Review: The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty

Review: The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. ChakrabortyThe Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2) by S.A. Chakraborty
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Daevabad Trilogy #2
Pages: 640
Published by Harper Voyager on January 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—"the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind" (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad's towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

My Review:

The previous book in this series, The City of Brass, was absolutely awesome, as is this one. But the end of City felt guardedly hopeful. Five years down the road, the future that resulted from that guarded hope is anything but.

Instead, The Kingdom of Copper has the feel of The Two Towers, in that things are always darkest just before they turn completely black. And also in the sense that The Two Towers makes no sense without having read The Fellowship of the Ring first.

Likewise The Kingdom of Copper makes no sense without having read The City of Brass first. We readers need that introduction into the characters and especially the hidden city of Daevabad before we have a clue about what’s going on in this book – or why we should care.

Fair warning, if your reading of City was a while ago, it may take a while to get back to the heart of the matter in Kingdom. The worldbuilding in this series is epically dense. Not impenetrable, just terribly, terribly complex.

At the end of City, Nahri had negotiated her marriage with Crown Prince Muntadhir of Daevabad in exchange for an extremely large dowry and some concessions for her downtrodden people. Then her friend, Prince Ali, killed her would-be lover, the djinn Darayavahoush. Ali was exiled, and Dara was just gone.

Nahri is alone in a city she never knew existed, under the watchful eye of her cruel and tyrannical father-in-law. She does her best not to put a foot wrong, because every time she does anything just slightly for herself, the King punishes someone close to her. Ghassan’s treatment of Nahri is a microcosm of how he rules his kingdom. Neither are exactly flourishing under his “care”.

But the way that Daevabad is ruled seems necessary from the king’s perspective. His people, the Geziri, conquered the city that belonged to Nahri’s people, the Daevas, generations ago. But the Geziri are the minority in the city that they rule, outnumbered by both the oppressed Daevas and the completely subjugated shafit, who are djinn with human ancestry.

The king feels that it is necessary to keep the Daevas and the shafit at each other’s throats to keep them from banding together and turning against their oppressors. (And if anyone sees echoes of many past and present tyrannies, it’s probably not accidental).

From Nahri’s perspective we see events in the city, but that’s not all that we see. Ali has survived many attempted assassinations by his father-the-king’s agents, and is living a life of sort-of-peace and increasing prosperity in the desert that is the Geziri home. Or he is until his mother’s family maneuvers him, yet again, into a position where he feels he has no choice but to return to Daevabad and his father’s dubious mercy.

While it is pretty obvious to Ali that his mother’s relatives want him to take steps against his father, their methods are generally more political, economic and subtle than the other player in this game of empires.

Because the djinn Dara is not dead after all. Or does not remain dead – again. The exiled Daevas have a plan to retake their city. A plan for which they need the assistance of the greatest warrior – and most feared weapon of mass destruction – that their people have ever produced. Both are in the person of Dara, who just wants to stay dead, but is honor bound to serve his people one more time.

There’s going to be a bloodbath in the city that they all claim to love – with Nahri, Ali and Dara caught in the middle. Again.

Escape Rating A: This book was terrific. And compellingly readable to the point where I finished at 3 am because I just couldn’t stop reading. At the same time, it just misses the A+ because it takes a while to get back into the action. There’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s all predicated on the events of the previous book. I suspect that if I’d read City a month or two ago instead of over a year ago I might feel differently.

If the final edition includes a precis of previous events that will probably help – a LOT.

Part of what makes this story so good, as well as what makes it difficult to get back into after a long absence, is the combination of how densely packed the worldbuilding is and how different it is from the western mythic traditions that so often underpin epic fantasy.

The worldbuilding in the Daevabad Trilogy is based on what feels like a combination of Indian, Persian and Arabic resources. The history hearkens back to Suleiman, the Islamic name of King Solomon the Wise from the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. The world of the Daevabad seems to be the result of Suleiman’s taming or subjugation of the Djinn, an event which exists in all three mythologies.

But most readers have an image in their heads for djinn, jinn, or the more popular term, genie. (If that image looks and sounds a lot like Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin, well, Disney is also a mythmaker.)

The djinn in Daevabad are not those genies. Well not exactly. And not always. It feels like Dara might be a lot like those djinn, or genies – without the benevolent wish granting. But most djinn in this series seem to be basically people, with magical abilities and an affinity for one or more elements as granted by their heritage.

It takes a bit to stop thinking genie when one reads the word djinn and just think of them as warring tribes of magical people. But it’s definitely worth the mental leap to make it work for you.

Underneath the terminology, the story here is definitely a classic, using multiple tropes to underpin the story.

The obvious one is that age-old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Not just for the current ruler of Daevabad, but also those who would be the rulers. It’s also definitely a story about the corruption of believing that the ends justify the means.

Nahri is certainly the bird in the gilded cage in this installment. After the life of both freedom and insecurity she lived in Cairo, her life in Daevabad is constrained at every turn. It’s only at the end when she returns to the truths she learned during her life on the streets that she finally sees a way out – even if it’s not one that anyone wants to take.

This is also a triangle story, albeit one with some interesting offshoots. Nahri loves Dara, or at least the Dara she thought she knew before she discovered that he was essentially a war criminal. Dara loves her, but the version of her that he left behind when he died. Five years of realpolitik have changed Nahri from that relatively naive girl he left behind.

Ali probably loves Nahri. Or he is capable of it if he figures out what love is – and gets his head out of his own ass on a whole host of topics. And possibly just plain grows up a bit. But Nahri is his brother’s wife. His brother Muntadhir loves his best friend Jamshid – and vice-versa – even though they keep their relationship on the down low. And Jamshid owes fealty to Nahri as the leader of the Daevas.

