Review

Review: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Red Sister is the third of Mark Lawrence’s books that I’ve read – and you know what they say, third time lucky. That was definitely the case here, as I completely fell in love with the book. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Prince of Thorns, which I read with my online book group, but I enjoyed Prince of Fools a lot more. However, Red Sister just completely blew me away.

I can’t resist a good origin story, nor stories containing assassins, and Red Sister is both of these. It follows a young girl called Nona, who ends up at the Convent of Sweet Mercy after several unfortunate events. However, this is not any old convent, and the Sisters are not normal nuns. Many are ‘Red Sisters’, trained in the arts of fighting, and this is what Nona is on the path to become. Just look at this opening line:

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

Doesn’t that just intrigue you? I read the first 170 pages of the book in one sitting, absolutely enthralled by the world Lawrence had created, and what Nona was going through. Nona as a character is quite mysterious for much of the novel, she is perhaps almost as unfamiliar to the reader as she is to her classmates, but that certainly kept me reading. One of the things that made me eager to read this book was that it was centered around female characters, rather than a largely male cast. And within this cast of women and girls, there are some fantastic characters. Nona’s friends and their relationships are great, with rivalries soon becoming friendships. The Nuns are an interesting bunch – some kind, others cruel – so basically just like real teachers!

I have to admit that when I first started reading the book, I hadn’t realised that the protagonist was so young. However, this was not an issue – she therefore has plenty of room to develop, and due to the conditions in which she has grown up, she is very headstrong and mature for her age. I suppose in the sort of world that many of them have grown up in, childhood ends very early. The book is quite slow, and not much really happened in terms of ‘big’ events during the first half. This, to me, was actually pretty perfect. It meant I really got to explore the world Lawrence had created, learn along with Nona and her friends, and I got to see more of the ‘school’ setting (another story element I love!). There were flashes of the future in between, showing a huge and possibly catastrophic event, which only made me want to read even faster, even more in one setting to find out how this could happen.

Overall, Red Sister was an absolutely fantastic read, definitely one of the best series openers I have read in a while, and one of my top reads of 2017 thus far. Mark Lawrence has created something completely different from his other books with this series, so even if you did not get along with his other work I would absolutely recommend that you try Red Sister. If it’s already on your ‘to read’ list, then hurry up and grab a copy! I’m already anticipating book two, but looks like I’ll be waiting a while – so maybe I’ll continue on with Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War series, to tide me over.

I also just want to extend my thanks to Mark Lawrence himself, who got in touch with me via Facebook to offer me a (signed!) ARC. I was ecstatic to receive this message, and so glad for the opportunity to read this book. I also need to thank Mark for being responsible for quite a bit of my blog traffic – a while ago he linked to my review of Prince of Fools on Reddit, as a review by someone who enjoyed the book but did not like Prince of Thorns. I’m still receiving blog traffic from that Reddit post, so thank you, Mark! ūüôā

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Review

Review: Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tell me that any book is similar to Harry Potter, and I’ll be on it like a shot. The blurb of Nevernight makes reference to Hogwarts – actually saying that the Red Church is nothing like it – and how right it is. However, to all those fans like myself who grew up with Harry and might occasionally enjoy the darker, more graphic fantasy – this is it.

I’ve got to admit, I haven’t known what to make of Jay Kristoff for a while. I basically instantly dismissed Stormdancer, his first novel, because he said in an interview that he did all the research for his Japanese-inspired world on Wikipedia, which didn’t exactly reek of professionalism. But then I read Illuminae, Kristoff’s science fiction not-quite-a-novel (told through chat logs, reports etc), co-written with Amie Kaufman, and really enjoyed it. So when Nevernight first appeared, promising a darker, more seductive world of fantasy than other recent releases, I was rather draw to it. The hype was hard to ignore, and I have a thing for assassin stories. What is it about these types of people that makes them so compelling to read about? And compelling this was.

Nevernight basically went straight into the ‘action’, as it were (wink wink nudge nudge), opening with our protagonist losing her virginity to a male prostitute. Through a series of flashbacks that contrast with the present day, we learn more about Mia and why she is on this murderous path. From the beginning, the violence was graphic, the sex was detailed and the cursewords coming left, right and centre – and I LOVED IT. This book is so, so brutal (if you’ve been reading about Nevernight on social media, you’ve probably heard all about people going crazy for page 553) and literally everything that happened was the complete opposite of what I expected. Kristoff does not hold back.

