Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak

Black City Saint

by Richard A. Knaak

Fantasy | 390 Pages | Published by Pyr in 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from the publisher in return for an honest review

Despite an extensive back-catalogue of fiction, my introduction to Richard A. Knaak’s work begins with Black City Saint, an urban fantasy set in prohibition era Chicago. Eloquent and addictive, Black City Saint is an exciting foray into alternative history, a fantasy whose setting lends it incredible scope for Knaak’s imagination. In a world where dragons hitch-hike on the souls of saints, and long-dead emperors haunt the temples of God, Knaak has created a landscape blighted by darkness in this fast-paced adventure.

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.

1920’s Chicago; a city of bootleggers and mobsters, where convention is defied, loyalty is bought and sleepless nights are a dime a dozen. But appearances can be deceptive. Behind the veil of guns, liquor and the roaring twenties lies a much darker world: Feirie.

Feirie, however, is not a place of playful sprites and charming tricksters, its sinister inhabitants are twisted to the core, delighting in torture and forever seeking passage into the human realm.

The only thing containing the darkness is the Gate – the Gate which Nick Medea has guarded, alongside his unwilling and unwanted companion, for the past sixteen hundred years. But as tensions flare and evil awakens one thing becomes certain – only a Saint could prevent hell from breaching Chicago’s borders.

In a narrative populated by molls, mobsters, gents and dames, the spirit and atmosphere of 1920’s Chicago is brought to life through architectural description, societal evolution and a protagonist who has seen the changes wrought by time. With hauntings from long dead Roman Emperor Diocletian and the legends of Nick’s own past, Black City Saint has far more depth than its 390 pages would suggest.

Populated by a delightfully disturbing cast, Black City Saint never fails to put protagonist Nick through his paces. While love interest Claryce remains in a state of perpetual demise, and as a character possibly suffers for it, Diocletian’s desperate need for salvation; the unpredictability of the dragon Eye, both a help and a hindrance to Nick; and Fetch the witty shapeshifter are part of a motley group who lend a darkly humorous air to the novel.

Knaak impresses throughout this novel with his lively and engaging writing style, a style which hooks the reader  from the opening chapters and retains a relentless pace from start to finish. With rich detail and snapshot imagery of 20th Century life, Black City Saint is a wonderful example of how first person perspective needn’t be at the expense of detail and description.

In the first in what looks to be an incredibly promising new urban fantasy series, Richard A. Knaak has created an instantly compelling protagonist on a backdrop of dark magic and mob violence. Thoroughly deserved of a reputation as a successor of this sub-genre, Black City Saint is an absorbing, inventive and humorous read which already comes high on my list of urban fantasy favourites.

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Review: Skinshaper by Mark Gelineau and Joe King


An Echo of the Ascended – Ferran Book Two

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 102 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

Rend the Dark was an impressive venture into the darker and more disturbing aspects of Aedaron, a multi-faceted world which has been compiled through varying genre perspectives in the Echoes of the Ascended series. With its sequel, Skinshaper, we are once again transported into the darkest reaches of this world where a veritable army of abominations lie in wait to repulse, disturb and delight fans of this darkly epic – and short – work.

Mark Gelineau and Joe King have, once again, hit the mark with this brutally fantastic tale which doesn’t shy away from taking its protagonists to hell and back, resulting in what has become my favourite Echo to date. Epic in its telling, horrifying in its creations, and bloody brilliant in its execution, Skinshaper sets the bar in this latest thrill ride from these masters of the fantasy novella.Barricades broken.

A mining town empty.

One survivor swings in a cage, waiting to die.

Ferran’s tattoos burn as horrors near. They should run. They should seek help. But to save a few, they must journey deeper into the heart of the nightmare to face an ancient foe.

Following the death of his friend Hillion, and the terrifying events of Rend the Dark, Riffolk finds himself travelling in the company Ferran and Mireia, two Acolytes of Talen. As they wander from town to town, Riffolk’s eyes become opened to the dark and nightmarish creatures which pervade Aedaron. The Ruins, twisted abominations who seek the destruction of all that is good and pure, have once again taken hold in the land.

When Mireia’s powers draw them to a seemingly abandoned mining town, an encounter with a single survivor leads their small company down a dark path into the heart of the mine. But the vile horrors which await them in the shadows are going to be anything but easy to vanquish, not for a man wracked by his own cowardice and guilt, not even for those with the strength of Talen on their side.

From the world at large to the confines of the mine, Gelineau and King have carved out a cold and brutal world where humanity is neither the province of monsters nor of men. Where Elenor’s storyline depicts the wheels of justice in motion, Alys’ the divisions of class, and Roan and Kay’s the legacy of honour; Ferran’s storyline highlights all that is dark and terrible in Aedaron. Through horrifying descriptions and brutal action, Skinshaper is a short, sharp shock to the senses.

In a narrative which highlights the brutality and inhumanity of the Ruins, their wilfully destructive and grotesque natures are used to convey their absolute evil. This world of horrors, where the creation of abominations maximises both physical and emotional pain, once again reveals the darkest side of Aedaron and the inherent danger all our protagonists face. The Order of Talen, though a beacon of strength in these dark places, as yet seems small and incomparable to the sheer strength and determination of the Ruins, lending this novella a distinctly unpredictable feel.

The continuation of Ferran’s storyline however, if anything, brings us closer to Riffolk. He is our laymen and anchor point to this sub-series of novellas, asking the questions which allow us to comprehend the world and allow Ferran and Mireia, along with the Order of Talen, to retain an element of mystery. However, Ferran remains almost a closed book throughout Skinshaper, his enigmatic nature maintaining a level of intrigue which speaks of future revelations, whilst Mireia’s character is elaborated upon for an explosive conclusion which leaves the reader in great suspense.

Skinshaper is a small, self-contained adventure which has been brought to life by its detailed but terrifying world, interesting and complex characters, and a thoroughly gripping storyline. This novella, like its predecessors, succeeds in deceiving the reader by its length and, as always, is delivered with beautiful but concise prose. With eight Echoes under their belt, Gelineau and King have proven that their fast-paced and compulsive format is anything but tired, and have delivered an impressive round of sequels which have hit the mark every time. 

With this fast-paced read, one which grips the imagination and disturbs with its terrifying creations, Gelineau and King have captured the spirit of its predecessor whilst elaborating upon it in spectacular fashion. Skinshaper is a powerful, if somewhat horrifying, addition to the Echoes of the Ascended series which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. 

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Review: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Dragon Hunters

Book Two of The Chronicles of the Exile

by Marc Turner

Fantasy | 496 Pages | Published by Titan Books in 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from the author in return for an honest review

Having not read the first novel in the Chronicles of the Exile, When the Heavens Fall, I was a little reticent about embarking on a literary adventure which began with its sequel, Dragon Hunters. But with two phenomenal covers and an incredibly intriguing premise, it wasn’t long before I fell under its spell and into a world of power struggles, rising tides and deadly dragons.

In a narrative which can essentially be read as a standalone novel, Dragon Hunters conjures up a vibrant and magical world where deadly assassins stalk the streets and terrifying dragons rule on the high seas. With a sprawling cast of seafarers, mages and the strong arm of the law, Marc Turner has created an absorbing, creative and entirely unique world on which to enact this intricate drama  – a drama which had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

The sequel to When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods.

Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand.

As mysterious earthquakes threaten to send Olaire under the sea, the Storm Lord capital marches on in earnest with its Dragon Day traditions. Once a year when the Dragon Gate is raised, one of the great sea serpents is allowed to pass into the Sabian Sea as the great and (not often) good of the lands gather to participate in the momentous hunt.

But this year marks the end of Emira Imerle Polivar’s tenure as leader of the Storm Lords, a tenure she is not willing to leave quietly. As dangerous Chameleon Priests vie to wreak havoc on the Dragon Day celebrations, and merchant seafarers, mysterious prisoners and powerful mages are caught up in the machinations of the Storm Lords, this is one day which is sure to change the course of history forever.

The world depicted in Dragon Hunters is one ruled by the sea. With islands, harbours, and the cities themselves falling to the steady rise of tides, Marc Turner has created a stunning seafaring world where not even the twisted alleys and decaying architecture of Olaire, the Storm Lord capital, are safe from the ever encroaching seas. In a narrative which revels in sumptuous description and phenomenal action, the intricacies of this world are strung out on a tightly woven plot which only benefits from this supremely well-imagined landscape.

As the flooded districts of Olaire become home to less salubrious characters, the narrative winds through this evocative urban landscape giving chase to assassins, uncovering treacherous plots and doing bloody battle against enemies unknown. But whilst the cityscape is undoubtedly impressive, it is the sheer power and brute force of the titular dragons of this tale who provide some of the most stunning moments. Captured in action-packed prose and descriptive detail, these monsters of the deep are tireless and destructive predators, great sea serpents who provide a deadly and unpredictable enemy in this antagonistic tale.

Dragon Hunters is undoubtedly a tale where enemies abound, playing host to an extensive cast of characters whose personalities vie for attention as the complex narrative unfolds. With perspectives from Chameleon Priests, battle-hardened warriors and the all-powerful Storm Lords, these characters create a detailed picture of a world which is always on the brink of action. From the enigmatic Mazana Creed to the scheming Imerle Polivar, from the long-suffering Septia Kempis Parr to the dangerous but naïve Karmel Flood, Dragon Hunters details an impressive assortment of personalities who drive the story along at a relentless pace.

Dragon Hunters is a complex and intricate tale which forms a world which is breathtakingly real. Turner’s command of the narrative and well thought out plot distinguishes the many characters caught in its web and allows the myriad threads of the tale to break apart and come together in frequent and spectacular style. In a torrent of evocative language, generous description and unimpeded action, Marc Turner doesn’t drop the thread once, creating a spellbinding and fully fleshed out world which layers intrigue upon intrigue and leaves me in great anticipation for the next instalment.

If you’re looking for a unique and captivating world, and are undaunted by a sprawling cast of characters and a complex narrative, then Dragon Hunters is certain to impress. Marc Turner has succeeded in blowing me away with this sumptuous and intricate world and his incredibly compelling writing style. This might be the second book in the Chronicles of the Exile, but I’m certain that it won’t be long before I’ve read and devoured When the Heavens Fall in eager expectation of the third in the series.

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Review: Legend by David Gemmell


Book One of the Drenai Saga

by David Gemmell

Fantasy | 337 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2012

| Rating |

There can be few who venture the wilds of fantasyland who have never crossed paths with David Gemmell, whether through his own masterful creations or the countless authors he’s influenced over the years. Despite this father of heroic fantasy having an extensive catalogue to his name, and the shameful fact that he has been woefully absent from my bookshelf of late, his legacy inevitably conjures up one series time and time again: The Drenai Saga.

And every series must start somewhere. Legend, the first book of The Drenai Saga, is a heart-thumping, axe-wielding, battle-crying spectacular of military might; a fantasy masterpiece which couldn’t fail to live up to its name. Legend is a seamless combination of wholesome traditional fantasy blended with the grit and wit of modern grimdark; a novel which, despite some minor teething issues, captivates and thrills to the very end and always leaves you wanting more.

His name is Druss.

The stories of his life are told everywhere. But the grizzled veteran has spurned a life of fame and fortune and retreated to the solitude of his mountain lair.

His home is Dros Delnoch.

And it is the only route through the mountains for the army laying waste the country around them. Once the stronghold of the Drenai, the fortress of Dros Delnoch will now be their last battleground. And Druss will be its last hope.

His story is LEGEND.

The Nadir tribes, now united under the formidable Ulric Wolfshead, are gathering in the north, their eye fixed on the lands of the Drenai. But the Drenai, once a great force who fought daring battles and brought low great empires, are now a shadow of their former selves. Unable to defend their lands against the northern horde which threatens to descend, the Drenai must make a stand. Holding Dros Delnoch might just buy them enough time to gather their forces; holding Dros Delnoch might just be the key to their survival.

