Category Archives: Epic Fantasy

Voice of the Lost by Andrea K. Host (2011)

Voice of the Lost by Andrea K HostSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Medair an Rynstar wants only to leave.

Five hundred years after the Empire she served fell before the Ibisian invasion, Medair has betrayed her Emperor’s memory by helping the descendants of the invaders. She knows she will be reviled, that to thousands she is hero-become-villain. Her one goal is to return to the hidden cave where she slept out of time, and hope that she wakes in a world where the name Medair an Rynstar has been forgotten.

Assassins, armies, and desperate magic complicate Medair’s plan of escape, leading her inexorably to face the very people her choice has cost the most. She has learned that you can never return to your past, or run from the consequences of your actions, but can she find a way to live in defeat?

Review:
Voice of the Lost is the perfect sequel to The Silence of Medair. The first book is a political fantasy that’s epic in scope, and Voice continues to develop the themes of colonialism, empire, and sacrifice and a controversial romance is set in motion. Medair chooses to side with the descendants of her invaders while facing an oncoming apocalypse brought on by wild magic. Talk about raising the stakes!

I loved this book, and it has the strengths of The Silence of Medair, but with a slightly different focus. It’s still character-driven, but there’s less brooding introspection and more political intrigues. Medair is thrust in the midst of a war and makes tough choices, possibly earning her place as a villain in history. What makes it interesting is how she deals with it, and how she views heroism, sacrifice, and ethics in herself and the colonizers. Medair’s character development is one of the best I’ve seen in the fantasy genre.

I must commend the author for how she handles magic in the world-setting. Magic systems are best explained in some books, while in others, it’s best left as a mysterious force of nature–whichever helps the suspension of disbelief. Höst treats it as the latter, and it works. Magic is a messy thing in this world–it merges parallel worlds, triggers a looming apocalypse, and even changes people’s ethnicity–which is a big deal in a historical reality of heated colonizer vs. colonized dynamics.  While those are all crazy, its believable because the emotional consequences for the characters are so real, and that’s the key achieving verisimilitude in fantastical literature. I don’t know how the author pulled it off, but she deserves mad props.

With sacrifice as a key theme, it mostly reads like a tragedy. Whenever I cheered for the small victories, things became infinitely worse, but none of it came off as melodramatic. I was on the verge of tears in some parts, unable to decide whether it’s best to read on (and feel that screwdriver to the chest) or put the book down (and be unable to think of anything else!).

Medair’s internal dialogue sometimes summarizes what just happened and her reaction to it instead of only the latter, and it’s a little redundant. But other than that minor quibble, there’s nothing I’d change about the book.

It’s rare to find an epic fantasy that’s ambitious in scope and yet ties the story together succinctly. There’s no filler subplots or unnecessary scenes, it hits hard but ends with a satisfying conclusion. The story is emotionally involving and deals with heavy themes, but it’s worth it. I highly recommend this duology if you’re looking for an epic fantasy that’s character-driven, different, and thought-provoking.

You might like this if you like…
Epic fantasy with no filler; epic apocalyptic scenarios; fantastic character development; intelligent themes that you’ll ponder on long after you’ve read the book

If you’re interested in reading this two-book series, you can also purchase it as a single volume on Smashwords or Amazon. It’s a better deal than buying each book separately.

You can also read my interview with Andrea K. Host.

The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden (2011)

The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden (Smashwords not available) / Amazon / Author’s Site

3/5 stars

Description:
THE WEIGHT OF A CROWN
Thousands dream of it; still more die for it. Yet, how many can truly bear it?

After centuries of bitter conflict the realm of Esmoria is at last united under the banner of a single king. On the surface the realm appears to be enjoying its first taste of peace, but lingering resentment and the untimely death of the new ruler threaten to return Esmoria to political chaos.

Meanwhile, in the farthest reaches of the frozen north, a dethroned monarch’s plot for revenge awakens a long-forgotten evil. As darkness and treachery descend upon the realm, a young escapee from a forced labor camp, a disenfranchised soldier, and an epileptic engraver’s apprentice find themselves at the heart of the troubles.

