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.

Beyond the Vale, Kerry Alan Denney

Beyond the Vale, Kerry Alan Denney

Beyond the Vale

Logan isn’t sure if he’s dreaming, dead, or simply finally lost his marbles. There’s a woman he should know, a personal history he should know, and all he has is a blank in his head. There are doors that lead to impossible geography and photos that could never have been taken. However, crazy or not, something is clearly very wrong – and like it or not, Logan has apparently been elected general saviour of the world.

Beyond the Vale is one of those books where you spend the first few chapters just as confused as the protagonist, trying to figure out what’s going on. The author succeeds in conveying that utter disorientation particularly realistically in this book. However, coming out of that disorientation, you will pretty much perforce be very keyed in on the characters in the plot; Logan’s development through the book is a key theme and provides a lot of food for thought, especially since his development is all you find out about him until the latter stages of the book, where some of his missing past comes to light. The storyline is richly layered, and provides more thinking material the deeper you choose to delve into it. Definitely something to pick up for all the fantasy fans out there.

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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.