Book Review: The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

Name: The Ninth Rain
Author:
Jen Williams
Number of Pages:
544 (Paperback)
Published:
February 23rd 2017 by Headline
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

Whrere to begin? Someone asked me what I was reading recently and I launched into a ramble about Sarn, worm people, parasite spirits, Eborans, and a fascinating explorer called Vintage. Cue bemused expressions and a polite smile. That was when I realised just how vast and well-created the world of The Ninth Rain is. I’d been totally immersed in the story for so long that I just assumed anyone else would know what I was talking about. Such is the talent of Jen Williams in creating such a vivid world, with such memorable characters. There’s a long history of Sarn, fraught with danger and destruction as the alien Jure’lia return wreaking havoc every so often, laying waste to all before them with their monsters.
In the past the Eborans have battled and defeated these invaders, but the Eborans have fallen on dire times. Their tree-god has apparently died, and it was from him they drew their strength and longevity, and he also provided the mythical war-beasts which accompanied the Eboran warriors into battle.
As an alternate source of power the Eborans used human blood to replenish their strength, which spiralled out of control and led to the humans turning on those who had once fought for them. It didn’t work out so well for the Eborans in the long term either, with them suddenly becoming all too mortal and succumbing to a lingering death via the Crimson Flux. And so their majestic city fell to ruin and desolation, and the last few Eborans await their fate.
But now there are ominous dreams, and whispers that the Jure’lia may return again, and suddenly the need for the great powers of a bygone age are more essential than ever.
That’s a basic idea of the story, but there’s so much more to discover.

For as great as I found this book, in the first chapters it didn’t grab me straight away, it was more of a slow burn, but once I was hooked, well, I was in it to the end with the group of central characters that I came to love. You know you’re on to a good character when you’re willing them to make it out alive, and for me that applied to all three of our leads.

There’s Lady Vicenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, an eccentric explorer with a fascination for all things Jure’lia that inspires her to venture into all manner of perilous situation with her crossbow at her side and her companions/accomplices following in her wake.
I loved Vintage. She was courageous, inquisitive, kind and determined. Her warmth and wit were great, as were all the extracts that appeared throughout the book, detailing so much of her own life – letters to her nephew, letters to a lost Eboran companion, Nanthema, and accounts of episodes of previous invasions and history. All these gave life to Sarn and it’s great history without becoming overwhelming.

Tormalin is an Eboran who left his old life behind when he saw the hopelessness of the situation, venturing out into the world beyond Ebora, where he found Vintage and became her hired protector. Through him we see the vampire-like race. Once unbeatable, almost immortal, their circumstances have vastly shifted, but he’s still a formidable match for most things the Wild of Sarn can throw at the group, including the menacing parasite spirits which attack them throughout.

Noon is a Fell-Witch who has been imprisoned in the Winnowry for the last ten years but is driven to escape after her nightmares leave her convinced that the Jure’lia really are coming back. Noon has the gift of Winnowfire, and draws energy from living things in create the powerful green flame so capable of causing utter destruction.

The trio, driven by Vintage’s determination to find answers to so many questions about the Jure’lia – where do they come from? who are they? how to stop them? – venture to places where remains of the Jure’lia ships can be found and explored, gathering knowledge. The revelations they discover along the way, and the relentless pursuit of those from the Winnowry who are determined to see Noon made an example of for her escape, plus all the monsters and creatures out in the Wild make this a fantastic journey.

The Ninth Rain features great world building, well written characters and such an exciting finale that I can’t wait for the next instalment of the series.

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Book Review: Darien: Empire of Salt by C. F. Iggulden

Name: Darien: Empire of Salt
Author:
C. F. Iggulden
Number of Pages:
352 (Hardback)
Published:
July 13th 2017 by Michael Joseph
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE. WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.
The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change.
Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king. It will summon strangers to the city – Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt – and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all.
Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made – and lost – in Darien.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Darien is the first in a new fantasy series and possibly the first C. F. Iggulden book I’ve read.
Darien is a city ruled by a monarch where in truth twelve families hold the power, and keep order. It’s a world of power, and magical artefacts, and military might.
There’s a plot to kill the king and establish a new ruler in Darien, which leads to a fierce battle for the city, which made for exciting reading towards the latter part of the book, and we live it through 5 main characters, who are all pretty intriguing in their own ways. The characters really make the novel.

