Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi VoThe Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Pages: 122
Published by Tor.com on March 24, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor's lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She's a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

My Review:

This was lovely. And fascinating. I have the feeling I’ll need to read it again to have even a shot at picking up everything there is to pick up from this tiny and perfect little story.

It feels like the creation of a myth – or the exploration of one. It reads like it’s a bit of hidden history – a history that has been suppressed and that, of necessity, will continue to be suppressed.

From one perspective, it’s the story of all the women who have been lost to history – all of the lost and the murdered and the exiled and especially the silenced. It’s a tale as old as time, but not one of the pretty ones.

It’s the story of a princess bartered away for peace between two kingdoms, a princess who is cast into exile and imprisonment when her days of usefulness are over. And it is all the tragedy that the scenario implies.

At the same time, it’s a story about not just fighting back, but actually about triumphing over one’s oppressors. About taking what are supposed to be the ruins of a life and turning them into something sharp and pointed and ultimately victorious.

It’s a story about being forced into the shadows and becoming the knife that strikes from the dark.

An empress is forced into exile. Instead of taking her exile in any of the ways that exiled empresses usually do, she finds a way to turn the tables on her oppressor – by gathering up the talents of all the forgotten ones in the land she will come to rule.

But this isn’t her story. Not exactly.

It’s the story of her faithful servant, handmaiden and secret lover. The story of the woman who befriended and enabled her, and who sacrificed her own happiness to make her rise possible.

So it feels a bit like a historical fable, in the setting of an Asian period drama. It also has something to say about history, how it’s written, how it’s discovered, how it’s preserved.

Whether the teller of that history is a ghost, a spirit or just one of those forgotten voices is left to the reader to decide.

But whoever is telling this story, or discovering it, or recording it, it’s beautiful and haunting every step of its way.

Escape Rating A-: It took me a bit to get into this, quite likely because it wasn’t what I was expecting. The story is not told in a straightforward fashion. Instead it’s dribbled out in little sips and small bites, as the former handmaiden – or her ghost or spirit – reveals it bit by bit to the historian who has come looking for artifacts to document the hidden facets of an all-too-recent history.

It reads like a legend, like a myth or story being told, with hints and oblique views and a lesson that’s meant to be inferred rather than explained.

There’s certainly a feminist bent to it if you look, as all of the major characters are female and this is definitely a story where the woman who was supposed to fade into obscurity instead takes control – and is extremely subversive but effective at it.

In the end, the empress creates her own myth, and we’re reading that myth as it’s told by the person who helped to create and shape it. There’s a lyrical quality to the telling that doesn’t so much grab the reader as insinuate itself into the reader’s consciousness.

Although this is labelled as fantasy, it’s fantasy of the mythic variety. It’s fantasy because it’s not SF and it’s not anything else – not because there is any practicing magic. But magic there definitely is.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-22-20

Sunday Post

Anyone who has ever believed that cats are aloof and not affectionate has not spent an hour trying to distract a cat who is screaming “I want daddy! Where’s my daddy?” at the top of her little kitty lungs, as well as basically trying to drag her secondary human around the house in the hopes of finding her primary human RIGHT MEOW! (If you’re wondering, Galen is outside mowing the lawn while the sun is shining, because it’s supposed to rain yet again today.)

 

 

 

I hope that wherever you are, you are safe, healthy and not completely stir-crazy yet. And that you are able to maintain yourself, your family and your health insurance in this continuing crisis. We are ALL in this together, no matter how far apart we need to physically be.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Leaping Leprechauns Giveaway Hop is Elizabeth H.

Blog Recap:

Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick Weekes
B+ Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne
B+ Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker
A+ Review: Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton
Stacking the Shelves (384)

Coming This Week:

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (review)
Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (review)
Paladin by Anna Hackett (review)
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (review)
Matzah Ball Surprise by Laura Brown (review)

Stacking the Shelves (384)

Stacking the Shelves

As we enter week 2 – or is it week 3 – of the pandemic, are you sheltering in place? Are you working from home? Are you still going to a workplace? Most importantly, ARE YOU OK?

At the moment, it feels like we are all getting an object lesson in the reason why the phrase, “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse and not a blessing. While there is undoubtedly plenty of cursing going on, there are plenty of blessings to be had if one looks for them – or at least there are if one is safe, healthy, fed and fortunate enough to be not too frantic about one’s immediate future prospects of remaining at least two out of those three.

