A Fiction Reading Year in Review – 2020

I know I won’t have been the only one to have struggled to find books engaging throughout 2020but there are two trends that have mainly characterised my reading throughout the year. I’ve either found myself in Early England (before 1066), or in the loving embrace of cosy 1920s murder mysteries. I don’t think it’s possible to get further apart.

But there are some books that have fallen outside of those two trends, and two of these books, have been my standout books of the year.

Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival was a true treat.

I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from Netgalley so didn’t have to wait until the summer to enjoy it.

Here’s the blurb:

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King of England.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

I loved this book, and more than that, O’Brien’s choice to tell her story almost exclusively through letters inspired me when I was struggling to write Lady Estrid, and gave me a means to tell a complex family story. But, even without that, I highly recommend this book. Anne O’Brien tells engaging and captivating stories of England’s forgotten women, and that is just the sort of book that appeals to me.

It’s available now in ebook, audiobook and hardback, and when I wrote this, the ebook was only 99p, an absolute steal.

Next up on my list of excellent reads is Camelot by Giles Kristian.

Here’s the blurb:

Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive 

Camelot had a wonderful feel to it, and while, I wasn’t quite as enamoured of it as I was Lancelot, the sort-of prequel, I still can’t recommend it enough. The way Kristian evoked the Arthurian legend was amazing. No matter how much I ‘knew’ what was going to happen, I still wanted the characters to triumph, and that, was a little piece of genius.

Camelot is available now in hardback, ebook and audio book.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I really didn’t read a lot of fantasy this year, which is strange for me. When I did read, I found solace in some tried and tested favourites, Mark Lawrence’s The Girl and the Stars, Katharine Kerr’s return to Deverry with the wonderful Sword of Fire and Terry Pratchett – I’ve been trying to listen to some audiobooks, and although I’m still not sure I like it, I have found the Terry Pratchett audiobooks to be great entertainment, especially as I’ve read all the books in the past. I have the last book in Peter Newman’s Deathless Trilogy to read as well, but I’ve been saving it up because it’s going to be a real treat.

(I’ve just noticed that Mark Lawrence wrote a review for Sword of Fire on the cover. How funny. But, I’ve been a fan of Katharine Kerr for well over twenty years – maybe that’s why I like Mark Lawrence as he clearly is as well.)

But to return to historical fiction, I have stepped, just once or twice, further back in time than the Early English period to the Romans and the Greeks.

Sons of Rome by Turney and Doherty was a fantastic read, each author taking the part of one of two characters, interchanging their lives in a format that worked so well. I have book 2 to read now and I’m excited about that. And also The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden was a stellar read, and I’m still quite cross about the ending! He better put that right if there’s a sequel. I’m also going to give an honourable mention to Derek Birk’s Britannia World’s End. I really, really loved the first book. The second book was not quite as stellar but was still a welcome return to the characters from Book 1.

I’ve also taken on some beta reading projects this year, and have been really impressed by the quality of fiction that people are writing. I’ve been taken to Australia and New Zealand at the time of the gold rush, to Ancient Egypt, to Tudor England, 17th century Paris, 19th century Italy and now I find myself in 19th Century America. I hope these books are released and then I can share my reviews. I read books listed on Netgalley and also on The History Quill. If you love getting your mitts on books before they’re released, I highly recommend both of them, and The History Quill especially if you’re after fresh new voices in historical fiction.

But finally, I will mention the books I’ve read from the Early English period. I’ve not read as widely as I might have liked, but it can be hard to read what you’re writing about at the same time. I’ve spent some time with Matthew Harffy’s creations with Fortress of Fury and A Time For Swords. I’ve also returned to the world of Christine Hancock’s Bright Helm and I can assure that she has a new book, hopefully next year, which readers are going to really, really enjoy – a slight diversion from Byrhtnoth but still very much mentioning him. I’ve been lucky to read a really early copy of it, and I love it already. Bring it on!

I have the last Uhtred book to read, War Lord, but I’ve been saving it up for the holidays.

