Blog Tour – Kingshold by D. P. Wooliscroft

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Part of #TheWriteReads Blog Tour!

Genre: Fantasy (possibly high fantasy? I’m not knowledgeable enough about the sub-genres)

Similar to: A bit Assassin’s Apprentice with occasional Terry Pratchett overtones

Could be enjoyed by: People who like multiple POV, political fantasy

Publication date: 17th April 2018

I haven’t written a book review in months, so I think the first thing that I should do is apologise for how rusty I am. As always, life has gotten in the way etc. etc. I’ll try my hardest not to ramble but after the week I’ve had even this opening paragraph is a bit of a stretch!

Soooo, Kingshold. To summarise: the King and Queen get assassinated, there’s a city wide search for someone to run the newly-founded republic.

Chaos ensues.

(This is easier than I thought! Oh no, wait…)

To start with the positives – I thought the book was well written. There was the occasional repetition of a more unusual word and the inclusion of some more modern phrases which sometimes felt a little incongruous but overall the tone was refreshingly light, especially for something as serious as a political fantasy. In particular, I loved how I don’t have a single bad thing to say about sexism – the female characters were likeable, had autonomy and didn’t act as “sexy lamps” (standing around in the background waiting to be turned on by men). One of them even got introduced as Ms! I don’t know a single thing about any of their breasts and there were no bad sex scenes so kudos to the author for not writing like a misogynistic dickbiscuit.

On to the not-so-good bits…

I thought that the characters needed a little more fleshing out as a lot of the time they were somewhat interchangeable. Alana and Petra? Motega, Trypp and Florian? I’m still not exactly sure who was who and I struggled to picture them in my head. I also had some issues with some of the names; Neenahwi… Neena-h-wi? Nee-nah-wi? Neenah-wi? Who knows. I did find that every time that character was mentioned, the pronunciation of her name pulled me right out of the story.

I also couldn’t help but notice some of the – ahem – similarities between certain other books. Now clearly Kingshold is a genre novel so you’d expect certain tropes but in the absence of clear character definitions my mind started to default to, well, mostly the Discworld. We had Rincewind a dodgy wizard, Gimli bearded dwarves, Great A’Tuin a draco-turtle with a town on his back, Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini a group of three marauding brothers-in-arms and The Luggage some floating luggage. 

There was a large cast of characters and plenty of interaction between them all but in terms of action I found it all a bit, well, admin based. I guess the thing about writing a political fantasy is that there’s quite a lot of tedious going-to-curry-favour-with-Lady-such-and-such and although there were plenty of diversions and random events, I found the plot quite slow overall. The events happened in a kind of “oh look, fire!” or “who is that unknown assassin?” type way, with very little tension or build up. There were also some interesting hooks thrown in that weren’t followed up – was Mareth’s singing actual magic? Where on earth did that demon come from – is she banished? I guess we will find out more in subsequent books in the series.

Overall, I liked Kingshold but I didn’t love it. For me, the pacing was too slow, the characters and setting needed better descriptions and I would have like to see a bit more build up and tension to the events that unfolded. I imagine that if you read a lot of fantasy then you’d probably really enjoy this book (after all, I am the woman who found Assassin’s Apprentice quite tedious) but it wasn’t really for me.

 

Three “Is her name Need-A-Wee?”s out of five.

Good writing, an interesting premise but overall just not for me.

 

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Review: Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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I don’t really know how this  series of books passed me by, but I was surprised to see that they’ve been around since the 90’s (ahhh, the 90’s, my favourite decade…). Having read that they’re similar to Game of Thrones but without the tits and dragons (surely this should be the quote on the front cover) I was quite excited to get stuck in. I love a big heavy fantasy series and I was initially impressed by the heft of the novel, but surprisingly it took me a little while to get into. I found that it was quite slow going at first, and being written all from the main characters perspective it did grind along detailing every single thing that happened every day, which got quite boring quite quickly. However, the pace improved and I found myself getting sucked in to the magical world that Robin Hobb has created. Eventually. This is one of those books where patience really is a virtue.