We’re probably all worrying about our own health, that of our loved ones, and that of our community as a whole. Even in its many, many socially distanced parts. Please stay safe out there, and in there.

Also take some time to remind yourself that a book is a great vehicle for taking you far away from where you are when you have to remain where you are.

For Review:
A Bad Day for Sunshine (Sunshine Vicram #1) by Darynda Jones
The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey
The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #1) by M.R. Carey
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
Dead Land (V.I. Warshawski #22)  by Sara Paretsky
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Girl and the Stars (Book of the Ice #1) by Mark Lawrence
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez
He Started It by Samantha Downing
Her Seafaring Scoundrel (Crawfords #3) by Sophie Barnes
The Hocus Girl (Simon Westow #2) by Chris Nickson
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
The Human Son by Adrian J. Walker
A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe
Island Affair (Keys to Love #1) by Priscilla Oliveras
Jack by Connie Willis
The King’s Beast (Bone Rattler #6) by Eliot Pattison
The Last Emperox (Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi
The Last Hunt (Benny Griessel #7) by Deon Meyer
Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier
Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen
The Lost Boys of London (Bianca Goddard #5) by Mary Lawrence
The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey
Master Class by Christina Dalcher
Our Riches by Kaouther Adimi
Paladin (House of Rone #4) by Anna Hackett
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan
The Rakess (Society of Sirens #1) by Scarlett Peckham
The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry
A Shadow Intelligence by Oliver Harris
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia
To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

Review: Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

Review: Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. HamiltonKnight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton
Format: eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: sword and sorcery, urban fantasy
Series: Dragonslayer #2
Pages: 320
Published by Tor Books on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

*AUTHOR OF ONE OF BUZZFEED'S GREATEST FANTASY BOOKS OF 2013*From the author of the beloved Society of Sword and Wolf of the North trilogies, Duncan M. Hamilton's Knight
of the Silver Circle
--the sequel adventure-packed fantasy to Dragonslayer in The Dragonslayer trilogy--is perfect for fans of magical beasts and unexpected heroes

Three dragons wreak havoc throughout Mirabay--eating livestock, killing humans, and burning entire villages to ash. It was nearly impossible to kill one, using a legendary sword and the magic of the mysterious Cup; to tackle three, Guillot dal Villerauvais will need help.

The mage Solène fears having to kill again; she leaves Gill to gain greater control over her magic.

The Prince Bishop still wants Gill dead, but more than that, he wants the Cup, and he'll do whatever he has to to get it, even sending his own daughter--a talented thief and assassin--into the dragons' path.

As secrets mount on secrets and betrayals on betrayals, both Guillot and Solène face critical decisions that will settle not only their own fate but that of all Mirabaya.

The Dragonslayer Trilogy: 1. Dragonslayer2. Knight of the Silver Circle3. Servant of the Crown

My Review:

I want to call Guillot dal Villerauvais an antihero, because if there’s one thing the man does not want to be, it’s a hero. He’s been there and done that and knows, for sure, for certain and for true, that the so-called glory is empty. As tempting as the adulation still is, he’s all too aware that it’s a cup of poison.

And so much of his personal behavior since he left the capital in disgrace five years ago has been, well, let’s call it less than heroic that it feels wrong for him to accept any of it. He knows he has plenty to atone for – and that killing the dragon that destroyed his village is just a drop in a very large bucket.

But now that he’s needed, truly needed – and feels guilty as hell about why he’s needed even though it isn’t his fault – he’s there. On the front line. In front of the damn dragon. Or in this book, dragons, plural.

Once Gill learns that the dragon he killed wasn’t the only one left in the world after all, he sets out to kill the not one but three that seem to have followed in its wake. After all, he’s the only “experienced” dragonslayer in Mirabaya – or anywhere else – in more than a thousand years.

He’ll just have to put that experience to work – again, and again, and again.

But without the help of his unsung assistant, the sorceress Solène. Solène unlocked the secrets that gave the original Knights of the Silver Circle their power. Solène can’t control her magic – to the point where that lack of control will kill her.

So she leaves Gill with the magical cup, the words to say, and a hope and a prayer that it will be enough to see him through.

While the Prince Bishop plots back in the capital to steal the glory that Gill has no use for, the cup that makes it all possible, and the kingdom if he can manage it.