But, the thing that has really got me through the year has been a vast selection of murder mystery books. The majority have been set in the 1920s in the UK, but I have just discovered E M Powell’s Stanton and Barling mysteries set in the 1100s. These are so entertaining, if quite gory, and what I enjoy most about them, is I’ve never yet guessed who actually committed the murders! The same could be said for the Posey Parker mystery books by L B Hathaway which elevate the 1920s murder mystery to a whole new level. The Verity Kent murder mysteries are also excellent, and have a theme that runs through them all.

So, what I can take away from this is that much of the year has been spent reading cosy murder mysteries, although not many of them have been that cosy. It seems that I need a good mystery to help me unwind and one that’s not too gritty, and one that’s certainly set in the past.

Thank you to the authors who’ve kept me entertained this year, and happy reading everyone. I’m looking forward to more in 2021.

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.)

Book Review – The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

“Only when it’s darkest can you see the stars.

East of the Black Rock, out on the ice, lies a hole down which broken children are thrown

On the vastness of the ice there is no room for individuals. No one survives alone.
To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is different.

Torn from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her life with, Yaz has to carve a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of danger.

Beneath the ice, Yaz will learn that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined.
She will learn that her weaknesses are another kind of strength. And she will learn to challenge the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people.

Only when it’s darkest can you see the stars.”

The Girl and the Stars is set on the same world as The Book of the Ancestor, and I’m aware that there are many more stories that need to be told to fully understand Abeth. Not that new readers can’t pick up from here. There is no need to have read The Books of the Ancestors.

I’ve heard a great deal about The Girl and the Stars on twitter and I was looking forward to reading it. The story starts strongly and Yaz is an enjoyable character to read about. The set up of the story is intriguing and not at all where I expected it to go. Foolishly, I thought I knew where Lawrence was going with this new trilogy. There are many fascinating elements and I was really enjoying exploring the landscape of ‘the stars,’

Lawrence titillates with fragments of what’s actually happening and what’s happened in the past (he’s a bit good at this) but I found I wanted to know more about that, and less about Yaz and her group of friends. And by the time I was a decent distance into the book, I was beginning to suffer from the same sensory deprivation as the characters. This probably isn’t a good thing. My enjoyment of the story did drop away – the relentless pacing couldn’t quite make up for my lessening enjoyment, and while the ending is bloody stunning, I can’t help but think it could have been reached at least a hundred pages earlier!

I’m still very much looking forward to reading all the books in this new trilogy, but hopefully, they won’t share the same setting!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Girl and the Stars is available in ebook now and hardback from next week. You can snap up a copy from here:

‘The Reading’ End of Year Review

I’ve read many, many books this year. Some have been fab, some not so fab, and some have just filled a little niche that needed filling. I’ve also written, read and re-read a fair few of my own books this year. But I’m not going to include those in this.

When I look back, I see I’ve read many historical fiction books this year – the majority just historical fiction, but also a few that were historical who-dun-its. I’m a fan of Marple and Poirot, so this does make sense to me.

In fact, 24 of the 71 books I’ve read this year (thank you for keeping track Goodreads), have been historical (and a further 6 of those have been my own historical fiction books, so yes, historical fiction accounts for a great deal of my reading.)

Of those, here are my five favourites of the year. I’m not going to put them in any order, because I enjoyed them all for different reasons.

Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason was one of the first books I read this year, and it was a wonderful read. Commodus by Simon Turney was another of the stand out books, as was The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks (which I’ve just discovered I didn’t review on my blog, so there’s a link to Goodreads), Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell and Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy. I was lucky enough to get review copies of many of these books, although I took a chance on The Last of the Romans through Kindle Unlimited and was really pleased I did.

I also read some historical fiction that really didn’t appeal to me, in the end. I prefer historical fiction to be about ‘real’ people (I know their stories will be fictionalized) and told in an engaging and interesting way.

As to the historical mysteries I read, I’m going to highlight Silent Water by PK Adams, a fellow indie author, who takes the reader to Tudor Era Poland. It was fascinating.

As to those novels I read which took a historical era as their background, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman – a sort of fantasy/historical mash-up that concluded the trilogy in a completely satisfactory way.  And The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman which isn’t released until next year, but which is an enjoyable who-dun-it. I’ll review it closer to the time.

