Book Review: Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Cross Stitch is the first book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. If I’m not mistaken, it was released in the UK with this title, but elsewhere it was just called “Outlander”, which makes a lot more sense to me, I have to say.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Not necessarily an easy read, but this is a well-written piece of historical fiction, with a cast of well-crafted characters but most of all, a stunning setting. Not for the faint-hearted. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

CLAIRE RANDALL IS LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE, SHE HAS A HUSBAND IN ONE CENTURY – AND A LOVER IN ANOTHER…

In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds.

A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition , the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Favourite Quote

‘I can bear pain, myself,’ he said softly, ‘but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.’

(From Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon, page 671)

Review

This is a story of conflict. Of emotional conflict. Of Claire and her love for her husband, and of her greater love for Jamie Fraser. It is chaotic, powerful, and more than anything else, dangerous. It is also a story of physical conflict, of action, of armed conflict, where people often get hurt in horrible ways, and some of them end up dead. It’s quite brutal and tumultuous, really. Yet it is also a very good book.

This book is so well-written. A lot of thought has gone into the characters, especially Claire so that although she might be out of time, she isn’t necessarily out of place. Jamie Fraser is the perfect hero: a warrior, but understated; he’s not out for power or glory, he just wants a quiet life, yet he tries to speak out against injustice. Other characters I was fascinated by included Geillis Duncan who seemed to reveal in the idea that the local populace thought she was a witch, Murtagh who came across a little bit like a small wiry guardian angel, and I was also intrigued by the comparisons between Frank and Captain Randall.

There are some pretty unsavoury passages in Cross Stitch / Outlander and Captain Randall must be the cruellest creature I have ever come across in a book. There is also a lot of adult content (if you weren’t aware), including, sex, violence, what we would call domestic violence today, torture, and more besides. (Would the story read as well with this reduced or removed? I wonder…) It’s complex and gritty and harrowing, and the characters, mostly at the mercy of others (or lack thereof), are emotional, vulnerable, angry, desperate. This book is not an easy read in places. Yet there is also love, and kindness and compassion, to be found here too.

However, in terms of historical fiction, this book feels like it has gone the extra mile to make the time it is set in as realistic as possible. Life was dangerous, hard and often cruel, even more so for women. The author doesn’t believe in sparing the reader from the details of what her characters face, including their suffering.

What’s interesting in terms of the time travel aspect of this book compared to some that I’ve read, is that Claire has a very keen understanding of the history she is living through. She knows of the life changing historical events to come, and the stronger her connections with the past become, the more likely she is to interfere with the timeline, and this burden weighs on her.

The dialogue is well-crafted. I don’t often like dialogue written in dialect or accents because it can often pull me out of the story while I try and work out what is being said. However, here the dialogue, even written with a Scottish accent, is easy to read and understand, and adds to the reading experience, rather than detracts from it.

My favourite part of the whole story (perhaps even more than the love story aspect) is, unsurprisingly if you’ve read any of my reviews before, the setting. It is stunning, and the descriptions throughout the book bring eighteenth century Scotland to life. They are rich in flora, fauna, changes in the landscape and how people interact with their environment, and how mythology, folklore and superstition weaves through it. It’s mind-blowing in its richness and the level of detail.

My big problem with this book was with how long it was. It felt like I was reading it forever. That being said, I can’t call to mind where exactly I would have trimmed the book down. Everything felt relevant when I was reading and while I was reading it, I didn’t feel like I wasn’t enjoying it.

Following on from this, given how it is said readers tend to have a shorter attention span for reading today compared to thirty years ago when the book was first published, I wonder if the book was published today whether it would have been split into two, or even three volumes.

