Fantasy/Epic

Review: Archangel by Sharon Shinn (Samaria series #1)

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Archangel by Sharon Shinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the first of a series of books set in the same world. Each one has a standalone romance, yet the larger arc, spanning the series, is more of a quest that takes centuries and many heroes to complete. The setting is intriguing, and I’m already hooked.

A distant planet that had been colonised five hundred years ago by a group of men and women, who claim that their God, Jovah, saved them from their own violent world and brought them to Samaria to start anew. Centuries later, Jovah still keeps careful account of how they live their lives, and guids and punishes them to keep the harmonic balance of their world intact. And it’s this close, divine supervision that keeps the many tribes, classes, and races populating Samaria from plunging into war and violence as their ancestors in a far away planet had. (more…)

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

cruel-beautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is her debut effort?! Fuck me and my writerly pretensions.

The story plucks out the father bargains daughter away to monster theme from Beauty and the Beast (or La Belle et la Bete) and then turns the self-sacrificing Belle on her head and makes her MAD at the world for the unfairness of it all. It’s brilliant. Nyx has been brought up to sacrifice herself because her father made a fool’s bargain. And because the monster in her future is also the wizard who oppresses the world, her father spent years training her in hermetic magic so she can kill the beast and free her people. (more…)

Radiance (by Grace Draven): Falling in love slowly

Radiance (Wraith Kings, #1)Radiance by Grace Draven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brishen is a Kai prince of no significance to the line of succession and Ildiko is a Gauri noblewoman of little importance in her uncle’s court. They are both beautiful among their own kind but to each other they are ugly and repulsive. The Gauri are humans who live under the sunlight, the Kai are an elder race who thrive at night. Their new alliance is tentative and full of distrust and the marriage of these two otherwise insignificant pawns is a show of good faith between the races. When Brishen and Ildiko first meet they find each other unattractive but interesting. They begin with honesty and over weeks and months this builds to friendship. Eventually neither Brishen nor Ildiko can remember why they found the other disgusting. They fall deeply in love and form an unbreakable bond that no one in either kingdom expected.

I love all marriage of convenience stories where the pair discover the worth of the other and fall in love quietly, through every day gestures and conversations. It’s a difficult trope to build into a narrative without slowing down the pace too much, but thankfully, once in a while, authors like Draven manage to execute it perfectly.

I’ve always held that we fall in love with people, not faces. If there’s something worth falling in love with, you find it after you stop looking at the facade. (Of course I also extend this theory to gender/sexuality, but that’s another discussion). And both Brishan and Ildiko, affectionate and honest individuals with great capacity for love, tread this path together and find all they wanted in a partner in each other. It’s a great read.

I tend to extend the bechdel test to all pieces of fiction I come across. This books passes easily. There are several named female characters, one of whom has several exchanges with Ildiko about something other than a man. So that’s great. But I got the feeling that Draven created Anhuset simply to provide one other strong female in the narrative. I couldn’t really parse out whether Anhuset was the only warrior female among the Kai or if her calling was a normal one for women of her kingdom. I choose to believe the latter.

I had one complaint though. Ildiko tells Brishen that she’s not a maiden, that she’s had a lover before. As befits a well written male character, Brishen doesn’t care but he teases her about her carnal knowledge. To this Ildiko explains that her lover had been a clumsy young man and she didn’t much care for the experience. So she never took another lover.

This. This felt like a cop-out. So the author goes as far as to make her heroine a sexually experienced woman, giving the hero the best reaction to this news – which is indifference and maybe some curiosity – and then promptly diminishes the value of said experience by making Brishen the only lover to have brought her to orgasm. Oh come on. Seriously, now. COME ON. We’re surely beyond this kind of tokenism.

And now we wait for the sequel. =)

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Reviewing: Duty by Rachel Rossano

Duty: a novel of RhynanDuty: a novel of Rhynan by Rachel Rossano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

I first read Rachel Rossano’s writing when I won her short story Exchange on goodreads and reviewed it. Since then I’ve followed her blog and read snippets of her subsequent releases.
By the time Duty came out I was familiar with her style of writing and world building.
In an alternate medieval world, in the land of Rhynan, a war has come to end and a new king is sitting on the throne. He rewards his men with title and land, and one of them, now the new Earl of Irvaine, he gives the task of securing the eastern border land by settling his soldiers in the village of Wisenvale and taking wives from the widows and women of marriageable age.
One of these women is Brielle Solaris. She was the daughter of the late nobleman who was lord of this village, but now lives in relative obscurity because the land has passed on to her careless and selfish cousin, Orwin.
When Lord Irvaine begins the process of settling his men into domesticity in her village, they cross words. But then Lord Irvaine reveals that her own fate has already been sealed by her cousin who, in a show of loyalty to the king, has given her hand and his properties to Lord Irvaine.
Brielle’s life changes from worrying about feeding her village for one more season to worrying about traitors and politics and the affection of a husband who is a stranger and yet becoming quickly the most familiar and steady thing in her world.