Review:
If you’re looking for an epic fantasy of a respectable doorstopper length, look no further–The Weight of a Crown clocks in at 670 pages. The chapters alternate between characters on opposite sides of a continent-spanning conflict: a young woman who escapes from a forced labour mining camp, a regent who desires to leave the court and become a woodsman again, a warrior whose pair of cursed daggers transforms his fighting skills from mediocre to god-like, and an epileptic apprentice who discovers that he could channel his energies into magic.

I liked the diversity in the characters’ backgrounds, but I felt like their personalities were lacking that extra punch. Not a single character shows humour, irony, or sarcasm—those bits of colour that regular people take part in to make life tolerable. Instead, all the characters play their roles within narrow parameters. This would have been a richer world if the characters expressed a fuller range of emotions and cracked a dirty joke once in a while. Unfortunately this made me unable to connect with them on a deeper level.

Kaeden’s deliberate but fluid prose immediately immerses you into the world, and the situations that the characters face are interesting. There’s court intrigue, gladiator-style fights, medieval drug cartels, demon creatures with mind control powers via orifice invasion–you name it.  For the most part, it feels like reading four unrelated stories, but at the 75% mark, they come together in an surprising way. Their individual plots start connecting into the larger political conflict–making for a promising sequel.

But the reason why I can’t give this book four stars is that this volume is essentially one massive set up for the next book. I know that comes with the territory of epic fantasy, but The Weight of a Crown feels flat somehow. While a lot of things happen, it’s difficult to judge how important some developments are when the big picture is still being woven into place. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get emotionally invested in the characters. So when they were nearly assassinated, or chucked out of their kingdom, or mind-raped by a parasitic demon creature, I just shrugged.

If you’re looking for something easy to read to pass the dreary winter nights, this is a good choice, but I can’t say this is a standout epic fantasy. I’m still interested to see where Kaeden takes the story because he’s working with excellent ingredients and damn, the plot is about to go places. It could be the beginning to a great series once the characters are injected with more colour and the plot starts to really thicken.

You might like this if you like…
Shades of grey fantasy factions (no side is evil–there’s only evil individuals); chapters that jump between characters on opposite sides of the conflict

The next book in the The Azhaion Saga is not out yet, but make sure to check out Tavish Kaeden’s website for announcements.

Reader Review: The Book of Deacon by Joseph R. Lallo (2011)

The Book of Deacon by Joseph R. LalloSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

This is a reader-submitted review written by Rick Taylor.

Reader Rating for The Book of Deacon: 3/5 stars

Description:
Myranda is a young woman more interested in staying alive than being a hero. Orphaned by a continent-spanning war that has gone on for decades too long and shunned for failing to support it, she has been on the move since she was only a child. One can hardly blame her when she thinks that the chance discovery of a fallen soldier’s priceless cargo is the moment that will change her life. No one could predict just how great that change would be. It will lead her through an adventure of rebels and generals, of wizards and warriors, and of beasts both noble and monstrous. Each step of the way will take her closer to the truth of her potential, of the war, and of the fate of her world.

Review:
The Book of Deacon is a very well-written ebook that breaks from the stereotypical model of a leading male hero saving the day. Instead the hero, Myranda, is a young woman who is abandoned by her family and has to make her way in a world that hates what she stands for. She must strive for her very survival at every stage of the story and at the same time is trying to find a way to stop the endless war in her world. This foundation gives Mr. Lallo a platform to explore a harsher side of reality where a person is a generous friend one day and is trying to kill you the next.

Myranda is not exactly innocent as the book starts, but is a bit naive and overly trusting. This slowly begins to change as the book goes on, but these traits are never lost. Her character never seems to grow in wisdom, and is always at the whim of more mature and more forceful characters that steer her direction through life. That being said, she is a very believable character, and one that you really begin to like and to a degree even pity as the story matures. In the beginning of the book she is cast as stereotypically weak girl, but as story progress there are signs of her becoming stronger. I expect in the next book to see more of that growth as Myranda grows into her hero role.

The book is told in the third person point of view, but almost exclusively follows Myranda, which gives the book some of the feeling of intimacy that you can only get in first person narratives. It breaks from this pattern in a few key places that seem to be there as a way to get information to the reader that Myranda cannot know, but helps the reader better understand some of what is going on. The problem with them is that they are infrequent enough that the switch to a new perspective is sometimes a tiny bit jarring. He is very good at only telling the reader enough to understand what is going on with out giving too much away that Myranda would not know. In many ways he leaves the reader guessing almost as much as Myranda.

