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A Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksBefore starting A Court of Broken Knives I was reading Leviathan Wakes. For those who haven't read Leviathan Wakes, it's a really easy and smooth read, fast and fun. You fly through pages without realizing it. Opening A Court of Broken Knives I had to not just pump the breaks but slam on them. The writing is thick and poetic. It isn't the type of prose that you fly through, each word is loaded. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the writing, I did and it didn't bother me to slow down this much. It reminded me of the mind set I have when reading someone like Bakker or Erikson. It's a different approach. The book switches from first person to third person and omniscient POVs and some readers can be put off by that. The action scenes are specially enthralling, putting you in a position of not only seeing what the characters see but the feelings and thoughts they have during these events. You feel uneasy and a sense of chaos happening all around you. The sentences and word give you a sense of panic and that you have no control or sense of all that's going on, a tunnel vision that makes sense during a battle like this from a characters perspective fighting for their life. It reminded me of the uneasy feeling I had reading someone like Adrian Selby. We switch POV's now and then but stick with each character enough to grab onto them and attach yourself to them. It jumps around but not too often. There aren't many characters that you really truly root for, but I wanted to know more about them and how they fit into the world. None of them are completely likable and you can go from feeling sorry for them and the next minute fearing what they'll do because they are so unpredictable. Their motivations aren't always clear, but that adds to the suspense and political maneuvering. Lots of political maneuvering and even some double crosses. You never really trust anyone, the world is gritty and unforgiving. The world is on the verge of something having go give and you feel it rocking back and fourth knowing something will give soon. It's fascinating how the world uses religion as means of control. The traditions change over time, so what starts out as a necessary sacrifice becomes less often when it's not as popular. Some absolutely brutal scenes that play out because of these traditions or beliefs. How those traditions can be manipulated and controlled by outside forces or people in positions of power. We learn about the history and the past, creating a clearer idea of what their motivations may be. You start to wonder if prolonged periods of peace are intentionally sabotaged over the course of our own history. Do we crave conflict? Do we get bored when it's peaceful for too long? If you like to go into books blind, avoid the synopsis.
Obsidian: Awakening by Sienna Frost Review
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksObsidian Awakening is one of those books that feel easy to read, but when you look back you realize how much depth it had. How much you've learned about the world, the politics and the characters without feeling like you at the time. The characters and world are so clear and defined that you feel like you've read a few books in the series already. All of the characters have something they struggle with or something that happens to them that changes them in a positive or negative way. How they deal with what happens to them is so fascinating. There are some absolutely heart breaking scenes but they happen for a reason and serve the story. It's established pretty quickly that anything can and will happen, nobody is safe and the characters you begin to latch onto won't be spared. All of the characters get enough time that you get to know all of them, they are all flawed and are dealing with trauma. The world is lush and vivid. Lots of maneuvering and politics, making you wonder what will happen next or what is really going on and what everyone's motivations really are. Sienna Frost also explores the cost of survival and civilizations. What leaders must do to keep order, to keep everyone fed and alive. How do you rule over so many people and keep them motivated? Would you trade freedom for security? Would you rather be safe behind walls and part of the machine or be free and vulnerable to the many dangers in the world? So many details I'm sure I missed on the first read, this one is just begging for a re-read. Not because it's hard to follow, but because there are so many details sprinkled in that will be relevant later in the series.