Will I be reading the next book in the series? Probably, but just not yet. It is a big time commitment to read such a vast volume, and I have a TBR list so long that it hurts just thinking about it. So for now, I am going to read some shorter, lighter stories…

Rating

4 / 5
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Book Review: Roots of Rookeri by Crispina Kemp

Crispina Kemp, historical fantasy author of the five book series, The Spinner’s Game, and Learning to Fly, is about to release another fantastic story, this time, Roots of Rookeri, my review for which you can find below.  It’s set for release on 15th April 2022, so add the date to your diary, or follow the link to pre order: Roots of Rookeri eBook : Kemp, Crispina: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Highly imaginative, engaging and complex, Roots of Rookeri, is a rich, well-woven tale, set in an well-constructed world. With themes of astrology, political intrigue, history, mystery and romance, this story has so much to offer. Highly recommended to fans of wonderfully-intricate, creative fantasy. 5 / 5

Summary (from Amazon)

A Key, a Tree, a Prophecy

The Cast:
Booderas Rookeri-Sharmin – better known as Boody, playwright, poet, dancer and chorusmaster – orphaned nephew of the Elect of Raselstad, disciple of the Forty-First Avatar who brought the Founders to this new world.
“Worth is not measured in gold. To ban a word is not enough. To forbid the metals silver and gold will not lessen their attraction. The Guided Guilds give no protection against the Old-World demons.”
Eshe, daughter of Judge Madir, believes herself tough (she enjoys caving and climbing), unsuccessful in matters of the heart, fears her father will intervene and arrange a marriage.
Kalamite, head of the quasi-religious Runman Order, son of a queen no one has seen, for to ensure her safety he keeps her locked in the mysterious Wood Tower at the heart of Citadel Lecheni. He is her sworn protector.
Sifadis Lafdi, heiress of the wealthiest House in Lecheni. Owns every ship in the Luant; no one eats fish except by her catching. But marriage arrangements threaten, and a ruling husband would separate her from her passion – the study of the ancient documents stored in her library.

The Play:
A violation of Wood Tower has astrologer-priest Kalamite in fear for his mother, his queen. Planetary alignments foretell an invasion from the south. When Eshe arrives in Lecheni from southern Raselstad, Kalamite moves into action. He insists a spy is sent to Eshe’s hometown. Sifadis jumps at the opportunity to be that spy, to pursue a project of her own and to delay further marriage arrangements.
In Raselstad Sifadis meets her antithesis, Boody with his abhorrence of everything northern and Rothi. Yet they share a love for ancient books and Daabian plants. They also share an ancient connection which on meeting neither expects.

Favourite Quote

“What is time?” His hands spread in expansive gesture. “A commodity which cannot be bought and yet we spend.”

 (From Roots of Rookeri by Crispina Kemp, page 207)

Review

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out, Roots of Rookeri is not set in the same world as the author’s previous books, so you don’t have to have read them to read this one.  However, it is also worth pointing out that I do love those other books and never tire of recommending them here on Sammi Loves Books, and the world in which Roots of Rookeri is set is just as authentic and well-constructed as the other one.  So read them all! Now, on to my review proper…

Let’s begin with what we first encounter: that beautiful front cover.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  The colours and the text work so well together to catch the eye and the attention of the reader.  The talented designer behind this front cover (and all of Crispina’s releases so far) is Lauren Willmore. 

And my thoughts on the story…

Roots of Rookeri is a rich, complex tale, one that, with the imagination of the author, pulls the reader in and grabs their attention.  With themes of astrology, political intrigue, history, mystery and romance, this story has so much to offer.  I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for this story, and I fell in love with the world and the characters almost immediately.  On this, my second reading of the book, I am even more captivated by the places and people, and the storyline as a whole.

The world building is simply remarkable and covers every aspect of life in the two countries.  As I read the story I could clearly envisage all the locations visited, from the towered city of Lecheni in Rothi, to the sprawling, open Raselstad in Luban, (there are maps at the end of the story of both places) as well as being able to picture the locales in between. The invented language and slang is intricate and adds another layer of richness to the story. Then there are the two religions and their gods, stemming from one common source but interpreted in a vastly different way by each.  I found this so fascinating to read as it so clearly echoes reality.

The interconnectedness of the stories of the four main characters was so cleverly done and woven together. All four were engaging, and together it meant there were so many layers of story unfolding as we progressed through it. Sifadis and Eshe were both strong, intelligent, independent brave women, whose stories almost mirrored each other, yet they were not the same. Boody the poet and playwright was entertaining and smart, and the love of his art was clearly important to him, as was his loyalty to his friends. And as for Kalamite, his single-mindedness and strangeness as well as being head of the Runmen Order made for an intriguing character.

All in all, Roots of Rookeri captures the imagination and transports the reader to another world, and I found once I started reading, I struggled to stop.  If, like me, you enjoy wonderfully intricate, creative fantasy, I highly recommend this to you.

