Tag Archives: magic

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

truthwitch cover 01This. Book. Was. AWESOME. High fantasy set in the mythical Witchlands, it follows the story of Threadsisters Safiya and Iseult, Windwitch and Prince Merik, and Bloodwitch and assassin Aeduan. The story focuses mainly on the relationship between Safiya and Iseult, two strong and powerful women bonded by friendship, whose strengths beautifully even out the other’s weaknesses. I typically enjoy any novel with a strong female protagonist, and this novel had two, both interesting and involving, and I loved it.

The world building was excellent in this novel. In the system of magic, witches have a specialty. A Windwitch can control air, even including a person’s “air” (or breath) depending on their level of power. A Truthwitch can tell if a person is telling the truth. A Poisonwitch has poisonous blood and can use it as a weapon. These are just a few of the witches we met in this novel. The land itself is nearing the end of the Twenty Year Truce, which (almost twenty years ago, obviously) ended a Great War. The war destroyed many of the lands belonging to the Witchlands, and now that the Truce is nearing its end, various empires are fighting for power. So Safi and Iseult’s personal struggles occur in the midst of significant political drama, which effects them both directly and indirectly, most notably when Prince Merik becomes involved. He belongs to a land devastated by the War, and seeks to do everything he can to help his nation Nubrevna grow and flourish before the Truce ends. Bloodwitch Aeduan is a more enigmatic character, one who is chasing Safiya at the behest of an emperor. We see part of the story from his POV, but know little about him other than he rejects his lot in life, and his power is considered a myth by most, at least until they meet him. His mysterious father, another king, is referenced but not explained, and presumably we will learn more about him in the next installment of the series. He is possibly the most complex character of the group, with much more story to tell.

truthwitch cover 02

My copy of the book read used cover art above, but when I found this one online I loved it so I included them both. 

The stories of the land and its history are skillfully woven into the tales about the girls’ lives by author Susan Dennard. Clearly the Witchlands have a detailed past and well-thought out religious beliefs, both ancient and current. The world, and strong leading ladies, put me in mind of Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, which made sense when Dennard mentioned Maas as her best friend in her acknowledgments. If you liked Maas’s writing, you will like Dennard as well.

I discovered this book because I happened to be wandering around Barnes and Noble when the second book in the Witchlands series, Windwitch, released, and the beautiful cover caught my eye. I’m glad it did, and I’m also glad Windwitch is already out and available at my local library, so I don’t have long to wait before I can read more of Safi, Iseult, Merik, and Aeduan’s stories. I give this book a rare 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of high fantasy, magic and politics, strong female characters, and very minimal love stories. Go read and enjoy it!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Some days I am good at writing book summaries. Some days I am not. Today is the second sort of day, so I am borrowing the book blurb from Goodreads.com:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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An Ember in the Ashes was excellent. The characters were real and relate-able. I particularly emphasized with Laia, desperate to save her brother but terrified of basically everything. She doesn’t want to be part of the resistance, doesn’t want to become a spy, certainly doesn’t want to constantly withstand abuse from her owner, but her determination overcomes her fear. She is not magically a wonderfully talented fighter, she doesn’t take over the resistance – she is just a regular young woman doing what she has to do to save the only family she has left. She is brilliantly written.

Elias was fabulously written as well. He was a smidgeon more stereotypical for this sort of story – orphan, taken in by the tribesman (the token outsiders) but then brought back to the military and becomes their greatest fighter, all the while hating everything the military stands for. But then Elias is pulled into a game where he can win and take over not just the military but the entire empire, and change it for the better. His internal struggles over whether he should stay and fight or run, his feelings for his oldest friend and his feelings for the new, unusual slave-girl make great, believable reading.

This book had several twists and turns, and nothing turned out the way you would expect. It left me excited for the second book in the series, without a cliffhanger ending that just made me angry and left too many loose ends. And it never got bogged down my romance. I give it 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of high fantasy and books centered around slave resistance/revolt. The second book in the series is also available as well: A Torch Against the Night.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts

Iona Sheehan has never felt like she belonged. Fed up with her mediocre life and heeding the suggestion of her Nan, Iona sells everything she owns and moves to Ireland to track down her family history. She meets her cousins, Branna and Connor O’Dwyer, and discovers she is the Third O’Dwyer – the third descendant of the Dark Witch. Now that the three descendants are all in one place, the time has come to finally defeat the Dark Witch’s oldest enemy, the demon Cabhan. Iona must quickly adjust to the fact that not only is she a witch, she is one of three witches who must defeat an evil 800 years old.

