The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

Brilliant end to a great series.

I’m not going to go into the plot here as usual, this being the last book of the series. Let’s just say that a year has passed and all the characters are getting into place for the epic conclusion. The character growth in these books are amazing. They are the same people but they really feel like they’ve matured naturally. They are more serious understandably, and what they’ve gone through has obviously affected them.

Caeden especially is brilliantly done in that he truly now feels like a blend of characters which is as it should be. I loved that in his talk with Alaris that they say they are jealous of his friendship with Davian etc as it makes total sense in the context of what they’ve gone through in their many years together. Half the POV from Caeden in the main story is his regrets about what has to be done.

I read that the author regrets pigeon holing himself at the start by calling this a trilogy and it is obvious to see. There is a whole storyline that had to be excised which he explains in the after note. I think I mentioned it in the second book, and it kind of applies here too, that the story does feel rushed even though these are all mammoth books. Another book, or even two, could have let the character’s breathe a little more and probably allowed more time to explore the wonderful world that he created. It’s not usual that I think more is needed in a series as the fantasy genre tends to lean towards bloat but here I actually think it was required. It’s still a brilliant series, especially for a debut, but I have a nagging feeling it could have been even better.

This series had everything I love in an epic fantasy series and I am very much looking forward to reading more from this author.

5 stars

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

DNF at a little over 100 pages.

This just wasn’t for me, at least at the moment. It’s about six super intelligent and annoying teenagers who have been selected to go on a mission to a new planet. Just before launch there is a tragedy and someone else is drafted in at the last minute.

They’re probably written well in that they all actually come across as teenagers but I just couldn’t deal with it. I disliked them all and the thoughts of reading another 400 pages with their company was just too much. The world is the same as ours except space technology is more advanced for whatever reason. Just before launching, these kids who’ve spent half their lives so far in intense study and training, all go mad and do stupid things and, what is worse, are seemingly allowed to. Like where is the security around these kids?

I don’t know, between certain story choices and disliking all of them intensely, I decided to cut my loses. I might get back to it at some stage but we’ll see.

2 stars

Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed

Definitely one of the more interesting tones of a Star Wars book that I’ve read so far.

This is the story of Namir, a sergeant in the Rebellion’s Twilight Company. We follow him and the company as the rebellion are getting pushed back after the events of A New Hope. It starts shortly before Empire Strikes Back and moves on past it, though it has little to do with the movies except for a bit at Hoth.

Namir is young, we’re not quite sure how young, but he’s from a small planet and has been fighting for most of his life. He comes across as a lot older due to his cynicism and battle weariness. The side character’s aren’t the most fleshed out I’ve come across but they stand out enough though some of the other soldiers do blend a bit. It’s all pretty much from the POV of Namir, though there are a few short chapters from the POV of a Stormtrooper and an Empire aristocrat. Chalis, the defecting governor was very interesting and I would have loved a few chapters from her.

What let it down for me was the nature of the story, or lack of it. It went from one fairly random engagement to another and I found it hard to distinguish between them until the end. I don’t think this is the author’s fault, though it is his first novel, probably more to the nature of the tie-in to the video game. It was fairly relentless, and though I love a good military fiction book, there wasn’t enough down time to balance.

However what I did love was the tone of it. Think more Rogue One than A New Hope. It’s pretty dark, pessimistic, and the characters don’t change too much from the start to the end, maybe a little more optimism but they’re not singing down the yellow brick road. The empire as we know is not a very nice place but life in the rebellion is not much better either, most are basically cannon fodder, and though some are driven by idealism, most are there for revenge or just to escape from where they came from. I can see why the author was drafted in to write the Rogue One novelisation (which I haven’t read yet) and I am very much looking forward to trying the author’s new trilogy where he won’t be as limited with a direct tie-in.

3.5 stars rounded up

Crowfall by Ed McDonald

My favourite of the trilogy.

There’s a long gap between the second and third books, six years. Galharrow has been spending most of his time in the Misery and has become irrevocably changed by it. He has become something more and less than human as his plan he came up starts to come to its conclusion. The Deep Kings are coming again and with the Nameless in disarray, it will be up to him and his companions to stop them.

I’ve really enjoyed these books, they’ve gotten better as they’ve progressed. The first felt raw and was trying too hard but the author’s style has really improved over the series. There’s no getting around that these are pretty bleak books but there is a fair bit of heroism and hope that goes through them, so in some ways I didn’t think they were as depressing as some ‘grimdark’ books can be.

Galharrow has come a long way since the first book. Though some of the things he has done have been questionable, overall he has become a much better and sympathetic character. His relationship to the people around him and to the Misery is great to read about and I love that we learned more about how the whole world works, though it’s still pretty mysterious in a lot of ways. A Sanderson system and world this is not.

The great mystery of this book was to see what the plan Galharrow, Maldon and Dantry had come up with. I was mostly right. I actually thought it was going to be what did happen rather than what they planned but it was great seeing it all come together. I have no idea if there is going to be more books set in this world but I think after seeing the progress of the author over the series I will definitely be interested in seeing what he does.

