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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Daughter of Smoke of Bone by Laini Taylor features a fun protagonist, Karou, an art student with peacock blue hair. One would think she’s a typical college student, dying her hair quite an unlikely color. But in truth, she doesn’t color it at all.  Studying art in Prague, she happens to lead a bit of a double life. While she lives here, in the world we know, her ‘family’ lives in another world that she accesses through portals.

I really enjoy her personality. She is a bit mysterious and has a wry sense of humor that she uses that to her advantage as she tells people truths that are not quite unbelievable within the world we as humans know.  They just assume she is joking. However, in truth, there are many unbelievable things that are just part of Karou’s life. It’s a life that she herself does not really understand, but just lives. As part of it, she runs mysterious errands across the world, traveling via portals, she also gets wishes, that are a type of magic brought from the other world as well. But all of this, she feels a bit lost, not real sure where she really came from or who she really is (her family through the portal is an adoptive family, of sorts.

“This was her life: magic and shame and secrets and teeth and a deep nagging hollow at the center of herself where something was most certainly missing”

Things take a turn however, when mysterious handprints start showing up, scorched onto the doors that serve as portals, and from here, the story really starts unfolding and we get to see Karou tested, challenged and thrown headlong into war she knows nothing about.

I enjoyed Taylor’s writing and think it worked well to get across the personality of the younger protagonist, but didn’t sacrifice quality at all. It was creative, fun, and had a good flow to it. However, at about half way through the book, the story just lost something for me. The pacing seemed slower, there were flashbacks, that while very important, felt like an interruption to the story being told; they seemed to break the flow and I started losing interest. . The romance also was a bit much for me as well. The good news was that the last 10% or so of the book, the pace picked back up (way up), and I was just as engaged as I was in the beginning. I just wish that could have held for the entire story.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It’s a story of love, friendship, hope and magic. Taylor’s prose is very well written, easy to read, and features the wry humor that her protagonist shares. It would be a good choice for fans of YA, especially ones looking for a strong female lead and very fantastical style romance.

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic”

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

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How appropriate to finish and review Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard on Valentine’s Day. I’m not one to make a fuss about the holiday, but even I have to admit, if I am going to post a review on Valentine’s Day, it is very fitting that it would be for Moth and Spark. This is very much a love story. It is about freeing dragons, saving the empire and winning love. And I won’t say that it is the boy’s story to do these things, because in this the romance is also a partnership. Together, what can be accomplished is much more than individually.

The romance in Moth and Spark is an unlikely romance (and I mean unlikely in their world, obviously as readers, we are quite used to such things).  When the two meet, sparks fly. They are drawn to each other as a moth to flame. You get the idea. Like I said, this is very much a story of love and romance.

Corin is, of course, the handsome prince that all the court is swooning over in hopes of landing a royal marriage. Well, maybe not all the court. Only those who have a high enough status to be deemed a worthy match swoon. The rest know their place and set their sites accordingly. But they still probably secretly fantasize.

Tam is the strikingly beautiful, incredibly witty, and very intelligent daughter of a doctor. She is a commoner who was invited to court for the first time, new to the formalities, the ways of court, and to knowing when to keep her comments to herself.  Of course, these comments are why readers will enjoy her. It is also what draws Corin to her, despite the fact that she is obviously not just below, but way below what would be considered even an option for marriage. There is no falsity to her, which is a rare thing in the world he knows and Corin can’t help to appreciate and crave it.

It sounds sweet and lovely so far does it not? But, the romance is most certainly not the only part of the book. There is a plot that has found itself entwined with the couple. So much so, that it is in many ways hard to separate out. For without Tam and Corin coming together, the story would have unfolded to tell a much different tale.

Dragons are being held and forced into servitude. The Emperor that holds them has gone a bit mad and Corin has been selected by the dragons as the one to free them. Only, he does not know how to accomplish such a thing. Tam has also had brief moments to show that there is more to her than one might think.  Their romance unfolds and strengthens as they work to solve problems larger than what the court might think of them as a couple.

I very much enjoyed this because it was a refreshing change of pace from my normal books. Leonard did a great job with the characters and also in keeping an appropriate balance between romance and how it plays into the plot.  I also enjoyed that it was not the story of just ‘winning the prince’ but rather winning love together in the process of trying to free dragons and save the empire.