He almost certainly can. He’ll just need a little bit of magic – along with a ruthless desire to let nothing stand in his way. Not even the king he’s supposed to serve.

Escape Rating A+: So far, this series has turned out to be a joy and a delight. I loved Dragonslayer, to the point where I couldn’t stand to wait for the utterly marvelous audiobook to play out and switched to the ebook just to see what happened that much faster. As I did this time around, switching from audio to text at about the 40% mark.

It’s obvious that I have no more patience waiting to see how a good book tells its story than the Prince Bishop does waiting for all of his many, many plans to ripen to fruition.

Like the first book in the series, this second book tells its rather epic story in a relatively short number of pages while keeping its large scope. At the same time, it hews to its sword and sorcery roots by switching perspectives from the swordsman Gill to the burgeoning sorceress Solène to the power-hungry politician Amaury with all the aplomb of the ablest swashbuckler.

But the washed-up, wasted, struggling Gill is the true hero and the true focus. Solène has her own story, but a big part of our interest in her revolves around her aid to Gill. And Amaury, well, Amaury is the villain and nemesis that every good hero needs. Smart, politically savvy, utterly ruthless and completely without remorse.

A big part of this entry in the series, which is a middle book that manages totally NOT to feel like one, is on the dragon hunt. Several of them, appropriately, as there are not one but three dragons this time around. There’s plenty of glory to be had, and plenty of men looking to grab it. That they are underprepared and less than successful is no surprise but adds plenty of drama and action to the story.

At the same time, there’s an underlying truth to this part of the saga that reminds me in a very peculiar way of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. If you’re not familiar, that’s the one with the whales. And Mirabaya or at least its Prince Bishop, like the Earth of that movie, is about to discover that the thing that can save them is the thing that they’ve been so successful at destroying.

The ways in which that destruction will bite someone, or several someones, in the ass will be revealed in the final book in the trilogy, Servant of the Crown. Which I can’t wait to start in the morning.

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay BurokerBattle Bond (Death Before Dragons #2) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #2
Pages: 316
Published by Lindsay Buroker on March 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

If you think having one dragon around messes up your life, imagine what it’s like when a second one shows up.

I’m Val Thorvald, assassin of magical bad guys and tenuous ally to the dragon lord Zav.

He still calls me a mongrel and thinks I’m a criminal, but he healed my wounds after we fought those dark elves together. That’s progress, right? Maybe one day, he’ll deign to use my name.

Not that this is my primary concern. I’m busy with a new assignment. Nin, the awesome lady who makes my magical weapons, has a werewolf problem. Specifically, sleazy loser werewolf competitors who want to drive her out of business. Or worse.

Normally, a couple of werewolves wouldn’t be a big deal, but these ones have powerful allies. And then there’s that new dragon.

It turns out he’s one of Zav’s enemies, and he wants to use me against him.

I don’t know why he’s picking on me—it’s not like I mean something to Zav—but somehow I’ve gotten stuck in the middle of dragon politics. If you think that sounds like a nightmare, you’re right.

If I can’t figure out a way to help my friend with the werewolves while keeping these dragons from tearing me apart, we’re both going to end up flatter than the deck chairs when Zav lands on the roof of my apartment building.

My Review:

After falling into the first book in this series, Sinister Magic, earlier this month, I was on pins and needles waiting for Val’s second outing to arrive on my ereader. And Battle Bond generally did not disappoint.

Even if I haven’t figured out the title yet. I’m saying that because I just realized what the “sinister magic” of the first title referred to. I wasn’t having much luck with understanding the series title either, until I read a bit of background posted on the author’s site and she explained it was all about Val’s perspective, that she would prefer to be dead rather than become a dragon’s pawn or thrall.

Not that she doesn’t keep ending up in just that position – but she gets better. Also her own personal dragon, while still copping a smug and superior attitude that should get him a slap upside the head, is, not exactly mellowing, but becoming a bit less unbearable.

Particularly in comparison to the dragon that has come to our Earth in order to bait, annoy and try to kill Val’s good frenemy, the dragon Zavryd. A dragon who really doesn’t like it when Val refers to him as Zav.

The story in Battle Bond picks up immediately after the ending of Sinister Magic. Val’s government boss is still recovering from the magical cancer that the dark elves infected her with, and Val is still driving the government loaner Jeep that she requisitioned after Zav threw her old Jeep into the upper branches of a very tall tree.

