“By Grace and Banners Fallen” by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

By Grace and Banners Fallen coverI’m apparently a total sucker for corporate gimmicks, but I figured $2.99 was an okay price to read By Grace and Banners Fallen (the prologue of A Memory of Light) three months in advance, so I bought it.

This isn’t really a review – after all, I’m writing about the prologue of the fourteenth book in an epic fantasy saga. You’re not likely to read it without reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time (and neither should you!) This is more just an excuse to squee a lot. Of course the prologue was amazing – it even answered a few plot questions! We meet the protagonists gathering for the Last Battle, secondary characters neatly stepping into their roles, the Chosen plotting, a rare sympathetic perspective from an evil character, and heroic battles and noble warriors. And Talmanes being a total badass!

Waiting for January 8 was hard, but it just got a lot harder.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (The Wheel of Time, #14)
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Shadow of Stone” by Ruth Nestvold

Shadow of Stone cover

It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to complete a book, largely due to my new job as the lead developer at CasaHop. We’re not fully launched yet, but it’s been really exciting building my team and launching new features. I’m working pretty hard, but I’ve managed to figure out a bit of a work/life balance now, so I’m back to reading and blogging!

Shadow of Stone by Ruth Nestvold is the follow up to Yseult, which was one of my favourite books this yearYseult was the story of Drystan and Yseult, but in this book, it’s been ten years since Drystan has died, and Yseult has had to make a life for herself. Like the previous book, this is also not just a romance – it has politics, battles, the struggle between the old ways and the new and more!

I can’t really review this book very well as a stand alone, so please forgive the constant comparisons with Yseult. Yseult is truly epic, spanning the cultures of Eriu and Brittania, the passionate love of Drystan and Yseult and the impossible dream of unifying Britain. Shadow of Stone is a much less idealistic book. All the familiar characters from Yseult are older and no longer look at the world through the rosy lenses of youth. They are more pragmatic, more cynical – simply older.

That doesn’t mean that the book is any less interesting. Nestvold’s characters are still compelling, and still growing and learning. Yseult can never love like she loved Drystan, but discovers that that may not be such a bad thing. The conflict between the pagans and the Christians has settled into a compromise, but there is still the occasional disagreement. It’s exciting to see the impassioned young men and women we met in Yseult grow into the (mostly) levelheaded adults in Shadow in StoneI really enjoyed the book’s focus on Cador; he was a great character in the previous book and he’s grown into a great man and king.

So what actually happens? As I mentioned earlier, it’s ten years after Drystan’s death, and Yseult has made her home in Britain, ruling benevolently over her husband’s former kingdom. Britain’s kings have been unified and have seen ten years of peace under Arthur. However, everyone is not as happy with this peace as Yseult and her allies, and suddenly there is war again, with the usual plotting, romance, intrigue and betrayal.

If you liked Yseult, you will like Shadow of Stone. And in case you haven’t read Yseult, you probably should.

Note: I got a free copy of this book from the author.

Amazon US: Shadow of Stone
Author Blog: http://ruthnestvold.wordpress.com/
Author Website: http://www.ruthnestvold.com/

Shadow of Stone by Ruth Nestvold (The Pendragon Chronicles, #2)
Red Dragon Books, 2013 | Buy the book

“Rojuun” by John H. Carroll

Rojuun is another free fantasy novel that I started on my trip but just finished. It’s set on the world of Ryallon, and features a misfit band of adventurers as they try to make some sense of their lives and accidentally get roped into saving the world.

This book tries to balance both epic fantasy and a lot of humour, and I think it would’ve been better if it had just stuck to one of the two genres. It fails at being a humour book by killing off a bunch of characters to start the story, and the cavalier way that the main characters act afterwards doesn’t reflect that story at all.

The worldbuilding was pretty standard, although I did enjoy some concepts, like the mysterious appearance of the Rojuun. The characters are all Mary Sues, and I had trouble thinking of them as actual people. The writing seemed a bit simplistic (lots of telling and not showing), which also got a bit grating. The romance was also a bit amateurish and somewhat uncomfortable, given the relative maturity of the characters involved. (I also felt the same way about the romance between Siri and the God King in Warbreaker.)