I also read quite a bit of sci-fi this year, and here the standout book must be Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t realise it was aimed at a Young Adult audience. I devoured it, even though I’ve tried Brandon Sanderon before and really didn’t enjoy his story (ducks for cover). I’m really looking forward to finding the time to read Book 2.

I’ve not read as much fantasy as normal this year. But, what I did read was well worth it. Here, I’m going to wax lyrical about Peter Newman. His series, The Deathless, inhabits such a weird and wonderful world that it completely absorbs me. If you’ve not read the first two books in the trilogy, then you’re in for a real treat. The Ruthless was released earlier this year, and I know the third part is due out next year. I’m keen to read it.

I also read all of Mark Lawrence’s four releases this year – Holy Sister concluded the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and he also released The Impossible Times trilogy, through Amazon Publishing. These are probably still fantasy but in a 1980’s setting (unless they’re sci-fi). I enjoyed them all, but confess, the D and D setting of The Impossible Times trilogy was a bit trying at times. Still, the 1980s was perfectly encapsulated – like an episode of Stranger Things.

I’m also going to mention the John Gwynne book I read this year – A Time of Blood. Foolishly, it wasn’t the first in a series, but goodness me, it was gripping, and I’ve now got the first book to read!

I’ve also listened to my first audiobook, and while I found it great to walk to, I confess, I’m not sure audio is for me. If I’m writing myself I have music on, and because I normally walk to get away from writing, I don’t find listening to stories to be restful. But I do have a fully stocked Audible library so that might change.

While I’ve managed to read a great many books this year, I’ve now found my enthusiasm for ‘new’ waning a little and I’ve sought refuge in a few classic PERN novels, and for 2020, I plan on indulging in the Deverry books by Katharine Kerr in anticipation of the new book coming out in 2020. The books have all been released with fantastic new covers, and I might just have to treat myself to them all over again.

I’ve also not read as many non-fiction books this year as I might normally do. But I think that will change in 2020. I’ve got a great deal of research to do for future projects. Of those non-fiction books I have read, they’ve all been something I was interested in any way, and I’m going to mention Warrior and The Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown. Both were very readable and well written.

I would like to thank Netgalley and also some very brave authors who’ve allowed me access to Advanced copies of their books throughout the year. It makes for much more varied reading!

 

Book Review – Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence – fantasy – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.”

Limited Wish is a far more enjoyable read than Book 1 in the series, possibly because I know what to expect now, (but also because there’s less ‘mirror action’ in the D & D game than in Book 1 – sorry, not a fan because I’ve never played it, and I just don’t get it (ducks for cover!)). I read it in a few sittings, and look forward to Book 3 to discover just how Nick fares. A 5/5 from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.

Limited Wish is released on 28th May and is available from here.

 

Book Review – A Time of Blood by John Gwynne – Fantasy – Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Defy the darkness. Defend the light . . . At the battle of Starstone Lake, Drem and his friends witnessed horrors they’ll never forget. They saw magic warping men into beasts and a demon rise from the dead, creating something new and terrifying. So they flee to warn the Order of the Bright Star. But the demons’ high priestess, Fritha, is determined to hunt them down. Concealed in Forn Forest, Riv struggles to understand her half-breed heritage. She represents the warrior angels’ biggest secret, one which could break their society. So when she’s found by the Ben-Elim’s high captain, he goes in for the kill. Meanwhile, demonic forces are gathering a mighty war-host, to crush their enemies and rule the world of man. All while the Ben-Elim are fractured and facing betrayal. Like heroes of old, Riv, Drem and the Bright Star’s warriors must battle to save their land. But can the light triumph when the dark is rising? A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone: Book Two) is the spectacular follow-up to A Time of Dread by John Gwynne.

