Vows and Honor: Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey – 4/5 Stars

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

The third part in the Vows and Honor omnibus is not a novel, but rather a collection of short stories. Though there are a lot of repeated stories from earlier in the omnibus, there are a lot of new stories too, one reaching back in time to when Tarma met Kethry in Swordsworn after the slaughter of her tribe. There are stories about Leslac the bard, a cup being poisoned, a large bear on the loose, a giant monster that has a town cowed, and a chambermaid being forced into abuse and then on the run for a new life.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

If you’re familiar with Tarma and Kethry’s stories you’ll love the short stories, which combine brutality, morality, adventure, and humour. If you aren’t familiar with the main novels and you’re not sure whether to try them, these short stories give a good indication of what you can expect and I don’t think you’ll leave disappointed.

 

 

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

Mercedes Lackey’s Amazon Author Page

 

Vows and Honor: Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey – 4/5 Stars

In this sequel to The Oathbound, of the Vows and Honor omnibus, Mercedes Lackey focuses on the politics of the lands they are in as much as the characters and this includes raising armies, building loyalties, and seeing the bigger picture of their battle against evil. The enemies weren’t mages or criminals; they were kings. The corrupt deeds of those in power was highlighted.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

The stakes are as high as ever, when leader of the Sunhawks mercenary tribe Idra goes missing. Idra went to see which of her brothers was fit for the throne and so she left the tribe’s camp, but her long absence and lack of communication are unusual, worrying even. The Sunhawks tribe, and especially Idra’s close friends Tarma and Kethry, go to investigate the kingdom and see what they can find out. Under cover of delivering free quality horses to the stable master, they gain access to the kingdom and seek to find a way into the King’s court. They’re looking for the court archivist, whose job it is to record the truth; the library was be-spelled that way. The court archivist is friends with the stable master and is an old man, being both honest and knowledgeable; but first they must earn his trust.

In comparison with The Oathbound, there are more mage battles than sword battles in Oathbreakers. I missed the sword battles Tarma had in The Oathbound. However, we are introduced to the basics of the White Winds magical powers and follow Kethry as she develops these powers to battle against enemies or pit herself against enemy mages and assassins. Wolfish Kyree, Warrl, is as wondrous as ever: subtly shifting form, viciously snapping necks, offering sage advice, and sleeping on the hearth to keep warm. It takes a bit to get into the story. There are descriptions of settings, characters, and situations we aren’t familiar with at first and some of the sub-characters introduced at this time were unremarkable and it confused me a bit.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

At the back of the book there is a selection of poems and language translations. I really liked how the poems summarised the lore and most important issues in the stories. There is a particular poem that resonated with me about Jadrek, the court archivist, and his being stuck in a library studying lore without having the opportunity to live life, while age took its toll; waiting for someone to save him and put him into a situation where he can be useful. Overall, Oathbreakers is a good novel with fascinating characters in a world where you can’t be too prepared.

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

Mercedes Lackey’s Amazon Author Page

Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe – 5/5 Stars

Rys Rising - paperback - front cover

Where do I start? On the surface Rys Rising appears to be your description-heavy epic fantasy adventure, but beneath are characters that you can’t help but be interested in as you follow ambition, vengeance, desire, or vision. It’s multiple POV, the characters’ trials often meet with greater events in the world, and there is much at stake.

What’s at stake?

The Kwellstan Sect is the finest order of magicians of the superior and arrogant Tabre race, though the term ‘power-users’ may be more apt since the author doesn’t use ‘magicians’ much. The sect uses human society, keeping it controlled, and humans worship it in turn. In Jingten Valley, the sect currently takes advantage of the magical power of nature where a race of blue-skinned Rys live and have a natural connection with their valley and its waters. The Tabre are threatened by this potential power and oppress the Rys, keeping them in low positions in ordered society, beneath even the humans.

Dacian, the male Rys magician – the one who hopes

Dacian is a male Rys magician who hopes of a day when Rys can stand beside Tabre, and his Kwellstan Sect teacher Halor nurtures this dream. Despite Halor’s good intentions, his loyalty to Dacian is tested against his subservience to the sect. Therefore, the reality is not so simple for Dacian because he is seen by those high up in the Kwellstan Sect as a dangerous experiment. When Dacian surpasses his teachers in tests their conviction of his danger is confirmed.

