chapters is intriguing and helps the reader to firmly understand the politics between the clans.  I really enjoyed reading about the family and their lives together and think Hardie perfectly judged the amount of detail to pass onto readers whilst maintaining a decent pace.  I found myself easily forming attachments to the family and other characters as they became firmly rooted in my mind until, with a few cruel strokes of his pen, the author ruthlessly turned everything on it’s head.

The world building is another strong aspect.  To be fair, with the viking feel (and vikings being so very popular at the moment) I think I would have been able to conjure the place with ease even if the worldbuilding had not been so good.  There’s a really interesting blend of the ‘already established’ and new elements such as the history of the place, the warring Gods and the Fallen Age that almost made me feel like I was actually reading a novel set in a place from the past – there’s just a ‘realness’ to this that stands out – although I’m not really describing it very well (and this is why I’m a reader with no ambitions of writing whatsoever).  

Moving on.  The characters are very well drawn. I really liked Rothgar, in fact all the supporting cast were equally well defined.  There is definitely an element of masculinity here, the focus tends to shine more often than not on the warriors of the tale, but, I thought there were two female characters who really stood out.  Etta is the ‘wizened old crone’ of the piece. I could imagine her looking into the stormy clouds and shaking her fist at the Gods.  She is like the oldest family retainer ever.  She teaches the boys as they mature but her influence stretches much further than you first imagine.  She is spinning webs and pulling strings with deft like subtlety, I really need to know more about Etta (in fact if Etta dies I may very well spit my dummy out – just saying)..  Nuna is the younger sister. Her role, like many young women from powerful families, was dictated from an early age – she would always be a pawn in the political maneuvering of the clans, used to curry favour and broker peace, and yet I found myself strangely attached to her.  She has a grace and charm that easily shines through and I’m hoping for more from her in the next instalment.

I think Hardie writes, and, probably more to the point, plots, really well,  I loved the change from young boy to young man.  Rothgar really grows during the course of the story and his character arc is easy to believe. Definitely a coming of age type feel to this but the twists that eventually take place really help to give it a fresh take.  And there are twists!  And bloodshed.  This is definitely not a bedtime story so be warned in that respect.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think that the author walked a very fine line here in terms of pacing on a couple of occasions –  but, to be honest I think he managed to turn the tide both times just as the thought occurred to me.  The other thing I would mention is that given this is epic fantasy with convoluted clans clashing and the inclusion of the whole family saga – well, comparisons to other books of this nature are kind of inevitable.  I thought it stood its ground very well though and I really enjoyed the fantasy aspects in terms of the evil and the magic.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hall of Bones. I think it makes a great start to series and I look forward to reading more.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review. The above is my own opinion.

#SPFBO Review : Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C Marks

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Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks is the second book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

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This is going to be a difficult review to write and quite possibly a short one because it will be difficult to really elaborate on either the plot or the characters without giving spoilers away which I don’t intend to do.  This does however make it tricky to discuss likes or dislikes

As the story begins we meet Opal, travelling back to her childhood home (although not happily given bad memories).  Travelling with her mentor/master Olog the two are part of a religious/magical Order that retrieve and care take magic artifacts, they’ve been sent on a mission to retrieve an item of importance. Unfortunately something nasty still lurks within Opal’s former home, a shadow creature with a particular design in mind, and things don’t go as well as planned.

Next we meet Ruby, Opal’s sister – a scholar as opposed to a warrior/fighter.  Ruby is a gentle female, less assertive than Opal, in fact Ruby was traumatised by the events at the childhood home and has retreated a little.  That is until she struck up an unlikely relationship with a Dwarf called Baerdun – unlikely because Ruby is half elf and many others consider such a coupling beyond unnatural.  In spite of such prejudices though their relationship has blossomed into love and the two are unhappy about the likely split that looms when Ruby will be required to return to the Order – surprisingly, Baerdun decides to accompany Ruby leaving his blacksmithing behind.

Both Opal and Ruby are strong mages but during the course of their travels they encounter an illness and, without spoilers, their magic is traded for a cure.  From there onwards the story involves the return to the Order, accounting for what has happened and trying to find a way to return the girl’s powers.  Understandably both of them are seriously unhappy about this strange turn of events.

Now, I would say that Stone Magus is paranormal romances or fantasy romance if you prefer.  Basically though, I would say that although this is a fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, mages, etc, the real focus of the story is Opal, Ruby and Baerdun and the relationship that the three of them share.  In fact although during their journey they encounter hardships and prejudices along the way, I would say their personal journey is the real purpose here.

 I don’t tend to read a lot of romance but it’s not unknown for me to pick up the occasional book here and there and I have no problems at all with the romance elements here.  However, I did feel like the fantasy side of things played something of second fiddle and, to be honest, I’m not totally sure, even at this point, how much I enjoyed the main concept.  Of course, I can’t really discuss that element further because there is a twist in the tale – and it certainly is a very unique twist indeed – I’m just not really sure at this point how I felt about it.  On the one hand I think its very original and it certainly surprised me, but, on the other hand, it just felt a little awkward in some respects.

In terms of the romance I would mention that things become a little bit hot and steamy as the relationships progress although this is towards the last third/quarter of the book.

To be honest, although this one didn’t totally work for me I wouldn’t discourage romance readers who enjoy a fantasy setting.  

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris