Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 2 – Blade of Fortriu (N)

The Blade of Fortriu

Juliet Marillier

Ana of the Light Isles is to be sent to make a strategic alliance for King Bridei with the Caitt in the North. Little does she know not everything is as it seems in Lord Alpin’s domain and the one person she will have to rely on is someone she cannot stand. Bridei’s right-hand man, Faolan.

Again there is a very clear romance throughout this book. However this time we have a love triangle set up between Ana, Faolan, and Drustan. Though it’s clear relatively early that the partnership will be Ana and Drustan. Again the threads of romance are wonderfully woven between the characters with enough time spent on each that we have an excellent understanding of the characters motivations and the growth that occur. Even with the new character on the scene in Drustan. Honestly, even with how wonderful Ana and Drustan are together, my heart ached for Faolan. His character growth was the best of all – even though it is clear he has more growing to do later.

Early on when Ana was being courted by Alpin it was a bit nerve wracking. But the more that the story progressed the clearer it was that he wasn’t ending up with him, snake that he was. An immense relief really.

The other part I liked about the romance, because that really was a focus of this story, was how even though Faolan had Feelings for Ana there was always a clear line of respect Faolan had both for Ana and Drustan. A respect that was reciprocated. The way Ana and Drustan loved each other didn’t preclude other ties. Even though it wasn’t the bond that Faolan wanted, he saw and respect the bond they shared in return. the complexity of those interactions towards the end of the books were marvelous and enthralling. It’s not a wonder I went on a binge of reading this author when this is the level of interaction the characters have throughout her books. Another 5-stars.

 

Review: Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 1 – The Dark Mirror (N)

The Dark Mirror
Juliet Marillier
Bridei is being raised for great things, but he doesn’t know enough about them yet. When he rescues the foundling Tuala, he doesn’t know how this will change the course of his destiny. There is a very strong and clear romance to this book. Some of the moments you don’t see coming, and others you do, but all of them blend into each other in a gripping tale.
There is just enough information from the various perspectives to allow insight into the important characters. Enough for you to see how their actions reflect their motivations. Granted there are some you know far better than others Bridei and Tuala for instance get plenty of insight into how they feel and why the actions they take make sense.
I went into this knowing that its a trilogy so when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an ending I wasn’t too surprised. Thankfully I had the next two books to dive right into. The ending pace feels urgent – not too surprising given the events that are unfolding. That urgency communicates to the reader effortlessly. During that last section of the book I could not put it down at all. I just needed to know!
I also loved all the small details into Pictish history. Granted this is historical fiction not fact but it was clear that Marillier do her due diligence. It left me with a desire to dive into the history to learn more. The only reason I didn’t is because I had the next two books to read! 5-stars from me

Review: Juliet Marillier – Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves) (N)

Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves)

Juliet Marillier

Dreamer’s Pool

If you were given a second chance at life from an executioner, even if it meant putting aside the one thing you were surviving for and abiding by rules that go against the grain of who you are for seven years, would you take it? This is the choice given to Blackthorn. She chooses life, bitter and regretful with the only thought of getting through those seven years to come right back to the same place to fight for justice. In return for her freedom from an unjust imprisonment by her enemy, Blackthorn has promised the Fae noble Conmael to use her healers gifts for good, answer all calls for help she hears, and seek no vengence. It honestly seems a little random that this comes at the beginning and its clear that Blackthorn will struggle to adhere to the restrictions set.

Once she gets to a place where she will be safe from re-imprisonment and sets up shop so to speak with her cell-mate Grim who was the first to ask her help without words no less. She is presented with a puzzle in the form of the Prince Oran’s betrothed, Flidais, who has recently arrived and appears to be so completely different from the maiden the Oran courted.

Overall the book was an excellent read to me. I liked how there was a deep platonic support between Blackthorn and Grim. That while it was clear she was frustrated she was bound to help him from her promise, his presence gave her someone who understood that hellscape of a prison they both escaped. Together they unravel the mystery of Flidais and the connection to the Dreamer’s Pool. Throughout the book there are enough hints that you can figure out the mystery right along with Blackthorn and Grim and the PoV switches between them both allowing a good insight into how their thoughts work.

Tower of Thorns

The second entry in the Blackthorn & Grim series. Both Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their life at Winterfells and have the support and goodwill of Prince Oran and his wife Flidais.

Now its an outside mystery that comes calling and ends up taking Blackthorn and Grim along for the ride. A noblewoman from the west comes looking for help and while Blackthorn is reluctant, the appearance of a friend from her past sways her decision to help. Again this book has hints of a standard fairytale. You can see how the threads are progressing as the story develops but as ever there is a slight twist away from the expected that just makes for a satisfying ending all around.

This book gives us more details into both Blackthorn and Grim’s past before they ended up in that prison together. Those details are a heart-rending as you would expect for two people who basically deemed themselves irredeemable. Together they seem to slowly get through their pain together. But there were some instances where I just which someone would give one or the other a shake to wake them up to what they were doing. It’s so clear throughout that Blackthorn and Grim rely and support each other in equal partnership. There isn’t romance in the traditional expected way but that level of support just shows how deeply important they have become to each other that they really would be a little lost without the other there.

Den of Wolves

The final book of the Blackthorn and Grim series. Again they are drawn into solving a mystery but unlike the previous mystery this time they are left having to solve the different part of the mystery separately. It makes for additional strain on their relationship but in the end the distance makes it so very clear that they what they share together is more precious then they ever would have thought.

This time we have a young woman caught up in a mystery of her birth and a man who has been returned from the fae realm. Again it’s up to Blackthorn and Grim to solve the mystery. But this time they are having to do it separately. The most frustrating part of this as the reader is because we get both viewpoints we know the information that would be so useful for them to share if they could just a get a moment to indeed share it. It made for a much more thrilling read than I would expect. And it demonstrated that both Blackthorn and Grim are very clever in that they can get most of the way through a mystery on their own. But there were key details that they each needed from each other for the whole story to become clear.

Overall it was an excellent read and I loved the development between Blackthorn and Grim in how they supported each other and so clearly wanted each other. This was seen in the little moments rather than the big events. In how they left unintended messages for each other when they kept just missing the time they needed together. Those moments and their reflections on those moments were poignant. Because it happened alongside this mystery rather than separate from it. Often this is missed in fiction is that the big events are the focus and the small detail that build a relationship and let it grow aren’t shown at all. Not so here, the small details a woven in wonderfully.

 

This series was my second exposure to Juliet Mariller and they were all so very satisfying. I loved Tamora Pierce as a teenager and Marillier hits the same notes that I loved then as an adult. It was a complete pleasure to read the Blackthorn and Grim series. The slow development of their friendship and partnership was just enjoyable between their adventures and problem solving. More than that the solid depiction that just being there together helped them made me happy. Solid 5-stars and I will no doubt come back to these books in the future when I’m craving a read that plunges me into another world so thoroughly.

Review: Juliet Marillier – Shadowfell series (Shadowfell, Ravenflight, The Caller) (N)

Shadowfell series (Shadowfell, Raven Flight, The Caller)

Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell

Neryn has always been able to see the Good Folk and in her world this has always been dangerous. Once alone and in danger it becomes the only reason she survives. More than that it becomes key to discovering her little ability is more than she ever thought.

Shadowfell starts off quick, plunging us into the world from Neryn’s PoV. This remains consistent throughout the series that we work from Neryn’s view. There are brief interludes in the form of letters to from another character Flint, that provide extra information for the reader and layer extra world-building so that we as the reader have just a tiny bit of extra information to work with.

The journey to the titular Shadowfell feels perilous and honestly is an excellent example that not everyone is a camping/survival expert. Particularly not 15 year old girls. No matter how often they have had to forage before. This alone make it unique in the troubles Neryn has in just getting to her destination. The struggles feel realistic. There isn’t always a deus ex machina to get her out of the problem she stumbles into. Often it’s Flint who manages to find her then do the requisite nursing back to health. A bit of a turn around from the standard trope of the boy who gets injured/sick and is nursed back to health by the girl.

There is enough early set-up for Neryn’s journey and the reasoning for why going to Shadowfell makes sense. I would have liked a little more detail on why or how the kingdom has gotten to this point but given that it’s a young adult target that is probably too much to expect.

Raven Flight

Neryn has made it to Shadowfell and become a critical part of the rebel’s plan to free the country from the tyrannical King. She need to master her abilities, proving that she can indeed become a Caller.

Alot of Raven Flight is anchored in Neryn helping the rebels set up an early system and working relationship with the Good Folk. Demonstrating that a Caller is less a commander and more a intermediary that allows these conversations to happen in the first place.

This book also starts Neryn’s intentional learning in how to be a Caller with what are called the Guardians. Embodiment’s of the four cardinal directions and four elements. We saw the first, The Master of Shadows, in the first book though we didn’t really know it at the time. This book sees Neryn finding the Hag of the Isles and Lord of the North to continue her training. We also see more of Flint and Neryn’s romance that is not. Since they really don’t want to become entangled while trying to overthrow the Kind. Sensible if difficult, since feelings don’t listen.

Bit more of a struggle with this book since the pacing is a little choppy with the traveling and stopping to learn. The emotions that Neryn and more importantly Flint deal with are achingly real to read more than make up for that choppy pacing. We get to see a little more of what Flint deals with too in his spy role and how much that weighs on him. Again I wish we would could read more of the other side of this rather than the stock tyrant king.

The Caller

Neryn has one more Guardian to find to complete her training as a Caller. The White Lady, who is the most elusive. There also appears another who has a similar gift to Neryn as a Caller but no where near her level of ethics.

Time is running out and the presence of the other Caller makes it even harder for Neryn to reconcile that those she Calls will be in danger in a fight that they would otherwise abstain from.

The lack of ethics in the other Caller was less a complete absence and just a lack of understanding. It was hard to comprehend he couldn’t see the Good Folk as actually people. But by the time he had come forth we’ve already had Neryn’s considerate approach as a standard expectation. The last book tied up a lot of the loose ends nicely in the story. We even get a little more detail on the other side even if it is just from direct observation. The queen and her adviser appear to be pieces of work. And the so called tyrant king appears to be more weak-willed than I would have expected given how the state of the world is attributed mainly to the king and not the royals in general. In the end we have a solid resolution to the story that is satisfying and show’s Neryn’s growth as a Caller and her considerate nature aligning well.

I read these 3 novels all in rapid succession. Marillier’s work has that tendency for me to be gripping enough that I want to read the next installment rather than wait. However even if i didn’t read them one after another they still would have been excellent reads to wait for. My main qualm with them was the one-sidedness of the story, there were clear instances of how the world got to this point. And the last book gave some excellent details about how it wasn’t always this way. But gosh I wanted more – to be fair Marillier does present multiple sides in her other book excellently which possibly set that expectation. That said, excellent young adult novels and they made for a relaxing set of evenings between reading other adult targeted works by Marillier. Solid 4-stars from me.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Apex (N)

Apex
Mercedes Lackey

After discovering the plot in the sewers, and protecting Apex from a mass invasion. Joy continues to protect the city with her Hounds. With new allies things seem brighter than ever. But there are forces among the Othersiders and within the city who are conspiring for their own agendas.

The third installment in the Hunter series give a good continuation to the second book. Not an easy task since the second book ended post a climatic battle and triumph. The tension stays high with Joy stepping carefully around the Psicorp leader who she encountered in the previous book.

We have Joy teaming up with new Hunters helping lend a hand to the Elite. This get more Hound descriptions! Which makes me happy, I loved the descriptions of the different hounds and their different abilities. Another aspect of this that I loved was that even though Joy and the other Elite are just that, they still ask for an get help from the other Hunters. It embodies the feel of its about teamwork first and foremost. And that there is nothing wrong with stating extra hands are needed.

We get more of an outside focus beyond the city of Apex in this book. Which is a nice expansion to the world. As well as a few more new characters from the Othersiders. It gives a small fraction of the other side of the fence so to speak. Like A small taste of the greater details. It’s a frustrating balance that Lackey didn’t quite manage this time around. I wanted to know more. Overall the book left me thinking that there must be another book coming because it felt like there were too many holes in the series overall.

I mentioned a few about Ace and about the plots Joy uncovered in the first and second books. we got a couple of those resolved but additional larger mysteries that we don’t manage to get answers to sadly. Another thing that bothered me was a couple of locations seemed to get rehashed. Joy visited a noodle shop in the second book. Then when she goes back here in this book its like she never had visited. More annoying is that we get a bigger issue with the Folk not being known to teleport and Joys surprise regarding this. Yet in the first book she notes the Folk mage she encounters early on teleports. It was frustrating to have such errors in what was otherwise an enjoyable read to me.

Overall, it really feels like there should be another book following up after this to really close out the series. But just because I want more detail about the behind the scenes plots doesn’t mean Joy will actually learn about the motives of other characters. Much like the real world. It was a relaxed low stress read for me, desire to know more aside.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elite (N)

Elite
Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Joy has largely settled in Apex. She’s managed to advance to Elite Hunter and now has a new mission from her Uncle, the city’s Prefect. However danger and conspiracy abound as she traverses the sewers beneath the city.

This makes for a nice follow up to Hunter. We get to see more details about life in Apex. Beyond the superstar treatment the previous book gave Joy for generally being a new hunter with impressive skills. There are additional characters we get to know as well as a clearing picture about some of the Othersiders only briefly mentioned before. We also get more information on some previous characters from the first book. They get additional time for us to get to know more than the picture they display the world which gives the world more depth and feeling.

One of the great things is the way different Hunters are portrayed with different skills. It gives a great element of team work between hunters, combining their skills and magic to overcome the odds.

We do see Ace again, after his previous downfall. Towards the end there is a feeling of more at play in the overall story but it doesn’t really eventuate in this book to anything concrete. It could just be a small detail that we will never know since the story is told from Joy’s point of view. Only time will tell.

As with the previous book definitely targeted towards the younger side of young adult. But a good leisure read for adults that don’t want something deep or heavy thought to read. Again sits somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Hunter (N)

Hunter
Mercedes Lackey

Monsters came forth from the Otherside after the Diseray. The catastrophe destroying human civilisation. But something else came with them, the last hope, the Hounds. Joyeaux Charmand is a hunter for her small community and has been for a long time. Now called to serve Apex City, where the best hunters protect the most important people.

I’ve been a fan of Lackey’s writing since I was much younger so I’m always eager to read a new one of her novels. This one was a different feel to her Valdemar series. I enjoyed reading about the different Hounds that different hunters have and learning about the way the world was in this novel. I enjoyed a large degree of the descriptions – since Joy is essentially a newcomer to Apex she notices things in a lot of detail that provides some excellent fodder for imagining the scene. We learn a lot in the first few chapters in a way that is very sudden. So keeping it in mind through the book is a bit difficult. The writing is geared towards young adult readers but makes for a relaxing read for an adult.

Very post-apocalyptic feel, with a good helping of redevelopment of politics. Though there is only the barest fringe of that holding center stage in the book. I mostly enjoyed the characters, there were some oversimplifications between the main character Joy and the people she interacts with. But nothing that made the book unreadable. The characters that are clearly in Joy’s corner are notable and different. Though there is a degree of one-dimensional-ness to them that gradually begins to fade when joy interacts a bit more.

There was at least one loose end regarding Hunter Ace, a semi antagonist of Joy. Just a throw-away line that just seems to be mentioned and never brought up or explored again. I would have loved to know a little more background beyond him being arrogant for arrogance’s sake. Still it was nice to see how Joy approached and handled the pressure.

This was a re-read for me, as Lackey remains a good comfort read. But to give it a rating I think it was sit somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It really can’t match with story depth that shows good and bad for all characters. But comfort reads have their place as well.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer (N)

Oathbringer
Brandon Sanderson

The Parshendi of the Shattered Plains have fallen but at terrible cost. The Everstorm has come and irrevocably changed the Parshmen of the world. One success, they have uncovered the lost city of the Radiant Knights, Urithiru. Dalinar realises that his goal of uniting the 10 Highprinces was not enough and sets his sights on uniting the world in the face of the return of the Voidbringers. But to do this Dalinar must confront his past and all the pain therein.

I was lucky enough to basically read the first three books of the Stormlight Archive for the first time, one after the other right before the fourth book came out. So there have been a lot of connections and inklings made as I’ve read the books, much to the delight of the other Sanderson Fan in the house. Having the little details of the past filled in makes for incredible reading. Often my perception of a character got turned on its head as the details were filled in. The small quotes at the beginning of some chapters provide a little bit of insight though usually only in retrospect did I realise that they were offering that insight. It made for the best sort of game when i was able to catch those details.

Just like the previous two books provided backstory details on Kaladin and Shallan repectively. The backstory in this book was about Dalinar. And oh goodness, were there are ton of details. I had a perception of Dalinar before this book. And he wasn’t my favourite character. He still isn’t, but I can relate to him a little more. Some of his flashbacks were heart-rending. Mainly because there is a weight of experience to Dalinar’s memories. It does come to a a head towards the end of the book in the best possible way.