In this outing, Val’s cases, as is probably going to turn out to be usual for her, intersect with a vengeance. Also with actual vengeance.

A dragon has come to Earth to harass Zav, for reasons that will probably become clear later in the series when we – and Val – know a whole lot more about dragon politics back on Zav’s homeworld.

Meanwhile this dragon is kidnapping children. And hikers. And eventually taking over large but remote government compounds, all as part of a twisted desire to put Zav off his game so that he can be eliminated. Possibly eliminating Val along the way.

But Val also has a case that she is taking pro bono. Her friend and magical weapons supplier Nin is being harassed by a pride of big cat shifters who want to drive her out of business. If they put her in the ground as part of that driving out they really don’t care.

Val, however, cares a LOT. She just has to find a way to convince an entire pride of over a dozen members and growing – also growling, that Val AND Nin are not to be messed with. Possibly by messing with them – permanently. Whether she’s supposed to or not.

Both cases prove to Val that none of the things she thought she wrapped up at the end of the first book are remotely done with her yet. And that she’s going to be ass-deep in dark elves AND dragons for the foreseeable future.

If she has one.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like Val as a character. She has all kinds of doubts and fears, making her very human in spite of her half-elven parentage. She’s also got some really interesting quirks and a seriously problematic Achilles heel. She’s far, far from perfect, and she’d be the first to admit it.

That she has a therapist who can’t help but remind her of all the ways she’s failing herself just adds to the portrait of the kickass heroine as a flawed human being – whether or not she’s only half-human.

For the most part, Battle Bond is at the same breakneck-pace-with-occasional-pauses as the first book in the series. Val’s world, the mixture of the magical and the mundane that she has to navigate, is complicated by its resemblance to the world we know. Finding out what makes it different among the sameness requires some tricky and time-consuming but pace-slowing worldbuilding. Something that I’m generally for and complain about when I don’t get so I’m happy to see that investment here at the beginning.

At the same time there’s still quite a bit of setup over the first half of the book. But once this one gets going – once all of Val’s ducks have been completely knocked out of alignment and all of her plans have been subjected to Murphy’s Law, the entire thing kicks into very high gear.

I want to say that Val leaps out of the frying pan into the fire, but that’s not strictly true. Val is trying to do the right thing under some very difficult constraints – especially the constraint that the government for the most part refuses to acknowledge that magic exists and therefore doesn’t have much of an arsenal for dealing with or recovering from it. And that her mandate is to eliminate the threat to the human population while the dragon Zav’s mandate is to punish and rehabilitate evildoers from his realm who have come to Earth. It’s more like Val leaps out of the frying pan and the fire just appears – over and over and over.

There is a sense that Val spends a lot of this story as a chew toy being fought over by two dragons who both think of her as a MUCH lesser being but are more than happy to use her for their own ends. And that in spite of her stated desire to die rather than become a dragon’s pawn, she spends a lot of this installment being just that.

She does get better. For the most part. But this book does hint at an eventual romance between Val and Zav, and I’ll admit that so far I’m not there for it. It’s going to take a LOT of this author’s generally excellent worldbuilding and character development to get me there.

But I’ll be back next month for the third book in the series, Tangled Truths, to see just how that turns out!

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne ThayneThe Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on March 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.

My Review:

One of the great things about being part of, let’s call it pre-Millennial Generation is that all of our youthful embarrassments and peccadilloes were thankfully NOT recorded and posted on the interwebs for all to see – and for all to resurrect from the dusty vaults of the Internet Archive or the Wayback Machine if we become even semi-famous, whether accidentally or on purpose.

However, some of us wrote in diaries made out of dead-tree stuff. In other words, paper. And paper is a fantastic way of preserving the thoughts and feelings of the past – whether those thoughts and feelings deserve preservation or not.

The things that Olivia Harper and her late sister Natalie wrote in their high school diaries creep out of the dusty past to bedevil and haunt not just the still-surviving – and still wounded – Olivia after all these years, but also Natalie’s daughter Caitlin, now 15 and searching for the baby daddy that her mother never revealed to a soul. Not her daughter, not her mother, not her sister, not her best friend – not even the baby daddy himself.

There’s also a feeling that this story is about self-protection and self-preservation, especially of the variety where we lie to someone in a way that is supposed to protect them, but is really all about covering our own broken places and protecting ourselves.