The story itself is falls in the category of fantastic events happen to a downcast person, which turns that downcast person into a mighty hero who will eventually save the world. It does a good job of using this story type in a way that is entertaining and even has some twists in it that can surprise the reader. While the path that Myranda’s story follows fairly predictable in the large sense, it is varied enough in the details to keep it enjoyable. You do not ever seem to have that “wow that was totally unexpected” moment, you do have the “huh, did not see that coming,” moment from time to time.

Most of the story is clean enough that Disney could make a G movie out of it and market it to children. There is no cursing, no sex, and most of the violence is tame. It does touch a little on religion, some people do die, and there is blood spilled, but nothing that would give me pause in recommending this book to any reader.

The world in which the story takes place is fairly bland. Several towns are described in the book, but they all have the same feel making all but one of them hard to keep separate in your mind as you think back on the events in her life. The very last town she stays in is distinctly different and is much more fleshed out then the others. That town shows the beginnings of building a world that is both deep and wide. Mr. Lallo’s style seems to be one that de-emphasizes the world itself in favor of telling the story.

The strength of this book is definitely in the story telling. He keeps you interested with his use of language, emotion and small surprises that largely make up for any weakness in the book itself. I enjoyed reading the book, and while it is longer than most ebooks I did not feel it was too long at all. That being said, it was just a little shy of being great. It is the kind of story that you enjoy picking up and reading, but not the kind that can draw you from across the room and keep you up till the wee hours of morning, turning pages as fast as your eyes can go.

I am not one to care much for perfectly polished grammar, spelling, or syntax but I did not notice anything in the copy I downloaded from Barnes and Noble that gave me any trouble. If there are typos in this book, then they are few enough and far enough between to not be noticeable. I read the book on my Nook Color and had no trouble with the file. Chapter breaks and headings were in place and all seemed to be fine in that respect.

Overall I think the book is great for anyone looking for a female hero in a good clean and fun story that is an enjoyable light read. If you are looking for complex world building, combat, and deep character development–you should probably give this book a pass.

I am giving the book three stars based on Adarna SF’s rating system. The book is good and well-written, but it’s a little shy of great. I would gladly read it again, and will likely read the next book in the trilogy.

Scriber by Ben S. Dobson (2011)

Smashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

5/5 stars

Description:
When a group of rebels called the Burners launch a series of brutal attacks across the Kingsland, disgraced scholar Dennon Lark is pulled out of his self-imposed exile and back into the very search that sent him into hiding to begin with. His research into the kingdom’s lost history may just hold the truth behind the Burners’ strange sorcery—and explain why so many of those thought killed in the attacks have joined the rebels who destroyed their homes. But only the King’s infamous warrior niece Bryndine Errynson and her company of female soldiers trust him enough to help him find answers before the rebels burn the Kingsland to the ground.

Racing against time and pursued by forces beyond their understanding, Dennon and Bryndine may be the realm’s only hope—but in order to preserve the Kingsland’s future, they must first uncover its past.

Review:
Despite being firmly of the medieval European vein, Scriber is an epic fantasy that manages to deliver freshness, deftness, and a fair dose of gender sensitivity to the genre’s tropes. It moves from mystery/scavenger hunt to epic battle to morality tale but does it in an effective and seamless way.

What first drew me to it was the choice of Dennon Lark, a historian, as the narrator. A fitting choice given his profession, though he is far from the kind of protagonist that most epic fantasies require. Dennon spends far too much time being afraid of his own shadow. His cowardice is often mentioned in the book -– from his desire to hide from the world after a personal endeavor turns tragic to his fear of Sylla, the self-appointed bodyguard of Bryndine Errynson.

A counterpoint to him is Bryndine, niece to the King and generally shunned to Hester Prynne-like proportions as a blasphemer for taking up arms and leading a company of female soldiers. She is the story’s heroic trope, given bulk and battle ferocity to make her appear physically unattractive, but with a steadiness of character and purpose that made me cheer for her at every turn. Her actions are tolerated only because she is of noble blood and even among people she saves, she is neither admired nor thanked. Turn Bryndine male and the character loses much of its vulnerability and pathos.