But those who remain are weak. The Earl is dying, his leaders have little experience at war, and their numbers are but few. With such little chance of success, the Thirty can only see death in the mists. But rumour has it that Druss the Legend, a living hero of countless battles of old, can still wield a blade. With the odds in favour of the northmen, can the Legend hold the walls of Dros Delnoch against the greatest force ever gathered? Can one man turn the tide of battle?

Gemmell has carved a world out of action; his stage is the battlefield and his players the soldiers who wage bloody war to live just one more day. With the barest hints of the world at large, the only place that matters in Legend is the here and now. Where most fantasy plots benefit from a layering of the inhabited world throughout, this skilful lack of diversion creates an addictive concentration of knowledge, characters and plot on a relatively small playing – or battle – field, narrowing the focus and tightening the plot around the central theme.

With ample descriptions of the fortifications of the Dros, a place which lends hope and despair in equal measure to those who stand vigil or fight upon them, Gemmell has built a world which he fully intends to pull down stone by stone and man by man. For this master world builder, the true beauty in the descriptions are lent more to the world’s destruction than its creation, and it is in these sections of the novel, where people and places are remorselessly snuffed out, that the narrative truly comes to life.

With a bloodthirsty and barbarous enemy who delights in the wholesale destruction of those beyond their borders, the Drenai are given a foe which will stop at nothing to bring their lands under their sphere. Through their leader Ulric, and the snapshots of the lives of his loyal tribesmen, the Nadir are given a complexity which stops them short of becoming a faceless and two dimensional enemy, and succeeds in making them an integral part of the plot.

Legend isn’t just about the battalions and the hordes however, it is about the individuals who will face unprecedented odds and through bravery, hard work and battle are forged into new people. And this surfeit of characters certainly throws some interesting personalities into the mix; The Thirty, warrior priests who will fight to all ends; Bowman and Caessa, noble but dangerous outlaws; Orrin, whose growth over the course of the novel shows a deep strength rooted in this people; and Rek and Verai, two lovers whose converging storyline becomes the embodiment of hope and, that at the end of it all, there was something worth fighting for.

Legend is defined by this plethora of weary soldiers, battle-hardened warriors and powerful mystics which inhabit its pages. As farmers, leaders, noblemen and outlaws come together to fight for their ultimate survival, the comradery which grows between them adds an intriguing dimension to the plot. Whilst motivations are not always made clear, and character developments and relationships can sometimes appear rushed, Gemmell manages to tease out the hope, bravery and despair which rules the minds of the populace throughout the seige, a skill which more than makes up for this lack of realism and adds much appreciated depth to the novel.

But whilst this novel certainly describes a sweeping assortment of characters, Legend is and can only be about one man – Druss the Legend; a character who couldn’t fail to live up to all expectations. His power as an inspiration, his brilliance in battle, and his status as a true hero of the ages are all undeniable. But after all this he’s just a man – and an old, worn out one at that. His entanglement with death, which has become a long drawn out game of cat and mouse, lends itself to his fearless and furious prowess in battle and, if anything, it is those sections of the novel where Druss takes centre stage which truly made this an unputdownable read.

Legend is a novel which is held together by a solid, intense and exciting core. Whilst at its outset I would have preferred greater development of character motivations, and at its conclusion I would have preferred a more open ending, the middle of the novel was exceptional in its structure, storytelling and pace. The worldbuilding is suited to the narrative, the characterisation is varied and interesting, and the battle is sublime. Skilfully written and expertly plotted, this is a tale which is sure to stand the test of time to delight and thrill generations to come, and leaves you in no doubt of David Gemmell’s place in the fantasy hall of fame.

Legend is more than deserved of its title as a fantasy classic. A powerful and intense tale, this is a novel which boasts one of the most glorious heroic centres possible. A truly absorbing read from start to finish, there is little doubt as to why it serves as inspiration for so many authors today. For those who have yet to discover Gemmell, there is no time like the present – you will not regret it. 