Moth and Spark will be released February 20th 2014  by Viking (Penguin Group) in the US and Headline in the UK. Many thanks to  Viking (Penguin Group) and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Guy Gavriel Kay has been on my “must try” list for years. I have heard him recommended so many times and I have come across devoted fans that will praise his prose endlessly. And on top of that, he writes stand-alone novels, so there is no fear of commitment here. With all of that, I have no idea why I have not read one of his novels previously. But, I nominated The Lions of Al-Rassan for one of my book club reads and happily it won. No more excuses, it was time to actually read.

So, now that I have read it, do I think it is worthy of the praise I have heard? Absolutely. Kay’s prose is just wonderful to read. Lions of Al-Rassan is a historical fantasy with very little magic. Similar to K. J. Parker’s work, this one is a fictional world that mirrors ours. But the strengths of this book are different than Parker. Kay’s prose has a more fluid feel, while Parker has more mystery/layers. I don’t think one is better than the other; they just have a little bit different feel reading them, even though in some ways they are similar.

One of the first things I took note about this book is that it is brutal. At least there is a very brutal scene in the beginning. I was surprised just because I have never heard that mentioned of Kay’s books before. And reading on, I don’t know if it is indicative of all his books, but for this one, it made so much sense for him to capture atrocities of war and present them to the reader for this particular book. Because when it’s all said and read, this book is about war. It’s about intolerance, differences in religions and cultures and how people stereotype and treat each other. It is also about how people don’t need to be evil to be driven to carry out what would otherwise be evil deeds. It’s all in the name of war or religion. Or both. It would be hard to really drive home the brutality of war without showing it. There is a shock value there that just can’t be accomplished otherwise. And I’m not saying that Kay is very graphic, he’s not. It’s just the events themselves that are harsh.

A real strength of this book is that each of the three protagonists represents a different culture. It is much harder to pick a side to root for or against when you see each side humanized instead of stereotyped. And by some fate, they have wound up traveling together and have to face divided loyalties. I love books that make characters reflect on choices and loyalties. I love when the other side is shown as actual people with their own reasons and motivations instead of just being “good guys” vs. “bad guys”. Because lets face it, in reality, every side thinks of themselves as the good guys.

Another strength of this book is the women characters. Jehane is one of our three main protagonists and is by all means a strong female character. She is not a fighter, she is a doctor so I don’t mean strong as in physically strong (I never do when I say that, I think a female character can be portrayed as physically strong, but still be weak). The only point I came even close to having a complaint about in this book was I felt like everyone was falling in love with Jehane. But that is not a real complaint, it really didn’t bother me, and I guess she was a remarkable woman. In addition to Jehane, there were a couple of secondary women characters that were also strong and fun to read.

Something else I enjoy in this book is the way Kay will allude to events being one way, causing the reader to make assumptions, only to turn the tables and reveal something else. As a reader, you then have evaluate and realize how easily you can come to false conclusions. Even after you catch on, it’s still fun because it makes the book less predictable.

And as for the ending of this book, I absolutely love the way it was done. I don’t want to say more because I want to keep this spoiler free, but fantastic ending. Kay’s prose, story telling, world building and characters are all just beautifully done.I highly recommend this book to anyone, and I look forward to reading my next book by Kay.

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Snowblind by Christopher Golden

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A real modern day ghost story, Snowblind by Christopher Golden is the story of one small New England town where people are haunted. The atmospheric story starts out with one frightful night where the danger lurked not in shadows behind closet doors or under the bed. The danger was not in isolated old houses. The danger here came with the snow. A monstrous winter storm that brought more to fear than just cold and ice descended on the town and left those who survived forever changed, mourning those lost and fearful for another storm that was more than just a vicious weather event.

The story then brings the reader 12 years later, showing snapshots of how life had changed for those who lost loved ones, and those who could not save victims of the storm 12 years earlier. It also showed a town on edge. The weather forecast is calling for another monster storm reviving memories of lives lost and people missing all those years earlier. Memories of the unsolved mysteries the last storm left. And memories that many would rather forget then remember, and certainly did not want to relive.