4.5 stars.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Great as always, I always find myself returning to Pratchett when I need a pick me up.

Set pretty much straight after Witches Abroad, Granny, Nanny Ogg and Magrat are back home after their adventures. Things seem mostly normal but it looks like things will change as the Queen of the Elves has set her sight back on Lancre again.

So this is the fourth Witches book and the characters are quite firmly established at this stage. It is also right in the middle of Golden Age Pratchett which (in my opinion only!) loosely goes from Small Gods to Night Watch, not to say there aren’t amazing books outside of this but these contain nearly all my favourites. We also have Ridcully and a few of the other wizards here which adds a nice touch.

The characters go through nice arcs, Granny dealing with age, new witches and some limitations (and a healthy dose of nostalgia thrown in) and Magrat deciding (or not) with what to do with her life after being a witch. Nanny is still just Nanny. It’s all blended well to create something that is both funny and intriguing while pondering some of life’s major issues. I’m not sure I’ve yet to see any other author do it quite so deftly this blend of humour and insight. We also have one of my favourite versions of Elves which rings more true to the legends than Tolkien’s for example.

What can I say that probably hasn’t been said better already? It’s a great read with great characters that moves well. Another Shakespeare kind of re-telling here with it broadly following A Midsummer Night’s Dream and maybe the Taming of the Shrew? It is kind of linked to the previous witches books, you’ll get more from it if you’ve read them but you could easily get away with reading it by itself. Thoroughly recommended but I always recommend Pratchett.

5 Stars

Ravencry by Ed McDonald

A better balance than the first.

There’s a four year gap between the last book and this. Galharrow is a little sadder, still drinks as much, but now has some wealth, status, and responsibility by running a full Blackwing company. After a few years of relative peace, things are starting to deteriorate again. There are sightings of a mysterious woman in the light around the city of Valengrad and a cult called the Bright Order has formed from them and it’s causing unrest by highlighting class differences. There are also sightings of Darlings and rumours of an old enemy re-surfacing. The Deep Kings have also not been resting and are about to unleash a new weapon against the city.

The first half of the book re-orientates the reader with the city and the current state of it while also being a bit of a mystery in that Galharrow and company need to figure out what the hell is going on. The second half takes us deep into the Misery again and we learn a little more about it. Galharrow is definitely more relatable in this book though by the end, and the changes that he undergoes, who knows how he’ll end up. This is genuinely a much more melancholy book compared to the first one, and though is still firmly in the grimdark sphere of writing, it has matured into something more compelling and seems to rely less on gimmicks than the first book.

The first half was interesting but it really came into its own once we enter the Misery again. There’s something about the idea of it I love and I find I thoroughly enjoy all the time that is spent there. This section once Galharrow finds himself alone (mostly) was my favourite part and honestly probably raised more questions than it answered.

The end, except for one part in particular when Galharrow went all Iron Man which was preposterous, was good and has made me very curious about where the whole thing is going. So far each book seems relatively standalone in that the main story of each book gets an end in that book compared to whatever the overarching plot is, of which I have no idea. I can kind of see what might happen in the next one but where the main plot is going I don’t know, will there be some sort of climax between the Nameless and the Deep Kings? I’m not so sure. Anyway a better read than the first and looking forward to finding out what happens next.

4 stars

Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Tried a bit hard to be edgy in places but it was a good read.

Our sole POV in this book is Galharrow, a disgraced former soldier and now Blackwing mercenary who works with small crews to chase criminals for bounties. A Blackwing is a kind of servant for Crowfoot, one of the Nameless, godlike magicians who are in an eternal war with their enemies the Deep Kings. He ranges out into a kind of tear in reality that distorts the land and creatures in it and is called The Misery, a not very hospitable place as you can imagine. On a routine mission he is called upon by Crowfoot to go to a station and protect a magician there. From there the story really kicks off.

Well where to start? It’s a seriously cool world this, the Misery is quite a unique setting and really draws you into its weirdness and danger. The way it is described and portrayed really emphasises how messed up it is, and considering it was created by the Nameless, the ‘good guys’, it does make you feel sympathy for the humans trapped between these godlike warring factions. It’s a bleak world and our protagonist is well suited to it.

Galharrow is an alcoholic ageing soldier whose idealism has mostly eroded and he does just enough to survive, keep himself in drink, and look after his loyal comrades Nenn and Tnota. He’s pretty ruthless and does pretty much anything for money. Of course there’s a tragic past that is gradually revealed through the story, and we find out that he’s not lost all idealism, especially as he’s thrown into the path of Ezabeth, a woman from his former life who’s now a spinner, a kind of light weaving magician.

This is definitely trying hard to be Grimdark with a capitol G. There’s lots of blood, brain and entrails descriptions along with plenty of curses, and pretty much everyone you meet is messed up in some way. To be honest I think it almost strayed into parody in places and actually took away from what was a very interesting story and world. Side characters are all great and though I usually actually prefer sole POV’s, I wouldn’t have minded a few chapters from Nenn and Ezabeth.

