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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I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth: Unveiled, Book 1

A car smash was the turning point for all three sisters, and especially Emlynn, traumatised and with a head injury that apparently kick-started her on-again-off-again ability to perceive the dead. Isolated, and struggling with her own problems, there’s no-one Emlynn can tell about the cold patch on the stairs, or the figures she sees watching their house, or the sense of sheer menace she’s getting off her oldest sister’s new boyfriend. Each of the sisters has their role to play, and it seems the harder Emlynn tries to fight, the more ground she loses.

I Belong to the Earth is a complex story with a depth and richness far beyond most of the YA genre I’ve read. It’s welcomely free of stereotypes and miraculous solutions, and the fantasy elements are solidly thought-out and woven into the plot with a realism that chills. Author J. A. Ironside writes the side-effects of trauma with an understanding that adds dimensions to Emlynn’s struggle. With excellent pacing and incredibly convincing characterisation, this book totally earnt its five stars. I read it in a couple of sittings, and actually read all the teasers at the end looking for more (I never do that). I strongly recommend this read – one of the best fantasy books I’ve come across this year.

The Azrael Initiative, K Hanson

The Azrael Initiative, K Hanson

The Azrael Initiative (Kayla Falk Series Book 1)

Kayla Falk is an engineering student, whose biggest concern is her graduation project. Unlike most students, she even has a guaranteed job waiting for her at graduation: working for her best friend’s dad. Her plans are looking good, but sometimes the sayings about best-laid plans love to prove themselves, and an attack on her university throws Kayla, and her best friend Olivia, into the middle of something neither of them had ever considered. When two teens beat off a terrorist cell, it’s not only the news outlets that take notice…

The Azrael Initiative is a strong contender in the YA adventure field, picking two teens out of utterly normal lives and catapulting them into extraordinary circumstances. I found that the storyline was well-constructed, with enough breadcrumbs leading to the twist to make it plausible, but not enough to be a dead giveaway. However (without dropping a ton of spoilers) there were some elements that made suspending my disbelief tricky as I read, not least that neither of our two heroines apparently asked any more questions than ‘where do I sign?’ before involving themselves once the pivotal tragedy had struck. The convenient villain’s diary that gives away the whole background was another. On the whole, though, this was an entertaining, well-paced read, and the absence of useless females was a refreshing change.

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The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti

The Eye of Nefertiti: A Pharoah’s Cat Novel is a fantasy story following the adventures of Wrappa-Hamen, a cat from ancient Egypt who, due to an encounter with the goddess Bastet of the Egyptian pantheon, has the ability to walk and talk (and eat) like a human. When he is forced to flee Egypt with his chief ally, Gato-Hamen, High Priest of Amun-Ra, after the death of the Pharoah, the invocation goes a little awry and lands them both in modern-day America, where a chance liaison between Gato-Hamen and a woman named Elena results in a second chance for both of them to serve their Pharoah.

This book plays into the classic stream of books with a lovable animal protagonist. Wrappa-Hamen is the ultimate spoiled housecat, but to the usual options of ‘nap on the keyboard’ or ‘knock the glassware onto the floor’ he adds the ability to speak and use door handles. I found this book something of a mix between a young-adult – most of the story is light-hearted, simply-written, and the protagonist is an ideal match for the genre – and a couple of darker, more adult themes that start to wrap in towards the end, leaving me with a somewhat odd contrast at the end of the book. Overall, though, this is a well-researched story, a very pleasant read.

Enden, David Kummer

Enden, David Kummer

Enden: A Dark Fantasy Novel

Enden is a young-adult fantasy adventure, with its protagonist, Jonathan, a farmer’s son from a remote settlement with a talent for archery. In the aftermath of a barbarian raid on his village, Jonathan attracts the attention of the king’s grandson.

It’s a tradition of the YA genre that the rebellious but otherwise unremarkable teen rises to prominence through luck and coincidence, and Jonathan certainly fits the bill. However, the character failed to gain my sympathy; Jonathan gave me the impression of an entitled pain in the rear for most of the book, more concerned with how everything affects him than anything else that’s going on around him. I do grant that this is a stereotypical teenaged attitude, but it switched me off the character, which is a bit of an issue with a protagonist. Ideally, even an anti-hero should have something that draws a reader in, even if only horrified fascination.

The other thing that made it difficult for me to really get into this book was plausibility. The populations are small enough that gossip about one boy picked up under odd circumstances by a prominent knight can spread fast and far, but there is enough of a population for an enemy army of 100,000 or more to be gathered, trained, and equipped, and not least, supplied as they travel across the kingdom fighting. Horses were able to travel at a gallop almost indefinitely. Items like that kept pulling me out of the story.

For me, this book had some undoubted strong points, not least the fact that the text was thoroughly and competently copy-edited, but the story as a whole didn’t enthrall me.