Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Ascendance Trilogy comes to an end with The Shadow Throne and Jaron’s biggest battles are coming to the frontlines. With war pressing in on him from all sides, he’s got to gather up his allies and defeat his greatest enemies.

shadow-throneTitleThe Shadow Throne
AuthorJennifer A. Nielsen
SeriesThe Ascendance Trilogy, Book 03
Publish Date: Feb 25, 2014
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionWar has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighboring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?

Rousing and affecting, Jaron’s adventures have thrilled and moved readers in The False Prince and The Runaway King. Journey once again with the Ascendant King of Carthya, as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen brings his story to a stunning conclusion with The Shadow Throne.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

Though I didn’t particularly like a certain part of this book (which I will detail for you further on), I really loved the majority of it. The action scenes are incredible, the chapter-ending cliffhangers are awesome, and a lot of the characters I’ve grown fond of each get their time in the spotlight.

There’s a lot of pulse-pounding excitement as Jaron goes from leading armies to getting held hostage and fighting his own personal battles. This time, though, he’s got his friends there to help him secure victory. There’s a bit of a happy ending, though as always with a lot of high fantasy tales, it comes at a great cost.

The main issue I had with this one? The romance. Okay, so Amarinda and Jaron don’t quite hit it off and they agree to disagree while remaining friends and allies. Which of course then leaves the Imogen and Jaron spark to reignite again….only *SPOILER ALERT*….


…the author kills Imogen off, giving Jaron’s enemies a reason to taunt and break him because they claim to have responsibility for her death. She’s shot with an arrow in the middle of a battle, pronounced dead by like three different people (one being Mott, and as Jaron believes him, the readers do, too) and then Jaron’s sad and all that. I figured with Imogen’s death, that meant he and Amarinda would settle their differences and get together since they’re already bound by oath anyway.

However, those were my opinions before Amarinda decided to do her own thing and fall in love with Tobias. Which is cool and all because she’s making her own decisions and not going with something she doesn’t want to do for political reasons.

There were quite a few times where I suspected that Imogen might not have been dead. But then I got 2/3 through the book and got used to her not being around.

But then BAM. Suddenly she’s not dead. She’s very alive and being held prisoner and I’m upset. Why? Because I feel like she should have stayed dead. No offense to her, I mean, yay, she’s breathing and what not.

However, I’m upset because I feel like this was a cop out. I’m also very passionate about this point. I feel like she should have stayed dead because, by that point, Jaron was so deep and focused on what he was doing that he’d kinda moved on from her. I feel like Imogen was brought back only to satisfy the romance and I’m very disappointed by that.

badge4v5Then again, some of you readers may like the happy, romantic endings. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book because I did. This is a wonderful middle-grade trilogy, but it definitely borders young adult with some of its darker, brutal themes. I’m giving it four stars!

Our reviews in this series…

Links will become active as reviews are posted.

Other recommendations…

I’d recommend this to fans of high fantasy everywhere, especially fans of Sara B. Larson, Erika Johansen, and Melina Marchetta.

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

In a high fantasy world based on the Seasons, Meira, a young refugee from the Winter kingdom, is thirsty to prove just how worthy she is. But taking on the big bad guys means she’ll have to step up her game – but as she ventures through a series of political mind games, can her heart handle all the secrets she learns along the way?

TitleSnow Like Ashes
AuthorSara Raasch
SeriesSnow Like Ashes, Book 01
Publish Date: October 14, 2014 by Balzer + Bray
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionSixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Luna Lovebooks says…

Dislikes: I figured I’d switch it up and get my dislikes out of the way, considering there are few of them. First of all, this is not a terribly original plot. Strong heroine, royal politics, magic, stolen kingdom, and of course, a love triangle. All elements that are normally used in books of this genre. However, it seems to work. While it doesn’t make this novel particularly standout, it doesn’t take away from a good read. Secondly, this book can get a touch info-dumpy at points. Lastly, there is a love triangle! Which leads me to my…

Likes: While Meria is a strong female lead, fighting for her kingdom and refusing to back down, she is also flawed and complex. She tugs at your heartstrings. She is likable. But she isn’t the only one. Even the side characters are complex and well-developed—even the two love interests. They are both so likable and for different reasons. I just couldn’t choose who to root for. The world is another well-developed wonder. This is a seriously complex world with eight kingdoms that have their own customs and people. This information is woven into the plot fairly well for the most part, but as I stated, it can be a bit of an info dump at points.