It’s complicated.

But the real story feels like one about the cost of vengeance. The Geziris conquered Daevabad, so now they oppress and demonize the descendants of the conquered to the point where the Daevas feel as if they have no option but to overthrow the Geziris. And both sides subjugate the mixed-blood shafit at every turn. No one is willing to even talk about building a future together, because everyone is so fixated on the atrocities that their ancestors committed against each other. Which only results in more atrocities. And the cycle continues.

And if that scenario sounds familiar, it bloody well should.

In an interview, the author posited what feels like the point of the entire series when she said, “Can you ever make a new world that properly addresses the wounds of the past?” So far in this series, the answer is a resounding, but absolutely compelling, NO.

So far in Daevabad, no one is even trying. Hopefully they will in the untitled third book in this series, which is not scheduled until (boo-hoo) 2021. It’s going to be a long wait.

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily DevenportMedusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle, #1) by Emily Devenport
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Medusa Cycle #1
Pages: 317
Published by Tor Books on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Executives control Oichi’s senses, her voice, her life. Until the day they kill her.

An executive clan gives the order to shoot Oichi out of an airlock on suspicion of being an insurgent. A sentient AI, a Medusa unit, rescues Oichi and begins to teach her the truth—the Executives are not who they think they are. Oichi, officially dead and now bonded to the Medusa unit, sees a chance to make a better life for everyone on board.

As she sets things right one assassination at a time, Oichi becomes the very insurgent the Executives feared, and in the process uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship that is their home.

My Review:

If The Forever Watch by David Ramirez, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein and The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells got together in a line marriage of the kind that Heinlein posited on Moon, the child they produced would be Medusa Uploaded.

A child that will absolutely stun you in speechless gibbering as well as afflict you with a terribly terrific case of book hangover.

This is also one of those stories where you reach the end, and, just like the main character, discover that none of the things that you thought you knew at the beginning are remotely as they appeared to be. Hence the being stunned.

I started out thinking of The Forever Watch because both take place on generation ships. In both stories, the population of the ship has left homeworld, which may or may not be Earth, in search of a new planet.

But whatever dreams of utopia the builders had at the beginning, those dreams have been long subverted by the time the story opens.

Our point of view character in Medusa Uploaded is Oichi Angelis, and she sees herself as a Worm. In fact, she sees almost all of the population of the Olympia as Worms. Most people are, like Oichi, members of the Servant class who are programmed by the Executives not merely to serve their every whim but also to see and hear only what the Executives allow them to.

Oichi has broken her programming. Much like Murderbot, she has illicit caches of forbidden entertainment stored in her brain, and that subversive data is how she keeps herself sane – at least until one scared and spoiled Executive arranges for Oichi’s execution. Because anyone in the Executive class can. Because victimizing someone else lets them feel less like a victim themselves.

But when Oichi is literally shoved out an airlock, she is saved. Not by a deux ex machina, but by an actual machine – and that’s when her journey really begins.

Because Oichi, with the help of Medusa, sets out to enact a revolution. She pushes people around like pawns in order to bring about a rebellion where the Executive class can be overthrown and the Worms can finally have an equal voice on the ship. It’s not just that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but that Oichi becomes the one who decides which are which.

Along the way, Oichi becomes an even more efficient killing machine than Murderbot ever was.

Oichi thinks she is running her own deadly show – only to discover that she’s been part of someone else’s game all along.

Escape Rating A+: First, I need to send a HUGE thank you to the person who recommended both The Last Sun and Medusa Uploaded, because both books have been absolutely stellar.

Above, I cited three books that Medusa Uploaded really, really reminded me of. The Forever Watch feels fairly obvious, as both are stories about generation ships in mid-journey, where one of the functionaries/passengers discovers that things have gone really, really wrong – and makes the mistake of trying to fix those things. These are also both stories where most of the assumptions that the protagonists make, and that we as readers follow along with, turn out not to be true – with catastrophic results.

Murderbot may feel like a strange choice, or like I’m just trying to get on the Murderbot bandwagon – not that Murderbot wouldn’t be utterly appalled that it even has a bandwagon. But at the very beginning of both stories we have a first-person protagonist who is aware that they are supposed to be programmed into certain behaviors and that they have subverted their programming. They both spend much of the story pretending to be what everyone around them believes they are while secretly exploring a database of forbidden entertainment. Entertainment which just adds to the subversive nature of their performance.

And last but definitely not least, the SF classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Which is still quite readable!) Both Moon and Medusa are stories where the downtrodden masses are forced to remain downtrodden due to structural inequities built into the systems that keep them virtually enslaved. And in both stories they rise up anyway, using the technology that is supposed to keep them under the thumb of the ruling class. Both stories also feature machines-as-people who integrate with the revolutionaries. (The scene at the end of Moon where Manny discovers that Mike is dead still makes me cry.)

Back to the list I began earlier…

Second, I confess that Medusa Uploaded is one of the few times where I’ve been so completely into a book that I experienced the approach/avoidance conflict of desperately wanting to know how it ended while simultaneously not wanting to finish and be forced to step out of this world.

I’m really glad that there’s a second book in the cycle (Medusa in the Graveyard), and extra happy that I already have the eARC. This is one that just isn’t going to wait!

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + GiveawayWarrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #3
Pages: 166
Published by Rebel Base Books on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map . . .  Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice.. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.   She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .  

