Book Review: These Violent Nights

This one packs a lot more between its pages than I had originally anticipated. There’s a slow burn. There’s trauma. There’s fighting for your right to live and fighting for those you love. And magic and multiple dimensions and and and- yeah, there’s a lot. All of which adds up to a really, really fun read.

By Rebecca Crunden. Buy it on Amazon! :3

Once upon a time, inhabitants of another world tore a hole through the universe and came to Earth. They called themselves Suriias, and rivalled humans in knowledge and skill with one great exception: they had magic.

War followed. Humanity lost. And three hundred years later, humans are on the brink of extinction.

Orphans Thorn and Thistle live in hiding. They are the last of their families, the last of their friends. They scrape by, stealing to survive and living on the streets or hiding in sheds. But even under the brutal regime of the Suriias, there are places where humans can mingle in secret with magical sympathisers, and one night Thistle gets an unexpected offer of marriage from a Suriia with high standing and friends in all the right places. For Thistle, it’s a chance at safety and comfort; for Thorn, it’s a chance to find the ones who killed her parents.

And so the pair move into the capital city of Courtenz. An urban monstrosity of magic and might, false friends and flying cars, drones and death tolls, the new city promises a fresh start – and new love – for both.

But if there’s one thing Thorn knows for certain, it’s that dreams can swiftly turn into nightmares.

These Violent Nights begins with Thorn. We get to know the world through her eyes, which means we see the horrors she’s lived through and follow her as she claws her way ever forward, relentlessly seeking to avenge her parents. But we also find her doubting as she is faced with two Suriias who aren’t quite like any other. While the rest of the world seems to want her dead, these two want her to find comfort and peace.

Especially Kol.

Thorn’s drive for revenge is in stark contrast with how Kol slowly proves himself to her, whether that’s by showing her small acts of kindness (chocolate, movies, walks in pretty parks), or risking himself for her. It’s all very I’m kicking my feet under the blankets and making Taff noises and I am convinced that Thorn’s and Kol’s slow burn will forever be embedded in my memory. It’s really well done, okay? The best part? Thorn never loses sight of what she wants: freedom and the company of humans. Sometimes it frustrated me and I would have loved to shove them together and demand they get over it, but I am glad that Rebecca allowed Thorn her integrity.

And then, just when things really come to a boil for Thorn towards the middle of the book-

-we meet Lucien as our new point-of-view character. He is Surii. And he is here to show us that this one Earth full of unmeasurable cruelty is only one side of an awful, awful coin. Much like Thorn, Lucien has lived a life full of bloodshed and loss. But while Thorn only had herself and her sister to look after and was driven by the need to avenge her parents, Lucien looks after his family, his pack. His motivation is keeping them safe at all cost. Which, eventually, leads to Thorn’s and Lucien’s worlds colliding.

There’s another romance subplot woven into Lucien’s part of the story and it looks at the complicated relationship between a human and Surii from a different angle than what we saw with Thorn and Kol. This time, it felt like we focused more on the power imbalance between the two, which gave me a better understanding of why Kol often did what he did and why he didn’t press Thorn as much as he could have.

But romance is by far not the only thing this book has going for it! The world is built well; the characters that inhabit it are complex in all their flaws; the conflicts we explore prove heart-wrenching; and the eventual conclusion is satisfying.

Okay!

How many hearts does it get? 4 1/2 out of 5.

And what can you expect (or not expect)?

  • Slow burn times two :3
  • Queer!
  • Flawed characters that stick to their convictions
  • Magic! It’s mostly subtle at first, but we experience more of it later
  • No explicit sex scenes (this ace Taff is grateful)
  • Mention of sexual assault, but every instance is handled with grace
  • Flying coaches! But also steampunk trucks. Two very good things.
  • Happy Ending

Yep, I recommend this book. I really do. And I cannot wait to read more from Rebecca, honestly.

’till next time.

Book Review: Dust & Lightning

A fast-paced (but not rushed) science-fiction adventure which follows an ordinary man off to do the extraordinary for his brother.

By Rebecca Crunden. Buy it on Amazon! :3

I am tenderly awarding this book four and a half hearts! Plus an extra paw. Why a paw you may ask? Well, I’ll get to that in a bit. First, the book’s summary:

In the near future, humans have gone beyond simple space travel. By the year 4054, multiple solar systems are inhabited, and taking a spaceship is as commonplace as taking an aeroplane.