I picked up this book in hopes it would be something like Nora Roberts’s Circle Trilogy – mythology, magic, heartbreak, romance, and action. Additionally, as someone who loves horses and has been horseback riding almost her entire life, I figured a book in which the main character couldark-witch-coverd TALK to HORSES could not possibly be bad. I was sadly disappointed. The characters were so flat and boring. The leading lady, Iona, said every single thought that popped into her head and her personality consisted of talking too much and “living in the moment.” Iona’s love interest, Boyle, was confusing and completely unrealistic. I think he was supposed to be dark and mysterious, and struggling with these newfound feelings of love he never experienced before. But he was written so arrogant and dumb with dialogue like, “sure I made her cry, but I’ll just apologize and she’ll see reason!” Anything endearing or attractive about him was lost. The other characters had the same problems. Cliched dialogue. Shallow, uninteresting personalities. The “romantic tensions” between couples were so obvious it was like being hit over the head with the book. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a character and their heartbreak when you can very clearly see who they are going to end up with.

The action wasn’t much better. The system of magic didn’t always make sense. And when you are a serious fantasy reader, the system of magic must make sense. There was some sort of time travel involved I think. I’m not even sure it was so poorly explained. The entire book was leading up to the final confrontation with the demon Cabhan, and the battle was over so quickly I barely realized it happened. Even the accurately described horsemanship wasn’t enough to distract from the lousy plot. Truthfully, the best part of the book was the first few chapters where we met the original Dark Witch Sorcha and her children who end up being the ancestors of Branna, Connor, and Iona. I would like to read an entire book about them.

I probably won’t continue with this series. Maybe if my library happens to have it available as a downloadable e-book. I’m mildly intrigued to hear more of Fin’s story – the guy who fights on the side of the “good guys” but is a blood relative of Cabhan. Otherwise this series falls into the category of Too Many Books, Too Little Time. Oh well. Nora Roberts has written soooo many books a few of them had to not be as awesome as the rest.

Reap the Wind by Karen Chance

Reap the Wind is the seventh installment in the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance. When I first got into this series, I devoured the books. Cassie was one of my favorite characters of all time, and the world building was right up there witreap the windh the Mercy Thompson series and the Kate Daniels series. I could not get enough…I actually BOUGHT the sixth book, Tempt the Stars (reviewed here). And I was disappointed. The series had reached the point where there was too much action and yet not enough action. Pages of action sequences, like running/fighting/shifting through the demon realms, without any advancing of the plot. I was getting tired of Cassie going round and round with Pritkin and Mircea as well. Reap the Wind was finally different.

**SPOILER ALERT!!** 

I’m not necessarily spoiling the plot here, but I am going to give away some of Cassie’s character development in this novel. Read on at your own risk.

In previous novels, Cassie spent her time being pushed around by various individuals. Whether it was Tony, the vampire who originally “owned” her; Pritkin, who bossed her around in the process of training; Mircea, who sure became her sort-of-husband but was also a high level Master vampire and bossing people around is what Master vampires DO; Jonas, leader of the Circle who believes he should control the Pythia; even Agnes, former Pythia who had a plan for how she wanted Cassie to follow in her footsteps. Cassie threw her power around and expressed some strong opinions, but never really stood up for herself – more so complained when people didn’t do what she thought was right or ethical. Not anymore. Cassie comes to the realization that while she may control the Pythia power, it hasn’t magically (pardon the pun) earned her the respect of all the people trying to boss her around. This major turning point finds Cassie taking charge of her life, making decisions for herself, and forcing the people around her to take her seriously. It was refreshing, and the Cassie I have been looking forward to for several books.

Now the bad news is: Chance leaves us with yet another cliffhanger. Not as bad as the last few books maybe, but a cliffhanger all the same. Worst is that her publishing company announces one date of publication for the next book, and then pushes it off at least 6 months, sometimes longer. It didn’t bother me as much as it may have since I was expecting it, I just sort of sighed and moved on with my life. Maybe someday Chance will actually resolve something in this series. I still love the characters and the world (more Kit Marlowe please!), and I’m going to keep reading them. From a library. I won’t be spending any money on them and I’m not in a hurry to get the next one.

