Age of Assassins

The Nitty-Gritty Details 

Title: Age of Assassins
Author: R.J. Barker
Publisher: Orbit Books, August 2017
Blurb: Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder. 

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies, Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom.

The Experience
(Warning: spoilers are hinted at towards the end of this review)

So, let me start off with a story about how this book came into my hands.

I discovered Barker through Twitter, because he followed/interacted with some authors that I adore (i.e., Melissa Caruso), so I started following him and his blog. One day, a new blog post from him came up on my WordPress feed and I gave it a read. It detailed a contest to win a copy of Age of Assassins, if you could guess how one copy he owned met it’s demise: by water, by coffee (I think this was one of the options?) or cat’s pee.

Because I’m an inept Luddite half of the time, I can’t find the tweet I sent in to enter, nor Barker’s response that I won (which, I saw a few days after he posted it, because I suck that much at social media; but also, *still squeeing*). I also don’t have a picture of the wonderfully signed first page, which included a drawing of the culprit that made it possible for me to get a gifted copy of this book, because I forgot to take a picture this morning.

(I really suck at technology, friends.)

Then, of course, when the book arrived in the mail, I had a stack from the library that I had to get through, especially since I’d already maxed out on renewals (…twice). So it took me a hot minute before I actually opened up the book and delved into the world of Girton Club-Foot, assassin who never really got to know what it was like to be a boy–and struggles to balance the two roles when he has an opportunity to play the boy while being required to be the assassin-in-hiding.

33296298Oh wow, what a journey that was.

I won’t lie: at first, I was a little wary. The writing style was…unlike anything I’d ever read before. I don’t think I can accurately describe it, but it was unique enough to catch me off-guard, if only for a few chapters. Once I got accumulated to such a strong and unique voice and realized how right it was for Girton’s character and personality, suddenly, every lunch break just wasn’t quite long enough.

Particularly the lunch break where I finished reading the book, where I might have stayed hunched in my cubicle for an extra, oh, I dunno, 30 minutes or so, to finish the novel? (Oops.) Because damn, that couldn’t wait until I got of work hours later. Not after what happened at the stables. Not after Girton learned the truth. Not after I learned what the gesture of exposing the neck meant. Not after that arrow hitting it’s mark. Not after the riders and their role.

Not after what we learned about Xus’s priest.

Nope. Reading that ending could not wait another bloody minute.

And now I’m back in my usual spot: yearning for the sequel.

*sigh*

It’s such a wonderfully tortuous place to be.

Read on!

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The Iron Hound

So, this was an interesting read.

I read the first of the series and I absolutely f-ing loved that thing. This sequel was one of the books anxiously awaited, eager to see what happened next. So when it finally released, I went to my bomb public library and picked up a copy, excited to return to such a riveting world of religious struggle and war.

Apparently, I should have reread The Pagan Night before continuing the series with The Iron Hound.

You see, my main issue with the book, was that I couldn’t remember everything that happened and all the main players from book one, so for the first half of the book, I was a tad bit confused on what exactly was going on (I know, for someone who read The Pagan Night over a year ago and was so excited to read this book because I was so awed by how that one ended, my memory is apparently shite). I figured it out and caught on eventually, but my own memory really screwed me over. I don’t think it was any fault on the author’s part or results in any negative criticism on the book itself. I’m actually more pissed at myself, because my inability to remember what happened did taint my reading of its sequel.

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Yet, even with that, this book was good. Pretty dang good. Especially the last 200 pages or so.

I particularly enjoyed the sections covering the Blakeley’s–both Malcolm Blakeley and the juxtaposing struggles between his faith and the love he has for his wife; and Ian Blakeley and his hunt with Sir Elsa for Gwendolyn Adair. I also really enjoyed Gwen’s journey.

That girl has seen some shit.

But my favorite aspect of this book–probably of Tim Akers as an author, actually–is the quality of the writing. Because damn. There were so many times, whilst I was reading, that I thought, “Holy shit, this is so well written,” or went back to reread a passage because it was just that awesome. Akers definitely has a knack for writing descriptive, gorgeous, interesting fantasy prose–especially the dialogue.

I’m excited for the third book of the trilogy, The Winter Vow, to come out, next…August, I believe? I’m probably going to need to read a synopsis or something of The Iron Hound beforehand, so I don’t let my own inability to remember anything taint my reading of the conclusion of this series. Until then, I have a lot of other books to read–including the rest of Tim Akers work.

Read on!

Inherit The Flame

Holy shit.

I don’t think I’m going to do this book review justice, because…wow. Talk about a way to end a trilogy.