Unfortunately, not everything about the future is so advanced. The central planets, led by Earth, have risen high at the expense of cheap labour on distant worlds. Dissent is widespread and arrests are common. Sometimes prisoners are released; sometimes they disappear without a trace, sent to labour camps in other solar systems.

When Ames Emerys receives a letter telling him that his brother Callum has died en route to the remote planet of Kilnin, he takes the first ship he can off Earth, desperate for answers. But the secrets Ames uncovers prove far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

And trouble isn’t far behind.

Dust & Lightning is 122 pages of expertly paced dystopian science fiction. And if my dog, Loki, is to be believed (and he is), it is also extremely captivating. See, I read in bed. Sometimes that confuses Loki because the lights are on and I am not sleeping as I should, which means he’ll be looking at me from between his paws like I just committed a crime. And have you ever tried to read while there is a dog judging you? It’s distracting.

So I started reading the book out loud to him for a while and aaaa you should have seen his face. He perked up, ears and all, got his big and alert puppy dog eyes out, and listened very intently while the tip of his tail did a little wag. He loves the book is what I am trying to say, which I fully understand. I do too!

There’s so much to love in these 122 pages. Driven on by a letter insisting that his brother is dead, but convinced that there is more to it than what everyone wants him to believe, Ames (our protagonist) is thrown into a world of cruel conspiracies. He chases the only lead he has, all the way across the solar system and beyond, all the while desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the people who’d vanish him if they caught up with him. On that journey, we get to see what sort of man Ames is, what his principles are, how far he’d willing to go for the people he cares about, and why he should not ever be allowed to name a cat.

The world-building in the book is excellent. Not a single word is wasted and everything mentioned has meaning and builds towards a greater whole. The characters are immediately memorable, from our protagonist all the way down to the supporting cast. We’ve also got an amazing friendship shaped between a man and a woman, one that doesn’t rely on attraction (something I love dearly). And have I mentioned the prose?

No?

Well, there’s a sample from the first few pages of the book, which I hope gives you an idea what sort of treat you’re in for:

Each new discovery prompted exploitation, greed, uprisings. Like humans were in an abusive relationship with the universe.

Bottom line: If you like dystopian sci-fi and have a thing for adventures where a small group stands up against a corrupt and ruthless regime, then I absolutely recommend this book. It has mystery. Chase scenes. Friendship. Weird bugs. A cat. And an electric ending.

Book Review: The Calling

An action-packed mystery set in an icy future in which humanity’s survival isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The Calling by Branwen Oshea

By Branwen OShea. Buy it on Amazon!

I’m slapping four and a half hearts on this one. And it looks great on my bookshelf :3

Humanity’s wake-up call. Answer it or face extinction.

When Bleu’s little sister shows symptoms of the deadly Sickness, a strange vision directs him to leave humanity’s subterranean haven and seek the cure on Earth’s glacial surface. Joining the expedition team, Bleu expects extreme temperatures, not a surface ruled by ingenious predators.

Rana and her fellow star beings have co-existed with Earth’s top carnivores since the humans disappeared. But when her peers transform into Crowned Ones, the final stage of star being development, she fears remaining Uncrowned like her parents. To prove her worth, she undertakes a dangerous mission—contacting the hostile and nearly extinct humans. But Rana’s plan backfires, and Bleu’s team retaliates.

As war with the more advanced star being civilization looms, both Rana and Bleu separately seek a way to save their people.

The Calling is a hefty adventure. It takes place after the Earth has fallen to ice and humanity has had to hide in underground havens to survive, which, by itself, sounds simple enough. But there’s a lot more to it; from humanity’s struggle in their haven (the Sickness, a dwindling gene pool, politics) to the mystery that surrounds the star beings who have lived in harmony with Earth’s remaining wildlife in the human’s absence on the surface.

And gosh, I adored the world-building on both ends: the star beings and their abilities, their culture, and how humanity has managed to survive, as well as what’s driving them to reclaim the surface. It all comes together to shape a great backdrop to the character’s adventures.

Oh! Yeah! The characters.

