The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles #1) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

The Secret Fire Cover

French teen Sacha Winters can’t die. He can throw himself off a roof, be stabbed, even shot, and he will always survive. Until the day when history and ancient enmities dictate that he must die. Worse still, his death will trigger something awful. Something deadly. And that day is closing in.

Taylor Montclair is a normal English girl, hanging out with her friends and studying for exams until she starts shorting out the lights with her brain. She’s also the only person on earth who can save Sacha.

There’s only one problem: the two of them have never met. They live hundreds of miles apart and powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart.

They have eight weeks to find each other.

Will they survive long enough to save the world?

My Review of The Secret Fire

The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles, #1)The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sacha is 17, he lives in Paris and he can’t die. Until the day he turns 18 when the curse that protects him will kill him.

Taylor is just a normal English teenager trying to do well in her exams. But she starts getting terrible headaches and odd things start happening around her when she gets upset.

Their teachers ask them to work them together so Taylor can help Sacha with his English but they soon start to realise that it’s not an accidental pairing – Taylor holds some sort of key to breaking the curse that is going to kill Sacha.

I got caught up in the story behind Sacha’s curse. I liked his storyline better than Taylor’s and I liked reading the parts from his point of view more because they felt like they flowed better and were grittier and just more interesting than Taylor’s.

Taylor’s magic is explained as being ‘spiritual alchemy’ – it’s basically a science, where certain people are capable of manipulating atoms with the mind. Erm, no, I don’t think so. I can accept magically manipulating elements and all that but trying to pass it off as ‘just a science thing that some people can do’ just feels daft. It might not make much sense but it just doesn’t work for me.

Everything else about the book I liked though. Taylor and Sacha’s friendship and their trust in each other develop realistically, it wasn’t rushed and they just work well as a couple.

It’s a pretty standard young adult plot but it has enough new ideas and a strong enough personality on its own to make it worth picking up.

It’s easy and fun to read and there’s more than enough magic, action and adventure to keep it interesting. I started the next book as soon as I finished this one!

The Secret Fire
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 3rd 2015
Kindle
424

Fire (Engelsfors #2) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Fire Cover

The Chosen Ones are about to start their second year in senior high school. All summer they have been waiting for the demon’s next move. But the threat comes from another direction, somewhere they could never have foreseen.

It becomes more and more obvious that something is very wrong in Engelsfors. The past is woven together with the present. The living meet the dead. The Chosen Ones are tied even closer together and are once again reminded that magic cannot make you happy or mend broken hearts.

My Review of Fire
Fire (Engelsfors #2)Fire by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire is very Buffy inspired in that it’s as much about dealing with the horrors of high school and adults that think they know better, as it is about dealing with actual demons and magic users intent upon nefarious deeds. It even has a morally dubious magic council trying to police and control the witches powers. But Fire is moving and deep and transcends its Buffy influences by creating a wonderful story all of its own. This is definitely one of my favourite series about high school magic users, up there with the Brooklyn Brujas books by Zoraida Córdova.

I’d say the first 50% of the book there isn’t really any magic in it though, it’s just the girls dealing with life and family and friends. The magic side of the story is a slow burner, building up in the background all the time the girls were dealing with the fallout from Anna Karin’s magic use in the first book. Then when I’d actually stopped caring about the lack of magic because I was just enjoying the story, it all starts to kick off and the magic use amps up!

All through the book, there has been a demon touched witch lurking in the background influencing and controlling the townspeople. The girls kinda brush it to one side whilst they are surviving the magic council’s attentions as the ‘bad’ witch gains more and more power.

Both sides of the story are done well, I wasn’t bored waiting for the magic bits like I would normally find myself with this sort of book. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outcast’ at school and I think Fire captures that feeling so well. The girls are dealing with all sorts of family and relationship issues and then on top of that they have to deal with the magic council turning up too. It’s very realistic in the way it portrays the girl’s personalities and the cliques which exist in high school.

We have Minoo – super shy and retiring, she struggles to make friends and has little confidence in her magic.