I like how Mr Dobson gives us protagonists we can get behind and uses both Dennon and Bryndine to show different kinds of bravery, different kinds of battles, different kinds of heroes.

Even the warrior women are given nuanced roles. There are about twenty of them but the author knew how to write for them, how to introduce them to the reader so that you are never overwhelmed. Mr Dobson made sure that you paid attention to the right ones at the right times. One that particularly stood out was Wynne, with her hopefulness and desire for learning, and at the end of the book I really did feel as if I were part of this company.

I felt completely immersed in this world. Here, scribers like Dennon are tasked with recovering the kingdom’s forgotten history, lost during a Forgetting instigated by a King who had razed all books and knowledge to the ground. It’s a monumental task but one that Dennon approaches with passion and devotion, and snippets of all that he has discovered, as we ll as his thoughts, are revealed in brief passages before each chapter. But in spite of this, the world-building in Scriber is never bulky. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that every detail mentioned had something to contribute to the plot and wasn’t just included for flavor or scene-setting. (Let me know if I’m wrong.) Every little thing seemed to matter; nothing felt wasted.

I’m always up for a good series, but I’m a reader who is more impressed when a story wraps itself up satisfyingly in just one take. My only real concern with Scriber was how quickly the characters seemed to jump to conclusions while putting clues together. But that is little compared to how the story works itself to a glorious and emotionally-charged climax. Scriber ticks all the right boxes and reminds me that with indie releases like this, epic fantasy refuses to be just another tired and battle-worn genre.

You might like this if you like…
Band of Brothers, medieval zombies, scavenger hunts, underdogs, unsung heroes

Battlehawk by MP Ericson (2011)

Smashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

3/5 stars

Description:
Galchai joins his father in the northern mountains in a bid to raise a rebel force against the army that occupies their homeland in the south. He leaves his brother Hauel behind to be raised among their southern kin. When Father dies, Galchai claims the kingship, and sends for Hauel as his champion. But Hauel is no longer the admiring younger brother – he is a swordsman with ambitions of his own. The brothers must overcome their rivalry and lead their own army to victory, or else their people will never be free. Heroic fantasy novel.

Review:
I’d say that Battlehawk may be the one to try if you like a quieter sort of fantasy, but somehow that statement doesn’t seem to give justice to the action in this book. Though the novel doesn’t have any dungeon-crawling or dragon-slaying, it still boasts of its fair share of sword fights and battles, calling to mind the weight and grimness of early European history.

The novel flows easily, at least at first. I like how in the first eight pages, the author throws you in the middle of the story and expects you to pick it up quickly without burdening you with massive info-dumping. I think it was this kind of restraint that encouraged me to pick this novel up in the first place. It does well to open with Hauel and Galchai as children. Not only does it show the family dynamics, but it also allows the reader more insight into the protagonists’ personalities than the rest of the novel does. I also applaud its treatment of a kingdom in exile, beggared by the years.

Unfortunately, the transitions were a real problem for me. As the brothers grew older and the various tribes and rulers moved closer to the brink of war, I was kept guessing on how much time had really elapsed between events. I had a smoother time reading the first third of the book, leading me to eventually give up on constructing a more concise timeline.

I was also anticipating a pay-off that never really materialized. Based on the story summary, I thought I’d see a definitive showdown between Galchai and Hauel. I had to remind myself that not every difference of opinion must lead to outright conflict or confrontation.

There were other minor details that bothered me. The first page speaks of ‘a door hooked open,’ and to my mind, a door can either be hooked/latched or open, but never both at the same time. A few pages down, a duel between Hauel and his cousin Robar concludes with ‘After that, it was all over. Within moments, Hauel lay on the ground, panting and writhing (page 5)’. But it is Hauel who wins that fight and not Robar. Maybe these can still be corrected in future versions of Battlehawk.

My biggest regret, however, is the minor role given to women in the book although the ending foreshadows a change of direction. Unfortunately, this feels like too little, too late. If one of the lessons of the novel is that society must not exclude feminine wisdom and perspective, then why did it seem like every decision made by women in this novel — at least decisions that the protagonists listened to — led everyone to harm? I wish that there wasn’t such a wide disconnect between intent and application so that the conclusions made at the end of the book are properly justified.

