Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Sword Unbound by Gareth Hanrahan - Book Review

From the publisher: Gareth Hanrahan's acclaimed epic fantasy series of dark myth, daring warriors and bloodthirsty vengeance continues with The Sword Unbound.

He thought he was saving the world. That was his first mistake.

Twenty years ago, Alf and his companions defeated the Dark Lord and claimed his city. Now, those few of the Nine that remain find themselves unwilling rebels, defying the authority of both the mortal Lords they once served and the immortal king of the elves - the secret architect of everything they've ever known.
Once lauded as a mighty hero, Alf is now labelled a traitor and hunted by the very gods he seeks to bring down. As desperate rebellion blazes across the land, Alf seeks the right path through a maze of conspiracy, wielding a weapon of evil. The black sword Spellbreaker has found its purpose in these dark days. But can Aelfric remain a hero, or is his legend tarnished forever?

The Sword Unbound is the second book in Gareth Hanrahan's Lands of the Firstborn series. The first book, The Sword Defiant, introduced us to the legend of the Nine and asked "What happens to the fellowship twenty years after they win?" It was an interesting idea, and Hanrahan hooked me with his tale. Now, with the second book, the tale of Aelfric Lammergeier and the dark sword Spellbreaker continues. We catch up with Alf, his sister Olav, his nephew Derwyn (who may or may not have the soul of Peir the Paladin in him), Berys the thief, the wizard Blaise, and the cursed city of Necrad. I don't want to summarize too much because this book is full of twists and turns, including a few things that were very unexpected.

The heart of The Sword Unbound is Alf, a good-hearted man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. His relationships with his family and friends drive this story and ultimately play a major part in its resolution.

The only drawback to this book was the slow start. The first 100 or so pages are spent away from the main characters (Bor, a minor character from the first book, if the point of view here), and I found myself anxious to reconnect with Alf. However, eventually the two branches of the story connect, and the reason for the seeming side story becomes clear. 

I really enjoyed The Sword Unbound by Gareth Hanrahan. I highly recommend it to all fantasy readers, particularly fans of Joe Abercrombie or readers looking for a little darker take on Tolkein. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next in this series.

I received a preview copy of this book from Netgalley and Orbit in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan - Book Review

From the publisher: The third novel in Richard Swan's acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy triumphantly concludes the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. 

The Empire of the Wolf is on its knees, but there's life in the great beast yet.
To save it, Sir Konrad Vonvalt and Helena must look beyond its borders for allies - to the wolfmen of the southern plains, and the pagan clans in the north. But old grievances run deep, and both factions would benefit from the fall of Sova.
Even these allies might not be enough. Their enemy, the zealot Bartholomew Claver, wields infernal powers bestowed on him by a mysterious demonic patron. If Vonvalt and Helena are to stand against him, they will need friends on both sides of the mortal plane—but such allegiances carry a heavy price.
As the battlelines are drawn in both Sova and the afterlife, the final reckoning draws close. Here, at the beating heart of the Empire, the two-headed wolf will be reborn in a blaze of justice . . . or crushed beneath the shadow of tyranny. 

The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan is the conclusion to the Empire of the Wolf trilogy. It is a very good finale, and a fitting end to the series.

Sir Konrad Vonvolt and his friends are desperate to stop Bartholomew Claver from using the knowledge he has gained, and possibly the demon who is possessing him, from taking over the Empire, let alone the world. To this end, they spend a lot of time trying to convince various groups to put aside their differences, and sometimes extreme hatred, to stop Claver and to save the Empire, or at least what is left.

This was an entertaining book, with very well-drawn characters. It is narrated, as are the first two books in the series, by Konrad's young assistant Helena Sedanka. It is also told as a memoir of sorts, so while Helena's survival is never in doubt, there is a sense of finality and terror that comes through. Other supporting characters are fleshed out very well and add to the depth of the story. However, it is Konrad Vonvalt who is the star. He is generally a good man bent on serving justice, but he is willing to do whatever it takes for that justice to be served.

I enjoyed The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan, as I did the whole series. I would recommend it to fans of fantasy mixed with horror (a little too much horror for my tastes). 

I received a preview copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell - Book Review

From the publisher: Swordplay, magic, intrigue and friendships stronger than iron: the first volume in the new swashbuckling fantasy series set in the universe of THE GREATCOATS.

Damelas Chademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.

He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles - until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city's most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.

With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who'd just as soon see him dead, this failed grandson of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

Oh, and there's still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him . . .

Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell is an awesome book! It is the start of a new series, The Court of Shadows, set in the world of his Greatcoats series (I would describe it as Greatcoats adjacent). 

The story stars Damelas Chademantaigne, the grandson of two Greatcoats but who only wants to be an actor. As he tries to escape certain death in a duel with the Vixen, Damelas seeks refuge in the Operato Belleza as part of the Knights of the Curtain, the resident acting troupe. This begins an engaging tale of plays, conspiracies, noble politics and schemes, revenge, and love.

