Posts Tagged ‘Recommended Fantasy’

Hey guys! Normally I write book reviews, but sometimes I’ll have such strong feelings about a book that the review ends up being all CAP LOCKS and lols and 🙂 🙃 😱 😬 🙄🤔😍 🤓😄 😂 🤣; in cases like that (which is what happened with my review of Shadow’s Edge ((Night Angel #2)) by Brent Weeks), it’s just easier to talk about it instead of translate my feelings to typeface. I would love to know what you think- about the video, about the book, about how messy my book shelves look, anything! 😀 I hope you enjoy!

shika2

“He sleeps beneath the lake,
The dragon child,
But he will wake
And spread his wings again,
When the deer’s child comes.”

Sounds so peaceful, right? Pastoral, almost.

But the Tale of Shikanoko is a bloody game of thrones inspired by medieval Japan and told in riveting, heartbreaking fashion.

About :

If you haven’t read book I or at least my review of book I, my recap of the plot won’t make much sense because there’s sooo much going in this series. Lian Hearn’s spare style allows for constant action, and the politics of the large cast is fairly complex, so if I try to recap every important plot line, my entire review will be one long recap and you won’t need to read the book anymore!

But here’s the short version of volumes 1-2:

An impostor prince sits on the Lotus throne and the Heavens take out their vengeance on all as the true emperor hides his identity from his scheming enemies. Shikanoko, The Deer’s Child of the prophecy, retreats to the magician Shisoku to mend his broken deer mask, following a humbling magical defeat by the Prince Abbot. While there, his heart softens toward a dangerous new threat, the five Spider Tribe demon children birthed by the Lady Tora. But despite the chaos all around him, all Shikanoko can think about is the true child emperor and his guardian, the lovely Autumn Princess…Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is an adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals. Paperback, 288 pages.

Thoughts :

“The Tale of Shikanoko” series contains four volumes, but it’s really one long story published in four installments. FSG Originals published all four in quick succession in 2016. I read the first installment back in August 2016, so I worried about keeping track of the large cast after so many months; but with a little patience and piecing together, I was able to pick up the story again. I do, however, recommend reading them all within a shorter space of time than I did.

As in volume one, the main form of currency in volume two is power. Although the women vary in motivation and personality, the men all ruthlessly take power to protect themselves and their own families and tend to blend together to some degree. (I felt the same way about the genders in Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori #1; but my antipathy toward the bland male characters in that earlier book was much stronger. I do find the characters in The Tale of Shikanoko much more interesting, as a whole, as well as finding the larger plot and style much improved.) But Hearn has a way of changing my mind about seemingly-irredeemable primary and secondary characters. I always end up caring about them by the end.

Shikanoko’s character develops in particularly interesting ways. His defeat at the end of book one broke him, and during the course of book two, he starts to grow from used child to adult warrior/sorcerer. His new humility proves to be a strength, by the end of this volume. His character development is one of my favorite things about the story.

Each volume ends with a monumental choice by Shikanoko—usually a combination of glorious victory and terrible mistake—and each time this poignant victory/defeat has made me eager to to pick up the next installment (although I didn’t get the chance to do that after volume one). Many readers have concluded that combining Shika’s story into one large volume would have made more sense, since the four small volumes (all well under 300 pgs, extremely short for adult fantasy) have very little in the way of self-contained plots. But regardless of this publishing model, the story is just as compelling in one or four volumes.

Overall :

So far The Tale of Shikanoko series is very dark and very adult, nothing like what I remember from Across the Nightingale Floor. I’m completely hooked!

Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

If you enjoy literary fantasy and Asian settings (specifically feudal Japan, in this case), I highly recommend this series. Not recommended to readers wanting fast, action-oriented or “magic-systems” fantasy; though the spare, impactful style never wastes a word, the tale’s emphasis on character and political machinations leaves little room for action or humor. And although magic exists and influences the story in interesting ways, it remains completely mysterious to readers, used for atmospheric and structural elements.

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors. Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my free review copy! I loved it.

BookBurners

“‘How bad can it be? I’ve never seen a demon attack on the news.’

‘People disappear all the time. All over the world…Lost legions. Lost cities. Have you ever heard of the town of Colebridge, New York?’

‘No.’

‘Exactly.’”

About :

NYPD detective Sally Brooks walks into her apartment one day to find that her techie younger brother, Perry, has come for a surprise visit—needing her help, as usual. This time Perry’s brought a strange book with him, the source of his latest troubles.

