Posts Tagged With: fantasy

“Choose Your Weapon” by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt

I’ve been following Sarah Rodriguez Pratt’s blog, That’s a Girl’s Car, for a long time now, and when she contacted me about reviewing her book, I was thrilled to accept.

Choose Your Weapon, the first book in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy, is the story of a dragon-slaying high school girl trying to find her identity.

As a child, Helen loved the Glorious Dragonfighter books.  She also knew something that most people did not.  The world of Erwingdon isn’t just a fantasy, and people from our own world travel there in their sleep to help fight dragons.  Recruiting warriors from our world is better, of course, because if someone dies in Erwingdon, they only die there, and not in real life.  Helen was supposed to join the ranks of the warriors and become a Dragonfighter, but then one night, all communication with Erwingdon stopped.  Years pass, and Helen loses touch with her nerdy interests because she sees them as incompatible with having a social life in high school.

Out of the blue, Helen is summoned back to Erwingdon.  The land is under threat by powerful dragons, and the people there have again called upon our world for aid.  Helen is grateful to be back, but not so thrilled that her new comrades are people she knows from school.  Helen must discover her own inner strength and learn to get along with her classmates in order to have any hope of saving the world.

Choose Your Weapon is kind of like Narnia for teenagers, but without the whole Jesus-lion-allegory thing.  Helen’s got the same issues a normal teenager does.  She feels like her interests aren’t good enough and that she can’t speak out in classes and still fit in.  She’s got a crush on the head of the academic quiz team, but doesn’t know how to act on it.  She’s also just lost her best friend, who ditched her to hang out with the dance team.  Helen also has problems in Erwingdon.  She’s not particularly athletic, and fighting dragons requires a lot of coordination.  She’s also the only girl.

I liked the fact that Helen was awkward and yet believable.  She’s the kind of teenager that a lot of us remember being, and I was constantly rooting for her as she began to come into her own.  Choose Your Weapon focuses on finding one’s inner strength rather than succumbing to peer pressure and apologizing for being oneself, and that’s an important lesson for teens and grown-ups alike.

This book rocks!  Sarah is a sophisticated and talented new writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Armies of Heaven” by Jane Kindred

Book three of Jane Kindred’s House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy has finally been released. Yippee!  I’ve been a huge fan of this series ever since reading the first book, and was thrilled when the publisher asked me if I’d like an advanced copy of this one.  I was also delighted to have had the opportunity to host a guest post from the author earlier this week.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy, you may want to check out The Fallen Queen and The Midnight Court .  This post contains some spoilers from the first two books.

A brief recap of the story thus far:  The series is a parallel of the story of Anastasia Romanov mixed with fairy tale elements from The Snow Queen.  When her cousin Kae is possessed by the wicked Queen Aeval and her entire family is murdered, Grand Duchess Anazakia Helisovna manages to escape from Heaven and fall into modern Russia, aided by some S&M gay demons named Belphagor and Vasily.  Anazakia begins to gather her allies and fight to regain the throne of heaven.  Along the way, she and Vasily (who’s actually bi) have a daughter named Ola together, cause Anazakia was too sheltered to know about birth control.  Oops.

In Armies of Heaven, Ola has been kidnapped by Anazakia’s childhood nurse Helga, a power-starved member of the Social Liberation Party.  Meanwhile, Helga has another card to play.  Anazakia’s sister’s child is alive, and Helga means to use him to put herself in power, ruling as regent and using him as a puppet.  Anazakia is torn between her duties to her kingdom and to the children.  Should she go after Helga and save her child, or fight Aeval and reclaim her kingdom?

The beginning of the book seemed a bit slow to me, but the pacing picked up, and I read the last two thirds of the book in one sitting, frantic to see how the story would be resolved.  There are so many things about this series that make me happy, and this book did not disappoint.  I love the way that Jane Kindred intersperses her writing with Russian phrases, especially when describing Belphagor’s relationships with his various submissive friends.  Rather than play with tired love triangles, the author creates characters who are okay with having unconventional and somewhat deviant relationships, preferring to all be one happy family rather than fight over each other.  I adored the fairy tale elements, and I may or may not have cried when (spoiler in white) the shard of glass fell out of Kae’s eye.  Yeah, I’m sappy about stuff like that.