As the storm nears, some members of the town start acting strange or different. The memories of the last storm are growing stronger and more urgent. Pain and regrets grow fresh again. The story in this was great, especially for a winter read. I loved the haunting storm, trying to figure out what was going on. There was wonderful suspense, mystery and occasionally adrenalin. There was also a great range in characters, and relationships.

For most of the book, it is not a fast paced thriller. It is more slow and haunting. On the surface this is very much a ghost story, but if you look closer, I also feel that ultimately, this book was about life, death and relationships. Appreciating what you have and to let go of regrets.

Many thanks to the St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.

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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

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So a few months back, I read Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I absolutely loved Horns, NOS4A2 and Locke & Key (my first graphic novel experience). Needless to say, I had high expectations for HSB. I’ve put off reviewing it because I can’t decide how to put into words how I felt about this book. Or really, if I even wanted to try to put words to it. But I’m trying now, so here it goes.

I grew up with horror. I love dark books. I have never felt that maybe a book was too dark for me. Until now. I had a very hard time getting through this one and I can’t say how much of it is just a personal reaction that is separate from the actual text and world that Hill uses to create this world and story.  For this reason, I have hesitated to review it.

The problem for me is that I have a very hard time reading about suicide. Any storylines, jokes, what not that involve the topic, they take a much darker turn for me than I think is actually intended or what most people would experience. So, while I have a very high tolerance for dark books, my saying this one was a tad too dark for me may not have as much weight as if it were a typical grimdark style story with swords, murder, assassins, torturers, or whatever the case may be.

The darkness and my issues with that aside, the storyline for this was very intriguing. Aging rock star, Judas Coyne, is fascinated with the occult. He collects the strange and macabre, so when he  is presented with the opportunity to purchase a ghost, how could he turn it down? Turns out, this purchase actually is what it claims to be. And the ghost is not just random, but is set to haunt and terrorize Judas for vengeance.

As one would expect with the theme and the author, the book is dark and haunting.  There are thrilling and tense moments, scenes that make you squeamish, events that you just didn’t see coming. I love all these things about Joe Hill’s books.  And Heart-Shaped Box definitely delivered on all accounts. Personally, I prefer Horns or NOS4A2 or even Locke and Key, and will recommend those first but this story is also worth reading and is still probably a must read for fans of Joe Hill’s other books.

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A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

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Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish is dark and bloody delve into the world of assassins. If you are one to enjoy the grimdark path that a book like this will take then definitely give it a shot. Personally, I really enjoyed it. It’s a book that sucked me in and kept me turning pages. I love unpredictability; I love books where any characters safety is not a sure thing. In this, Dance of Cloaks succeeds extraordinarily well. It is not as complex as Martin’s ASoIaF, nor are the characters quite as memorable. But let’s face it, for fans of Martin, that is a very high bar for a book to achieve. I would say this is on par with Brent Week’s Night Angel trilogy and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed that series.

I first read this when it was self-published, and I was still fairly new to the genre. I have seen others complain that there is nothing new in this, that it is unoriginal. Well, I didn’t have that complaint. Maybe because everything in the genre was still fresh for me, maybe because the grimdark scene lines up better with my horror roots, I don’t really know (or care).

I enjoyed the characters, the city, the politics and the magic.  I may not have felt quite as attached to some of the characters as would be ideal, but overall, I enjoyed it enough to not care.

If you are squeamish, you probably shouldn’t read this book. If you are tired of assassins or thieves, don’t read this book. As for me, I’m not squeamish, I don’t like characters to be safe, and I am not tired of thieves or assassins even now, two years after I first read this book.

 

*disclaimer – I never use grimdark as a deragotory term. I quite enjoy all of the most predominant books that have been given this label

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Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina

*** UPDATE – I just found out my review copy was missing an entire chapter. I hope to get a chance to look at the complete book and evaluate if that could have impacted my opinion/review. Many of my comments and observations will stand, but even if the book has faults, I feel bad that the author’s work, particularly in regard to its resolutions, since I understand this chapter is towards the end, is being judged on an incomplete version. ***

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I enjoyed reading Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina, but I’ve debated how to go about writing this review. So, what I’ve decided on is to explain why this is a hard one for me to write. I think the process should get across what I want to say about the book.