Rating

Book Review: The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A good historical fantasy adventure, woven through with elements of suspense and mythology. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Fact: Five thousand years ago, the Mayans carved thirteen crystal skulls.

Fact: To protect humankind, they sent them to the four corners of the globe.

Fact: They gave a precise date for when they thought the world would end: 21 December 2012.

Fact: They said that this time the destruction will be of man’s making.

Fact: Only when all thirteen skulls are reunited can the world be saved from its fate.

For the last 500 years one skull has been missing. Now it’s about to be found …

Favourite Quote

It was only a horse, a white horse, carved in simple, flowing lines from a green hillside to show the white chalk beneath.

(From The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott, page 375)

Review

I wanted to like this book more than I did, but I just felt like there was too much going on. The dual timelines of the Elizabethan and present day, although providing the space to create a very interesting story – and it was interesting – ensured there is too much to do and see, and a lot of story to tell. This book comes in at 500+ pages and it needs to be that long to cover so much story.

Apart from that, this is a good historical fantasy adventure, with elements of suspense and mythology woven through it. The settings were were evocative: in the modern timeline they included an unexplored cave network, the White Horse of Uffington, and the ancient Ridgeway. In the 16th century, we are given a glimpse of the wider world as Cedric Owens travels from Elizabethan England, to France, then Spain, then across the ocean to the New World, to New Spain. What’s more, I could envisage quite clearly each of the locations visited, either in the past or present.

I liked a number of the characters, although I didn’t feel much of a connection to any of them. The adventure element in Cedric Owens timeline was fun and engaging, and his friendship with Fernandez de Aguilar was well-written.

I can imagine this would make a fantastic film if given the opportunity.

Rating

Quick Review: Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts

Morrigan’s Cross is the first book in The Circle Trilogy by Nora Roberts.

Summary (from back of book):

Standing on the cliffs of 12th century Ireland following the disappearance of his twin, Hoyt Mac Cionaoith is visited by the goddess Morrigan and is charged with the ultimate of tasks: saving his and all future worlds. His enemy – the beautiful but deadly vampire queen Lilith – has had over two thousand years’ experience in cruelly killing and changing humans into her own kind – including Hoyt’s brother, Cian. Now, Hoyt, a sorcerer, must travel across the world and through time to find and train the five others Morrigan has foretold will join him as a circle and do battle against Lilith’s army of vampires.

Fate brings him first to Glenna Ward – a modern witch who can make her own kind of magic. Hoyt and Glenna find themselves drawn together, but is their love strong enough to survive not just the battle ahead but the centuries that separate them?

My Thoughts:

First off, I did enjoy this book. It was engaging, entertaining and interesting enough to keep my attention to the end, although I will say that I didn’t feel the need to race through this one. I thought the change in the timeline was handled well and Hoyt’s reactions to the modern world authentic.

I liked most of the characters most of the time, but sometimes I felt like stereotypes crept in. Cian was my favourite character by a country mile – who isn’t fond of a complex, moody vampire?

However, there is a lot going on in this story, and at certain points it felt there was a little too much. I’m not going to go into detail about this for fear of spoilers, but I think there were too many fantasy elements at play.

Needless to say, a book by Nora Roberts is going to be well-written and it was. I found the writing easy to read, but the pacing was perhaps a little too slow for my personal preference.

Do I intend to read the other two books of The Circle Trilogy? I do. I would like to see how the story ends but with my shelves burdening under the weight of the many books I have crammed on them, I fear it won’t be any time soon.

Rating:

3.5 / 5

Book Review: Lake of Dreams by Crispina Kemp

My thanks to Crispina Kemp for providing me with a copy of Lake of Dreams in return for an honest review…

Lake of Dreams is the second book in The Spinner’s Game series by Crispina Kemp.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Enchanting and magical, this historical fantasy series goes from strength to strength. The characters, setting and story kept my attention from the very beginning and did not let up until the last page. A fantastic read.  Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Powerful visions… but can their dreams reveal the truth of Kerrid’s fantastical origins?