My Review:

Early in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and recalled at the beginning of Warrior of the World, Ivariel/Jenna has a vision of three lionesses. Those lionesses are clearly the princesses of the Twelve, now Thirteen, Kingdoms, Ursula, Andi and Ami, Their stories are told at the very beginning of this awesome, interlinked epic fantasy series. If you love strong heroines and enjoy epic fantasy with a touch (or more) of romance, begin with The Mark of the Tala and just enjoy the marvelous ride.

Based on events in the most recent book on that side of the continent – and the series – Jenna’s story will eventually link up to the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. After all, her younger brother Harlan is now the consort of High Queen Ursula. I’ll confess that I was hoping to see that link here, but it hasn’t happened by the end of Warrior of the World. But the story finally reaches the beginning of that end.

While I’m a bit disappointed not to see the ENTIRE gang finally get together, on the other hand I’m very happy to know that there are further adventures yet to follow in this world and this series. Not merely happy, make that downright ecstatic.

But while I’m waiting for the happy conclusion to the interconnected series, I still have Warrior of the World.

This book, and the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries of which it is a part, needs to come with trigger warnings. Lots of trigger warnings. ALL the trigger warnings. And you do need to read at least the Chronicles of Dasnaria series from its beginning in Prisoner of the Crown in order to get the full significance of the conclusion of Ivariel/Jenna’s journey here in Warrior of the World.

Because the story of the series is about a young woman who is groomed to be a subservient sexual slave, who is forced to submit to repeated rapes, degradation, physical and sexual abuse by her husband/master, and who eventually breaks free with the help of her younger brother, who loses his rank and status for helping her to get away from the man and the society that brutalized her at every turn.

By this point in Ivariel/Jenna’s story, she is still healing from her trauma. That she murdered her “husband” in a fit of berserker rage is both part of her healing and part of her current trauma. She’s afraid that there’s a monster inside her that will eventually break free and kill those she has come to love while she is in the depths of her unthinking rage.

The story in Warrior of the World is the story of Ivariel learning to embrace ALL that she, both the light and the dark, and finding her path to coming into her own at last.

And learning to share that path with others who will be needed for the final push to victory – and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, ALL the trigger warnings. Ivariel/Jenna’s life at the Dasnarian Imperial court is simply horrendously awful. Reading about her deliberate grooming for the role her society forces her to play makes for very hard reading – but worth it in order to truly appreciate just how far she has come by the time we get to Warrior of the World.

This story is interesting both as the culmination of the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries and because of its premise. This is a story about beginning as you mean to go on, about doing the things that signify who you are and not who your enemies – or even your friends – intend for you to be or think you ought to be. At the same time, it isn’t as action-packed as other entries in the combined series. It goes just a tinge slow at some points because healing is a slow process, so Ivariel needs time and process to, well, process.

Ivariel’s life before she found herself among the elephant herders of D’tiembo was a life of reaction. She didn’t act, she wasn’t in control. Even her liberation was a product of someone else’s actions and not her own. She begins the story not knowing how to hope her own hopes or dream her own dreams, and she has to learn those skills. She also has to learn to ask for what she wants and then live with the consequences of that “ask”.

Her healing in this story is about her learning to act and not react. Part of that “acting” is the way that she takes up the mantle of her Priestess of Danu persona in order to wage, not war, but peace. The enemies of the D’tiembo try to bring war to the peaceful tribe, and many want to react with war and vengeance. It’s Ivariel, learning to live with her rage, who points the way towards “waging peace” through bribery, subversion, and absorbing and utilizing the lessons taught to her by the necessary cruelty of her mother. It’s a hard lesson, but it buys time to set up the eventual peace and prosperity of the D’tiembo, so that when the magic finally returns, both Ivariel/Jenna and the D’tiembo are ready to go out and meet the wider world and the fates that await them.

If you don’t finish this story wanting your own elephant-friend, you haven’t been paying attention. The elephants, especially Violet, Capo and Efe, provide some of the most uplifting and heartwarming parts of the entire story.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jeffe and Silver Dagger Tours are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

 

 

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea SinclairFinders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 453
Published by Bantam on April 26, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Be careful what you wish for. You might get it... Her ship's in shambles, her boyfriend's dumped her and she's frankly out of funds. Captain Trilby Elliot hopes her luck has changed when a high-tech fightercraft crash lands at her repair site. Finders keepers. She can sell the ship as salvage, pocket the profits. Except for one small problem: the pilot, Rhis, is still alive and intent on commandeering her ship. And another much larger problem: someone very powerful and very important wants Trilby Elliot dead.

I love the used bookstore, because of the serendipity of things; you never know what you’ll bump into! Quite a few of the reviews I’ve done here at Reading Reality have been things I found in the bargain bin at my used bookstore. I found this one, got hooked on the first page, and casually mentioned it to Marlene–turns out, she’s a fan of both sci-fi romances, and this author, but hasn’t ever reviewed any of her work here.

For shame! “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Guest Review by Amy:

Trilby Elliot isn’t just any tramp-freighter captain plying the space lanes, trying to make a living, no. She does it all alone, except for her trusty ‘droid Dezi, in a clapped-out old ship that has seen better days. So, not a wimp, this lady fair. We find her holed up on some back-end-of-nowhere planet, hacking on repairs, and hoping to get home in time for her next cargo job, when she sees another spacecraft crashing.

She goes to check, thinking there might be salvage, and she finds…him. Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, in the flesh. He’s injured from the crash, but Trilby and Dezi drag him back to the ship and get him in the med-bay to heal.  When he wakes, we find out he’s a lieutenant in the Zafharin military. He’s on the wrong side of dividing lines between three different sorts of civilization, in a ship belonging to the most non-human (and inhumane) of the three, and she just wants to get back to work.

