What I’m Reading #9

These are some of the books I’ve been reading lately. What have you been reading?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - cover image The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – As magnificent and creative and marvelous as one would expect from Neil Gaiman. I loved it… it was dark but also filled with beauty and a thread of noblebrightness. I read an ebook borrowed from my library, but I would like to get this one in print for my library. I love the cover, and I love the title.

A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.

This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real…

Fire and Ice by Patty Jansen - cover image Fire and Ice by Patty Jansen  – Everything about this was creative and interesting and well-executed, but it wasn’t really my favorite “type” of book – it was darker than I prefer (as is obvious from the blurb, so it’s not like I had no warning) and I didn’t really like any of the characters. I felt sympathy for some of them, but I didn’t really like spending time with them. If you’re a dark fantasy reader and you haven’t read this yet, you should check it out. (warning – sexual violence, non-sexual violence, etc.) Note the blurb from Kevin J. Anderson (!) on the cover.

Where magic is dark and gritty, characters troubled and twisted, and victory comes at a heavy price.

Deep under the City of Glass in the frozen southern land, an age-old machine called the Heart of the City radiates a power which locals call icefire. Most citizens are immune to it, but a few, always born with physical disabilities, can bend it to their will. For fifty years, the ruling Eagle Knights, who fly on the back of giant birds, have killed these Imperfects, fearing the return of the old royal family, who used icefire to cut out people’s hearts, turning them into ghostly servitors.

The old king’s grandson Tandor only sees the good things icefire brought: power and technology now forgotten while the people of the south live in dire poverty. He’s had enough of seeing his fellow kinsfolk slaughtered by ignorant Knights, of Imperfect babies being abandoned on the ice floes to be eaten by wild animals. His grandfather’s diary tells him how to increase the beat of the Heart the first step to making the land glorious once more. Arrogant as he is, he sets the machine in motion. All he needs is an army of Imperfect servitors to control the resulting power.

Isandor is Imperfect, an ex-Knight apprentice, betrayed by his best friend and running for his life.

The queen Jevaithi is Imperfect, living like a prisoner amidst leering Knights, surviving only because the common people would rebel if their beloved queen were harmed.

Both are young and desperate and should be grateful that Tandor wants to rescue them from their hopeless situations. Or so he thinks. The youngsters, however, have no inclination to become heartless ghosts, but while they defy Tandor, the Heart beats, and he alone cannot control its power.

Unless someone stops him.

For readers who like their fantasy dark and gritty.

A Threat of Shadows by JA Andrews - cover image A Threat of Shadows by JA Andrews – This is JA Andrews’ debut novel, and it is beautifully noblebright. At first it seems to be a stereotypical, albeit well-written, epic fantasy in which a mismatched group of adventurers (a human, a wizard, an elf, a dwarf…) must go on a quest, but there’s more going on than first appears. The plot is epic but the character journeys are intensely personal, written with sensitivity and understanding. Highly recommended.

Once Alaric was a Keeper.

He protected the land with his knowledge and his magic. He advised the queen.

Once he was a good man.

Until, in a futile attempt to save his dying wife, he delved deep into dark magic, betraying everything he believed in.

But now there is one last chance to save his wife, buried in an ancient Wellstone. With a map from a disgruntled dwarf, and the help of an inscrutable elf and an inept wizard, Alaric just might find it.

Except there are other, darker forces searching for the Wellstone. And if they find it first, they’ll use it to awaken a terrible evil.

To face this growing threat—and have any chance at saving his wife—Alaric needs the strength and power of a Keeper, not the brokenness of the man he has become.

Can he overcome the darkness in his past? Or will it be the shadows within himself that destroy everything?

A Threat of Shadows is a brilliant introduction to the magical world of The Keeper Chronicles, a new epic fantasy series from author JA Andrews.

In a land of magic, elves, and the occasional dragon, an engaging adventure unfolds about what it means to reconcile who you are, with who you thought you’d be. A story of sacrifice, friendship, and the weight of our pasts.

A Keeper's Tale: The Story of Tomkin and the Dragon by JA Andrews - cover image A Keeper’s Tale: The Story of Tomkin and the Dragon by JA Andrews – This is a short novel in the world of the Keeper Chronicles, and is a story told by the Keepers. It’s a lighter, more young adult story than A Threat of Shadows, and every bit as enjoyable. The cover is gorgeous.

Tomkin Thornhewn, youngest son of the Duke of Marshwell, has a problem: he’s not heroic.

Regardless of his aspirations, the bookish, untrained young man is better suited to recording the deeds of heroes than being one himself.

Which becomes an obvious problem when he finds himself clinging to a ledge above a sleeping dragon. And instead of wielding his family’s great sword with valor and skill, he drops it—onto the dragon.

The problem grows immeasurably worse when Tomkin himself falls off the ledge—also onto the dragon.

And his problem reaches its peak when Tomkin, after being captured, discovers a maiden locked in a tower. But this is no sweet damsel. Not only does she refuse to be rescued, she refuses to even admit she’s in distress.

It’s too bad for the people of Marshwell that Tomkin is the only thing standing – or falling – in the dragon’s way.

JA Andrews introduced the world to the magic-wielding, world-saving, story-telling Keepers in A Threat of Shadows. Now you can enjoy one of the Keeper’s most beloved tales: The Story of Tomkin and the Dragon, in this engaging, lighthearted novel.

