The Rogue (Traitor Spy Trilogy #2)

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Author: Trudi Canavan

Synopsis: Living among the Sachakan rebels, Lorkin does his best to learn about their unique magic. But the Traitors are reluctant to trade their secrets for the Healing they so desperately want.

Meanwhile, Sonea searches for the rogue, knowing that Cery cannot avoid assassination for ever- but the rogue’s influence over the city’s underworld is far greater than she feared.

And in the University, two female novices are about to remind the Guild that sometimes their worst enemy is found within…

My Thoughts: Now that events have been established in the first book, it’s here that the trilogy picks up speed, and it certainly gets going quickly. So far, alterations to the existing cast of viewpoint characters have been minor, so it was interesting to see Lilia added to the mix. Here we have a character who has no direct contact with the other viewpoint characters- at least at first- and also poses a possible threat to the Guild. Anyi is given a more prominent role to play here, and her playful banter with her father Cery is fun to read. It’s interesting to see the children of the original characters taking after their parents- or not, as the case may be.

After a slightly shaky start with the first instalment of this trilogy, I think this one is an improvement. In many ways I’m reminded of The Black Magician Trilogy, which precedes this: the first book was okay and I enjoyed it sufficiently to try the next one, which I enjoyed a lot more. The author is really good at jumping between viewpoints and keeping each one interesting, though I found some of Lorkin’s parts a bit slow. She’s also good at the subtle interconnections between characters as friendships waver or deepen. I was pleased to see Tayend return to have more of a role, playing the comic relief and accidental (and sometimes deliberate) gooseberry in the relationship between Dannyl and Ashaki Achati.

Once again, I’m reminded of The Novice when talking about this book. Lilia’s predicament has interesting parallels with the difficulties Sonea had as a young novice, and the age gap between the two is similar to that of Sonea and Rothen. The book also features a character discovering their sexuality, much as Dannyl did before. I was pleased to see homosexuality continue to be represented in this book (it was included in The Ambassador’s Mission but much more briefly- here it is given more attention). In my experience it’s rare to see these characters represented in fantasy, especially in those who have more than a minor role to play in events.

Looking back, it’s surprising to find that I’ve been with these characters for five books already. The next book, The Traitor Queen, is the last in this trilogy and also the last one in the series as of now. I’m sad that the end is so near, but Trudi Canavan has written several more books and is still going strong. If this series is anything to go by, then her other books are absolutely worth investigating. Book six is promising to be good.

In Short: New characters arrive and minor characters return for larger roles as the trilogy gathers speed. An improvement from book one, and there are some interesting parallels and nods to the first trilogy that long-time readers will enjoy. The Novice of the Traitor Spy Trilogy. 9/10

The Ambassador’s Mission (Traitor Spy Trilogy #1)

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Author: Trudi Canavan

Synopsis: Half the Thieves in the city are dead. Sonea, a Black Magician of Kyralia, knows that she is needed to help hunt down the rogue magician killing them. But Sonea has problems of her own. Her son is the assistant to the new Guild Ambassador to Sachaka and will be in deadly danger when he sets foot on their ancient enemy’s soil. As a Black Magician, however, Sonea’s every action is watched. Any attempt to leave the city will result in her exile, and lose her any chance of helping her friends- or her son.

My Thoughts: After the success I had with trying out The Black Magician Trilogy, the three books that are set before this, I was all too happy to try out the trilogy that continues the story. The events of The High Lord are now a thing of the past, and we rejoin Sonea twenty years later. She has become an official Black Magician of the Guild and opened up a place of Healing for those who can’t afford to pay for treatment, as well as raising a son who has now graduated from the Guild.

Despite my high hopes for this series, I have to admit that my initial impression was mild disappointment- but then after such a brilliant trilogy my expectations were pretty high. I couldn’t help but feel that the “happy ending” of the previous book had been somewhat undermined: although Sonea has achieved her wish that the Guild accept novices from humbler backgrounds there is discord amongst them, and she is distrusted amongst her peers despite her position of power as a Black Magician- and the fact that she saved the Guild from extinction during the Ichani invasion two decades previously. Dannyl and Tayend’s progressing and enduring relationship was one of my favourite parts of the original trilogy, so I was saddened to see that the two appear to be drifting apart. However, the main characters that were present throughout the series all resume their roles as viewpoint characters so in that respect little has changed, except for the addition of Sonea’s son Lorken. Dannyl plays a much more prominent part in proceedings, as does Cery, both characters who were effectively sidelined for much of the duration of The High Lord.

There is something addictive about Trudi Canavan’s writing, and this book is no exception. As before, the story moves between various character viewpoints which variously intertwine and coexist. Setting the story twenty years on meant that my mental images of the characters had to change, but it didn’t trip me up for long. The world of Kyralia and the Guild is still very much recognisable, with no major changes to upset fans of the first trilogy. Sonea seems to have been given less to do this time around, but I was pleased to see Dannyl given a more important role than wandering around collecting research (even if most of his time seems to be occupied drinking tea with the Sachakans). After hearing so much about the mysterious land of Sachaka and only glimpsing stretches of wasteland in The High Lord, it’s good to finally see more of the place. Not only do characters get to properly explore the exotic landscapes, they also learn some of the customs of the people who live there. I was surprised that there was more to learn about Akkarin’s story in his time spent there as a slave, and little discoveries of minor secrets made this feel more like a continuation of the first trilogy rather than simply an extension of it.