An okay read – I probably only finished it because I’m compulsive about finishing books. I’m somewhat curious about what happens next, but probably won’t get to the other two books anytime soon.

Rojuun by John H. Carroll (Willden Trilogy, #1)
Self-published, 2011 | Buy the book

“The Unfinished Song: Initiate” by Tara Maya

Looking at the cover of The Unfinished Song: Initiate and the author’s name, I figured that this was some fluffy romance disguised as fantasy, and that I’d probably hate it. Then I figured it was free, so why not get it. I’m glad I did.

Dindi is a young girl that is nearing her Initiation. She hopes to be picked to join the Tavaedi, who are highly skilled magical dancers. However, everyone she knows thinks that she’s awkward and unskilled, and that she will never make it. The other main character, Kavio, is a skilled dancer that is exiled from his tribe for a crime that he did not commit. His travel is in the hopes that he will find a new home in another tribe.

This is a pretty short book, and it whizzed by. It is supposed to be the first of a 12-part series, so be warned! It was pretty light reading, but each character was really well fleshed out. Everyone was hiding some kind of secret and seemed to be much more than what they appeared to be on the surface. I was amazed at the distinctiveness of each character, especially given that the book is so short and there were quite a few characters. Dindi was a very lovable protagonist, and I can’t remember meeting any protagonist quite like her. I also enjoyed the characters of Gwenika and her sister and mother. Vessia was fascinating, and I can’t wait to find out more about her. I also enjoyed the little touches of detail given to extremely minor characters like Ula and Great Aunt Sullana.

There were a few romantic undertones in this book, but no outright romance yet. I suspect that I will not like the upcoming romantic bits, but there’s definitely enough meat on this story for me to overlook that.

The world of The Unfinished Song is a fascinating amalgamation of customs that I recognised from very different cultures. I enjoyed how it all worked together, and I was glad to read the author’s note at the end about the author’s inspiration for the world.

There are a lot of questions and mysteries in this book, and a lot of characters whose actions that I can’t quite predict. I look forward to reading the rest of the series to find out!

Initiate by Tara Maya (The Unfinished Song, #1)
Misque Press, 2010 | Buy the book

“The Hand of Andulain” by Aaron Mahnke

I’ve been on a trip (to the amazing PyCon in Santa Clara, CA) for the past week. It’s the first time I’ve travelled with my Kindle, instead of having to pack a whole bunch of heavy books, and it’s pretty nice! It’s also nice to have access to a whole bunch of fantasy (free Kindle ebooks!) – it’s my favourite genre, and I don’t usually have many unread fantasy books.

The Hand of Andulain is a pretty standard fantasy. In the grand tradition of Frodo Baggins, Rand al’Thor and Luke Skywalker (Star Wars is pretty much fantasy), Bran is a young man from a quiet, pastoral village. He has reached twenty summers, and is looking forward to tending to the family farm, although he occasionally dreams of adventure. But then he saves an elf Eki messenger who is being chased by some Broken (think Orcs or Trollocs) carrying a powerful magical item, and therefore has to run away from home and family, accompanied by his best friend and his wise old mentor (who is more than he seems.) Along the way he meets a pretty girl, fights some bad guys that are hunting him, and learns that he is the only one with the power to destroy the Dark Lord. Like I said, pretty standard.

This is the first book of a series, so it’s a bit clunky. There’s a lot of setting up and introduction to the world. The world is also fairly standard, but pretty well described. I would like to know more about the magic system and the history of the world. The characters are also quite archetypical, although I did like Alae more than most of the other characters – she seems pretty interesting for a servant girl.

Some of the explanations were repeated quite a bit, which annoyed me. The characters constantly realised things about 50 pages after I realised it, and then proceeded to deliver a speech about how exactly it worked. It’s almost like the author wanted to make triple sure that we understood how something was significant to the plot.

Another annoying thing was that there were quite a few typos. For instance, there was “they road their horses” instead of “they rode their horses.”

Overall, a pretty light, predictable and fun read. I’ll probably pick up the next book at some point when it’s out.