I’m actually at a loss from words, here. To the point that, I’m not exactly sure what to even talk about, this book was that good. Should I mention that I read it in a span of, what, three days? Two days? That the plot took twists and turns that I absolutely did not see coming, yet were the epitome of brilliance? Should I discuss how utterly and completely satisfying the last, eh, I’d say 50 pages were? Especially that second to last chapter, I mean, damn. 

Except for one very particular thing that absolutely shattered my heart.

You know what I’m talking about, O’Keefe.

You’re merciless.

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It’s the kind of end of the series that, when you’re 50 pages from the end, you have no idea how everything’s going to get wrapped up, because there is still so much going on and there is no possible way it’s going to get wrapped up and all those threads tied with so little page space left. Yet you close the book and you’re content. You have (mostly, see above accusation for clarification) those warm, content butterflies fluttering in your stomach, completely satisfied with the ending.

Oh, you have questions, still. And you want to see more of this world, continue to be a part of the lives that you’d grown to adore so fondly. Yet, for this trilogy? You’re very content how things ended, especially considering it went down not at all like you expected (but, looking back, in exactly the way it needed to, for your desired ending to be possible at all).

It’s also the type of ending that, as soon as you finish the book, you may rush to check the author’s website (and maybe also her Twitter) to find out when the next book penned by her hand is meant to be published. You’ll be dismayed to realize that there is something in the works, but it’s probably not going to be in your hands anytime soon. Because you’re selfish and you want to escape into worlds told so beautifully, with charming, complex characters and complicated conflicts, as O’Keefe has with the entire Scorched Continent series.

It’s the type of ending that leaves you in a book hangover so the review you write isn’t as polished as it should be or praise the book or it’s author as much as they deserve–and O’Keefe and this series deserves the best of the best.

But, perhaps, experiencing that hangover from her stories, getting as invested in her characters as you did and being disappointed you have to wait for more; perhaps that praise speaks volumes for itself.

So go check out the Scorched Continent series for yourself.

Trust me, you’re going to love it.

Read on!

PS: To O’Keefe directly, here, if she reads this. These three words: “I promise it.” Holy shit, talk about the chills you caused from that. I mean, I’m getting them again just thinking about that scene. Whoa.

The Tethered Mage

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. 

*actual reaction after finishing The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso*

*attempts to calm down so she can properly write this review*

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*fails*

*tries again*

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*tries for a third time*

Friends.

You have got to read this book.

*succeeds, finally. Now, onward with the review*

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I actually, um, read this book before it was published.

(I know, right? This is probably one of the coolest claims of street cred I’ve ever had.)

I read a copy in the middle draft stages, as a beta reader thanks to my amazing internship with Naomi Davis. But even then, I could see how shiny every gem that decorated this crown of a story sparkled. With every draft, Caruso continued to polish and hone this story, until it became the glorious beauty that, mere days ago, was published for the entire world to read.

Selfishly, I put it on hold at the library so I could reread it just days after publication, because that’s how desperately I wanted to return to the world of Raverra.

Here’s why you should read it:

The worldbuilding! 

Seriously, from the first page, you are just completely drawn into this world, to the point where, when people try and draw you out of it, it’s almost a physical pain, because you just become ensnared and enamored so …effortlessly. It’s beautifully written and I love how we see so many aspects within this world, from the highest elite to the saddest pickpocket (and it gets even better when those juxtapositions clash and get mixed together, which happens constantly in this book, continually pulling at your heartstrings and making your opinions switch and complicate and question and GAH). I’m also thoroughly impressed by the way this book gives so much depth this world, yet also teases us enough to ensure that we don’t know everything yet–but we’re certainly hungry for more.

The beautiful magic system! 

Mage-marked innocents being conscripted through the magical power of jesses into the order of the Falconers and thus bound with someone without magic who has the power to control theirs, for the good of the realm in Raverra. Magical Witch Lords in Vaskandar who hold power specifically because of their magic. A struggling populace in Ardence whose opinions–and loyalty–to the Serene Empire sway like the tide.

I know, right? How can so much yes fit into one book?

The intricacy of the plot!

This book is the definition of a page-turner. I may or may not have read it in 150 page chunks over the span of half a week. I may or may not also have snuck in the last 20 at my desk at work, because the ending is just…whoa. Everything is so perfectly placed, so wonderfully interwoven to deliver the correct information just when you need it most, with twists you don’t see coming.

The budding relationship between Lady Amalia Cornaro and Zaira!

The characters are, by far, my favorite aspect of this book. I love how three-dimensional every single one of them are and how quickly I’ve formed a very deep attachment for them. But Amalia and Zaira deserve special notice: Amalia for her growth and truly becoming the woman she’s been both raised and created herself to be; and Zaira for her sharp tongue, purposeful lack of social graces, fantastic wit and fearlessness regarding speaking the truth.

