Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster

Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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Seeds of Hatred, Christian Nadeau

Seeds of Hatred, Christian Nadeau

Seeds of Hatred (Scions Awakened Book 1)

Marac is an assassin, and unlike most of his previous colleagues, not a dead one. Alex is a Lightbearer, one of the rare, gifted members of a cult that the Brotherhood reviles. Soren is a Brotherhood soldier, one of the few born of the nobility that the Brotherhood seeks to control. Each, in their own way, has been affected by the rise of an ancient enemy, and each, in their own way, has chosen to fight something that most of society doesn’t believe still exists.

Seeds of Hatred is written in the classic epic fantasy style; ancient enemy awakening, chosen few leading the fight, unexpected allies, magic that no one has seen in generations, you name it, the book has it. The world-building is solid, with a magic system that supports the plot, and an interesting take on a type of magic that requires drinking blood, as opposed to the classic vampire. For me, the characters were the weak point in the story; while some of the back-stories were very strong, on the whole the gender stereotypes were so ingrained that some actions and reactions were regrettably predictable. Alex was the only character who managed to partially break free of the mould, and even she was gifted early on with a male protector to explain the world to her. There are also quite a few viewpoints, leaving me in a few spots having to flip back to check whose story I’d just arrived in. However, I have to give this book points on pacing: I didn’t find myself fading out or being tempted to skip parts – the various plot lines were well-maintained and the continuity was good. This is a book that epic fantasy fans will find worth the read.

Runaway Deception, Denae Christine

Runaway Deception, Denae Christine

Runaway Deception (Royal Deception Book 2)

Symon abandoned the throne of Arton after the death of his father, leaving his treacherous uncle in functional charge of the country and his mother and a twelve-year-old soon-to-be-royal, Lana, as the only bulwark against the coup. Fleeing through the countryside, Symon accidentally falls in with the rumoured band of renegade animal shifters known as the Hoard, and decides to remain with them, hiding who and what he actually is, as his uncle’s Inurite army imprison and kill animal shifters across Arton.

Author Denae Christine has created an interesting and satisfyingly complex society of shape shifters in this series, their roles and discord lending insight into the intricate world building behind the books. While the author’s technical skill is clear, and the social structure as intriguing as the biology, I didn’t find that Runaway Deception really went anywhere. It’s difficult to explain without horrific spoilers of this book or the first in the series, but the status quo at the end of book one, essentially, is the status quo at the end of book two; Symon missing, Lana in trouble, treacherous uncle in charge of Arton and doing unspeakable things.

I also must confess that I found Symon hard to relate to as a protagonist; in some core aspects, he appears to be as self-centred as a gyroscope, and while this story is a YA, and Symon is a teenager, it was hard for me to find much sympathy with him. It made reading a book almost entirely about his adventures while running away from his throne a little tougher a proposition than it might otherwise have been.

The quality of the story-telling, however, earnt this book a solid three stars despite my not-infrequent desire to see Symon turned over someone’s knee and spanked – it’s well-paced, well-thought out, and an enjoyable read.

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars (Crowns of Silver and Ash Book 1)

Written in the style of an epic fantasy, The Seven Stars introduces us to a tale of war and adventure peopled with an intriguing mix of races. There are the mysterious Sons, with their warlike abilities; humans; the dhoglers; and the Eirkfolk, mute without their musical instruments. The development of these races was honestly probably the part of the story that came across as the strongest for me.

However, I found other aspects less well-developed. The centre of the story is the Sons’ attack on the Silver City, and their crusade to destroy all Seven Cities; aside from a general understanding that the Seven Cities had done something unmentionable to the Sons’ ancestors, I found myself at the end of this first book still somewhat unclear on the cause of the conflict, the exact properties of the various relics guarded by the cities, and, to be honest, even on how long ago said atrocity took place. The Seven Cities were apparently at peace plenty long enough to let their guard down, but the Sons were clearly polishing some serious revenge meanwhile.

There is also a mystery around the topic of music; the Sons despise and avoid it, except when they themselves sing; the Eirkfolk require music to speak, and there’s a strong implication that music carries some power in the world of Crowns of Silver and Ash that doesn’t come completely clear. While this book is the first in a series and ends abruptly enough to qualify as a cliff-hanger, I would have appreciated a few more hints on this to hook me into a second book.

Overall, there were most certainly strong points in this book, and the author clearly put a great deal of thought into his creation, but I didn’t find that the story really drew me in. Some of that is because of the vagueness I mentioned above, and partly because the pacing in some areas had me resisting the urge to page-flip; there was no one thread or character that really pulled me into the story and held me there.

High Iron, Tim Craire

High Iron, Tim Craire

High Iron

Aiman Shearer was very young when he was first singled out by the wizards of Varenland, and although he chose not to pursue magic and learning, it remained a part of him; a daydream to bring out and polish bright. Much later, when his peaceful existence raising his family’s sheep is threatened by invasion, Aiman finds himself caught up in a central role in the conflict, dealing with dwarves, elves, and renegade kobolds to end the unrest threatening Emmervale, and, possibly, avert a war.

High Iron is a well-written story, very suitable for younger readers. I say this partly because of the protagonist: Aiman is the son of a well-placed family in idyllic Emmervale, and is a simply-sketched character with no real vices, someone who is ready to forego glory to mind his family’s sheep and overlook past wrongs to save his town. The story itself is also written in the style of the fantasy quest, well done but with no real doubt about the eventual outcome of the hero’s endeavours. Despite or because of this, the book was still a highly enjoyable read, and as I’m generally all about the complex, dark, and twisted, I say this as a real compliment. I’d recommend it without hesitation to fantasy readers of all ages.

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