Being aimed at a slightly younger audience, and with a young main character, there is very little in the way of romance. There is a bit of a love interest but nothing really happens and I felt that if this element of the story had been beefed up it would have made the more mundane sections of the book more interesting. Similarly, certain events occur which would usually be quite upsetting, but because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough beforehand Hobb failed to create any emotional response from me as a reader. I really missed this engagement with the story, and although it did get better later on I felt it added to a fairly flat tone throughout the initial third of the narrative.

I had mixed feelings about the way that the main royal characters were named after their personality traits (i.e. Shrewd, Verity, Chivalry etc.) On the one hand, it made it very easy to remember who was who and to mark out who needed to be second guessed (King Shrewd, for example, would always make a seemingly wrong decision that you knew would turn out to be correct later on). However, this also took away a layer of intrigue – the individuals always acted completely “in character” so their personalities turned out to be a bit one dimensional. There’s also the very real question of what the characters were called before these personality traits developed – were there just nameless children running around for the first ten years of their lives? Or did they change names? And did their name mean that they couldn’t grow and change as people? These little queries really got to me as the story progressed and I never found a satisfactory answer. Grrr.

Overall, I did enjoy this book once it got going although not as much as I had hoped. I found some parts were quite dull and I would have liked more emotive writing, with a greater emphasis on the magical elements. As the main character grew throughout the novel (literally and figuratively) I came to be more involved in the storyline so I would be interested to see what the next book is like – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. There’s so much great fantasy out there that I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically wanted “something like GoT, but for an older child”. Even then it would have to be someone with exceptional patience – I imagine most kids would get bored.

For older readers – yeah, it’s missing tits and dragons. That’s all you need to know, really.

Rating: 7/10
Disappointing, but the second book should be better.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #12 Read a fantasy novel.

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

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Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of a young woman called Sophie, who is forced to work a dull job running a hat shop. After being cursed by a witch, she encounters the Wizard Howl, who lives in a moving castle with his fire demon, Calcifer and apprentice Michael. Literally one million things happen (action on every page) which are far too complicated to fully explain but everything comes together for a happy ending. Apologies for not giving a very good synopsis but to describe what happens would give too much away and there are so many sub plots and bizarre incidents that it would take far too long.

You may have heard of this book as the studio Ghibli film of the same name. I absolutely love studio Ghibli films but I haven’t seen this one – now I really want to watch it.

I thought that Howls Moving Castle was a great children’s book – it was completely mad and super imaginative. Even though it’s written for children the ideas are so fantastic that the storyline veers off in the most unexpected directions, making any guesses at the ending totally irrelevant.

There is a fantastic main character in Sophie, who is gutsy and brave. There’s quite a big cast of other females written about (although the other main characters are male) all of which are really strong and bold. Interestingly, many of the men seem quite weak in comparison.

Obviously as a children’s book I’m not the intended audience  and although I did enjoy it I found the storyline, although utterly charming and madcap, a little weak in terms of content. Sometimes it was so bizarre that I lost my way a little.

What with the current world events, I really needed to read a proper children’s fantasy book as a bit of comfort reading. I would recommend reading this book right now, as it’s perfect for cold winter days and to distract you from the news.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 #27 Read a book with a title that’s a character’s name.

Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

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I’m very, very excited to review this book because I have actually met the author a couple of times and would know her to say hello to if I saw her at a party. She’s a friend of a friend and I had no idea that she’d written a book (let alone a series of books) so it was with great curiosity that I downloaded her debut novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’m amazed that someone I know has written something that’s been picked up by a proper publishing house (no offense to Mel – she’s obviously very talented) and she’s apparently sold the rights for a TV adaptation so I’m really pleased that she’s doing so well. I’ve tried to remain completely impartial in my review so that you get my honest response.

The book is the story of Twylla, the daughter of a “sin eater” (you’ll be amazed to know). Sin Eaters are employed as part of a funeral ritual to eat food which represents the sins of the deceased in order for their soul to be free. Twylla is a sin-eater-in-training and as such comes into contact with the royal family when the King passes away. The royal family believe in keeping a pure bloodline (basically, incest) but the Queen is concerned for her only son as he is the last of the line. (This is where it gets complicated). So, because the Queen can’t have more children, she effectively reintroduces the role of “Daunen Embodied”. This role is given to a child who is chosen by the gods, who is their literal embodiment and can kill with a touch. The Queen claims that Twylla is Daunen Embodied and makes her undergo various rituals to prove this to the general populace. As a child of the gods Twylla is betrothed to the young Prince and the novel is the story of her discovery of the lies and deceit which fuel the power of the monarchy. (That’s my best attempt at a simplified summary – as I said, it’s complicated. Sorry.)