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Review: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

The Copper Promise

Book One of The Copper Cat Trilogy

by Jen Williams

Fantasy | 535 Pages | Published by Headline Books in 2014

| Rating |

If you’re in the mood for an exciting escapade; for daring sword fights, destructive dragons and more than a little magic, then The Copper Promise will deliver by the spadeful. The first in The Copper Cat Trilogy is is a tale which echoes the spirit of traditional and heroic fantasy and is relentless in its own pursuit of mischief, mayhem and magic. With a wonderful cast of characters and the unsavoury machinations of gods, men and demons, The Copper Promise is a fantastically fun, entirely captivating and incredibly enjoyable tale of unbridled adventure.

There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods.

Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she’s spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there’s no money to be made in chasing rumours.

But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man’s name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel’s darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure … if they’re lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it’s over.

But these reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour: Sometimes a story can save your life.

When a strange and seemingly broken man makes a deal with The Copper Cat of Crosshaven all thoughts are turned to bountiful riches and limitless glory. Whilst breaking into the mysterious Citadel may be no hard task for The Copper Cat and her loyal companion Sebastian, breaking out again will be no small matter. For something far darker and far more terrible lies in wait in the dark labyrinth of the Citadel, an ancient power which seeks destruction at all costs; a power which once awoken will not rest until it sees the world burn.

From the dry and cracked earth of Relios, to the deep forests of the Blackwood, Jen Williams has created a diverse and memorable landscape on which to play out her adventure. As priests abound in the desert so pirates saturate Crosshaven, and with far flung locations getting more than just a mention, these landmarks become intimately entwined within the story and become real fixtures in the landscape. With a surfeit of thieves, rogues, bandits and brigands, this is a world which is always teetering on the edge of action, where a story always lurks around the corner and which provides endless possibilities for our merry band of miscreants.

Jen Williams has created a stand out cast of characters whose interwoven storylines are all marked by a sense of ‘the quest’ and are depicted with a spirit of fun and adventure, a trait not to be overlooked in a world which threatens to burn. These are characters who have been dragged from lives of misadventure, lives where honour and motivations are often conflicting, and are set on a path which could culminate in their glory or destruction in what could be a vain attempt to save the world – albeit after they caused all the trouble in the first place.

The three main characters highlight the brilliance of Williams’ extensive dramatis personae. Wydrin, The Copper Cat, is a refreshing fantasy heroine; a feisty little redhead with a quick wit and very sharp knives, she’s amusing, intelligent and brings a wonderfully roguish quality to the narrative. Sebastian, Wydrin’s moral compass, is by contrast honourable and selfless but finds himself sorely tested throughout the narrative, whilst Frith, Lord of the Blackwood, comes across as both mysterious and selfish despite his (begrudging) tendency to do the right thing.

Jen Williams is a wonderful storyteller whose characters are entertaining, whose narrative is bold and exciting, and whose writing captures the imagination in a whirlwind of chaos and adventure. The myriad of people, places and creatures which pervade the narrative are ridiculously entertaining, completely absorbing and throw you head first into a world of colourful characters and eccentric cultures. The Copper Promise, which began life as four novellas, is effortless in its writing style and blends seamlessly into a whole to create one jolly good yarn.

If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned tale of adventure, one which sweeps you off into another world and throws a whole heap of dragons, weapons and magic in your general direction, then I couldn’t recommend The Copper Promise enough. Jen Williams has soared to the top of my to read list after this wonderful debut and is likely to remain there until I’ve devoured the rest of the trilogy – this is one world I cannot wait to get back to!

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Review: Faith and Moonlight by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Faith and Moonlight

An Echo of the Ascended

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Young Adult | Fantasy | Novella | 80 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2015

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

We’ve slain Rendworms with Elinor in A Reaper of Stone, battled terrible Ruins with Ferran in Rend the Dark, and uncovered the dark hearts of men with Alys in Best Left in the Shadows. And now we enter a world of honour and tradition; of swords and legends and the heroics of men, as we follow the story of our final two orphans, Roan and Kay in Faith and Moonlight.

Gelineau and King have once again raised the bar with this beautifully crafted and enchanting tale, a tale which has all the hallmarks of a traditional coming of age fantasy together with the flair and excitement which have become the mainstay of this impressive series of shorts.

Faith and Moonlight continues in the tradition of its predecessors as a wholly absorbing and vivid journey into this increasingly diverse world; one which introduces new characters, new places and new themes, and which once again leaves me in no doubt that I will be reading the next novella.
Roan and Kay are orphans.

