A Raven Bound With Lilies by Storm Constantine – 4/5 Stars

A Raven Bound With Lilies by Storm Constantine - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re given a glimpse of the world of the androgynous beyond-human Wraeththu in this anthology published by Storm Constantine’s Immanion Press. There are stories Storm Constantine wrote from the 1970s, in her first exploration of the Wraeththu, and then much later, covering the full spectrum of Wraeththu struggle: to take their place as custodians of a ruined Earth, coming to terms with their reputation to humans as deadly magicians and evil catchers of young boys, coming across new variations of Wraeththu, and seeing the mistakes made in the glorious epoch of Wraeththu society’s golden age.

Favourite stories

We are given remarkable glimpses into the lives and characters we learn of in the first book The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, even going as far as to cover the creation of the Wraeththu species in the first story Paragenesis: the post-apocalyptic nature of Earth is one of the rich and the poor with the rich working repetitive shifts; and the poor and urban decay characterised by nature’s reclamation of the land, corners of crime and violence, gangs, and secret deeds made in blood. When visualising this post-apocalyptic world I saw focused rooms for interactions of the Wraeththu, showing luxury, war, excitement, and education.

One of my memorable stories was Pro Lucror, detailing the moments where two factions of the same tribe come head-to-head, and we know this will have a future impact on how Wraeththu will thrive as a species. An ‘alternative path’ to this war-like mindset is suggested, with some Wraeththu ‘hara’ wanting to step back from the bloodshed and chaos to seek a life elsewhere. In some of these stories, there was a bit of symbolism, of male versus female and how failure to accommodate both can lead to downfall, and this may be owing to the male Wraeththu wanting to dominate over power, decision-making, sexual encounters, and more. It makes you wonder how the beneficial unity is achieved between both halves of the Wraeththu, through inception, and how it is maintained afterward.

Painted Skin was another memorable favourite, about a fascinating Wraeththu who visits the main character’s performances, and they’re later introduced. We don’t know anything about this individual except it’s not your average Wraeththu ‘har’ and there is excitement, curiosity, and mystery; a suspect ‘wrongness’ of character coupled with sexual attraction. I loved the cultural atmosphere in this story, and how it takes us step-by-step on the road to discovering the identity of the Wraeththu har. The feeling I got from this story was worth every page.

Did I get what I wanted?

Yes, beyond those stories that were exceptional favourites, I did feel I was given a panoramic experience of Wraeththu life and perspectives, and it was what I was looking for. A Raven Bound With Lilies is another creation of Storm Constantine/Immanion Press that was a quality experience, and I recommend this anthology with confidence.

Immanion Press

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle – 5/5 Stars

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you who think you don’t need to read the book because you know of the story or you’ve watched the film, think again! The Hound of the Baskervilles is not just about a vicious horror hound. It’s a Sherlock Holmes story, and that means fast-paced dialogue, criminal mystery, and mental deduction to be resolved through intellectual reasoning from seemingly far-fetched clues.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, we’re introduced to the myth of the hound, how it has haunted the Baskerville family leading to the death of the late Sir Charles Baskerville in an alley outside the stately home. I confess, parts of the story had a creepy effect on me, which added to the general severe atmosphere: alleys, and paintings, and ponies sinking into bogs. I shudder.

If I have one criticism, it’s that there weren’t enough convincing suspects and in retrospect it was obvious who was culpable. Despite that, before reaching this conclusion the author does take us round the houses, taking our attention away when necessary only to bring it back at the crucial time. And the criminal was sinister and intelligent … almost a match for Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the book. A tired old title is not necessarily a tired old read. It was a quick read, yet stimulating, and there was never a dull moment. I’d like to read more of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.

The White-Luck Warrior by R Scott Bakker – 5/5 Stars

The White-Luck Warrior by R Scott Bakker - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorcerer-thinker Drusas Achamian hopes to find the home of the mind-reading Dunyain to learn the past of Aspect-Emperor Kellhus Anasurimbor who conquered the Three Seas and … let’s not forget … stole Achamian’s wife! On the trek to Ishual, he’s accompanied by his daughter, who is a spitting image of his wife and a constant reminder of his resolution to undo Kellhus.

There are mysteries on the trek, and the band is one of unsavoury characters headed by the unflinching murderer that is Captain Kosoter, who seems invincible and who none dare cross. Captain Kosoter has a hold over borderline-insane ancient sorcerer Cleric – who isn’t that bad really when you’re on his good side. Cleric holds a pouch full of black powder the band are addicted to and ritually consume, ‘Qirri’, but they don’t actually know what it is.