Vanessa – a wild child whose self-worth is wrapped up in her boyfriend.

Ida – the school bully who has had her eyes opened to the effect her actions have on other people.

Linnea – an independent loner that tries to deal with everything on her own.

Anna Karin – an overweight outcast who feels that she has no control over herself or her life direction.

There is massive character growth in Fire: these five girls are still almost strangers at the start of the book but by the end, they see the good and the potential in each other. They start to trust their magic circle.

I’m kinda heartbroken by the ending, but I feel hopeful it’s just setting up for a killer storyline in the final book.

Basically, I loved it all! I can’t wait to read the finale.

Fire
Engelsfors
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Young Adult Fantasy
June 20th 2013
Kindle
687

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost Cover

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation – and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland.

My Review of Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young adult fantasy about a Bruja living in Brooklyn.

The book starts when Alex is living with her mother and sisters in Brooklyn, dealing with school, family, and the emergence of her magic powers. This was my favourite part of the book. The story moves to the world of Los Lagos and though I enjoyed their fairytale-like journey through that land it was the parts set in Brooklyn that felt the most real and the most interesting to me. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be set in Brooklyn.

I feel like it does take a lot of inspiration from the Mortal Instruments series but it manages to completely have its own personality and actually I enjoyed this a lot more. There’s a lot of original elements in to keep it interesting, the story is fun and fast moving, and I loved the characters. Rishi deserves a book all of her own, and Alex is fun to read.

If I wanted to look for faults with it I could say that the writing is mostly ok but has moments where it’s a bit stale; there’s a fair bit of explaining what’s just happened instead of showing it. The ending felt rushed and the big fight at the end was over almost before I realised it had started, there wasn’t enough of the Labyrinth in it! But these are only minor issues for me, I very much enjoyed reading it and really I just wish it were longer.

Give this one a go, it’s a fun and interesting read with a lot of originality and characters that will get under your skin, in a good way!

Labyrinth Lost
Brooklyn Brujas
Zoraida Córdova
Young Adult Fantasy
September 6th 2016
Kindle
336

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2) by Jen Williams

The Iron Ghost Cover

Beware the dawning of a new mage.

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking.

My Review of The Iron Ghost

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2)The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this. It’s fun and fast and Wydrin is brilliant, she’s my new hero. She never thinks, she acts first and leads the way for everyone else.

So the Iron Ghost goes a bit more in-depth with the characters than the first book. Now the scene has been set there’s more time for them to develop beyond the stereotypes and we see more complex personalities come out.

But it also feels more focused and like there is more time given to developing the story. The tone is darker with scarier monsters and a seriously twisted bad mage that thinks he’s actually doing good things. To fight him the Black Feather Three have to do things that make them question their own moral values.

It’s the second in a trilogy but what I like about this series is that they are stand-alone stories. It does help if you’ve read the first book, but the story here has its own beginning and ending. No cliffhangers! *happy face*

It’s super enjoyable, action-packed, and it has a cast of diverse characters. It left me feeling happy when I’d finished it! I already want to go back and re-read it.

The Iron Ghost
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 26th 2015
Paperback
544

The Amber Citadel (Jewelfire #1) by Freda Warrington

The Amber Citadel Cover

Two hundred and fifty years ago, humans defeated the shape-changing Bhahdradomen in the War of the Silver Plains. Although they are exiled – or even thought to be extinct – the shape-changers’ hatred and jealousy of the humans live on. Now, in the failings of a human king, they find a way to assuage that hatred. Meanwhile, the third race, the mysterious Aelyr, keep apart from human realms although they also consider the Bhahdradomen enemies.

Tanthe and Ysomir are sisters, living in the village of Riverwynde, 2,000 miles from the capital city Parione. Ysomir is in love with Lynden, son of the village leader. Tanthe is bored with rural life and longs for the wonders of Parione. But the growing madness of King Garnelys and the Bhahdradomen’s wiles soon lead to terrible events, the abduction of Ysomir, and the beginning of a long journey for Tanthe, Lynden, and his brother Rufryd, as they set out for the Amber Citadel of Parione.

