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

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

I’m honestly not sure if I liked that or not. I think overall I did but there were definitely parts that I struggled through.

The book is narrated by an unnamed woman who just calls herself Jane Smith. She lives a fairly normal life with her husband and teenage daughter, and works for a cybersecurity consulting company. She is left a note by someone called Silvina, which leads her to a storage facility where she finds a taxidermied hummingbird. This all starts a chain reaction where her life is upended and she gets involved in things that has potential to impact the whole planet.

‘Jane Smith’ must be one of the most unpleasant main protagonists I have ever read. I’ve been trying to think why in that I have definitely read about characters that were so much worse in almost every singe way. However I think it’s a mixture of the setting and apathy that really made me dislike her. She literally doesn’t really care about anyone in her life except for a dead brother and a woman she has never met, both of which have the advantage of not being around.

The other thing is the setting which seems basically like ‘now’ in our world, there is even a pandemic that is mentioned and I am so curious as to whether the author had already included that or added it later in the process of writing. Being set in our world it just makes her seem more realistic which then makes her apathy even harder to take. I’m sure there are people like that around but luckily enough I don’t know them. Also kudos to the author for creating a very believable character.

The writing is almost stream of thought and is very atmospheric. In the beginning it was quite tense as you and the protag start to realise that there is actually something big happening that will change everything for her. The middle dragged a bit and then it picked up again towards the end. Again I was ambivalent towards this style, parts I felt worked well, and as mentioned, other times it dragged. To be fair though I was very interested throughout as to where the whole thing was going.

This is not an easy read and will probably not be for everyone but it is rather different which is always a plus. I’m not even sure this is a science fiction book or just a straight forward thriller. This is an unsettling read and is very on point for what is going on around us right now and though I had issues with it, I’m glad I read it. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this.

3.5 stars rounded down.

The Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice

This was an intriguing read though a bit overwrought in places.

It is the story of Azriel, a kind of ghost or demon who was once a mortal man but was transformed. It’s framed in the narrative of him telling his story to an academic and traces his mortal life in the time of Cyrus the Great in Babylon up to the present. Here he gets involved with the leader of a modern day cult, with massive followings and money and power, and his family.

The framing device has been done before by the author, most notably in Interview with the Vampire and I suppose it works here too. Azriel is interesting to read about, very over dramatic in Rice’s usual style, but the change from a pretty happy young man to vengeful spirit is mostly handled well.

I really loved reading about the time in Babylon. I have no idea how accurate it all is but the author has always managed to wrap me up in the time period whenever she delves into the past (which is a lot) and there is no exception here. She manages to make it both seem similar and utterly different which is a good trick to pull off.

The writing is pretty indulgent, with long sentences and lots of descriptions etc. I’m not usually a fan of that and I did find it a bit grating in places, especially at the start, but she does gradually bring you into the dream she’s making and once the story got going properly it wasn’t as bad. There are a few plot holes as well but didn’t take away from my enjoyment too much. Overall a good read but not one of her best. It’s also a standalone which is a bonus.

3.5 stars rounded down.

Star Wars: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil by Drew Karpyshyn

It was obvious where the series was going with the Rule of Two and all but it was still well done and threw up a few unexpected developments.

This book is set another ten years after the first book, with Bane and Zannah still in the same master/apprentice relationship, though splits are beginning to show. Bane starts off still obsessed with finding more holocrons while Zannah is starting to look for an apprentice of her own. Into this mix are thrown two figures from Bane’s past and a ‘Dark Jedi’, not a full blown Sith but a Jedi who’s abandoned the Jedi teachings to focus on himself.

I think the new characters in this book really made it. The novel is relatively evenly split between all of the POV’s and the plot moves at a good pace. I had feared in the beginning that it was going to be another re-hash but after the first quarter or so all the threads started coming together towards a pretty climatic end.

There’s a few cracks beginning to show in Bane’s perfection which is always more interesting to read about, while Zannah has to come to terms with what she needs to do. Serra and Lucia were both deeper than initially appeared and I really liked the edge that came to Serra especially as we learned more about her. Set was a cliche but I always have a soft spot for the lazy unscrupulous decadent type, brings back certain memories both real and imagined.

As always I am struck by the Star Wars universe, while technically light hearted in tone can actually be quite dark and again brings up the devastation that civilisation can bring to planets. It’s constantly referenced through the many books I’ve read in it now, how planets are completely destroyed in the search for materials and not always by the ‘bad’ guys. It’s never a major part but can play minor points and I’m glad so many writers include it.

Overall I really enjoyed this series. There was a good mix of action and introspection that I think was handled well, it could have been all action which can get repetitive sometimes. The character’s, though always leaning towards cliche, were still interesting to read about and considering the vast majority of them were villains, I still found myself kind of rooting for them. It’s no longer canon as such, but I think Bane is and there’s not too much contradicting it so far so it’s worth a read.

4 stars

Star Wars: Darth Bane: Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn

So this starts off immediately after the events of the first book, at least for the first third, then there is a ten year time jump.

Bane has his apprentice and is starting his new philosophy of the ‘Rule of Two’ for the Sith going forward. He has planted enough seeds that the Jedi think that the Sith are extinct and now must set a few tests for his apprentice to make sure she is definitely the right choice. The story then follows similar beats to the first book in that Bane is seeking holocrons to increase his knowledge and power while Zannah is learning to fully embrace the dark side. We also have a good few chapters from a Jedi Knight’s POV in Johun who has doubts the Sith are not as extinct as they are thought to be.

Though I still had fun reading this it was definitely not as enjoyable as the first one. I think I missed the nuance of Bane from the first book, here he’s just an unstoppable Sith machine and however much I enjoyed learning more about the Sith, it just lacked something to really keep me interested in his chapters.

Zannah’s POV’s were more interesting, especially at the start though I still had the most fun reading hers throughout. Even though, like Bane, she does not have many redeeming factors, her thoughts and motivations seemed a bit more realistic and she wasn’t as cartoonish villain as Bane can be. The other two characters weren’t fleshed out as well and though they weren’t disagreeable, I felt they were mostly there for plot and characterisation purposes.

This book definitely suffered too much from the middle book issue by rehashing elements of the first book and not moving forward enough. It wasn’t boring by any means but it definitely didn’t keep my interest as much, though actually the end properly shocked me which was great. I have hopes the final book will move back up a notch and I’m looking forward to how the author is going to play out the philosophy of the master and apprentice, should be interesting.

3 stars

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