‘This is extraordinarily good, an epic feat of the imagination. In this series Gwynne is setting a new benchmark in fantasy. I’d love to see it on screen’

Giles Kristian ‘A great read that accelerates the pace and goes one up on its excellent predecessor . . . Exciting, action-packed fantasy’

Mark Lawrence A Time of Blood by John Gwynne is a great book. Or rather, A GREAT BOOK.
I have not read any of John Gwynne’s other books, and yes, this is Book 2 in a series and I HAVE NOT READ BOOK 1. (If you read the book, you’ll understand the capitals.) I was interested in it because it’s title is so like that of the wonderful Deverry books by Katharine Kerr – at least in the UK – where one of the series is called A Time of Omens, A Time of Justice, A Time of Exile and A Time of War. I was hoping for something as good as Deverry and found it, although it is much bloodier, as the title suggests.
It is a sign of just how well this book is written, that I picked it up, and by 5% through, was fully committed to the characters even though I had no back story, and, to be honest, very little idea of what was actually going on, and it is not that easy to work out what’s happening, but I wanted to.
The main characters are all intriguing and well-written, and there is a great deal of action and many battle scenes. The different POV’s mean that we don’t always know what’s happening with some characters, as the scenes taking place are described by someone else, even though the others are there. I believe it’s this that allows the story to move so quickly.
While the idea behind the story may not be that original, two sides on opposite sides of an impending war, the way the story unfolds is exhilarating and exquisitely well told.
I’m already a bit forlorn as I need to know what happens next!

A Time of Blood was released in hardback and ebook on 18th April 2019 and is available here (as well as with other retailers). I highly recommend this book. A firm 5/5. I read it in a day!

One Word Kill – Book Review – Mark Lawrence

Here’s the blurb;

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

I kept my visible review on Goodreads for this one quite short,

“Ah, the 1980’s! Recaptured in all its glory.”

This is mainly because a lot of people are loving this book, and the reason that I gave it 3/5 is that it’s just not really my sort of thing. It is clever, in places, and Good God, if you want to understand the concept of quantum mechanics, I can’t see how there’s a better way to be taught it, but even all the Back to the Future references couldn’t quite make me love this book as much as others even though I am a fan Mark Lawrence’s previous three trilogies – which I would classify as fantasy.

Will I read the next one and then the final part of the trilogy? Time will tell. Right now I’m not too fussed either way, although I am pleased they’re all being released this year so we don’t have to wait forever to read on! What I would say is that if you do like a bit of sci-fi mixed in with Dungeon and Dragons, some bad 80’s clothes and hairstyles, then this is the book for you. Enjoy it, but sadly, it isn’t quite as good as the new 80’s favourite of Stranger Things.

One Word Kill has an official launch date of 1st May 2019. But if you have Prime, you seem to be able to get it now, and it’s also on the Amazon First Reads scheme.

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence – Book Review – released today in the UK 4th April 2019

Here’s the blurb;

“Nona Grey’s story reaches its shattering conclusion in the third instalment of Book of the Ancestor.

THEY CAME AGAINST HER AS A CHILD. NOW THEY FACE THE WOMAN.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.
The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

HOLY SISTER completes the Book of the Ancestor trilogy that began with RED SISTER and GREY SISTER. A ground-breaking series, it has established Mark Lawrence as one of the most exciting new voices in modern speculative fiction.”

 

Holy Sister is a satisfying conclusion to the Book of the Ancestor Trilogy. For other authors, I would have found that acceptable, but for Mark Lawrence, I confess, I was a bit disappointed.
As with the ending of the previous two trilogies, especially Jalan’s, I’m left wishing there had just been ‘more’.
The concurrent storylines are not without excitement, indeed from about 50-80% the storyline is extremely exciting, but to get there I had to wade through the first 35% and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped I would. Yes, a year has passed since I read the previous book, and I had forgotten much, but even so, and especially considering the ‘summation’ at the beginning, I feel I should have been able to grab the characters and events far more quickly. For readers who can just plough on through all 3 books one after another, I’m sure this won’t be a problem but I’m far too impatient to have actually waited for the end of the trilogy.
And the eventual ending, well. It was somewhat anti-climatic.
If this was merely a coming of age story, then I would say the job had been accomplished very well, but it was always more than that, and sadly, Book 3 doesn’t quite do justice to the characters.
I appreciate that there are many who love this book – I’ve been seeing 5-star reviews flying around for Holy Sister for about 6 months. It might just be that, for me, the book suffers from too much hype, and so I would like to apologise to the author if my comments seem too harsh. It’s truly not the author’s fault when something gets blown out of all proportion.
The majority of people will love this book – and I’m excited for Mark Lawrence because that means he’ll get to write more and more books, and share his wonderful ideas with a wider and wider audience.
I think we will get to return to the world of the Book of the Ancestor, and I look forward to that. Perhaps then all my unanswered questions will find answers. Although I doubt it. Mark Lawrence is a sly old fox for a good reason!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an E-Arc. I confess, there may have been a squeal of delight.