I’m very fond of the marriage of convenience trope. Imagine strangers suddenly forced to share lives, needing to trust each other, trying to be friends, not really expecting more. Put them in the midst of turmoil where they have to show a united front to the world outside. They hardly know each other! So it’s a quiet fight against time as they try to learn and take measure of each other’s characters. Because a weak partnership could be used against them. And in that time if they suddenly find that what they thought was the worst sort of travesty had actually become the best source of comfort and support? That would make an awesome romance! =D

So Brielle and Tomas, Lord Irvaine, travel to his new holdings and they begin the process of learning and trusting each other. The men in her village, most of who were now dead, had fought on the other side of the war. Distrust was natural. Brielle has only ever received kindness from her father and now finds herself expecting Tomas to show the darker side of his nature every time she speaks out or argues with him. But unexpectedly, he understands what she is feeling, he is kind and sweet, and even though Brielle has not quite wrapped her head around being married to a stranger, Tomas is already thinking that maybe agreeing to this had not been one of his worst ideas.

But as they grow closer, a rebellion led by Orwin and supported by the baron robbers of the east rears its head. Unexpected responsibility falls on Brielle’s shoulders when in Tomas’s absence she is faced with sedition in their new holdings. Just when they thought war had finally ended, a new one begins to brew.

I think what I enjoyed best about this book was the care Rossano took in giving us a heroine who took tough decisions and stood by her word, but was also ordinary in a relate-able way. She had been trained in wielding a sword by her father, but in no way was she competent enough to fight a trained, battle-hardened soldier. She wasn’t used to riding for long stretches of time and so when she suddenly had to spend days on a horse, she didn’t magically get used to it. When towards the end she faced a charge of treason and knew that she could hang, she doubted Tomas’s assurance that everything would be alright because despite her feelings for him, she knew he wasn’t infallible and her trust in him didn’t blind her to that.

If I have any complains at all, it has to do with a few mild anachronisms like the use of the words “noodles” and “hi” in a middle ages setting. =)

Otherwise, this is a sweet love story set in the background of a king establishing a new regime. I thought it was pretty well told and I especially liked the idea that the king now on throne wasn’t necessarily wiser or better than the previous one, and under pressure could become just as paranoid as the ruler he just deposed. The ending was believable.

Amazon link: Duty: a novel of Rhynan

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Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

 Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 really, but there’s always room for a change of heart. =)
I genuinely liked this book. I cared for Seraphina and I admired her actions throughout. I agree with another reviewer here who said that her descriptions of music was something otherworldly. As if she was describing the purest emotions. But while music is ever present in Seraphina’s life, the parts that really moved me were when she interacted with the other characters. So removed, so careful. Always alert and always distant, with a perpetual guard around her heart because even if she loved them if they knew her truth they could only ever feel disgusted towards her. To live amidst such scorn – perhaps directed at others – but oh how easy to imagine herself the receiver of those taunts, how dreadfully easy to imagine all that contempt directed at herself.
Seraphina was very alone and the only people who knew her secret either wouldn’t or couldn’t make her loneliness go away.
The book is amusing, saddening, anger arousing and triumphant. There was something wonderfully fitting about the end because we knew it wasn’t the end – that she had truly gained not lost, and that she wasn’t alone any more.

DISCLAIMER: reviewed ARC from netgalley

How awful to now have to wait months just to see this book in print and maybe another year and a half before they bring out its sequel. Darn the glacial publishing process!

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Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore


 Bitterblue
by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say but that I am amazed – amazed at how far Cashore has come from her first book; amazed how well she held my interest through the daily duties and constant, ever present worries of Bitterblue that she didn’t know enough to run her kingdom, to heal her people; amazed that for once the romance didn’t even register in my head as one of the main plot points. I was too involved in the political cloud the young queen found herself in – everything vague and nothing tangible. I was too engrossed in the emotional journey she was on, to discover what her father really did to injure a whole nation of people, to revisit a past everyone else seemed determined to forget, to become more than she was allowed to be – to become a queen. (more…)

The Emperor’s Knife (A ‘wary but interested’ review)

The Emperor's KnifeThe Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.9 stars.
The Emperor’s Knife is a good book, but it is not a fantastic book. The best thing about this book is how it gives at least four very different characters enough time and sufficient voice to introduce and explain themselves to us. And you need to understand them if you hope to understand the book.
Its strongest point has to be the intricate court politics that keeps the reader on tenterhooks as a coup, many years in planning, is finally carried out.
The Emperor’s Knife is Eyul, an assassin chosen in his boyhood because of his inability to take a life out of vengeance. He was given the Knife to wield, to carry out the Emperor’s will and only he could ever spill royal blood without damnation.
In the very first chapter we watch as he carries out a dead king’s last command and earns the hatred of two young princes. (more…)