Much of TWLW follows Kellhus’ ‘Great Ordeal’, which is an army on a path to prevent a future apocalypse, from the point of view of king-without-a-backbone Sorweel, who never knows if he’s loyal to his dead father or whether he should just fit in and do as he’s told by his conquerors. He’s an intentionally weak character among the god-like Anasurimbor family and their immense army, composed as it is of what R Scott Bakker likes to call ignorant or prideful ‘men’, but who I think of as blabbering fools who aren’t keen on listening. The progression of the army and its encounters were fun, but not when they were from the point of view of the said blabbering fools!

It’s an engrossing book of immersive characters and situations in an endless flow of excellent material. However manipulative, heartless, violent, pathetic, despicable or flawed the characters are you can’t help but enjoy reading their trials and how weak, small, and vulnerable they feel in an overwhelming complex world. Do they put their loyalty or belief in this god or the other one, in this ruler or the other? I’d say TWLW was better than its predecessor The Judging Eye. TWLW puts you straight into the action, and doesn’t let go. There is always something happening. I’m anxious to read the next!

Author’s Website

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – 4/5 Stars

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Initial impressions*

Some of the initial impressions from EITA were that it was a young-adult dystopian story set in a fantasy world that resembles Roman times, but with the focus on the Martial training academy called Blackcliff, where young promising cadets are trained to one day replace the Emperor, whose dynasty is foreseen to perish. As you can imagine, things can get brutal at such a place and the Commandant is the worst; a sadist who inflicts pain on even the main characters. The Commandant’s own son, Elias, despises her.

*Characters*

I found Elias to be a complex and interesting character, running away from the misdeeds of his past, and his blood, to find freedom from a tyranny he’s part of, in his capacity as a Martial ‘Mask’. He sees his female friend Helene as a companion always forcing him to fit in and obey, but he sees more sides to her as the story goes on and they are tested. It could be that time spent with tribal elders has made Elias sympathetic to the plight of people.

The poverty and slavery class are the Scholars, ruled by the Martials. Daughter of Scholars, Laia, seeks to save her brother Darin from Martial prison and along the way fights doubts about her inadequacy, fear of Martial punishment, and how she feels about the reputation of her courageous parents in order to get information. She doesn’t know that she’ll have to deal with male attention, torture, and a more daring side of her nature. Her point of view was a unique contrast to Elias’, seeing Martial rule from a slave’s perspective. Though consequences could be dire, she was watched less than Elias and had the opportunity to learn more.

*The Story*

Just as the characters are complex and with depth, so the story is. There are events occurring outside the perspective of the characters, such as foretelling Augurs, supernatural demons, an Emperor riding south, and Laia’s older brother’s attempts at defying the Martials. I liked when more of the background to these was given, in conversational exchanges, and the reader develops a connected picture of the world. For me, it meant I got more from the story than what could have been, in another story, a narrow viewpoint.

The emotions among the main characters came off a bit strong about three-quarters through, until the end, and I found the story a touch too tragic for my taste. Perhaps it was inevitable after the suppressed emotional feelings. Elias came across as a rebel and so I would have liked him to have fought more against the Augurs and Trials than succumb amid everything else that happens. Elias didn’t entertain any further thoughts of escape after the beginning and I found the nature and conclusion of the Fourth Trial, about three-quarters through, to be disappointing. I think I understand that author Sabaa Tahir’s intention was to show him to be just as powerless as Laia.

*Conclusion*

EITA was immersive, capturing my attention every chapter, and it was what I felt to be an accomplishment in storytelling. I’d go as far to say that it’s the best young adult dystopian story I’ve read in years. This review was long, and there was much to think about.

An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads

An Ember in the Ashes on Amazon

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine – 5/5 Stars

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is a really ‘enchanting’ and absorbing story. There is religious mysticism, and it challenges stereotypical views of it. I’ve not read a book like this, having few references to compare with the themes and world, but some parts of TEOFAS really reached out to me.

There is a lot of anticipation and tension leading up to the ceremony and initiation into the beyond-human Wraeththu cult. It’s written from the point of view of the main character Pellaz reflecting on his journey getting acquainted with the Wraeththu and his ascent through the magical caste system. Pellaz feels like the perfect character to familiarise us with the Wraeththu with his inquisitive nature and his penchant for being spoilt with luxury, which allows the reader a sense of cultural discovery.

