“The Waking Fire” by Anthony Ryan

Anthony Ryan has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was excited to receive a copy of The Waking Fire from Ace recently. I’ve been reading a lot of books about dragons recently (Within the Sanctuary of Wings, and The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood, which I still need to review), so I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this one just yet, but I succumbed to the back cover blurb.

We follow three protagonists – Lizanne, a covert agent for the Ironship company, Hilemore, a naval officer serving on a cutting-edge new ship, and Clay, a petty criminal recruited by Lizanne’s company for a dangerous expedition. Drake blood, which grants “Blood-blessed” humans special powers, has been dwindling in potency rapidly. To avoid a disastrous economic collapse, the Ironship company is organizing an expedition into the interior of the colonized Arradisian continent to find a fabled new variety of drake. This new White drake isn’t just a simple animal, though, and waking it up proves to be dangerous.

There’s a lot going on this book, all three protagonists have pretty different stories, and I don’t think my summary covered it all.  Clay is on a standard fantasy quest, Lizanne’s plot is all about espionage and war , and Hilemore seems like he’s straight out of a more traditional military fantasy. All three of them tie together to tell a larger story about a rational and ordered world that’s suddenly going crazy. The world really pulled me in, there’s a bunch of corporations pursuing profit, a simple but versatile magic system, an ambitious empire, cunning pirates, fearsome warriors, and lots of cool dragons. The action scenes were particularly well-done, I could almost see the movie in my head, and I usually just glaze over those kinds of scenes in books.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, mainly with the characters. Sometimes I felt like they just did stuff, and I didn’t have any insight into why they were making the decisions they did. It was never bad enough to take me out of the story, but unlike more character driven books, I can’t really describe the characters’ personalities, just their actions. The book also wasn’t as tight as it could have been – Hilemore’s story didn’t tie into Lizanne and Clay’s until the last minute, and I’m still not sure what the significance of his experiences is to the larger story. I also hope the initial premise of drake blood losing potency will be explored in future books, it ended up being overshadowed by larger events.

I feel like I’ve read a lot of the great fantasy authors writing today, so I’m always excited to discover someone new, and Anthony Ryan seems like he could definitely be one of them. I’m glad I only have a little over a month until The Legion of Flame comes out, and I’ve also ordered Blood Song, the first book of the author’s previous trilogy, to help me wait.


The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan (The Draconis Memoria, #1)
Ace Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Sins of Empire” by Brian McClellan

Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy is one of my favorite new fantasy series’, and I’ve been looking forward to the new trilogy set in the same world ever since Brian talked about it in my interview with him a couple of years ago. And now it’s finally out, and I’ve read it, and I thought it was even better than the first trilogy!

The new country of Fatrasta is ruled with an iron fist by the Lady Chancellor Lindet. Her secret police, the Blackhats, are almost everywhere, and where intimidation and arrests won’t work, there are mercenary companies. The famed powder mage Vlora leads one of these companies, and is suddenly called back from the frontier to deal with an insurgency within the capital city of Landfall. Of course, the insurgency isn’t as simple as it seems, and the long isolated Dynize Empire appears to be stirring again. It’s up to Vlora, her Blackhat liaison Michel Bravis, and disgraced Fatrastan war hero Ben Styke to figure out what exactly is going on and what it means for Fatrasta.

Sins of Empire is the start of a new standalone trilogy, and you can definitely read it without reading the Powder Mage trilogy – it’s set on an entirely different continent and only shares a few characters. That being said, I have read the Powder Mage books, so I’m going to be referencing them in this review (without spoilers.)

I love the flintlock fantasy subgenre in general, and the world of these books in particular. The gunpowder based magic system is one of the coolest ideas that recent fantasy has produced – I’m not sure why I love it so much, but it probably has something to do with why I also love Westerns and cheesy action movies. Anyway, there are guns, there are printing presses and penny dreadfuls, there’s exploration of colonialism without making anyone the bad guy. The world seems like it’s vibrant and changing quickly, and it really jumps off the page.