We follow Dacian’s fight to prove his race’s innocence to the sect while putting aside his anger, for the greater good. As an acolyte of the sect, he is in the best position to effect change. Throughout Rys Rising Dacian’s control is impeccable, and yet the Tabre do not relax their yoke. If anything, they tighten it. You had to ask yourself whether Dacian was going to give up, lose control, or if he was going to win the moral high ground over the sect. The ‘tests’ they put him through were cruel and sardonic. They were so powerful and enthralling on the book’s page that they actually made me angry when attacks on Dacian’s individuality and independence were dished out by senior sect magicians who show a civilised face to the rest of society.

Rys Rising - paperback - back cover

Onja, the alluring and rebellious Rys

The first Rys we are introduced to is actually the beautiful, alluring, and mystical Onja. Her femininity, beauty, and racial difference seem to cast a spell on Lin Tohs tribe leader Gendahl when he first meets her at a lake, having just lost his entire tribe and family. Onja heals him and protects him, and they develop mutual respect since. They keep in touch via a magical orb she gives Gendahl, which becomes the source of mysticism that he uses to get revenge on the Patharki tribe leader antagonist who massacred his tribe. The orb also helps Gendahl in his attempts to become accepted as a Kez outlaw barbarian: providing legitimate guarding services to rulers and kingdoms in the dangerous wild lands in between.

Onja wanders many forbidden places, towards the untamed human civilisations in the West. Unlike Dacian, she is known by the sect as an outcast and bad Rys, and her attractiveness and disregard for rules make her an ideal subject of punishment. Where Dacian keeps to the strict teachings of the sect, Onja isn’t afraid to experiment with magic. She and most Rys aren’t confident the sect will show anything but disdain to the Rys.

To summarise

Rys Rising is about challenging hidden forms of cruelty and fear as mentioned above, and challenging the rules we enforce in civilised (medieval?) society, such as with women being forced to put aside their preferences and marry enemies to create alliances in wars that were made by men. A good example of this is the daughter of the Sabar’Uto tribe’s King, Demeda, who is closeted inside and forced to have her face and femininity hidden lest it arouse forbidden passions. Like Onja, Demeda yearns for a freedom outside the control of rules and ‘civilised’ society if only so that she can choose her life, rather than live a restricted one as one of the wives of an enemy king. Demeda is actually a sub-character and yet it’s a prime example of how the author is capable of inserting life and personality into all of her characters. Many of her most fascinating characters are troublemakers who defy laws and find themselves in battles or alliances. It’s a refreshing twist on those corrupt groups who make laws only so that they serve their purposes.

Tracy Falbe is also a master of show and tell. She never inundates the reader with unnecessary or background events – there is a short summary and then the emphasis is firmly on the main scenes, easing the reader into the important events and making the events run-on naturally, even after a considerable, and yet pleasurable, break. I can’t praise Rys Rising highly enough. There is much adventure, emotion, and colour in the world. Hopefully I’ll read another Tracy Falbe novel in the future.

Tracy Falbe’s Website

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey – 5/5 Stars

THERE ARE MINOR SPOILERS. THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE OATHBOUND ONLY AND NOT OF THE SUBSEQUENT TITLES IN THE OMNIBUS: OATHBREAKERS AND OATHBLOOD.