My Review of The Amber Citadel

The Amber Citadel (The Jewelfire Trilogy #1)The Amber Citadel by Freda Warrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say The Amber Citadel is not as good as the other books I’ve read by Freda Warrington. The writing is still fantastic and her descriptions are just as lush as ever but it’s all a bit overwhelming with a lot of back story and history to remember and lots of different characters. I found the plot a bit messy and hard to keep track of and the characters not very likeable. But it is very inventive and she manages to stay away from a lot of the standard fantasy clichés.

The characters bicker a lot. Tan doesn’t speak, she shouts and gets angry at everything anyone says to her and I found her very childish and hard to like. Rufryd was the same and I really could have done without their relationship drama.

The ending was dark and full of surprises, it did not go the way I expected at all! The story had all started to come together and the characters were growing up a bit. I think there is a lot of potential for the next book to really take off. Hopefully there will be less of the bickering!

I didn’t get on with the characters but I’m hooked by the ending and I want to see where the story goes. I will definitely be reading the next book, I just hope there will be less relationship angst and more story.

The Amber Citadel
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1999
Paperback
599

The Prophetess by Desy Smith

the prophetess

Fallen from Heaven and forced to live amongst the humans in exile, angel Ezekiel bares the tragic fate of a disgraced angel. Having overheard the rebellious Lucifer’s plans to rise up against the sanctuary of Heaven Ezekiel remains silent. For his inaction he is cast from the pearly gates and into the unforgiving lands of the mortals. Two thousand years pass  and  Ezekiel resigns himself to his fate.

However, in the year 2016 the winds of fate begin to change and Ezekiel is given a chance to return to his home. If Ezekiel can stop Molach from helping Lucifer return he will be welcomed back into Heaven. However, there is more than just a demon in his path. Ezekiel must uncover what else fate has in store for him, including a lovely solitary Prophetess named Isabelle and the endless possibility for joy and whimsy she offers.

My review of The Prophetess

The Prophetess by Desy Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m struggling to give a rating for this one. I enjoyed the story but there are a lot of issues with it.

It’s massively in need of a good editing. There’s a lot of spelling mistakes, and some layout issues that make it difficult to tell which character is speaking. A lot of the action doesn’t flow, it jumps between scenes and things don’t logically follow on from each other. I think it’s self published though so I can forgive things like this, a good editor will sort things like this.

I had major issues with Isabelle. Meant to be 23, she acts like she’s 13. Rude, aggressive, immature and completely unlikable. Branding other women as whores because they give a man their phone number (or for any reason really) is inexcusable. Knowing your own mind and standing up for yourself is good but whinging and throwing insults around doesn’t achieve anything.

Ezekiel is the saving grace in this book. I liked his character, and I enjoyed reading his viewpoint. And I loved the thing with the gold dust from his wings!

There’s a decent story in here too as much as I disliked Isabelle I was enjoying the romance that was building up between the two of them. I genuinely felt a bit angry when the book ended because I wanted to see where it was going! There is some good world building in places, but most of the scenes ended up too focused on Isabelle instead of on what was happening. A lot of chances at creating atmosphere or pulling the reader into the story were missed.

I hated Isabelle but I liked the story and Ezekiel is lovely. I’m think I’m going to have to go with three stars, simply because of the feeling when it ended. Surely that’s the best judge of a book?

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

The Prophetess
Desy Smith
Urban Fantasy
170

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

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird #5) by Freda Warrington

Darker than the storm cover

The towers of Niankan-Siol soared skywards, all blue and gold and glass, seeming as light as air. Walkways, weightless and swaying, threaded between the pinnacles and spires, while winged creatures and air transports flitted and looped among the glittering heights.

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of Darker than the Storm

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird, #5)Darker than the Storm by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darker than the Storm is the fifth in the Blackbird series. It’s set between the second and third books but as it’s a self-contained story I think you could read this without having read the other books.

This book tells the story of Ashurek after he has settled down on Ikonus with his wife Silvren and their daughter Mellorn.