One of the things I liked about this was seeing the secondary characters grow, develop, and come into their own.  Kae’s character stood out the most to me in this book.  He’s a man who is haunted by his actions while under Aeval’s spell, and can’t forgive himself for the atrocities that he’s committed.  Armies of Heaven focused a lot on Kae and his relationships with the other characters as he begins to allow himself to have a place in Anazakia’s life again and begins to heal.  Then there’s Kirill, a monk who was devastated to find out that Heaven was a parallel world that left no room for his concept of a God.  Or Lively, Helga’s niece who is forced by a magical spell to spy on Anazakia, but who learns to stand up for herself and her own beliefs.

One word of warning if you haven’t read this series–there is graphic violence.  Sometimes, violence is committed against children.  Some readers might not feel comfortable with it.  You have been forewarned.

I can’t say enough how much I loved this series.  As someone who loves Russian culture, history, and fairy tales, Anazakia’s story is right up my alley.  Armies of Heaven is the perfect conclusion to one of the most unique fantasy stories that I’ve read.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How to Train Your Demon: Guest Post by Jane Kindred

Today I am delighted to host author Jane Kindred as a part of her blog tour for “The Armies of Heaven,” the third book in the House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy.  My review of the book will be posted later this week.

 

How to Train Your Demon

While Anazakia, the heroine of The House of Arkhangel’sk series, is an angelic grand duchess, the character I think of as the real protagonist is one of the Fallen. An airspirit named Belphagor, he’s used to being a bit of an outcast both in Heaven and below. In Heaven’s demon ghetto, Raqia, he’s known as the Prince of Tricks, a gambler who rarely loses, and whom no one can catch cheating, though most are convinced he is. In the world of Man, he’s a former rent boy and a tattooed thief who’s done time in the Russian zona. And he also happens to be a gay BDSM top.

His “boy,” Vasily, is a gruff, burly firespirit with flame-red dreadlocks, scruffy muttonchops, and spiked piercings down the sides of his neck, who can light a cigar with his tongue. But underneath Vasily’s rough exterior is a very sensitive soul.

Their “courtship” generally consists of snide remarks and angry growling on Vasily’s part, while Belphagor pretends to be insensitive and callous until Vasily blows his top. The inevitable fight between them ends in Vasily’s reluctant submission, which he rails against and pretends to hate—until he doesn’t.

When I first created these characters, I had no idea they’d be lovers, and I was equally surprised to discover their kinky inclinations. Belphagor has a particularly strong “voice” in my head, and when I let him stand back and describe Vasily in his own terms, it immediately became apparent what kind of relationship they had. It also became apparent that Vasily wasn’t gay; he was bisexual. Which is how he and Belphagor and Anazakia end up as a family, and how Vasily becomes the father of the last scion of Heaven.

But I can’t deny that the BDSM scenes between Belphagor and Vasily were my favorite to write. My only worry was that readers wouldn’t get their consensual nature. My editor, in fact, expressed concern at first that it might turn readers off, recommending that I soften those scenes up a bit. I pushed back on that particular edit, because I felt the intensity of those interactions was crucial to Belphagor and Vasily’s story. And then along came Fifty Shades of Gray, and suddenly BDSM was the “it” thing. By comparison, my story is relatively tame.

As deeply as Belphagor loves Vasily, and as intense as their connection is, in the final book of the trilogy, The Armies of Heaven, Belphagor takes a bit of a detour on his way to soliciting aid for the future queen of Heaven. In taking command of a platoon of Virtues, an order of angels known for their purity and modesty, Belphagor has the opportunity for the first time to train one of them as a willing submissive. It’s a challenge he can’t pass up and one that will have a profound affect on him—and on the fate of Heaven itself.

 

Giveaway:

To celebrate the release of The Armies of Heaven, I’m giving away prizes to three different winners on my blog tour: a $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, a complete set of print books of The House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy, and a collector’s edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen illustrated by Vladyslav Yerko. Just enter via the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of the post. This giveaway is international.

ENTER HERE

 

About the author:

Jane Kindred is the author of The House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy and The Devil’s Garden. Born in Billings, Montana, she spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.

You can find Jane on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and on her website.

 

About The Armies of Heaven, Book Three of The House of Arkhangel’sk:

In Heaven, all hell has broken loose…

Full-scale war has broken out in Heaven, and Anazakia must embrace her destiny, leading an army of Virtues into battle against a Host of enemies to restore the House of Arkhangel’sk.

Furious with her for putting her trust in the angel who has done them all irreparable harm, Vasily tries to ignore his growing resentment, while Belphagor returns to the world of Man with a cadre of beautiful androgynous Virtues to restore the sundered alliance between the Fallen and the gypsy underground. Without their help in enlisting the terrestrial forces of Grigori and Nephilim, Anazakia’s Virtues are hopelessly outnumbered.