Things just get stranger when the Bookburners kick down Sal’s front door, demanding the mysterious book. They arrive too late to save Perry from opening the book and releasing a destructive power from inside.

Next thing Sal knows, her brother is hospitalized and comatose and she’s chasing down demon-possessed books of power with the same team who tried to save her brother. Her new team, the Societas Librorum Occultorum, works for the Vatican by containing the threats posed by magical artifacts. Sal wants in—if only to find some way to save her brother. Bookburners is an adult urban fantasy collection of serials, hardcover, 800 pages. Published January 31st 2017 by Saga Press. Authored by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty & Brian Francis Slattery.

Thoughts :

I first heard about Bookburners in a Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine review, and though I was interested in it, I couldn’t afford to pay $1.99 per episode (season one has 16 episodes) because I didn’t have a job at the time. But soon after that, I heard about Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence books and immediately fell hard for the humor, worldbuilding and characters. So I was pretty stoked when I heard that Saga Press was releasing a collected volume of all sixteen episodes in season one. I’m happy to report that season one easily lived up to my atmospheric expectations. If you pick up this collection, get ready to kick some demon butt with the Bookburners!

I love the premise of the worldbuilding: that books can be a window to the dangerous and mysterious world of demon magics and the Vatican protects the world from said dangers. Each episode has a full arc dealing with a new demonic or magical threats, and it never fails to deal moments of genuine urban fantasy “cool factor.” Whether it’s possessed restaurant owners, deal-making machines that steal knowledge from your mind or hand-drawn “tornado eaters” come to life, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the imagination of these four top notch authors. Some episodes also really hit home emotionally. One of my favorite episodes is Big Sky by Slattery, which is set in the US and just so moving. It feels like a western tall tale. As Sal walks through a small town Oklahoma in search of a mysterious pulse of magic, she reflects on the homey scene:

It was all so recognizable to Sal. She didn’t have a general theory about people—she’d seen a little too much for that—but if someone had forced her to give one, it would have ben that most people don’t ask that much from their lives. They want a roof over their heads, a job that isn’t too terrible, a couple of days off to relax now and again. If they have kids, they want to do okay by them. That’s about it.”

It’s an emotional moment for the cop, who doesn’t get to see this side of life in her line of work.

The writing feels a little choppy in the very beginning episodes (especially if you’re breathlessly anticipating Max Gladstone’s word perfect “Craft Sequence” humor, as I was), but it quickly smoothes out and regardless I enjoyed every episode very much.

Perhaps most interesting to me about the world of Bookburners is the debate among the characters over how to handle the magic: use it or destroy it? Magic is clearly dangerous, but what if it could be harnessed? Can it be harnessed? The religious members feel so genuine in their convictions, and the secular debaters pose equally strong arguments. It’s a hot topic in this urban fantasy world and I enjoyed seeing it bandied about among the characters.

‘Information is like a contagion. It spreads. Your employers do an admirable job controlling that, but they aren’t the only players in the game. As much as they might want to eliminate the knowledge and use of magic completely, not every vector can be silenced.’”

I love how Max Gladstone engineers all his work to be full of secrets, questions and conflicting opinions, a mirror of life itself. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings quote, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” I love it when an author can channel that into their storytelling—and make it cool! [Also, highlight to view SPOILERY discussion: Even though Sal’s new team keeps emphasizing how much they trust each other in spite of their differences of opinion, I keep wondering if any of them are going to split over the issue of whether to use magic or destroy it, perhaps with Asanti and Sal forming a splinter group. That would be nuts! But I could see it happening! I don’t know how I’m going to wait to read season two, ahhh!]

And speaking of characters, everyone gets their own full, fascinating arc throughout the season, and often an episode laser-focuses on one or two characters. I especially fret over poor, damaged Liam, a studdly gym rat with a history of demon possession and a rocky, but fervent lifeline in the church. The conflicts surrounding him have hugely personal stakes (and he does tend to attract ALL THE DRAMA, lol), although Grace, the kick-butt ninja of the team has her own crazy magical secrets and is a very close second favorite…and Father Menchú, now there’s a cool priest…you know what, they’re all awesome. Forget I said anything about favorites.

Overall :

Fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2. We will get a compilation of season two, right? Pretty please?!

Recommended To :

Readers looking for a fresh take on the demon hunters trope.