I liked the magic, and that people have a knack, a power, which can be different for everyone.
Elias Post, the hunter, can reach and see possible outcomes, making him a powerful and almost unstoppable force in battle, cutting through masses of soldiers whilst taking little harm himself. This of course makes him valuable.
Nancy is a young woman who never really believed in magic, because she’d seen little evidence of it in her life – because her knack means she can absorb power from around her. When she comes to realise just how strong this makes her, and the ways in which she can wield that power, she sets out for Darien with an intent of her own.
Then there’s the young boy who doesn’t speak, who becomes known as Arthur. He has an uncanny skill of being able to watch and learn. For example, the complex Mazer steps, an intricate and deadly fighting style takes years to learn, but after watching someone demonstrate the steps Arthur can execute them perfectly in a matter of moments. Tellius, teacher of the Mazer steps, sees this and takes the boy into his group, little realising just how far they will travel together.

Some of these characters cross paths accidentally, some are thrown together by chance, or with reluctance, but all are destined to witness the battle waged within the city of Darien. Some will participate against their will, only hoping to save those they care for, some will willingly lay the city to ruin if they can.

The second half of this book is fast paced and exciting, with mass destruction of the city, murder, blackmail and magic as old artefacts such as the Sallett Greens (huge warriors) and the Blue Border are deployed amongst the battling factions of the city, and I really enjoyed it.
I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, and even though this one wraps up nicely, I’m already wondering – will we meet up with the same characters next time? And if so, what lies in store for them…
Or will the focus go elsewhere? There’s so much potential here and I can’t wait to see what happens next in the Empire of Salt.

 

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Name: The Dry
Author:
Jane Harper
Number of Pages:
416 (Paperback)
Published:
June 1st 2017 by Abacus
Genre: Crime

Goodreads

WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?
I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.
Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.
Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I fancied a change with my latest read, so, having received many recommendations for The Dry and seen it in many top ten lists for a while now, I decided to give it a go.
What a page turner! I couldn’t seem to put this book down. It was always ‘I have time for one more chapter, don’t I?’. And if I didn’t, that didn’t always stop me carrying on reading anyway!

The Dry is set in a small town in Australia, Kiewarra, where there hasn’t been rain for two years and the land and community are suffering. Tensions are already running high before the shocking revelation that three members of the Hadler family are dead in an apparent murder/suicide.

The atmosphere, both the oppressive and relentless heat, and the claustrophobia created in a town where everybody knows everybody else, and secrets don’t always stay hidden, makes for compelling reading.
The way the town bands together, and the lengths they will go to once they believe something to be true creates a tense situation.

Into this comes Aaron Falk, a man who twenty years previously felt the force of the community as he and his father were forced to leave after his suspected involvement in the death of one of his friends. His return causes a stir; inevitably he is not welcomed by everyone, and several attempts are made to make the general feeling known.
He returns after hearing of the Hadler family’s case, as Luke Hadler was also a friend years ago.

Thankfully not everyone is so hostile, and Falk finds a friend in local police officer Raco, who is also convinced there is more to the Hadler case than has been revealed so far.

There are many twists in The Dry, and enough potential suspects to keep you guessing as to what really happened to the Hadler family throughout the book.
I liked the way the past and the present were immersed together, as there was also the old but not forgotten case of Ellie Deacon, the young girl found drowned, with whom Falk had been friends, and I kept wondering what had happened all those years ago. Through remembered scenes Falk’s youth and his friendship with Luke Hadler and Ellie Deacon comes to life.

I really enjoyed The Dry, and noticed that it is listed as Aaron Falk 1, so perhaps there will be more stories featuring this character and setting in future. If so, I’d certainly pick up another one, although the way this one ended was really good, and it definitely works as a standalone.

Book Review: The Novice by Trudi Canavan

Name: The Novice
Author:
Trudi Canavan
Number of Pages:
592 (Hardback)
Published:
October 6th 2005 by Atom
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads

Sonea knew the other novices in the Magicians’ Guild all came from noble families and that, as a former slum-dweller, she could expect to be treated as an outsider, but she little realised the level of animosity she would face from her fellow students.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

 My Thoughts:

The Novice returns to the world of the Magicians’ Guild, where Sonea, under the guardianship of Lord Rothen, her friend and mentor from book 1, starts to attend classes in order to master her powers.
Her origins alone are enough to ensure she attracts attention. Add to this that not all novices have a guardian and that’s another reason for people to take interest in her, and it isn’t always positive interest.
Sonea becomes the target of a group of bullies led by Regin. As his relentless tormenting continued and he gathered a peer group around him, I kept marveling at the way Sonea never lost her temper to the extent that she hit him with a full blast of her powers, turning him into a rat or something.
That didn’t happen, and so she endured his attentions for the majority of the book, hounded by increasingly large groups who unleash their magic on her without fear of reprisals.
Needless to say this eventually leads to a showdown between the two of them that was worth the wait. (I do still half wish she’d just unleashed her power on him though, but understand why she didn’t).