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Sadima, Franklin, and Somiss, driven out of Limòri by a suspicious fire, are living in a cave hidden within the cliffs that overlook the city. Somiss is convinced the dark passages of the caves were the home of ancient magicians, and his obsession with restoring magic deepens. Sadima dreams of escape — for her, for Franklin, and for the orphaned street boys Somiss has imprisoned in a crowded cage. Somiss claims he will teach these boys magic, that they will become his first students, but Sadima knows he is lying.

Generations later, Hahp is struggling to survive the wizards’ increasingly dangerous classes at the Limòri Academy of Magic. He knows the fragile pact he has forged with his secretive roommate, Gerrard, will not be enough to put an end to the evil. It will take all the students acting together to have any chance of destroying the academy. Building trust, with few chances to speak or plan, will be almost impossible, but there is no choice.

sacred scars coverIn this second book in Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series, all Sadima’s efforts are focused on convincing Franklin to leave Somiss. She, Somiss, and Franklin are living in a cave in the woods where Somiss has been keeping the boys he kidnapped, claiming they will be his first students. Sadima is sure this is a lie, and Somiss’s real purpose for the boys is much more nefarious. Somiss’s mania to find the secrets of magic has increased, and he treats Franklin worse with every passing minute. Something must be done. Meanwhile, in the future, Hahp is busy trying to convince Gerrard that the only way they can truly defeat the wizards is for their entire class to band together both to survive, and eventually destroy everyone else at the Academy.

I ran to my library to get this book almost as soon as I finished the first book in the series, because I just had to know what happened next. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as the first one (Skin Hunger, reviewed here). It was soooooooo slow. Sadima spent chapters and chapters and chapters exploring cave tunnels. Hahp spent chapters and chapters and chapters (again) making food or figuring out how to make other random things with the “magic stone.” It droned on and on. I felt like the book could have been 150 pages shorter. Now, it did have some interesting moments. The action that did happen was dramatic and unexpected. Sadima and the boys’ escape attempt was suspenseful (though it would have been even more suspenseful if it had been about 5 chapters shorter). I also thought learning more about the Eridians was interesting, since Somiss and Franklin talked about them all the time in the first novel, but don’t really explain who they were. Towards the end of the novel, I was sure the timelines were about to come together, but whether or not they did was never made clear. I think that was supposed to get me excited for the next book (which, at the time Sacred Scars was published, was not even in the planning stages) but really it just frustrated me. Notice I did not really find anything about Hahp’s story interesting enough to mention here. I desperately wanted to be emotionally invested in Hahp–I felt like I should be–but I just wasn’t.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for readers who read and enjoyed the first book, but warn you not to get your hopes up too much. According to Duey’s website, the third book is in the revising stages (though Goodreads doesn’t know anything about it, which is a little suspicious). We can only hope the third book releases soon and is better than the second!

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The Sworn by Gail Z. Martin

the sworn coverAs plague and famine scourge the Winter Kingdoms, a vast invasion force is mustering from beyond the northern seas. And at its heart, a dark spirit mage wields the blood magic of ancient, vanquished gods. Summoner-King Martris Drayke must attempt to meet this great threat, gathering an army from a country ravaged by civil war. Neighboring lands reel toward anarchy while plague decimates their leaders. Drayke must seek new allies from among the living-and the dead-as an untested generation of rulers face their first battle. Then someone disturbs the legendary Dread as they rest in a millennia-long slumber beneath sacred barrows. Their warrior guardians, the Sworn, know the Dread could be pivotal as a force for great good or evil. But if it’s the latter, could even the Summoner-King’s sorcery prevail?

Awhile back, I read the Chronicles of the Necromancer series by Gail Z. Martin. Devoured them would be more accurate. I fell in love with those characters and that world and couldn’t get enough. I finally figured out that those same characters are in this new series. Though Martin says this new series, Fallen Kings Cycle, stands alone, it really follows the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, with the same world and same main characters, with a few additions. You could theoretically read The Sworn without having read the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, but I wouldn’t recommend it, since you’ll be missing a lot. That being said, this review will contain spoilers for the Chronicles of the Necromancer series.