Holy Sister is released in the UK today in hardback, ebook and audiobook and you can purchase it here (other retailers are also available). I give it a 4/5;

Book Review – Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence – fantasy – 5/5 stars

Here’s the blurb;

“In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

And in all this only one thing is certain.
.
There will be blood.”

Read it in a day! What greater compliment is there.

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence -the sequel to Red Sister – is a good book. Never doubt that. It might even be an excellent book – and just as with Red Sister there will be a wide swathe of people who rave about this book, ensuring everyone they know, and vaguely know, goes out to buy it. This is a good thing. Mark Lawrence is a great writer – he doesn’t mess around with anything we don’t need to know – everything to his writing has a point – whether we know it at the time or not. His storylines are pretty rock solid, and his ‘world-building’ never, ever deteriorates into long sweeping paragraphs that are unneeded and detract from the action (which can be a problem with fantasy writers).

Yet, in giving this book 5 stars, and saying how great it is, there is, I admit, a part of me, that wishes it were as dark and complicated and downright transfixing as his previous two trilogies. The Book of the Ancestor Trilogy, for all that some may call it ‘dark’, is almost a walk in the park compared to his previous diabolical creations of Jorg and Jalan – and I admit – for all that sometimes I did find them a bit too ‘dark’ – I miss that ‘darkness’. Don’t all shout at once, I appreciate that death-dealing nuns do sound pretty dark, but when it’s mingled with the whole ‘school’ scenario, it does lose its ‘dark’ appeal for me – and I find some of the much-quoted sentences a bit misleading as to the path the story ultimately takes. No amount of bloodshed can quite make-up for that, but, I am very excited to see what happens in Book 3. Clearly, there’s still a great deal to come in The Book of the Ancestors series, and I’m keen to see how it all ‘ends’, while also being a little wary – I don’t think the final book will answer all my questions – but then, many great fantasy writers (cough, Robin Hobb) leave us thinking about the might-have-beens.

So five stars – and Book 3 is on my ‘to-read’ list already.

Grey Sister is out in the UK today – for some reason we’re weeks and weeks behind EVERYONE else!

Book Review – Darien-by C F Iggulden – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE.

WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king.

It will summon strangers to the city – Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt – and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all. Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made – and lost – in Darien.

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

In the preface to the novel, the author gives his thanks to those writers of fantasy that have influenced his own writing. I was not surprised to find the names of Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb amongst those mentioned as they are such huge names in the fantasy genre, (there are many others as well, but I've not read them all). As such, I was keen to begin reading the author's first foray into fantasy, expecting great things from such a well-regarded author, if one I've often struggled to appreciate as much as everyone else, finding his style to be a little too cold in regard to his historical characters. This novel certainly feels much warmer towards the various main characters and this is one of its strengths. This warmth makes the storyline much easier to read (I've often been left wondering why he even bothered to write about some of the characters he's chosen in the past- when it seems he had neither passion or regard for them).

Yet for all that, this novel is not astounding or jaw dropping as a Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb book would be, with their pitch perfect characterizations and world building. It is a reasonably well-crafted novel, although little but character development seems to happen for the first 50% of the novel, and from then on, some of it seems a little rushed. I was also a bit, well peeved, to find a whole new character being introduced at about 80%. I always think this smacks a little too much of desperation (a bit like a who done it when the author brings in a new character as the actual perpetrator even though we've never heard of them before). It is a fairly run of the mill fantasy - the story is enjoyable without being astounding; the magic abilities of some of the characters are interesting; the baddies are bad, the goodies are good and there are a few in-between who we don't ever learn enough about to say one way or another - they are filler for the rest of the story.