There’s great deal more going on in this book too, and that made it really enjoyable.
There’s the mysterious High Lord, Akkarin, and the issue of whether or not he is using black magic, and if so, why? Only a select few know of this, and they are tasked with keeping the secret while deciding how best to approach the issue without forcing Akkarin into a confrontation which he would undoubtedly win.
I find Akkarin quite intriguing, and I think there’s more to all this, which will hopefully be revealed in later books.
He also becomes more of a central figure during this book as he takes over Sonea’s guardianship, forcing her into his company more often, staying at his residence and taking meals with him, much to her dislike and distrust.
Elsewhere, a series of strange murders have been committed, and suspicion falls on Akkarin from some quarters.

Then there’s Lord Dannyl, who has been appointed as Second Ambassador to Elyne and leaves the Guild to undertake this new role. Well, that’s the official story anyway. Administrator Lorlen has actually sent Dannyl to retrace the route taken by Akkarin ten years previously, when he went in search of information about ancient magic, because they’re trying to find out exactly what Akkarin is up to. Dannyl doesn’t actually know the reasons behind his mission, but undertakes the search willingly anyway. Great libraries, old tombs and many discoveries await Dannyl and his assistant Tayend.

Oh, and Rothen’s son Dorrien arrives to visit and becomes a good friend (possibly more?) to Sonea, and helps her to learn some valuable skills. He’s a great new character, and I hope he makes a return.
In terms of old characters, we don’t see much at all of Sonea’s friend Cery in this tale. He visits her briefly, but doesn’t feature beyond that, so maybe he’ll return in book 3 as well.

I flew through The Novice, and enjoyed it more than The Magicians’ Guild, which I thought took a while to get going. I’m looking forward to starting The High Lord, in which I hope it will be revealed there’s more to Akkarin than simply a black magician. And after a fairly spectacular end to The Novice I’m looking forward to see just how powerful Sonea really is, and the path she will choose to take in using these powers.

Book Review: Fever by Deon Meyer

Name: Fever
Author:
Deon Meyer
Number of Pages:
532 (Hardback)
Published:
15th June 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Thriller

Goodreads

Nico Storm and his father Willem drive a truck filled with essential supplies through a desolate land. They are among the few in South Africa – and the world, as far as they know – to have survived a devastating virus which has swept through the country. Their world turned upside down, Nico realises that his superb marksmanship and cool head mean he is destined to be his father’s protector, even though he is still only a boy.
But Willem Storm, though not a fighter, is both a thinker and a leader, a wise and compassionate man with a vision for a new community that survivors will rebuild from the ruins. And so Amanzi is founded, drawing Storm’s ‘homeless and tempest-tost’ – starting with Melinda Swanevelder, who they rescued from brutal thugs, Hennie Flaai, with his vital Cessna plane, Beryl Fortuin with her ragtag group of orphans and Domingo, the man with the tattooed hand. And then there is Sofia Bergman, the most beautiful girl that Nico has ever seen, who changes everything. So the community grows – and with each step forward, as resources increase, so do the challenges they must face – not just from the attacks of biker brigands, but also from within…
Nico will find experience hardship and heartbreak and have his loyalty tested to its limits as he undergoes an extraordinary rite of passage in this new world. Looking back as he writes in memoirs later in life, he recounts the events that led to the greatest rupture of all – the murder of his father.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Fever is a tale of survival in a world destroyed by disease. A vast proportion of the population has died out, leaving survivors to either band together or destroy each other in their bid to forge an existence in this new world.

The story begins with two such survivors – Willem Storm and his young son Nico.
Willem has a vision of a community rebuilt from the ruins, and finds a place to realise his dream, while Nico, still only a teenager, comes to realise that his childhood is over as he becomes his father’s protector.
And so, from an idea, Amanzi, a new community is created.
From small beginnings something with great potential is realised, but there are challenges along the way – the quest for food, and fuel, and threats from wild animals and rival humans who would take all that those at Amanzi have worked so hard to create.

