Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson

Review: The Temple by Jean JohnsonThe Temple (Guardians of Destiny #4) by Jean Johnson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Guardians of Destiny #4
Pages: 333
Published by Penguin on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Synod gathers, tell them lies:

Efforts garnered in your pride
Lost beneath the granite face.
Painted Lord, stand by her side;
Repentance is the Temple's grace.

The Guardian of the Fountain of Mendhi is dying, and her successor must step up to the task. Disciplinarian Pelai is ready to accept the burden of managing the powerful magics, but the timing is inconvenient. She has one last Disciplining to perform: assigning the punishment of the three Puhon brothers--men whose lives are entwined with a prophecy of a cataclysmic demonic invasion.

Six months of travel have given Puhon Krais time to reflect on, regret, and repent his many mistakes. But the worst lies just ahead: defying the leadership of Mendhi means suffering harsh punishments at the hands of the Disciplinarians once he comes home. Commanded by his Goddess, the proud Painted Warrior must find the strength to submit to his destiny...or find himself, and his whole world, on the wrong side of history.

For in the end, one brother is destined to save humanity, one will betray humanity, and one will walk away from his humanity.

My Review:

I’ve frequently said that the wait between Jean Johnson’s books is a torment. That’s both especially true in the case of The Temple (it’s been four YEARS!) and especially appropriate in light of the story itself.

Waiting for fulfillment is just one of the sweet torments practiced by the Disciplinarians of the Temple of Menda in this fourth book in the Guardians of Destiny series. Although in the story it’s usually a different kind of delayed gratification used in that torment.

This story takes place in the aftermath of the events of the previous books in the series, The Tower, The Grove, and especially The Guild. At the same time, it also follows the pattern set by those stories, and the prophetic verses that begin each book in the series.

Two of those events have particular bearing on this story. In this world, nations exist to worship a particular deity, or perhaps two. Those deities are not myths, they are real and can manifest in the world. And occasionally do.

The societies reflect their god, and the gods reflect their society. One of the recent events that is still reverberating is the just finished Convocation of Gods and Man, where new nations and new gods are ratified, and gods that have really, really misbehaved get dissolved by their peers.

At the Convocation, the god Mekha was dissolved. His former country is picking up the pieces under the guidance of the Guardians Alonnen and Rexei. Their story is told in The Guild.

But the priests who served Mekha and were powerful because of that service are not willing to go gentle into that good night. Instead, they are desperately searching for any means, no matter how underhanded or terrible, to become powerful again. And they’re not in the least picky about what they’ll have to do, manifest, or summon in order to retake their lost power. Up to and including raising demons from the Netherhells.

The Guardians in all of the lands of this world are studying the prophecies in order to thwart them, and it is far from an easy job. Changing circumstances in one area can make things better in another – or it can actually make things worse later on.

It’s a big butterfly, and the wing flaps can have some seriously nasty consequences if everyone on the side of the light isn’t very, very careful.

The priests power-search has led them to the Great Library of Mendhi, and that’s where that part of the overarching story intersects with both the romance at the heart of this book in the series and the careful balancing of prophecies to make sure that what must happen does happen.

The country that hosts the Convocation gathers a lot of political power, and that ties into the rest of the events. The Elder Disciplinarian of Mendhi sent his three sons on to the Convocation in an attempt to disrupt it and move the location to Mendhi. All the gods were against this attempt, and all the prophecies were clear that this attempt would fail, but the Elder Disciplinarian and his political party refused to be swayed.

The Puhon Brothers have returned home, having failed as expected. Equally, their father expects them to be officially punished for their failure. Which kicks off another round of prophecy, as well as a surprising romance between two people who used to think of each other as enemies, only to discover that they are perfect for each other, after all.

Or after all the prophecies have had their way.

The Grove by Jean JohnsonEscape Rating B+: In spite of the high grade, this is still a mixed feelings kind of review.

First, I have to admit that I loved this story, and found myself sinking right back into this world, even after the unfortunate long absence. It took awhile for all of the threads from the previous books to gather back into my conscious, but the process was helped by a fair amount of backstory that was worked reasonably well into the story at hand.

This entry in the series is a particularly interesting mixture of sex and politics. There are aspects of the Disciplinarian Order and its administration that will remind readers a bit of Kushiel’s Dart. And like that series, it is made very clear in The Temple that discipline is not all about pain, and that people exist at every point on the pleasure/pain/dominance/submission grid. While there is more “academic” discussion of sex and desire than is usual in most romances, and it goes into quite a bit of interesting territory, there is more discussion than there is actual sex. Or even sexual play and exploration.

I found the discussions to be fascinating and very tastefully done, but there are some readers who may be made uncomfortable. As the discussion within the story is about each person finding what works for them, it seems appropriate to say that it won’t work for some people but it will work for others and that reading it with an open mind may be enlightening.

Your mileage may vary.