Damelas is a great main character. He is kind, brave, and self-effacing, while managing to be brave and insightful. He is definitely a reluctant hero, but one who grows into the role. As with the Greatcoats series, the supporting cast in Play of Shadows is terrific and varied. The ties to the original series are present, but do not intrude on the story being told. Additionally, the mystery of the conspiracy involved is very engaging and unpredictable.

The Greatcoats series is one of my favorites, so I was looking forward to returning to this world. Play of Shadows was a terrific start to a series that promises to keep the level of storytelling high. I would highly recommend Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell.

I received a preview copy of this book from the Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Crucible of Chaos by Sebastien de Castell - Book Review

From the publisher: A mortally wounded magistrate faces his deadliest trial inside an ancient abbey where the monks are going mad and the gods themselves may be to blame!

Estevar Borros, one of the legendary sword-fighting magistrates known as the Greatcoats and the king's personal investigator of the supernatural, is no stranger to tales of ghosts and demons. When the fractious monks of the abbey rumoured to be the birthplace of the gods begin warring over claims of a new pantheon arising, the frantic abbot summons him to settle the dispute.

But Estevar has his own problems: a near-fatal sword wound from his last judicial duel, a sworn knight who claims he has proof the monks are consorting with demons, a diabolical inquisitor with no love for the Greatcoats, and a mysterious young woman claiming to be Estevar's ally but who may well be his deadliest enemy.

Armed only with his famed investigative talents, his faltering skill with a blade and Imperious, his ornery mule, Estevar must root out the source of the madness lurking inside the once-sacred walls of Isola Sombra before its chaos spreads to the country he's sworn to protect.

Investigate alongside Estevar and the most heroic mule ever to appear in print in this thrilling swashbuckling fantasy mystery by Sebastien de Castell, author of the Internationally acclaimed Greatcoats and Spellslinger series!

Crucible of Chaos may be read as a stand-alone fantasy novel and as a prelude to Play of Shadows, the first official novel in the Court of Shadows series!

I was first introduced to Sebastien de Castell through his Greatcoats series. The series, which is tremendous, starts out like an homage to the Three Musketeers but quickly becomes about so much more. De Castell's newest novel, Crucible of Chaos, is set in the same world (although later) as The Greatcoats and stars Estevar Boros, one of the King's Greatcoats.

Boros is known as the King's Crucible and was first introduced to readers through the volume of short stories Tale of The Greatcoats. Boros is known for his fondness for the supernatural/occult and his investigative techniques. Boros is like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Inigo Montoya (from The Princess Bride). 

Estevar Boros is on his rounds as a Greatcoat, or King's Magistrate, when he receives a summons from an old acquaintance to help solve a mystery on Isola Sambra, a mystical island just off the coast where there is an abbey of monks living. Upon his arrival, Boros is greeted by a knight, who warns him not to risk his life on the island, as the monks have gone insane. Boros is intrigued and begins the trip to the island. Once there, he encounters different factions of monks, a young woman, mysterious sigils, and a dead body. And chaos ensues.

This was an entertaining story. Boros is an interesting lead character and de Castell takes his time unraveling the mystery. It's a worthy, but different,  follow-up to the Greatcoats series. It also sets the stage for de Castell's next series in this world, the Court of Shadows. I would recommend it to fans of the Greatcoats. It's also a decent one-off introduction to this world.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Racing the Light by Robert Crais - Book Review

From the publisher:*On Reader's Digest's list of "30 new books we can't wait to read in 2022"*

Private investigator Elvis Cole and his enigmatic partner Joe Pike are back on the case in this brilliant new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais.

        Adele Schumacher isn't a typical worried mom. When she hires Elvis to find her missing son, a controversial podcaster named Josh Shoe, she brings a bag filled with cash, bizarre tales of government conspiracies, and a squad of professional bodyguards. Finding Josh should be simple, but Elvis quickly learns he isn't alone in the hunt—a deadly team of mysterious strangers are determined to find Josh and his adult film star girlfriend first.
        With dangerous secrets lurking behind every lead, Elvis needs his friend Joe Pike more than ever to uncover the truth about Josh, corrupt politicians, and the vicious business cartels rotting the heart of Los Angeles from within. And when Elvis's estranged girlfriend Lucy Chenier and her son, Ben, return, he learns just how much he has to lose...if he survives.
        Written with the heart, humor, and relentless suspense for which Crais is famous, Racing the Light delivers Elvis Cole's most dangerous case yet.

I really enjoy Robert Crais's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books (they are a close second to Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books). Therefore, when I had the opportunity to read and review the newest entry, Racing the Light, I jumped at it. 

Racing the Light puts Cole on the search for Josh Schumacher, a podcaster who has gone missing. Mysterious parents, a bitter best friend, and a missing porn star/artist just add to the intrigue. There are several twists and turns, as there usually are. And when things begin to go sideways, Joe Pike is there to have Elvis's back.

Crais writes a good mystery, but the characters are the best part of these books. Cole has a bittersweet humor that underlies a world weariness that just rings true for me. He is a competent detective, but a better friend, and is like a bulldog when he gets his teeth into a case. Pike is as taciturn as ever, but for readers who've been through the series, we know there is more beneath the surface than he generally shows. These two characters remind me so much of Robert Parker's Spenser and Hawk, They are such a great pair. I would love to see this series adapted for a streaming service (as long as Crais has a say on how its done).