I think the book has two main characters, of a sort. Bleu and Rana. Most of the story centres around them, but we get to know a cast of different POV characters who provide us with a view of the story from different angles. They all bring a different flavour and show us more of the world from their unique perspective. Plus, their personalities are varied, which makes switching back and forth entertaining since it keeps it fresh. OH! AND! We get villain POV! And okay, okay, hear me out: the arguable, air-quotes open, villain, air quotes closed, of the story? I am not about to spoil a thing, but I got so dang mad at him. Furious. I wanted to grab the guy by the ankles and feed him to the book’s (adorably murderous) cave diggers. And that’s a compliment because that dude worked. He’s not evil as much as he’s committed to humanity and the survival of the species and it shows.

The book also doesn’t pull its punches: characters will die. And they’re characters that get introduced to us in ways that give us plenty of time to care for them. More importantly though, their deaths aren’t only there to have us go “Oh no!” and then move on, nope. They have consequences and they move the story forward, adding tension and conflict and I think that’s really neat.

Anyway, so, our main characters: Bleu is a young and adventurous soul who yearns for being up there. To breathe something else than recycled air. To be rid of the constricting walls. He’s also an exceptionally good brother and loves his sister dearly. The same sister who is struck by the mysterious Sickness, which threatens to kill humanity’s future: their children. Soon after, a mysterious vision strikes him, convincing him that his sister’s survival depends on him going out there and locating the cure. Rana’s, our second central character, has her own yearning to contend with. She fears she’ll never crown, a fear which preoccupied her. A lot. Seriously. She’s on about it so often I sometimes felt the urge to sit her down and tell her to take a deep breath. But it’s an understandable worry, all things considered. It’s also that fear that drives her to want to set out on a dangerous mission and to eventually be directly tied up in the disastrous first meeting between the star beings and the frightened and hostile humans. Though on a lighter note: she gets to be wooed by two young men. And it’s adorable. And the way she handles it towards the end had me enjoy her as a character even more.

And that’s it, really? I recommend The Calling to anyone who enjoys post-apocalypse stories with a cast of younger heroes who get wrapped up in a high-stakes conflict. There’s action. Gunfights. Fascinating magic. An adorable cave digger baby named Digga. Tragic world-building on humanity’s side and what they’ve got to do in order to survive. And, yeah, if you like well-fleshed-out characters and villains who all come with their individual wants and needs and goals.

Now excuse me while I order book two in the series. I’d missed its release!

Buy it on Amazon!

Book Review: The Graverobber’s Sword

A Dungeon’s and Dragons like adventure with a crude as it gets hero, a dutiful sword, and a lot of heart.

By Jessy Jordan. Get it on Amazon!

The Graverobber's Sword

ZEPHELOUS IS AN INSTRUMENT of destiny, an awakened sword passed from hero to hero to combat the ever-looming threat of chaos and darkness. That is, until its previous wielder met his untimely end without naming a successor. Now it lies in wait, clutched in the death-grip of a friend, waiting for a new hero…

KERA NO-CLAN DOESN’T BELIEVE in heroes, destiny, or sobriety. Spending most of her life running from her past, she has little aspirations beyond her next drink. She spends her waking hours robbing graves and pawning what she finds to fuel her hazy nights, with little consideration for tomorrow. Little did she know that one grave–one sword–would change her life, whether she wanted it or not.

She is now forced to face a destiny that she has been unknowingly hurtling towards, racing against time to face the consequences of her own actions while hating every second of it.

What I expected:

Going into Graverobber’s Sword, I was prepared for a sort of buddy tale shared between a sentient sword who digs destiny and greatness, and his new wielder who doesn’t.

This wasn’t it though.

What I got:

A Dungeon’s and Dragon’s like adventure campaign that occasionally goes off the rails.

While the book starts out as I’d expected and we’re focused very much on Kera and Zeph, it quickly takes a turn before they (or we) can get comfortable. Not saying Kera was anywhere near comfortable. Neither was Zeph. Because hoo-boy, Kera is a mess. And that mess meets Smith and his daughter and then we get to see just how much of a piece of work she really is.

Right about thereabouts, I almost put the book down. Kera’s distrust for others and her absolute disregard for anyone but herself came to a boil and really, really tested me. But then I didn’t — and I got to admit that I admire the author for getting that reaction out of me and convincing me to keep reading anyway.

After introducing us to Smith and his daughter and the disaster that follows, the book takes another turn and all of a sudden we’ve got a Quest and a band of reluctant campaigners on our hands. Each member of the group is unique, comes with their own baggage, and they spend the rest of the book unpacking said baggage in mostly very unfortunate circumstances.