I still think that Battlehawk delivers a fairly enjoyable reading experience. The battle scene towards the end of the book is something I commend. Ms Ericson gives it proper treatment. She doesn’t just turn it into a cut-away scene or dismiss it in a summary. Instead, she allows the action and the drama time to steep and then utilizes these into a fitting climax for her story. In the end, I think Battlehawk would have rated higher if I had found the rest of the novel consistent with its promising beginning and moving conclusion.

You might like this if you like…
Epic fantasy with more swordplay and no sorcery, Guy Gavriel Kay-lite, medieval warfare and strategy

3 Highly Recommended Fantasy Ebooks

A few months ago I had a round-up post of 3 Highly Recommended Science Fiction Ebooks, and this is finally the fantasy list. They’re all by self-published authors, and this is proof that there are quality self-published books that can sit on the same shelf as our traditionally published favourites.

If you’re curious about fantasy indies and ebooks, these are good ones to start with. They’re available in all major ebook formats, and can be purchased by readers all over the world. No matter where you are, you can be reading them in two minutes. If you’re looking to get your high fantasy fix, you’re in luck!

1. The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

Sub-genre: High Fantasy/Epic Fantasy, Steampunk (the Rule of Cool kind)

Ebook Price: $0.99 USD at Smashwords and Amazon

Why should you read it?: The Emperor’s Edge follows an unlikely crew of a female enforcer, an all-too-serious assassin, a flirty male escort, a magician gangster punk, and a drunkard librarian as they try to stop nefarious plots to kill the emperor. The focus isn’t on epic battle standoffs, instead, they either use odd props to fight battles (dirty fighting!) or find unique ways to disrupt the enemy’s plans (and maybe even the local economy). The world is unique mash of medieval and Victorian era tropes. It’s refreshing, lighthearted, and very funny. Read the full review here.

***

2. Lovers and Beloveds by MeiLin Miranda

Lovers and Beloveds by MeiLin Miranda

Sub-genre: High Fantasy, Erotic Fantasy

Ebook Price: $4.95 USD at Smashwords and Amazon

Why should you read it?: I have never read a book that was so sensual and yet so political at the same time. Prince Temmin becomes of age and finds himself in the intrigued-filled royal court, where he learns from various teachers (through both intellectual and sensual lessons) about the relationships between power, sex, and privilege. Tremont is a hierarchical and patriarchal society in many ways, and Temmin comes to understand his responsibility in the affairs of the kingdom with all its social complexities. This is an insightful and beautiful novel. Read the full review here.

***

3. The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Host

The Silence of Medair by Andrea K Host

Sub-genre: High Fantasy/Epic Fantasy

Ebook Price: $3.99 USD at Smashwords and Amazon

Why should you read it?: This book has one of the most original premises in fantasy literature of all time. Instead of the heroine going off to fight an epic battle, it starts with the heroine’s kingdom losing the fight, and she has to come to terms with the aftermath of invasion and colonization. It deals with heavy political themes, but its written with great care, and it’s ultimately a book about sacrifice, loyalty, and hope. The Silence of Medair deconstructs standard fantasy ideas about empire and heroism while maintaining an earnest emotional core. Read the full review here.

***

If you’re interested in more fantasy reads, you can browse through these blog’s fantasy posts. If you’re looking for a sub-genre, you can browse by speculative fiction sub-genre.

Another book worthy of mention is The Sable City (of the Norothian Cycle series) by M. Edward McNally. The Norothian Cycle is shaping up to be an entertaining D&D throwback filled with rich historical world-building. I highly recommend that with a disclaimer that the world-building infodumping goes overboard in the first book, but it’s becoming a smoother ride as the series develops.

Death of a Kingdom by M. Edward McNally (2011)

Death of a Kingdom by M Edward McNallySmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
The Second Book of the Norothian Cycle, and the sequel to The Sable City.