I also found some of the author's naming conventions to be annoying - Tellius, Nancy, Daw, Arthur, Lady Sallet - too much of a mix with no firm basis for why these names are relevant  -poor Nancy should have had a much exotic name (although without any X's or Z's in it).

Yet, for all that, this is without doubt, the most enjoyable novel I've yet read by this author. I'm sure that his fans will very much enjoy it, and if it opens their eyes to the wonderful worlds of Robin Hobb and Mark Lawrence, then this should be seen as a plus. Sometimes it takes a popular author to jump genre to find that new genre new fans. 

If there's a second book would I read it? At the moment, I don't know. The novel would need to be about something a little different - I like my fantasy to be bold and new - always a little different and not regurgitating the same old stories (I might be in the minority here) - and as such, this novel is a little too mundane for me. There is nothing new on offer in this fantasy series - but, as I said, this might be just what some people are looking for.

Darien is released on 13th July 2017, and is available from here,

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Highly recommended ) fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

It’s not until you’re broken that you find your sharpest edge

A brilliant new series from the bestselling author of PRINCE OF THORNS.

“I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin”

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.”

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is a stunning book – I can’t deny that – initially I wanted to hold with a four star review but I’ve changed it to a five star because it is that good, and while I have reservations about it from my view point of a fan of his two previous trilogies (completely unrelated to this book – although the previous two are related to each other (remember that when you finish reading this book)), that’s hardly the fault of this book.

Where to begin – Mark Lawrence never starts a book with endless world building – neither does he stick it down your throat about two or three chapters in – in fact he is elusive to it being almost frustrating about the visions he has in his head. This is a compliment. World building – so beloved of all fantasy authors (so it seems) often gives me a bit of a headache because it is so tediously done. Honestly, I’m not that interested in how magic systems work/religious sects organise themselves – if the story works and its believable then I’m happy. (Lawrence does provide a detailed explanation of all of this at the very beginning – but it’s not part of the text of the story and because I love surprises, I didn’t read it and still haven’t, it made me think he finds world building in the main text as tedious as I do and decided to get it over and done with in one foul-swoop).

In Red Sister, Lawrence has envisaged something new, and also, eminently relatable. This is frustrating – when he does ‘new’ it’s great but sometimes he falls back onto more conventional fantasy ideas and sometimes I want to beat him for being a little bit lazy, almost as though it’s all been a bit too much and he’s had to incorporate something into the text that is easy, and already ‘known’ by those who read fantasy. As such there are painful parts of the text which are too much like Harry Potter ( a lot too much like Harry Potter), and there are brilliant parts where his four ‘races’ – so different to elves, dwarves, orcs and dragons – speak for a level of imagination that few others can employ. The ending – so shocking to many in other reviews – was signposted a little along the way if you just looked – and the narrative – while brilliantly done – does tend to dwell on the day to day life of little more than a child at school.

There are flashes of that old Lawrence from his first two trilogies – the witty speech of Jalan and his self-obsessed nature – and the brutality of Jorg – but they are only flashes and I think that other fans of his work will be left feeling the same way I do – not hard done by – but surprised – like, constantly surprised – that he could have changed his style so much. I have hopes that Nona might become as foul mouthed as his first two main characters – but she’s at a convent so I might be reaching a little too far.

This story will, however, win Lawrence a whole host of new fans – I don’t know where they’ll go from Red Sister, apart from onto the sequels, because I’m not totally convinced that they will appreciate Jorg and Jalan. Neither am I trying to imply that Lawrence has sold out for a bigger audience – the book is still brilliant – it is worth a read – it’s an easy book to like and an even easier book to read – but, well … just but really. It’s weird to feel the way I do after a five star book – I think that really I was hoping for a little ‘more’ perhaps a book worthy of a 6/5!!

And you can buy it from April 6th here –