Before I begin my review of the text can I just take a moment to talk about how ridiculously pretty this book is. I don’t normally comment on cover art but I have to say that the design for the dust jacket is absolutely beautiful. I would have bought it based on the cover alone.

The book is clearly aimed at a YA audience so despite obvious comparisons to Game of Thrones etc. there is much less complexity in terms of number of characters and their relationships to/with each other. However, the complicated premise (have you read my summary?) and fast paced action kept me interested to the end.

I really liked Twylla as a character because she stood up for herself and made her own decisions. Unlike a lot of YA fiction there wasn’t a two dimensional love interest and her plans were often scuppered as she uncovered various character flaws regarding the suitors vying for her attention. It was also nice to read a book where the plot twists were so abrupt that everything was regularly thrown up in the air, keeping me on my toes.

There were a couple of clumsily written passages and a few parts of the plot where I thought “that wouldn’t happen” or “why doesn’t she just do this” which ruined the action slightly. For example, in the last chapter we find Twylla reading a book, despite the fact that only a few months previous she was completely illiterate. I hope this will be explained in book two but I think that any attempt to show why she can suddenly read will feel like a bit of a cover up for a mistake.

I also found the title of the book a bit of an odd choice – there is very little of Twylla before she becomes Daunen Embodied and her relationship with her mother is only mentioned a few times. Maybe this will become more apparent as the saga continues. Or perhaps it was chosen just because it grabs your attention.

Minor criticisms aside, I did enjoy this book and will continue to read the series (and talk about it on here). I have high hopes for books two and three!

Overall rating: 7/10

I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #2 Read a Debut Novel.

Review: The Dream Protocol

Professional Reader

I received a free e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

This book gave me a weird sense of deja vu, probably because I had recently read Silo 49 (which was based on the Wool chronicles) (which I still haven’t read) and bizarrely, it appeared to be set in pretty much the same location. Yes, there were some differences and the thrust of the story took it in a different direction but essentially this novel was set in an underground concrete city compromised of many different levels where the people are enslaved to their jobs, big brother is always watching and the inhabitants are ruled by a military style police force who are used to oppress the masses. Sound familiar?

In fairness, despite the obvious similarities I did enjoy this book. I would say that the story is a little thin content wise but I can see that it’s set up a great story arc for books two and three.

I really liked that there are two main characters and that you get to see two different storylines progress separately. As it’s a YA book I can only assume there will be some romance between them. Both characters are quite well written so I think this will add to the story. However, I think it’s fairly easy to predict where it’s all going (my guess is, book two; they discover where people disappear to and what is really going on, and book three; they find a way out and save everyone. And fall in love. If I’m wrong please ignore the bit where I’ve said this series is predictable – clearly it’s not.)

I thought that the last quarter of the book was really fast paced and exciting but before that it could be a little sluggish. There seemed to be quite a lot of filler where different characters were invented only to have them play a very minor part later on whereas other characters were fairly anonymous despite playing a larger part.

I also found the book a little bit unbelievable, even for a fantasy universe. The main character has an ageing disorder which he has kept hidden for 15 years despite the fact he goes to school – he just hides his face under a hood. As any genetic defect is essentially punishable by death, how has no-one noticed? What happened when he was a child? Security is also remarkably lax – the main character gets to a senior ranking officials desk (and hacks his computer) simply by distracting the guards at the door – there’s no scanner or security pass needed to enter. The official doesn’t even have his own office, just a computer terminal set up next to some others in what appears to be an open plan work area. Was this just to get round the problem of access? If so, it seems quite lazy writing. Also, surely the security cameras would have picked up the footage of the two main characters talking to each other in the area, referring to each other by name and then hot footing it out of there?

Overall, I found this book a little formulaic and with a few plot holes which really spoilt it for me. It’s one redeeming feature was some really excellent writing – but some bits are much better than others. From the way that book two has been set up I imagine it will be a lot better and will distance itself from obvious comparisons to very similar books.

Overall rating: 5/10