The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2) by Jen Williams

The Bitter Twins Cover

The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…

Meanwhile, Hestillion is trapped on board the corpse moon, forced into a strange and uneasy alliance with the Jure’lia queen. Something terrifying is growing up there, in the heart of the Behemoth, and the people of Sarn will have no defence against these new monsters.

My Review of The Bitter Twins

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2)The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to the brilliant Ninth Rain kicks it up a notch with more action, scarier monsters and a more expansive story.

There’s also a more desperate feel to the story now. The Jure’lia have returned, their ruins are waking up and piecing themselves back together and Hestellion has been kidnapped and taken aboard the Corpse Moon. The War Beasts have also returned but there are only a few of them, they have hatched too early and apart from the dragon bonded with Noon they don’t have their memories of their past lives. They don’t know how to fight and they certainly don’t know how to work together. How can the four of them possibly stop the Jure’lia from wiping out all the human settlements?

The monsters are creepy and visceral and make my skin crawl. The Jure’lia Queen is terrifying! Hestillion is very brave when she is taken hostage by the Queen, then they start to find common ground and Hestillion’s influence makes the Queen act more and more like a human. I think that just makes her even scarier! In this book, her story has become my favourite. She’s conflicted and unsure really of what she is doing, and whose side she wants to be on.

I loved everything with the War Beasts in! They were born without their memories and are not what they should have been. They find it difficult to get on with each other and they struggle to build themselves into a team, working against each other more than with each other. It brings a lot of humour into the book. Then the action scenes where they fight are just awesome.

A few different plot threads are woven together and there’s so much going on another author might have taken 3 or 4 books to cover all this. Mostly it works and it makes an action-packed story but some parts seem to become a little lost in the action. Bern’s visit to his family and Eri’s story could fill whole books by themselves.

Noon and Tor are trying to find a way to make the War Beasts into a fighting team. They find that an Eborean might have kept records of the War Beasts past lives but he left Eboaria hundreds of years ago on a journey searching for the origins of Ysgeril. Noon and Tor are so desperate to get the records and help the war beasts that they decide to follow his route.

I just love Jen Williams’ writing. She creates such complicated and diverse characters and the world she has created is rich and unique. She’s not afraid to write adult stories that can be dark at times; the ending is heartbreaking.

The Bitter Twins is an imaginative and original story with a cast of complex and diverse characters. Modern fantasy at it’s best and I cannot wait for the third book in the series!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Bitter Twins
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
March 8th 2018
Kindle
320

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga #1) by Elly Blake

Frostblood Cover

The frost king will burn.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)Frostblood by Elly Blake
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Face them all like a warrior, whether you are one or not.”

Frostblood’s story is as generic as it gets, it doesn’t bring anything new. A young woman’s family is murdered, she finds out she has special powers, she gets recruited by the rebels to overthrow the King. If you’ve read young adult fantasy before, or even if you’ve seen Star Wars, you’ll be able to predict how the story goes.

The characters are bland, none of them manages to step outside their stereotyped role. Ruby is the young woman with the power to summon and control fire. She is hot-tempered, acts without thinking and has the most powerful ability in the country. Special snowflake alert! As normal for a special snowflake, her only flaw is that she acts without thinking and risks her life more than once to save others. Really, that’s not a flaw that just makes her even more perfect. She doesn’t seem to have any personality yet everyone loves her.

Arcus is the mysterious and secretive love interest who starts out disliking Ruby but falls for her when he realises how kind and brave she is. He has less personality than Ruby and I can’t understand why they fall for each other. They must have interactions off page because there is no chemistry at all in their on page interactions.

Then the world doesn’t come alive either. It didn’t feel real, there is no colour or life to it. It’s written from Ruby’s point of view so the whole book is spent in her head and she’s just a badly written drama queen “fatigue pulled at my bones”, “I froze as if I were wrapped in frost”, “I was filled with a terrible pressure of countless sunsets” huh? How does fatigue pull at bones? And sunset pressure? Never heard of that one.

Magic in Frostblood comes from people having the power of ice or fire in their blood. Ruby can make fire and Arcus can make ice. It’s not explained how it works or what the limits are. Ruby can shoot fire from her hands with a thought, and they can both do whatever is convenient them at the time. There’s no logic or order to the magic system so it’s not easy to accept.

I didn’t connect with the characters, the magic is dull and convenient and the writing is bland. I didn’t hate it, but I did get bored by it. It’s young adult fantasy by numbers and it didn’t grab me at all. I don’t think I’ll bother with the rest of the series.