The Hand of Andulain by Aaron Mahnke
Self-published, 2011 | Buy the book

“The Emperor’s Edge” by Lindsay Buroker

The Emperor’s Edge is the first full novel (the paperback is 319 pages) that I read on my new Kindle, so that’s pretty exciting. I went on a free fantasy novel download spree as soon as I got it, and this was one of the books I got.

This book is marketed as a “high fantasy set in an era of steam.” I really enjoyed the setting; it was a nice change from the usual medieval-inspired fantasy worlds. (Mistborn: The Alloy of Law had a similar world, although we saw the world in its medieval state in the previous Mistborn trilogy.) The protagonist is Amaranthe, an enforcer (police officer) who suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of the law through no fault of her own. She assembles a crew of misfits (also like in the Mistborn Trilogy) to help her find out what’s going on and perhaps help defeat some evil forces.

This was a fun book – it is written in a lighthearted style but still has plenty of heart. The gang of misfits was also extremely lovable – there’s Books, the drunk professor, Maldynado the preening dandy with a heart of gold, Sicarius, the extremely deadly assassin and Akstyr, the sullen ex-gang member teenager that can also do magic. Even though I thought they were all a bit crazy for going along with Amaranthe’s plan, I think that’s part of their characters – they’re all smart people that feel underutilised.

I also thought Amaranthe was a great protagonist. It’s refreshing to have a fantasy novel that has a non-magic user protagonist. Magic doesn’t actually play very much of a role in the story; it’s just there. Amaranthe is the team’s coordinator and leader, but what she’s really good at is managing people and skills, and coming up with ideas. She’s a competent fighter, but what she’s really good at is talking people into doing things for her. She reminded me a lot of Nate Ford from Leverage, both in her role in the team and that she’s an ex-official good guy doing good things using illegal methods. I also liked the fact that Buroker refrained from introducing any major romantic subplots while exploring various characters being attracted to each other.

Another exciting thing about the book was Amaranthe’s plan to save her empire. Let’s just say that it involved economics, which was pretty unusual.

This is a planned six-book series, out of which three are out. I really want to read Dark Currents and Deadly Games right away, but will probably hold off on it until I get through some more books in my pile. I’m looking forward to seeing the universe of the books explored some more – the magic system and the neighbouring countries especially. I was also a bit dubious that these characters will stay in a team, and I think Buroker addresses that in the next couple of books.

The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker (Emperor's Edge, #1)
Self-published, 2012 | Buy the book

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
Tachyon Publications, 2012 | Buy the book

“Yseult” by Ruth Nestvold

Yseult coverI won a PDF of Yseult: A Tale of Love in the Age of King Arthur in the LibraryThing member giveaway a couple of weeks ago. After finishing White Planet, it occurred to me that I had another e-book to read and review, so I opened up Yseult to flip through it and see what kind of a book it was. I’m usually not the biggest fan of romance, even though I love fantasy and historical books, so I wasn’t really expecting to get sucked into this book like I was. I started reading, and couldn’t stop.

Yseult is a retelling/interpretation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of the classic Tristan and Isolde story. I was vaguely familiar with the story (“basically Romeo and Juliet”), but only to the extent that I recognise some characters and plot elements. I didn’t even know that Tristan was one of Arthur’s knights

The book is much more than a love story. It is truly an epic, exploring the conflicts between paganism and Christianity, political maneuvering between the various kings of Britain and Ireland, the wars between themselves and with the Saxons, and a lot more. It reminded me a bit of The Mists of Avalon, although Yseult was much more fun to read.

Anyway, onto an actual description of the book. Yseult the Fair is an Irish (“Erainn”) princess descended from the Feadh Ree, the original race of Ireland.  She grows up in a time where Christianity is trying to make inroads into Ireland, and has already taken over much of Britain. The Feadh Ree, who were once universally respected, are even being attacked by some Gaul kings. War is everywhere, and any available peace seems to be temporary. Yseult tries to make the best of her situation, defending her home when necessary. Along the way, she meets Drystan, and falls in love with him. However, for political and personal reasons, she agrees to be married to his father Marcus, one of the Kings of Dummonia. She can never forget Drystan though, and he cannot forget her, either.