But there are more things in Heaven and Earth than any of them have dreamt of, and those they cannot see will mean the difference between victory and losing everything.

The Armies of Heaven is available now at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Powell’s Books.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Guest Posts | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“Daughter of Smoke & Bone” by Laini Taylor

One of my blogging goals for this year is to work on whittling down my TBR pile of review copies from last year’s Book Expo America.  From the moment that I began reading Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone,” I was enthralled.  Taylor builds a magical world reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere“–simultaneously menacing and full of wonder.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.  It did not end well.

Karou is a teenage art student growing up in Prague.  She fills her sketchbooks with drawings of chimera, half-human half-animal creatures.  Karou’s friends believe that she’s eccentric, evidenced by her stories, her blue hair, and her tattoos, but Karou has a secret.  Her hair really does grow that way, and the chimera that she draws just so happen to be her adopted family.  Every week, she slips through a door into another world, where a chimera named Brimstone traffics in teeth and wishes.  His shop is guarded by Issa, who makes customers wear one of her snakes around their necks to keep them from stepping out of line.  Karou runs errands for Brimstone in the human world, but is forever frustrated by his vague answers to her questions about his world.

One day, an angel falls from the sky.  He’s on a mission as part of an ancient war between the angels and the chimera.  When he sees Karou, he is captivated by her, feeling himself drawn to her even though she is associated with his enemies.

Karou finds herself caught between two sides in the battle between the angels and the chimera.  She envisions a world of peace, where the two sides live in harmony.  Is she too late to stop the carnage and protect the people she loves?

I can’t stop gushing about how much I love this book.  Karou has such a strong personality and sense of wonder, and it’s almost tragic to see that innocence get stripped away as she learns more about the ultimate price of magic.  She realizes that Brimstone’s vagueness was a way of protecting her innocence and giving her a childhood, as generations of war have destroyed the fabric of both chimera and angel society.  Regardless of who is right or wrong (and we see very clearly that the chimera are justified in their revolt against the angels), we see the very real impact of a prolonged war that has jaded society to the point that a normal childhood or a walk in the city sound like mad and unreachable dreams.

As a YA novel, “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” tastefully tackles difficult subjects that teens face without being preachy about them.  For example, Karou muses about regretting having slept with her ex-boyfriend when they were dating.  She realizes that it was a mistake and that he was a complete jerk, bragging to his friends about an experience that she had expected to be private and special.  At the same time, she learns from her mistake, and her life is in no way over.  At another point, we see a character realize that she’s involved with someone because of his social position and the expectation that she’ll go along with it rather than because she actually likes him.  Later in the book, we see a completely different kind of romance develop, where two characters are lovers, but have a respectful relationship that is enhanced by their physical connection.  The author’s portrayal of teenage sexuality was refreshingly honest, and I liked that the emphasis was on mutual consent, respect, and trust, rather than on the flat stereotype of a fantasy prince.

If you love YA novels, magic, or books that make you think about the difference between how the world is and how it could be, then “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” is pure gold.  Laini Taylor weaves a world inhabited by rich yet tragic characters, and I look forward to seeing them make their dreams a reality.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 30 Comments

“A Storm of Swords” by George R. R. Martin

So, I realize that I’m a bit late to the party on this one.  I’ve been avoiding reading it because of what George R. R. Martin’s books do to me.  The problem?  One all-nighter isn’t enough to finish the book.  I get so involved with them that I can’t put them down, then turn into a zombie librarian.

I was going to wait to read “A Storm of Swords” till I was completely done with grad school, but then some assholes on Twitter said something about a Red Wedding, and I realized that I had to read it now or everything would be spoiled.

If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, stop reading now and instead go to Game of Thrones.  This review will contain spoilers from the first two books.

Normally I’d write a paragraph or two summarizing the book, but I can sum it up in two words:  Everyone dies.  Well, not everyone.  But if you’ve read the first two books, you know that nobody is safe and that if you get too attached to someone, he/she will die a brutal death.  “A Storm of Swords” is probably the bloodiest book in the series thus far.  Be warned.

One of the things that I found interesting in this book was the role that religion plays.  Each culture or group has its own religion–the Old Gods, the Seven, the Lord of Light, etc.  Many of the religions seem to contradict each other, and yet members of them have magical powers.  We’ve got Melissandre and her freaky dark magic that often calls for blood sacrifices, and it has been demonstrated to topple kings.  Her magic seems to be a part of the same system as the Wight-Walkers and the Others of the North.  Then we’ve got Bran and his wolf dreams, as he journeys North on a voyage of self-discovery, showing that not everything above the Wall is bad.  Then there’s the Wall itself, which seems to be imbued with the power of the Old Gods.  The list goes on.  There are a lot of seemingly conflicting mythologies, and I’m curious to see whether one wins in the end or if they are all part of a larger worldview that will be revealed as the story progresses.

