The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors. I read the Vorkosigan saga last January and I can’t really find words to describe how much I enjoyed it (here are Jo Walton’s thoughts, though). I wanted to read her other books immediately, but I didn’t really want to ever run out of new Bujold books to read, so I ended up putting off reading the Chalion series until now. (I still have The Spirit Ring and The Sharing Knife series to read). I’m still not sure that I can find adequate words to describe why I loved these books, but I will try anyway.

curse of chalionThe Curse of Chalion follows Cazaril, a former soldier who just wants to settle into a quiet life after he returns from being a prisoner of war. However, he ends up finding a place as the secretary-tutor to the royal princess, and with it come all the expected dangers of court, and some unexpected supernatural dangers.

Cazaril is a delightful protagonist – he’s self-effacing yet witty, noble without being foolish and he sees the world as it is, but doesn’t want or expect it to be more. He’s no Mary Sue, though – he’s just a good person. The rest of the characters also leap off the page – Bujold’s skill at characterization is unsurpassed. The theology of the world is fascinating – five gods that actually listen to prayers and do what they can to help.


Paladin-of-SoulsPaladin of Souls follows Ista, a secondary character from The Curse of Chalion. Ista, the dowager queen of Chalion, has been freed from the terrible curse placed on her, but everyone around her still believes she needs to protected from herself. In order to relieve herself of her utter boredom, she sets out on a pilgrimage, but it turns out that the gods are not quite done with her.

This was probably my favourite of the Chalion books. Ista is an unusual fantasy protagonist – she is a middle-aged woman that is utterly indifferent towards her life and weighed down with guilt about her past. She does find some purpose and joy in her life, yes, but as usual with Bujold, the journey is much more important than the destination. The characters are spectacular, as always (the review of this book by Booklist that I found on Amazon says “Bujold couldn’t characterize badly if threatened with a firing squad”), and I was glad to see Ferda and Foix back. The theology gets further advanced with more detail into how demons work, but it all fits together nicely.


hallowed huntThe Hallowed Hunt is not set in the same time period (I believe it’s hundreds of years earlier), or even in Chalion. We follow Ingrey, a noble of the Weald, who has been entrusted to accompany the mad prince Boleso’s murderer, Lady Ijada, to the capital for trial and probable death. However, Ingrey discovers that he has far more in common with Ijada than he thought, and in fact, she might be the only person he can trust.

Ingrey is an entirely different protagonist from Cazaril and Ista – he does not have their uncertainty or wry sense of humour or ruminations on theology. He’s a soldier first, and this book’s presiding deity (if one exists) is the Son. The gods’ influence and limitations are explored further, and a new magic system is introduced within the same framework of souls/spirits, demons, and free will. I liked this book a lot, but not as much as the other two.


The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #1)
Harper Voyager, 2001 | Buy the book

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #2)
Harper Voyager, 2003 | Buy the book

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #3)
Harper Voyager, 2005 | Buy the book


“Autumn Bones” by Jacqueline Carey

autumnbonesDaisy Johanssen, Agent of Hel and unlikely daughter of a devil is back again in Autumn Bones. It’s been a few weeks since the events of Dark Currents, and Daisy’s life is at a level of normalcy that she’s never had before – she’s even dating the cute Pemkowet tour bus operator, Sinclair Palmer. But Sinclair isn’t as normal as he looks – he’s actually a Jamaican obeah sorcerer, and his family wants him back really badly – badly enough to release a vengeful spirit on Pemkowet, which as Hel’s liaison, it’s Daisy’s job to deal with.

Autumn Bones is lighter fare than the first book and it’s also a great Halloween story. Daisy continues to grow in her role as Hel’s liaison, and it’s nice to see all her friends band together to help her again. The undercurrent (no pun intended) of steaminess in Dark Currents turns into a lot more, and since it’s a Jacqueline Carey book, it’s really well done. It’s a shame that there are only three books planned in this series – this is one urban fantasy that I’d happily keep reading.


Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #2)
Roc, 2013 | Buy the book


“Firefight” by Brandon Sanderson

firefightShorter review again. I’m going to be doing lots of these so I can review a higher percentage of the books I read.

Steelheart wasn’t my favourite Sanderson book – not because it wasn’t good, but I don’t find superheroes or YA or endless action that compelling, especially given Sanderson’s skill for elaborate worldbuilding and cool magic systems. But he’s pretty much my favourite author, so I’ll read anything by him and like it. That being said, Firefight was pretty darn awesome.

David has achieved his goal of killing the Epic that murdered his father, but in the process, he’s also realized that Megan, the girl he’s kind of in love with, is actually Firefight, a High Epic with the same innate evil as every other Epic. David is never one to give up on the impossible, though, and armed with his infectious enthusiasm and groan-worthy metaphors, he sets out to rid Babilar (once New York City) of its ruling Epic, Regalia – while also searching for Firefight, who has already murdered one member of his team.