Ikonus is a peaceful planet, but Ashurek finds himself restless. Overcome with a strong feeling of depression he breaks the law of Ikonus and opens a way to Jhensit, another planet. He is found out and as punishment Gregardreos, the high master of Iknous, sends him to set to investigate the odd energy that Jhensit is emitting.

Ashurek lands on Jhensit in a city split into two. Nianken-Pel is the main city, Nianken-Siol is a city above the city, a glittering place of blue glass where the ruling class live. They are the Siol, and they have enslaved the Pel, the people of Nianken-Pel and persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

Blaming the Pel for all their problems the Siol are ignoring the real problem: Jhensit is a planet slowly being consumed by a maelstrom, a corrupt energy that warps the land and creates monstrous creatures.

Ashurek only wants to observe and take back information to Ikonus, but he finds himself unwillingly drawn into the conflict. He must face up to his past and make moral choices as he tries to save Jhensit from being destroyed.

Ashurek was a strong but silent type in the first two Blackbird books so I wasn’t sure that he would be able to carry a whole book on his own. But he works well as the main character, he has a dry sense of humour and a compelling voice. He knows his own faults and his strengths and isn’t afraid to take action when needed. He’s interesting to read about!

There was just enough world building to get a sense of Jhensit. I would have preferred a bit more maybe, about the two cities and the contrast between them. Nianken-Siol, the city in the sky, sounds like a beautiful but cold place full of glittering glass and I would have liked to know more about it and the people there.

The story is well paced, it moves fast without being confusing and stays interesting. It reminds me a bit of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. They’re quite different stories but it has a similar sort of idea of a floating palace in conflict with the city below, and both of them are beautifully written. Darker than the Storm is a lot older though, it was released in 1992, 25 years ago!

I recommend this to anyone that likes fantasy stories and is looking for something a bit different. It’s crammed full of ideas that all merge into an original and exciting read. I couldn’t put it down!

Darker than the Storm
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1992
Paperback
304

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4) by Freda Warrington

A Blackbird in Twilight Blurb

The great Serpent M’gulfn is dead, all save one of its demon-servants destroyed. Now is the time when the power of sorcery might be harnessed for good or for evil.

Journeying disguised to Gorethria comes Melkavesh, daughter of Silvren and Ashurek, eager to use that latent power for good. It seems she is too late, for a ruthless usurper, Duke Xaedrek, has already seized control. Aided by a demon with malign intentions of its own, he intends to restore the evil Gorethrian Empire.

To save the Earth of Three Planes, Melkavesh must defeat Xaedrek – even though their conflict may claim innocent victims and bring other lands to ruin. And can she withstand the temptation to reclaim her birthright – the dark throne renounced by Ashurek – or resist the all-too-seductive charm of Xaedrek himself?

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

My Review of A Blackbird in Twilight

A Blackbird in TwilightA Blackbird in Twilight by Freda Warrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a ride! This has taken my emotions up and down so much it’s taken me three days to be able to start writing a review.

A Blackbird in Twilight is the fourth book in Blackbird series, and the concluding part of the story started in A Blackbird in Amber.

Mellorn / Melkavesh has raised an army to repel the Gorethrian army. But her sorcery has been no help to her, and the Gorethrian Emperor Xaedrek is using the power of the last remaining demon to strengthen his soldiers and power his war machines.

But they all fail to see that the biggest threat to Earth is the demon, who has dark plans of their own.

There is some serious character growth in this book! The characters are all imperfect shades of grey.

Mellorn wants to stop the Empire enslaving the whole continent, but she also has her own ego. She sees herself as a saviour, as a leader and an Empress, and she can’t see her own faults.

Kharaan thinks of herself as a coward, but over the two books, she has evolved into a strong and resilient woman. She acts as Mellorn’s conscience, putting the brakes on the sorceress’ ego.

Xaedrek is doing some very bad things and has allowed himself to be controlled by the demon. But his motivation is his love of Gorethria, and he is sensible and logical and capable of caring. We see all sides of him and he comes across as a real person, not a cardboard cutout villainous Emperor.