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unusual circumstances are exactly what pull you into Pellaz’s thoughts and the Wraeththu. The Wraeththu and the difference they embody, physically and psychologically, are very much the main focus of the story compared to the more violent groups of humans who are retreating from the new countries and lack the unity. Human desires appear base and almost immature next to the advanced system of the Wraeththu and I suspect this is exactly how author Storm Constantine wanted these desires to appear. The momentum is very much with the Wraeththu, who are both secretive and mysterious, and possess differentiation.

Yet despite this, there is the ever-present concern they have that they’re not much better than humans and are susceptible to the same hurtful feelings of love and vengeance that we are … it’s worth reading to see what I mean. There is a lot of thought and background put into TEOFAS and it made reading feel like a rich three-dimensional exotic adventure. There is so much depth to the world that it would be worth reading more by Storm Constantine.

*Oh, and the interior of the book layout was beautiful, with illustrations, so I recommend you at least purchase the paperback.

Storm Constantine’s Immanion Press

Legend by David Gemmell – 5/5 Stars

Legend by David Gemmell - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I’ve read of David Gemmell, having spoken to a big fan. I bought the paperback and expected something only warlike and medieval. I was right, but I didn’t foresee how much I’d enjoy reading the characters and their outcome. Druss the Legend comes out of his solitude to step back into the boots of his younger self when the Drenai Empire is at risk of being conquered by a MASSIVE barbarian horde. I couldn’t help enjoying every moment Druss stepped into the story, to offer sage advice or prove that he wasn’t a broken old man as he appeared, having reflexes with his double-edged axe Snaga that made the best fighters envious.

Legend by David Gemmell - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the plot is concerned with the endangered fortress of Drenai Empire’s Dros Delnoch – six walls and a keep – that is threatened and then under siege by an overwhelming number of Nadir tribesmen led by Ulric who styles himself as a-legend-to-be. Much of import happens, around Druss, unlikely hero Rek, Robin-Hood-like character Bowman, and many others, before the siege. The best part is when the siege arrives, and battle is met. Though the defenders of the fortress are doomed you can’t help but want to discover how they will meet their end, and at what cost. It’s not just blood and fighting either – there are shamans, spiritual monks, and timeless supernatural forces shaping events.

Legend was one of the best heroic fantasy experiences I’ve had, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to continue with.

A Brush With Magic by Sonia Leong – 4/5 Stars

A Brush With Magic by Sonia Leong - front book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not my usual read, not being well acquainted with manga or light novel adaptations of it. I picked A Brush With Magic up at a Japanese convention late 2018, having seen author Sonia Leong at a stall, and the artwork and light novel concept reached out to me. The artwork was striking, and the personality of the characters fit perfectly with the written versions. The story was pleasant and made me chuckle a few times. It has a heart-warming tone and a sense of light-hearted adventure combined with dark peril and exaggerated threat.

The author has a great awareness of character and perception, related through her characters, who both have tragic powers that mark them as different from the norm and make them unable to fit in. Vulpine warrior Rua saves Mage Silas from bandits and they both develop a connection, understanding each other and yet with there being enough to be discovered about each other. Ultimately, I felt the story was about acceptance and reliability, which were things both characters wanted from each other and they couldn’t get enough of either.

A Brush With Magic - back book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were some neat ideas in the story too, of a magical inbox Silas can create to withdraw items and send them, like an ‘enhanced postal system’. I liked this concept. It was my opinion that the writing was very good where description and action was concerned. Check this out: ‘Before anyone could take another breath, Rua drew her hand back and flung the dagger at him with full force. It spun, end over end, embedding itself square in the middle of the bandit’s forehead with a sickening thunk’.

There was a scene involving Silas and Rua where they intended to go to a club and I wanted to see what happened when ‘they got there’, and I was disappointed when it was related to other characters instead, but this was my only qualm.

Reading ABWM was a positive and enjoyable experience, with humour and real and lovable characters. The story had thought and care put into it, and the illustrations certainly did! What an excellent and well put-together story!