4.5/5 STARS

MoonCalled

“I am a walker. The term is derived from ‘skinwalker,’ a witch of the Southwest Indian tribes who uses a skin to turn into a coyote or some other creature.”

About :

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson runs a Volksvagen garage in Washington and keeps largely to herself. She’s a “walker,” a magical shapeshifter, and she can slip easily into the form of a coyote. Her brand of shapeshifting remains a secret from almost everyone; only the Fae have revealed themselves to the mundane world, and they bear the brunt of significant persecution. As a result, the werewolves, vampires and other supernatural spooks stay underground—and Mercy prefers to do the same. It’s just easier.

But Mercy’s connections with the local magical presence are finally coming around to “bite” her. When a runaway werewolf appears in her garage asking for a temporary position, Mercy gives him a job and hooks him up with the local werewolf pack leader, Adam, who is also her sexy neighbor. But somebody is looking for the runway—and they don’t mind confronting Mercy or Adam to do it. Walker and werewolf race the clock to find the man behind the mystery before more innocents suffer. Moon Called is Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy written by Patricia Briggs and published January 31st 2006 by Ace.

Thoughts :

I picked up the first of the Mercy Thompson series because I’ve been wanting to get a better feel for Urban Fantasy, and Niki over at The Obsessive Bookseller told me it was a great place to start. (Thanks Niki! 🙂 ) I also love reading about Native American cultures, so of course I had to start with this series. It sucked me in immediately with the introduction of the runaway and, no joke, the “inciting incident” made me cry! (I’m totally a crier 😋)

Because the cast of this first installment remains relatively small, readers easily get to know everybody. In Mercy we find both a pleasant person and a decent heroine—hardworking and easy to like, lacking gimmicks to rub readers the wrong way. I do wish she had some chick friends (although I like all her guy friends, too). But I enjoyed hearing about her Native family history and how her father was a Walker.

I listened to Moon Called alongside reading an eARC of Melissa F. Olson’s Midnight Curse, so it was fun to compare the two books as I get to know the genre:

Midnight Curse has a stronger mystery element than Moon Called and I enjoyed guessing at the twists. Midnight Curse’s characters also really got to me, as evidenced in my IMPASSIONED REVIEW, haha. But the romance arc kept me from loving Midnight Curse or wanting to continue that particular series (although I’ll definitely consider trying a future new series by this talented author).

As for Moon Called, I just plain liked everything about it! Although nothing blew me away in this first installment (it is a first installment, after all, and only 288 pgs), nothing repelled me either, and Briggs develops the worldbuilding impressively well for such a short volume. It thoroughly introduces the werewolf world, and I’m looking forward to exploring more. (The second book sounds like it might tackle the vampires.) Although I didn’t follow the mystery as well, that could be in part due to the nature of the audio experience. I prefer a book like this as my intro to a series, I think.

And the thing that topped off Moon Called, for me, is the great narrator, Lorelei King. I’m always amazed when one narrator can pull off a whole cast so well.

Overall :

I enjoyed pretty much everything about this short and sweet audiobook. I actually felt rested after finishing it. Just something nice and fast with a fun world to inhabit for a few hours. I’m definitely planning to continue the series.

Plot: 3 Stars
Characters: 3.5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Stars
Audio: 5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a quick start to a new Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy series. I would say this tends more towards the “paranormal romance” side of the spectrum, although the romance is largely a background element of this first installment; but the romantic tensions swirl beneath the surface of Mercy’s interactions with the two male werewolves in her life. So if that sounds like fun, I bet you’ll enjoy Moon Called!

jUST ANOTHER JUDGEMENT DAYAbout :

After killing a crowd of Springheeled Jacks who entered the Nightside through a Timeslip, John Taylor and Suzie Shooter decide to wind down in a Nightside bar. But they can’t relax for long. Soon John’s on-again-off-again friend and arch nemesis brings news of a different kind of monster: a righteous kind.

“The Walking Man, the wrath of God in the world of men, the most powerful and scariest agent of the Good, ever, has come at last to the Nightside to punish the guilty.”

Problem is, if the Walking Man kills all the guilty in the Nightside, no one will be left. John Taylor steps up to challenge the Walking Man, but how can he defeat the unstoppable wrath of God? Just Another Judgement Day is adult UF written by NYT best-selling author Simon R. Green and published December 17th 2008.

So…how did I end up reading #9 of the Nightside series, you ask?