At the heart of this story, of the Sea Glass Cottage itself, is a circle of those kinds of social – and emotionally distancing – lies.

Olivia’s ability to continue telling herself she is absolutely fine is shaken when she witnesses a senseless attack in her favorite coffee shop. Her emotional and physical distance from her mother is shattered when her mother’s fall from a ladder puts Juliet into the hospital and rehab, forcing Juliet to acknowledge that she needs her daughter’s help – and that she’s in love with her friend and neighbor, Henry.

Olivia’s return to Cape Sanctuary makes her re-examine her life, her relationships, and the job that keeps her well-paid but prevents her from fulfilling her dreams.

And Caitlin’s compulsive reading of both her mother’s and her aunt’s teenage diaries brings all of the secrets that have been hidden out into the open, surprising everyone with just how much they’ve all been hiding in the vain attempt to keep each other “safe”.

The kind of safety they are all trying to maintain is an illusion, but love, on the other hand, is very, very real. If you let it in.

Escape Rating B+: The Sea Glass Cottage isn’t really a romance, in spite of the number of romances that take place within its pages. And not that two of its heroines don’t find their HEA by the time the story ends.

But the heart of this story is the relationship between three generations of Harper women, grandmother Juliet, daughter Olivia, and granddaughter Caitlin. And even 15-year-old Caitlin’s HEA is hinted at being somewhere in her future, just not yet.

But it’s the way that the relationships among the three women are changed by Juliet’s accident and Olivia’s return to Sanctuary Cove that create the beating heart of this story. And at the center of their story – and their estrangements – are a series of lies and half-truths that have kept them apart and in some ways kept them broken for most of Caitlin’s life.

What reshapes their story and their lives is the unraveling of the truth about the events that took Steve Harper’s life all those years ago. Juliet’s husband Steve was the chief of the volunteer fire department, and he died in a fire that he should never have entered, alone and unequipped, because he believed his daughter’s best friend was inside the burning house.

And that’s a burden that Cooper Vance, the best friend in question, has been shouldering alone for all these years. He feels like he’s the reason his friend and mentor died, and indirectly the reason that the Harper family fell to shreds – as well as the reason that Natalie fell into addiction until it killed her.

Caitlin’s discovery of her mother’s and her aunt’s diaries has opened all of the old wounds, but Caitlin, like Cooper, like Juliet and like Olivia, tries to bear the weight of those secrets alone. Until they all come spilling out, all the ugly truths are finally revealed, and healing can finally begin.

At the beginning of the story, Caitlin is, quite honestly, a bitch all the way around. She’s 15 and trying to hold a terrible secret. She lashes out at pretty much everyone around her, and her parts are difficult to read for quite a while into the story. She does get less abrasive as the story goes on and the reveals start coming, but it takes a while.

She’s holding her aunt Olivia responsible for crap she said when she was hurting, oddly enough around the age that Caitlin is now. But Caitlin isn’t able to make the leap from her own hurt feelings to the idea that an adult in her life, one that she loved and respected, was once a whiny teenage girl – just like her.

The romances are of the extremely slow burn variety. A burn that catches its fire off-screen, but the slow progression of the romances feels right for the way that the story works. I found it particularly poignant that one of those romances featured 50something Olivia, and was with her younger friend and neighbor at that! Her hesitance and the reasons for it felt very real.

Although the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, setting up the relationships, the crises, the family background and all the secrets. Once this one gets going, it reads really fast as the hits come thick and fast and all of the burning issues get resolved. So when you start this one, have a little patience and hang on for a lovely read!

Review: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick Weekes

Review: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick WeekesDragon Age: Tevinter Nights by Patrick Weekes, John Epler, Brianne Battye, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Sylvia Feketekuty
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy, sword and sorcery
Pages: 496
Published by Tor Books on March 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An anthology of original stories based on the dark fantasy, role-playing video game series from Bioware.

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed.

Welcome to Thedas.

From the stoic Grey Wardens to the otherworldly Mortalitasi necromancers, from the proud Dalish elves to the underhanded Antivan Crow assassins, Dragon Age is filled with monsters, magic, and memorable characters making their way through dangerous world whose only constant is change.

