Suramya's Book Review Cafe

September 21, 2020

Flesh and Fire (Vineart War 01) by Laura Anne Gilman

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:24 pm

Flesh and Fire (Vineart War 01)

by Laura Anne Gilman

Description:

Once, all power in the Vin Lands was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft spellwines, and selfishly used them to increase their own wealth and influence. But their abuse of power caused a demigod to break the Vine, shattering the power of the mages. Now, fourteen centuries later, it is the humble Vinearts who hold the secret of crafting spells from wines, the source of magic, and they are prohibited from holding power.

But now rumors come of a new darkness rising in the vineyards. Strange, terrifying creatures, sudden plagues, and mysterious disappearances threaten the land. Only one Vineart senses the danger, and he has only one weapon to use against it: a young slave. His name is Jerzy, and his origins are unknown, even to him. Yet his uncanny sense of the Vinearts’ craft offers a hint of greater magics within — magics that his Master, the Vineart Malech, must cultivate and grow. But time is running out. If Malech cannot teach his new apprentice the secrets of the spellwines, and if Jerzy cannot master his own untapped powers, the Vin Lands shall surely be destroyed.

In Flesh and Fire, first in a spellbinding new trilogy, Laura Anne Gilman conjures a story as powerful as magic itself, as intoxicating as the finest of wines, and as timeless as the greatest legends ever told.

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Rating: (2/5)

Review:

This is a book that I have read multiple times and I had loved it. This is the book that got me interested in Wine Tasting & the whole field of making Wine. I actually seriously considered doing a certification on Wine Tasting at one point in time.

I felt like reading something light and ended up picking this book again to read. Have you ever have it happen that you love a book and then you notice something in the book that completely spoils it for you? That’s what happened to me with this book.

I love the world setting and the details on how the magic works, however what destroyed the book for me was the fact that it appears to justify slavery as something that is required to raise people above their station & gain the power of magic. I didn’t notice it the last time I read the book but this time it was glaring enough that I couldn’t finish the book. Example quote from the book on this subject:

Vinearts did not appear full-blown from the earth, after all. It was an ironic gift from Sin Washer: generations of trial and error had proven that only the deprivations of slavery, the removal of all family ties and comforts, pushed a man to the point where magic would surface. Even now, he could not coddle the boy, or risk ruining him. The skills were inherent and easily proven by the first test, but the refining of them required a combination of elements. . . .Like the grapes themselves, a Vineart must be stressed to produce the finest results, grown in poor soil and subjected to the elements in order to shine.

Someday he would explain that to the boy and set him on his own course, to acquire and scour his own slave population for the ones he in turn would train, to carry on their tradition. But that day was years to come, assuming the boy survived. For now, they would begin as always.

This was not at all needed and this one paragraph ruined the book for me. If it didn’t have the slavery justification then I would have rated the book at 4 or 4.5 but with this in there, I don’t think I can rate it above a 2.

September 19, 2020

Darkened Blade (Fallen Blade 06) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 6:10 pm

Darkened Blade (Fallen Blade 06)

by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Aral Kingslayer has nothing to lose – and only justice to gain. Torn apart by the death of his goddess, he must avenge her in order to save himself from being lost forever….

It’s been nine long years since the death of his patron, Namara, and exalted assassin Aral Kingslayer desperately misses the thrill and glory of being a higher power of justice. Now he is haunted by the ghosts of the past – and by the ghost of the lost goddess herself.

When Namara calls upon Aral in a dream to seek justice for her death and the ruination of her temple, Aral must obtain the help of his fellow former Blades and his Shade familiar, Triss, to pursue the vengeance he knows Namara deserves. Even if it means attacking Heaven’s Son – and going against one of their own – in a bloody battle of epic proportions…

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Rating:

Review:

This is the final book in the Fallen Blade series with Aral finally working with all the surviving Blades to avenge the murder of his Goddess by the Son of Heaven. The novel was a satisfying end to a good series and addressed most of the ongoing open threads in a way that made sense. The dilemma Aral faces while going against the Son of Heaven is beautifully presented and his struggle seems real.