As I’m reading, I’m never entirely sure who I’m rooting for.  I’ve always hated Catelyn Stark, because she has this holier-than-thou attitude while being mean to Jon Snow.  I can’t forgive her for that; you just don’t blame a child for his parents’ mistakes.  At the same time, she’s emerged as a major political player, which I didn’t expect.  Not a ruler, obviously, but still a force to be reckoned with.  Then there’s Stannis–much as Melissandre’s magic just reeks of evil, he’s the only one (aside from the Night’s Watch) that seems to give a damn about what’s going on in the North.  And, much as the Lannisters are annoying, their rule had an aura of stability to it before Renly, Stannis, and Robb decided to start a war.  It wouldn’t bother me so much if there were some sort of driving ideological difference between them, but there’s not.  And Daenerys?  Well, she’s off with her dragons, freeing slaves and building herself a kingdom.  That’s very noble, but I think staying where she’s at is probably better than uprooting her people and marching off to Westeros.

If you’ve read and enjoyed the first two books, you’ll definitely like this one.  Certain characters get their comeuppance, and it’s quite satisfying.  At the same time, you’ll be left with more questions than answers.  I’m going to wait a while before starting the fourth book (I haven’t caught up on sleep yet), but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

“Red-Robed Priestess” by Elizabeth Cunningham

Red-Robed Priestess

“Red-Robed Priestess” by Elizabeth Cunningham was one of last year’s BEA finds.  Even though it’s the fourth book in a series, I decided to give it a try, because I found the premise intriguing.

Basically, The Maeve Chronicles are a lot like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon stories, except the main character is Mary Magdalene, and she’s a sex priestess who has a kid with Jesus.  Doesn’t it sound delightfully sacrilegious?

In this volume, Mary Magdalene (Maeve) is an old woman, and Jesus is already dead, but still talks to her sometimes.  Maeve has had an interesting life and is ready to settle down, but one thing still haunts her.  When she was young, her father raped her, and she had a daughter.  The daughter was stolen from her and sent away to be fostered by a neighboring tribe, and she never saw her again.  With the aid of her other daughter Sarah and her lady pirate friends, Maeve embarks on a quest to find her long-lost child and set things right.  Of course, it gets a bit more complicated.  That long-lost daughter is totally the rebel queen Boudica, which can’t end well.  Meanwhile, Maeve becomes romantically entangled with a Roman governor, as she’s having visions about having to warn him that something terrible is about to happen.

If you’re at all familiar with the story of Boudica, you already know that the book is going to have a lot of violent and depressing scenes where innocent people (including children) have terrible things done to them.  Not having heard of Boudica’s story before, I was completely blindsided by this.  I expected the story to be a lot lighter and happier.  At the same time, I was satisfied with the way that Cunningham managed to pull off the ending–even though history comes to pass, she manages to end with a message of hope and resurrection, and a continuation of the cycle of life.

I like the idea of using an older protagonist to tell the story.  Stereotypically, you don’t expect a woman in her sixties to be riding into battles, shapeshifting into birds, or fucking Roman generals.  Maeve is a badass, and even though her years have made her wise, she’s still very much an active player in the story.  At the same time, she feels a great burden after having seen so many people that she loved die.

One of Maeve’s central struggles in this novel is spiritual in nature.  She was raised a druid, but betrayed them when she stole a human sacrifice (Jesus, btw) as a young initiate.  While she still is a priestess and shape-shifter who worships nature goddesses, she also finds herself enthralled by the philosophy of Jesus’ central message of peace and of loving one’s enemies.  She loves both her general and her family, and is torn by her role in the war.  She’s confused by her relationship, because she’s been a slave to the Romans, and she watched them crucify Jesus–rightfully, she should hate them.  Meanwhile, we see Boudica as a foil as she throws her entire being into a war of revenge over violence committed against her family.

This book is an interesting choice for fans of both fantasy and historical fiction.  Even though it’s the fourth book in a series, you can understand it without having read the previous books.  I’m planning on eventually going back and reading the earlier novels at some point, because Maeve’s story was compelling, and I’d like to see the author’s take on Jesus’ life and death.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“The Forever Knight” by John Marco

I received a copy of John Marco’s “The Forever Knight” from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

When “The Forever Knight” begins, the revered knight Lukien is an old man.  He’s got his share of battle scars, and only has one eye.  However, he’s kept alive by a spirit that dwells within his magical sword.  Lukien has lost the love of his life, and he’s bored with his immortality.  He feels as if his life no longer has a purpose.  In an attempt to find new meaning, Lukien sets out with a young girl named Cricket to find out the secrets of her childhood in the war-torn land of Akyre.  Meanwhile, a tyrant king and an undead dragon may be the challenge that Lukien needs to rediscover his inner strength.