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To get absolute chills from the badass scene on page 342!

I can’t write anything without giving this way, but holy goodness, I actually had to put the book down after reading that scene, because damn. 

If you follow this blog or know me in person or even just interact with me online, you know I love books. You know I love reading. You know I love really fantastic stories told with a passionate voice that feels alive. You know I love fantasy stories that remind me why I write in the first place, that challenge my creativity by saying, “Hey, this is how it’s done, so hurry up and finish your novels so we can hang out at the bookstore and rip readers’ hearts out together, eh?” (Because books talk to one another on the shelves. Obviously.) You know I love characters that feel like friends (or enemies) by the end, whose lives I become so invested in, that it borderline questions my sanity levels. You know I love intricate plots, wonderful magic, colorful banter, dashes (or full on dumps) of romance, characters that challenge and complement one another and worlds I wish I could live in. You know I love to read hours past my bedtime because “one more chapter” has unspokenly become my mantra, yet again, and you know, if I book manages to do all of these things, that I’ll talk your ear off until the end of time about how you need to read that book.

Well, The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso is that book, friends. And more.

Read on!

Tales of Aerothos: Knights of the Wolf

What an interesting read.

I mean interesting in a good way (you know how sometimes you use that word when you’re trying to be polite and don’t know how else to do it? Yeah, that’s not how I’m using it here, I just wasn’t sure how to start the blog post and that’s the best I could come up with. It’s almost the weekend, I apologize).

I really enjoyed this book–Tales of Aerothos: Knights of the Wolf by Robert Nugent. For me, Knights of the Wolf was a blend of both enjoyment and promise: I enjoyed what I read, but I’m also excited to continue seeing Nugent and his work grow as he does as an author, considering this is his debut.

My favorite aspect of the novel was how realistic it felt and the way it was told, through a combination of diary entries, snapshots of every day life and the grueling struggles of war. At first, when Dmitry and his Hrukso companions would fight a battle and then return home, I was bit like, “Wait a second, you’re in a middle of a war! You don’t have time to just go home and dilly-daddle about!” Yet as I kept reading, I realized that some wars aren’t fought from beginning to end all in one go, especially when you bring in political complications and hazardous weather/changing of the seasons, like Nugent did. The further I read, the better the book became and I came to appreciate the blend of normality and war that Nugent did. It reminds me, as an afterthought, writing this review, to the same balance Jeff Salyards does with his Bloodsounder’s Arc.

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I did find myself wanting a little bit more from the book, though. Occasionally there were large jumps in time where I wished we could have stayed in-scene and been with Dmitry and his compatriots to see what they were up to, instead of catching up through his journal entries. Or I wanted the pace to slow just a tad so we could get a bit more description and scene setting. Or a few times when I though the dialogue could be stronger. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing by any means. The fact that I was wanting more of the story reflects its current strength, already investing me with its characters and the world–and the world itself is very well fleshed out and obviously has a lot of history behind it. It was easy to believe the world we were reading was real, because of that deep history we felt–and because of the very well-detailed description of armor and of war.

My favorite aspect, though?

The ending.

I won’t lie, in the last fight, I was able to call a thing or two. But without spoiling anything, once you reach after that point, you expect a certain ending, if you follow me without following me completely, as to not spoil a book you should go try out for yourself. Instead, the harshness of the Hruskaya’s lives continued and when I read that last line before the epilogue, my immediate reaction was, “Oh, shit.”

It definitely made me eager for a sequel. Oh, most definitely. I’m not sure if there is meant to be one or not, but if there is, I’ll be reading it.

Overall, Knights of the Wolf was a joy to read, even if I had a couple of things I wouldn’t mind being heightened along the way. I really loved how the plot, while focused on the war, also did a good job balancing out and showing the lives that the warriors were fighting to protect. I got a hearty taste of Aerothos that left me curious and wanting for more and, as a reader, I think that’s a pretty good place to be.

Read on!

Red Seas Under Red Skies

GENTLE READER: DO NOT CONTINUE READING UNLESS YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE MAJOR SPOILERS, TOLD THROUGH EXCESSIVE CURSING AND EMOTIONAL VOMITING IN THE FORM OF A BLOG POST BOOK REVIEW. 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

Holy fucking shit.

Just…

Just…

Why?

I’m sorry for the spoiler-filled review, but no one else I personally know has read this book and ranting to people who don’t understand and haven’t gone through this emotional ripping-out-my-heart-and-forcing-me-to-watch-it-bleed that is the ending of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch makes it difficult to talk about, so I’m forced to vent here to at least process these emotions and I can’t do that without expressing the obvious.

