Valour by John Gwynne

Another great book, I’m really enjoying this series. We start off immediately after we left off on the previous book. I won’t go into too much details of the plot but after the end of the first book, things are not looking the best for our main protagonists.

The first book was a little slow getting going as the author was getting us acquainted with the characters and the world. There was an almost slice of life feel to it that I really enjoyed. Well that hard work has payed off and in this book there is no let up. From the first page to the last there is constant strife, battles, heartache and moments of grandeur. 

John Gwynne does not do our main characters any favours. There was a death at the end of the first book that I honestly didn’t think was a ‘real’ death but yeah it was. Very unexpected. And there are more in this book, some of whom I’d become very fond of.

There are more female POV’s in this book which is a good thing as the first book was very male dominated. Cywin was good in the first book but she really shone in this one, I think hers might have been my favourite one, a bit ahead of Corban and Maquin but not by too much. Corban does not get as much page time in this book but his is still probably the most common POV chapters and I really like where his character has gone. He’s growing into himself and I like that it’s taking time for him to adjust to what has happened and what is expected of him.

All the other characters have progressed, except for maybe one, and we have a few more POV’s than last time as I already mentioned. There are a few chapters from Nathair’s mother, these get pretty brutal, and also from Coralen, Halion’s half sister. There are also POV’s from another giant and another warrior who I won’t mention. My only small disappointment was Veralis. I loved his POV’s in the first book, and still did here, I just felt his character hasn’t progressed much and I’m still wondering when he is going to realise who’s side he’s actually on.

That’s it about these books. There are prophecies about this god-war but they are already mostly revealed, I like that it hasn’t been drawn out. The angels and demons are showing up more and the stakes really feel like they’ve escalated. There are a lot of battles in this book and use of the legionnaire type tactics by Nathair and Veralis compared to the Celtic warrior tactics are brutally shown and feels like the end of an era.

The close bond between all the characters is both heart warming and heart breaking precisely because of how close they are it is even worse when something happens to them. As in the first review I mentioned it is a dark book, though not grim dark. Our heroes are proper heroes through all the things that happen to them. This is particularly relevant to Maquin’s character, because he hits some lows before an almighty bittersweet high. You could see it coming but still, amazing. 

Anyway this is shaping up to be one of the best series I’ve read in years and can’t wait to start the third one.

5 stars out of 5

Malice by John Gwynne

This book was absolutely amazing, I didn’t know I had been wanting a book like this until I started it. It has an old school feel to it, it’s dark but not grim dark. Out main character is basically a good guy, weaknesses and flaws yes, but you root for him and he seems to want to do the right thing. John Gwynne has said he was a big David Gemmell fan and it shows. Not in the story mind, Gemmell was generally low key stories, this is Epic fantasy, and the capital E is deliberate. It is more in the characters, flawed but generally good.

The story is in an iron age world, and seems very Celtic in origin. Humankind shares the world with a race of giants and both are recovering after god nearly destroyed the whole world a thousand years before because of a ploy by the devil and his angels.

Ok they are not called god and the devil in this story but that’s what basically they are. And there are angels, on both sides. There are prophecies, nice and obscure so you have no idea who is supposed to be who. A champion for the light and the dark. Writing it down makes it seem a bit tropey but it is so well done that it works brilliantly, and honestly I have no problem with tropes if they are done well.

There are a lot of character POV’s in this book. We have Corban, a young sometimes blacksmith in the village, a few years from his coming of age ritual. He has by far the most chapters, usually every other one. I think his character growth was really well done, starts off a callow and frightened youth but by the end is a confident, even inspirational, young man and the change is so gradual that you don’t really see it happening until you get a few POV’s from people around him and realise.

We also have Veralis, a younger son sent to his king for experience and gets put in the Prince’s retinue. This is a very interesting arc, things are definitely not what they seem and the parallels to another young prince in history are strong. This storyline probably contains more of the broader picture on what’s going on, it has some info dumps but nothing major and does not affect the pacing as it also has the most battle scenes. We also have other POV’s from Corban’s sister, an advisor to Corban’s king, a nephew of another king, an outlaw living in a forest. I could be missing one or two. 