In the first book of The Spinner’s Game, Kerrid explored and developed her powers, gained a glimmering of what she might be, discovered the source of the accusatory voice, and worked to transform her status to that of a genuine shamanic wise-woman, able to enter the Spinner’s Otherworld Web. At the last, the Spinner tasked her with the eradication of Neka, the snake-demon. To do this she must understand the cause and the source of their Asaric nature.
The eldest of Gimmerin’s Asaric brothers also wishes to discover this source. But to join his quest Kerrid must gain the approval of all the brothers, hindered by Gimmerin’s repeated efforts to undermine her, and the strange pull she feels to the second-born brother, Jiar.

A unique and captivating story of a tapestry unravelling.

Set in the between-time, when hunter-gatherers turned to settled agriculture, when spirits and demons morphed to gods, the five books of The Spinner’s Game takes Kerrid’s story across continents and weaves through ages fraught with floods and droughts to become the prototype of our most ancient myths.

Favourite Quote

They had been boys, they hadn’t had to cling to their lives. They could be wolfmen, farfooting, a convenient cover for running away.  She’d been a girl, to be wed or be dead.

(From Lake of Dreams by Crispina Kemp, chapter 7)

Review

First, I love the book cover.  The colours – that ice cold, crisp morning blue – really draws me in, making me want to read this book.  And that tiger…amazing! I like the chosen text too: A quest from frozen wasteland to lake-bed slumbers…Can their dreams reveal the truth?

I read and reviewed the first book when the whole five-book series was first published earlier in the year (you can find that review here).  I loved that book, and as I’ve previously mentioned, having beta-read the whole series, I fell in love with the characters, the story and the setting.  So you can imagine how happy I was to be offered the chance to review book 2 (if you can’t, I was very, very, very happy!).

Lake of Dreams sees a change of location for Kerrid, leaving behind the village of her husband, Gimmerin, to trek northwards  to the frozen lands where his brothers are waiting for him to join them.  And, although Kerrid is not invited, it is her and not Gimmerin, who insists they go.  Their welcome is to be as frosty as the world beyond their hide-and-bone dome…

Kerrid is growing in strength and knowledge in this instalment, and with both of those comes an increase in power and understanding.  She has a lot to contend with, from the jealousy and possessiveness of her husband to the open hostility of some of the brothers.  Then there are those who don’t necessarily like her, but desire her.  Mixed in with all this, there is genuine love too, a connection that goes beyond explanation and comprehension, but one that cannot be ignored.

As for the Uissids, these brothers are funny and chaotic and difficult and impossible to manage, but their interactions – with Kerrid and each other – make for compulsive reading.  To find the understanding and knowledge of their origins, and to complete the task given her by The Spinner, Kerrid must somehow make them accept her but how can this be done when there is so much conflict? Kerrid’s journey of learning does not only see her tread the paths of a wise-woman in the otherworldly web, as she must also learn to navigate and overcome the obstacles of the living.   After Kerrid, my favourite character would have to be Jiar…

One of my favourite parts of the book was the descriptions.  I loved how the landscape came to life, I could see it clearly, imagining it as if I was there.  Then there’s the mythology, and the ancient history, the references to early cultures…Lake of Dreams is indeed a rich and rewarding read.  It’s the sort of story I can easily get lost in, and quite happily so. There is a lyrical quality to the prose that I just find enchanting and magical.

Do you need to read the first book in the series, The Spinner’s Child, before reading this? Good question.  I would say, ideally, yes.  That story is wonderful in its own right, and it will ensure you understand Kerrid’s backstory and who the people are around her.  However, is it absolutely necessary? Probably not, as the author does a great job of providing you with the information you need to know without burdening you with it.  I believe if you choose to begin the story here, you will be able to follow it.

Although the book is not short, I managed to finish reading it within a couple of days, so hooked was I on the story.  Every time a free moment appeared in my day, I would sneak in an extra chapter’s worth of reading…

The third book in the series is The Pole That Threads, and I am looking forward to reading and revisiting it, tremendously 🙂

Rating


You can find Lake of Dreams on Amazon and Goodreads.  Connect with the author, Crispina Kemp, by visiting her website.

Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew is the first book, chronologically, in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Some enchanting descriptions mixed with some memorable and profound passages make this book worth a read, and sets up the next book, the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia, perfectly. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.

Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia.