The first Blackbird book I enjoyed, but you could see Freda Warrington’s inexperience as a writer, and I found it a little bit naive. Her writing was good from the first book but also improved massively over the series. This fourth book is multilayered and deeply thought out. It’s well written and atmospheric and full of difficult decisions for her characters. There are no right answers here, no obvious rights and wrongs

I can never guess where the story is going to go next, what the characters will do, how they will deal with their problems. And yet, when it happens, when things are resolved, it’s hard to see how it could have happened any other way.

Don’t read Freda Warrington if you don’t want a bittersweet ending. I feel heartbroken and yet happy at the same time. And she is so very good at making her villains so human you understand their actions, and even sympathise with them.

This is the most enjoyable fantasy series I’ve read in a long time, and this book has easily earned its five stars.

A Blackbird in Twilight
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1988
Paperback
387

A Blackbird in Silver by Freda Warrington (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Silver Cover

Blackbird in Silver Blurb

From Forluin, green, half-fabled land of beauty and peace, has journeyed the gentle Estarinel, bearing tragic news.

From the terrible Empire of Gorethria rides Ashurek; a lean and deadly warrior, once High Commander of its Armies, scourge of the Earth, hated and feared across continents.

The third is known only as Medrian. Coldly wrapped in her cloak of sorrow, her eyes deep-shadowed with suffering long-endured, she will explain nothing of her reasons.

Theirs is the Quest. They must slay the great Serpent before it lays waste and utterly destroys the Earth. Together they must seek its lair in the far frozen north, battling peril and nightmare until they face the ultimate, indestructible foe.

Three warriors. An epic Quest. They are the world’s last hope.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of A Blackbird in Silver

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird, #1)A Blackbird in Silver by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three mismatched companions start out on a quest to find a way to kill the great serpent M’gulfn that is trying to destroy the Earth. The serpent is slowly spreading despair and anguish, causing wars and laying countries to waste so nothing can grow or survive there.

I first read this book about 20 years ago, and it’s survived 4 house moves, my years at university and many, many book clear outs.

It’s rare that I remember much that happens in books I’ve read before, and I don’t remember how it ends or how it started, but what I do remember is the feeling I got reading this series.

That’s stopped me getting rid of the books many times over the years. I always meant to re-read it, but in a few months I’m going to a convention where Freda Warrington will be appearing so I thought I should read it again before I take it to get it signed.

The way it’s written reminds me of how Ursula Le Guin or Tanith Lee writes. It’s quite simplistic in style, almost in the way a children’s book would be, though the content is very adult and the characters find themselves in some dark situations.

The three companions that set out on the quest have rich and detailed backstories and don’t instantly bond.

Ashurek’s story is very detailed and he is a very complex character. he’s been through a lot and done some very bad things but even though he realises this, he also knows it’s M’gulfn’s influence that sent him on this path. He wants to make amends but he’s not consumed by guilt.

Medrian I remembered from the first time I read the book, the cold, pale, dark haired woman that won’t explain her reason for joining the quest, I also remembered what her secret is. That’s probably affected my re-read, I’m not getting the sense of mystery or confusion over her behaviour that I probably should be. But she is still my favourite character in the story, quiet and withdrawn and acts almost like she is in constant pain, but she still comes alive when in danger or in a fight. We see rare smiles, glimpses of what she would be like if she weren’t carrying these dark secrets.

Though the basic story elements are standard fantasy fare it’s taken in a different direction. It has strong, unique characters that carry the story and I found myself engrossed in their stories.

Things get very dark, with some almost horror elements finding their way in, demons, torture and dead soldiers raised to fight for the enemy. There’s a hopeless, desperate feel that permeates the book.

There’s also a bit of sci-fi mixed in, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to spoil the plot!

These things make it stand out from the norm, it’s something a bit different if you read a lot of fantasy books.

It’s a hard one for me to rate, I would normally say 3 stars, but I still think about this book 20 years after reading it and that has to lift it to a 4.

A Blackbird in Silver
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
March 5th 1992
304