The concept of the Nameless, the Deep Kings and the Misery were all brilliantly realised and though the story chugged along nicely it did stall in a few places though not too majorly. It is a debut so some of the inconsistencies in characters and plotting I noticed can be given a pass for that. I’ve read a few reviews that are overflowing with praise and though I wouldn’t go that far, it was very enjoyable and promises more as the author gains more experience.

3.5 stars rounded up.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

5 star first half, 3 star second half.

So this is the story of Addie (Adeline) LaRue. To get out of a marriage that she didn’t want, she makes a deal with some sort of spirit/god that she ends up calling Luc. He ensures that she will be free forever to do what she wants, however in a twist that she didn’t foresee, no one now remembers her once she’s out of their sight.

The story itself is split between two different timelines, the first part in 2014 New York and the rest in various countries and years of Addie’s three hundred year life. It’s mainly from Addie’s POV though later we are introduced to another in Henry, a guy in the present day New York who actually remembers her. The story gradually unfolds of how each of them got to where they are now.

I would actually say this book has a strong case to be classified as a Fantasy Romance book. Once Addie and Henry meet, a lot of the present day timeline is focused on their relationship. I did enjoy it but honestly I preferred the flashbacks and the story from before they met. Addie was an interesting character though my one criticism was that she still felt at times to be very immature considering her age. Obviously it’s difficult to write what is basically an immortal but at times she really came across as just another young twenty something year old.

The story and relationship between Addie and Luc has been done before many times but the nature of the curse/blessing was very interesting and really did make her life almost impossible to live at times. There are a few plotholes with it but nothing I couldn’t ignore.

I absolutely flew through the first part but got bogged down in the latter part though it did end well. I actually would have preferred a more ambiguous end leaving out the final section but it was still good. I am pretty sure this is a standalone though I suppose there could be another story to tell here but I don’t think it is necessary. Worth a read.

4 stars

The Mage-Fire War by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Beltur and Jessyla have now been made the councillors of Haven along with their companions and have been charged with getting it under control as it has been essentially lawless for a few years at this stage. However they find that there are bigger forces at play and find themselves caught up in a war that they weren’t expecting.

I definitely struggled more with this book than the previous two. I think in my head I was expecting a more low key entry, in that the focus would be of the town building up gradually, overcoming obstacles etc. There were elements of that but the main story of the book ended up being a full scale war and I really didn’t see that coming. I generally enjoy those style of books a lot but for whatever reason it didn’t grab me as much this time.

Beltur has transformed from a somewhat different protagonist than usual to the more standard determined one, and I think that is a bit of a shame. He is now completely ruthless and is killing people by the thousands. Jessyla is pretty much the same in a lot of respects. There is never much tension in the books but what I’ve always found interesting is how they overcome the obstacles set in front of them. Beltur is strong and capable, but limited in what he can do, so I did find his ingenuity good but nothing much changed from this book compared to the last except for one thing, so it was lacking even that dynamic.

I did enjoy it, not my favourite entry by any means, but still entertaining. It could be the problem of reading too many Modesitt books in a row, I have found more than two in a row can get too samey. I’m going to take a small break before getting to the last book in this arc, which I believe is set a bit more in the future with a different protagonist.

3.5 rounded down

The Martian by Andy Weir

I can see how it was so popular, it kept me on the edge of my seat for most of it.

Mark Watney is the protagonist in this story about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after a freak accident during a storm in which his crew and all the people back on earth presume he is dead. He has to deal with problem after problem, first to just survive and ensure he has enough food etc, then to prepare for his hoped for rescue once people find out he’s actually still alive.

Now I had seen the film already before reading the book but luckily enough I don’t have the best memory so though I knew the general gist of what was going to happen, I’d forgotten the details, so yay to a bad memory! Mark himself is full of quips and one liners, which makes him a tad unrealistic in the environment he’s in but does make him interesting to read about. Especially as the amount of figures thrown around can get a bit overdone, so a break from the maths is a good thing.

I’ve heard this is somewhat realistic take on what it might take to survive on Mars, personally I have no idea, but I did find the constant calculations a bit boring sometimes, particularly in the first part. I found the whole thing livened up once people back on earth found out he was still alive and the extra characters definitely helped. From then on it switched from Mark to different people back on earth to his crew, and all these viewpoints gave good perspectives on what was going on and what needed to be done.

It was mentioned a few times but I would like to have seen it addressed more though; was the amount of money and resources that was thrown at rescuing one man, who knew the risks before starting, really worth it? Like hardly anyone (other than those directly affected) blinks an eye at people dying all over the world but for something like this, everything is thrown at it. It’s very realistic and very human.

The pacing is relentless once the story really gets going. I read the last hundred pages or so in one setting and stayed up way too late. The technical details were really interesting though as mentioned I did find myself glossing over parts of it. This was a fun read and the way it was set up was very cinematic so I’m not surprised at all that it was picked up by Hollywood. This was also an intentional but well timed read with the landing of Perseverance on Mars, so that was an added bonus.

4 stars

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