Favourite Quote

‘Ah, but when I looked at that dust (I took jolly good care not to touch it) and thought that every grain had once been in another world – I don’t mean another planet, you know; they’re part of our world and you could get to them if you went far enough – but a really Other World – another Nature – another universe – somewhere you would never reach even if you travelled through the space of this universe for ever and ever – a world that could only be reached by Magic…’

(The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, page 25)

Review

As I mentioned in previous reviews this year, I’m spending a little of my reading time returning to childhood classics, some I’m re-reading and others which I haven’t yet read.  Having a pretty collection of The Chronicles of Narnia sitting on one of my bookshelves (they’re not mine but my sister’s and I said she couldn’t have them back until I’ve read them – that was a fair few years ago now!  Sorry Sis!) I thought it was high time to begin working through the series.  I only remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe during my formative years, but to be honest, I can’t recall too much from the book itself, but I did enjoy the 2005 film adaptation (although it took me a fair few years to get around to watching that…)

There is a part of me that wants to compare Lewis’ Narnia to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but I think, that would be wholly unfair, so I won’t.  At least, I won’t until I have read all seven books, and then it will only be a maybe.  We shall see…

Although The Magician’s Nephew is the first book chronologically in The Chronicles of Narnia, it wasn’t the first book in the series to be written, and there were times when I was reading that this was obvious, and when it was noticeable, I did find it to be quite jarring.  Yet there were also times that  this very same thing offered an “Aha!” moment or two.  Also, it is worth pointing out that this is basically the “Genesis” of Narnia, how that magical world came to be and how people from our world discovered it.

One thing that struck me was its concept of good and evil comes across as very basic.  There are simply bad people doing bad things so that the good characters can do good things.  As a children’s book of instruction on how to behave, I suppose it works, but as an adult reading it, I found my enjoyment of the story quite limited.  I wanted to know why the bad people were doing bad things, I wanted to know what their motivations were.

As to what I really loved about the story…of course, the world described is a beautiful one, and the descriptions are beautiful in their simplicity.  And there are some wonderfully profound quotes peppered throughout. Then, there is Aslan…mystical and enchanting, he is a wonderful character.  Polly and Digory were likeable too.

I’m quite excited to be reading the next book in the series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I feel that, although The Magician’s Nephew was a little up and down in terms of what I enjoyed and what I did not, book two – the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia – has been set up perfectly.

Rating

ARC Book Review: The Spinner’s Child by Crispina Kemp

The Spinner’s Child is the first book in the soon-to-be-released series The Spinner’s Game by Crispina Kemp.

My thanks to Crispina Kemp for the ARC of this book in return for an honest review. The Spinner’s Child, and the rest of The Spinner’s Game, will be available from 21st March 2020 from Amazon, and is currently available for pre-order.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

The Spinner’s Child is a fantastic, enchanting read. Wonderfully written, it’s a highly imaginative historical fantasy, filled with engaging characters, captivating locations and a gripping storyline. Recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Spliced with dark material, sprinkled with the mystical. Join Kerrid’s journey through the timeless first days… and into the Spinner’s Web

Cursed, friendless and shunned, fraudulent seer Kerrid, born of a fisher-hunter clan, holds two beliefs. That in her psychic abilities and exuded light she is unique, and as Voice of the Lady she’s exempt from an arranged marriage. Both convictions are shattered when nine boats arrive from the east carrying the ancient Chief Uissinir who wants her for his wife, and five of his sons who emit lights and share tricks like her own. Forced to make an unwise judgement, a trail of death follows.

Questions plague her. Why does she dream of babies dying? Why does a voice in her head taunt her: Suffer the loss, suffer the pain? And what is she that no matter how lethal the wound, she does not die?

What is she to kill with a thought?

Favourite Quote

She prayed to the Lady of the Hills, to her sons and First Woman too, She prayed for deliverance from the end envisaged by Breathman Bargli. Any decision, please; any doom other than eaten by cats.

(From The Spinner’s Child by Crispina Kemp, Chapter 3)

Review

I was lucky enough to beta-read this book (the whole series, in fact) and instantly fell in love with the characters, the story and the setting.  So, naturally, I was keen to read and review the ARC when given the opportunity to do so.

The Spinner’s Child is the first instalment in a five book historical fantasy series. Highly imaginative and epic in every sense, it tells the story of Kerrid.  This first book covers her childhood through to the first years of her becoming a woman.