Story Time (You Can Skip Story Time, If You Want) :

It’s kind of funny story. My rural California library hosts several Dresden-addicts and every time they check out their next installment of the series or graphic novels, they ask me, “So did you start book 5 yet?” They get into conversations with each other at the front desk. They ask me how I liked the audiobooks.

I finally admitted to them that while I enjoyed the Dresden books, other series are taking priority at the moment.

So of course one of them took this as permission to hand sell some Dresden drones to me and he went out and bought me Simon Green’s Just Another Judgement Day. This particular Dresden fan is also one of my very favorite library volunteers, and he does some tasks that I would have to do instead of working on fun things like book displays or the teen summer reading program.

So I thanked him profusely, brought the book home and stuffed it into my overflowing bookshelf. But after seeing the volunteer again (who very politely didn’t ask me if I’d read his book, yet) and feeling super guilty, I decided to jump in that very weekend.

Thoughts (The Actual Review) :

At first, Just Another Judgement Day appeared to be exactly what I expected from the Dresden-like cover, from John Taylor’s trench coat to his girlfriend named Suzie, I mean, c’mon!

But I soon realized the error of my assumptions. Not only is John Taylor’s trench coat a living thing (“I’ve always believed in having a coat that can look after itself,” John casually explains), Suzie Shooter likes to trip Mary Sues and laugh at them as they nurse their bruises.

The opening scene hits noir tones as it kicks off a new story in the magical world of “The Nightside.”

“In the Nightside we’re great believers in letting everyone go to Hell in their own way.”

You’ll find more action in the single first macabre chapter than in whole novels of other series. Literally, chapter one runs through a whole plot that I enjoyed immensely, though it has little to do with the rest of the novel. (It’s similar to the Indiana Jones or James Bond stunt at the beginning of every Jones/Bond movie that sets the tone.) The large volume of wacky, fun adventures overwhelms any little considerations about convenient happenstances that smooth the plot *WINK*

And beside the terrific speed and volume of the action, the worldbuilding surrounding it all is a magical, living thing. I haven’t read anything that felt so effortlessly magical since I read Harry Potter when I was a kid. Breezy comments and even whole scenes hint at great story possibilities for past and future books:

“A great painting of a strange alien jungle suddenly came alive and formed a window into that world.”

Jumanji moment! I almost wish this volume had taken advantage of more of that—but that’s that trouble with coming in at book 9. I’m sure the author has “gone there” in other books, but this very specific adventure deals instead with the shades of morality in the Nightside.

The other great thing about Just Another Judgement Day is John’s first-person narration, which made me literally laugh out loud:

‘It’s not really my usual kind of case,’ I said.

‘I’ll pay you half a million pounds.’

‘But clearly this is something that needs to be investigated. Leave it with me, Percy.’”

I enjoyed the characters, although other reviewers (who have read more than book #9 haha) say they’re very two-dimensional; from this I assume the characters don’t undergo much series-level character change, and yet Suzie does change in this book. I love how her growth caps off the story. It’s the perfect ending, imo. Though the plot climax is otherwise anti-climactic and suffers from some repetition and alittabitta moralizing, I enjoyed the rest of the book enormously and Suzie’s revelation totally made it work for me.

Overall :

Get ready for some serious fun, UF lovers. I think I’d have to be in the right mood to pick up this series again—I like a little more characterization in my average fare—but I would definitely not be opposed. That was fun!

Recommended To :

Anyone looking especially for humor and warp-speed pacing in their Urban Fantasy.

Plot: 3 Stars
Characters: 4 Stars
Writing: 3.5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 5 Stars

3.5/5 STARS

portalofathousandworlds

“I helped him advance on the staircase of worlds.”

A pretty euphemism for assassination, no?

About :

The Good Land lives for centuries at a time without serious threat to its traditions. Each dynastic emperor rules from The Heart of the World, unseen by the masses and advised by his eunuchs. Periodically, rebellions protest the power of the emperor’s “usurper” mother, who appears to rule the throne; fortunately for the ruling class, the only real competing power lies with “The Grey Helpers” of “The Houses of Joyful Departure”—you guessed it, an assassin’s guild 😉

But the emperor takes fearful notice when the Man of a Thousand Lives reappears, a man who is reincarnated cyclically through the ages to share the wisdom of the prophets about the Portal of a Thousand Worlds. This time, the Man of a Thousand Lives prophesies the opening of the Portal. As the auguries pile up, the powerful grow nervous, for the Portal always brings great changes to the Good Land. Dynasties end and natural disasters rock the land.

