Category Archives: High Fantasy

Book Review: Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) : by Joe Abercrombie

3.5
half a world

 

 This review contains major spoilers from the first book in the series. Those who are yet to read it, should skip this review. 

The first book ended with Yarvi becoming the minister and thus the right hand to the King of Gettland. He chose to leave the ambition of becoming a King in favour of breathing. Plus, he knew he could do so much better from a position where he was operating from behind the curtain all the while wielding the real power.

In my honest opinion, Half a King was a very apt title for the first book. Notwithstanding the fact that Yarvi does not actually sit on the throne, it is an indisputable truth by the end that Yarvi with his new position will hold half the strings that run the kingdom of Gettland.

In consideration with the first book in the series, Half The World clearly begins after an unannounced period of time has passed, by which time Yarvi has settled himself very well in his new role. FurtherHalf The World  portrays Yarvi thriving. Previously, he was used to scorn and used to be laughed at as he was “half a man”. But now, he is observed with awe as well as wariness. He is now famed to be:

“a deep cunning man”.

Yarvi is seen calculating the odds of winning the battle against those who threaten Gettland’s survival. He observes and assesses the need to put things in motion and so he gets things moving. If he needs to get his hands dirty, he has no qualms about it.
Yarvi is never to be let down. He is persistent and smart enough to change tactics when it is needed in lieu of failures. He acts ruthlessly and takes some cold-blooded steps but he has already realised that a wise man has to often speak the bitter truth but a smarter man has to make the cruellest of choices. It is quite clear that his character operates and thrives in different shades of grey.
Abercrombie puts Yarvi into the mould where he is seen indulging in what would most commonly be called “backseat driving”. And if the ride doesn’t go his way, he has planned for contingencies upon contingencies.

But Half the World is hardly only Yarvi’s story. The author introduces the readers to two new characters: a prickly natured girl named Thorn and a brave but calm warrior Brand.

Thorn has had a difficult time proving herself in the male-dominated society. Her father was a great warrior before he perished and she had a yearning to become a warrior herself since she was a kid. Now, in her teens she unwittingly ends up murdering a fellow trainee and is therefore sentenced to face death. When Yarvi offers her a chance at life, she readily accepts. Yarvi ensures that Thorn is then transformed into a lethal fighter, her killing instincts, the very reason she was doomed is then turned into the reason for her survival and then glory.

Brand’s righteous heart has always landed him in trouble but he cannot live with a heavy conscience. Knowing Thorn is innocent, he tries to save her. Every good deed is punished, so is his. His reward entails the crushing of all his hopes for the future-for a better life by his comrades. Yarvi then takes Brand under his wing.

This novel sees Yarvi, Brand and Thorn on a mission to find allies to aid them in the upcoming war against half the world.

I was suffering through a reading moratorium brought about by life getting in the way of things. I was not sure that I would be able to accord this book with the concentration or time it deserved. But as soon as I picked up this book, I forgot all my worries and was completely at the author’s mercy. I found the opening scene powerful. It was a good strong opening which ensured that the reader would not only be able to sympathise with Thorn’s miserable situation, but also be concerned regarding her future.

Unlike its predecessor, this novel employs multiple POVs which in my opinion serve to enhance the quality of the narrative. The subtlety with which the narratives are handled ensured that I could easily distinguish between the voices of two different characters, for which the author deserves praise.

I admire the fact that the author draws his characters with a number of flaws. Thorn possessed a number of them. In addition to that, Thorn doesn’t lose her pride quite unlike Yarvi who learned to be humbled during his struggle to survive. Due to this, the journey she makes from an impatient and insolent girl to a somewhat-wise woman was a very interesting one.

Brand’s character can be well understood from Yarvi’s words:

A man who gives all thought to do good but no thought to the consequence… that is a dangerous man.”

Indeed the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes true for Brand. He does take the moral high ground in comparison to his peers but he is never a hypocrite. His journey from a boy to a man is the outcome of an exposure to the depravity of the world he lives in. The glorious war is nothing but the tyranny of the rich and mighty on the poor and the weak. Once Brand has a glimpse of the heartbreaking reality, he emerges the stronger for it. His development leaves him an even more balanced and wiser man. He acknowledges that he might be a brave warrior however his soul yearns for a peaceful life.

Abercrombie further instigates a romance between the two that quite frankly was not really required. On the other hand, Thorn and Brand’s romance isn’t neat and clean. It has its share of awkwardness associated with adolescence. The insecurities and angst is handled nicely and on the whole it is a nicely woven twist in the story. Surprisingly, it specifically adds to the ending with Thorn and Brand choosing such different places for themselves in the world.

Set in a post apocalyptic world, this story is fast-paced. The gritty truth of the pitiful life aboard a vessel during war times is revealed without any unnecessary profanities by the ones who suffer through it. On one hand, apart from the well-written battle scenes, nothing much happens in this book. On the other hand, the political intrigue and the diplomatic games take the front seat. Not at all complying with what is expected, this novel brings up some friends for the protagonists who are much welcomed and unexpected but at the same time dishes out Yarvi’s confrontations with some old enemies. Abercrombie pitts the brain versus brawn in this book and just like the last time, he doesn’t underscore brawn at all.

This book has driven characters and is held by a focused narrative. There are a few similarities that it shares with the first one. Thorn, very much like Yarvi is seen fighting against the odds. Previously, Yarvi’s naivety was questioned, this time it is Brand’s goodness. Very much like the previous book, a lesson is learned at each step of the journey, and of course, this book also involves a voyage like the previous one. It also remains true to its depiction of the harshness of war and a disillusionment with it. Like the last time, there were a lot of twists that I didn’t see coming. In fact, most of the book is unpredictable, apart from one major plot move, which I was sadly able to guess. Still, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. On a side note, I would definitely suggest a re-reading of the previous book before picking up this one though, to better re-acquaint oneself with the world and re-emerging characters. It would definitely double the enjoyment.

 Half the World is a marvellously written book. I couldn’t rest before I finished it. It didn’t drag when not needed and served as a remarkable middle instalment to this series. I am all prepped to read the next one and I am glad that the last book is coming out in July and I won’t have to wait long.

For my review of  Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) click here .

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A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

4.5

a darker shade of magic

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. 

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped. (Goodreads)

***** I received an ARC copy of this book from Titan Publishers. This is an Honest Review*****

This is my first Schwab book and it is a fascinating, multidimensional setting of three Londons, which are unique for being the point where three geographically differing worlds overlap. This is a wholly original and refreshing new story with an air of antiquity to it. The story, its complexity, the flavour and atmosphere of the overlapping worlds pull you in from the first page. The world building is remarkable and the prose is nuanced and lyrical.

The characters are satisfactorily complex. Not extraordinarily so, but enough to delight in. Kell is a Traveller – a rare species of people capable of travelling between the three worlds. Worlds of differing amounts of magic, technology and life. He wears a unique coat and acts as messenger for the Red Crown. (I will admit, I really liked Kell’s coat and loved whenever the parts about it came.)

Lila is a cross-dressing thief who aspires to be a pirate. To have an independent and free life with no shackles, no restrictions, no bonds. There’s a stimulating balance to him, and common sense that is welcome in both. The rest of the main characters comprise of the Red Royal Family which includes Prince Rhy, the closest person to Kell; the current rulers of White London and their Traveller and messenger Holland; and a bartender and owner in Grey London.

Kell and Holland particularly, are the truly complex characters of the book. They straddle the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, weak and strong. Lila is refreshingly independent whose ambitions are not put on hold for anything or anyone. However I wish there had been more interactions with Rhy, the prince. His relationship with Kell and personality are all seen through Kell to significant depth, but I wish there are had been more, to get a sense of him as a reader. Especially considering the developments that take place because of him.

The length of the book didn’t faze me, only made me eager to know what would happen next. Kept me on my toes, so to speak. Yes, it takes its sweet time to progress and has a leisurely pace, yet I never felt impatient with the story or for the end to come, nor did I despair over how much was left to read. The thought in my mind was – What will happen next? How will the story move forward? Where will it go? And what will happen once we’ve reached there?

