The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

BLOG“The deeds of men, as footprints in the desert.
Nothing under the circling moons is fated to last.
Even the sun goes down.”

A fantasy novel that sets the stage for an epic journey, The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a land with a violent past and the individuals whose paths and destiny intersect during a vital time. Al-Rassan is home to three very different cultures and faiths, which has led to years of turmoil and accounted for the violence and brutality of endless battles. Three notable individuals of different faiths find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and their choices have life altering consequences for themselves and the very future of Al-Rassan.

“It’s one thing to make war for your country, your family, even in pursuit of glory. It’s another to believe that the people you fight are embodiments of evil and must be destroyed for that. I want this peninsula back. I want Esperana great again, but I will not pretend that if we smash Al-Rassan and all it has built we are doing the will of any god I know.”

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From the compelling characters to the beautiful writing, I was completely taken with this novel. It is a wonderful fantasy that looks at divided loyalties, the clash between religion and politics, and the price of war. These themes are tackled in a smart and thought-provoking way that really elevates the story. The true heart of this novel are the characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, and who will stay with me for a long time to come. It does take a little time to fall into the rhythm of the story in terms of learning all the characters and where they fit in the overall layout of this conflict, however this did not take away from the enjoyment. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel full of humour, wit, tragedy, and a lot of heart. Truly a fantasy worthy of your time.

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

BLOG“We remember a time of such clarity. We were Beast, we ran with wolves and hunted prey, we lived on the wind and breathed the forest. We wanted nothing but to be, to run, to endure. Want didn’t exist.

And we remember another time, too, a time of longing and desire, where we existed as nothing but want… always the next unattainable thing. There was no joy in what we had, only in what might come.”

Yeva has always felt most at home in the forest, and most at peace while hunting with her father. But as she gets older, the expectations to be a lady of high society and to marry a wealthy gentleman have led to days of polite chatter with baronessas and taken her away from the solitude she cherishes. When her father loses his fortune and she and her sisters have to move to a cabin on the outskirts of the forest, Yeva is secretly glad. Relieved to be back in the environment of the forest, with all its mysterious and unspoken magic. But this new way of life may have cost Yeva’s father his sanity, and when he disappears she sets out to find him and hunt down the creature that her father had become obsessed with tracking.

“She wept because she did not know what she wanted, and because she wanted everything.”

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Hunted is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. I love a good retelling and Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favourite story for this. This take on the well known story is wonderfully done and I ended up happily spending the day completely engrossed in the adventure. There is depth and nuance to the characters that made me care about their situation and their fate in what was to come. The relationship between Yeva and her sisters is quite touching and was one of my favourite parts of the novel, along with the way the author perfectly encapsulated very complex emotions. With memorable characters and compelling writing, Hunted is a wonderful escape into a new take on a tale as old as time.

“The song wanted. It wanted in the way Yeva had always wanted, wanted not so much a thing as everything, something beyond naming, something more than, different, deeper.”

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

BLOGI am the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground,’ he said, mismatched eyes glinting. ‘I am wildness and madness made flesh. You’re just a girl’—he smiled, and the tips of his teeth were sharp—’and I am the wolf in the woods.”

Liesl has grown up hearing stories about the Goblin King, the Ruler Underground. While it all seemed so real to her as a child, the older she got the more it became a fantasy; things of myth and legend. However, odd sightings and strange occurrences raise many questions for Liesl, leading her to wonder how much of the stories are real. When her sister, Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl ventures into the world of the Underground on a mission to save her sister. But there is a price to be paid, and for the Goblin King, that price is a life for a life.

“What’s the use of running, if we are on the wrong road.”

Wintersong provided an interesting reading experience for me. Some things worked, others not so much, and overall I was left with mixed feelings. The writing is absolutely lovely, and the story itself does not follow the typical route of novels in its genre. This on its own fascinated me and kept me guessing as to how everything would develop and conclude. While marketed as a YA fantasy novel, it does feel more like an adult novel, which ads to what feels like a departure from the typical stories of the genre. The pacing of the novel is quite slow, which made it difficult to really get into the story and connect with the characters. Another thing that didn’t completely work for me was the romance aspect of the story that felt at times confusing and slightly annoying. However, certain parts of the plot did keep me engaged and I really liked the author’s writing style. She is a very talented writer and I look forward to seeing what she releases next.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

BLOG“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of one of my favourite books of 2015, Signal to Noise. This novel is quite different in genre, that being a paranormal thriller that tells the story of a clash between vampires in alternating points of view. We meet, Domingo, a homeless teen; Ana, a tough cop; and Atl, a young vampire who has entered a vampire-free zone in Mexico City. Atl is smart, dangerous, and on the run from a rival vampire clan. Atl walks into Domingo’s life and an interesting rapport develops, while Ana’s investigation leads her right in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

This is not a genre that I generally gravitate towards and not a book I would normally read, but as a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing I had to give this one a try. What is very clear is that she is a truly talented storyteller. The world-building is well crafted and it is easy to be drawn into this reality that the author has crafted. What really stands out is the characters, who are compelling and make you care about their stories and overall journey. The alternating viewpoints are well done, and I enjoyed them all, particularly that of Atl who is just such a badass. If you are a fan of this genre, then this book is definitely for you. However, if it is not something you generally read or if vampires don’t really appeal to you, I do recommend checking out Signal to Noise, which is a fantastic novel.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

IMG_4357“Inside a dream.
Within a lost city.
In the shadow of an angel.
At the brink of calamity.”