After a narrow escape from the Sable City, Tilda and company have arrived in Souterm, where the Duchess Claudja is able to contact the Emperor and announce that her home realm of Chengdea has accepted the Code. While such an acceptance may stave-off invasion by Ayzantine forces, King Hughes of Daul will not take the betrayal well, and a new war threatens to erupt between the Empire and the River Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Nesha-tari learns that she must perform additional tasks for her Blue Dragon Master before she will be allowed to return home. Together with others in the Dragon’s service, the sorceress must enter the murderous world of Ayzant politics, where Crown, Church, and Cult vie for power.

Epic fantasy, Muskets & Magic. Historical fiction in a fictional world.

Review:
I really enjoyed The Sable City, and I’m pleased to say that Death of a Kingdom is even better. The Norothian Cycle series continues to be a fun throwback to the adventuring-party type of fantasy, filled with lively characters and playful trope subversion. While it retains some of the D&D flavour, there’s no dungeon crawling in this book. It turns its focus on the raging battles across the continent and takes a more serious tone. The gang’s all here—Tilda the kleptomaniac rogue, Phin the snarky mage, Shikashe the stoic samurai, et al.—with the exception of John Deskata who’s off in the Miilarkan Islands trying to keep it from imploding. There are new characters introduced too who are just as delightful as the rest of them.

It’s a joy to read McNally’s prose and it is definitely smoother compared to his debut. It continues to be heavy on the exposition, but while some of it used to detract from the action, now it enhances it. It’s especially notable with the fight scenes: it has memorable choreography while written with a snappy rhythm. There’s even a Completely Unnecessary Sword Duel; while it does nothing for the plot, it’s awesome and the author likely had as much fun writing it as I had reading it.

I still had some trouble with the world-building. There are a lot of names mentioned: persons and places, current and historical—and it’s a bit difficult to keep track of all the factions concerning the worlds of men, gods, and dragons. I’m no stranger to substantial world-building, I had a very clear vision of the factions in Frank Herbert’s Dune and George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, but I can’t say the same here. While maybe 30-40% of the details were lost on me, I still understood the general thrust of the conflict.

The world itself continues to be captivating and dynamic, and has a sense of depth which perhaps could be attributed to the author’s history background. I really enjoyed getting to know more of the cultures, especially the entrepreneurial Miilarkans. The political developments around Chengdea is intriguing (the region pledges allegiance to a distant empire united by a shared constitution, of course that means war with its not-so-distant former king), and the bird’s-eye view of battle tactics are excellently portrayed and filled with the surprises of the real thing. It’s sprawling world, but it’s well-realized and it makes this series extra special.

I noticed a few typos (e.g. “then” instead of “than”), but they occur only a handful of times in this lengthy tome. What I noticed more often was the overuse of hyphens. Using hyphens in compound words can be a stylistic choice, but in my opinion, more than a few were unnecessary. Some words should have been solid compounds, and I don’t think hyphens need to be used if it won’t lead to ambiguity (e.g. “far-too expensive”, no hyphen needed there). But as you see, these are minor nitpicks.

Overall, I highly recommend Death of a Kingdom, especially if you’re looking for a fun fantasy adventure with a rich historical world setting, and a bit of a D&D flavour. I wish that the author was more ruthless in stamping out the occasional typo and reining in some of the excessive history backstory exposition, but everything else works so well that I consider this series a gem.

You might like this if you like…
The Sable City; dungeons and dragons; rich fictional-world history; an entertaining epic fantasy adventure

The third book of the series, The Wind From Miilark, was just recently published on Amazon and on Smashwords. Don’t you love speedy releases?

McNally also has a few short stories up on Smashwords. They’re not spec-fic, but they’re free!

The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Höst (2010)

The Silence of Medair by Andrea K HostSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Time stole victory.

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.

When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.

But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?

Review:
A lot of fantasy involves a hero on a fetch quest to save the kingdom from invading hordes. But what if the hero failed? This is exactly the beginning of this book.

The central premise is amazing and makes this book stand out from its contemporaries. Epic fantasy as a subgenre seems to like its epic wars and the threat of invasion, but it doesn’t concern itself much with a logical consequence of war—colonialism. Medair fetches the Horn of Farak, but she dooms her kingdom when she falls asleep in an enchanted labyrinth. She wakes up five hundred years later to find that her homeland is no longer hers. The Ibisian invaders now rule the lands, and Medair’s disappearance and the collapse of her kingdom has become the stuff of legend. Her kingdom’s people mostly have been wiped out, or they’re of mixed blood and identify themselves as Ibisians.