Frostblood
Frostblood Saga
Elly Blake
Young Adult Fantasy
January 10th 2017
Hardback
376

Hunger Makes the Wolf (Hob #1) by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf cover

The strange planet known as Tanegawa’s World is owned by TransRifts Inc, the company with the absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. Hob landed there ten years ago, a penniless orphan left behind by a rift ship. She was taken in by Nick Ravani and quickly became a member of his mercenary biker troop, the Ghost Wolves.

Ten years later, she discovers the body of Nick’s brother out in the dunes. Worse, his daughter is missing, taken by shady beings called the Weathermen. But there are greater mysteries to be discovered – both about Hob and the strange planet she calls home.

Hunger Makes the Wolf (Hob #1)Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hunger Makes the Wolf surprised me with how good it was. I think I was expecting a fun, quick space adventure read, but this story is so much more than that.

There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, a woman learning to be a leader, and I think there are hints of a possible romance?

The main character, Hob Ravani, is a member of a gang of mercenaries who roam around their desert planet on motorcycles. They do odd jobs for money while trying to stay clear of TransRift, the company that controls the planet and the lives of the miners and the farmers. Hob has magic, a “witchyness” that means she can create fire, but she hasn’t learnt much about it beyond basic tricks like lighting cigarettes. Witchyness is feared on Tanegawa’s World so she has to keep it hidden.

There’s a lot going on, but it’s managed well. It starts out fast-paced, we’re dropped into the middle of the action at the start and things are slowly revealed as the story progresses. Around the middle, the pacing slows down where the rebellion is growing and Hob is learning how to be a leader, but it picks up again as it moves towards the action-packed ending.

There’s plenty of character development, especially for Hob and her foster sister Mags. Hob isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and gets things wrong but still keeps trying to do the right thing and protect her family at the same time.

I loved the witchy elements, the Bone Collector, a sort of wise and mysterious mage, was one of my favourite characters in it.

The main story thread does have a conclusion, but there are things left open and it reads like there’s going to be a sequel. I’m certainly hoping there will be, there’s a lot more to learn about this world!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Hunger Makes the Wolf
Hob
Alex Wells
Sci-Fi
March 7th 2017
Kindle
326

The Blue Sword (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

The blue sword cover

Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?

My Review of The Blue Sword

The Blue SwordThe Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this. It’s a fantastic fantasy adventure story, if a familiar one, but it’s full of sensible characters that have tons of personality. Even the horse and the cat creature were interesting in their own right.

The world building is wonderful and detailed. I could picture everything as I was reading and imagine myself there with the characters.

Corlath the hill king is lovely, if not as arrogant as he perhaps should be. I wanted more romance though! It’s aimed at teenagers so it’s probably good that it’s more about Harry growing up and gaining confidence in herself than about Harry being soppy over a man. I do love a good bit of romance though, I would have liked more of Corlath and Harry.

Harry is a special snowflake, but she is humble and kind, and down to earth, so I didn’t really mind that. I think she’s probably a good role model for teenage girls. The only thing I didn’t like is that she single-handedly saves everyone and unites two nations. It was a bit much at the end and pushed my rating down from four to three stars.

Apart from that though this is an intelligent and entertaining young adult fantasy. I wish I had read this when I was a teenager!

The Blue Sword
Damar
Robin McKinley
Young Adult Fantasy
1982
Paperback
256

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden

girl in the tower cover

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods.

When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Winternight Trilogy #1)

My Review of The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful fantasy, set in a dark Russian winter and full of folklore and magic!

Picking up where the first book left off, Vasilia has left her home in search of adventure. Of course, she quickly gets into trouble and she finds herself saving three young girls from bandits. Because girls aren’t allowed to travel the wilderness and rescue anyone Vasilia then has to pose as a boy to avoid ruining her reputation and getting herself sent off to a convent. She finds that she likes the freedom being a boy brings

Wilful, smart, brave and sometimes foolish, I was 100% rooting for Vasilia to find a space for herself in a world where women are confined to towers or convents. It made me angry to read at times, the way the women were treated as possesions, like a horse or a cow. If they were married they could leave their towers, called terems in the book, only to go to church or visit other women in their towers. I loved the way Vasilia smashed straight through everyone’s expectations of how the women should act, and how she refused to regin in her personality.

Vasilia’s horse Solovey is as much of a character as she is. He’s her best friend and biggest supporter and steals every scene he is in.