“The Forever Knight” is actually the fourth in a series, but don’t let that dissuade you.  The book can be read and understood without reading the books that came before them.  I haven’t read the first three books, and I was completely immersed in the story before I’d even gotten fifty pages in.  The author does a good job of setting the scene and explaining the events of previous books, but by using Lukien’s brooding as a way to do it, the recap of previous books becomes an organic part of the story.

One of the most interesting things to me about “The Forever Knight” is that I didn’t find Lukien to be terribly likeable, even though I enjoyed the book tremedously.  He’s a bit whiny and makes a lot of stupid mistakes which tend to hurt those that he cares about.  He can judge people harshly and he can be self-centered.  At the same time, Lukien’s personality makes the book more realistic and gives it more depth.  He’s got plenty of flaws, even though he does genuinely care about protecting the people he cares about.  There’s a difference between his intentions and execution, and that’s part of what it is to be human.  Considering that Lukien is now immortal, it keeps him from becoming boring or too god-like.

Another thing I liked about “The Forever Knight” was the presence of GLBT characters.  Without getting into too much detail, Marco’s gay characters are presented as complex human beings who are both flawed and heroic.  Actually, the description “flawed yet heroic” could sum up most of Marco’s characters, which was one of the factors that impressed me so much about his writing.

A word of forewarning–people die in this book.  People die in the previous books.  John Marco isn’t afraid to kill off his characters in tragic and painful ways.  There’s one particular part of the book that, if you’re at all like me, will make you cry.  At the same time, I was pleased with the way that the book ended.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a new fantasy read.

 

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

“The Midnight Court” by Jane Kindred

I was extremely excited to be offered a review copy of Jane Kindred’s newest novel, “The Midnight Court.”  I reviewed “The Fallen Queen” back in January and enjoyed it tremendously, and ever since then I’d been looking forward to the next book in the series.

“The Fallen Queen” was about an angel named Anazakia who falls from Heaven into modern-day Russia after her family was murdered Romanov-style.  Anazakia’s story is an imaginative parallel to the familiar legend that Anastasia Romanov might have escaped when her family was murdered, and I appreciated the level of detail that Kindred put into the setting.  Reading “The Fallen Queen” made me miss Russia, and I was glad that “The Midnight Court” was able to evoke the same sense of nostalgia.

“The Midnight Court” begins as Anazakia’s baby is kidnapped.  She fears that Aevil, the witch who killed her family, might be involved, but the trail seems to be cold.  Anazakia seeks help from the syla, fairies who appear with the changing of the season.  The first book seemed to parallel the story of the Romanovs.  This one goes a bit further, and the events in Heaven are reminiscent of the Bolshevik Revolution.

As with “The Fallen Queen,” I appreciated that the author did her research when it came to Russian culture.  The magic is in the little details, like the food, the geography, going to a dacha, or even the fact that people wear slippers called tapochki whenever they go into a home or apartment.  Most books that I’ve read that are set in Russia don’t take the time to mention something like tapochki, but even though it seems insignificant, it’s little cultural things like that that make this book stand out so much.

One of the other things that I love about this series is the love triangle.  Yes, you heard that right.  It’s adorable.  There’s Belphagor and Vassily, who are a gay demon couple.  Vassily is also bi, and he and Anazakia have a thing.  Everybody gets along for the most part.  It’s so unconventional, and it makes me happy.  I get tired of reading about triangles where there are two guys, one girl, and one of the guys ends up having his heart broken in the end.  It’s refreshing to read something that allows for other possibilities instead of playing into the same tired tropes.

The only thing that really bothered me about this book was the cover, because it makes the book look like a romance novel rather than epic fantasy.

Jane Kindred’s writing reminds me a lot of Jacqueline Carey.  It’s epic fantasy, but there are elements of romance and sexuality throughout the book that one wouldn’t typically expect to find.  There’s also a lot of sexual violence, so if that bothers you, then you might want to steer clear.  However, if the idea of a parallel supernatural world that incorporates Russian history and culture sounds appealing, then this one’s definitely for you!

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I’m including this book in the Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge, as it contains elements of the paranormal/supernatural.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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