The changes rarely favor the powerful. The Portal of a Thousand Worlds is adult epic fantasy/alternate history authored by Dave Duncan and published February 14th 2017 by Open Road Media Science & Fantasy. Duncan also authored The King’s Blades and The Seventh Sword series.

Thoughts :

Portal of a Thousand Worlds feels like the sort of book that might take a lifetime to write—tightly plotted and cast, fully-developed in setting and characterized by the sort of raucous, racy and word-perfect humor that enlivens what might otherwise be considered a grim Chinese political fantasy.

The conflict between Emperor’s family and the rebels is the main focus of the book. Every so often, the focus slides back to the Man of a Thousand Lives (also known as the “Firstborn” or the “Urfather”) and his mysterious agenda; but basically every other narrator (and there are many) focuses on the palace intrigue. Most of the narrators are either nobility or Grey Helpers, and from them we learn delicious details of both palace life and the inner workings of the assassin’s guild. It’s like a very (very! Wonderfully! Atmospherically!!) Chinese Game of Thrones.

The story builds to address the climactic mystery of The Portal. Only rumors survive about its opening in centuries past, and nobody knows why. But everyone wants to know, of course—so they ask the Firstborn, who currently resides in the body of a fourteen year old peasant boy named “Sunlight.” But even he doesn’t know much—he always gets assassinated before the Portal itself opens.

So everybody watches and waits, anxious about the opening of the great portal.

My favorite part of Portal is the delightfully wicked and ever-present humor. Clever verbal gymnastics, situations that lurch sideways and riotous personality humor kept me giggling throughout the book. The Firstborn himself trademarks his own running joke, sharing hilarious anecdotes or reprimands about the confusion surrounding past philosophical teachings.

On top of the humor, surprises show up on every page. Tensions run high with conflicting character agendas, sudden tips in power, deaths, magics and all kinds of other ingenious plot twists. I was never bored. Certain portions could have probably been trimmed to shorten the book—I didn’t expect to take two weeks to read this ARC; but every page was honestly a pleasure to read.

The ending may disappoint readers who enjoy the concrete answers often found in a hard-fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s stories; nevertheless, I found it to be profoundly touching and everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love the theme about how the passage of time can affect religion and public perception of religion. The religion also serves justice in a rather unique way…

The limitations of the female sex may also bother some readers. Life is unapologetically rough for all but noblemen (emphasis on the “men”), in this early 1800s-like Chinese fantasy. Women can gain only a little power, and only by birthing sons; as such, every female with a modicum of power spends or has spent time as a prostitute or concubine. If feminism is a touchy issue for you, you might consider the female situation anything from boring to grating; I took off half a star for the disturbingly obvious lack of strong, unique female heroines. But thankfully despite the limits on female power, I enjoyed the female characters as much as the heroes in this one. The range of personalities is both vast and entertaining. (My favorite character, Horse, grew up in a House of Joyful Departure where females get just as much opportunity and have just as much success as males. He is one of the few men who respects women outside the bedroom…and you might like where his arc leads, and what it promises for the future of the Good Land.)

Overall :

I thoroughly enjoyed Portal. The humor and inventiveness far outweigh any negative considerations. It’s billed as a Chinese Game of Thrones, which seems like a fair description. (You might take this with a grain of salt, as I’m only familiar with book 1 + season 1 of GoT.) Occasional short action scenes pop up, but mostly as humorous or dramatic beats. The book is much more about politics and power than about the magic or even the Portal, really.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a hilarious and political epic fantasy with a Chinese twist. Not recommended to feminists. Slight content warning for younger readers, there’s some violence and a loooooot of sex, haha. I don’t recall anything too dramatic, but sex is probably mentioned on every other page, in some form or another (often as a device of humor).

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Dave Duncan,  Open Road Media Science & Fantasy and Netgalley for this amazing ARC of Portal of a Thousand Worlds!

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

wordsofradiancecover2

About:

The Way of Kings launched readers into Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archives, by introducing us to key members of the cast. We learned Kaladin’s backstory and we got some teasers about the magic in store for us in this ten book series. But as you can probably tell from the title of book II, Words of Radiance, this second installment begins revealing some of those secrets we wondered about in book I: secrets about the Radiants, about spren, about voidbringers and parshmen, and about the mysterious oaths that gave Kaladin his own powers in the exciting battle scenes of book one.