It is good that the series ended with this novel as otherwise it would have felt that the author was dragging the series just for the sake of it. After the last book, I was more than ready for them to go against Heaven’s Son. That isn’t to say that there isn’t scope for further stories in this universe, the ending has the scope for many many more stories to be told between the last chapter & the epilogue.

Check if out if you like epic fantasy & a troubled hero. Good read overall, though I still prefer his WebMage series more than the Fallen Blade

September 18, 2020

Drawn Blades (Fallen Blade 05) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 9:56 am

Drawn Blades (Fallen Blade 05)

by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Aral Kingslayer’s past is never more than a shadow’s breadth away in this Fallen Blade novel from Kelly McCullough.

Once one of the world’s greatest assassins, Aral Kingslayer has finally reclaimed his swords and his soul. But the forces that destroyed his patron Namara twelve years ago are still there, waiting…

In the days before the fall of his goddess, only one other rivaled Aral’s skills, Siri the Mythkiller – a woman who ruthlessly earned the title First Blade. As a friend, Aral owes her his loyalty. As a former lover, he owes her part of his heart. As a Blade, he owes her anything she asks, including his life.

When Siri seeks Aral’s aid, he knows he must go. But as they journey towards the ancient Sylvani Empire, only time will reveal whether Aral can save the former First Blade, or if he will simply fall with her…

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

Drawn Blades is the fifth book in the Fallen Baid series and picks up soon after the previous book ended. Things start off at a quick pace with Siri, also known as Mythkiller coming back in Aral’s life after years of him not knowing if she was alive or not. It appears that by now pretty much all the blades referred, or name checked in the previous books have come back to life and/or become part of the plot in one of the previous books. If the books were less well written it would be easy to get to a point where the additional books become more of the same but fortunately, that is not the case.

And as always, there are a lot of complications in this book, with past regrets, vengeance and regrets coming back and haunting Aral & Siri. We finally get to explore more of the others in this book with a more detailed overview of their society & structure than what we have seen in the past. It was a fascinating view and really expanded the world the stories are based in. They also encounter fallen gods and a whole lot of other way interesting stuff which we can’t go into details because spoilers. Significant changes to how Aral looks at things happen in the book, which really sets up shades nicely for the next entry in the series which I’m really looking forward to reading.

September 17, 2020

Blade Reforged (Fallen Blade 04) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:25 am

Blade Reforged (Fallen Blade 04)

by Kelly McCullough

Description:

After the fall of the goddess of justice, temple assassin Aral Kingslayer lost his purpose in life and turned to the bottle. That might have been the end of him if luck hadn’t given him a few people to help him get back on his feet—notably the irresistible Baroness Maylien Dan Marchon, who once sought his aid in claiming the throne that’s rightfully hers. Reluctant to resume the role of an assassin, he turned her down.

But now Aral has learned that one of the few people willing to help him in his darkest days has been imprisoned by Maylien’s uncle, King Thauvik. Aral knows he can’t let an old friend die, but the alternative is to return to the life he left years ago. It was the death of Thauvik’s half brother that earned Aral the name Kingslayer, and now he is thrust into a war that will see no end until he lives up to his name…

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Rating: (4.5/5)

Review:

The 4th book in the series starts off in a very weird way. Aral is back at the Gryphon which has been destroyed getting drunk, we have no idea how he got there and why Jax & Faran are not there with him. This is never completely explained in the book and it bugged me. I had to check to make sure I was reading the correct book in the series and hadn’t missed any book in the middle. However once I got past that I liked the book, we have an old flame back in Aral’s life making a play for the throne. Plus there is a living legend who has come back from the dead to make things very difficult & dangerous for Jax. I liked how he had to change his whole way of thinking to get through the mission and how throughout the book he is slowly healing himself. Though his struggle with addiction is still a big part of the character. The following paragraph from the book really highlighted the difficultly Aral is going through with his addiction, and I loved it. Its rare when writers get nuances like this rather than just handwaving it away to advance the plot.