Both Yseult and Drystan are well-rounded and utterly likeable characters. I couldn’t help but root for them, even as they spiraled into the unavoidable tragedy that is their story, and made decisions that I knew were going to end badly. I never doubted the intensity of their love, even though I(and they) recognised that it was a terrible idea. I’m generally pretty unromantic, and even I felt this way.

But as I said above, Yseult isn’t just a love story. It’s the story of Yseult the Fair, which includes a love story, but also includes all the stories of all the other people in her and Drystan’s life – an amazing supporting cast, including Arthur and a few people associated with his story, Patriac (who I didn’t realise was St. Patrick until I read another review of this book), Yseult the Wise, Cador, and of course, Kurvenal and Brangwyn. All of them change and grow extremely believably.  The religious conflicts are very well-portrayed and almost unbiased, demonstrating the inevitability of change and the futility of fighting against it. It was also very interesting to  read about the political side of things, shifting loyalties, values or lack thereof and the kinds of risks taken. Yseult also sounds pretty historically accurate, and it was pretty fun to read about fifth century British and Irish civilisation and traditions.

Oh, and why is this a fantasy, and not just historical? The Feadh Ree and their descendants have one or more of three magical powers, the power of knowing, the power of calling, and the power of changing. These magical abilities do not dictate the course of the story, they just help enhance it.

This book is only available in English on Kindle right now (for the very reasonable price of $4.95), and I urge you to read it! The author says that she has plans to release it in paperback, and I’m definitely going to buy myself a copy when she does.

Amazon US: Yseult: A Tale of Love in the Age of King Arthur
Author Blog: http://ruthnestvold.wordpress.com/
Author Website: http://www.ruthnestvold.com/

Yseult by Ruth Nestvold (The Pendragon Chronicles, #1)
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“White Planet” by Ash Silverlock

White Planet cover.I received an e-book of Ash Silverlock’s self published novel, White Planet, to review last month. This is the first volume of The Ice World Chronicles, a fantasy set in a science-fictional universe (as far as I can tell.)

Rygarth was once a colony world in an interstellar empire, but has been forgotten for some time. There are stories that it used to be a lush, green world, but now it is covered with ice and extremely hostile. Humans survive in camps or giant Iceholds, and there are a few other sentient species on the planet too. Now there are reports that the Cygors (or Beastmen), who slaughtered humanity in the past, have returned, and the scattered clans of Rygarth have to unite against their common enemy.

We follow several viewpoints – Gideon, a young Hunter of Icehold Tunguska who is setting out on his first hunt, Ellani, the daughter of a mysterious Shaper, Artamon, a visitor from  another world with his own purpose, Wadi, the Artificer of Icehold Tunguska, and other camp chiefs and soldiers. They are all well-written and pretty distinct characters, but they are all a bit overwhelming together, especially since everyone seems to be worried about a different threat to the world, and I couldn’t tell which ones were the same. The Cygors, the Beastmen, the Aberrents, the Nemesis, the Shapers, the godless Iceholders, the Gnarl, mutants, the dark mistress. This is a lot to digest in just 50 pages.

“A lot to digest” actually summarises the main problem I have with this book – it is so short, but it seems to try and explore every science fiction and fantasy concept out there, and gives everything and everyone multiple names along the way (Cygors/Beastmen, Frost Mark/Everfrost, to name a couple.) There’s the interstellar empire, dragons, mutants, telepathic powers manifested in multiple ways, a mysterious master, a mysterious book of spells, five sentient species on this world alone, feuds between all of them, a young man coming of age, a secret that only the leadership knows about. All these avenues are explored through different means, which means there are just more and more mysteries created in every page. It’s hard to care about what happens when everything is a mystery and there doesn’t seem to be anything to tie it all together.

However, the world is pretty intriguing and the characters are interesting so I’m still going to read the next book and give the author the benefit of the doubt. I assume that there is a good overarching story that makes sense with all these plot threads. . I hope that the next book is either longer or has less viewpoints/concepts, and has some answers.

White Planet: Sample; Amazon US; Amazon UK
Authors’ website: Fabulous Realms

White Planet by Ash Silverlock (The Ice World Chronicles, #1)
Self-published, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.