It’s a sword-and-sorcery about two female partners bonded together under an oath. Tarma is great with a sword and used to the rugged way of life, living from the land and communing with forest spirits. She’s the less attractive or typically feminine of the two, which is the easiest way I can describe her difference to Kethry, the innocent, beautiful, blonde White Winds sorceress who is extremely talented, almost adept, with magic and able to work her feminine charms with success on any man. I think the bond between both of them was romantic as well, and that their planned need for men where romance was concerned was only for reproductive purposes. That was what I understood.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

Anyway, through the story they go through a series of adventures, righting wrongs unto women in a world of medieval male soldiery where women struggle to make it through most days without being abused, physically or sexually. Kethry’s enchanted sword Need not only alerts her to the ‘need’ of women who are in danger, but defends her from physical confrontation. In much a similar way, Tarma develops a bond with a magical beast that complements her abilities and can speak to her telepathically. Some of the adventures involve mercenary work to attack bandits, or they involve solving crimes with a combination of their strengths, listening to locals, and following up on leads. They are on the road because they hope to establish a school where Tarma can teach swords skills and Kethry sorcery, but they also harbour a hope of returning to Tarma’s clan, where they can raise a family and a new clan because we are told Tarma’s old clan was viciously wiped out in prior events.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

Honestly, the entire story was fascinating from start to finish. It’s sword-and-sorcery fantasy of the highest calibre. When the theme of demon summoning was introduced, I almost groaned and Indiana Jones came to mind, but I was wrong: the idea was written about in such a way that brought out the individual evil of the demon Thalhkarsh, who is an unusual demon having left the Abyssal Plans and is intent on maintaining human form to seduce women with his enchanting trickery. His enchantments confused women into enjoying the pleasures he bestowed on them, and he created a cult to boost his power. There were other interesting methods he could use to create cults, involving death or pain too. The illusion tricks of the demon gave me a funny feeling, when they occur to one of the main characters. It made me shudder.

The Oathbound was published in 1988 I think but I recently bought a 2017 published copy that includes an omnibus of three stories including The Oathbound, Oathbreakers, and Oathblood because my old one was falling apart. I’ve already started the sequel Oathbreakers, I was that impressed.

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

Mercedes Lackey’s Amazon Author Page

 

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 4/5 Stars

Norman knights have returned from Jerusalem, and now that King Richard is being held captive in Austria – an event that was in no small part helped by his brother Prince John – they are confident that Prince John can rule safely and that the conquered Saxons, yeoman, and Richard’s subjects can be scattered to the winds. Before the Normans returned from Jerusalem, warriors of the Temple, and particularly notorious knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, aligned themselves with the French and thwarted King Richard’s conquest of Jerusalem. Those Saxon knights loyal to King Richard have yet to return to England to see the state it is in, or so we believe.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - front cover

Strong and reckless oath-breaker and warrior of the Temple, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, is not one for subtlety, and makes his desire plain for beautiful Saxon ward Rowena as one of a few Norman guests of Cedric the Saxon’s keep in Rotherwood. The heart of the Saxon cause beats strongly in fiery leader Cedric, who detests the plight their Normal conquerers have put them in, never mind King John’s betrayal of his brother Richard and the oppression perpetrated by Norman knights. There is, however, more at stake than the political affairs of England, and of Rowena. In the keep a jousting tournament is discussed, to be held at Ashby de la Zouche to symbolise the ascendancy of Prince John (and so that he can raise his funds) and the Normans over the English Saxons. When the Jewish Isaac of York enters the guest hall and becomes the subject of slights and planned cruelties, one man gives up his seat so he can sit down. This man challenges Brian de Bois-Guilbert’s assertion that King Richard’s knights are second only to the warriors of the Temple: King Richard’s knights are ‘second to none’.

The jousting tournament is competitive. The Norman challengers beat the home team on the field, again and again, and the crowd are losing hope. Then, a mysterious knight appears, determined to fight every single one of the challengers for the defenders’ side. The Saxons and yeoman are emboldened by the knight’s victories and their honour is restored. Shocked Cedric is, when at the end of the joust it is revealed to all that the mysterious knight was none other than his disowned son Sir Ivanhoe, who bestows his favour on Rowena as the Queen of Love and Beauty, throwing a spanner in Cedric’s plans for Rowena to marry a Saxon heir. Prince John struggles to maintain dignity, especially when intrepid yeoman Robin Hood speaks of King Richard as England’s rightful King, and is ordered to prove his archery skills or be wrestled off the field.