You killed her.

Yes, Mr. Lynch, I have to address you directly here, though I know the chances of you actually reading this review are about the same as Jean and Locke ripping off both Stragos and Requin successfully, yet I just feel like this has sort of become personal, almost, so I must address you?* Because you killed her.

Ezri Delmastro.

I mean, of course I knew this was coming, but I dared to hope, you know? As the first flirtations between Jean and Ezri were introduced, I was already cheering for them. After that back-and-forth banter of them arguing fighting tactics and the quoting of different poets, I knew. When the romance finally blossomed, I was all abroad. I was completely and totally invested. I dared to hope. I dared to trust that, as the schemes became more complicated, as the betrayals began to rain in, as the plot continued to thicken and thicken and thicken, I dared to believe that there was an ending where both Jean and Ezri made it out alive.

And you ripped that hope away through fire.

“Gods damn you, Jean Tannen. You make this…you make it so hard.” 

How freakin’ could you.

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Of course, I wanted Locke and Jean to pull off their scheme. I wanted them to take down Stragos and completely blow Requin’s mind. Especially after Locke and his crew blew my mind in The Lies of Locke Lamora–and my heart was completely stilled at the deaths of Calo, Galdo and Bug. But then the stakes here, in Tal Verrar, made their schemes in Camorr seem like child’s play. I wanted them to succeed and I was shaking my head in complete awe at how they managed it.

Yet I would have traded all that success for Ezri’s life back.

I’m not sure what it was about her relationship with Jean that invested me to the point where I definitely almost started crying at her death and then I was covered in chills when Jean made his death-offering. I can’t explain why their relationship was so important to me, but it was. And damn if I’m not pissed that it’s over, that she was taken away from him and because of what? Fucking Utgar? Utgar?

As a reader, I am completely and utterly heartbroken right now.**

But as a writer?

All I can do is applaud.

In my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora, I made it pretty clear that that novel is one of my favorite books of all time. Might be the favorite book, after Tolkien. (I’ll also have you note that, in that review, I was also begging the, “How could you,” question at Lynch, so there seems to be a trend starting…) So my expectations were the highest for the sequel. And every single one of them was matched, if not exceeded.

Red Seas Under Red Skies was an excellent sequel.

I will forever adore the way Lynch writes, his interweaving of history and backstory and worldbuilding and plot, twisting through time and events to deliver each piece of information and each bit of action so expertly, to pack the highest punch (I mean, look at how the book started? My heart dropped before I was even five pages in). I love Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. The humor was amazing and the banter was fantastic and their friendship is incredible. I laughed aloud prolly an equal amount to the number of times I almost threw the book across the room in complete and utter frustration at either what was happening, what was about to happen, or, in a very weird and backwards sense, in a sign of utmost respect and awe at what just happened. The time the pair spent aboard the Poison Orchid was my favorite bit of the entire book. I was so entranced by Drakasha and her crew that, if Jean and Locke became permanent members of their crew and the rest of the books followed their adventures as pirates, I would be completely and utterly content.

You know, after a certain character’s death was erased and she was back aboard as first mate, her entire body whole and intact and most certainly not burnt to a crisp to the point of unrecognition.

Ahem.

Needless to say, I’ll be in a bit of a book hangover for a while. I already own the third book–and after reading that synopsis, I have a feeling my third review of Lynch’s work is going to follow very closely in the vein of the first two–but I think I need to read some other books that (hopefully) won’t cause me to be so…wrecked, afterwards.

Because fucking hell.

Read on!

* Hey, I know it happened, but the chances of their scheme actually working was really slim, you gotta admit that.

** Some of you may be thinking, This is a bit dramatic of a response, Nicole, don’t you think? If you do, then you obviously haven’t read a book before. And you definitely haven’t reach Scott Lynch.

Waiting on Wednesday: Heart on Fire

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine where we readers salivate over the books we wish were on our bookshelves yesterday.

This week’s victim: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Publication Date: January 2018 Piatkus

Who is Catalia Fisa?

With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin’s role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step–reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn’t kill her will only make her stronger…we hope.

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So, I just finished the second book in this trilogy last week and let me tell you, I’m ready to read the third one, especially after looking at that blurb above. It hints at all of the questions I’m ready to have answered. I’m also excited to see Cat finally accept not only her destiny, but the truth of her character. It’s been a long journey for her and she deserves that kind of peace and understanding about herself.

I’m also totally jazzed to watch an Andromeda-Catalia battle.

Also, the covers on all of the books are absolutely stunning, but I love the color scheme that goes with Heart on Fire. It’s gorgeous.

Read on!