The characters are memorable – I already mentioned that there’s no cardboard cut out good guys and bad guys, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is morally ambiguous. There are antagonists, but you understand what makes them what they are. Vlora is an unusually compelling protagonist, she’s a veteran soldier in a committed relationship, she’s already pretty badass, but she’s also flawed and she knows it. Michel Bravis is a weaselly guy, but you’d expect that from a professional informant. Characters like him usually end up being sidekicks or useful friends for the protagonist to have, so he makes a fascinating viewpoint character too. Ben Styke is the most conventional protagonist, but he’s also well done, and I always looked forward to his segments too. Readers of the original trilogy will see some unexpected but welcome familiar faces (I totally called one of the characters the first time they appeared, which is probably useless information in a review, but I’m proud of myself and had to share it.)

The pacing is probably the weakest point of the book, but I’d only call it weak if I was trying really hard to find something negative to say. For the first half of the book, I had no idea what was going on or what the ultimate plot of the book was going to be, but once things started falling into place, the revelations kept coming. My only major complaint is that I want to find out what happens next, and I don’t know when the next book is coming out.


Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan (Gods of Blood and Powder, #1)
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Green Rider” by Kristen Britain

Karigan G’ladheon has just been suspended from her school for getting into a fight with an influential noble’s son. As she’s making her way home, she runs into a dying messenger who asks her to deliver his message to the king. She agrees, but what she thinks will be a simple journey turns into something much bigger when she is chased by agents of a mysterious power and encounters magic that she thought was long dead.

If I had one word to describe Green Rider, it would be “mediocre”. It is a pretty standard fantasy novel – we have the reluctant hero with latent magical powers, a long journey where the hero is chased by a representative of a long-dead evil, an intelligent mount, etc. In concept it’s probably most similar to Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar. I usually don’t have a problem with fantasy clichés (see my review of The Shadow of What Was Lost for example), but I don’t think this book ever rose beyond its clichés.  Karigan was an extremely bland protagonist, even after reading the entire book, I couldn’t tell you anything about her personality. Other characters seemed to just do whatever the plot required of them.

I don’t think I will be continuing with other books in this series.


Green Rider by Kristen Britain (Green Rider, #1)
DAW Books, 1998 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Discount Armageddon” by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire. We follow Verity Price, a member of a family that has dedicated their lives to protecting the cryptid (monster) community (which also includes hunting the cryptids that become a threat to humans.) Verity has moved to New York City to try and decide between her two burgeoning careers – ballroom dance and cryptozoology, but her life becomes more complicated when a member of the Covenant (a rival society that takes a more hardline attitude towards cryptids) arrives in town, and then cryptids start disappearing mysteriously.

Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre – perhaps because cities and sexy clothes/hairdos and nightclubs and so on don’t really appeal to me, even as wish fulfillment. I did enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s Agent of Hel series, but that was more small-town fantasy than urban fantasy. But I’ve heard great things about Seanan McGuire, so I wanted to give this series a go.

As far as urban fantasy goes, Discount Armageddon was pretty good. Verity is a fun protagonist, she’s your typical sexy badass girl who carries a lot of weapons and knows how to use them while looking fabulous all the time (although she does get covered in blood and sewer-juice fairly often.) The central adventure was okay, although I felt like it was a little anticlimactic because the villains were all faceless and we didn’t get to know their motivations very well.

I really didn’t understand Verity’s relationship with her love interest, Dominic, who is supposed to be this cultish killer, but instead ends up being hot, interested in her, and willing to sacrifice all his beliefs that he’s grown up with pretty much instantly. Also, I found the character of Sarah somewhat inconsistent, she’s constantly described as an awkward mathematician, but nothing she said seemed that awkward or nerdy or mathematical to me (other than the one reference to Babylon 5, which I appreciated.) I mean, I know urban fantasy is supposed to be dumb fun, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Speaking of reading too much into things, I had so many questions about the world that were not satisfactorily answered. Why are certain animals classified as cryptids but others are just normal animals? – sapience doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. How do cryptids keep themselves secret if there are so many different species of them? Why doesn’t the Covenant have a permanent presence in the U.S.? Why is this book called Discount Armageddon, other than it being a cool name? And so on…

It’s a good thing that I have questions because it means that I’m into the series enough to think about it. I’ll probably read the next book in the series fairly soon.


Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid, #1)
DAW Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Abandoned: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer

I’ve never reviewed a book I didn’t finish, but I figured I should start doing it because it’s still useful information for readers. So here’s the first one – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer.

Crossroads of Canopy is set in Canopy, a treetop city divided into thirteen niches, each the home of a god. Souls enter the body of its inhabitants at birth, and anyone could end up being the reincarnation of a god. In order to escape her parents plan to sell her into slavery, Unar, a young girl from a destitute family, volunteers to serve at the Garden of Audblayin, the goddess of growth and fertility. She has high hopes for her future, but as they are repeatedly dashed, she is forced to venture outside Canopy to seek glory.

I really thought I would like this book – it has a unique fantasy world and a female protagonist coming of age, and it took me a while (and reading another review) to figure out why I didn’t. Unar is unlikeable – she’s selfish, ambitious, and impetuous, but she’s played straight as the hero. Her constant sexual fantasizing about someone who is literally incapable of returning her desires skeeved me out too. I didn’t care about any of the other characters either, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. I stopped reading about halfway through, and there was still no larger plot established, it just seemed like The Adventures of Unar Seeking Fame.

Maybe Unar gets better in the second half of the book, and maybe she learns more about herself and becomes a better person – I’m not sure. I did skip ahead and read a little bit of the end, and it seemed like she did learn something. I was already disinvested and frustrated by that point, though.

I feel bad writing this review – Crossroads of Canopy is definitely not badly written or executed.  I’ve disliked a few other recent books that many other people have loved (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Updraft and Cloudbound by Fran Wilde), and this book reminded me of those, although I’m still struggling to articulate what they all have in common. If you liked one of those books, maybe you’ll like this one more than me.


Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

My recent reads of Age of Myth and the three Riyria Chronicles have put me in a very Royce-and-Hadrian mood, so I figured I would go back to where it all began and reread the Riyria Revelations series. These books were the first one published about the world of Elan, although they’re the latest by internal chronology. I got the whole series from Orbit in 2015 and really enjoyed them, but I raced through them too quickly to review them properly.

The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published as six novels. When Orbit bought the rights, they released the books in three volumes, each containing two books. Theft of Swords is the first of these, combining the first two books The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Royce, a cynical ex-assassin, and Hadrian, an idealistic master swordsman, call themselves Riyria. Riyria specializes in solving impossible problems for mostly rich people – stealing a lady’s private diary from a locked tower for her lover to save face, that sort of thing.

In The Crown Conspiracy, when they’re offered a huge amount of money for stealing a sword, they break their usual roles to take the job. Of course, it’s too good to be true and they end up being framed for the murder of the king. But this is Riyria, and the conspirators who framed them get far more than they bargained for. The Crown Conspiracy is a pretty standard fantasy story, it feels standalone, and probably would be if it didn’t introduce so many characters that are important later. There’s a spoiled prince, an independent princess, kidnappings, treachery, a mysterious wizard, and so on. The crisis is averted by the end, and Royce and Hadrian think nothing more of it.

Avempartha picks up a couple of years later, and (in case the title of the book didn’t make this obvious) once again involves Royce and Hadrian being hired to steal a sword. This time they’re hired by a poor peasant girl, Thrace, to retrieve the only weapon that can kill a magical creature plaguing her village from an impregnable elven fortress. To add to the mystery, Thrace was told how to find them by the mysterious wizard in the first book that Royce and Hadrian haven’t heard from in years. This book starts exploring the central mystery of the Riyria Revelations a lot more, and there’s more magic, evil plans, and so on, but not everything is resolved by the end. It’s still mostly a satisfying standalone story, but there are threads left dangling. Characters from the first book – Arista, Mauvin, and Fanen, among others return, and they’re welcome.

A few other thoughts:

  • I remember Arista being much more annoying from my previous read. Maybe it’s in the next couple of books? She’s still mostly in her comfort zone so far, and I don’t remember what happens next exactly, but I don’t think it’s good for her.
  • Royce is a lot nicer than he is in the Riyria Chronicles, which is nice to see. He doesn’t even seem to be totally serious about killing people anymore.
  • Hilfred is a far more poignant character after reading The Rose and the Thorn.
  • Thrace’s story arc is probably my favorite (from what I remember), I’m looking forward to reading that.