Sonia Leong’s Author Website

Publisher’s Website

Adventures of a Vegan Vamp by Cate Lawley – 3/5 Stars

‘She’s out to find her killer… and maybe a vegan cheese that doesn’t melt her nose hairs.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first, I didn’t get into it. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and I didn’t know where the story was going. I continued reading to see how things changed, and I started to appreciate it. There is subtle humour in this story, in the way the language is used by the author, and I had a light chuckle every few pages. More and more, I became invested in the main character’s frustrations with understanding exactly what vampires are, and the light-hearted take on vampires was refreshing.

The story itself was about Mallory finding the ‘rat’ who bit her and turned her into a vamp, with the help of the attractive and mysterious Society enforcer Alex, and it’s clear that she’s a bit of a strange vamp, not intimidating in the least with her baby fangs, and preferring to eat foods such as carrot juice doesn’t exactly scream ‘predator!’

The lower rating is because I didn’t think the style of the story was what I would usually go for, preferring more serious reads. I chose to read Adventures of a Vegan Vamp based on the humorous title, to see what differences a vegan vamp would exhibit and if there was any humour value based on this – to laugh with, not at – but beyond similarities not much was made of it.

Cate Lawley’s Website

2018 – In Books

Non-fiction

It’s an unusual year in books for me. I read six non-fiction, and it’s not often I read one. The non-fiction I read was educational and inspiring: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham, and Appreciating Asperger Syndrome by Brenda Boyd. Editing-wise, I read humorous Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss and insightful Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. Near the end of the year I was fortunate to have read Writing Fantasy Heroes, a useful collection of writing-expertise chapters by reputable authors, edited by Jason M Waltz.

Fewer fiction books read

Fewer fiction books were read in 2018, perhaps as a result. I finished eighteen books, ten below my twenty-eight book target on Goodreads. I would have liked to have read more. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them much.

Goodreads books

Best book I read in 2018

What stands out most in my mind was the first book I read in the year, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I loved it – the clever use of language, the political reality of Britain in those times, chivalry, heroic fights and jousts. It was a story to remember, with surprisingly addictive dialogue, scene description, and conflict.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - front cover

New fantasy pick

Throughout the year I couldn’t stop reading Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honor omnibus – comprising three fantasy stories – based on Tarma and Kethry, a warrior under oath and a sorceress. One of the main differences of first book The Oathbound at the time it was first published in 1988 was that both protagonists were female and with a unique outlook and approach, and I thought this made novel their solving quests, fighting evil, making alliances, and growing as characters. The books took me on imaginative puzzle-oriented quests with intelligent sub-characters. It taught me about the strength and importance of bonds between friends and what was new to me were the practical thinking skills covered to survive in this world. There was humour in these stories, and characters I couldn’t help but like.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

New science fiction pick

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton has been a fantastic science fiction spy/action thriller, at the time of this writing. It has flair. The quality action scenes and the thinking of organisations with motives in space surrounding the Thieves Guild have been top-notch and enthralling. Sh*t happens, and a lot of it, to Hil.

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

Other tremendous reads

Other amazing reads I stumbled across in 2018 include grounded epic fantasy Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe, terrific horror Bag of Bones by Stephen King, multi-faceted science fiction dystopian Augmented Reality by James Jackson, engaging Victorian and steampunk alternate history A Switch in Time by John Paul Bernett,  and fantasy-with-a-twist The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper.

How was 2018 in books for you?

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton – 5/5 Stars

‘It’ll be far better for him that I find him before,’ she paused for effect, ‘certain other practitioners of my profession.’

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions were mixed. For the first two chapters I wasn’t grounded in the world. I didn’t know what was happening, feeling displacement, and chapter introductions only confused me more. Things got better and better, not long after. Basically, what we’re dealing with here is not any Thieves’ Guild urban fantasy. This is sexy spy stuff in space with gadgets, physical training programs, intelligence departments, assassinations, and secret packages. Imagine James Bond mixed with Ender’s Game. The action was non-stop, and every chapter was essential. Before reading Residual Belligerence I wouldn’t have imagined such a novel was possible to write.

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My one criticism is that I wanted to see Hil, main character and top agent, to be in good condition so we could see what he was capable of when he was on top form. How would it have been different? I realise part of the point of the story was that he was left in the dark about what was happening and he was injured, which could explain why he was helpless throughout; it certainly added to my stress reading because I was concerned for his welfare, being so invested in the story. The roof comes down on him a few times, in style, and only other characters’ expertise keeps him in the loop. Maybe CG Hatton will cover this in one of her sequels, which are serious options on my to-read list.

Residual Belligerence’s publisher

CG Hatton on Goodreads