By the time the book was over, I’d grown to care for all of them, with Will probably being my favourite. And then I realised there’s a sequel, so I guess I am gonna have to go and check that out.

Bit like you should check out this one.

Get it on Amazon!

Book Review: The Firemage’s Vengeance

This is the third book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

Image result for the firemages vengeance

Hoo boy.

The third book following Ebon and his friends through their exciting (too exciting) life, doesn’t waste any time. It throws us right back into the thick of a conflict that runs so much deeper than personal vendettas.

Haunted by the choices they’ve had to make at the end of The Mindmage’s Wrath, Ebon, Theren, and Kalem are now more than ever in need of a big hug. Seriously. Mages they may be (mages in training, at least – except Theren, she’s scary good) but they’re young still anyway, and yet shoulder a world of secrets and pain.

Which doesn’t get any easier when the Academy is once again under attack, and they’re back to solving riddles and chasing a villain. They take personal responsibility really serious, even with their own heads on the line this time around.

Luckily, they’re not alone. And no, I don’t just mean Mako. Though, yes, Mako is there. Of course he’s there, and IreallywanttoknowmoreaboutMako,okay?

By now, our young heroes gathered a comforting supporting cast around them, from a lover turned rival turned ally, all the way to nobility. And it doesn’t matter how brief their appearances might be, they are all compelling characters that help complete a picture that comes together from a complex set of puzzle pieces.

I suppose that highlights one of the things I’ve truly enjoyed about this series: How everything has consequences and how Ebon’s life, his struggles, are all really just a small part of something much greater.

Firemage’s Vengeance feels like a pot that’s just been about to boil over and really mess up your stove, but then you get there just in time and prevent disaster at the last second. Sort of. Some spilled out and now there’s a stinky crust under the pot, but the worst of it got contained. And also you’ve now got this really delicious mystery food ready to eat later, even if you have to scrape the stove.

… okay, I don’t know where I was going with this comparison. Something about how the book allows for Ebon and his friends to thwart a villain, to save lives, and yet it sets the stage for much greater things to come, things way past the academy’s walls – and so much closer to Ebon’s heart than before.

It’s a great book, okay.

It’s a great series.

If pressed to find something to nitpick, then maybe I’d whine a little about how Kalem didn’t grow nearly as much as Ebon or Theren did, remaining a relative constant voice of reason with a side of coward. Which isn’t a bad thing, to be fair. They needed him. And we needed him, in particular to show us how just far out some of their plans really were.

And that’s it. That’s how much of the Academy Journals we got right now, which makes me a relatively sad Taff, since I’d really like to see how this continues (AND MAKO) right away. But patience is a virtue and all that, so I’m going to try my hand at this and maybe go read some of the other books in the Underrealm setting.

Whiiich you should do, too.

Just saying.

Book Review: The Mindmage’s Wrath

This is the second book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

The Mindmage’s Wrath picks up right where the Transmuter’s Alchemist’s Touch left off, with our young goldbag Ebon and his friends ready to get into more trouble while the Seat around them is still recovering from the final events of the first book.

I liked Alchemist’s Touch well enough already. It was good, it really was, and you know what? This one is Gooder, with Ebon growing into more of himself page by page, and the world revealing itself to us in greater detail chapter by chapter. We meet his sister. See more of his family’s politics, and especially where his aunt fits into all of it.

But you know what’s best? Mako! MakoMakoMako! There is more Mako! I swear I was making little giddy noises every time he made an appearance, and by the end I was convinced he’s my favourite and I’ll be one sad Taff if something happens to him.

Except Mako is, of course, not what this story is about. He’s just someone that Taff gets incredibly excited about.

Instead, this time, Ebon and his friends are faced with a murder in the Academy, alongside with the thefts of dangerous artefacts that could threaten more than just the Academy, but the Seat and the entire world itself. It’s a delightful little whodunit with a healthy sprinkle of more political intrigue around the goldbag families of Underrealm.

The pacing in which the murder mystery unravels is great, and I liked how the reader is given a chance to piece things together themselves, which gives us a chance to scream at Ebon from outside the pages if we figure it out first.

Again, I’d love to recommend this book. It’s a great follow up to the first one, sets us up for great things to come, and please can I have more Mako?