I’ll be honest it was a little confusing at the start with all the POV’s and them all being in different countries but once you started to get to know them it was no problem. I didn’t mind any of the POV’s and usually in books like this there is at least one I don’t like. Some people may say that the pacing is a little slow but I thought it was perfect. This is a four book series, all of them big, so I don’t mind spending time building up the characters and the world, and there were enough events, both major and minor to keep the interest strong.

The world feels real and has a weight of history behind it which I always enjoy. There is enough ambiguity going around to keep you wondering and I love that we are getting POV’s from both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys, and even the worst of the bad guys (so far) is sympathetic in some ways.

Anyway I can’t help but gush a little over this book, it simply blew me away and I don’t get that too often anymore. I was excited reading it and kept thinking about it during the day when I wasn’t reading it, can you ask for anymore? 100% recommended and I hope he keeps it up for the next few books.

5 stars out of 5

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

About half way through this book I wasn’t sure I was liking it much. It started ok but there still didn’t seem like much was happening and considering this is such a short book that is not a good thing. However things started picking up and I really enjoyed the rest of it.

We only have the one POV, Eleanor, a fairly young woman who has not had much interaction in the world due to taking care of her mother for years. Then we have Dr Montague, a paranormal researcher who pulled the group together, Theodora a young bohemian type character and finally Luke, the rakish heir to the house. Dr Montague pulled the group together deliberately to do some active research in a haunted house and as soon as they arrive things get pretty weird almost instantly.

It all sounds fairly stereotypical doesn’t it? Well I am not well versed in the horror genre both in the written and visual mediums but even I thought it all seemed rather generic. But since this was written in the 50’s I think it is not surprising in that a lot of these ideas have been used again and again and so to me they seem tropey but at the time I am sure they were quite original.

The writing style was strange, in a good way. Seemed to drift from an almost scientific style to quite abstract, maybe to show how the mind of our protagonist was changing? I’m still not quite sure what happened at the end, it got quite strange and I wasn’t sure what was ‘real’ and what wasn’t, again I’m sure that was the point. I actually got a little creeped out in places which was pretty cool, very rare that that happens.

I loved the character of Eleanor, she started out so naive (and really stayed that way) but I was hoping her plan to become a new person would work out. The interactions between the different people was great and it’s only as the book got going that you realise that things aren’t probably exactly as Eleanor sees them, she’s not being honest with herself or with you the reader. Really well done.

I’ve only a few criticisms which stopped it being a 5 stars. As I mentioned it takes a bit to get going which I usually don’t mind but in such a short book it was a bit of an issue. I also didn’t like when Mrs Montague and Arthur arrived. Both provided an almost comic relief which I don’t think was necessary but I suppose their purpose was to show how strange our four main characters had become. So overall a pretty good book, with some genuinely creepy moments and great character development.

4 stars out of 5

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

I still have some quibbles with this series but I really enjoyed this concluding volume. I think this whole series only takes place over something like six months, so the pace has been pretty relentless and this book is no exception.

I’m not going to go into too much plot details for fear of spoilers but all our characters are in the thick of the action and the country of Adro is in serious danger from multiple enemies on multiple fronts. Tamas has returned to take control of the armies and in this book we really see why he has such a fearsome reputation as a general.

The battles are very cool and I really enjoyed one of them as we saw it from a few different POV’s: Adamat, Nila and Tamas. I liked the chaotic feel of it as Adamat and Nila are civilians so unlike Tamas and Taniel who we’ve experienced most of the battles so far, they have no idea what’s going on and they are both so confused.

Nila is the stand out character in this book and I am very pleased about that. Her growth and her interactions with Bo were my favourite parts though I was a little disappointed that some explanations for her talents were lacking. Perhaps this is being saved for further volumes.