Lazlo Strange has spent most of his life dreaming of the lost city of Weep; a city that has turned into myth. As the years pass, his dream of finding the city that has become an obsession, gradually begins to feel like an impossibility. He is no one of importance after all, but a junior librarian and orphan who found his home among books. One day, a man known as the Godslayer and a group of legendary warriors provide a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that will answer all of Lazlo’s questions and uncover a long lost mystery.

Strange the Dreamer is a wonderfully crafted, page-turning read. From the opening paragraph to the very last sentence, the beautiful writing is downright captivating, as the story and characters are brought to life. There is a dreamy quality to Laini Taylor’s storytelling that transports the reader to the fantastical world she has created. The characters are interesting, each consisting of great depth and complexity, which brings up thought-provoking issues of morality and justice. It also explores complex emotions given the circumstances and situations the characters have encountered.

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“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“So they layered cynicism atop their longing, and it was something like layering laughter over the darkness — self-preservation of an uglier stripe. And thus did they harden themselves, by choosing to meet hate with hate.”

There are a number of layers to this novel, all of which work wonderfully: the story of Lazlo’s life growing up, the mystery surrounding the mythical city of Weep, the story of gods and goddesses, the intriguing characters, the magic, and of course the dreams of a dreamer. This is the first book in what is to be a duology, with the second book expected to be released in 2018. Now I wait. 🙂

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?”

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl

IMG_4062“… a ferryman for the dead finds his existence unraveling after making either the best decision or the biggest mistake of his immortal life.”

Charlie Dawson is a ferryman whose job is to usher the dead to their afterlife. Those chosen to be a part of The Ferryman Institute are tasked with this important duty, and in the case that they should fail, the ghosts of the dead that do not cross over stay listlessly in the world until they slowly disappear into nothingness. Charlie himself has grown into a legend, having served as ferryman for two-hundred-and-fifty years and having a perfect record of completing every assignment successfully. However, the job itself takes a toll on him and he wants out, which turns out to not be easily accomplished. The Institute wants to hold on to their most successful ferryman and is not keen on letting him go. When a top secret assignment is given to Charlie, he is given a choice: “Be a Ferryman or save the girl. Your choice.” His decision sets him on a path that leads to many questions and ultimately some interesting answers.

The premise of this novel really sparked my interest, and as soon as I started reading I was drawn into this fascinating world and its amusing characters. The world-building is very well done and it had all the ingredients of an excellent story. Unfortunately, I feel it lost its way about halfway through and never really recovered. The voice of the main female character is incredibly immature and difficult to get along with, and throughout most of the latter part of the book she comes across as a whiny teenager rather than an adult woman. There is a romantic aspect to the story that felt awkward, not believable, and not really necessary. These two factors slowly took me out of the story and it became difficult to feel engaged to the events that were unfolding. I love the world the author created and did very much enjoy the first portion of the novel, unfortunately there were aspects that really took away from the story and it ultimately did not come together for me.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

img_3887Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

The spirits that inhabit the land of Renthia and bring it to life, are a danger to humans. Only one woman has the power to control the spirits and protect the land and its people; the chosen queen. However, the danger always looms. In order to ensure there is always a suitable candidate to take the position of queen should anything happen to the one that reigns, young women who choose to be candidates are trained to become heirs. Young Daleina, whose childhood brush with these malevolent spirits sets her on a path towards becoming heir, has the goal of doing right by the land and helping people. Along with Ven, a disgraced champion, she embarks on a quest to right the wrongs that have befallen Renthia and those she cares most about.

Don’t trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don’t trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don’t trust the water, for it will drown you.
Don’t trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don’t trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don’t trust the trees, for they will rip you,
rend you, tear you, kill you dead.

The premise intrigued me, the writing drew me in, the story captured my attention, and the characters made me care. The Queen of Blood is one of my favourite fantasy novels that I have read in quite some time. It works on so many different levels with charismatic, compelling characters, and a plot that kept me eagerly turning the pages. It strays away from the typical fantasy storyline which usually consist of one hero that is special in skill and talent, that rises above the rest to save/conquer. Instead, we have a protagonist that is a regular girl with a desire to help people, in a way she was unable to as a child when she experienced first-hand the power of the spirits. It’s about determination, strength, and wanting to do the right thing. A wonderfully written and captivating novel.

The Queen of Blood is the first in what is set to be a trilogy, with the second novel, The Reluctant Queen expected to be released in July of 2017. I very much look forward to this next instalment. 🙂