I enjoyed Ivanhoe much more than I thought I would. There were unforgettable characters, and clashes in battle. There was that medieval romantic feeling as well, hinted at in a few passages. The reader sees the attraction and longing between Ivanhoe and the daughter of Isaac, Rebecca, and yet they cannot be together because of their different faiths in an intolerant and quarrelsome country. Though Ivanhoe and the Black Sluggard knight were adept in battle and showed valour in joust and siege, I also had a huge admiration for Rebecca’s forthright manner and how she could defend her sex, honour, and faith with a strength that stymied even the immoral/conflicted Brian de Bois-Guilbert whose physical strength and capacity for treachery were great.

The background to the entire story and the competing factions within was fascinating. It was Norman vs Saxon, and in the middle were outlawed yeoman led by Robin Hood and a few knights errant loyal to Richard. Robin Hood’s courage was great to read, and brought excitement and fast pace. The author had a grasp for how each faction would think. The Order of the Temple was originally corrupt before their extreme Grand Master put the Preceptory into order.

On the downside, there were too many references specific to the period in which Ivanhoe was written, in 1819, and though the quaint language wasn’t a barrier to understand most of the story, there were times when it was. After Rebecca is captured, three-quarters through the story, it slows down and is immersed in moralistic arguments. The end was disappointing too, and could be considered deus ex machina. I nearly gave Ivanhoe five stars.

Nevertheless, it is one to keep on your shelf. The excitement, battles, personality contrasts, romanticism, and chivalry made it fantastic.

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson – 4/5 Stars

The Broken Sword - front cover - alternative 1

‘Fathering a son on a female troll held captive in his dungeons, Imric exchanged the nonhuman babe for the true son of Orm the Jutlander. Thus, while Valgard the Changeling was raised as Orm’s son in the Lands of Men, the true son of the Jutlander, Skafloc, was reared to manhood in the twilight fields and whispering woods of timeless and shadowy Faerie…’

Though an epic fantasy reminiscent of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Poul Anderson did not borrow from Tolkien; The Broken Sword was published in the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954. Expect the usual elves, trolls, and goblins, but this time with a changeling twist. The infant son of Orm of Jutland has been substituted with the half-breed Valgard, son of elf-earl Imric and a female troll prisoner. Imric is behind all of it, but his motivations aren’t clear. Perhaps he wanted a human because they are stronger than elves and unlike them can withstand iron.

The Broken Sword - back coverAs they grow older, while the human Skafloc grows proficient in the magics, songs, and skills of Faerie under his foster father Imric, Valgard grows up within Orm’s household in England and is despised for his moody countenance. Dogs bark at his passage. Valgard’s anger grows and he excels at the Viking raids. It is apparent there is a division between him and his family but it’s not until he is ensnared and tricked by a beautiful young witch that he takes a path of bloodshed and murder. Fuelled by his strength and hatred of his division he does what the witch advises: to head towards Trollheim to win the favour of Troll King Illrede, for Valgard has learnt he is of troll and elf, not human, blood.

What follows is an epic battle for the elf homelands. In the troll versus elf conflict Valgard comes face-to-face with Skafloc, who bears his likeness. The fated ‘brothers’ pit their skills against one another, and it’s Skafloc’s Faerie against Valgard’s ‘berserkergang’. Their fates are destined to clash time and again, and are intertwined with the future of Faerie and the Lands of Men. Also in the midst of this is a tragic forbidden love story between a survivor of Orm’s household, the sorrowful Freda, and Skafloc. Their love is made all the more perilous when the elf woman Leea yearns for Skafloc’s love.

My only criticism is that while the stakes and the characters were introduced well, how they came to the conclusion was mired in endless descriptions and irrelevant sub-characters.

What an epic read! It certainly contrasts with Lord of the Rings, but is quicker, more tragic, and violent. I’d call this a classic. If you like Lord of the Rings, read it now! The mystery ‘the broken sword’ itself represents to me a broken or stray soul, a theme that resonates with Valgard most obviously, but also Skafloc and the elf women.