The politics of this particular country are very interesting. The Goddess Menda is the goddess of writing, so books and libraries are under her purview. (So is bureaucracy!) That one of the members of the ruling body is the Elder Librarian certainly warmed this librarian’s heart – especially when she invoked powerful spells to protect the secrets of the Great Library.

As much as I enjoyed the story, and as absorbing as I found it, this missed being an A grade because the editing was so terrible that it often threw me out of the story. I read a lot of ARCs, and in an ARC I expect editing errors – that’s part of what the ARC process is for. But this was a finished book, and it contained so many typos and word errors that occasionally even the meaning was obscure and I had to reread in order to put the pieces together.

But once I did piece it together, it was a lot of fun. I just wish that it hadn’t been quite so long since the previous book in the series, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be nearly this long until the next one.

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + GiveawayThe Blockade (First Salik War, #3) by Jean Johnson
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: First Salik War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why. The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.  Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.   Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?

My Review:

terrans by jean johnsonI started reading The Blockade almost as soon as I received the eARC. I absolutely adored the first book in the series, The Terrans, and mostly liked the second book, The V’Dan. The V’Dan ended on a terrible cliffhanger, and I just couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. Especially as this entire series is a prequel to one of my all -time favorite series, Theirs Not to Reason Why.

So I had a lot invested coming into this book. And I inhaled it in about a day. Weekends are wonderful for spending LOTS of time curled up with a good book.

However, while I got very, very caught up in my visit to the First Salik War, I found the book just a bit anti-climactic. And I’m feeling a bit sad about that.

The story begins with that horrid cliffie from the end of The V’Dan. Li’eth and Jackie have been separated through an act of supreme skullduggery (not to mention overwhelming idiocy) on the part of his sister, the Crown Princess Vi’alla. This separation isn’t just a romantic problem, it’s a separation that is going to kill them both if it goes on too long. The elasticity of that “too long” hasn’t been researched much, because the problems are just too great.

If any of the above makes you think that you should read this series in order, you are correct. This universe is a marvelous creation, but there are only two starting points. Either start with The Terrans, or start with A Soldier’s Duty, the first book in Theirs Not to Reason Why. There are valid arguments for starting in either place. The First Salik War takes place a century or so before the events in A Soldier’s Duty, but Duty was written first.

vdan by jean johnsonAs established in The Terrans and The V’Dan, our heroes are a gestalt pair – they are bonded at the psychic level. While this was not intentional, more like an act of whatever gods one cares to blame, it is a fact in this universe. Gestalt pairs who are separated die.

So Li’eth’s sister has sentenced both her brother and the Terran ambassador to death at the end of The V’Dan. Fortunately for all concerned, her mother the Empress turns out to be not as wounded as Vi’alla wanted to believe at the end of that book, and takes control back over in relatively short order at the beginning of this story, which does not begin to undo the damage that Vi’alla has done to Terran-V’Dan relations or to her own family.

The resolution of that particular thread of the story is explosive – but it felt like it occurred much too early in the book to maintain needed dramatic tension. To this reader, it felt like everything after that point was mop-up. Very important mop-up, but mop-up nevertheless.

Escape Rating B+: I did swallow The Blockade pretty much whole, which is what gets me to that B+ rating. I like these people, especially Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie, and was rooting for them every step of the way.

In my review of The V’Dan over at The Book Pushers, I said that I would finish this series just to read more of Jackie’s adventures, and that is pretty much what happened. I had to see how things turned out for her, and I definitely wanted her to find a way to her own happy ever after. She earned it.

This story has a moral dilemma at its center. The Salik have to be stopped. They don’t just want to conquer the V’Dan and the Terrans, they want to eat them. For dinner. Or any other meal. The truly nasty thing about the Salik is that they prefer intelligent prey, and want that prey to be alive, kicking and watching as long as possible as their parts are eaten. There’s no way not to reflexively shiver at the very thought.

But there has to be an answer. They can’t be left to roam the galaxy searching for lunch – because their lunch has the same right to exist as they do. At the same time, the Salik are an intelligent race themselves. They might evolve past their current predatory pattern if they have enough time to learn the error of their ways. Genocide is not the right answer, although it often feels like it might be the expedient answer. The core dilemma that drives the end of the book is how to contain the Salik without destroying them.

soldiers duty mediumNot just because genocide is wrong, but because we have already seen the future, and the damned frogtopi are going to be needed. And if that statement intrigues you, and you haven’t yet read A Soldier’s Duty, start now!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is letting me give away a copy of The Blockade to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Demons of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson

Review: Demons of the Flame Sea by Jean JohnsonDemons of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Flame Seas #2
Pages: 112
Published by Penguin on November 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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The second thrilling Flame Sea novel from the national bestselling author known as “a must-read for those who enjoy fantasy and romance” (The Best Reviews).  Raised to understand and control advanced magics, the Fae Rii know they must be careful with the wild, abundant energies of their new desert homeland. They must also downplay the awe they inspire in the Bronze Age humans around them. Still, they have managed to create some equilibrium between the two factions, primitive versus advanced—at least, until new outworlders arrive, tipping the scales out of balance.   Strict and power-hungry, the ruthless Efrijt take the phrase “deal with the devil” to a new level. A treaty may be possible; however, the solution proposed will in turn give birth to a new problem: A chaos that will dance its way through all three races trying to survive in the burning heat of the Flame Sea…
  Includes an exclusive preview of the next Flame Sea novel, Gods of the Flame Sea
Praise for Jean Johnson   “Johnson’s writing is fabulously fresh, thoroughly romantic, and wildly entertaining.”—Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author   “A fresh new voice in fantasy romance, Jean Johnson spins an intriguing tale of destiny and magic.”—Robin D. Owens, RITA Award–winning author

My Review:

dawn of the flame sea by jean johnsonThis is the book that Dawn of the Flame Sea should have been. When my friend Lou and I reviewed Dawn of the Flame Sea over at The Book Pushers, we complained that the book was all set up and no delivery – meaning that although there was lots, plenty, positively oodles of worldbuilding – not a damn thing happened. We both like solid worldbuilding in our fantasy and SF romance, but there also needs to be some there, well, there. All that worldbuilding needs to lead to some world unbuilding, in one way or another.

In Demons of the Flame Sea, we finally get to experience what happens on that world that was so solidly (and occasionally stolidly) built. And now it all begins to make sense. And feel worthwhile.

The set up in Dawn of the Flame Sea showed us an advanced civilization from somewhere “out there”, the Fae Rii, literally Fair Traders, who come through an interplanetary gateway to start a settlement on the planet of the Flame Sea. Instead of having the chance to sit back and observe the local Bronze Age natives, they are witnessed the minute they come through the gate, and the cat is out of the bag.

The Fae Rii, led by the Healer Jintaya, settle in the Flame Sea. They bring peace and prosperity, as well as a certain amount of enhanced technology, to the local tribes and clans. They also interbreed with the locals – the Fae Rii find the local humans quite attractive, and very much vice versa. There are lots of children, all raised cooperatively. It seems like a little bit of paradise.

Demons of the Flame Sea takes place 40 years after the end of Dawn. The Fae Rii are very long-lived, so they have not changed much physically. Nor has the one outworlder they brought with them, the man called Ban, a word that means Death in the local languages. Ban’s name is both fitting and ironic. He is a warrior without peer, and very efficiently brings death to any enemies of the Fae Rii, especially anyone who thinks of attacking Jintaya. But Ban is also immortal, so while he deals death to others, he comes back from it himself, over and over and over.

At the beginning of Demons, Ban has been on walkabout for many years, surveying the lands around the Flame Sea. On his way back, he discovers that another group of outworlders has opened a gateway onto this planet. The Efrijit are the opposite of the Fae Rii. Where the Fae Rii trade fairly with their friends and neighbors, the Efrijit always observe the letter of any contracts strictly, and make sure those contracts are written in their favor. Where the Fae Rii are benevolent, the Efrijit are self-serving. They are not particularly warlike, but they are very exploitative. The difference in philosophy between the two cultures is extreme.

The conflict in Demons of the Flame Sea is about both the conflict between these opposing forces and the negotiating of contracts and the jockeying for position between them, with all of the local humans in both spheres of influence caught very much in the middle. Those negotiations are protracted, legalistic, and still fascinating, as the two philosophies battle not with force of arms, but with force of words. It will make readers remember the famous Shakespeare quote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Escape Rating B+: I liked this one SO MUCH better than Dawn, it’s almost impossible to believe it’s the same series from the same author. Demons reads like the Jean Johnson I know and love, where Dawn was completely and atypically meh.

So, while the worldbuilding is important in Dawn, there’s a rather large glossary at the beginning of Demons. Read the glossary and skip Dawn, unless you are a compulsive completist or a glutton for punishment. There was so little significant action in Dawn that what there is is easily recapped within the pages of Demons.

While there isn’t a whole lot of action in the action/adventure sense in Demons, there is plenty of conflict. The tension between the Fae Rii and the Efrijit is integral to the plot. Their philosophies are so opposed, it is kind of amazing that both sides try very hard not to come to actual blows.

The ways that the Fae Rii explain to their own adherents just how damaging the nature of the Efrijit can be make for a fascinating and still very readable philosophical discussion, and there aren’t many of those in SF and fantasy.

gods of the flame sea by jean johnsonWe also see the slow warming of what will eventually become a romance between Ban and Jintaya. Ban is immortal and Jintaya is extremely long-lived. They have all the time in the universe to work their way towards an emotional and physical partnership, and it looks like they plan to take it. It’s a very different way of writing a romance, but it works well in this instance.

The story ends on multiple cliffhangers. The Fae Rii and the Efrijit have worked out a means of coexisting, and are essentially kicking the can of who will control the planet down the road. I expect the continuation of that story and their conflict to be resolved in book 3 in this series, Gods of the Flame Sea.