Tag Archives: high fantasy

Gods of the Mountain

Author: Christopher Keene

A Cycle of Blades, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Summary from Goodreads:

““If that’s true, he’s returned from the grave, and you better believe he’s got something in store for this city.”

Accused of murder, Faulk is on the run after his chance at redemption went horribly wrong. He finds himself allied with the mysterious Yuweh, a woman sent by her gods to capture an assassin who is spreading forbidden magic.

Journeying across a land where all magic, cultures, and wars are dictated by its cycles in nature, they uncover a plot that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. Faulk and Yuweh must reconcile their clashing cultures to prevent the chaos from repeating…

…as another attempts to use it for his benefit.”

Having greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Keene’s Dream State Saga, it was with great anticipation that I approached his newest work, Gods of the Mountain–and I was not disappointed. While the Dream State books are of the LitRPG genre, having more almost of a light novel flavor, this new book is more of a high fantasy/dark fantasy, so it’s definitely a different style, and I think the author does a great job of expressing that and adapting to the genre styles while staying true to his own personal storytelling voice. One of the ways in which this is most true–and one the things I most loved about this book–is the magic system and the way the reader is introduced to it. I feel like the magic in this story is quite unique and well imagined; it’s different enough that I wasn’t just like “oh, there’s the magic, let’s get on with the story,” but was rather actually interested in the mechanics of the system. And we get a good explanation of it through the eyes of a character who is first introduced to the magic himself, getting to learn about how it works alongside him. The worldbuilding and the complexities of the political situation are also quite well done; in fact, I’m reminded of V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic books in that regard. Keene does a great job of displaying an overthrown country, with conquering overlords but also with rebellious former soldiers still around and unsettled at the situation. Moreover, throwing in the complications of an isolated mountain theocracy dominated by tradition and taboo adds an extra layer of complication, especially when these worlds collide forcibly. There’s some interesting commentary on religion there for those who fancy venturing into those waters. The plot was intense, with lots of twists and surprises, and the pacing worked well–not particularly fast or slow, but steady, which honestly works best for a book of this length. As for the characters, they were probably what I liked least; not that they were uninteresting or poorly written–quite the opposite–but simply because I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable. Surprisingly, that didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. I would still certainly consider Gods of the Mountain to be a solid read, one that I enjoyed and that I would recommend.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Gods of the Mountain from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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Battle Magic

battle magicAuthor: Tamora Pierce

The Circle Reforged, vol. 3

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Sixteen-year-old plant mage Briar Moss, his former teacher and unofficial foster-mother Rosethorn, and his student stone mage Evvy are wrapping up their delightful stay in the kingdom of Gyongxe, a mountainous country where shamans literally dance living statues out of the cliffs and the gods speak through the boy-king they chose to lead the nation. The three mages have made many friends in Gyongxe, but Rosethorn is itching to get her hands into the renowned gardens of the neighboring country of Yangjing–especially since the emperor of Yangjing has extended a special invitation to tour his own personal gardens. When they arrive, Briar and his companions find themselves warmly welcomed with esteem, good food, comfortable rooms . . . and an exhibition of one of the emperor’s multiple armies and a distinct feeling that if they misstep, they may lose their heads. Although they quickly make fast friends with a captive prince named Parahan, it seems most of the people in the palace are completely under the emperor’s thumb. Worse, Evvy finds out that the emperor is planning an all-out attack on Gyongxe. Dangerous as it may be, they decide that they must warn their friends, whatever the cost.

Tamora Pierce is a fast favorite of mine, crafting excellent fantasies and wonderful characters. I happened to find Battle Magic in my local library, and was thrilled to try it. This story fits after Pierce’s Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets, and apparently it’s the third volume in its own quartet, although I didn’t discover this until after I finished reading it. You would probably have better context for the story by reading the first part of this quartet, although it didn’t seem problematic to me to pick up at this place. However, I would definitely recommend reading Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens first, or you’ll be pretty lost on character connections, magic dynamics, etc. As for Battle Magic in particular, it brings back a group of characters I have always loved, Briar Moss in particular. It also introduces a huge cast of other characters, some of whom are amazing (like Parahan) and some of whom are relatively minor. I think one of the downfalls of the book is that it has so many characters, many of whom have really unusual names, that it’s a real job keeping track of everyone. The main cast members don’t have as much of a chance to shine as characters as I would have liked. Still, in the times they are allowed to shine, they are consistently themselves and they are superb. One thing you should know about Battle Magic is that it is (fairly obviously) a war story–so again, huge plot, lots of names, less time for individual characters. I think that’s really where the story . . . didn’t lose me exactly, since I did enjoy it all the way to the end, but became a bit weak in my opinion. It’s a great story, incredible characters, but there was just too much “war story” and too little of the individual. Still, for fans of Tamora Pierce, this is a must-read, and for those who enjoy an exciting fantasy, Battle Magic is still quite a good choice.

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Sabriel

Author: Garth Nix

Sabriel has spent most of her childhood safe on the south side of the Wall at boarding school in Ancelstierre. Meanwhile her father, Abhorsen, faced the dangers of the Old Kingdom, the world to the north of the Wall that operates according to an older, darker set of rules. Occasionally, he would come to visit her and train her in the ways of their family–doing the opposite of necromancers and sending the Dead back into Death where they belong. Sabriel’s life changes in an instant, when a messenger from her father brings his sword and magical bells to her, letting her know he is trapped in Death and it is up to her to take up his work–and save him if possible.

Sabriel is an affirmed classic of the fantasy genre and for good reason. In it, Garth Nix crafts an intricate and exciting high fantasy full of secrets, surprises, hidden identities, daring fights, unexpected heroes, and a rich, unusual variety of magic. All of this is set in a world that effortlessly combines necromancy and automobiles, telephones and walking Dead, talking cats and aircraft–an alternate-reality version of England that captures the imagination. Yet for all the glamour of the fights and the excitement of the adventure, Sabriel is also a dark tale, imbued with the chill of death–both the pain of losing the living and the wrongness of the Dead returned. Bringing a rich humanity to the story is an array of complex, intriguing characters, most notably Sabriel herself with her blend of solemnity and uncertainty as she goes through the change from an Ancelstierran schoolgirl to one of the most powerful mages of her time. I would highly recommend Sabriel to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy.

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