Kerrid is a wonderful main character.  I connected to her very quickly, and at times, was brought to tears by things that go on around her.  My! Things are not easy for her. Her relationships, even to her mother and father, are never straightforward.  As her journey of self-discovery progresses, she is faced with ever more complex issues and her fate isn’t often in her own hands.

Then there are the questions to which she must find the answers.  Who is she? What is she? Why is she different?  It is this search for answers that motivates her, even when things seem bleak, showing a strength of character I greatly admire.

Other characters I liked were Sarat – of course!  I can see how his crafting abilities must have seemed like magic to those uninitiated in their process and his interactions with Kerrid were sweet. There was also Breathman Bargli…a wise and sensible man with such a kind heart.

The world-building is fantastic.  You can clearly see where the author has researched meticulously.  The knowledge and descriptions of cultures and societies, settlements, handicrafts and textiles are rich and detailed, but there is no overloading of information.  The language and terminology adds an extra layer of authenticity and helps to bring this vibrant setting to life.

However, it is the mythologies and spirituality, but especially the “feast fables” that captivated me the most. These stories within the story are really interesting, and harken back to a time when lore and explanations of what was, what is and what will be, were to be found in easily recognisable tales, ones that were simple to recall and to repeat. These are the first stories and those that told them, the first storytellers.

The author has a striking writing style, which I enjoyed.  The story is superbly crafted and perfectly paced, and I must mention the book cover: it captures the essence of the tale perfectly. And, a note on the formatting: the book is nicely laid out, includes a beautiful map of the area in which the story is set, and there are lovely graphics to be found on the title pages. Ebooks can often look plain and functional compared to print books, their only nod to aesthetics being drop caps at the beginning of chapters, so in comparison, this comes across as beautifully presented.

All-in-all, a splendid, enchanting read.  The second book in the series is Lake of Dreams, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.  Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy historical fantasy.

Rating

Book Review: Dawnthief by James Barclay

Dawnthief is the first book in The Chronicles of The Raven by James Barclay.

Quick review (read on for full review)

A solid, engaging start to a fantasy series, with a fresh take on magic, a fast pace and a cast of characters that is both varied and interesting.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Raven: six men and an elf, sword for hire in the wars that have torn apart Balaia. For years their loyalty has been only to themselves and their code.

But, that time is over. The Wytch Lords have escaped and The Raven find themselves fighting for the Dark College of magic, searching for the location of Dawnthief. It is a spell created to end the world, and it must be cast if any of them are to survive.

Favourite Quote

They didn’t take a contract because they believed in the cause.  In fact the cause was largely irrelevant.  The job had to be made worth their while, worth their reputation and worth their attendance. Worth the risk.

(From Dawnthief by James Barclay, page 50)

Review

I had tried to read this book once before, but for some reason really struggled to get into it.  However, I always try to give books a second chance if they sound like books I should love, and I’m so glad I did.  Although I found the start a bit of a slow burn as I tried to get acquainted with the world, characters and storyline, I did find the book engaging once I got into it.

There’s plenty of action and adventure to be found in the story.  In that respect, it reminded me a little of Stan Nicholl’s ‘Orcs’ series which I read last year, in as much as fantasy plus action equals a fast and energetic pace.

I enjoyed the world-building.  It mixed simple geography – the world is divided into two, with the “goodies” on one side of a mountain chain and the “baddies” on the other – with a more complex structure because of the magical colleges and the fractious relationship between other cities.  I also liked how magic worked in this world and how it differed between the colleges.

It’s a big book – my copy was over 500 pages – and in the beginning, when I was trying to get into the story, it felt a little overwhelming, but that was quickly replaced with eagerness to discover what was coming next, which to me often felt unpredictable and unexpected.

A couple of things didn’t make sense to me.  One was a strategy that seemed a little counter-intuitive in certain situations, and the other, which I won’t mention for fear of spoilers, I hope will make better sense as I read subsequent books in the series.  That being said, these two thins were not enough to severely limit my enjoyment of the book.

On the whole, I liked the characters and found them engaging with interesting back stories. The concept of The Raven was a good one, and as the theme of brotherhood runs through the book, you can see how it affects the characters and their motivations.

Overall, I’m looking forward to reading book two in the series, Noonshade.