Seraphina's Lament by Sarah Chorn
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksBefore we get into the review, we should talk first about Sarah Chorn. Sarah is an author, editor, blogger, reviewer and editor at Grimdark Magazine. I don't know how she finds time in the day. I wasn't quite sure to what to expect with Seraphina's Lament. The over looks like a dark fantasy and grimdark mix with a touch of horror. That's pretty much what it is, but it managed to have me invested in the characters and world in ways that doesn't happen too often. The story revolves around a group of characters who live in a world of oppression and struggle from a government that controls their lives and livelihoods. I don't want to say too much about this part of the story because it's something that unravels as you read, but you can feel the oppressive nature of this government and it's control over some of our characters. The odds are stacked against them and it's just hard to enough to stay alive. There is little hope at times. In the darkest of times you'll find glimpses of humanity, people doing their small part knowing in the big picture it's futile but still refusing to bend. Sarah's writing style is very lyrical and poetic. I found myself writing down lines from the book because they were so well constructed and beautiful, sometimes even laughing during a really troubling scene because the word choices were just so clever. When I was about halfway through this book, author and friend P.L. Stuart mentioned this book was as dark as Michael R. Fletcher's Beyond Redemption. At the time I didn't think it was that dark, but after finishing I can agree it's on par with that world in having you feel the hopelessness the characters feel. There is one death in particular that really got to me. While reading it my heart was pounding because we could see this death coming for a while now but you almost become accustomed to something happening to prevent this horrible thing from happening to a character you are invested in. But I also knew Sarah wasn't going to pull any punches and the world that has already been established set the table that this isn't that kind of world. The final moments of this character was something I didn't want to read but I couldn't put it down. When it was over, I had to set the book down and walk around for a few minutes. There are different character arcs that we follow, but we spend enough time with each one that switching back and fourth didn't bother me. When we switch POV's too fast and too often I have difficulty being invested, but that wasn't the case here. The arcs all come together at some point and everything becomes clear when they do. The conclusion was very satisfying and left me feeling like I just read a story bigger than what I thought I was reading, left me with questions I didn't expect. This is one of my favorite books of the year, it will easily make my top 10 or even 5. If you're a fan of dark fantasy, grimdark, fantasy or horror you should give Saraphina's Lament a try. It's available on Kindle Unlimited and fairly short for a fantasy book, about 344 pages.
The Winter Road by Adrian Selby
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksI had high expectations for this book, it's been one I've been looking forward to for a while. But I didn't expect it to have this much of an impact on me. This is one of the few books I didn't mind reading the synopsis, it gives you just enough detail to tell you about the story without spoiling anything. We follow Teyr, who is on a mission to travel through the Circle, which is an untamed land full of warlords and warring clans she used to call home. This book starts off with a bang. You know within the first few pages what kind of ride this is going to be. Or do you? In this world herbs are almost like drugs. With the right recipe you can craft all sorts of brews that can do all sorts of things, good and bad. I'm picky about action, especially in fantasy books. The action scenes in The Winter Road are quick, disorienting and visceral. During the fight scenes you feel like you're there and the world is spinning around you. There's a brutal, violent and moving story between these pages that are going to stick with me for a while. It's not just a story about the Circle and our main character Teyr. There is lots of traveling, and you can feel the distance - it wears on you. The environment is oppressive. The danger is always present. You never feel safe. When things really get going the story takes some absolutely devastating twists and turns. As the story unraveled I thought about life. About getting older and our bodies shutting down. About the passage of time, no matter how hard you try there will always be something in your way, some obstacle to overcome. This is a story about life, history, time, getting older and love. When I flipped the last page of the book I kept thinking about the story, that's the kind of story I love. Favorite quote, no spoilers
Obsidian: Awakening is free on Amazon
Steve posted a topic in Fantasy & GrimdarkObsidian: Awakening is free on Amazon, grab your copy! Will be reading this soon for whoever wants to read with me https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09MB94GCY
Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksBefore I started Edge of the Breach, I heard about how dark and brutal it is. That piqued my interest. I don't put much stock into reviews but when a book has been described as grimdark and has a high rating average it's pretty unusual. Usually a book that's really dark will have some lower ratings because people can't stomach it. Then I found author Halo Scot on Twitter and it's the funniest account I follow. So, what gives? This is a post apocalyptic world where the season of your birth determines your power. There are spring healers, summer mages, fall shapeshifters and winter shields. There's also a hole in the sky called a Rift, a portal to the gods. This is how the gods rule what's left of civilization. In Edge of the Breach I found myself conflicted and started to question how much I'm going to let a character get away with. We follow two main characters through their childhood, learning about what they've been through and witness their transformation as they get older. When one character in particular did really awful things, I would give them a pass because of their experiences sometimes. Did their victims deserve what they did to them? When is it going too far? I became attached to the characters and saw them evolve. The way they deal with their pain and traumas was especially well done, it's never neat and easy. We all deal with these types of experiences differently and have our own processes. How much do those experiences change us? That's explored very well without banging you over the head with it. It's subtle. And Halo isn't afraid to kill characters. The banter between the characters and crude humor offer relief from the violence and occasional hopelessness. There is definitely some effective dark humor. There is some world building but I think it's safe to say the first book in this series is more setup and character focused. The magic system and powers are so much fun. There's enough in the first book to get your footing in the world but not be overwhelming. I'm more of a character driven reader so I enjoy it when it's not too heavy on the magic systems or world right off the bat. The setting almost reminded me of Dune if it was grimdark. Pacing is pretty damn good, there were a couple of points here and there that had me wondering where we're going but for the most part it is pedal to the metal let's go. In regards to the violence and brutality, this may be one of the violent books I've read. There are a couple of scenes that caught me by surprise, but I'm into that sort of thing. It is very bleak and unforgiving. When I finished I went back and read my notes and gave myself some time to reflect and decompress, I couldn't think of anything that I really didn't enjoy. Other than a few very short moments that the pacing felt a little bit off I can't think of anything that bothered me. The world, characters and magic system were all top notch and I love dark, brutal and unforgiving stories with characters that make you question your own judgement. Favorite quote:
Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksOn rare occasions I start a book and immediately feel like the book was written for me. When I started Gunmetal Gods I felt like I was home. Too often in fantasy characters are one dimensional. This is the hero. This is the villain. Here are reasons to love the hero and hate the villain. In Gunmetal Gods the characters are complex and leave you questioning who you should be rooting for or against. Wait, can you be rooting for all of them? They do evil things, good things, terrible things but they are also fragile and weak. They carry their scars, emotionally and physically, they are cowards. They aren't just good or bad, they are people, flawed and damaged. They follow their faith and beliefs, making decisions and sacrifices they believe are for the greater good. The world is full and vivid. Without a bunch of info dumps you learn bits and pieces about the world of Gunmetal Gods. Religion, war, history and values all become clear to you as you journey through this world. You learn the creatures that inhabit the world, the gods they worship and the history that these characters hope to preserve or destroy. The battles aren't often, but they are a huge part of the story. When there are battles, you pay attention because you aren't sure what will happen. You don't know who will live, die or become a prisoner (which may be the worst fate). Reading how these battles play out had me on the edge of my seat and wanting to close my eyes when I read what happens next, knowing the battle is just the beginning. What happens after the battles is sometimes much worse than the battle itself. War is brutal, unforgiving, violent and terrible. Zamil Akhtar doesn't shy away from those horrors or their aftermath. I was immersed into the world, it's politics, religion, history and battles and captivated by the characters and their histories. Learning about their lives, success, losses and failures was as much fun as I've had reading a fantasy series since the Ash and Sand trilogy. Favorite lines, no spoilers: Later this month I'll be talking with Zamil Akhtar, P.L. Stuart, @MaedBetweenthePages and @Lana (Lore & Lullabies) discussing Gunmetal Gods. My only complaint is I have to wait until after that to start book two.🤘
Stone & Shield by Thomas J. Devens