Taniel took a little bit of a step back in this book from the action and his arc was more internal than external which was a nice touch from all the action elsewhere. Tamas was as cool as ever and though this story line was a little predictive I really enjoyed it, a bit more of the man rather than the general was shown.

Adamat has been my least favourite character from the start and unfortunately it’s no different here. I just think the author didn’t nail him as well as he did the other characters. He feels like somebody who is there to flesh out the plot as his POV’s constantly provide new information so they are still interesting to read but his stated desires, ie protecting his family, don’t match his actions and the events that do happen don’t seem to affect him enough.

I do have issues with one character and some of the plot points (honestly the whole concept of powdermages still doesn’t make sense to me), however I had such fun reading this (I even had a couple of goosebump type moments) that I will definitely be checking out the author’s new books (I already bought Sins of Empire). There’s nothing too deep or genre defining here but it is a great read with some great characters, epic battles with guns, cannons, magic and Gods, that all concludes pretty well with a few loose ends for the author and reader to pursue down the line. Recommended.

4.5 stars out of 5

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

Another enjoyable entry in the series. We start off shortly after the events of the first book. Taniel is recovering from his injuries. Tamas is dealing with an impending Kez invasion. Adamat is still trying to get all of his family back and Nila is captive of Lord Vetas. Like the previous book the pace is crazy and soon we have both Taniel and Tamas in different military engagements, betrayals and reversals all over the place. Adamat’s and Nila’s POV’s are all based in Adro and we see what’s going on there through their eyes. 

I really enjoyed Taniel’s and Tamas’ storylines. There is a lot of action but there was also some good character development. Tamas’ especially was good as I struggled to connect with him in the first book but his motivations became a lot clearer in here, he seemed more human. Taniel’s was similar, dealing with aftermath of the events of the first book and the relationship between him and Ka-poel. She is still one of the best characters and I would love some POV from her.

Adamat’s I did not enjoy nearly so much. Honestly for a ‘family man’ he spends zero time with them. Most of his storyline, except for when Bo entered the picture, did not hold my interest. It did not feel that integral to the plot, except tangentially. Nila’s was similar but I did like hers, mainly because I like the character. Still fell she doesn’t really get enough page time, hopefully that’ll get better in the final book.

So overall a good book. Full of action and the worldbuilding gets more intricate. We see some other countries so the scale has expanded. Still have a thing in my head that I’m missing some prequel style books that deal with Tamas’ story when he was younger. Quite like that. I still have some reservations about the whole powder mage concept but that’s really just me and doesn’t seem to bother most people. Looking forward to the finale.

4 stars out of 5

White Wolf by David Gemmell

I’ve read this book many times, Skilgannon is one of my favourite Gemmell characters. I think David Gemmell pretty much defined the modern heroic fantasy novel. There are a lot of similarities in his books and this is no exception. We have a warrior who has a dark past. And the main character really does have a dark past.

We first meet Skilgannon as he’s been living as a monk for the past few years, trying to atone and make peace with that aforementioned past. Unfortunately the past doesn’t stay dead, war has arrived and he gets drawn into the conflict and he does what he does best which is kill people. 

I love Skilgannon the Damned. He is utterly ruthless, seriously you would not want to antagonise this guy. He generally tries to do the honourable thing but in the past he’s not always been so successful.

The novel takes place over two timelines, the current conflict and then a series of flashbacks showing how he became the person he is today. We also have Druss. Druss is Gemmell’s original heroic character, a similar ruthless person but is much more the traditional hero. He has his code and he lives all his life by it, no matter the costs to himself or the people around him.

A feature of Gemmell’s writing is lots of POV characters, some of which might stick around the whole book, some in parts, and some maybe just the one little section. It’s a skill of his that even with the most fleeting character you get some sense of the person, their fears and motivations. 

There is magic in the book but it is not a major part of it and it’s of the mystical side of things, though there are hints that it is not quite what it seems and these hints are somewhat expanded on in other books. The flashback scenes are interspersed in the main events which some readers might find off putting as they can break the tension somewhat. His fighting scenes are amazing, he can somehow show the skill and the speed of the action in just a few words, it’s always well done. 