Poul Anderson’s books on Amazon

The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland – 5/5 Stars

The Silver Horn Echoes A Song of Roland - front cover

Set in the Dark Ages: an account of Roland, a champion whose heroic deeds and code of honour are in demand to protect King Charles. The story is a weaving of short related tales that paint the history, battles, valour, internal fighting, and politics during this time. King Charles must keep his throne from grim conspirators and claimants to the throne, constantly fighting Saxons and Emir Marsilion of Saragossa who plots to exact revenge against Barcelona and sees an opportunity to invade France too!

I agree that the stories were reminiscent of the tales of King Arthur – bravery coupled with the courting of beautiful Princesses. Along with the above, it did ignite that nostalgic classical feeling within me, when I watch such films, of times when knights lived and died by honour and the sword.

The plans between Kings, Emirs, and Emperors made Europe feel like an authentically constructed setting, and this was bolstered with battle that actually provided glimpses of how the events played out and circled around the hero Roland. Tragedy and blood was apparent in equal measure – it wasn’t all fantastical heroism.

Some of the following criticism is just personal preference, as a consequence of reading omniscient point of view, which I’m less familiar with. The scenes were shorter than I would have liked, which stopped the flow of events at times, though they worked well in prioritising the setting and circumstances the main characters were involved in. I would have liked a bit more characterisation too, such as the rivalry between Ganelon and Roland at the beginning, which carried the emotional intensity of boiling water, which was good. I did sometimes forget who was who with sub-characters, an exception being Saleem who had an interesting background as the ‘wrong son’ banished from Marsilion’s court.

There is a hint of dark magic, such as ‘shades’, dreams, and sorcerous mystery. It mixed in nicely with religious devotion during this time. It added that little extra flavour to the theme without overpowering the essentially medieval content, which was nice.

The ending was exceptional – the reader is given just the right amount of perception to build a picture of the final battle, and it made use of heroism, loss, friendship, and objects within the story to make it a truly epic tale. I’d read more books like this, and would watch more films like this. The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland is an astonishing and proud achievement, and as a reader I feel I’ve reaped the rewards.

Website of A Silver Horn Echoes: The Song of Roland

A Silver Horn Echoes: The Song of Roland on Amazon

The Final Empire (Mistborn) by Brandon Sanderson – 5/5 Stars

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - front coverThe Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - back cover

I was quite fascinated by the sheer level of world-building, from the onset. The writing flowed well, and I quickly became immersed in Vin’s circumstances as a skaa/peasant fighting for survival. Soon Vin is made aware of her latent special abilities, and becomes embroiled in the struggle to liberate the peasant population from the tyrannical throes of the Lord Ruler, who is the most powerful allomancer, controlling the population with an iron will and hunting and executing indiscriminately, with his ‘inquisitors’, to impose order.

There are numerous factions: peasants, nobles, mistings, mistborn (with more talents).

I liked how the author delved into the history behind the tyrant to understand how he can be defeated.

There were instances where I tired of the group discussions and meetings between the rebels, but these were few.

At the end I was salivating with anticipation – there was action aplenty and scenes that make the heart beat faster. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending, really.

I may well read the next in the series.

The Final Empire on Amazon

Brandon Sanderson’s Website

 

The Banished by Paul Coey – 3/5 Stars

The Banished by Paul Coey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After reading the prequel to the Age of Endings series, The Messenger, where Falnir went through many trials to deliver his message in a world becoming ravaged by ancient monsters from the north, I had to try reading Paul Coey’s The Banished.

When Ruyen is destined to become a defender of all people, symbolised by a special sword, he makes many enemies: the monsters of the Nameless, Maidens, the King of Elsillore, and many other factions. As evil as the monsters of the Nameless are, their ghastly appearance is an expression of their evil. The evil of humanity, however, is subtle and conniving. Ruyen must navigate both types of evil if he is to not only lead people to challenge the Nameless’ invasion of the north, but prevent falling down the same path his predecessor did; to ruin, slaughter, and public hate.