Further, Racing the Light brings back a few series regulars, including Lucy and Ben Chenier. Their evolving relationship with Cole and Pike continues to add a level or realism and humanity to these books. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Crais's ability to make Los Angeles seem like a character, as well. Having some familiarity with the city, I really enjoy the description's that pervade Racing the Light. It just adds to the fun.

Overall, I highly recommend Racing the Light by Robert Crais. It is an entertaining mystery and another opportunity to spend time with old friends. A new reader can enjoy Racing the Light without prior knowledge of the previous volumes, but I'd highly recommend picking them up.

I received a preview copy of this book from Netgalley and the Penguin Group, Putnam in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes - Book Review

From the publisher: The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.

I heard a lot of good things about J.S. Dewes's The Last Watch and when it showed up as a review I option, I jumped at the chance. Just the description alone sounded cool and I was curious to see if the book would live up to the hype. 

Cavalon Mercer, the disgraced grandson of the ruling despot, is sent to join the Legion aboard the SCS Argus, which is stationed on the literal edge of the universe known as the Divide. Adequin Rake is the commanding officer of the Argus, a high ranking officer with commendations and the weight of the universe on her shoulders, both figuratively and literally.
When the crew of the Argus discover that the Divide is beginning to collapse in on the universe, they try to contact Legion HQ but quickly realize they've been abandoned and are on their own to try and prevent the end of everything.

With Mercer and Rake, Dewes has created to engaging point of view characters. At first glance, Mercer seems to be a spoiled member of royalty, with a smart mouth and rebellious attitude toward authority that often get him in trouble. Rake is a by-the-book former Titan who wears the stress and strain of her responsibilities. However, there are many levels and hidden depths to both of these characters that Dewes slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The supporting cast is varied and well written, as well, with Jackin North in particular standing out for me. Hints of an important history surround North as The Last Watch progresses.

The plot of The Last Watch is well structured. There are very few dull moments, but that doesn't mean the rest is all action. There is just constant forward motion, the events and characters consistently moving towards the climax of the book. I was always curious about what was coming next and each chapter built on the previous one in a steady climb toward an unexpected (at least to me) ending. 

I also enjoyed the setting. The Divide is an interesting concept; the edge of the universe that will cause anything it touches to cease to exist is a forbidding backdrop to The Last Watch.Throw in an alien race that humanity had fought for around 1000 years and a corrupt royal family, along with a sense of history in this world, and Dewes has created a very lived-in world. It feels more like the type of world building typical of a fantasy novel. With at least one sequel on the way, I'm looking forward to exploring the world of Mercer and Rake further.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes. It was an entertaining and absorbing novel with interesting characters. I would recommend it to fans of The Expanse and military sci-fi, maybe even fans of Firefly for the setting. 

I received a preview copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler - Book Review

From the publisher: Django Wexler's Hard Reboot features giant mech arena battles and intergalactic diplomacy. When did academia get to be so complicated?

Kas is a junior researcher on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. But when a con-artist tricks her into wagering a large sum of money belonging to her university on the outcome of a manned robot arena battle she becomes drawn into the seedy underworld of old Earth politics and state-sponsored battle-droid prizefights.

Is it time to get back to the books, yet?

I recently finished Django Wexler's Shadow Campaign series (a fantasy version of Napoleon's career) and enjoyed it. I also enjoy a good giant robot/mecha suti of armor story. So, when I read about Wexler's newest book (novella, really) I decided to give it a chance. 

Hard Target takes place way in the future, when mankind has left Earth far behind for the most part. People are constantly plugged in to a future version of the internet through a neural net implanted in their head. And the Scholarium is interested in studying everything about the past. Scholar Zychtykas Three (better known as Kas) is a junior researcher studying old computer codes. She finagled her way onto a field research team headed to "Old" Earth. While there, she plans to study battle mechs/robots and their code structure. However, Kas doesn't really fit in with the rest of her group. Zhi is a mech pilot from a really rough part of town. She cons Kas into betting a lot of money on Zhi in a mech fight, and the worst possible outcome occurs. As the two try to set things straight, they realize that working together they might both achieve their goals.

Hard Target is an interesting story. The selling point for me was the mech battles, but really, that isn't much of the story. Most of it is Kas and Zhi trying to get out of the deep trouble each seems to find themselves in. Wexler does a nice job of developing both characters as much as he can in such a short story, and there are several twists as the plot moves towards its climax. His writing propels the story along, with a few slow spots.

High points: I enjoyed the few mech battles. I like Wexler's writing style in general.

Low points: The names, slang, and a few other strange words kept throwing me out of the story. I don't mind creative vocabulary, but it was enough of a distraction in Hard Target that I nearly quit reading. The story stalls a little when it becomes exposition-heavy. Additionally, there is a same-sex relationship that didn't really seem necessary to the story.

Overall, Hard Target by Django Wexler was a decent story. It excels when it focuses on the mechs and Kas and Zhi working together, but drags in the other parts.  

I received a preview copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.