It’s a dark and brutal world, with ordinary people getting caught up in the machinations of the rich and powerful, and it shows how the whole cycle keeps repeating itself. His characters could be called evil depending on whose side you’re on and that’s one of the main points of his work, even one the ‘antagonists’ points out that our titular hero has caused way more deaths than they have, directly and indirectly, yet somehow we still root for Skilgannon and Druss.

There is nothing terribly original here but what is here is done superbly and if you like heroic fantasy at all check it out.

5 out of 5 stars

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

So this book starts straight into the action, there’s no messing about. We meet our main protagonist, Tamas, a general, as he’s overthrown the monarchy in a French style revolution. He plans to guillotine the King, the Queen and most of the nobility, for the ‘good of the people’. Believe me I’m not giving anything away here, this is all in the first couple of pages. The rest of the book deals with the protagonists dealing with the consequences of the revolution.

We have three primary POV’s, the aforementioned Tamas, his son Taniel, and Adamat, a private investigator. We also have a few POV chapters from Nila, a nanny for a noble house.

There’s a lot of magic in these books. Both Tamas and Taniel are powdermages, who have the ability to snort gunpowder like cocaine which gives them ability over bullets and also heightened senses and stamina. There are also privileges who are more your typical magicians who have control over the elements and are extremely powerful. There are also knacks, people who have a specific trait, like not needing to sleep.

While I enjoyed the magic systems and how they were used, I had an issue with the basic premise of powdermages. Like how are there people who have these abilities which are linked to a man made substance? Were there thousands of people throughout history who had this ability but couldn’t use because gunpowder hadn’t been invented yet? Obviously you have to take all magic systems with a grain of salt but this seemed a bit out there. It’s like the author had this cool concept (and it is pretty cool) and then tried to make it work. Maybe there will be a good in world explanation for it, I really hope so.

The plot is extremely fast paced. You kind of feel like this was a sequel series and not the start of the brand new series, there were so many references to past events. This is not actually a bad thing as it adds some depth to the characters. The characterisation wasn’t too bad, it could have been better if the story had slowed down at any point but since it didn’t we only get a fairly superficial idea of who each of our POV’s are. 

There are a lot of positives to this as well. As mentioned the pace never lets up and it is interesting. We have almost a mini detective novel in the Adamat chapters, we get war and army novels from Tamas and Taniel as well as a more old fashioned adventure story with Taniel as well. Nila gives a small view in what it all means to the ordinary person. There is a lot of history in play as well with ancient characters and gods, it’s pretty epic. The book ends well and I am eager to get into the rest of the series.

4 stars out of 5

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

That was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Fair warning, there could be some spoilers to previous books in here.

We start off a year after the events of the second book. Kaden is part engaged in a civil war with his sister Adare, almost accidentally, while trying to bring his new republic up and making a total mess of it as expected. Adare is also still fighting the Urghal on the Northern Front and Valyn is we don’t know where. So like the previous book we have the three siblings POV and of course Gwenna. She’s trying to get the rest of her wing back to see what the hell is going on. 

In the previous books I always felt one of the siblings storyline was weaker than the others; Adare in the first and Valyn in the second. Thankfully in this one I think they were all handled well and we start to finally see some growth of the characters, they even make some correct decisions! Adare particularly seems to have learned her lessons, I liked that she tried to free Triste rather than kill her and then confessed up to Kaden, it was well done. Actually where the hell did her kid come from?? I don’t remember it being foreshadowed in the previous book.

Kaden’s were the most interesting lore wise as he was really dealing with the bigger picture, I really got sucked in here sometimes as much as the characters in that I didn’t know who to believe. In the end I’m glad that Tan was wrong, I liked Triste and call me a sucker but I liked where the author went with her and Kaden.

Valyn’s were in some ways the most interesting, not necessarily to the plot but just character wise. There is very little, if anything, left of the character we met at the start of the series, he’s become a very messed up person. Of them all I probably enjoyed Gwenna’s POV the most, she’s gone from an annoying side character in the first book to maybe the most interesting, at least she’s competent! Loved her, loved her storyline.