And Bonus!

Shallan is the backstory character for this second book, and behind her veneer of “scholarly Brightness,” she hides some pretty dang scary secrets. Epic High Fantasy published March 4th 2014 by Tor Books.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1! Not too many, but there’s at least one big one!

And if I tried to summarize book II, I would spoil it, so I’m going to skip the plot details. Because the actual plot-development of a ten-book series like this is so slow, revealing almost anything will seriously, seriously spoil the books. In fact, here’s my advice: if you like high fantasy, I recommend just skipping the rest of this review and picking up The Way of Kings. But if you want more than my blanket recommendation, by all means read on…

Thoughts :

I seem to be in good company when I express my potential inability to properly review Words of Radiance. The Way of Kings was my #1 favorite read of 2016, but book II is even better.

The pace starts off at a sprint and pretty much keeps going, only slowing down in Kaladin’s POV sections and during the Interludes. Even Shallan’s backstory feels like forward motion as we learn about her past and how it affects her present-day narrative. And there’s plenty of conflict to keep the main storyline hopping, too, as two major high princes of the war camps openly battle each other for allies and the prophesied Desolation draws nearer, clue by menacing clue.

As in book I, Dalinar Kholin continues to cop a King Arthur-like role, working to bring together Roshar’s equivalent of the Round Table. He pushes the main plot forward in a way lesser-ranked characters don’t have the ability to do. And it’s. So. Exciting! He doesn’t get as many scenes in Words of Radiance as in The Way of Kings, but I’m looking forward to looking backward on his life. He’ll get his backstory eventually, I’m sure….and it sounds like he was kind of a bad boy.
words-of-radiance2
Kaladin, my favorite narrator from book I, spends most of book II fighting metaphorical demons from his past. He leaves book I as an angry, bitter soul, despite managing to pull himself and his men from the depths of Hell by his cracked and bloody finger nails (with Syl’s help, of course). Basically, he wavers back and forth on one all-important character-building and plot-development decision, and can I just say that it’s completely agonizing to read about? Haha. But in a good way. That way a good book can give you an ulcer.

And SHALLAN! I literally cheered (on Goodreads) when we started getting Shallan’s backstory! In book I, Shallan’s tense narrative feels like a subplot (as opposed to Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s sections, which interact more); but in book II, Shallan slams herself into the main plot, refusing to be benched from the action. Now that Sanderson has loosed her into the middle of things, Shallan is a really really really ridiculously good lookin-…I mean, proactive narrator. I love her! Like many of Sanderson’s women characters, she continues to challenge the status quo for women in ways that make for totally entertaining or enlightening moments of social impropriety. I could go on and on about the characters, all of whom are doing interesting things (Adolin and Jasnah Kholin, the princes of war, the bridgemen…even Renarin Kholin and the spren!).

But I must mention the plotting and worldbuilding: the new secrets revealed in Words of Radiance color both Shallan’s arc and Kaladin’s in really engaging and interesting ways, not to mention how they set up the plotlines of the series…and I can’t share any of them here because they would spoil you 😉 But rest assured, we learn a ton about Roshar and its history in this book.

Everything about Sanderson’s writing, in this series, distinguishes itself noticeably above the first books I read by him (his original Mistborn series, which I enjoyed largely for their setting, creatures and plot twists). In terms of humor and messaging, there’s no comparison. I can’t stress enough the subtle and effective way Sanderson manages to keep up a running commentary on big topics, especially racism, elitism/classism and sexism. He does it with genuine insight and emotion and without harping on any crowd in particular. Kaladin’s sections in this book strike an especially thematic chord, as he deals with the trying situation of being a powerful darkeyes in a culture of elitist lighteyes:

‘…Of course. I keep looking at those captain’s knots on your shoulder, but—‘

‘But I’m just an ignorant darkeyes.’

‘Sure, if that’s how you want to put it. Whatever.’”

Yeah, that’s gonna put him in a great mood, haha. And as I mentioned earlier, Shallan’s narrative also shares moments like this. Here she’s remembering some advice from her enormously pragmatic mentor Jasnah Kholin, as she masters the art of [Highlight to read SPOILER: conning everyone around her].

‘Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will,’ she’d said. ‘Both are base and both will fail a person as they age.’”