Interestingly, I’m still very on the fence on who my favourite character is. Because there are aspects of a lot of characters that I enjoy. Kaladin’s fierce desire to protect, Shallan’s struggle with her past and her mind, Adolin’s cheerful nature, Navani’s organised approach and scientific rigour. I think at the moment I appreciate Adolin the most because he knows he is only a person in the wake of the return of the Radiant Knights. But he still wants to be the best version of him.

The main part of a Sanderson book that I love the most is that it makes you think. And it give you the chance to catch the Easter eggs. I’ll definitely be re-reading these books again in the future. Because I know I didn’t catch all the hints and I look forward to catching them. If you haven’t read this series, or are on the fence about it definitely give them a try. They won’t disappoint if you are a fan of epic fantasy. These books fit the term in an incredibly satisfying way.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance (N)

Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson

The war on the Shattered Plains continues with no end in sight. Kaladin pushes to keep his people safe, even as he is conflicted between his anger and what is right. Dalinar seeks to end the war with the Parshendi while struggling to understand the path he must take to move forward. Shallan finds herself caught between lies and truth, all the while attempting to ignore the pain of her past. The Everstorm comes and will overtake them all if they cannot unite.

I don’t know where to even start with this book. It was a ride from start to finish. A little slow in places but each story line works parallel to the others. So while one story line might be slow the others may be filling in background knowledge or moving forward. Keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. I had trouble putting the book down at all since I wanted to know what would happen. We get to know each of the characters a little more, as well as getting insight between the characters now that they are in the same place. I couldn’t begin to say who my favourite is, since I love them all for different reasons. Kal is completely bull-headed but has the advantage of being the first character you get to know. Adolin could easily be put into the role of typical privileged noble, but isn’t. Shallan is the back story focus this time around. And I’m beginning to like her more for the twists and turns that her story takes. Her growing more of a spine on her own only helps there.

Sanderson as ever, takes the story line and twists it on its head. You can tell so much planning has gone into these books. Finding out that there was more going on behind the scenes with the Parshendi was a kick to the guts. That perspective makes it hard to totally side with the characters that you have known from The Way of Kings. Sanderson remains top class when it comes to trope breaking and I really cannot get enough of it.

One aspect of these books I adore are the interludes where we get a little bit of extra information about the world of Roshar in general, hints about what may happen with the actual narrative, and what I am sure in some cases are set-up for later books. Given that this is the second book of a planned 10, there is a lot that is only just getting set up to ensure a good flow from start to finish.

This is definitely 5 stars from me. I could not put these books down, and I loved the way these books made me thinks as the characters struggled and came to realisations about themselves and the world. I will definitely be reading them again in the future.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings (N)

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Everything has grown or develop ways to handle those storms. Ten consecrated orders existed once, now long gone but their weapons and armour persist. The Shardblades and Shardplate of the Radiant Knights, capable of transforming men into near invincible warriors. Linchpins of wars.

This book has a three main characters, plus a few extra characters that provide context and world building. The three main characters are Kaladin – an apprentice surgeon turned soldier turned slave; Dalinar – a highprince and skilled general, fearing for his sanity; and Shallan – an unskilled girl with a love of learning, planning a daring theft.

Most of the other extra characters provide information in the interludes between parts of the book. Though Dalinar’s son Adolin sometimes features during the main parts – most often during Dalinar’s section providing context and extra information regarding the war camps that Dalinar has a role in commanding.

I’ve never minded having multiple viewpoints in a book but Sanderson in particular has a distinct skill for each character possessing a distinct personality and motivations. It’s always clear which character you are with and what section of the story is the current focus. There is a focus for whose background you are getting the most information from though. In this book the focus of back story is Kaladin. There are various chapters throughout where we learn of Kaladin’s past. How he becomes and soldier and how he ends up a slave. As ever struggling to protect the people he claims as his own. Despite the length of this book (which is divided into two no less) it was a quick read, and I was able to jump into it so very easily. Even though I didn’t want to put it down (sleep? what is sleep?) I never had any trouble reorienting where I was in the novel. As I got to the end of the second book there were small hints of information, this is an epic world-building in every sense. There are small scraps of information woven throughout that you might not notice fulling on the first reading.

You could read this book as its separate parts quite easily, the selected break point makes sense for the story and still leaves you with a completed feeling for the novel, but finishing the first part left me and an overwhelming desire to dive straight into the second part. But if you aren’t sure, or have less time then you do have that option. Overall, definitely a 5-star read for me and I’m looking forward to an eventual reread to catch small details that I missed the first time around. There are quite a few that I caught. but others that I obviously missed.