Rating

3.5 / 5


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #16 in the list: a book you didn’t finish on your previous attempt to read it

Book Review: The Watchmaker’s Daughter by C. J. Archer

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is the first book in the Glass and Steel series by C. J. Archer.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Engaging, entertaining and a good first book in a series.  A fun read, with an interesting cast of characters and a great setting.  Looking forward to reading the next book.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.

Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.

Favourite Quote

“You’d better not wager anything you can’t afford to lose.”

(The Watchmaker’s Daughter by C. J. Archer, Chapter 17)

Review

I’ve been meaning to read “The Medium”, the first book in the Emily Chambers Spirit Medium Trilogy, by this author for ages.  I can’t remember how long it’s been sitting on my digital shelf, but it’s been there a while.  Then when I was perusing the same set of digital shelves last week for an indie read, this cover called to me.  To be fair, I think this book has also been waiting at least a year for some attention, and it’s finally got it.

First thing’s first. I love the cover.  The colours and fonts are eye-catching, and the imagery is well-suited to the story.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is a fantasy story set in Victorian England; I’m not sure there are enough elements in it to categorise it as steampunk, at least not yet – that might come as the series continues.  I found the storyline very interesting: characters from the Wild West on a quest through dark and gritty Victorian London, with the help of young, destitute woman with connections to the city’s watchmakers.  What’s not to like?

I liked the characters.  India Steel, I liked on the whole, though on a handful of occasions I questioned her thinking / actions.  It’s always nice to come across a character who turns out to be stronger than she thought possible, and who has what it takes to triumph over the difficulties in her path, and this is how I saw India for the majority of the book.  Matthew Glass, again was a likeable character.  His secrets gave him a mysterious air, though the way he was portrayed suggested (to me, if not India) that he could always be trusted.  As for the rest of the characters, they are quirky and / or disreputable, and I think they worked well in both the setting and the story.

I was engaged enough with the story to not want to put the book down.  I wanted to see how this first instalment would end, and even though I anticipated much of what was to happen, I enjoyed the reading of it, and there were still a number of plot twists I didn’t expect.

I couldn’t decide between awarding this book 3.5 or 4 stars, but the beautiful cover encouraged me to be generous.  For the first book in a series, I thought it did a good job introducing the reader to the world it is set in, and to the cast of characters, and I’m looking forward to continue reading it.  The next book in the series, The Mapmaker’s Apprentice, has been added to my TBR list.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #19 in the list: A book by an indie author.

Short Story Review: The Taking by Stan Nicholls

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting short story, offering further insight into the world of The Wolverines.  4 / 5

Summary

It’s Braetagg’s Day, a day of festivities for Orcs, but when the focal point of the celebrations goes missing, there’s only one place to turn if the day is to be rescued before word gets out regarding what’s happened: The Wolverines.  To make things even harder for the elite warband, they have a new member in the ranks, having only joined The Wolverines that very morning.  Will their inclusion help or hinder the mission?

Favourite Quote

‘Humans were eating the magic.’

(From The Taking by Stan Nicholls, pg 693)

Review

I’m reading the omnibus edition of the Orcs: First Blood trilogy, (Bodyguard of Lightning (see my review here), Legion of Thunder (see review here) and Warriors of the Tempest (review here)) which also included this short story, The Taking, and I have reviewed each of the stories separately.

This short story is set before the start of the Orcs: First Blood trilogy.  It’s Corporal Coilla’s first day in The Wolverines.  As the only female orc in the warband, I find her character intriguing.  She’s strong and intelligent and one of my favourite characters from the trilogy.  I was also pleased to find included in the story the other characters from the three novels I’d already read, especially Jup and Alfray, another two of my favourites.

This was a fantastic short story that showed another dimension to the Orcs, offering more cultural background to their race and the world they live in.  Once again, there was plenty of fast-paced action and the storyline did not disappoint.  It was engaging and entertaining and has only further ensured I continue on reading this series.

The Taking is perfect for those already familiar with the setting and the characters.  I found it to be an interesting, insightful read, which only added to my enjoyment of the series and the world in which it is set.  Sometimes short stories can fall flat if they follow on from high energy, full length novels which are full of adventure because there just isn’t the space within the word limit to emulate the bigger storylines and subplots.  That isn’t a problem here.

All-in-all, this was a great read and a wonderful addition to the Orcs series of stories.

Rating