The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu - cover image The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu – This is another book that was in the StoryBundle last year with The King’s Sword, and I am only now getting around to reading it. I’m not that far into it yet, but strikes me as deep and deliberate, with conscious tones of Russian literature. I’m not particularly well-read in Russian literature, but the parallel is strong, not just in borrowed words and cultures but in themes and character concepts. This review is, I think, very accurate (click). It’s not something to read when you want to be grabbed by the first paragraph and dragged at breakneck speed through an epic adventure, but it is a novel to savor. The cover fits the book – it’s a bit dark, recalling classic literature rather than modern fantasy trends, and without a swirl of “magic” color… but with a subdued, dignified beauty. Bradley was kind enough to interview me on his blood when the StoryBundle came out, which you can read here. His other books have lovely cover art as well.

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…

They Mostly Come Out At Night by Benedict Patrick - cover image They Mostly Come Out At Night by Benedict Patrick – Wow. Just wow. This is dark and brilliant and utterly, compellingly unique, and did I mention dark? It’s dark. If you’re a dark fantasy reader, you must read this. There’s no on-page sexual violence, but there is graphic violence of other sorts. The story is inspired by folklore of various locations, and it has a mythical, magical feel of being both very alien and oddly familiar. The beginning felt “rough” to me, but I think it just took me a while to get into the right mood rather than a writing issue. Highly recommended, but not for younger readers (or readers looking for a cheerful pick-me-up). It’s a standalone novel, but there is another standalone in the same world which I will read when I have sufficiently recovered from this one.

Also, is this a magnificent cover or what?! I love love love it! This cover is one of the reasons I chose to use the same cover artist for The Lord of Dreams and Light in the Darkness: A Noblebright Fantasy Boxed Set.

The villagers of the forest seal themselves in their cellars at night, whispering folktales to each other about the monsters that prey on them in the dark. Only the Magpie King, their shadowy, unseen protector, can keep them safe.

However, when an outcast called Lonan begins to dream of the Magpie King’s defeat at the hands of inhuman invaders, this young man must do what he can to protect his village. He is the only person who can keep his loved ones from being stolen away after dark, and to do so he will have to convince them to trust him again.

They Mostly Come Out At Night is the first novel from Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series. Straddling the line between fantasy and folklore, this book is perfect for fans of the darker Brothers Grimm stories.

Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell - cover image Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell – I’ve loved everything by W.R. Gingell, and this was no exception. Kako and Rafiq were every bit as wonderful as her other characters, and I enjoyed every minute. This is a novella, one of three in the Shards of a Broken Sword novella trilogy which also includes Twelve Days of Fairy (which I also loved and reviewed here and appears to be FREE right now, although I don’t know how long that will last) and The First Chill of Autumn (which I have not read yet). The trilogy is on preorder now, which I would highly recommend. I’m getting the omnibus in paperback as soon as it is available.

A princess in a dragon-guarded tower. The prince who is to rescue her. The prince’s ensorcelled dragon. And one enchanted keep that might just be enough to kill them all…

It’s widely known that Princess Kayami Koto is held captive in the Enchanted Keep by a dragon of great ferocity and skill. So when the bold, daring and crafty Prince Akish attempts to rescue her, it seems only sensible to bring his own dragon, Rafiq.

But the Keep’s dragon is only the first Circle in the Keep’s Seven Circles of Challenge, and both Rafiq and the prince will have to keep their wits about them if they’re to survive and rescue the princess.

There to help them is the princess’ serving maid, Kako. But why does Kako seem so familiar to Rafiq? Will she really help them, or does she have her own agenda? Rafiq isn’t sure, but he knows one thing: Kako may be the only person who can free him from his bondage to the prince, and that’s worth any amount of risk.

Wolfskin by W.R. Gingell - cover image Wolfskin by W.R. Gingell – You might have noticed that I’m kind of a fan, and if so, you’re right. W.R. Gingell’s works are perfect examples of the very best of noblebright fantasy. They’re not twee or silly or juvenile (although I’m sure she could write charming YA if she chose to); they’re not stupid or naive or logically challenged. They’re not utopian. They’re about complicated, imperfect people choosing to do the right thing even when it’s hard, about learning from one’s mistakes, about choosing to be generous and kind when it doesn’t seem justified. Her fairy tales include allusions to old myths, but plenty of unique twists. Her characters are clever and sometimes snarky but not mean or cynical (at least not for long). All in all, I will read anything she writes because I trust it will be delightful.

‘If you want adventure, you have to march right up to it and kick it in the shins . . .’

At fourteen, barefoot and running wild, Rose is delighted to be apprenticed to Akiva, the witch of the forest. She thinks it will be all enchantment and excitement, and not so much fuss about baths. The reality is much more sober and practical- that is, until she meets a mysterious wolf in the forest and is tricked into stepping off the path . . .

In young, naive Rose, Bastian sees a way of escape. Cursed to remain in the shape of a wolf after running afoul of a powerful enchantress, he has lived many decades under a spell, and now he is both desperate and ruthless. But by breaking part of Bastian’s curse, Rose has caught the attention of Cassandra, the enchantress who cursed him: and Cassandra is by no means ready to forgive and forget.

Meanwhile, wardens have been disappearing from the forest, one by one. Rose is certain that Cassandra is behind the disappearances, but can she and Bastian get to the bottom of the matter before Akiva disappears as well? And are Bastian’s motives entirely to be trusted?

Sometimes the little girl in the red hood doesn’t get eaten, and sometimes the wolf isn’t the most frightening thing in the forest.

What have you read lately?


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