So firstly I’ll start with saying that my mood and how well a book fits it at the moment can impact my enjoyment level of a book. Sometimes I think it may make the difference between a 3 star and a 4 star or a 4 star and a 5 star rating.  Maybe that is not a fair thing to admit. I have actually thought about writing a blog post on exactly that, so will save further comments on it for that piece (if I ever get around to writing it).

So, as you may have guessed, this book is one that I recognize is a book that if I read on a different day, my reaction may well have been different. In this case, I think unfortunately on another day my enjoyment level may have been less. So is that a fair thing to bring up during a review? I enjoyed this book, but at the same time I recognized numerous things that other days I would be less tolerant of. So, I decided that yes, it is fair game to bring up during a review. Especially since I have decided it is not my typical reading preference.

I’ll start with what I liked about it. Honestly, it was a fun, familiar fantasy. There is an elite guild of mercenaries, the Majat Guild, whose skill and dedication is renowned. Especially for the Diamond Majat mercenaries who are the most elite Majat and practically living legends. One aspect of the Majat is their personal detachment from the cause they are being hired for. No matter the task, the Majat mercenaries show up and do as they are paid to do. Loyal to whoever paid them until their contract is up.  Of course, what happens when a Majat is put in a position to be hired for a task that they as a person find unfathomable? Where will their loyalties really be? Also, because I really enjoyed it, I want to mention there is one character that wears a ‘dress’ of large living poisonous spiders. For some reason, I loved this.

There is nothing ground breaking here, there is nothing that is testing the bounds of the genre. But you know what? Who cares. I think there is room for books that stay in familiar ground because quite frankly, if readers didn’t enjoy it, it wouldn’t be so popular. I was in the mood for something like that, a quick easy read with magic and adventure, on that it delivered.

So, what did I recognize in this story that normally would pull me out and make me have a less favorable reaction? I’ll make a list.

  • Deus ex mahina. Like I said, there is magic in here. Nice comfortable type of magic that has the ability to come and save the day. I was in the mood for it, so didn’t really mind, but when it comes down to it, there were some awfully easy solutions that suddenly appeared.
  • Anachronisms. This is a minor complaint on my part. But expressions such as “Get lost” or “he looked good enough to eat” just felt very out of place.
  • Unwilling Suspension of disbelief. Yes, we need suspension of disbelief  in all books, but some test the bounds way more than others. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that hair is capable of padding someone’s head from a mace.  There were a couple of other events that had this same type of reaction from me where I just couldn’t bring myself to believe.
  • Romance. I’m not against romance in books, I actually often like it as a sub plot, but I usually don’t go for ones this angst-y and dreamy. It’s the type of romance that makes characters pine from afar and become idealistically dreamy when together. I really think the romance in it felt more YA . Not a bad thing for many readers, but it does fall outside of my usual preferences. This time, I didn’t mind so much, but I could recognize the patterns I usually don’t care for as much. I will add that I was happy not all romantic interests happily fell into place.  Not that I like characters to be heartbroken, I just felt it served the story and the characters better and I wasn’t sure it would be that way.

So, now the real question is: did I not mind these things because the quality of writing made me overlook them? Or, did I not mind because when it came down to it, I was in the mood for something different than my usual dark and gritty books. I was in the mood for a story with a strong female character. I was in a mood to just enjoy the magic and not care how unlikely or how easy much of it was. I think the answer to my question about is that it is both. I think the author deserves credit for writing a story for which I am not the normal audience, but I was still able to enjoy, as well as for fitting what I was looking for at the moment. The author always deserves credit for writing a story you enjoy. This is what made writing this review so hard. I enjoyed it, but also felt obligated to point out the areas where I saw weakness even though while reading, I didn’t much care and overlooked them.

So, if those are things that don’t normally bother you (because not all readers will care) or if you are just in the mood for a fun fantasy with mercenaries, an evil brotherhood, then, yes, give Blades of the Old Empire a try.

Blades of the Old Empire will be released Feb. 25th by Angry Robot Books. Many thanks to the Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.