Despite an entertaining plot, I didn’t feel there was much of a build-up to the climax of the story, and I was surprised when I reached the final page. The ending is satisfactory however, and I was newly excited for the next instalment to see what would happen next. When I first started reading I wasn’t too sure whether it would be too different from the first series for me to enjoy, but it grew on me as I read. I’m glad to see that it wasn’t too dissimilar to the first trilogy, and I think I will continue reading this series. No doubt it will continue to grow in strength.

In Short: A welcome return to the land of Kyralia, with all the characters that made the first trilogy so successful- plus a few more. The “twenty years on” factor takes some getting used to, but there is plenty to enjoy for long-term fans of The Black Magician Trilogy. 8/10

She let out a long breath through her nose and stared at the table. “I like music,” she said slowly, “because when I hear it, I… I lose myself within myself, if that makes sense. I become empty and full all at once, and I can feel the whole earth roiling around me. When I play, I’m not… for once, I’m not destroying, I’m creating.”

Throne of Glass, Sarah J Maas (via thenerdgirlblog)

Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)

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Title: Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)

Author: Robin Hobb

Synopsis: The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised. Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.

To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.

My Thoughts: Robin Hobb is a well-known name in the fantasy genre, and I’ve been meaning to try some of her works for quite a while. However, I’ve always been put off by the length of most of her books. This one spans just under 400 pages, so it seemed a good opportunity to give her a try. The story is about a boy named Fitz who grows up by the castle and is ultimately trained in the Skill: the ability to use magic which has passed down the Farseer bloodline. At the beginning of the novel we also learn that Fitz is writing a history of the Six Duchies at some point in the future and the events of the story are in his past. At the start of every chapter there is an excerpt from his writing which provides useful world-building as well as some interesting background information, which I found a nice touch that avoids characters having to plot-dump or over explain things.

I must admit that I wasn’t as blown away by this book as I’d hoped to be. Some of the prose was a little too flowery, and there were several instances where I had to backtrack after understanding a past event that wasn’t initially made clear. I’d hoped that the story would be more about Fitz’ assassinations, but a great deal of time is spent on him growing up in Buckkeep. This wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but it began to feel a bit samey after a while. Reading about his interactions with animals and sharing the thoughts of dogs was fun to read, though I did grow tired of hearing about how alone Fitz was- he veers on the side of wallowing in self-pity at times.

The Red Ship Raiders are a mysterious group of pirates that are terrorising the coastline. I found them really interesting to read about, despite the little you see of them, and what they do to the villagers they kidnap is chilling. Apart from Fitz’ interactions with animals, my second favourite parts of the story were probably the jobs that Fitz is assigned to do as the King’s assassin and political manipulator. The observations he makes about other characters feel genuine, and I also liked reading about potions and poisons. Overall though, I just didn’t seem to connect with this story. I think I will read some more of this author, but I did feel that this wasn’t an example of her best work.

In Short: Readable story that focuses on the smaller events rather than the interesting plot that is going on in the background. Magic, poisons and the Redship Raiders would have made this a better read if they’d been included more. 6/10

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)

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Author: Jim Butcher

Synopsis: Business has been slow lately for Harry Dresden. Okay, business has been dead. Not undead- just dead. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry hasn’t been able to dredge up any kind of work- magical or mundane.

Just when it looks like he can’t afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon.

Take three guesses. And the first two don’t count…

My Thoughts: One good thing about a series being recommended to you by a friend: if you enjoy the first book then it’s easy to get your hands on the second! Once I’d finished reading Storm Front, which I really enjoyed,I was eager to give this one a go. After several long months of struggling for work, Harry is consulted for a multiple murders case. And all the clues point to some supernatural creatures with wolfish tendencies…

Many fantastical beings have been featured in this series so far, and in each case the author has applied little tweaks and quirks to make them unique. Next to vampires, werewolves are probably the most common trope of fantasy. They’re positively ridden with clichés, and so it’s very hard to write an original portrayal. In Fool Moon the author strips them down to less complicated beings of bloodlust, but with various subtypes. The werewolf is certainly a formidable opponent for Harry Dresden, and the scene at the police station was particularly gripping to read. It demonstrates that nothing is indestructible, no character is completely safe- and it isn’t just Harry’s life that is endangered by this monster.

I was initially surprised by the higher level of violence in this one- people are shot and maimed and splattered, and plenty of blood is sprayed across the walls- but it fits with the darker themes of the story. We get a few more mentions of Harry’s past, including hints of a darker side to his nature including a greed for power. Particularly towards the end, this is explored to some extent. I really like the pieces of darkness in Harry’s personality that mix so well with his cynical sense of humour. I certainly haven’t come across a similar character to him before.