It’s much faster paced than the first book, all the build up and the world buiding is done and this gets straight into the action! It still has the atmosphere of cold, darkness and a long, long winter. The fairytales and folklore are still here too, the houshold spirits don’t play as big a part but the winter king is a much bigger player this time around! I must admit I have a soft spot for Morzoko.

I was drawn straight into the story, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than a day. I can’t wait to see what Vasilia does next!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Girl in the Tower
The Winternight Trilogy
Katherine Arden
Fantasy
December 5th 2017
Kindle
352

Books with Ghosts in Them

books with ghosts in

A Halloween influenced book list this month! These are a few of my favourite books with ghosts in 🙂

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynn Jones

A ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost! The ghost is one of four sisters but she doesn’t remember which one she is, or how she came to be a ghost.

The characters in this book are brilliantly done, each of the sisters is unique and complex. It’s very well written and the story had me guessing right up to the end.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eden Moore #1) by Cherie Priest

Eden Moore is a tough young woman who can see ghosts. For most of her life, she has had three dead women who appear when she is in danger and when she starts to investigate who they were she starts uncovering secrets about her past.

This is a moody and atmospheric ghost story from one of my favourite authors. I love the voice of the main character and there are lots of creepy moments, including the investigation of an abandoned and haunted mental hospital.

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

Sam Stone manages to skip between and combine genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is an orphan being raised by the dead in a graveyard. It’s written for children but has more than enough intelligence, humour and pathos for adults to enjoy it too.

If you want a book that’s full of ghosts then The Graveyard Book is it!

Rivers of London (Peter Grant/Rivers of London #1) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a probationary constable in London. When an eyewitness to a crime he’s talking to turns out to be a ghost, Peter uncovers a different side to London where gods, ghosts and magic are commonplace.

This is more of a supernatural police procedural than a spooky, ghostly book. But it’s funny and entertaining and had me gripped as Peter investigates the evil that’s rising in London.

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

I loved this book – it’s full of adventure and strong characters and there are plenty of genuinely scary moments. Plus, it has monsters and ghosts and airships! It’s supposed to be a young adults book but it certainly is suitable for grown-ups too.

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

Cthulu and Other Monsters

Short tales of horror regarding the Old Ones and their minions by master horror scribe Sam Stone.

Cthulu and Other MonstersCthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love getting my hands on a new Sam Stone book! This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

One thing I like about Sam Stone is that she skips between and combines genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

My favourites are the steampunk tinged stories. There is one about Arabella, a Victorian lady who moonlights as a thief, and another where Lucy goes down into the sewers to hunt a monster plaguing the city. I loved both of these and I really wanted to see more from these characters!

This is a very adult collection, there’s lots of gore and a fair bit of sex. Things don’t always end well so you’re kept guessing right up to the end.

My only complaint is that sometimes the conversations are there more to give information to the reader than for the characters to communicate with each other. There’s a fair few “as you know” expositions that are thrown in there that feel like they don’t fit the story, and sometimes the characters can be overly formal and stilted. I feel like it could use a good editor as there are a few errors in the text. But it’s a minor complaint and it didn’t stop me enjoying reading this.

I found all of the stories creepy and interesting, and there weren’t any that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like the author had a lot of fun writing them.

It’s a great little collection of horror stories and it’s just right for the long nights that are approaching.

Cthulu and Other Monsters
Sam Stone
Horror
April 2017
Paperback
287

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

moon called cover

Mercedes Thompson, aka Mercy, is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will.

Mercy’s next-door neighbour is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water

My Review of Moon Called

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1)Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Urban Fantasy books like this live or die on their main character. Luckily, Mercy is pretty awesome. She’s independent and a bit cheeky but knows her limits. She works as a mechanic and has her life sorted, and there are hints of possible romances, but she doesn’t fawn over anyone and it’s not a big part of the story.

Mercy has to explain things to us at certain points, but it doesn’t go overboard with this. The world building feels like it happens naturally, with just little additions from Mercy every now and again.

When it’s finally revealed the ‘bad guys’ plot was very convoluted. Up to this point, I was finding Moon Called a fun, light read and I struggled to switch gears and pay attention enough to understand what was going on. I don’t think it helped that it’s all (or mostly) revealed by Mercy sitting and thinking about it. I’m a bit fed up of books where the main character sits and thinks a bit and then makes some big mental leaps to end up right on the truth.

All through the book, there were hints of attraction between Mercy and Adam, and Mercy and Sam (love triangle warning!). It built up some interesting tension between the characters that I was enjoying. I was disappointed that the ending seemed to drop this completely. There are something like 14 books now though, and I have read that nothing really happens on the romance front until book 4, so maybe (hopefully) the tension is brought back in future books.