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The Waking Engine by David Edison

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After reading The Waking Engine by David Edison, I’ve decided Edison is an absolute artist with words. I love his descriptions that eloquently describe haunting images. This is what drew me into the book. What surprised me as I read further, is that there is a touch more strangeness and over-the-topness to the characters and world than I initially expected. It made me feel like I was reading a dark literary comic book featuring the fae. If that even makes sense. And that’s not at all a bad thing, it was just unexpected. Unexpected can be quite good.

It is also one of those books that just refuses to go into a box, or be clearly defined in terms of genre. If pressed, I’ll say Science Fiction, because it clearly is Science Fiction. But at the same time, there are a good number of fantasy elements as well. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters, what matters is they story, if it’s enjoyable or not. A book is meant to be read, not put into a box and it’s nice to see the blend of characteristics in this.

Edison’s world is strange, and twisted. Death offers no finality and some are bound to their bodies to live over and over, meaning every time they die, they return to the same body, in the same place.  Because of the unique world and inability to truly die, there is the ability to fulfill desires that are darker and more sinister. People sell their bodies for murder much as prostitutes sell their bodies for sex. There are children who never age, maintain the physical stature they had for their original death. But these children have lived many lives, died many times and are lacking the innocence and wonder that a true child of their age would have.

My main complaint about this book is the characters. Somehow I never felt quite as connected to them as I should. And sometimes, their actions would baffle me and just feel false or forced or random. I suspect this is because I didn’t quite get a good feel for characters. But, don’t take this as a strong negative by any means, it is something that might bother some readers and won’t be noticed by others. The writing, the mystery of the world and trying to figure out what is going on kept me reading.

So, if you are in the mood for a very different Science Fiction read, then yes, pick this one up and try it out. And in the future, I feel Edison is definitely an author to watch because he has such a way with words and imagery.

The Waking Engine will be released February 11, 2014. Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson is on an undeniably epic scale with battles, betrayal and all the rest of that good stuff. Oh, and a very healthy dose of magic. It’s also a very interesting book in how it divides readers into that those that love it and those that don’t. There is never going to be a book that is guaranteed to make all readers happy, but there are some that are more likely to have a wide range of reactions. This is definitely one of those books, a marmite book. Reading along with a group reinforced this and also gave opportunity to see (and understand) the other readers’ reactions.

One of the key things that really divided those readers who love this book and those who found it a chore to read is the reader’s expectations about how much they needed to understand and/or connect the various ongoing storylines. Gardens of the Moon takes no mercy and no time with the backstory, it just drops you in and shows you what is going on through various points of view. There are no info dumps in this book, no extraneous information, just the story that is unfolding, and in the process, you learn the larger story.  But it can be a slow process. This works for some, but not for others. What I may find mysterious and intriguing, another reader would find strange and random. It’s the same story, but I am completely fine with not understanding the big picture and letting the pieces fall in place as the story progresses. Go with the flow. If you can’t do this, you’re not likely to enjoy Gardens of the Moon.

Now, it might be a hard book to read, there is a ton going on, many pieces to fall in place, but is it worth it? Should you try to figure out if this is a book for you? Absolutely, give it a shot and keep in mind that you will have to just take the story as it comes. There’s no hand holding and no spoon feeding for the reader. For those that can handle the way Erikson unfolds the story, it is a very fun read and I can understand why it has such a large set of devoted readers. It features war, spies, assassins, magic, and oh yeah, meddling gods. You can’t forget about them. I also really enjoyed the range of characters. There is so much in this book that makes it worth reading, that it seems to me, you have to at least try.

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

17910124The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley has been getting a lot of attention through social media and blogging sites. As soon as I read about it, I thought it sounded amazing and when I listed in my “books that caught my eye” post on my blog, I wrote:

The blurb of The Emperor’s Blades suggests it has epic potential. I love the mention of “murky politics”, the fact it will have multiple POVs, and yes, I do like that one of the major POVs is female… and a female in a powerful position described as “master politician”.

So, now that I have read it, where does it stand? Well, unfortunately not quite as high as I had hoped. It was a fun read and I loved some aspects about the world and the story, but it just didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Perhaps you shouldn’t take this as too harsh of a criticism, because my expectations were fairly high; after all, I’ve heard it said that ‘this will be the best fantasy novel of 2014′.