Medair is on the wrong side of history, and has to come to terms with her homeland as a colonized space. What more is that she still has the powerful artefact that is capable of nothing less than genocide. While she hides her true identity, different factions pull her into escalating wars. She has to decide whether to side with her invaders, and what justice really means in this new context. So yes, plenty of engaging ideas there.

The narrative is introspective and filled with flashbacks, but it works so well because Medair is such a complex heroine. She is deeply loyal to her dead kingdom, feels disgust towards the Ibisians, but is also a very compassionate human being. The rest of the cast is interesting even if mysterious, and the rich dialogue is filled with carefully chosen words and courtly intrigue. Every moment changes her relationship with the Ibisians, creating an intense build up to her final decision which could alter the fate of her homeland.

Höst’s intricate prose and world-building is a joy to sink into. I wanted to race through the pages because I couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolds, but I forced myself savour each word. I stopped to re-read scenes several times because they were so emotionally powerful and I wanted to hold on to the moment. But it’s quite possible that I sympathized with Medair so much that I also felt her sense of dread.

I love how this story brings a historical understanding of culture and politics to an epic fantasy setting. It’s very refreshing compared to some of the epic fantasy I’ve read over the years where different factions are racially essentialized into a couple of simplistic traits, are forever foes, and are unchanging for millennia. But I thought this novel approaches race as more of a social construct–a fluid category. Medair notes the subtle differences in pigmentation and body type, which may be may be significant for neighbouring peoples turned colonizer and colonized, but perhaps not that significant to someone outside of those countries. Different ethnicities are described with certain attributes, but the attributes are ultimately cultural. As Medair notices, culture mixes and changes over time, and that changes how she relates to the Ibisians.

It’s also interesting how Medair becomes a political symbol. An extremist group calls themselves Medarists, and their goal is to overthrow Ibisian power and put any person with Ibisian blood into slavery. They’re also waiting for Medair’s fabled return and consequent call to arms. I liked the disconnect between the politics-using-the-person-as-a-symbol, and the actual politics of the person herself. The only other story I recall seeing this point of view is from Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Day Before the Revolution”, but Medair isn’t an aging revolutionary–she wants nothing to do with the movement named after her. I liked the inclusion of this group, and I thought they added more depth to the politics of this world.

It took a few chapters for it to really grab me, and I wanted more from the plot because I felt like it was just the beginning of something bigger. Some of the formal titles of the nobility are hard to remember because they’re similar and all start with the letter K, but these are very minor complaints. This book may be too introspective and brooding for some, but the earnest emotional core, original ideas, and beautiful prose definitely makes it re-read material for me.

The Silence of Medair is an intelligent, absorbing, and poignant fantasy novel. Readers should take note of this work, especially if you’re interested in an epic fantasy or a memorable heroine. It’s an excellent read and it’s highly recommended.

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Conflicted and complex protagonists, less action and more introspection, a rich epic fantasy that you can sink into

It’s crazy how this book was stuck in a publishing house bucreacracy for 10 years until the author decided to self-publish it. It was then nominated for the 2010 Aurealis Awards, an award for speculative fiction books from Australian authors. It’s books like these which make me feel blessed for living in the era of e-publishing. The sequel, Voice of the Lost, has just been released this past week. Speedy releases! I love e-publishing.

This is a recommendation that jumps genres, but I have a feeling that readers who enjoyed The Last Man on Earth Club by Paul R. Hardy would also enjoy this book and vice versa. They’re quite different but they share similar strengths: an absorbing introspective tone, fresh ideas that rethink the tropes in their genres, and intelligent concepts that leave the reader pondering long after.

Free Ebook: Epic Fantasy – The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

The Black God's War by Moses Siregar IIIGenre: Epic Fantasy

Length: Novella – 27,000 words

Publication Year: 2010

Short Description: Her father-king wants war. Her messianic brother wants peace. The black god wants his due. She suffers all the consequences. King Vieri is losing his war against the lands of Pawelon. Feeling abandoned by his god, he forces his son Caio, the kingdom’s holy savior, to lead his army. Victory ought to come soon.