Whilst the book started off well, I felt that it sagged in the middle a bit. There are more characters to keep track of, which I found confusing at times, and the plot was difficult to follow in places. Murphy’s stubborn refusal to trust Harry quickly becomes tiring, and I couldn’t see why she was so intent on falling out with him at any given opportunity. That said, the climax has a good build-up, and the action really picked up again about three quarters of the way in. The final reveal was completely unexpected and cleverly foreshadowed. Harry has to use every last ounce of his skill to get by when the odds are once again stacked up against him. I just wish he could take a rest more often- the poor man never seems to get a day off!

In Short: A darker tale than book one, with more violence and hints of a shadier side to Dresden’s character. Werewolves are bestial and scary, and the ending was a rewarding surprise. 8/10

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #1)

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Author: Rick Riordan

Synopsis: Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek god. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporised my maths teacher. That’s when things really started going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt- and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

My Thoughts: After hearing so many good things about this series from a college friend of mine, I decided to give this one a try. Generally I don’t read children’s books, but recently I was pleasantly surprised by Phillip Reeve’s Mortal Engines so I tried to approach this one with an open mind. Percy Jackson is a twelve-year-old boy who discovers he is half god, and is sent on a mission to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and find the real thief before he is blamed for it.

As the title suggests there are lots of references to Greek mythology, and it’s amusing to see the gods interacting with the setting of modern-day America. I had fun trying to guess who would spring up next (many deities and monsters appear in disguise). The story is best enjoyed if you have a basic working knowledge of Greek mythology but everything is sufficiently explained if, like me, your memoryis a little patchy in places. Some of the monsters’ “surprise” appearances are a little obvious, especially since many seem to like hiding under the pretence of kind old ladies for some reason, but I enjoyed trying to work out who each one was before it was revealed.

The story focuses on Percy, demigoddess Annabeth and cowardly satyr Grover. The characters all have distinct, colourful personalities, and there is a good balance between the tweaking of original beings from mythology and the addition of author-created characters. The idea of summer camp for demigods is great, and the plot has various little twists and turns that make it something of a mystery story. Older readers might be able to second-guess some of the big reveals, but I must admit that I didn’t anticipate the ultimate “big villain”.

Overall, I found this book a quick, easy read. The quirky chapter titles are a nice touch, by favourite being “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death”. The descriptions of Olympus and the Underworld were good, and although it’s a little overdone in fantasy I also liked the mysterious prophecy told for Percy. Although the major conflict is solved by the end of the book, I was left feeling a little up in the air since Percy is left with plenty more to do and worry about. However, this only made me want to continue reading the story, so it is likely I will pick up a copy of book two the next time I happen to be stopping by at Olympus- or the nearest bookshop.

In Short: Fun take on traditional Greek mythology with colourful characters and plenty of monsters. A decent read. 7/10

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)

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Synopsis: Harry Dresden is the best at what he does - and not just because he’s the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. Because the everyday world is not as ‘everyday’ as it seems. It’s actually full of strange and supernatural things- and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a- well, whatever it is the police are having trouble with this time.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get … interesting.

Magic - it can get a guy killed.

My Thoughts: Urban fantasy is a genre I’m fond of, but lately it’s been a struggle to find any that isn’t your typical YA angst-ridden plot, complete with love triangle and variously fanged and furry clichés. This one was recommended to me by a friend, and it’s the first in a long series of books that is still ongoing (and I must say it’s nice to read a fantasy book that isn’t 800 pages long, for once). It’s the first “detective” fantasy I’ve come across, but I knew before I’d even finished the first chapter that it’s also a very good example of its genre.

As a novel with little padding the story starts off very quickly, and I was immediately engaged by the humorous and cynical first-person narrative of Harry Dresden, a professional wizard who acts- amongst other things- as advisor to the police when a case has something of the supernatural about it. When he is asked to investigate a murder that involves black magic he is left to dig up clues and find the culprit before he becomes a victim himself. As dark as the plot may sound, the story is made humorous by Harry’s unique perspective as he hopelessly tries to juggle multiple cases whilst maintaining something approaching a social life. It’s nice to see a male hero that isn’t ashamed of being a little cowardly at times, and I found him a character to easily identify with. There are some lovely settings in this book as well, in particular Harry’s basement apartment. Bob the talking skull was just the icing on the cake for me.

First and foremost the story is about the case, but plenty of world-building goes on in the background. Magic has an “old fashioned” feel to it, including drawing circles, wizard’s staffs and Latin phrases. Magical creatures are given various tweaks and touches by the author- there are no cut-and-paste vampires or demons, and even the monsters have personalities and agendasof their own. Harry has his own back story that is only briefly touched upon, leaving plenty to explore in future novels. There are some good characters here, though some felt a bit too similar to be truly memorable. The firm-but-fair LieutenantMurphy provides an interesting contrast with Harry’s character, and I enjoyed watching them play off each other.

All in all, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. There’s a good balance of humour and action, and by the end I was really rooting for Harry to track down the villain. It was different to a lot of things I’d read, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone taking a first dip into urban fantasy. It’s certainly a series I could get into.

In Short: Entertaining detective story with lashings of humour and a lovable protagonist. A fun and engaging quick read with lots of promise for the rest of the series. 9/10