Escape Rating: A+. Marlene warned me, she truly did. Linnea Sinclair is an awesome storyteller. The universe she constructed for this tale is rich in detail, but the details are close enough to our own sense of normalcy that we can grasp what’s going on, and not have to have things explained at great length. It’s a comfortable universe for a sci-fi fan to land in, even for all its violence and tension.

This is really my first foray into the sci-fi romance genre; I’m a fan of both sci-fi and romance, but this is new turf for me, and now I’m hooked. Unlike a lot of romances I read, this isn’t as trope-laden and obvious as a Harlequin, and there’s action and intrigue enough to keep sci-fi fans reading right along. Our heroine is a bit of a badass, with a softer side that she doesn’t let out much. But the handsome Rhis cracks her armor enough for them to fall for each other. He is, of course, Not Who He Appears to Be (we can’t totally escape the tropes, now, can we?), and when Trilby finds out, she’s furious, because the person he is reported to be is…infamous! A monster! Scourge of Space! But underneath the tough guy is a very real man, with very real feelings, and those closest to him know it, and push him back toward the woman he loves.

For quite a bit of this book, we’re not entirely sure who the antagonists are. There are two human-ish civilizations, the Zafharin and the Conclave, plus the ‘Sko, decidedly non-human. All three groups have been at cross purposes for years, and there is, of course, intrigue at the highest levels of Trilby’s tribe, the Conclave.  Over time, as I mentally shadow-boxed these characters looking for the villains, I got to the point that I was finding villainy even in our protagonists’ closest friends…could it be that even those closest to Trilby and Rhis are part of this vast conspiracy?

Once the bad guys were revealed, we have two people in love, who are also in a bit of a rough spot together, and the ending, while quick and to-the-point, gave me a happy smile.

Marlene’s Note: For anyone – including Amy – looking for more great science fiction romance, be sure to check out the SFR Galaxy Awards. While the 2018 Awards won’t be posted until January 31, there are PLENTY of great SFR stories among the previous years’ award winners!

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. EdwardsThe Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Tarot Sequence #1
Pages: 363
Published by Pyr on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?

My Review:

As I read The Last Sun, it kept teasing me with all the books it reminded me of – including one that I can’t quite remember. It’s on the tip of my tongue? The edge of my fingers? The corner of my mind? I can’t quite find the right metaphor – or the book – and it’s driving me bananas!

But while I was going bananas, I was also enjoying the hell out of The Last Sun – so much so that I kept wondering what took me so long. This is urban fantasy, just the way I like it. Or at least one of the ways I like it.

First of all, there’s the whole Atlantis crossed with Amber thing going on. Rune St. John, the last scion of the Sun Court, is a descendant of Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis. This foundation on which this urban fantasy world rests is that Atlantis was real, and that its people – at least some of them – managed to escape its destruction.

Which doesn’t seem to be all that long ago. The Atlantis World War is still within living memory. Admittedly, the living memory of the extremely long-lived Atlanteans. But there are some in Rune’s generation who were born on the homeland, even if they don’t remember it all that well.

I also threw in Amber – specifically Roger Zelazny’s Amber – not for its hypothesis of Amber as the “one true world” but for its use of the Trumps of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. The difference seems to be that in Amber the Trumps take on the aspect of the princes of Amber, where in The Last Sun the princes – and their entire courts – take on the aspect of the Trumps.

But the worlds are certainly equally as cutthroat and Machiavellian, and the courts are equally as decadent. Rune is the last Sun because his family was wiped out by a raid sanctioned and carried out by all of the other Houses. We meet Rune and his companion/bodyguard Brand as they are part of another sanctioned raid, this time conducted against the House of The Lovers.

You’ll need to check Wikipedia or something for a brief rundown of the Major Arcana of the Tarot – because it matters – a lot – in this story.

Like much of urban fantasy, The Last Sun is an exploration of this alternate contemporary Earth wrapped around a mystery and suffused with magic.

Rune Saint John operates as a private enquiry agent, sometime detective, sometime bodyguard, barely keeping his head above water financially – and every other way. His mentor/benefactor, The Tower (see what I mean about the Major Arcana?) hires him to find out what happened to Addam Saint Nicholas, one of the heirs of Justice. Addam has disappeared, but no one seems to be looking for him – not even his mother.

But then, Justice isn’t about protection. It’s about retribution. If something has happened to him, his mother will avenge him. Which is rather cold comfort – if you’re the person who isn’t dead, at least not dead yet.

The case, of course, is much more than it initially seems. The deeper that Rune digs into Addam’s family, friends and especially business associates, the more it seems that there’s something rotten at the heart.

Not Addam’s heart, but somebody’s heart. The question is who? Or, as Rune initially believes, what? When he discovers the what, he learns that too many things that were believed to be myths really aren’t. And everyone who believes that Rune isn’t anything but an example of a failed house learns that he is much more than he appears to be. Whether Rune manages to absorb that lesson for himself has yet to be seen.

Escape Rating A: I was just planning to read a couple more chapters last night. Instead, I lost all track of time and space and finished the book just before 3 in the morning. And WOW what a wild ride.

I found the initial premise interesting, but once I got really into the case, I was sucked in and stayed sucked.

Urban fantasy often rests on its portrayal of flawed, scarred protagonists who are as much antiheroes as they are heroes. Rune certainly fits right in beside the best of them. Something about Rune reminds me of the early Harry Dresden, and it’s not just that fire is the go-to spell for both of them.

Harry also begins his story at the thin edge of survival. He’s also been abused, and he’s also certainly been a victim. He has the capacity for great power, but he’s denigrated and underestimated at every turn – until he finally comes into his own. He’s also mostly unlucky in love. As is Rune, but with a difference. While Harry’s rather salacious male gaze of women starts to wear for many readers, Rune isn’t interested in women. All of his generally frustrated sexual attention is focused on men.