Comment: I admit that while reading the official description of the novella, my eyes glaze over and all I see is “epic fantasy means epic wars ‘n epic stuff”. But it’s hard not to get intrigued by this book when the cover is so damn good and a number of book bloggers that I trust gave very positive reviews. So while I haven’t read it yet, you might want to check it out.

This free novella was brought to my attention because of the blogger + twittersphere hype surrounding the recent release of the full standalone novel. Readers can try out the novella first, or go ahead with the novel. Grace Krispy over at the Motherlode Book Blog is having a giveaway of three ebook copies of the novel, and that giveaway is going on til August 20. So checking out Grace Krispy’s ebook giveaway is probably a good thing for you. If you don’t check it out, the chances of me winning the ebook just goes up higher =P

August 23 update: I just won the ebook giveaway. Told you that you should’ve joined :)

The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker (2010)

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay BurokerSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin, is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.

Review:
The Emperor’s Edge is a charming and exhilarating fantasy adventure set in an era of steam. It follows Amaranthe, a lawful good-type police officer, who ends up being charged for crimes against the throne. She finds herself working with unlikely allies, including an amoral assassin, as they try to stop nefarious plots to kill the emperor, with a lot of adventure, mystery, and humour.

It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and it grabbed me right from the first page. It keeps a playful tone with a lot of banter and witty commentary on each page. With the writing style’s wit and genre-savvy moments, I’ll venture out on a limb and compare it to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Buroker also does the world-building so smoothly that the reader doesn’t notice that they’ve absorbed essence of the city of “Stumps” with each newspaper headline of bear attacks on Wharf Street and each strange beheaded statue.

The world is really interesting. It’s high fantasy, yet it takes place in an empire where magic is outlawed and is only used by foreign subversives or urban gangs. Amaranthe working as an enforcer is quite the exception, as women have dominated the eras of commerce, but haven’t been accepted in other sectors of this militaristic empire. It’s filled with lively interactions between denizens of various social classes, and it makes the setting very distinctive.

Amaranthe is a likeable and memorable protagonist. She has some combat ability, but her skill lies in persuading others to work with her and coming up with creative ways to solve problems. There’s quite a bit of chasing, escaping, and combat, and it’s all refreshingly fun to read because of the original methods she employs. She uses a lot of odd props and the environment to her advantage, and comes up with a zany but practical plan to save the emperor. The other characters are also lively individuals with a lot of depth, and I liked every member of their misfit crew.

What makes this book especially strong is the conflict between Amaranthe’s goals and the amoral approaches to attaining them. While there are a few evil guys, everyone else is just a normal person doing their jobs. She feels sympathy for many of the mooks that they have to take down, because she used to be an enforcer just like them. I liked how she didn’t take the decision to harm others lightly, and the choices she made were consistent with her values.

There were a few eyebrow-raising moments. I felt like that a few humourous quips were taken too far, as they didn’t fit the tone of the scene. I was also a bit skeptical of the extent of Amaranthe’s ability to charm others. Somehow for me, it wasn’t established that Amaranthe was that charming until midway through the story. But these moments only happen a couple of times, so these are minor nitpicks that won’t affect your enjoyment of this book.

The Emperor’s Edge is a fantastic novel, and it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a fantasy adventure, you really can’t go wrong with this one. It’s highly recommended and I’m definitely reading the sequel.

Other reviews of The Emperor’s Edge: SFBook, Reader review by m. s. jackson

You might like this if you like…
Steampunk, a fantasy adventure with a sense of humour, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, intelligent protagonists that find creative ways of knocking down/subverting mooks, some pretty zany city architecture

If you’re looking for a new fantasy series to follow, you’re in luck! The sequel, Dark Currents, is already out on Smashwords and Amazon, and with more installments to come. I also reviewed Flash Gold, which shares a similar mix of (1) action-packed fantasy adventure (2) wintery steampunk setting (3) female protagonist with moxie partnered up with a tall, dark, and assassiney sorta fellow. Encrypted is set in the same world as The Emperor’s Edge and it’s also been getting excellent reviews.

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