Explaining this without giving details is difficult, but I will say that I did not expect the ending. I am ambiguous about it. On the one hand I expected it to end on a cliff-hanger, especially since it was apparent that there will be sequels. But that did not happen. The danger which I expected to continue into the next one was temporarily halted with the resolution of the part of the story and struggle that this book dealt with. I also did not particularly care for the Rhy-Kell plot in the second half.

I felt the writing slackened towards the end, especially considering the standards of the first three quarters of the book. Suddenly things happened swiftly and not smoothly. It came across as rushed. All the pent up tension and anticipation was not fully and satisfactorily carried through, did not match the build-up. At the end I felt – That’s it?

Other than that, A Darker Shade of Magic is a remarkable story with a mystical charm and I can’t wait for more of the worlds and their stories to unfold. And I will definitely be reading more of Schwab’s works in the future.

a-darker-shade-of-magic1


Book Review: Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1) by Jeff Wheeler

3.5

Fireblood

I had completely forgotten the book’s blurb when I started it and that doubled the enjoyment I gained from reading it. To put the story succinctly, Tyrus is playing a dangerous game, and his motives seem dubious. But his game does not end with his involvement, rather it makes pawns of his niece, nephew and a flippant young warrior. Now, as the world is slowly fighting its death, the evil ones are set on the continued destruction of the world to remain in power. Annon, Hettie and Paedrin are on their own. They are united for a cause which seems like a pittance in comparison to the reality they are forced to confront. And when they do, they not only have to fight to survive but have to save thousands of lives too.

 Fireblood started with a glimpse of the past which is the base through which the story starts. The scene was interesting and almost prophetic in nature. A scene like that makes one assume. I assumed. But I found that assumptions took a back seat to the events that unfolded in the book.

The first half of the book develops rather slowly. It might irritate a few people, but it gave me enough time to accustom myself to Wheeler’s style of writing. I found his writing to be slightly uneven for my taste. Sometimes the narration was slightly choppy and failed to capture my interest and at other times it was written very well and involved me completely.

Annon, Hettie and Paedrin strangely reminded me of the characters from the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Thankfully, even though the circumstances where the world is to be saved and relationships are similar, the resemblance of the book with the cartoon ended there.

Jeff Wheeler creates such characters that it’s quite easy to identify oneself with them. However, I sometimes did find instances where the characters seemed somewhat one-dimensional. The characters were written nicely but it felt that maybe the author could not guess the exact reaction or emotion that the character went through. It didn’t happen much but when it did, the dialogues and the scenes fell flat. In addition, Jeff introduced us to a lot of characters. It’s a worrisome undertaking since these side characters gained prominence as well when the story developed. Now, I’m eager to read their perspectives and I’m hoping earnestly that they are well constructed and don’t suffer through similar one-dimensional depiction.

The key characters are young in age but quite mature in their understanding of the world. Further, every character had his or her share of secrets and their actions further complicated the story. There were remnants of childishness which showed through here and there, still, the ease with which they embraced the harshest of truths, belied a mindset of a person who is in their mid-twenties. I can’t count this as a shortcoming though because of the upbringing that the three had. And ofcourse the dangerous world they live in. To have a look at the key characters:

Annon’s maturity was something gained due to his profession. He is a Druidecht. Someone who maintains harmony between the nature-spirits and the humans. He was my favourite character in the novel. The most well-balanced character who is not impulsive. Even though sometimes his nature demands it, Annon can overcome his emotions to handle the situation. Hettie was a complex character who evoked my sympathy as well as mild rejection due to her actions in different circumstances. At the end however, I was rooting for her as much as I was for the others. On the whole, I found that Paedrin might have been the only character that disappointed me. I had high expectations of him owing to his upbringing and his wisdom, however, he was the one who acted like a teenager the most. Still his crucible was not easy to cross and his pain was the most potent to me as a reader.