He’s just not mentally healthy enough to really get into a relationship with anyone at this stage of his journey. And the reasons for his shaky mental health are awful in their causes and reasonable in their results. In this, Rune reminds me an awful lot of Kai Gracen in Black Dog Blues.

But what makes Rune such an interesting character to follow is that he’s both an insider and an outsider at the same time. As the last scion of the Sun Court, he is literally the embodiment of that aspect of the Major Arcana – or he will be once he grows into his power. The Arcana are the highest of the high in New Atlantis – and in the rest of the world. If he lives long enough, Rune will be one of the great powers of his world.

But his house is impoverished and in disgrace. Rune himself is gossip-rag fodder at every turn. And he’s sunk so low that he actually has to work for a living – something that no scion of the Arcana is supposed to do. Or at least not supposed to HAVE to do.

So he’s seen the top, and he’s now on the bottom. But with his background and his legacy, he’s not really a part of either world.

And his life has made him all too aware of how often the ones who are closest to you are the ones who strike you down – usually from behind. Which makes him both an object lesson on how the mighty can fall and the messenger of the bad news that someone else has been betrayed by their nearest and dearest.

As Addam Saint Nicholas discovers. Once he’s found. And that’s just the beginning of the adventure.

The only good thing about having waited to read this book is that I have a much shorter wait for book 2 in the series. The Hanged Man is scheduled to come out in September. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and if there’s a book for each of them, and the books are as good as this first one, I will be one very happy reader!

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon (Eon Warriors #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Pages: 216
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

My Review:

I love this series so far. That’s not surprising, as I love nearly everything Anna Hackett writes. Even the things I don’t love I usually like quite a lot.

That being said, there’s been something about the blurbs for the books in this series so far that has really bothered me. It’s the use of the word “blackmail” to describe how the Traynor sisters have gotten into the fix they are in. (It tasks me. It just tasks me!)

In the first book, Edge of Eon, Eve Traynor begins the story in the brig for a crime that everyone knows she did not commit. Her incarceration is part of a Space Force coverup. The true “villain” using the word loosely in this case, was her incompetent captain who just so happens to be the son of a high-ranking admiral. Eve was framed to protect both her idiot captain and his overindulgent mother.

Space Force convinces her to take the suicide mission they’ve lined by by offering her her freedom if she manages to complete her mission, and by threatening the lives of her sisters Lara (heroine of Touch of Eon) and Wren (heroine of the forthcoming not-nearly-soon-enough Heart of Eon).

Lara and Wren are conned into their respective no-win scenarios by threats both to Eve’s life and threats to each other’s lives.

While the entire mess definitely makes the Space Force brass into a whole bunch of slime, none of it is the “blackmail” that is stated in the blurbs and in the stories. Blackmail involves a threat to release incriminating secrets, and there are no incriminating secrets here. Eve’s incarceration, while not deserved, is also not secret. Neither Lara nor Wren seem to be guilty of anything except making a stink about their sister’s undeserved incarceration.

So none of this is blackmail. It is, however, definitely coercion. (All blackmail is coercion but not all coercion is blackmail.) They are all manipulated, and they are all lied to. They are individually coerced into separate no-win scenarios by threats to not their own lives but to the lives of the sisters that they love.

One also has the distinct impression that Space Force is playing its own win-win game. If the mission or missions fail, they have gotten rid of one or more thorns in their side. Any missions that succeed, well they’ll have managed to get the attention of the Eons and help for Earth against the deadly and despicable Kantos.

And Space Force is probably lying about any rewards that the sisters have been promised, particularly the reward that Eve will be pardoned and released. I doubt they ever believed that she would survive in the first place.

One thing that Space Force has not lied about or even exaggerated is the threat that the Kantos pose to Earth. The Kantos are bugs. Big bugs. Evil bugs. Highly evolved and specialized bugs. Nasty bugs all the way around.

They also feel like a cross between the Gizzida (from this author’s Hell Squad series) and the Borg, with a bit of Wraith from Stargate Atlantis thrown in for their use of humans as food. And for their hive ships.

In other words, the Kantos are seriously mean and nasty and have no redeeming characteristics from the perspective of either the humans or the Eons. The Kantos want to conquer Earth (and Eon) so they can strip their worlds bare and eat the inhabitants.

That the Kantos are in the form of giant bugs just makes them extra creepy. And icky. And did I mention creepy?

The story in Touch of Eon is not dissimilar to that of the first book in the series, Edge of Eon. Lara knows that her sister Eve was sent on a suicide mission, and has been told that if she completes her own mission her sister will be saved and freed. And that if she is successful in getting the Eons’ attention, they will help Earth against the Kantos.

All of the Traynor sisters so far have wondered at the wisdom of stealing from the Eons as a way of obtaining their help. It shouldn’t work. That it actually seems to be working is due more to a fluke of Eon biology than any planning on the part of Space Force – an organization which honestly couldn’t plan its way out of a paper bag.

In Touch of Eon, Lara’s mission was to steal the relics of the Eons’ greatest warriors. The relics, jewels containing primitive versions of the symbionts that provide the Eon warriors with their armor and weapons, are highly symbolic. They are also sought by the Kantos, for reasons that are not known at the beginning of this entry in the series.

But Lara is chasing – and successfully stealing, the gems. Eon warrior Caze Vann-Jad is enjoying himself just a little too much chasing – but not catching, Lara. Until they are forced by the pursuing Kantos to join forces against this latest threat.