A fire destroys their old life, but they have one chance to enter the School of Faith.

They are given one month to pass the entry trials, but as Roan excels and Kay fails, their devotion to each other is put to the test.

They swore they would face everything together, but when the stakes are losing the life they’ve always dreamed of, what will they do to stay together?

What won’t they do?Faith and Moonlight introduces Roan and Kay, two orphans left with little more than each other when a fire destroys their orphanage and leaves their small band of friends scattered across the lands.

Assisted by a stranger who finds himself indebted to them, Roan and Kay are taken to the School of Faith where the great and the powerful train to join the ranks of the infamous Razors. But before they can be accepted they must show they are able to ‘pierce the veil’, something which should have manifested long ago if was to present itself at all.

For Roan the skills of a Razor come easily, but as he goes from strength to strength Kay falls further and further behind. Going back to their old life is not possible and going forwards without the other is a fate neither want to comprehend. A month is all they have. A month to pierce the veil. A month to decide their fate.Faith and Moonlight is a wonderfully compact tale of friendship, love and survival, one which has all the strengths of the previous novellas whilst avoiding the pitfalls and clichés which so many young adult books fall into. Where the preceding Echoes uncover a world of darkness and terror, where nightmares roam the land and the greed and vice of men is ever apparent, Faith and Moonlight shows us a purer and more idealistic world. This is a landscape of heroes and legends and a noble cause, where brave warriors confound evil despite the underlying darkness which pervades even this novella.

Once again Gelineau and King have carved out a varied landscape in stunning, if brief, detail; a city bathed in moonlight with the Razor schools at its heart couldn’t be more of a contrast to Lowside of Best Left in the Shadows or the tumble down villages of Rend the Dark. From the reliquaries of the First Ascended to the architecture of the city, Faith and Moonlight weaves its spell of chivalric charm and, with notable links back to previous novellas, firmly establishes itself as part of Aedaron.

The characterisation in this novella is likewise the equal of those that have gone before it. Roan and Kay are two protagonists whose obvious love and affection for one another only contributes to the narrative, becoming a driving force for the storyline rather than an unnecessary aside. Forging friendships, mastering new skills and testing their own strength becomes vital to their existence in the School of Faith, bringing a sense of depth and diversity to their characters and creating two distinct voices.

With Faith and Moonlight, Gelineau and King have added a touch of beauty to their increasingly dark world. This is a tale which, despite some sinister undertones, benefits from a lighter heart and a steady pace; a brief but beautiful young adult novella.
Faith and Moonlight is another wonderful contribution to the Echoes of the Ascended series, one which is nothing short of the equal to its predecessors and one which I recommend to all those wishing to while away less than an hour in another world. This novella surpassed all my expectations and leaves me in no doubt of the authors’ place on my bookshelves.

Miss the author interview with Mark Gelineau and Joe King? Check it out here

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Review: Rend the Dark by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Rend the Dark

An Echo of the Ascended – Ferran Book One

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 78 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2015

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

My first venture into the world of Aedaron, and the work of Mark Gelineau and Joe King, was with A Reaper of Stone – a surprising and imaginative novella with all the flavour of a high fantasy epic in well under a hundred a pages. Leaving me with a distinct and favourable impression, I couldn’t wait to sample the next self-contained novella in the series and see if this duo could pull off another winning read.

And I needn’t have even questioned it! Rend the Dark is a dark fantasy epic condensed into a tight and action packed narrative. Exquisitely written and as beautiful as it is terrifying, this is  novella which had me instantly reaching for the next Echo in what promises to be a lengthy and incredibly enjoyable foray into bite-sized fantasy.

The great Ruins are gone. The titans. The behemoths. All banished to the Dark and nearly forgotten. But the cunning ones, the patient ones remain. They hide not in the cracks of the earth or in the shadows of the world. But inside us. Wearing our skin. Waiting. Watching.

Once haunted by visions of the world beyond, Ferran now wields that power to hunt the very monsters that he once feared. He is not alone. Others bear the same terrible burden. But Hunter or hunted, it makes no difference. Eventually, everything returns to the Dark.

