Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (The Dark Star Trilogy #1)

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ARC received from the publisher on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This has been one of the most hyped and anticipated fantasy releases of 2019. Literary fantasy set in Africa? Yes please. I wanted it so much and couldn’t believe my luck getting an early copy. The first few pages were wonderful. But, ultimately, as a long-time fantasy reader, I was left underwhelmed and disappointed.

I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women too. There were men wiser, and women too. There were men quicker, and women too. There was always someone or some two or some three who will grab me like a stick and break me, grab me like wet cloth, and wring everything out of me. And that was just the way of the world. That was the way of everybody’s world. I who thought he had his hatchets and his cunning, will one day be grabbed and tossed and thrown in with garbage, and beaten and destroyed. I am the one who will need saving, and it’s not that someone will come and save me, or that nobody will, but that I will need saving, and walking forth in the world in the shape and step of a man meant nothing.

(quote taken from the ARC, subject to change upon publication)

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DNF: Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss (Gods of Men #1)

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DNF 30%.

I picked up this book on sale after it got declared as a SPFBO finalist. Since the reviews were stellar and the concept “magic is forbidden but the MC is a mage” seemed good I was pretty sure I’ll like it.

Ultimately, I couldn’t get past the fact that one of the characters is one of the main supporters of genocide of a whole race of people, killing or dragging them off to be interrogated – men, women, children, everyone. The Sol Velorians, or Scabs as they’re called, are commonly enslaved, brutally interrogated, or slaughtered because their mages destroyed a large part of the land…and Jeric is one of the main perpetuators of this.

Twenty-six Scabs.

It was the largest group Jeric had scouted yet. It still amazed him how many Scabs existed from a war that’d happened nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. He tried his best to hunt them, kill them, enslave them. They couldn’t be allowed freedom, not after what their people had done. Not after what their survivors did still. A supposed religion of peace, and their sorcery had nearly annihilated the continent. If one ever forgot how dangerous power of that magnitude could be, a quick glance at the Forgotten Wastes proved an effective reminder. An entire land… destroyed, at the hands of their Liagé. Their so-called blessed for the sorcery they wielded. Sorcery wasn’t a rutting blessing. It was a curse upon the land, and Jeric refused to let that peaceful culture thrive on his watch.

A protagonist who kills an entire race of people indiscriminately is not one I can cheer for, no matter what their mages did. I don’t care. It disturbs the shit out of me. And for such a heavy topic, it doesn’t seem to be dealt with…gravitas? He isn’t treated like a villain, more of an antihero. Or perhaps it improves, it’s obvious there is another side to the story, but either way. NOPE. Sable, the other protagonist is a mage – not Sol Velorian as far as I know, and her country of origin isn’t mage-friendly either – and judging from other reviews, they eventually develop a romance as well.

There’s also a lot of almost-rape scenes. As I said, grimdark.

The writing aside from that is not bad. Nothing flashy, but solid and readable. There’s a whole lot of fantasy terminology dropped on the reader in the first few chapters, which was the first thing that bothered me, but that alone wouldn’t have bad if everything else was fine. Sable is a good character too. But I simply couldn’t get past my visceral reaction to Jeric and what he does. Every person has a line when it comes to what they are willing to tolerate in a MC and genocide is a step too far for me.

No ratings because the low enjoyment score is obvious and I didn’t get far enough to be able to judge the execution.

Review: Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke (The Coraidic Sagas #1)

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The ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Blood of Heirs was a very pleasant surprise. I needed a quick read, something that wouldn’t take me weeks to finish and boy has this book delivered.

He was no different to the rabbit, no different to any game animal pursued through the woods, whether for sustenance or pleasure. He was as hunted as that rabbit, and he’d turned his power on it, despite his already superior strength. What might he do if his pursuer cornered him the way he’d cornered the rabbit? Was it only a matter of time before the walls closed in and the escape routes vanished, only a matter of time before his father’s men tracked him to a dark corner and he too stared at his death without the power to run?

The book follows two characters. Lidan is the heir of a clan chief (or daari, as they’re called) without any sons. She wants nothing more than to be trained as a ranger, ride horses, learn to fight, but her mother won’t let her, saying it’s too dangerous for a heir…then things get a lot more complicated. Ran is the son and heir of a duke. He saves his city from disaster, but in the process, his magic is discovered and he is forced to run for his life.

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Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson (The Reborn Empire #1)

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I received an ARC of this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There has been quite a lot of hype surrounding this book in the blogger circles I run in. I simply had to try it. And yes, it lives up.

“But what is choice?” he said, checking over every blister and sore. “What is power? In truth you have none. None of us do. We are but leaves buffeted upon life’s stream, our every decision already made before it comes to us.”

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Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King

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I wasn’t much of a fan of Fae: The Wild Hunt, the author’s other book I read, but I decided to give Faithless a try for this year’s Bingo challenge, after a sale, quite a few friends’ recommendations, and a nudge from the Random Number God. Absolutely no regrets.

The decision came easily. Perhaps every betrayal does. In the end, they all begin with a lie. The small ones we tell ourselves to make what we do bearable.

It’s not your fault.
There is no real alternative.
Anyone would do the same thing in your place.

I often complain about a lack of protagonists who have more ordinary professions – a lack of fantasy books about healers, farmers, tailors, cooks, and, yes, why not miners? Well, first two thirds or so of Faithless has this in spades. We follow Wynn, a farmer’s son sold to the temple by his father and forced to work as a miner, and Kharios, a novice priest who seemingly gets a second chance to prove himself. A lot of it is mundane, learning about how things in Aspiration work, mining, forging, interacting with the miner crew or other priests. And I loved it.

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