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights brings you fifteen tales of adventure, featuring faces new and old, including:

"Three Trees to Midnight" by Patrick Weekes
"Down Among the Dead Men" by Sylvia Feketekuty
"The Horror of Hormak" by John Epler
"Callback" by Lukas Kristjanson
"Luck in the Gardens" by Sylvia Feketekuty
"Hunger" by Brianne Battye
"Murder by Death Mages" by Caitlin Sullivan Kelly
"The Streets of Minrathous" by Brianne Battye
"The Wigmaker" by Courtney Woods
"Genitivi Dies in the End" by Lukas Kristjanson
"Herold Had the Plan" by Ryan Cormier
"An Old Crow's Old Tricks" by Arone Le Bray
"Eight Little Talons" by Courtney Woods
"Half Up Front" by John Epler
"Dread Wolf Take You" by Patrick Weekes

My Review:

If this is your jam, if Dragon Age is your jam, then Tevinter Nights is the jammiest jam that ever jammed. But I have to say upfront that if you’re not already into Thedas, this collection is not the place to get there. The place to begin is the awesome, absorbing videogame Dragon Age Origins, which premiered in 2009 and has, so far, spawned two sequels, the under regarded, boringly named but eminently playable Dragon Age II, and the later Dragon Age Inquisition. Those of us who love the series and replay it endlessly are now in year 6 of waiting for Dragon Age 4, which looks like it’s going to be titled The Dread Wolf Rises and not rise in real life until 2022 at the earliest.

I’m not sure whether the Tevinter Nights collection is designed as a teaser, as a hint of things to come, or just to drive us even crazier waiting. Whatever the case, for fans the collection is a terrific way of seeing parts of Thedas we have heard of but not seen much of – at least not yet – catch a few glimpses of beloved characters, and just generally have a good time in a place we’ve come to know and love.

And the stories themselves, well, if you’re familiar with where they’re coming from, the collection is a rollicking good time. Maybe not all of the stories are quite worthy of a Tethras (Hard in Hightown) but a good time is certainly had by all, especially if you’re also into the sword and sorcery school of fantasy, because that’s where this collection mostly falls. With a couple of toe dips into the very dark fantasy edges of horror.

Dragging myself back from the squeeing to talk about the stories themselves, as I said, they are all pretty much playing in the sword and sorcery end of the fantasy pond, so there are lots of assassins, lots of dastardly plots and LOTS of murders. Then again, several of the stories feature the Antivan Crows, and assassination is their business.

The story I found to be the absolute most fun was Down Among the Dead Men by Sylvia Feketekuty. While part of that fun was that it is set in Nevarra, a place we haven’t been, and in the Grand Necropolis, under the purview of Nevarra’s Mortalitasi, the mages who maintain the Crypts and their dead and demonic denizens of whom we’ve heard much but not met many.

On the surface this story reads like a dungeon crawl into a dungeon full of creepy, crawly undead monsters, but it subverts itself in the end. The “I see dead people” is expected, the “I be dead people” is rather a shock for our guardsman hero. That he achieves his lifelong dream of becoming a librarian as a dead person turns the gallows humor into a smile.

The two stories that edge the closest to outright horror are the aptly named The Horror of Hormak by John Epler and The Wigmaker by Courtney Woods. While their portraits of previously unseen parts of Thedas are fascinating, it’s the evils faced by the protagonists that make both of these stories sing their creepy songs. It wouldn’t have taken much for either of these stories to be just plain horror in any setting, but Thedas gives both of them a bit of extra gruesome spice. That The Wigmaker can also be read as a scathing commentary on the real-life fashion industry just adds to the chills it engenders.

The two stories that dealt most directly with characters that fans are familiar with from the series are Callback and Genitivi Dies in the End, both by Lukas Kristjanson. Both of his stories rely on readers’ knowledge of the series, and both take that knowledge and use it to tell stories that pull the reader right back into this beloved world while telling new stories with old friends. Callback is a particularly poignant post-Inquisition story, while the story around Genitivi, while “enhanced” by knowing the character and the world, is actually a well-done version of an often told type of story, one about storytellers and storytelling and the way that so-called history can be embellished – or not – as the tale-teller decides. Or as the tale-teller requires in order to get out of town with a whole skin.

Last, but not least, the one that sent chills up my spine not for its creepy or horrific elements but for the way that it continues the post-Inquisition story by giving us a view of exactly what the Dread Wolf has been up to since the end of Dragon Age Inquisition. The final end of the Trespasser DLC when he announced that he planned to essentially destroy the world in order to save his own people and correct the wrong he committed Ages ago. He’s just as proud, self-deluded and self-serving as ever, and just as hot and just as cold, all at the same time. I can’t help but hope that his original name might be prophetic in some way. And that this time “Pride” will go before a very big fall. He certainly has the hubris for it.