Mia as a character was interesting. She was a bit of a broody teen, but that was realistic. Having read several different fantasy series where young adults are trained to be killers, I have to say that this has so far been the only one where the characters really confront what they’re doing, and also seem to accept that, whilst it’s not right, it’s what they need to do. I’m not sure entirely how to express this, but Mia felt constant in terms of her personality. She never really once felt like a teenage girl who just happens to know the best way to kill someone, and spends the rest of her time contradicting that side of herself. She knows she is a murderer, and nothing is sugar-coated. The rest of her classmates are the same – thieving, seducing, bribing and more to get what they need. It is a competition in a school of assassinsnothing is going to be easy.

I enjoyed the world-building, a sort of Italian/Roman inspired world, and I’m interested to see what other cultures might be used in the sequel. Also, friendships and relationships were formed that just felt so natural and easy-going, which of course then made certain events even more painful to witness. My only issue with the book was the footnotes – there were a few too many and some were rather long, distracting from the main story. I know that they’re there for world-building, but they felt a little too much like Kristoff was trying too hard to be Pratchett-esque.

Apart from that, Nevernight was an absolute delight – if that’s what you can call a book filled to the grim with guts, gore, graphic sexual encounters and enough swearing to make Malcolm Tucker blush. If you’re bored of fantasy where the characters are all firmly on the side of Good, and are looking for something with perhaps more immoral than moral, Nevernight might be just the ticket.

Review

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Zer0es was a fun, rather over the top read, and unlike anything I’d ever really read before. I’m not sure how many books I’ve read about hackers – I’m pretty sure this was the first (and since then I’ve now read two more…). Opening with our five ‘Zeroes’ being recruited (or rather apprehended) by the US Government, it easily set up each character’s personality. The hackers are given the option to either work for the government as ‘whitehats’, or go to prison. They each, sensibly, choose to become ‘whitehats’ (the ‘good’ hackers, or rather those working for the government), and form an elite team. However, once their work begins they start to discover secrets, secrets and more secrets…

I’m actually really struggling in writing this review, as you can probably see by its length. This is definitely a ‘disappointed, expected more’ kind of three stars, and there isn’t that much I feel I can comment on. This is the most useless kind of review, where a book doesn’t make me feel any kind of strong negative or positive feelings, but unfortunately that’s how Zer0es was for me. This book felt like it was lacking something, and it didn’t quite pull me in enough. What ultimately let the book down for me in the end were the characters. The five ‘Zeroes’ felt very 2D, there wasn’t much to them past their hacker personas, or else they felt a little stereotypical. I particularly wanted to slap Reagan, a typical internet troll. Maybe that’s the reaction the author was going for, but as a reader I don’t really want to feel aggravated whilst trying to get through a book…

However I can’t fault the action in Zer0es. Despite much of it comprising of people sat at screens, typing rapidly and furiously, Wendig’s writing somehow made that into something very exciting and gripping. Whilst I won’t be continuing with this particular series, I won’t let it stop me from trying out some of Wendig’s other writing.

Review

Review: Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Having only previously read one of Joe Abercrombie’s books (Red Country), happy to read more of his work and curious to see how it would compare, I was glad when this was chosen as my book group’s Fantasy Book of the Month for August. Immediately I could tell that Abercrombie had adapted his writing style for a young adult audience – things were much more toned down. The language was less heavy, both in terms of description and swearing (!), and there was pretty much a complete absence of sex and violence – although the latter comes more into the story later on.

I was immediately thrown into Yarvi’s world and this was not an issue – the world and culture was slowly built up around the story as and when needed. Definitely a ‘smaller scale’ fantasy in comparison to Joe Abercrombie’s other work, this is by no means a ‘light’ fantasy. Despite the young adult target audience, it still retains that style that ‘Lord Grimdark’ is so well known for, whilst still being suitable for younger readers.