If you haven’t already read this series and you’re a fan of cozy fantasy with some great twists, I recommend you pick it up!


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #1)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Crown Tower” by Michael J. Sullivan

Reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan made me want to go back (to the future!) and read some more Riyria. I’ve read the entirety of the Riyria Revelations series, but I hadn’t read any of the standalone Riyria Chronicles yet – starting with this book, The Crown Tower. I don’t have any of the Riyria Revelations books reviewed because I raced through them so fast, so I’m forcing myself to go slower with this series.

The Crown Tower is the origin story of Riyria – it tells the story of how Royce and Hadrian first met and their first adventure together – robbing the Patriarch of the Nyphron church. Gwen is also a viewpoint character, and the book covers how she met Royce and Hadrian as well. I don’t remember the minor details of the Riyria Revelations books enough to comment on how much of this story is referenced in them (if at all), but some of the major plot points are definitely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed this book. More Royce and Hadrian is never a bad thing, and it was interesting meeting them when they aren’t quite the people I was used to. There isn’t really much of an antagonist – the conflict is just Royce and Hadrian’s intense dislike of each other. There are people after them, but it’s not personal.

I was a little disappointed at how little control Royce and Hadrian had over their meeting – they are literally forced together by Arcadius. Gwen displays a little more initiative, but she is also bound by prophecy. I would have been much less sympathetic to how everything happened if I hadn’t read the Riyria Revelations series, so I would definitely recommend reading that series first, starting with Theft of Swords.

Now that I’ve reviewed this, I can go ahead and read The Rose and the Thorn!


The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Empire Games” by Charles Stross

I’ve never read any Charles Stross before, but he’s been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I was excited to read this book. It’s set in the world of his Merchant Princes (also known as Family Trade) books, but it’s the start of a new series. I had high hopes, but I ended up being a little underwhelmed.

After terrorist “world walkers” from an alternate timeline nuked the White House, the U.S. has become a paranoid surveillance state. Rita Douglas is the adopted daughter of a family that knows how to keep their head down and out of trouble – her grandparents escaped from the GDR and outwitted the Stasi. Unknown to her, the U.S. government has been keeping tabs on her since she was eight – her birth mother was a known world walker and she has the gene as well. She’s recruited to become the first American world walker spy. Meanwhile, her birth mother is trying to rebuild modern technology in an alternate timeline while waiting for the inevitable U.S. first contact.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t love this book, the biggest one being that I just didn’t believe the picture that Stross painted of the timeline closest to our world. It was the same until 2003 when the nuclear attack on the White House happened, but since then, the Bill of Rights has become a farce, conservative values have taken root (Roe vs. Wade was overturned), society is more overtly racist and homophobic, and India and Pakistan have had a nuclear war. Surveillance is everywhere – every street corner has a camera, and there are advanced algorithms to identify suspicious people.

The danger of setting up an alternate reality that diverged only a few years ago is that it will inevitably ring false to many people. Everyone has opinions about the times they live in. I just couldn’t believe that Americans would give up privacy or civil liberties to such an extent, or that our increasingly liberal world would suddenly descend into a moral panic about race or homosexuality. And India and Pakistan having a nuclear war struck me as exceedingly unlikely – there’s no political gain to either country going to war (much less nuclear war), and I don’t think there would be popular support for war at all (from having grown up in India.) References to “President Rumsfield” implementing draconian surveillance measures, and far too many references to the “Defense of Marriage Act” made me suspicious that the author was using the story as kind of a dumping ground for his politics.

The story and characters were fine, but they were inseparable from the world, so it made me hard to get invested in them. The tone of the book is an old school spy/tradecraft story, with much lamenting about skills lost after the Cold War ended. Without the world being what it is, I have no idea who Rita would be. Miriam and her timeline are much more interesting – the problem of introducing modern technology rapidly to a society with old fashioned values is fascinating, and I liked seeing the glimpses of how that was being implemented.