Despite not being an entirely fresh take on the YA fantasy genre, this book has amazing character and world development that makes it a worthwhile read. I give it 4 snowflakes.

Kat Mandu says…

Meira is feisty and fierce, and the fact that she uses a chakram makes her reminiscent of a younger Xena Warrior Princess in my head. Only with very white hair and pale skin. Her fellow Winterians also have similar features, physical traits reminiscent of their former kingdom, Winter, which is a land that many of them haven’t seen in sixteen years. Meira and her companions are all refugees, driven from Winter by their rival country’s leader (Spring), Angra. Sixteen years ago, Angra forcibly took over the kingdom by imprisoning the Winterian citizens and killing anyone who resisted, including Queen Hannah.

Now, Meira and a handful of survivors – including her mentor, “Sir” (William) and Hannah’s only son, Mather. They’ve managed to stay out of Angra’s eye until now – but they’re trying to get their magical conduit back (the item that represents their power) and Meira knows they can’t wait any longer, especially once news of the conduit’s locations is brought to them.

This story has a lot of adventure and a lot of layered plots as the story unfolds. Aka, there’s a lot going on. It’s not confusing in any way, but prepared to go through a lot of multi-faceted stories within one story.

For one, there’s the fact that the Winterians are trying to get their hands on the conduit, a locket; but Mather, their supposed “king” of Winter, is male and therefore unable to use it due to magical laws set way back when the conduits were first created. This particular detail of the story eventually takes a turn later, but they manage to get the locket anyway.

Then they decide to ally with a Rhythm kingdom, Cordell, and by doing so, Meira ends up engaged to Theron, the heir of Cordell’s king, Niall. She’s not exactly thrilled about the situation, as her heart has always belonged to Mather. But at least in this book, Theron proves to be a very understanding and what more, a protective friend who grows close to Meira’s heart.

So there’s also the romance angle – a love triangle between Meira, Mather, and Theron. Meira finds herself drawn to Theron and seeing Mather as more of a friend.

There’s an entire plotline where Mather and Meira discover a new kind of magic within themselves and that they’re not who they think they are.

Then of course, there’s the final epic battle as Cordell, Winter, and Autumn join forces against the armies of Spring and Angra. And well, stuff happens (no spoilers here).

Overall this is a great book. I found the characters really drove it for me, or at least they mattered more to me than the actual plot, which although is given a unique spin, seems to have a similar theme to other high fantasies I’ve read before. The world building is pretty cool too! But as much as I enjoyed it, I found it hard to keep reading at times; it just didn’t have the same “I’ll stay up all night to finish this” feel for me.

I still give it a four!

Our reviews in this series…

Links will become active as reviews are published.

Other recommendations…

If you love high fantasy check out these other great reads! Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis, the Elemental Trilogy by Sherri Thomas, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White.

Bound by Benedict Jacka

For the last two books, readers have been on the edge of their seats, knowing that eventually, Alex would be back under Richard’s thumb. That time has finally arrived, and it’s a bit … anti-climactic. In a “good writing” kind of way.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

boundTitleBound
AuthorBenedict Jacka
SeriesAlex Verus, Book 08
Publish Date: April 4, 2017 by Ace
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: NetGalley

Publisher’s Description: Mage Alex Verus is caught between a rock and a hard place in the eighth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

Alex Verus is still haunted by his time apprenticed to Richard Drakh. He’s been free of him for many years, but now the only way to keep his friends from being harmed is to again work for Richard and his deadly ally. Even worse, he’s forced to bring the Light mage Anne into this servitude as well.