I’ve read a few post-apocalyptic novels recently, I really enjoy them, and while some feature a supernatural/zombie/monster type element, here we’re entirely focused on a human-based story.
This is a character-driven novel and what a great cast of characters. The community is captured really well in the Amanzi History Project, chapters within the main narrative told as Willem Storm talks to the residents of the new community to record their memories and their lives before and after the fever.
Fever is vast, and there is so much I could talk about, but I’ll stick to a few of my favourite characters.

Nico Storm, the boy who realises in brutal circumstances and with anger that his father cannot protect him and that he must protect himself and his father too.
Nico’s shock and rage served as the encouragement for him to change, to move away from being like his father and more like Domingo.

Domingo. Possibly my favourite. Domingo rides into town on a motorbike, is mysterious, doesn’t give much away, doesn’t say that much, and knows exactly how to fight and protect the new, growing community. He doesn’t shy away from battle, and encourages others to see the need for drastic measures, such as attack rather than just defence.
Nico observes early on you can tell he’s a man you want on your side, that he’s dangerous. He’s certainly charismatic and his legend grows with each skirmish. A man of few enough words, who can easily hold sway with the few that he does say, influencing a vote with a simple threat to leave if it doesn’t go a certain way. It’s enough.
Domingo is intriguing.

There’s Hennie Fly, so-called because he pilots a plane and owns the small Cessna aircraft which plays a vital part in getting word of Amanzi out into the world. He and Nico go on a perilous adventure in the quest to adapt and survive in this changed world.
Then there’s the wonderfully named Cairistine ‘Birdy’ Canary, an engineer.
And Okkie, a young boy who becomes Nico’s adopted brother.
There are those who whole-heartedly support Willem Storm and his dream, and those who would question his ideas, which creates tension within the community.

The end was worth waiting for – totally unexpected. I had some ideas and happily they were completely wrong. I love a good surprise or two. Fever is a tale of survival in a changed world, and well worth a read.

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Name: Feed
Author:
Mira Grant
Number of Pages:
593 (Kindle)
Published:
April 10th 2010 by Orbit
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Horror, Zombies

Goodreads

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.
FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own—a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 My Thoughts:

Feed is a post-apocalyptic tale of zombies, bloggers and… politics.
Or, putting those things in order of time devoted to them in the book I’d go for blogging, politics and zombies. The zombies are there, and can wreak havoc very easily, but they’re not really the main focus of the story.
Years after the world changed forever as a result of the Kellis-Amberlee virus, survival in a world populated by the infected is the norm.  In this new world internet journalism has taken over from print news, and includes video uploads and real-time feeds, so the bloggers take centre stage.
There are even people who deliberately put themselves in harms way and blog their adventures, they’re called Irwins.  There are also Newsies, who deal in facts and truth, and Fictionals, who venture into fiction and poetry in their blogs.
The team at After the End Times consists of Georgia (Newsie) and Shaun (Irwin) Mason, adopted siblings, and Buffy (Fictional). They win the right to follow promising senator Peter Ryman on his bid for the presidency, and they travel across the country following his campaign and reporting news from the political world.

Of course, these things never go smoothly, and it becomes apparent that even if Ryman is on track to win his campaign, there are unknown people who will go to great lengths to stop him, and this for me is the best part of the novel – the twists, and the lengths to which the enemy will go to gain their own ends. There is very little they won’t stoop to, and Ryman himself isn’t the only target.
No one is safe – those who work for him, his family, and certainly not the bloggers covering his campaign. In the end they must risk their lives to uncover the truth and survive long enough to reveal this to the world. Exciting stuff.

The action scenes were so good; one minute all is well, the next, all hell has broken loose, and given that Shaun is an Irwin (runs straight into danger rather than away), we’re often at the centre of the action.  Even if they’re not seeking out danger, trouble never seems far away and sometimes situations begin from nothing at all.

There’s plenty to enjoy here, but at times I found the narrative a little dry, with info-dumps and great detail regarding safety procedures, sterilisation, blood tests to detect virus amplification, technology etc.
Other people have noted that the strength lies in the characters so I’m probably in the minority here where I didn’t particularly warm to the brother/sister duo at the heart of the story straight away. I don’t know why, and it certainly wore off towards the second half of the novel, but at first I found virtually every other character more appealing, such as Buffy, Rick and the senator and his family. Perhaps this is a masterstroke though, because when things start to happen, and no one is safe, there’s an emotional impact.