To me, it didn’t feel massively eventful. I think I was expecting a bit more action and whilst this definitely picks up towards the end, it was a slightly slower story than expected. And as I’ve come to learn from dark fantasy – once things seem like they’re working out and getting better for the protagonist, you can guarantee they’re only going to get worse…

I have to admit that I didn’t make too many notes on this book, as I read most of it whilst sat in cafes around Leiden and didn’t have a notebook with me. I apologise for this review, it doesn’t feel quite as coherent as I’d like it to be but right now my mind is filled with archaeological theory and I haven’t worked on much blog stuff in a little while! But what I can say is that it is definitely worth the read – particularly for those who haven’t read any Joe Abercrombie before, it’s a good way to ease yourself in to his style of grimdark fantasy.

Review

Review: The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle #2) by Peter V. Brett

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

5 out of 5 stars

**spoiler alert**

The Painted Man was a fantastic book. It builds up a world of lore and magic Рand The Desert Spear builds so much more on top of it. Whereas The Painted Man followed several of the protagonists from a young age to the beginnings of adulthood, The Desert Spear covers a shorter period of time, apart from the first section which tells the history of Jardir.

At first I was a bit frustrated with the amount of time spent with Jardir, who we only met for a short while in the first book, because I wanted to get back to Arlen, Leesha and Rojer. But then I grew to really like Jardir. I grew to understand why he did what he did to Arlen in the first book, why he is like he is – and how he actually has a sense of justice, and is not just out to conquer the world and look down on others like the majority of his people appear to. Although he is rather prejudiced to begin with, he slowly starts to realise that maybe his people can learn something from the chin, or Northerners. I really loved his relationship with Leesha, it showed a softer side of him and I was glad that Leesha was finally thinking about herself for once.

One section that I particularly enjoyed was the battle at Deliverer’s Hollow from Jardir’s point of view, when he first visits. It was just really interesting to see these characters I’ve come to know through the eyes of another. And Renna’s transformation! From a meek, scared young girl to a bloodthirsty warrior – I really like that she is very strong in that way, after all she’s been through.

All in all, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be and more, now just to wait until next February (I believe) for the third book!

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Review

Review: The Painted Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

The Painted Man (The Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

5 out of 5 stars

**spoiler alert**

After finishing Mass Effect 3, I really wanted to read some sci-fi. So I went down to my local library, and browsed the (rather pathetic) sci-fi and fantasy section. I came back with four fantasy books, and just one sci-fi. Luckily, one of the fantasy books was this one, because it was amazing. I was first drawn in by the cover Рrather mysterious Рand then the blurb.

The entire concept of demons (or ‘corelings’) springing up out of the earth after the sun has set – or even when it is dark enough during the day, caused by storms and the like – really interested me. The people of this fantasy world live in fear of the dark, because there is actually something out there, and to prevent demon attacks they must ward their homes, businesses, cities etc, or travellers must create ward circles in which to hide at night. But the wards can be easily disturbed – washed away by rain, covered by snow or leaves, even just a person treading on one of the wards can break the circle. Everyone lives in constant fear, and no-one has the means, or courage, to face up to the demons. That is until Arlen finds a warded spear in the ruins of an ancient city, and using murals and the spear itself begins to recreate the wards, even going to far as tattooing his entire body – hence the ‘Painted’ or ‘Warded Man’.

I have to admit when I first opened the book and read that the main protagonist was a ten-year old boy, my heart sunk a little. I often get annoyed by such young protagonists, but Arlen really surprised me. He was clever and a realist, and very, very determined. And his transformation into the Painted Man was fantastic – strengthened by past losses, and desperate to not turn into his father. In fact, all three of the protagonists were very likeable and it was interesting to follow them from their pre-teens (or earlier, in Rojer’s case), to adulthood. I like Leesha for her sense of morals and her determination to live her life as she wanted.

Often with fantasy novels, the authors understandably want to create something new, a new world, but some times it can get very complicated. The Warding system was very understandable, and I can’t wait to find out more of its back story, along with the history of the Core and corelings – which I hope will be coming up in the next two books.

I really loved the pacing of the book. Brett didn’t switch between POVs too quickly, nor too slowly. It felt like just as something big was building up for each character, the POV would switch, which definitely kept me reading to find out what happened next. The action scenes were brilliant and fast paced.

As much as I love fantasy, I haven’t found too many series that have really gripped me.¬†The Lord of the Rings¬†and¬†A Song of Ice and Fire¬†go without saying, but I feel this series (trilogy?) could soon join them. I will definitely be looking out for book two, and book three when it is published – apparently February 2013.

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