After weeks of being hunted and finally cornered into what he thought was his last stand, Alex never thought his life would be spared—and never anticipated at what price. This time, the diviner can see no way out…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

In Book 6, Veiled, Alex gets to know the Light Council from the inside — and while it is still somewhat corrupt and apathetic, he has to give some of its members credit for trying to do the right thing. Alex has to learn to see shades of gray, even when he doesn’t want to.

But if there is anyone Alex hates more than the Council, it’s the dark mage, Morden, and his former master, Richard Drahk. But now he’s forced to work with both of them, and they’re acting … like normal people. No torture, no hostility, no mustache twirling or obvious evil plots. In fact, they are acting very business-like. Meanwhile, members of the Council are behaving with open hostility toward Alex and his apprentices, believing he truly is a Dark Mage, despite his many protests.

Though it would be easy to start viewing Morden and Richard as “not so bad,” Alex isn’t fooled. He’s on his guard, and along with Anne, Vari, Luna, and Arachne, Alex uncovers THE BIG PLOT REVEAL, but not in time to keep himself and Anne from being tools used to complete it.

Alex’s world is harsh; truly good people are few and far between, and they certainly aren’t the ones in power. Dark side or light, everyone is out to further their own agendas, and competition makes the underlings more dangerous than the masters at times. The more Alex learns about both sides of the Council, the less difference there is between them.

badge5v5I enjoyed this story a lot. I love the series in general, but this one was so interesting, blurring the line between bad guy and good guy. I see things being set in motion for a revolution, and I’m excited to see how our heroes get there.

Our reviews in this series…

 

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Wardbreaker by J.A. Cipriano

Welcome to Saturday Shorts, in which we review shorter works such as short stories, novellas, middle-grade books, and graphic novels. All Lillim wants to do is get away for a bit – escape her world where monsters and mayhem reign at every hour. She ends up in sunny Orange County for a little relaxing time and, instead, finds herself facing a group of powerful vampires that the Dioscuri organization she works for has blatantly ignored.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleWardbreaker
AuthorJ.A. Cipriano
SeriesLillim Callina, Book 0.5
Publish Date: October 15, 2015
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Source: Provided by the author

Publisher’s DescriptionA city full of vampires. A dark ritual. A runaway determined to stay hidden.

Lillim Callina was still trying to figure out how to live like a normal girl when the vampires attacked. Now, this former demon hunter must decide if staying hidden is more important than saving her new home from the largest vampire infestation she has ever seen.

The only problem is, if she stops the vampires, the people hunting her just may find her, and they aren’t too fond of deserters.

Wardbreaker is the first prequel in The Lillim Callina Chronicles, an urban fantasy series and takes place approximately one year before the first book, Kill it with Magic.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Kat Mandu says…

As much as I enjoyed this, it’s an awfully long “novella.” It took me almost as much time to read this as it does many YA books. I almost wouldn’t call it a novella, as only novellas vs. novels are determined by the word count. But hey, it was a good story.

Lillim’s a couple years younger in Wardbreaker than when you meet her in Kill It With Magic, the first official Callina novel. It’s her first time in California, but not her first venture to the human world. Things are still a little disorienting for her.

But then Luc shows up, looking for her help with a group of bad guy vampires and Lillim’s suddenly right back at home, facing down a myriad of monsters while wondering why the Dioscuri isn’t doing anything to help the humans who are being preyed upon.

One of the coolest things I like about Lillim’s stories are that the creatures she fights against are always very unique and many – sure, there are vamps and werewolves, but there are also ents (tree men), dragons, and pixies. If you like a variety of supernatural baddies, you’d enjoy this.