Rend the Dark follows the story of Ferran, a witch hunter – or acolyte of the Order of Talan – who is gifted with the ability to see the terrible Ruins of the world, Ruins which would otherwise remain hidden from human eyes. But whilst hidden, their darkness continues to spread across the lands where they thrive in the shadows and stalks the unwary; people are starting to disappear from towns and villages, strange tales haunt the marches, and very few can guess what truly hunts them.

Together with fellow acolyte Mireia; two magistrates of Greenhope, Riffolk and Hil; and a Warden; Ferran must track down the Ruins which prey upon the land and send them to the abyss – The fate of the people of Greenhope, and perhaps of the whole world, depends upon it. But things are never that simple…

In this next instalment, Aedaron is once again etched out in surprisingly rich detail and, whilst clearly a part of a whole, Rend the Dark is completely unique in tone and character and can be read as a stand alone novella. This is a tale which carries with it a far darker shadow than before, pushing it into the realms of dark fantasy horror; this is a land where nightmares and suspicions abound, and where monsters prey on the weak in full and Ruinous glory. The narrative offers a far more bleak and terrifying world than its predecessor, a world where hope is shrouded in mystery and doubt; and a world which is populated by the good and terrible in equal measure.

Once again I am thoroughly impressed (and a little mystified) that this dynamic duo can fit so much into so short a read. This is a novella which is saturated with threat, where descriptive and vivid depictions of its horrors unfold in a flurry of cinematic action, and where description and action blend seamlessly for a non-stop read from start to finish. Gelineau and King have succeeded in creating and building upon a world which is at once familiar, yet manages to retain its own distinctive – and extremely dark and gritty – flavour.

Rend the Dark, whilst hinting at its links to the alternative novellas, offers the reader a new set of characters to become utterly absorbed in. Ferran is an intriguing protagonist whose depth of character, along with his ‘weaknesses’, are exposed from the very start. His depiction is distinctive, his personality both likeable and mysterious, and he somehow manages to retain a compelling and enigmatic air which is incredibly enticing and most definitely leaves you wanting to find out more.

Although this is a Ferran novella, equal playtime is also given to his companions in arms. These characters are given their own third person perspective in which to engage the reader, and do so with great success. Hil and Riffolk, the two Magistrates of Greenhope, are much like the reader in this novella – they are the laymen, the ordinary folk who go by in life and don’t see the darkness at its edges – and as such, their narrative allows the reader to gain an equal footing from the start. It is characters such as these that truly connect the reader to the story.

A Reaper of Stone showcased skilled active description and fantastic worldbuilding – two aspects which might otherwise have been lost over so short a narrative – but Rend the Dark blew me away. Skilled characterisation is combined with an incredible ability to effectively convey the horrors of the Ruinsin this fast paced and thrilling tale. Gelineau and King most certainly know how to make an impression.

The Echoes of the Ascended are a wonderful blend of a fully contained and bite-sized narrative set against an open world where enough of the tale is left untold to make the reader keep coming back for more. I still find it hard to believe that so much can be packed into so short a read – and Rend the Dark certainly packed a punch. Do you have an hour or so to spare? Train journey? Lunch break? Gelineau and King have you covered. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next.

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Review: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows

Book One of The Night Angel Trilogy

by Brent Weeks

Fantasy | 645 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2011

| Rating |

4 and a half Stars

This novel had been hiding on my bookshelf for so long that it’d become a part of the scenery. When I finally remembered it existed, dusted it off and got around to reading it, I was instantly hooked. The Way of Shadows is a non-stop, action-packed, thrill ride which remains tense, dramatic and intriguing throughout; leaving me with only one question – why on earth didn’t I read this sooner?

The perfect killer has no friends, only targets. For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

The first two thirds of the book builds up the world and the characters, exploring their motivations and the various intrigues, wars and conflicts which plague the world of Midcyru. The plot twists and turns, the characters are all spurred by conflicting motivations and the potential for ruthless savagery at all times combine to keep you guessing right until the last moment. The last third of The Way of Shadows is a non-stop whirlwind of deadly action which I couldn’t get enough of. The fight scenes were beautifully written and choreographed; violent and bloody, throwing you right into the fray. If Shadow’s Edge starts where this book left off then readers are certainly in for a treat.