I wanted to learn more about this small honourable man without much influence in court who is chosen by destiny. Ruyen’s predicament was intriguing and the way he found the sword and responded to the trapped situation he was put in made for marvellous reading. You can expect plot, conspiracies, arguments, and assassination attempts. It’s not until the last quarter of the story that the real action begins when the company are captured by bandits, and are on the run. Let me just say that my eyes were glued to the writing at this point and we saw examples of human evil that put the Nameless to shame. I had to know the outcome, and I still wasn’t sure which way events would turn. This was Paul Coey at his best. When The Banished ended, it ended too soon.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy The Banished anywhere near as much as I did The Messenger. The main reason is personal taste and the nature of the story. The beginning was the least interesting. There were too much back-and-forth arguments and legal procedures that made it difficult to make a connection with the characters, and reading it at times did feel like a legal essay. The author led me through too many doors into understanding his world. I needed a bridge to distinctive character voices and personalities, and I needed major plot simplification. There were times at the beginning when these problems didn’t overshadow the writing. For example, I had already made a connection with Falnir and I liked his response to groups when he is confronted regarding his message. Guilt and regret between male and female characters seems to be a theme that brings out tension in the author’s writing and brought out more passion in main character Ruyen and Kalmanec, just as it did with Falnir in The Messenger.

There was a lot positive about The Banished throughout. The writing was extremely good and well-researched. It’s without a doubt that the author knows his fantasy and can construct an authentic world with authentic and believable language and settings. When the author is at his best, or even his worst, you can see his strengths. I suspect the editing polished it so well there were few, if any, mistakes. Paul Coey is one of the great fantasy authors out there, and he takes his fantasy seriously. I’d recommend you try one of his stories and experience it for yourself because it is an ‘experience’.

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli – 4/5 Stars

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli

‘True, privacy was rare in her world, her duties closing in on her youth and what little freedom she had left.’

‘It always felt as though the light would burn her. Some days she wished it would or that her powers would simply envelop her in flame. She revelled in the idea of being allowed to simply melt away, therefore escaping this miserable life.’

Princess Violetta of the Flame Realm has come of age, and men of status have begun to notice her. There’s Xyhoni, the family friend, and there’s the charming Prince Ryore of the Winter Realm, son of Emperor Jugan. When tragedy strikes and Violetta’s brother and mother are killed, she remains close to her father King Eagan, and is suspicious of the Winter Realm. What makes matters more difficult is that even though she can’t quite forget about Xyhoni, she is growing more attracted to Prince Ryore. And Prince Ryore believes he has found his one true love at last…

Author Daccari Buchelli writes with a mastery of language embellishment that is befitting of the authentic fantasy setting and experience. Sentences are elegant, unobtrusive, and constructed with a fine touch. The author has a grasp for the characters’ feelings that make them passionate and interesting. These feelings give rise to wants and motives, and combine with mystical objects to create a fantasy goal. I became immersed in learning about the thoughts of Ryore and Violetta. Chapter after chapter they became more interesting and realistic, and the fantasy world blossomed about them with colour, duty, and romance.

Criticism: honestly, the first three chapters didn’t pull me into the story. The reason was that I was disoriented and this feeling repeated often; the sense of location and stability in the rapidly changing setting made it difficult to get my bearings. The way the setting was introduced was not even or at the right pace. Even my own writing has been criticised for this reason. A few more sentences to bring forward the atmosphere of the setting when it changed, or a few more scene breaks might have helped to indicate the change of setting.

One of the main characters behaved out of character in Chapter Sixteen, in a way that suspended my belief, which marked a different direction for the narrative. Some paragraphs were double the length I would personally have preferred. A few misspelled words: ‘baited’ and ‘bated’, ‘facet’ and ‘faucet’, and one I wasn’t sure about – ‘intendent’ and ‘attendant’.

Overall, I read the entirety of Phoenix with wild anticipation. The writing was written elegantly and the setting felt like a fantasy world I had actually stepped into. While I was reading about the engrossing characters I didn’t care where the plot was going. I’m not a reader of romance, but the exaggerated displays of affection between two of the main characters impressed me. It was quite easy and enjoyable to digest multiple chapters of Phoenix at a time. I’d strongly recommend Phoenix to all fantasy readers, especially those who like high fantasy, classical fantasy, adventure, and romance.

Author Daccari Buchelli’s website