I didn’t answer Triss. I couldn’t. It was taking everything I had not to tear out the cork and drink off half the bottle on the spot. I could feel sweat breaking out on my brows and the palm of the hand holding the bottle as I fought with my own desire. Fuck me but I wanted that drink bad. Without seeming to cross the intervening space, I found myself holding the whiskey out over the water, willing my hand to unclench. It wouldn’t, and probably better that it didn’t.

I ignored that and the increased urgency in his voice and used a word of opening to free the cork—a spell where normally I would have simply torn it free with my teeth. Then, slowly, oh so very damned slowly, I turned the bottle over and poured the contents into the sea. It felt more than half like I’d opened a vein and it was my own blood I was draining away, but I did it. When it was empty, and only when it was empty, did I let the bottle fall into the water and sink to the bottom. I watched it all the way down. Then I sat back against the wall of the cavern and dangled my bare feet in the cool water.

The book is the commulation of the previous three books and if you read this without having read the previous books some parts of it will not make sense. However it can be read as a standalone for the most part.

September 16, 2020

Crossed Blades (Fallen Blade 03) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:17 am


Crossed Blades (Fallen Blade 03)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:

For six years, former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has been living as a jack of the shadow trades, picking up odd jobs on the wrong side of the law. But the past is never dead, and Aral’s has finally caught up to him in the beautiful, dangerous form of Jax Seldansbane – a fellow Blade and Aral’s onetime fiancée.

Jax claims that the forces that destroyed everything Aral once held dear are on the move again, and she needs his help to stop them. But Aral has a new life now, with a fresh identity and new responsibilities. And while he isn’t keen on letting the past back in, the former assassin soon finds himself involved in a war that will leave him with no way out and no idea who to trust…

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Rating: (4.5/5)

Review:

Crossed Blades starts about a month or so after the previous book with Aral reuniting with his lost love Jax who he thought had died with the rest when their temple was destroyed and Goddess murdered. The story is a lot more dark than the previous volumes in the series, with a lot of focus on revenge & vengeance. There is a lot of double dealing in the book and you don’t always know who to trust as everyone has a hidden agenda. Not all is as it seems which requires you to pay attention to the plot & actions of each of the characters.

Aral’s dealings with Faran on the other hand are a treat, he is really unsure on how to handle a teenager who is also one of the best assassins around and has been surviving on her own for years. I like the fact that they don’t downplay her experiences even though they don’t go into a lot of details about it. I expect that they will cover them in future books.

The vengeance part of the story is pretty stark and some of the plot twists make it complicated to achieve. I really didn’t get the goal of the other main character (I am not going to name them as that would be moving into the spoiler territory) till the last chapter and I loved it. I think we will see them again in future books.

Looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

September 15, 2020

Bared Blade (Fallen Blade 02) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 5:44 pm


Bared Blade (Fallen Blade 02)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has a price on his head and a mark on his soul. After his goddess was murdered, Aral found refuge in the shadow jack business, fixing problems for those on the fringes of Tien’s underworld. It’s a long step down from working for the Goddess of Justice, but it gives Aral and Triss—the living shadow who is his secret partner—a reason to get up in the morning.

When two women hit a rough spot in the tavern Aral uses for an office, he and Triss decide to lend a helping hand–only to find themselves in the middle of a three-way battle to find an artifact that just might be the key to preventing a war. And with so many factions on their trail, Aral and Triss are attracting a lot more attention than anyone featured on ten thousand wanted posters can afford…

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Rating:

Review:

Bared Blade picks up about a year after the events of Broken Blade where Aral is no longer trying to drown himself in Alcohol and is trying to help people achieve Justice (not the black/white version he used to believe in when his Goddess was still alive but his own take on it. He has made some friends and seems to be doing ok for himself. While he is having dinner, two women get into trouble while he is there and he helps them out at some risk to himself. This decision starts off the story and embroils him in the intrigue involving the Others, Hand of God, Stingers etc.