We’ll see. Eventually. In 2022 or 2023. Not nearly soon enough. But if you love epic fantasy of the somewhat grimdark persuasion, enjoy experiencing a story through videogaming, and have not yet had the pleasure of going to Thedas, you have plenty of time to work your way through the entire series before The Dread Wolf Rises.

If you have already fallen in love with Thedas as I have, we have these stories to tease us and tide us over.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this collection. Fans will love this collection. Everyone else will wonder what the fuss is about. But for those of us who already know what the fuss is about, Tevinter Nights is a very fun read.

Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

 

Welcome to the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

This is always a weird hop for me. Snow can be much fun, as long as one is inside watching it fall instead of outside trying to deal with it. But snow here in Atlanta is such a rare event that it is pretty much ALWAYS fun.

Very much on my other hand, at the moment we are all supposed to be staying in and watching whatever fall. That “whatever” being COVID-19.

And even as someone who normally works from home and doesn’t go out a whole lot, it is VERY different to be in the house because I have to be as opposed to because I want to be. That it’s expected to be a “gloomy Gus” of a week here weatherwise does not exactly help. If we’d wanted to live someplace where the weather is gray and gloomy, we’d have stayed in either Anchorage or Seattle. But the weather certainly fits the week and the mood.

But this does make for a GREAT time to stay in and READ. So if you’re looking to get a new book or two (or two dozen!) to tide you over, winning either the Amazon Gift Card or the Book should be a bit of help in that goal!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-15-20

Sunday Post

This has certainly been one hell of a week. It started with losing an hour to Daylight Saving Time, ended with Friday the 13th and included the declaration of a worldwide epidemic. I have a feeling that this week is going to turn out to be one of those defining moments, the kind where life is marked as “Before” and “After”. Lives are changing, behaviors are changing, and some of those changes will have long-term consequences, while others will not. It will take time and distance to learn which are which.

And speaking of distance, “social distancing” has become a huge phenomenon amazingly quickly. Those of us who are introverts and especially those of us introverts who work from home, are kind of used to that. At the same time, this weekend is teaching us that there’s a big difference between staying home because we want to and staying home because we have to.

I know there will be a lot of walks and Sunday drives in our future, but probably not this weekend. It’s raining as I type this on Saturday, and more rain is predicted for the ENTIRE week!

Stay safe out there – or in there – as the case may be.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Leaping Leprechauns Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!!!)

Blog Recap:

A++ Review: A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
A- Review: Love Hard by Nalini Singh
A- Review: Dangerous Territory by Lindsay Schopfer
B+ Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde
A+ Review: Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton
Stacking the Shelves (383)

Coming This Week:

Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop
Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick Weekes (review)
The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne (blog tour review)
Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker (review)
The Lane Betrayal by John A. Heldt (review)

Stacking the Shelves (383)

Stacking the Shelves

It certainly looks like I’ll have plenty to read while practicing “social distancing” during the current situation! Wherever you are, I hope that you are safe and healthy and taking care of yourself and your loved ones.

For Review:
88 Names by Matt Ruff
Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn
Bears Behaving Badly (BeWere My Heart #1) by MaryJanice Davidson
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
A Conspiracy of Bones (Temperance Brennan #19) by Kathy Reichs
Daisy Cooper’s Rules for Living by Tamsin Keily
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
The Deep by Alma Katsu
Deprivation by Roy Freirich
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith
The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz
Grown-Up Pose by Sonya Lalli
Hammer to Fall (Joe Wilderness #3) by John Lawton
Hannah’s War by Jan Eliasberg
Hide Away (Rachel Marin #1) by Jason Pinter
House of Lies (Cat Carlisle #3) by Terry Lynn Thomas
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
If She Were Dead by J.P. Smith
The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman
The Mail Order Bride by R. Kent
Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing (Profesorowa Szczupaczyńska #1) by Maryla Szymiczkowa
Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen
The Return by Rachel Harrison
Untamed Shore by Silvia Morena-Garcia
Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World
by Mackenzi Lee (audio)
Condor (Miranda Chase #3) by M.L. Buchman
Origins of Honor: An Action-Thriller Collection by M.L. Buchman et al