And in the process discover that the reason they were having so much fun sparring with each other has to do with that thin line between hate and love. They are perfect for each other – if they can manage to live long enough to figure out what’s at the heart of their constant bickering.

And what’s hidden in each other’s heart.

Escape Rating A-: As you can tell, I loved this story. And it’s given me even more to think about than the first book in the series. At the same time, a lot of the story beats and even the way that the romance progresses is also very similar to Edge of Eon – which makes Touch of Eon an A- instead of an A.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Heart of Eon. Not just because I want to see the romance between the geeky Wren and her own warrior, but also because I’m really curious about where the worldbuilding goes from here. And I want to see some people at Space Force get what’s coming to them!

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser (Endeavor, #1) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Endeavor #1
Pages: 404
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A delicious new heart-pounding romantic adventure from USA Today bestseller Amanda Bouchet!

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

My Review:

Nightchaser reminds me of so many skiffy (science fictional) things that it’s hard to pick one. Or even two or three.

Particularly in the beginning, there’s a whole lot of Firefly. Not so much that you need to be familiar with the show to get the book, not at all. The characters and the setting of Nightchaser are most definitely capable of standing on their own.

However, if you do have fond memories of Firefly, the beginning of the story has a lot of similar elements. Or to put it another way, if Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam were one slightly crazed and depressed person you’d end up with someone a lot like Tess Bailey. The big difference is that Tess’ highly sought-after anomalies are physical rather than mental. And not that Tess isn’t a bit mental, but in her case that’s the effect and not the cause of her troubles.

We meet Tess and the crew of her cargo ship Endeavor as they are on the run from the forces of the tyrannical and repressive Galactic Overlord, in the person of her uncle Bridgebane. He’s hunting Tess because her father, the aforementioned Galactic Overlord, wants her back so he can turn her back into a lab rat. There’s something “different” about Tess and he wants it studied, used and abused.

Tess has just stolen a secret lab filled with samples of her own blood, mutated into serum intended to create supersoldiers, along with one of the supersoldiers. Daddy Dearest wants the lab – and Tess – back.

Tess and her crew pilot their ship into a black hole, intending to escape or die trying.

The first happens immediately – to everyone’s surprise. The second, unfortunately, nearly happens later.

But first, the Endeavor has to hole up on a planet – any planet – to repair the damage the Overseer’s battlecruisers have done to her. And that’s where fate, or at least romance, in the person of Shade Ganavan steps in.

Shade is a parts dealer with a whole lot of secrets and an unexpected yen for Tess Bailey. A situation that gets a whole lot more complicated when his secret life as a government bounty hunter lets him know that Tess is a prize worth enough to solve all the problems he’s been working on for ten years.

He just has to give up the best thing that’s ever happened to him to cash in. And he can’t manage to decide which he wants more – to buy back his family’s lost legacy – or Tess.

His indecision lasts one little bit too long – forcing him into an unplanned reveal, an unintended betrayal, and the loss of everything he ever wanted.

Because if Tess recovers, she’s not going to want him back. Not even if he brings back her cat.

Escape Rating A-: Nightchaser does remind me of Firefly – and a whole lot of other marvelous SF and SFR adventures. If you’ve read Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace series, or Nina Croft’s Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series, or Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe, you’ll find pieces of all of them in Nightchaser. Along with a bit of the rebels vs. the evil empire that is such an integral part of Star Wars.

But those are all terrific antecedents, so anything that’s made of parts of them starts at a pretty awesome place.

A big part of this story is the setting up of the SFnal universe in which this series takes place. We kind of jump right into the action, with the crew of the Endeavor on the run, and then Tess making her dramatic speech and big reveal just before they leap to what seems like certain death – only to discover that it isn’t.

After that we get a slightly more leisurely introduction to this universe, as they dock at planet Albion 5 for repairs. Not only do we meet our hero Shade, but through Tess’ eyes we see how not just this planet but this universe actually works. We get onboard with the tyranny of the Overseer, and through Tess’ interactions with people other than Shade we learn just how awful things are, and not just why Tess is part of the rebellion but why there needs to be a rebellion in the first place.

Tess’ interactions with the bookstore owner make the problems both intimate and universal at the same time. Imagination is illegal, books are censored, and bookstores are fined and hassled at every turn. And yet, the woman can’t stop trying.

And she gives Tess a cat! Bonk provides many of the necessary bits of both sweet and comic relief – even as he takes off on an unexpected adventure of his own.

But this is also a romance between two very broken people. Tess and Shade are strong and brittle, broken in so many ways that run deeper than the way that the Overseer and his “Brownshirts” make sure that everyone is to too broken down to resist. Neither of them trusts easily, and when Shane betrays Tess’ trust our hearts break with her.

That they live to fight another day – even after all the secrets seem to be revealed and all the depths appear to be plumbed – is bittersweet. The cost to win this undeclared war is going to be very high – and Tess will be at the center of paying it.

 

Review: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Review: The Gown by Jennifer RobsonThe Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

My Review:

Wedding dress of Elizabeth II. Photo taken on her wedding day, 20 November 1947

This is not about Elizabeth. Instead, it is a story of friendship, and family. And it is a story about the making of what is now a historical artifact, but was, once upon a time not so very long ago, a dress in which countless young women invested their hopes and dreams.

That one of those young women became the Queen of England is not the point of this story. Instead, this story is about two of the women, representing so many more, who worked tirelessly to make not just Elizabeth’s dreams but their own come true.

Even if theirs, at least, turn out to be rather different from what they expected.

There is a 21st century framing story wrapped around this gown, but the purpose of the frame is to take the reader back into the lives of two women in 1947, Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, one English and one French, who have both been scarred by the war – one more than the other.

And who were equally marked by the dark and dismal years after, but again, one more than the other.