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksStone and Shield is the first entry in the Fall of Emros series and a good way to describe the genre would be grimdark adjacent. It rides the line between fantasy and grimdark but I would say leans more into grimdark territory maybe if it's just a little bit. The first half or so of the book is setting up the world, establishing the players and giving you a feel for how everything works. In the second half the action really ramps up and there are some fun battle scenes. The battle scenes don't last for pages, not even half a page sometimes but that makes them more effective. When violence happens, it's sudden. I say it leans more into grimdark territory because Thomas J. Devens has a knack for getting you comfortable with certain characters, convincing you they'll be around a while only to surprise you when they suddenly and violently meet their demise at unexpected times. The banter between the characters gives us some humor breaks between the violence and brutality. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, I struggle with long character names in fantasy. There were times I was confused with who was who and had to look back to make sure I had the right character in my mind. One of the characters is quickly becoming one of my favorites in fantasy, but I always have that nagging worry that she'll be killed at any moment. It's that kind of series. There's some themes being played with here that left me thinking after I finished the book. The cycle of violence, friendship, cruelty, what power does to people and how different age groups perceive and handle that power. Overall it's a solid first entry in the Fall of Emros series and I'm looking forward to digging into book two: Split Paths. Stone and Shield can be found here on Amazon and is available on Kindle Unlimited
Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell Review
Steve posted a blog entry in Steve's Talks BooksKings of Paradise is the first installment in the Ash and Sand trilogy Synopsis: What I Liked: The plot moves smoothly from one POV to the other, each character has it's own distinct voice and background. The characters make both heroic and horrific decisions though the story, but because you feel as though you've been on this journey with them you have a little bit of sympathy when you probably shouldn't. You care for the characters in the world even when they make awful decisions. The world is dark and unforgiving. There are a few moments in this book when you see disaster and death being set in motion but because we are used to something coming in at the last minute and saving characters you start to care about you dismiss it and think something will come and save them. Not in this world. There are some deaths that took me by surprise and it establishes early on that this isn't that type of story. Nobody is safe and none of the characters are perfect. This is that kind of book. There are some characters that you begin to despise because of what they do to our main characters, but with the rules being setup in this world you realize they may continue their treachery because they are so good at it. This is a testament to the author for making us care about the main characters and hating those who want to harm them. There were several moments in this book that I had to stop and say "What the... no way this is going to happen." and most of the time it does happen. The characters have a nice arc, through the book their journey weighs on you and you feel the weight of each decision they make. We've all been through those moments when we thought something or someone was the world to us, but later we realize it or they weren't. You grow and learn, that was well represented here. The story goes from violence to character history to love story and back to violence and treachery seamlessly. There is a subtle mention of a scent described in this book that perfectly describes how scents can bring back memories of the past or people from the past. What I Didn't Like: There were a few moments in the book that you wonder where the plot is going or what this means in the big picture. Something I struggle with in lots of fantasy books is keeping track of all the names when they are similar. It's a minor negative, but I found myself going back and trying to remember who was who when names were similar. I would have liked a little bit more world building, but with the characters being so strong it didn't bother me too much. One of the characters learns a skill a little faster then I expected, but it's another minor complaint. Conclusion and Rating: I don't like coming of age stories. They aren't for me. Because I like to go into books blind, I didn't realize this was a coming of age story. What appealed to me about this book is I heard it was dark and unforgiving. What surprised me is how much I loved the coming of age aspects of the story, how the characters grew and evolved was so well done. We can all relate to how we change though our lives and as the characters grow and reflect, and that was masterfully done. The book is 599 pages long, but it felt like half that. The world is a violent, dark and dangerous place - you get the feeling there may not be a happy ending. Because we get to know these characters when they were young and know what they've been through, you begin to care for them and instead of hating them when they do awful things you wonder why. There aren't many pulled punches, this isn't that kind of story. This is easily one of my top two or three books I've read and is already a contender for book of the year. It's not for everyone because of some of the themes and violence, but if that doesn't bother you it's definitely a book you should check out. I think it goes without saying that I'm continuing this series and my books are already on their way from Amazon. It's also currently free on Kindle Unlimited. 4.5 boys playing in a grown up world out of 5 If some of the plot threads and characters from this book are smoothed out over the next two, my score will be a perfect 5 out of 5