First I will explain why it didn’t meet my expectations: Staveley’s writing style features an extensive amount of ‘explaining’; not as much as some books I have read, but a fair bit more than I prefer. He also has a tendency to repeat information more often than is needed. That said, depending on your tastes and preferences, neither of these are necessarily a bad thing that should have you writing off the book. For me though, books that have this habit tend not to be amongst my favorites. Also, some of the ‘revelations’ in the plot were predictable. Because of this, I questioned the intelligence of certain characters because of their blindness to plot ‘twists’ I felt coming a mile away. I almost wonder if the repetition and explanations were scaled back a bit if they could have been less likely to be picked up by the reader, making them less predictable.

When reading the blurb, it lists three characters, the three children of the Emperor:

When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.

Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.

Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.

Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral.

I had assumed each of these characters would be a major POV, so I will review the book by looking at the story and providing my impression of each of them:

I’ll start with Adare. I am not sure why she got almost equal billing in the blurb as she was barely in the book. As it turns out, I was actually completely okay with this as her chapters turned out to be my least favorite. I think she could prove to be interesting in future books in this series, but in this book, Valyn and Kaden stole the spotlight. This was much more their story. Maybe she has a larger role in the bigger picture of the series, but her turn in the spotlight really is yet to come. Her chapters gave us good information on what is happening in Annur, so they were useful, but they just never grabbed my attention as fully as the brothers’ chapters.

Moving on, Kaden and Valyn’s stories were both coming of age tales, just in different settings. Kaden’s story is that of an Emperor-To-Be sent to live the modest life of a monk in a very remote part of the mountains. His training is rather brutal compared to what one may expect from a monastery. His mentor takes no mercy on him as he is assigned tasks that seem to make no sense and punished harshly seemingly at his mentor’s whim. Also, there are mysteries here amongst the monks. There are characters you feel are more than they appear and it does lend an intriguing air to the book. I like Kaden. He is far from a spoiled heir and is rather humble after living amongst the monks for so many years. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to life outside of the monastery.

I have to admit Valyn’s chapters were my favorite. He is training to be an elite fighter (Kettral) and I think I enjoy having the larger variety of characters, the nature of his training and the battles as he makes his way to becoming a full Kettral. His is very much a grueling coming of age tale paired with mystery. Valyn is put in a position of not knowing who to trust but he must work to solve a mystery as well as determine who amongst him may be a traitor to the throne.

It is within this plot thread that the magic system is most seen: the Kettral train ‘leaches’ (magically gifted individuals) to be part of their crew. Leaches each have a unique source of power (called a well and kept secret) that they tap into to perform their magic. [Brian Staveley explained in one interview: ‘The fact that each leach has a different well means that no one, reader or other characters in the novel, starts out with an understanding of who can do what when.’] The Kettral teams also ride on gigantic predatory birds called kettrals which is a cool addition to the world. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in these chapters, the teams, the trials and the mystery.

I did still have a couple of reservations about even Valyn’s chapters: the largest of these were how many of the characters seem to be defined by their emotions. A couple of examples: there is the rage-y one, always ready to fight and blow things up. There is the calculating one, always solitary and so mysterious and likely up to no good. There is the arrogant bastard, always looking down his nose at everyone. I just felt these characters lacked any real depth and they felt closer to caricatures than genuine people. They weren’t bad, they just seemed …. simple. I think I would have preferred more complexity to at least some of the secondary characters. I believe this may have been exasperated by Staveley’s penchant for repetition. Not always a bad thing, some readers enjoy it, but I found it tiring to constantly be reading about how angry a certain character was, or how creepy and withdrawn another character was.

So, overall, I have to admit despite my complaints, I did enjoy this story. It was engaging, it was fun to read and the series has serious potential.  I think I would have preferred a tighter writing style with less repetition and less explaining, but that may be more a personal preference on my part. There are many successful books that read this way. I definitely plan on reading the next installment to see where Staveley takes it.

A version of this review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction

The Emperor’s Blades will be released January 14, 2014 in the US and February 1, 2014 in the UK. Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.