The book uses omniscient narration, including things like behind-the-scenes transcripts from Rita’s handlers, and that meant there was very little tension in the story. There was no real anxiety about Rita’s mission to the other timeline because we’ve been following the other timeline through Miriam and we know they’re fairly nice people. Rita’s contentious relationship with her handlers could have been a lot more ominous, but we’re reading their transcripts and we know they’re well-intentioned even if they occasionally misjudge her. There are hints of a larger threat established, but since they haven’t been encountered at all so far, that doesn’t add much excitement either.

I’m not saying this was a bad book – it was well written and well executed for what it wanted to be. What it wanted to be just wasn’t for me.


Empire Games by Charles Stross (Empire Games, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

This is another book that I received in the recent LibraryThing Secret Santa that I participated in. I’m a fan of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series, so I was looking forward to reading this book since it’s a prequel. It’s set 3,000 years before the events of Riyria which sounds like a lot, but since that’s a normal lifespan for an elf of this world, it actually has more connections than I thought it would.

Our band of heroes are Raithe, a human that kills an elf (called Fhrey in the books) and accidentally proves that they aren’t gods, Persephone, the widow of the chieftain of Dahl Rehn, who has to look after her people in a time of change, Suri, a half-wild girl who has grown up in the woods and possesses a power she thinks she understands, and Arion, a respected elven mage venturing outside of her home for the first time. Raithe killing the elf brings long simmering resentments to the surface, and war between men and the elves seems inevitable.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think of the Riyria Revelations series as comfort fantasy – heroes rising from an unlikely place, evil plots needing foiling, oppression needing to be to stopped, and this is exactly what Age of Myth was too. The world is different – humans are barely surviving, and their standard of living is pretty low, but otherwise the themes and characterization seemed pretty similar. The book is often not very subtle (the character of Gryndal, for example), but that’s okay – it’s still fun, and there are some epic moments.

I keep talking about Riyria Revelations, but I should make clear that this book stands perfectly well on its own as the start of a new series. Any references to things in Riyria are just Easter eggs.


Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan (The Legends of the First Empire, #1)
Del Rey, 2016 | Buy the book


“The Shadow of What Was Lost” by James Islington

the-shadow-of-what-was-lostI’m always on the lookout for a good classic fantasy series. While I’m glad that so many books these days are not following the “hero’s journey of a secretly powerful young farmboy as the Dark One rises in a vaguely medieval world” trope, that trope is what got me into fantasy and it’s still my first love. It’s getting harder to write good books with that storyline, though – they end up being too clichéd, or too dark, or the characters are too wooden. When I read that The Shadow of What Was Lost was inspired by the Wheel of Time and Brandon Sanderson’s work (both of which I turn to for comfort reading), I was pretty excited to read it.

The Shadow of What Was Lost follows a group of three friends at a school for the Gifted (magic users) – Davian, Wirr, and Asha. Tragedy strikes and the friends become separated – Davian and Wirr on their way north on a quest they barely understand, and Asha taken to the royal capital determined to find out the truth of what happened. And the Boundary keeping out an ancient evil sorcerer and his hordes of evil creatures is starting to fail, and it doesn’t seem like it’s happening naturally.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has an detailed world, interesting complementary magic (kind of like Robin Hobb’s Skill and Wit), and I cared about the characters. It isn’t entirely original (the Wheel of Time inspirations are occasionally pretty obvious), but the author puts his own spin on things and there were quite a few surprises as well. I liked that even though there were a few obvious Evil elements, most of the characters ended up having realistic motivations and things that seemed pretty black and white when they were introduced ended up have more depth to them. The author also doesn’t drag plot points on for very long – even if there are a few things that the reader learns that the characters don’t know yet, the characters find out within a few chapters (unlike the Wheel of Time; it’s excruciating when characters make decisions based on information we know to be incorrect as of a few books ago.)

I can’t wait to read book 2, An Echo of Things to Come, which should be released next year. I’m a little disappointed that the series is only planned to be a trilogy, I feel like the world and the characters are interesting enough to sustain a few more books.


The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington (The Licanius Trilogy, #1)
Orbit Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.