The story is quick moving and is a lot more twists and turns than the previous book in the series. The book explores the affects of addiction from Aral’s perspective and makes it more realistic by not hand waving it away. Aral was a functioning alcoholic and even a year later he has urges to go back to drinking especially when things are hard and he doesn’t have good solutions. Which is what happens in the real world as well from what I have read. There is a major twist about 3/4th of the way through which creates a lot of drama for the team and it becomes even more important in the next book of the series.

The book can be read as a standalone novel if you want but reading the previous book will give you additional context for some of the decisions and actions taken by the characters.

Final Review: Good read. Check it out if you like the previous book in the series.

September 12, 2020

Broken Blade (Fallen Blade 01) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:13 am

Broken Blade (Fallen Blade 01)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Once a fabled Blade of Namara, Aral Kingslayer fought for justice and his goddess alongside his familiar, a living shadow called Triss. Now with their goddess murdered and her temple destroyed, they are among the last of their kind. Surviving on the fringes of society, Aral becomes a drunken, broken, and wanted man, working whatever shadowy deal comes his way. Until a mysterious woman hires him to deliver a secret message-one that can either redeem him or doom him.

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

The Broken blade is the first book in the Fallen Blade series and it’s very different from his Webmage series. Its a little bit more darker with a more damaged & cynical hero rather than a wisecracking one. The book starts off with the main character Aral, getting drunk in a bar, and a lady walks in looking to hire him. This is a straight ripoff of all detective stories where the Damsel seeks out the hero for help. However we quickly find out that this is not the typical detective story and there is more to the damsel that we initially thought.

The characters in the book are very well written. A lot of Aral’s backstory is only hinted at for the initial part of the book, its only later in the book we get to know more about his story as a series of flashbacks. Kelly does a great job of showing the pain Aral is going through due to the murder of his goddess and his constant struggle with alcohol addiction. Some of the supporting characters could have been fleshed out more but it wasn’t bad enough to be distracting. The book is a light read and doesn’t require you to spend a lot of energy remembering plot points.

The epilogue of the book was a little bit unsatisfying for me as his decision didn’t really make sense from my perspective but looking at it from the perspective of someone who has lost everything and had been trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol it makes a certain amount of sense.

Great book. Looking forward to rereading the next book in the series.

August 27, 2020

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad 03) by S A Chakraborty

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 4:55 pm

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad 03)

by S A Chakraborty

Description:

The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the death of his people and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. Though Nahri is finding peace in the rhythms of her old home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior, are at the mercy of a new tyrant.

Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved…and take a stand for those they once hurt.

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

The is the final book in the Daevabad Trilogy and picks up just a few hours after the 2nd book ended. Nahid leader Banu Manizheh has succeeded in her conquest of Daevabad. Nahri and Ali are in Cario but don’t know how they got there and how to get back, and to make things even more dire magic has stopped working for everyone except Dara who is struggling with the guilt of the deaths caused by their conquest while trying to hold the tatters of the city together and prevent a decent into anarchy.

The characters are well written and their motivations make sense, there is no clear cut ‘bad guy’ in the book as both sides have committed acts that they are ashamed of and are trying to get past to rebuild their city. The descriptions of Cairo and the daily lives of people living there are realistic and even the supporting characters have a purpose and are not cardboard cut-outs there to further the plot. I especially liked the fact that book is based out of the Middle East and not in the western world since a majority of Fantasy/Scifi books are based in the US or in EU. It gives me a chance to learn more about a culture not normally depicted in popular books.