Yeouch!

I really enjoyed alternately reading and listening to this book, as I did with book I. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sit and read through back-to-back tomes of 1,000+ pages, but this worked out really well!) I recommend either or both forms; get ready for some late nights!

Overall :

A High Fantasy that reads quickly, despite its huge scope, largely because of the highly personable cast of humans and other species. The series will give you a second home for 10,000+ pages—and give you a serious book hangover.

*****5/5 STARS

shadowsofself

About :

A year following the events of The Alloy of Law, Waxillium Ladriam has successfully retired from The Roughs into the city of Elendel and managed to compromise between his “lawman from the Roughs” and “rich city lord” responsibilities. He still fights crime, but he manages to fit in a party, here and there, with his respectable fiancée, Steris.

But the city of Elendel has grown more restive, even in the last year. Labor workers riot, religions battle for worshippers and everything else that might go wrong in a young, developing city, does. Wax, his sidekick Wayne and their associate, Marasi, now a newly-minted constable, work together to find the source of the city’s tensions, which seem to revolve around the possibly-corrupt Governor Innate. But at the center of it all, they discover a rogue kandra, a creature which is considered an ancient servant from the time of the last emperor, Elend Venture (detailed in the first three Mistborn books).

And Wax could never have anticipated the staggering personal consequences of involving himself with this particular investigation…not that he had a choice. Shadows of Self is an adult western fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published October 6th 2015 by Tor Books. Set in the Mistborn universe.

Thoughts:

‘Out of work,’ Marasi thought. Too many idle men out of work’…

The governor had recently given political speeches to these men, making promises. More coach lines to compete with rail lines, going places the railroad could not. Higher tariffs on imports from Bilming. Empty promises, mostly, but men losing hope clung to such promises…How would people react if they began to wonder if the governor, Replar Innate, was as corrupt as his brother?

‘A fire is kindling in the city,’ Marasi thought.”

And Wax finds himself at the center of the fire, yet again. As The Alloy of Law explores Wax’s identity crisis—is he a Roughs lawman? Or a respectable city lord?—so Shadows of Self forces him to face the tragic death of his girlfriend, Lessie, over a year before. He never recovered from her loss, and his heartache shows in his emotional distance from both his betrothed, Steris, and from constable Marasi, whom he rejects even as a colleague after she expresses her admiration of him. I didn’t anticipate the direction of this novel at all, but that’s part of why I LOVE IT! Sanderson incorporates Harmony, Waxillium’s past and the kandra (which are an awesome throwback to the original trilogy!) to add an emotionally potent character arc to the normal adventure and mystery of an Alloy Era novel.

The mystery plot ties in directly with the character arc, too. I love how Wax and Harmony brainstorm together about how to deal with the rogue kandra:

‘One of your ancient servants,’ Wax said, ‘has gone mad and is killing people.’

‘Yes.’

‘So stop her!’

‘It is not so simple…Something is wrong, unfortunately.’

‘What?’ Wax asked.

God was silent for a time. ‘I don’t know, yet.'”

Shadows of Self totally levels up the series. Everything has improved on the last book (which I also loved), from the secondary characters to the metal powers to the action and the humor. I had been leaning toward a 3.5 stars for the first book until the explosive ending, which earned it 4 stars. But Shadows of Self was clearly a 5 star read from the beginning.

As with book 1, I never wanted to put this second installment down, and the patented Sanderson twist got me again in the best way. I was desperate to start The Bands of Mourning after finishing Shadows of Self. Of course I didn’t have it on hand, and of course I had another book to finish at the time. But the Sanderson Epoch isn’t over yet! And I suspect it won’t end with Bands of Mourning, either…

Overall :

I NEED BANDS OF MOURNING!! Immediately!

Recommended To :

If you’ve read this far into the series, I say ‘Don’t stop now!’

*****5/5 STARS

The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly—usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to a rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person’s life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence, and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshipped for eternity.

Eternity ended ten years ago.”

A lot has changed in the decade since Elantris fell: the Shaod transformation has become a curse; a militant religion called Shu-Dereth has risen in Arelon’s theocratic neighboring country, Fjorden; and almost every nation has fallen to the Fjordell Empire. Now only Arelon and Teod stand free.

Prince Raoden of Arelon betroths himself to Sarene, the princess of Teod, hoping to create an alliance against Fjorden. But his plans change, suddenly, when the Shaod descends on him and his parents, the king and queen of Arelon, secretly exile him to the rotting city of Elantris.

