The Black Throne, L M Siddens

The Black Throne, L M Siddens

The Black Throne

Set in a land of eternal winter, The Black Throne is the story of Donella, a foundling child adopted by the baker in the village of Erinley, which survives by a thread on the edge of the Woode. Donella dreams of the Woode asleep and is the only villager who will walk it awake, an affinity that puts her under increasing suspicion. No-one has seen one of the Woode-living Faei in decades, and only the oldest of the village elders remember ever having heard birdsong. Many fear that Donella is under the influence of the Faei, or even Faei herself – but the truth may be stranger even than that.

L. M. Siddens has created a great protagonist for a YA with Donella, a child who doesn’t fit her environment and who is verging on the edge of teenaged rebellion, in a setting where anything out of the ordinary is regarded with suspicion. While I did find that the level of additional detail in the writing occasionally slowed the story down, the basic premise of social intolerance and the clash of a magical culture with a human one forms an excellent foundation for fantasy. The legends of the Faei passed around Donella’s small village are also a nice touch, evoking the familiar feel of fairy tales even as they begin to drop hints of the plot. Certainly worth the read!

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Cheaters, Peter A Stankovic

Cheaters, Peter A Stankovic

Cheaters

In Cheaters: A Markus Doppler Thriller, a serial killer is running loose in Sydney. A string of women have been turning up dead, missing one front tooth, and with no other real common denominator aside from their gender. The Sydney police call on Markus Doppler, a recently-retired detective, to come in and lead the team on the case. Markus, with a mounting body count and little by way of leads, is trying to balance catching a killer with a relationship with the first woman he’s had serious feelings for since his divorce, met via the Cheaters website – a site advertised as a way for people looking for no-strings sex to meet.

This book is a well-laid out mystery story, constructed to keep the reader guessing right through to the grand reveal and playing on the ongoing theme of websites set up for married couples to experiment beyond their marriage. I found that the sheer number of secondary characters was overwhelming in the beginning, meaning that for me the story only really found a unifying factor about a tenth of the way in, and the constant point-of-view shifts became confusing in sections. However, Peter A. Stankovic does manage to pull all these disparate threads together for the finale, and the locations and characters are solidly convincing. Certainly worth reading for mystery readers who don’t like all the answers handed to them on a plate.

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Darkstorm, M L Spencer

Darkstorm, M L Spencer

Darkstorm

Darkstorm, the first installment in M. L. Spencer’s Rhenwars saga, opens 1,000 years in the past, when the magical adepts of the Rhen and Caladorn face an invasion of the dark forces of Xerys, backed by powerful dark mages. With the two nations teetering on the edge of a very mundane war, only the ambassador of Caladorn to the Rhen, Braden Reis, his illicit lover, a magical adept in her own right, and an acolyte of the Rhen have the information and the will to try to forestall disaster, and their efforts hang by a thread.

Darkstorm is a well-imagined fantasy, spectacular world-building complemented by a plot full of twists and double-crosses. The tension between the nations, between the characters, and between the factions is well done, and pervades the entire storyline, adding a nice touch of intrigue to even the simplest interactions. Caladorn offers an interesting cultural simile alongside its role in the plot, a society in which a woman’s power is essentially based on her attractiveness, which adds an unexpected dimension to an already fast-paced book. Fans of epic fantasy have a treat in store with this book, with layers of political intrigue, magical corruption, and compelling anti-heroes melding into a great read.

Asylum, Keith McDonald

Asylum, Keith McDonald

Asylum

Asylum opens with our hero on a dive into a sun without a spaceship, highlighting the point that it’s not where you are, it’s how you got there that’s important. Keith was captured by aliens from a routine night on security duty, narrowly escaped being eaten, and took refuge by lucky chance in a cave occupied by artificially intelligent all-atmosphere suits that had taken a few millennia break from existence. When he defends one of these inanimate suits from damage at the hands of his pursuers, they intervene to save his life, triggering an abrupt turn in his life plans.

Keith McDonald exhibits an entertainingly bloody-minded sense of humour in his writing, as well as some interesting twists on the alien abduction theme. However, overall I found Asylum would have benefited from a bit more time in edits. While the basic story was strong, constant technical issues in the writing prevented me, by and large, from suspending my disbelief long enough to get into the book, and the hero’s tendency to fight with music blasting over his headphones should by rights have got him killed long before he took a dive into a star, especially as it became something of a theme for the story. I’d have to rate this as a read with a lot of potential that needs more work to deliver on that promise.

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Capering on Glass Bridges, Jessica Hernandez

Capering on Glass Bridges, Jessica Hernandez

Capering on Glass Bridges (The Hawk of Stone Duology, Book 1)

Capering on Glass Bridges is a heartwarming YA fantasy, told from the point of view of Kaia, the middle daughter of the respectable Stone family. Kaia’s strict father and loving but flaky mother create a solidly familiar framework for the reader, allowing the author to build her fantasy from a base her audience will immediately recognise. It also provides a good contrast with Kaia’s uniqueness; alone of her family, she hasn’t paired with a canonipom, the physical alter ego that all her people have.

I found that the underlying plot for the book was well-conceived, but the clues in the story line are in places introduced from nowhere (for example, we find out why Kaia is so different a good third of the way into the book, more or less completely unheralded, and it’s a doozy). Also, the book’s overwhelming focus on character emotions did occasionally detract from the adventure for me, and while the secondary characters play to friendly and familiar themes, some of them would have benefited from some quirk or oddity to help them avoid being easily stereotyped.

All that said, the world-building is highly imaginative, and the fantasy elements are unique and well done, especially the various races that feature in the story, leading me to say it definitely earned its three stars.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books.