Jeff Wheeler successfully evoked my emotions. I failed to predict a single percent of the story and that makes me give this book a huge bonus score. The magical and mystical world is well-developed, though I guess I would have benefitted more if I had availed myself of the glossary given at the back. But my imagination was thoroughly engrossed in building the world in the way the author described it. Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and the author utilises all the leeway provided to a story in this category. A highly detailed world, the only flaw I could find seemed to be that the travel and distance didn’t take as much time as I had anticipated. Nevertheless, the medieval world is perfect for the plot that the author introduces to the readers. But even more perfect is the way in which the whole world and its inhabitants are involved in layers of overlapping connections. The bonds, the shifting alliances, the hidden agendas, the politics, all are unexplainable and unforeseeable elements that make the story interesting.

It doesn’t happen often enough for my liking that I stumble upon a book that I really like, which has beeen written by an author previously unknown to me. This time, thankfully it happened.

 Fireblood takes you into a world of mystical magic, graceful spirits, sinister plots, and drudge politics. It does not allow you the luxury of a correct guess regarding the plot and even though the story has a number of twists, the medium-pace makes it easy for the reader to follow the events without any threat of being overwhelmed.

Despite its shortcomings (and the cliff-hanger), I am glad that I got to read this book (through netgalley) and can’t wait to pick up the next one in the series.


Book Review: The Gift of Charms (The Land of Dragor Series #1) by Julia Suzuki

3.5

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*** I was given a copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review ***

Dragor is an isolated valley, the only place on the planet inhabited by dragons and hidden from prying eyes. Here dragons have lived in peace since the great war against the humans and dragsaurs. Now, to stay safe and strong, they ensure their existence stays hidden, and go about their everyday lives. And yet something seems to be missing in their lives, preventing them from feeling completely happy and at ease.

Yoshiko is a dragon hatchling born under abnormal circumstances. Something about his birth raises alarm in the dragon community but, the truth is hidden and Yoshiko’s parents manage to keep their son from harm. Now, he’s a youngling like any other, about to attend the Fire School for the first time so he can also learn and grow to be a strong and skilful dragon. But, school isn’t as easy and exciting as he thought it would be and Yoshiko struggles to fit in.

Gradually he comes to find that he is different from all dragons of his age, in fact any dragon he’s ever met or heard about. And as he struggles to deal with things, he eventually finds out that there’s more to him and the dragon community than he thought. How will Yoshiko fare, and will he be able to face up to his destiny?

The Gift of Charms is a charming tale (no pun intended) of a young dragon who constantly feels out of place. One who is different not just figuratively but literally. The story follows his growth from a shy dragon to one who works hard on getting stronger, and learns to accept and understand his differences from others. This gives him the strength to take on an unimaginable task and do something no other dragon has ever done before.

I had not realised as I accepted this book to read and review that it is for middle grade children. So yes, I was a little put down (not to mention, lost for a while as to what to do). But I decided to continue with the story for two reasons. Firstly, because it seemed to be an interesting and cute story and secondly because it’s about dragon life! What do the dragons do, how do they live? What are their habits? How is their society and culture? This is the first book I’ve read which deals with these things and it was fun! Fun, to read about a young dragon as he goes to school, meets a bully, struggles with his abilities and is curious about his own world. Just imagining all of it was delightful, and so cute! I can totally imagine this as an animated movie.

While I liked reading this tale, I wish it had slightly more detailing and was a little slower. The information and history of the dragons and their past could’ve been better in narrative form rather than as dialogues. There are a few errors here and there, but otherwise this is a well written story about a unique world. The characters are also nicely developed. However, I sincerely hope there’s more to Yoshiko’s difference and the way that uniqueness manifests. Also, there was never a hint of something lacking in the dragon community which makes them whole. And since the ending was extremely rushed, the lack of explanation was more apparent, especially considering the title of the book. And lastly, Yoshiko’s venture and interaction with a certain someone was not lengthy enough. Everything was over and done with in a breath! It seemed too easy. Basically, everything comes down to the fact that the book was a bit too fast paced and was definitely rushed at the end.

Overall, a captivating story which is sure to be fun for young kids and an extra kudos from me for concept.