Ann and Miriam meet in the embroidery room of the designer Norman Hartnell, whose signature was his use of embroidery in the gowns he designed for the upper crust of English society, particularly the royal family.

So we are there with Ann and Miriam as they work together on one of the studio’s great creations, and as they survive the intense furor that surrounds its secrecy. An intensity that costs them both so much.

As the story begins, we are at the end. Ann has died, and left her granddaughter Heather a mysterious legacy – a box of intricate embroidery samples – but no clues. Ann was extremely reticent about her life before she moved to Canada in 1948, and her family knows nothing about who she was, where she came from or why she emigrated. And that’s the way she wanted it.

But the mystery intrigues Heather. When she discovers that the beautiful samples in the box match the designs on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown, she is determined to discover whether her grandmother was one of the women who worked on it – and why she kept it a secret.

Heather’s search leads her back to the past – and into her own future.

Escape Rating A: It’s not the framing story that really grabs the reader – it’s what’s within that frame. Heather’s search is interesting for what it reveals, not for itself. But what it reveals is an incredible story with light and color, depth and heartbreak.

Miriam and Ann come from entirely different backgrounds. Ann is as English as the Tudor roses that she embroiders on the gown. Miriam, on the other hand, is a transplant. A refugee from Paris, a young woman who spent the Occupation hiding in plain sight from the Nazis until she was finally caught as a member of the Resistance. She was fortunate that the Nazis never discovered that she was also a Jew. Unlike the rest of her family, Miriam survived the war. But could not make herself remain in France and found herself in the studio of Norman Hartnell, working beside Ann.

As they work side by side on the gown, and eventually become friends, roommates and sisters-of-the-heart, the paths of their lives meet and eventually switch. Ann is forced to leave behind the work she loves and go to Canada. She never takes up the needle again – or at least not the embroidery needle. Miriam, after so much tragedy in her early life, finds happiness and eventually fame.

But the two never forget each other, even though they never meet again. That Ann sends Heather to Miriam brings the story beautifully full circle.

This is a story that is all about the feels. The desperation of the post-war austerity years, the fast friendship between two women who are otherwise alone in the world, the joy of doing fulfilling work and the pain of hard decisions.

And it’s as beautiful as the gown it celebrates.

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Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay BurokerBlood and Betrayal (The Emperor's Edge, #5) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #5
Pages: 374
Published by Lindsay Buroker on December 3, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last thing Maldynado Montichelu—former aristocrat and current ladies' man—ever wanted was to be left in charge. After all, the team just blew up a train, crashed a dirigible, and kidnapped the emperor. It's kind of an important time.

But, with Amaranthe captured by the nefarious Forge coalition, and Sicarius off to find her, the team is lacking in leaders. Also, Sicarius has made it clear that Maldynado’s life may be forfeit should anything happen to the emperor while he’s gone.

To make matters worse, Forge’s cutthroats are after Sespian, and the young emperor believes Maldynado's loyalties are suspect. As if it’s his fault that his older brother is working with the coalition to usurp the throne. If Maldynado can’t figure out how to earn the emperor’s trust quickly, Sespian will go off to confront their powerful enemies on his own.

Meanwhile, Amaranthe must find a way to escape from the coalition’s newest ally, Master Interrogator Pike, a man who plans to pull all of the secrets from her head, one way or another…

Blood and Betrayal is the fifth novel in The Emperor’s Edge series.

My Review:

Welcome to this week’s second entry in the “long time no see” series. Otherwise known as the “ how big a fool I was to stop reading this” series.

Back in 2013 I started the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, and fell headlong into her blend of fantasy, steampunk and SF. I also fell in love with her endlessly snarky five-man band of characters – even though the band eventually encompassed more than five characters, male or otherwise.

For a series that is set in a fantasy world that has elements of both steampunk and “pure” SF, the group dynamics of Amaranth Lokdon’s crew have the feel of the best sword-and-sorcery, you know the type where the hero and his sidekick slice and snark their way through a world that seems to be out to get them at every turn.

Amaranthe’s gang certainly is paranoid, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get them. As is certainly shown in this fifth entry in the series, Blood and Betrayal. And yes, there’s plenty of both within the pages of this thrill-a-minute story.

When last we left our heroes, five years ago and at the end of Conspiracy, Amaranthe had just been thrown out of the dirigible the gang had commandeered. In mid-flight. Of course.

As Blood and Betrayal opens, the gang is kind of in the same position that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in at the opening of The Two Towers – minus the death of Boromir (or his equivalent).

The remaining members of Amaranthe’s merry band of tricksters all want to find her and rescue her. But they are already in the middle of a mission to pretend to kidnap the young Emperor Sespian and uncover the plot to overthrow him – along with figuring out all of the other plans being hatched by the dangerous and mysterious group calling themselves Forge.

Sicarius, Amaranthe’s second-in-command, pet assassin and possible future lover, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He desperately needs to rescue Amaranthe. He equally desperately needs to keep the young Emperor safe – because unbeknownst to everyone except himself and Amaranthe, Emperor Sespian is his son.

And someone needs to lead the remaining members of the crew – because it’s dubious whether they’re remotely capable of leading themselves anywhere except into yet another disaster. But in order to save Amaranthe he’ll have to trust them anyway – with not just their own continued existence, but with the life of the son he doesn’t dare acknowledge.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire, out of the torture chamber and into a subterranean sub rosa meeting to overthrow the empire. With deadly alien machines chasing them every step of the way.

It’s all in a day’s work – at least until the ocean crashes in.