We get (some) answers to what’s going on with the Epics and their powers and weaknesses, and it all makes sense in the way that only Brandon Sanderson can do magic systems. The action is fantastic, and David’s eagerness and self-assurance are irresistible (and slightly horrifying, I was convinced he was going to get himself killed every other chapter). I know I pretty much end every book series review with “I want the next book”, but dammit, I want Calamity now, not Spring 2016!

Edited to add: Here’s a preview of Firefight on audio.


Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners, #2)
Delacorte Press, 2015 | Buy the book


“The Dagger’s Path” by Glenda Larke

daggers-path-coverI read The Dagger’s Path immediately after finishing the first book of this series, The Lascar’s Dagger. I enjoyed the first book, but this one really made me want to read other books by Glenda Larke.

I love fantasy books with non-traditional settings (Throne of the Crescent Moon, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy), and this book includes a lot of that. The first book is set in a fairly standard European-inspired fantasy setting (albeit with a secondary character that’s most definitely not European), but in this book, the secondary character becomes one of the main protagonists, and we visit his home and see it through both foreign and native eyes. The Chendarwasi islands and the Spicerie are inspired by Indonesia and Malaysia, and there are quite a few literal references to their language and culture (I read in an interview that the author’s husband is Malay and his culture inspired this book).

I also liked the characters quite a bit. The three main protagonists are Saker, the rakish priest/spy who usually has the best of intentions but ends up in pickles regularly, Ardhi, the titular “lascar” who is atoning for the terrible consequences brought upon his people by his naivete, and Sorrel, the woman that accidentally murdered her abusive husband and is finding that she is an incredibly tough and resourceful person. The secondary characters also feel like people I’ve gotten to know pretty well, despite the shorter page time – Mathilda, the princess that will do anything to gain power in a world that refuses to recognise that women can be trusted to hold it, Ryce, the prince that struggles with feeling weak for doing the right thing, Gerelda, the unflappable lawyer and her charge Peregrine, who has a burden beyond his years, Fritillary Reeding, the tough religious head who is determined to keep darkness from claiming her lands, Lord Juster the flamboyant privateer who is pragmatic until someone threatens his beloved ship.

I was worried about some elements of the plot in The Lascar’s Dagger – the generic evil seemed a bit too derivative,  and some characters that we were supposed to like made some questionable decisions. After this book, though, I’m no longer worried – Larke uses the “generic evil” tropes rather cleverly, and the characters in question either realized that their decisions were suspect or fully committed to the dubious path. The book moved pretty quickly, and most of the outstanding questions from the first book were answered (something I always appreciate in a middle book of a trilogy), but of course, they raised a whole bunch of new ones.

The Dagger’s Path isn’t flawless – some of the characters flip-flop between attitudes too often (Sorrel’s emotions regarding Ardhi and Ardhi’s conviction regarding his ultimate fate, for example), everyone likes Saker way too much and too quickly, but it’s compelling and fun. This book isn’t even officially out, but I’d really like the third book now, please.


The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke (The Forsaken Lands, #2)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Lascar’s Dagger” by Glenda Larke

the_lascars_daggerAnother mini-review. The Lascar’s Dagger was my first book by Glenda Larke, and I liked it. A religious spy investigating the politics of the discovery of a new spice route realises that there’s a larger darkness brewing. This didn’t seem like a particularly innovative fantasy (see “larger darkness brewing”), but the characters are good, the intrigue is intriguing, and I started the second book despite having a new Brandon Sanderson book to read, so it’s pretty darn good.

I have more to say, but most of it applies to the second book too, so I’ll save it for my full-size review of the second book (I’ll update this post with a link when it’s ready).

Update: here’s my review of Book 2 with more about the setting and characters.


The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke (The Forsaken Lands, #1)
Orbit Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Dark Currents” by Jacqueline Carey

darkcurrentsA mini-review – I don’t usually read urban fantasy, but I really like Jacqueline Carey, and I recently read and loved Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, so I decided to give Dark Currents a shot. (It’s not really urban fantasy anyway, it’s Midwest small town fantasy, and I love the small Ohio town I live in, plus it’s supposed to end after three books.) I was not disappointed – there are definitely some genre tropes (the umpteen hot guys, the female protagonist with unique powers that doesn’t quite think she’s capable yet) but it was much darker than I expected, while still having moments of levity. And Carey is a master at steaminess (although the book was surprisingly devoid of actual action). The hot guys were all actually decent not-quite-humans, too – usually I can’t stand the people that the heroine finds attractive.


Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #1)
Roc, 2012 | Buy the book


“The Providence of Fire” by Brian Staveley

providence-of-fireThe Providence of Fire is the sequel to Brian Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, which came out last year to a lot of acclaim. I read The Emperor’s Blades when it came out, but didn’t review it – I liked it enough to want to read the sequel pretty much immediately when I got it, but I had forgotten who most of the characters were.

In The Providence of Fire, we’re following the three children of the murdered Emperor of Annur as they try to save their empire from forces that are trying to tear it apart. Adare is in the capital, still reeling from the shocks she has just received, and Kaden and Valyn have barely escaped with their lives, and are fleeing from the forces that continue to pursue them.