The events of The Sworn pick up six months after Chronicles of the Necromancer. Plague has beset the Winter Kingdoms. Dark mages are robbing graves and whispers of very evil magic permeate the land. Some characters we know and love from the first series are major players in this book. Jonmarc, mercenary-turned-Lord of Dark Haven is busy taking in refugee vayash moru (vampires), and vyrkin (essentially werewolves, although their shifting does not seem to have anything to do with the full moon) who have fled their homes because humans blame them for the plague. His wife Carina is getting ready to have twins, and Jonmarc worries about raising a family in troubled times. Tris and Kiara are preparing to have their first baby in Shekerishet, capital city of Margolan. We don’t see much of Kiara or Carina, since they are getting ready to be moms. In addition to Tris and Jonmarc, Carina’s twin brother Cam in another important character in this book. He is the champion of King Donelan, King of Margolan’s neighbor Isencroft and Kiara’s father. We also meet a new character, Jair, prince of Dhasson, who rides with The Sworn and his shaman-wife Talwyn for six months of the year. The Sworn made an ancient pact to protect the barrows and crypts throughout the Winter Kingdoms, and are some of the first to notice that graves are being robbed and bodies are being stolen for a nefarious, evil purpose. The final new character, and only major female character (at least the one female character who tells the story from her perspective) is Aidane, a serroquette, or ghost whore. She can be possessed by spirits, and hears their voices even when they are not possessing her. She gains important information from them throughout the story and becomes respected and well-treated, even by those who at first think she is nothing more than a common whore.

There is a lot to say to summarize this book, and I’ve only touched the bare minimum, because many different things happen. Each character is working in isolation, or I should say without the other main characters present, and they are all eventually realizing they are fighting the same thing. Watching all the groups figure things out and draw the same conclusions is neat. I missed having all the main characters together and interacting with each other, like they did in the previous series, but getting to know them in this different way was interesting too. I liked the new characters as well, especially Cam, who we met in the last novel but didn’t know much about. We learn much more about his story, and I really came to like his personality. I did wish there was more of a female presence. There were some cool female characters like Talwyn, but we only heard the story from Aidane’s perspective, and while I didn’t dislike her, she wasn’t anything special. I missed Kiara and especially Carina.

The problem with this story was it was one of those novels that sets you up for the next one. It kept building and building to something big that you knew was going to bring most if not all of the characters back together, but it never got there. By the end, they were on the brink of war, but there was no major action. Lots of dramatic prophesying and determining of what all the dark omens mean, and threats about the end of the world. Lots of character development, which I did like. But by the end I just wanted the battle to come already. It was not necessarily a cliffhanger ending, but the whole thing made me want to read the next book, The Dread, right away.

This would be a great series for people who like high fantasy and worlds filled with magic, spirits, and supernatural creatures. The characters are realistic and you can easily connect with them and become emotionally invested in their lives. Just don’t forget to read The Chronicles of the Necromancer first.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

ocean at the end of the lane coverA middle-aged man returns to his childhood home for a funeral. Though his old house has long been demolished, he can still visit the farm at the end of the lane with the duck pond in the back. When he visits, he begins to remember everything that happened in his childhood–including Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother–and the magical and frightening events that occurred after his 7th birthday.

My review isn’t going to be particularly long, because I don’t want to give anything away, and the book is rather short so it’s easy to give things away. Go out and read it and you will see what I mean.

This was a fun book to read. It wasn’t that it was funny or light-hearted; it was actually rather dark and sometimes frightening. It was more that you never forget you are witnessing the story from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy. He is introduced to magic when he is still open-minded enough to believe the impossible, like the duck pond behind the farm is really an ocean. And Lettie Hempstock may look like an eleven year old girl, but she is much more than that. It is she who helps the young boy believe and keeps him safe in this new world. Lettie, her Mrs. Hempstock, and her grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock and their farmhouse which always has a full moon on one side are mysterious and intriguing for a young boy, and that makes them mysterious and intriguing to the reader. You can tell by the way magic is being perceived that you wouldn’t believe it even if you saw it with your own eyes. A completely different world on the other side of the field, with kittens that you pull out of the ground like weeks? No way. But he’s  a little boy, so of course you believe him. Many reviews that I have browsed describe this book as childhood in just under 200 pages, and I think that’s perfect. Innocence. Fear. Courage. Willingness to believe. It has everything. I can’t wait to read it again and catch everything I missed the first time around.

I just love Neil Gaiman, and have read just about every book of his, some more than once. While I did not think this was the most exciting book he has ever written, I still liked it, and it definitely read like a Neil Gaiman book, which honestly matters more to me than what the actual book is about. I just love his writing style, and how reading his books always makes me love reading, which I think is something pretty special that not many authors achieve. It always makes me thinks, “How can Neil Gaiman know how I feel about reading so well?” For example, the young star of this story, a sever-year-old-boy, is contemplating stories, and thinks to himself:

I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?

I am an adult, and I love reading about all those things. I hope that means I’m doing it right. I don’t intend to stop.

Happy reading,

-Branwen