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Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood & Ink (Ink Born Book 2)

Dacian Corbeaux and his tattoo partner Keirn have fled to Prague, and are living embedded on the edge of the Magical Quarter, under the protection of a powerful wood elf named Fein. However, rumours of an ink magician in the city are spreading despite all the protection the elf can give, and Dacian’s relationship with the ink is still uncertain – too uncertain to allow him to interpret the message it’s trying to give him so urgently that he can hardly focus on the work he does to earn his protection. Between that and personal crises in his household, the situation in Prague is precarious.

Blood and Ink is a strong sequel to Stolen Ink, with a strong focus on Dacian and Keirn and a completely new setting. The book would stand alone, but reading the first one provides more context to the backstory, and the world-building is more than rich enough to merit reading both. The skilled pacing and story-telling that shone in the first book are still present in the second, although I did feel that the characters’ personal lives detracted some of the focus from the main plot. It’s hard to get too worried about this, however, as the characters are one of the key strengths of the series – cynical, well-developed, and part of a truly unique magic system. I would recommend this book – and the series – to any readers of urban fantasy looking for something new.

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head, Alex Avrio

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head, Alex Avrio

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head (Merchant Blades Book 2)

Merchant Blade Regina Fitzwaters, previously a Captain in the Merrovigia armed forces, has a hangover. To add insult to injury, she didn’t even earn it—her partner and fellow Merchant Blade, Kapitan Maximilian Jaeger, did. On top of that, given a partnership they’re magically cursed to maintain, it looks very much as if she’s going to wind up working for the Eressians, the previously opposing side in a very recently-won war. If that weren’t enough, Jaeger, Eressian himself, is going to have to take the command on an escort mission that looks as if the Merchant Blades are going to end as scapegoats or worse…

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head is a great sequel to The Alchemist’s Box, following Jaeger and Fitzwaters as they try to come to terms with their curse, their obligatory business partnership, and Eressian politics. The story-telling in this series is enthralling; well-paced and filled with characters well-developed enough to pull the reader forcibly into their stories. I felt there were a few areas where the technical side of the writing in this book could have been tightened up, primarily in clarity and consistency, but overall this read kept me just as entertained as the first book in the series. Jaeger retains his status as a convincing anti-hero; conflicted, competent, close-mouthed about his past, and practical well past the point of ruthlessness, and the world-building is very solid and plausible. A must-read for fans of fantasy adventure.

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box (The Merchant Blades Book 1)

Regina Fitzwaters is a mercenary, one of the many soldiers who enlisted in an army that, with the advent of peace, no longer needs them. After losing her savings in a high-stakes card game, she finds herself entrapped into a mission across the treacherous Ugarri Pass at the onset of winter. Employed by a pair of criminals with no scruples and forced to take as her co-commander a mercenary previously from the opposing army, Fitzwaters is so far outside her comfort zone that she couldn’t even find it on a map, and that’s only the start of her troubles…

The Alchemist’s Box is a well-written fantasy adventure, spiced with magic that hardly anyone believes in, true prophecy that no one wants to believe in, and full of unlikely alliances. I read this book in two sittings, and on top of an excellently paced and planned plot, I found that the characters really shone. I’m a shameless sucker for intelligent anti-heroes, and Kapitan Maximillian Jaeger deserves, at the least, an honourable mention in that category. Competent, conflicted, and dark to the core, I found that he stole centre stage as far as characterisation went. The protagonist, Regina Fitzwaters, expressed very accurately the vivid exasperation of a competent, intelligent woman consistently underestimated and insulted on account of her gender, but that was the main impression left by the character. The twist at the end of the book in the very conflicted relationship between Fitzwaters and Jaeger was also a nice change from the traditional cliché. Overall, I would highly recommend this book – a most engaging read.

Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes (The Buried Goddess Saga Book 1)

Torsten Unger is Wearer of the White to a dying king. With one sickly son and a foreign-born, unstable Queen, he’s all too well aware that the conquered lands around the Glass Kingdom will be planning their invasions before the throne goes cold. Despite this, the Queen insists that more knights be sent into the deadly Webbed Woods in an attempt to retrieve a doll for the heir to the throne – a doll that she insists holds a piece of her son’s soul. To stand a chance where so many others have failed, Torsten knows he needs to enlist some help – the kind of help he wouldn’t normally consider.

Web of Eyes has a lot going for it – a truly excellent, attention-catching title, imaginative world-building, and complex politics with a variety of nations and influences. On the other hand, the characters didn’t do much for me; if they had benefited from the same level of development that clearly went into the world-building, I would have been ecstatic. As it was, Torsten and all his entourage came across as takes on various well-established types – the emotionally fragile queen, the muscled warrior hero, the trickster thief…you get the idea. However, with a little tightening up on the storylines, and a bit more character development, this would have been solidly in the running for five stars. I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure fantasy.

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall: Book 1 of the New Earth Series

Lieutenant Cairo Wilson is happy with her career; born into a backward settlement where the role of a female is to mind the kitchen and have children, the Federation’s military training and education opportunities were a life-changing escape from a future of boredom. When she’s assigned to one of the remote colony settlements to investigate rumours of terrorism, she accepts it as an opportunity to develop new skills. However, none of her training prepares her for a cataclysmic meeting with her erstwhile best friend from the Academy…or what that friend has been doing.

The Fall mixes classic adventure sci-fi with YA-style exploration of cultural restrictions and the younger generation’s rebellion against them; Lt. Wilson’s encounter with her parents, many years after she ran away from home to join the Federation military, is a set-piece of the type. I found that in places the youthful rebellion theme impacted the pacing of the main storyline; conversely, there were areas of the world-building where I felt some additional detail would have been beneficial, not to mention some shades of gray between the protagonist and antagonist. The story is very much ‘youthful trauma turns against the government that trained her’ versus ‘perfectly programmed citizen’. However, the book overall was well-written and an enjoyable read – I would recommend it to sci-fi readers, especially those in the younger age brackets.