Escape Rating A: It’s been 5 years since I read the previous book in this series, but as soon as I started this one (admittedly after re-reading my reviews of the previous four) I fell right back into this world and was just as caught up in the interpersonal dynamics of this terrifically odd assortment of people as I was back then.

Not that I’m planning to wait another five years to read the next books in the series. I was reminded of just how much I loved this gang and now that I’m back I can’t wait to keep going. I will say that now that I’m listening to books more again I really wish that the next books had been recorded (the first five have been) so that I could listen while I drive and workout. The level of snarkitude of these folks would make this a perfect series to distract me on the treadmill.

The heart of this series is the character of Amaranthe Lokdon herself. As one of the members of her crew puts it, Amaranthe is the glue that holds the group together. None of them would have ever had much to do with one another, but over the course of the series they have run into her and gotten themselves stuck both to her and to each other.

This particular entry in the series has the challenge of keeping Amaranthe’s “glue” front and center while she herself is a tortured captive elsewhere and Sicarius is tracking her captors so that he can rescue her – if he can get there in time.

With Amaranthe and Sicarius out of the immediate picture, the perspective on the remaining gang’s part of the story shifts to Maldynado the disowned nobleman whose family just might be behind the conspiracy to overthrow the empire. Not that Maldynado knows anything about what they’re doing – they disowned him years ago.

With his reputation as a fop – a reputation he encourages at every turn – Maldynado finds it difficult to take charge of anything. His actions in this story give him a surprising chance to step out from Amaranthe’s comfortable shadow to stand in the light for a change – a position from which he generally gets shot at. A not uncommon scenario for everyone in Amaranthe’s orbit!

This is a story that takes its turns into dark places – and into the backgrounds of more of its characters in ways that explore what brought them to these circumstances. At the same time, it’s a roller coaster ride of a story that never lets up until the train – in this case the steamroller – pulls into a sharp breaking stop at the end of the ride.

But the fun’s not over yet. There’s more to come in Forged in Blood. There’s no way I’m waiting five more years to see what happens next!

Review: The Journey by John A. Heldt

Review: The Journey by John A. HeldtThe Journey (Northwest Passage #2) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #2
Pages: 231
Published by John A. Heldt on November 4th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 2010. When her entrepreneur husband dies in an accident, Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and directionless. She yearns for the simpler days of her youth, before she followed her high school sweetheart down a road that led to limitless riches but little fulfillment, and jumps at a chance to reconnect with her past at a class reunion. But when Michelle returns to Unionville, Oregon, and joins three classmates on a spur-of-the-moment tour of an abandoned mansion, she gets more than she asked for. She enters a mysterious room and is thrown back to 1979.

Distraught and destitute, Michelle finds a job as a secretary at Unionville High, where she guides her spirited younger self, Shelly Preston, and childhood friends through their tumultuous senior year. Along the way, she meets widowed teacher Robert Land and finds the love and happiness she had always sought. But that happiness is threatened when history intervenes and Michelle must act quickly to save those she loves from deadly fates. Filled with humor and heartbreak, THE JOURNEY gives new meaning to friendship, courage, and commitment as it follows an unfulfilled soul through her second shot at life.

My Review:

We went to a Bob Seger concert over the weekend. It relates to this book on two levels. The first is that sense that I get from the best of his music, like Night Moves, Against the Wind, Main Street and Like a Rock, of someone older looking back at their life with both reminiscence and regret. It truly is “strange how the night moves, with autumn closing in.”

The song Night Moves was released in late 1976, and would have still been playing on the radio, at least occasionally, when widowed Shelly Preston slips back in time from 2010 to 1979. I remember because I was listening to the radio too during the 1970s. In 1979, when the heart of this story takes place, I was 22 to the original Shelly’s 18. I made some of her choices then, and some of the choices she made later as well.

But I managed my life do-over much less dramatically than Shelly does when she goes down that dark stairwell in the old abandoned mansion and finds herself back home again, in 1979, watching herself go through the trials and tribulations of her senior year in high school. She does not “become” the young Shelly, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead, she takes a job at the local high school, becoming the adult friend and mentor that Shelly needed but didn’t have during her first go around.

The older Shelly, calling herself Michelle, does not choose the Star Trek “Prime Directive” as her modus operandi for her second trip through 1979. She is determined to do what she can to save whomever she can, and to give the younger Shelly the chance for a happier life.

That she gets to experience her own slice of happiness is a joy and a wonder. Even if it isn’t meant to be.

Escape Rating A+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, and sometimes I talk about how the story made me feel. If you haven’t already guessed, this is definitely one of those reviews that’s all about the feels.

At the beginning, I actually felt too close to the older Shelly. Her reflection on her life and the choices that led her to them hit way too close to home, to the point where I actually had to step back for an evening to get some distance from those feelings.

That a story made me reflect that much and feel that deeply is a testament to the writer. I absolutely loved his first book, The Mine, when I read it back in 2012. I have all the others but never went back to his writing – caught up in the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. I will not make that mistake again. This is a writer that seriously speaks to me.

Speaking of The Mine, do not let the description of The Journey as #2 in the Northwest Passage series keep you from reading this book, whether first or second. Although Joel Smith’s and Shelly Preston’s paths do cross in The Journey, it’s a very brief meeting and has no effect on either story.

These are both time travel stories with a hint of romance, and both are very powerful stories, but they’re not really tied to each other in the way that series sometimes are.

Also the time travel in both stories is fairly simple handwavium, as it should be. The time travel isn’t the point. It’s what the protagonists do with their new lives that’s the point. And it’s marvelous and beautiful and heartbreaking.

If you’re looking for a book to sweep you up, make you reflect, and possibly even make you ugly cry just a bit, take your own trip back in time with The Journey. Bring tissues.