So much goes on in this book, like the previous book there is very little downtime. The reason I’m not giving this 5 stars is that the end, even though I liked it, seemed far too rushed. That’s pretty crazy in a series of around 2000 pages, but it really felt like it. A good bit of the action seemed to occur ‘off screen’ as it were. I really wanted to see what happened when Nira met her brother again but that didn’t happen, and what the hell happened to the Skullsworn? Most of the questions get answered and I think there is potential here for more stories set in this world, I would like to see what happens after.

Overall this is a great series with a few weaknesses but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people who love their epic fantasy.

4 stars out of 5

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

We start off here immediately after where we finished the first book. Valyn and Kaden are together and Adare is still in the capital, though with the knowledge she gained at the end. From here our protagonists split up again and continue to find more pieces of the puzzle as to what the hell is really going on. 

The first book was quite contained, basically just the monastery, the Kettral islands and the palace. This book opens the world exponentially. Everything moves so quickly, both plot wise, location wise, and lore wise. Seriously I can’t remember a book recently that moved along so quickly with so many twists and turns, alliances and betrayals, reveals after reveals.

We still stick with our main three POV’s and there’s even a fourth thrown in around half way through, that of Gwenna. I like her’s a lot as it was a nice break from the siblings and gave an interesting perspective on some events.

One of my major issues with the last book was the lack of Adare, her whole arc seemed fairly pointless. The author must have thought the same or that was the plan all along because we probably have more from her than the other two now and they are good. She still makes stupid decisions but she is by no means the only one, the tag line of this series so far is probably ‘stupid people making stupid decisions’.

Valyn’s arc is now probably the weakest, interesting things still happened but compared to the other two not as much. The lack of trust between siblings actually makes sense as they’ve spent most of their lives apart but I don’t know why then they seem to trust every stranger that comes along. It’s this weakness, character choices that seem to further plot than to be logical for the character is what hold this book back from being a 5 star. It happens far too often and stands out even to me who can miss things easily on the first read of a book. There are also probably too many co-incidences for me but I will give that a pass as it’s a common failing in the fantasy genre.

I still really like these books but they could have been even better with some better plotting and character decisions. The world building is amazing, probably even better than the first book. I really like where the story is going, just wish it could have gotten there more logically.

4 stars out of 5

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

This book took me somehow both a long and short time to read it. I started it October last year and only just finished it the other day. This was mainly due to life and other books distracting me. Actual reading time was fairly quick, I’d say I read it over 4-5 days which is not bad.

The whole book is from 3 POV’s, all the children of the current Emperor of the country which is rather massive. We have the current heir training to be a monk for the last 7 years in a remote monastery. His brother training for the same length of time with a kind of specials ops team and the daughter living in the capital. It all starts with the death of the emperor and the consequences of this on all three of our protagonists. 

There’s very good world building going on here, the world feels old and interesting. There are ancient undying races that are not human which I’m always a bit of a sucker for. There is monastery/spiritual training and military training which I also love via our two brother’s POV’s. It’s fairly fast paced and mysteries going on that we learn more of as the story progresses, and even better, hints that there is so much more to know.

However there are issues. I kind of understand why the heir to the empire has been sent to live as an ascetic monk for 7 years but it makes no sense why the other son was allowed to train with this elite band of soldiers in brutal conditions where there is an extreme likelihood of death.

The daughter has so little page time that there was hardly a point in it other than to give readers an insight on what is happening in the capital, and as a consequence I didn’t enjoy her chapters much at all. Also the emperor’s death was completely non-sensical once we find out more about it, honestly it was a complete plot device, barely concealed.

So while there are some fairly incomprehensible plot points that seem to have been made to get the story going, I still enjoyed the book. It definitely has promise and I was engaged so I will give the author the benefit of the doubt, especially as this is a debut novel.

3.5 stars out of 5

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