I think it’s a good start for a series though, I enjoyed it even though the complicated ending knocked it down from 4 stars to 3 for me.

I will be reading the next one for sure!

Moon Called
Mercy Thompson
Patricia Briggs
Urban Fantasy
January 31st 2006
Paperback
317

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Cover

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind.

Until they found her…

My Review of Sunshine

SunshineSunshine by Robin McKinley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere in here lurks a decent story, but it’s so overwhelmed by the ramblings of Sunshine that it’s almost completely lost. In the first five pages, I know where Sunshine works, where she lives, her Monday movie nights and all about her landlady’s niece, but I still don’t know why she’s all on her own at the lake.

I liked the actual story, but it does start to drag. The vampires are satisfyingly nasty and mean, like in the film Lost Boys.

Sunshine is likeable enough, but by the halfway point I just really wanted her to stop talking. Cut out all the rambling and the repetition (how many times do we need to be told no one ever gets away from vampires?) and the book would be less than half the long 405 pages it actually is.

The author spends so much time explaining the world that it’s hard to believe this was ever intended to be standalone. So many concepts are explained in depth that are then not actually relevant to the story that I’m convinced this was the setup for a longer series, more like True Blood.

After all the long, long build-up, the big fight with the main villain is almost a non-event after all the talking. The villain himself is a moustache-twirling cartoon style villain, with some seriously dodgy dialogue. And he doesn’t do anything. Disappointing.

Could have been good, but needs some serious pruning to remove all the irrelevant rambling.

Sunshine
Robin McKinley
Urban Fantasy
November 30th 2004
Kindle
405

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last, there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

My Review of Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum SunUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not what I was expecting! This is a dark and twisted tale of Victorian era missionaries who travel to the Faelands of Arcadia to try to convert the fae.

Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon is a missionary who has been sent to the fairy land of Arcadia in an attempt to convert the fae. When he stops replying to her letters she Catherine is so worried about him that she travels to Arcadia in an attempt to find him.

When she arrives her brother is not there at Gethsemane, the manor house Queen Mab of the fae provided for him to stay in. Her brother’s staff are vague about his location but assure Catherine that he will return soon. As she waits for him, she hears rumours about the death of the previous missionary, Reverend Roche, but no one will straight out tell her what happened to him. When Catherine finds the dead Roche’s journals full of strange rambling entries and a book written in a language she does not recognise she decides that reading and deciphering them will provide the key to understanding the strange place that she has found herself.

The characters are missionaries, so obviously are going to be religious. I read that the author has studied theology, and it shows. Religion plays a massive part in this story, with discussions around theology making up a lot of the book. Catherine spends a lot of time praying and thinking about God, and pondering whether the fae have souls or not.

There are so many layers to this story. The main story is easy enough to follow but there’s a lot of hidden meanings that as the reader you need to decipher to fully understand what is going on. If you enjoy working out the meaning behind what the author is showing us for yourself, you will love this book! There is a lot to think about or things that if you research a bit will make a lot more sense. Even the name of the manor house Catherine and Laon are staying in has meaning.

Honestly, I struggle with hints and subtle suggestion, I prefer things that are spelt out for me. I like knowing what the author intended without having to make guesses myself. So it took me a while to get into this. It was very slow to start with, and I had no idea where it was going, it took me a while to work out the point of the book, Cathrine spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and how wonderful her brother is. But I slowly got caught up in the story telling, and the second half is much better paced.

Queen Mab turns up and throws a (very nasty) winter ball full of clockwork automaton and things start to get more interesting. Then Catherine starts to find out what happened to the Reverend Roche, and why no one will talk about how he died.

I loved the way the fae are cruel and unkind, playing games with the few humans that are allowed into Arcadia. This is fae as they are meant to be! Queen Mab is very, very scary and I can’t understand why Catherine and her brother want to go further into the interior of Arcadia. I’d be running for my life after that Winter Ball.

It’s very twisty and turny, just when I thought I understood what was going on the story changes again. Even though most of the action takes place in Gethsemane, it’s still full of secrets and intrigue and strange and unusual creatures and sights.

Very dark, very gothic, Under the Pendulum Sun is not an easy read. But the writing and the world building are an absolute treat and the story is very original.

I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but the narrator is just too religious and pious for my liking. After a while, she started to grate on me, so I’m going with 3 stars.

I recommend this for readers that like original takes on dark and twisted gothic fairy tales or books with layers and hidden meanings that make you think.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng
Fantasy
October 3rd 2017
Kindle
464