A short time later, Princess Sarene steps off her ship from Teod into Arelon’s capital city of Kae, only to find herself a “widow” to the “deceased” prince Raoden. However, never one to waste an opportunity, she uses her new station and powerful personality to begin digging into the diseased heart of the crumbling kingdom, searching for strength necessary to keep her new home safe from Fjordell.

Meanwhile, Hrathen, a Derethi priest from Fjordell, plots domination of Arelon as he also arrives in Kae—and his plotting involves the Elantrians. Elantris is adult Fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published 2005 by Tor.

Thoughts:

It took about two seconds for the mystery of Elantris to grab me. Who were the Elantrians? What happened to them? Could their sickness be cured? The characters work to answer these questions in different ways.

In fact, the three main narrators maintain a continuous duel of wits, throughout most of the book, hoping to reach their own ends before the others can stop them. It’s difficult to express just how fun a conniving dance of a novel like this can be, but let’s start with the cursed Prince Raodan.

Raoden makes it his goal to discover the secret behind the Elantrian curse. It’s almost like an Undercover Boss moment, for him, when he realizes how the city next door has been suffering during his parents’ reign. I loved following him around Elantris as he brought small, but clever changes that made all the difference to the Elantrian standard of living. Raoden uses his curse to solve problems constantly, and it’s just so much fun to read! For example, at one point he needs to escape the guarded walls of Elantris. He knows of a river that runs under the city to Kae, so he takes advantage of the fact that he can’t die: he holds his breath and lets the river drag him, underwater, to freedom.

Now is that clever or what? And all this while plotting to thwart Sarene’s and Hrathen’s plans for the city of Elantris and keep his old identity a secret from everyone around him.

Sarene comes up with equally clever plans to destroy the power of a certain Derethi priest from Fjordell (hrm hrm, Hrathen). If Hrathen wants the people to hate the Elantrians, Shallan will start a food drive for those poor souls. If he wants a certain noble sympathizer to topple the king, no problem, she’ll marry someone else to give her own sympathizer a step up over the competition.

I seriously love this chick.

These characters pull the best tricks on each other, but Gyorn Hrathen might be the most conniving of the three. To him

Elantrians represented the ultimate flaw of human arrogance: they had set themselves up as gods. Their hubris had earned their fate. In another situation, Hrathen would have been content in leaving them to their punishment

However, he happened to need them.”

All three really came alive, for me, with their clear motivations and proactivity. Occasionally Sanderson would “tell” a character’s feelings, instead of showing them, but even in the “telling,” their motivations felt so truthful.

While I did enjoy the setup of all these tensions, the pacing does drag, at times. I think the biggest reason for this drag has to do with the questions about Elantris. We wonder about the Elantrians from page one, but it takes a long time to start getting answers. I raced through the pages when Raoden made a discovery, or a big plot twist happened. But other times, I was just plugging along to get on to the good stuff. A few other, smaller things contribute to this. For example…it’s a little maddening that Raoden won’t just tell Sarene his identity! Also, it took me some time to get into Hrathen’s POV, although he really came alive before the end.

My only other beefs with this book have to do with the ending, which feels a little rushed. First of all, Raoden’s mother sort of disappears. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What about her heroic death? Why isn’t she buried with honor near the king and Hrathen?? Did Sanderson just forget about her or something?] But Queen Eshen feels slightly shell-like, to me, anyway. I mean, what mother wouldn’t tear down even the walls of Elantris to reach her sick son?!? Other than that, I just have a few unanswered questions that I’m hoping might find answers in book II or Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What “possesses” Hrathen, near the end? And where do the Fjordens get their power? Through a corruption of the Dor?]

Overall :

Fantastic debut. Absorbing mystery, compelling characters and a world that I would love to explore in further books.

Characters: 4.5/5
Plot: 3.5/5
Worldbuilding: 5/5
Writing: 3.5/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone who already loves Brandon Sanderson will enjoy Elantris. It’s also a great place to start with him, being a standalone, although I would recommend other works (*ahem* The Way of Kings *ahem*) as even better starting places, since they’re more polished than Elantris. Anyone looking for a really original fantasy with fleshed-out characters, cultures and religions will enjoy this novel.

Truth can never be defeated, Sarene. Even if people do forget about it occasionally.”

Have you read any great standalones lately?