It’s a nice lead-up to the series and introduction to both Lillim and Luc. I found it just got lengthy in certain points, even when there’s a lot of action going on. Lillim is a commentator on everything and her internal dialogue only adds to the battle scenes—making them funny, yes, but also like I said, lengthy.

Other recommendations…

Mark E. Cooper, Donna Joy Usher, Inge-Lise Goss

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Blood Deal by Brad Magnarella

How can one man find so much trouble? It’s not even when he’s looking for it?  Professor Croft gets pounded, spelled, glamoured, beat on and even has the blood sucked from his own body – with his permission! Talk about a glutton for punishment.

Title: Blood Deal
Author: Brad Magnarella
Series: Professor Croft #2
Publish Date: October 17, 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: James Patrick Cronin
Source: Purchased through Audible.com

Publisher’s Description: Everson Croft here, professor of mythology and … nervous as sin.

Tonight’s the night I tell Caroline the truth: about my feelings, my magic, everything.

So why am I surprised when Detective Vega calls me to a new case? An elusive creature is chewing up residents in a housing project run by rival gangs. One more mangled body and the place will explode into warfare.

Problem is, someone’s protecting the killer. All signs point to the vampire Arnaud—who’s just upped the stakes. If I don’t send Detective Vega down a trail of bad leads, he’ll snatch her child. But is Arnaud trying to derail the investigation or twist it to his own ends, ones that could reshape the city?

Worse, Caroline has disappeared, and I’m under suspicion. No one believes I last saw her with Angelus, a mysterious hunk and full-blooded faerie. Dangerous no matter how you slice it.

Two cases: one personal, one professional, and both going to hell in a hurry.

Time to wizard up.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words…spoilers.  *BEWARE*


Nervous Nellie says…

This is an urban fantasy, no sex, lots of violence that comes in various forms and though the ending is good, I believe it will be a very dangerous step for our beloved professor to take.  ALSO, I want to warn those nervous readers like me, Everson’s relationship with Vega is very rocky.  I have all the faith in the world that Author Magnarella will make everything right again.  If he doesn’t then….well…us readers will just have to set him straight. 😉

I will admit that I was drawn to the fact that Everson Croft reminds me of Indiana Jones and Harry Dresden wrapped all up in one.  I mean, really? Who could refuse that face? Check out the cover – it’s fantastic.  Anyway, Everson thinks his life is quiet for the moment and wham! he is pulled into not one, but two separate investigations.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**  I want to say that Everson was trying to be a good guy and Vega took his actions way to the extreme end of the reactionary spectrum.  I learned that Vega’s nickname or maybe even real first name is “Ricky”.  I learned she grew up in a neighborhood that was not known for it’s white picket fences and block parties.  I also learned that she is one tough broad.  She takes a gut shot and she powers her way through it enough to tell Everson how to stitch her up.  Incredible.  I also learned that if she trashes this relationship with Everson, she is making a huge mistake.  It feels like he’s the only one that will back her up and help solve the murders that no one else can touch.  Also, I think Caroline is very selfish to put Everson in the difficult spots that she is putting him in.  She could have at least checked in with him to tell him – “Hey, I know I left the party before you got back, but I wanted to touch base with you.”  That would be the considerate thing to do.  Anyway, it is what it is and that’s why it makes for a good story.  Oh, and one last thing.  Everson should have took the ring option instead of the information about his mother.  He just should have.***END OF SPOILERS***

This series is great to read but even better to listen to.  The narrator does a very good job and he fits my image of the voice for Everson Croft.  Grab the book or the audio – you won’t be sorry.  Oh, and for those of you up to book #3, like me, Mr. Magnarella assures me that the audio will be out by the first week in April and book #4 will release in print and audio closely to the same time together.

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

…you might try  Yancy Lazarus series by James A. Hunter, Cisco Suarez/Black Magic Outlaw series by Domino Finn or Immortal Vegas series by Jenn Stark.