Midcyru is a vibrant and realistic world with enough description to add depth and perspective whilst keeping the narrative moving forwards.  It may take a few mentions to absorb all the different names of places and peoples but this isn’t a short novel, there are plenty of opportunities for soaking up all the detail. And sure, the term ‘wetboy’ is a little silly and incongruous with being a super-assassin but I still wouldn’t laugh in Durzo Blint’s face. This is a skilfully drawn out world populated by a myriad of fantastic characters which by all accounts will only get better.

Azoth is a great protagonist whose motivations are well thought out and implemented. I loved Momma K and Logan, who are both wonderfully contrasting characters with a lot of hidden depth. Durzo Blint is ruthless, merciless and absolutely fascinating; I couldn’t get enough of him. The horde of side characters are all intriguing, interesting and add more substance to the world… and who doesn’t love an absurdly weak and dangerously stupid king? The Way of Shadows is chock full of characters to love and hate with plenty of room left for growth and development in the rest of the trilogy.

The Way of Shadows is a great debut novel which surpassed all my expectations. If you’re looking for a whirlwind of fantasy action then look no further than The Night Angel Trilogy; Brent Weeks thoroughly deserves his reputation as a great storyteller and I am just itching to get my hands on the next book.

Bookish Beats Suggestion

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Review: The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe


The Gathering of the Lost

Book Two of The Wall of Night

by Helen Lowe

Fantasy | 555 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2012

| Rating |

The Gathering of the Lost continues the stories of Malian, Kalan and the two Heralds, Tarathan and Jehane Mor, five years after the events in The Heir of Night.

The review for The Heir of Night – Book One of The Wall of Night can be found here.

After finishing The Heir of Night it only took me moments to open The Gathering of the Lost. The first novel in The Wall of Night series had surpassed all my expectations and had left me excited and eager to learn how the tale would unfold. I wasn’t even worried that the sequel wouldn’t meet my expectations – Helen Lowe had written such a magical and gripping opening novel that it had to! The Gathering of the Lost proved to be a tale with twists and turns aplenty, with plots and intrigues around every corner, all woven together with lyrical, beautiful prose.

She will not stand alone

Five years after the Dawkswarm assault on her stronghold home, Malian of Night remains missing, believed dead amidst the wilds of Jaransor. But not all accept her death and now her enemies are on the hunt. Suspicion falls on heralds Tarathan and Jehane, who find themselves caught in a web of intrigue and murder during the Ijiri Festival of Masks. They flee bearing word of a death on the Wall – and a call to duty and honour that Malian must answer or be forsworn.

Oh Ms. Lowe, what a tangled web you weave! This novel has more plot twist than you can shake a stick at. The Gathering of the Lost maintains an incredible, fast paced and intrigue-laden narrative which left me in genuine surprise. I worried – where were our beloved protagonists? I panicked – new characters? now?! But this is all part of Helen Lowe’s masterful plan. Just read, enjoy and all will be revealed.

The writing, as in the previous novel, is absolutely beautiful. Almost poetic in her descriptions and with a wealth of new cities, locations and characters to explore, Lowe’s writing creates a breathtaking backdrop for the narrative. Her worldbuilding is flawless and beyond the Wall, Haarth is an exciting and colourful place populated by a myriad of different people which I genuinely can’t wait to explore further!

This novel takes place five years after the first and during those years our protagonists have grown and developed to become true adversaries to the Darkswarm. And if you were worried by having a thirteen year old protagonist in the first novel, then fear not! She is now an adult! The new characters are endearing and intrinsic to the plot, the Patrol is mysteriously fascinating, and the side characters from the first novel are now an essential and established part of the storyline.

This book is an incredible read – fast paced, beautifully written and even better than the first! I would happily nudge it up to five stars if I didn’t expect Daughter of Blood to be even better! If you’ve never read anything by Helen Lowe, this is the time. I couldn’t recommend this series enough.

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