First, the good things: I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had to take breaks from it. The worldbuilding in this series is excellent – it has a long mythology/history, distinct cultures and empires, and the way magic and gods work is pretty cool. The plot moves along quickly, and revelations come in quick succession. There are some awesome action scenes too – I love the concept of the Kettral (which the author has described as a fantasy version of special forces strike teams).

However, I was irritated by a number of things, mostly to do with the characters. All three protagonists – Valyn, Adare, and Kaden – were incredibly reactionary and kept making major decisions about their future every time they were presented with new information, regardless of the source’s trustworthiness. I wasn’t ever sure what motivated them and what their ultimate goals were. To be fair, I think some of that was intentional – all three of them are very young and inexperienced, and think they have to save the world single-handedly, but it sometimes came off like an utter lack of conviction, which made it hard to root for or care about the outcome. Adare especially seemed like she just went with whichever way the wind was blowing, and felt vaguely guilty after it, but never grew from it.

I wasn’t too enthused about the gratuitous violence either – while I’m not the biggest fan of violence, it’s not a dealbreaker. The thing that bothered me was that all the protagonists killed innocent people, or allowed the murder of innocent people to be acceptable collateral in their plans. This is not inherently a bad thing, but all three siblings are convinced that they’re being nobler than the Csestriim they’re fighting, whose chief failing is that they do not value human life, and just see them as pawns.

I’m not sure if these are flaws, or intentional on the part of the author, though – the next book will tell me that. The series is otherwise pretty great, and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out.


The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, #2)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

DoomsdayBook(1stEd)I’ve heard a lot about Connie Willis, but my first exposure to her was her story in the Rogues anthology, which I absolutely loved. I bought this book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog immediately.

Doomsday Book is one of Willis’ shared universe books about a 2050-era Oxford University that sends historians back in time to study the past. Kivrin, an enthusiastic medieval scholar, is the first person to visit the Middle Ages (a few years before the Black Death), but her extensive research and carefully planned identity falls apart the moment she gets there. Meanwhile, back in 2048 Oxford, Kivrin’s professor is convinced that something is wrong with her time travel drop, but he can’t do much about it since an epidemic is breaking out.

Kivrin’s sections in the Middle Ages are definitely the most interesting part of the book – the people she meets are pretty ordinary, but they’re ordinary for their time, which still makes them a wealth of historical information. The portrayal of everyday life is fascinating, and the characters seem utterly real. The sections in 2048 are slightly less fun – the characters are the best part, but it got a bit repetitive and there were some overdone gags. (Plus, landline phones being common!)

Overall, this was a good book, just much more depressing than I had anticipated. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.


Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Bantam Spectra, 1992 | Buy the book


“The Just City” by Jo Walton

thejustcityI’ve been wanting to read Jo Walton for a while – her books always get great reviews, and she loves the Vorkosigan Saga as much as I do! Tor sent me an advance copy of The Just City, and I dove right in.

This book has one of the most fascinating premises of any book I’ve read – the Greek goddess Athene gathers up people from all eras of history to recreate Plato’s Republic (with the aid of robots from the far future). Of course, the experiment doesn’t go exactly as planned, especially when Socrates shows up asking questions. And mixed into this is Athene’s brother Apollo, who has chosen to join the city as a mortal to learn more about humanity.

This is a pretty slow-burning book (it’s about a bunch of philosophers!) but it’s lovely. We follow three people, each with a unique perspective – Apollo, Simmea (one of the children), and Maia (one of the masters) through the founding of the city and all the logistics that happen as the initial batch of children grow up. The protagonists manage to keep their ideal of being their “best self” alive, even struggling through the dilemmas of being real people at odds with Plato’s understanding of humanity.

Highly recommended – I’ve already pre-ordered the follow up, The Philosopher Kings.


The Just City by Jo Walton (The Just City, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Fool’s Assassin” by Robin Hobb

rhho2s1qbzbzymfhn3niI took entirely too long to read Fool’s Assassin. I originally won it on LibraryThing Early Reviewers, but the book never arrived – I finally broke down and bought my own copy about a week ago. And then I ended up rereading all the previous six Fitz/Fool books.

This is another one of those books I knew I would like before I even read it – I’ve read the previous twelve books set in this world, and I love Robin Hobb. I didn’t think that there would be another book about Fitz – I’d figured he’d gotten his (well deserved) happy ending. I should have known better (and after rereading the previous books, the clues are there).

I’m not going to do a real review, but here are a few things:

  • There’s a new narrator in the book, and that was pretty interesting.
  • Fitz is way younger than I thought he was, he’s been through so much. He can totally carry a few more trilogies.
  • As usual with Robin Hobb books, this book is heartbreaking.
  • I still miss Nighteyes.
  • I really hope two of the new characters introduced redeem themselves (like Malta from the Liveship books), because I really didn’t like them.
  • Fitz is really stupid sometimes. However, this isn’t new – he’s always been horrible at seeing the obvious.
  • I hate cliffhanger endings.
  • I guess I’m glad I read this book a few months late because I don’t have to wait a whole year for the next book. Only eight months. Why isn’t it August 2015 right now?

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (The Fitz and the Fool, #1)
Del Rey, 2014 | Buy the book