As things became serious and the full scale of the conspiracy started to be revealed I did appreciate Georgia and Shaun a little more, for they remain dedicated to the pursuit and revelation of the truth, knowing full well that exposing these people may put their own lives at great risk, whilst trying to protect those who work for them. They’re undeterred even when direct threats are made against them, and by the end I was willing them both to survive.

The final stages of the story really make the whole book worth reading. I didn’t see certain events coming at all, and was pretty shocked. I still can’t believe that happened. It was one of those moments where I sat thinking ‘no, that didn’t just happen. There’s going to be a way out of that, or another twist’, so obviously by that point I’d become more invested in the fate of these characters. I’ll probably check out the rest of the books at some point, and I know I have Feedback in my TBR pile somewhere…

Book Review: The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

Name: The Magicians’ Guild
Author:
Trudi Canavan
Number of Pages:
470 (Paperback)
Published:
2010 by Orbit
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads

The old magician paused. ‘If this young woman is a natural, we should expect her to be more powerful than our average novice, possibly even more powerful than the average magician.’
Each year, the magicians of Imardin gather together to purge the city streets of vagrants and miscreants. Masters of the disciplines of magic, they know that no ordinary lowlife can oppose them. But their protective shield is not as imprenetrable as they think.
Sonea, angry, frustrated and outraged by the treatment of her family and friends, throws a stone at the shield, putting all her rage behind it. She is amazed when it sails unrestricted through the barrier and knocks a magician unconscious.
The Guild’s worst fear has been realised. There is an untrained magician loose in Imardin who must be found before her uncontrolled powers can destroy herself and the city.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 My Thoughts:

I’ve just finished The Magician’s Guild and it turned out to be a really good read. I’m glad I persevered through a fairly slow beginning. I read on, hoping the story was going to get going, on the basis of a recommendation.
And I’m really glad I did.

In the first part of the tale we meet Sonea, a girl who suddenly finds herself the sole focus of the entire Magicians’ Guild after wielding power she never knew she had in a very public setting. To the casual onlooker, it may look as if she attacked a magician, and the punishment for that would be severe so she goes all out to avoid capture by the magicians who start to hunt for her.
However, it becomes imperative that she is found, because without training her powers will overtake her and destroy her.
The Guild searches in vain, as Sonea and her friends have found protection with the Thieves, who will shelter her until she controls her powers, with the implication that she will help them out later on.
This hiding and evasion section started to drag after a while. It established Sonea and Cery and their friendship, and the world in which they live, but I wish it had been shorter, because at times, if it hadn’t been for that recommendation, I was tempted to stop reading.
Things take a turn as Sonea starts to lose control of her powers. Destruction and danger mount, and Sonea clearly needs help, at this point, something really clicked for me. The stakes were raised, the magicians were closing in as Sonea’s magic made her detectable, and suddenly her whole world is changed.

Part 2 sees Sonea go to the Guild and under the guidance of Lord Rothen she begins to master her powers and gain Control. Learning about the Guild and the various powers the different magicians have was fascinating, and the rivalries and friendships between certain magicians made for great conflict.

Lord Rothen wants to become Sonea’s guardian, someone to look after her once she begins lessons in the Guild, but another magician, Fergun believes he has a counter-claim to this right, and to ensure Sonea herself will back up his claim he takes extra measures to guarantee her support. He has his own agenda in taking her under his wing, and there’s little doubt that it’s not really for her benefit at all.

I really enjoyed the growing respect and friendship between Sonea and Rothen.  Initially she has no love for the Magicians’ Guild, and certainly doesn’t trust magicians, but gradually she comes to believe that Rothen is a decent and honourable man, and someone she can trust, which makes Fergun’s scheming and meddling all the more interesting.
And then there’s the head of the Guild, the High Lord. I don’t want to give anything away but I think he may prove to be an intriguing character later on in this series and I can’t wait to find out more about him.

The last few chapters of the book contain enough revelations, schemes and secrets to have left me wanting to get on with book 2, The Novice, fairly quickly. I can’t wait to return to the Magicians’ Guild and see Sonea learning to use her powers. I’m definitely glad I stuck with this book.