However there is a small part of the script that I didn’t quite understand/like mainly because there was no buildup to it, even though it solved a major problem for Nahri & Ali it felt contrived just because it came out of the blue especially since the folks helping had been identified as people who don’t interfere in mortal affairs. I can’t give more details without revealing a major plot twist.

Another minor detail that was a bit annoying was the author’s tendency of switching from a character’s first name to last name and back multiple times in a chapter for no particular reason. It made the book a bit confusing in the begining as I thought they were two different characters not realizing they were both the same person.

However, all said and done the book was beautifully written and I highly recommend you check it out.

– Suramya

July 5, 2010

The Destined Queen (Umbria Book 03) by Deborah Hale

Filed under: Fantasy,Romance — Suramya Tomar @ 9:17 pm


The Destined Queen (Umbria Book 02)
by Deborah Hale

Description:

Can the Queen who has once done the impossible ever be free?

After awakening the “Waiting King” — the one destined to free her country from the long occupation of the Han — Maura Woodbury thinks her duty to her country completed. But Maura’s task has only just begun. Rath, once a notorious outlaw, has no magic, and thus no power to expel the invaders from their kingdom. Yet the people expect a miracle. And so Maura, still new to using life-magic, is their only hope . . .

Maura must journey into the unknown, searching for a magical staff — one that will grant the awakened king one grand wish. But separation from her consort breeds jealousies, devastating secrets and ties to an intimate enemy. Stricken by doubt, Maura and Rath are tempted to ignore the call of fate — but what will happen to the country if they do?

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Rating:

Review:The waiting king has been found but he doesn’t seem to have any special powers or magical weapons. So how does a former outlaw and a wizard’s ward defeat an entire nation’s army?

This is the question Maura and Rath have to answer. Luckily for them they have help from an unexpected source. However they soon learn that nothing is easy even with magic assisting them. So Maura sets out to find a legendary magical staff while Rath battles the Han on the battlefield.

The characters and plots that we saw in the first book are further enhanced in the second book and a lot of things from the first book start making even more sense that they did in the first book.

The plot was a bit more complex than the first book but still relatively simple compared to some of the other fantasy novels out there in the market.

The characters are even better defined than the first book and the author really captures their hopes, desires and doubts in the book.

Final Recommendation: An excellent read

July 4, 2010

The Wizard’s Ward (Umbria Book 01) by Deborah Hale

Filed under: Fantasy,Romance — Suramya Tomar @ 9:14 pm


The Wizard’s Ward (Umbria Book 01)
by Deborah Hale

Description:

They were as different as night and day — an innocent sorceress and a notorious outlaw — but now all Maura and Rath have is each other. After Maura’s guardian, an old wizard named Langbard, is brutally murdered, the two are thrown together on a quest to find a legendary king and restore a conquered nation.

Umbria has long been under the yoke of the ruthless Han. So long, in fact, that many Umbrians have forgotten the Elderways — the magic, myths, and belief systems that once gave the country its strength. Langbard is one of the few who still remember the old ways, and he has diligently passed his wisdom on to his ward, a sheltered orphan named Maura. When Langbard informs her that she is the Destined Queen who must find and waken the Waiting King to overthrow the Han, she doesn’t accept her task — until Langbard is killed by Han death-mages.

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Rating:

Review:What would you do if you were told that you were the legendary destined queen who would wake up the waiting king and free your people from the Han who have oppressed them for generations?

This the question that Maura had to answer when her guardian told her that she was the destined queen. Unfortunately for her he was killed soon after so the only person she could depend on was Rath, an outlaw who had promised to guide her to the person who would point her in the correct direction.

The plot is relatively simple and the obstacles that they both face sort of seem contrived at first but as you read along you realize that all of them have a deeper link to the story and each of them furthered the story in some way. Although the main ‘twist’ was something I had expected from pretty much the start, knowing it didn’t spoil the book.

The main strength of the book is the character development which was excellent. Some of the side characters could have been a bit more defined but the main characters were pretty well defined.

Final Recommendation: A great read

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