1st in a series


The first book in an epic fantasy series.
I received an ARC copy of The Hidden Face to review.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: the Hive
Page count: 403 at GoodReads, including an excerpt of a prequel

Dayraven is the son of Faustia’s hero Urland who has killed when Dayraven was only six years old. Because his mother was also dead, he was a ward of the emperor. In order to ensure peace, he’s given as a hostage to a potential enemy state. Despites promises of quick return, it’s 15 years later when Dayraven is finally summoned back home. He’s now 30 and lived half his life in an enemy nation. His teacher, a Jaelite scholar Halakh, sent him an urgent message to meet at an abandoned temple. After a meeting with the scatterbrained old emperor in the baths, Dayraven hurries to the temple but too late: someone has murdered Halakh. However, Dayraven meets a possible ally: the young woman Sunniva who has disguised herself as a soldier in order to find her missing father. Together, they have to puzzle out the clues that Halakh and Sunniva’s father have left behind.

Dayraven also meets a couple of enemies: a mysterious hunchback and his old childhood tormentor who is now the emperor’s trusted high priest. He and Sunniva have other enemies as well, who want to get the information that the pair knows.

I liked most of the characters and many of the enemies were great. Unfortunately, I rather disliked the femme fatale, who was a cliché character using her looks to manipulate males, and the story has only two named female characters. I also rather enjoyed the clues and puzzles in the book. The book has several POV characters, most of them bad guys.

Dayraven seems quite a thoughtful fellow. He doesn’t rush into anything, but rather ponders things. This is a rather nice change for all the hot-headed heroes in many books. However, he’s still a great swordsman.

Sunniva is a warrior and an archeologist and something of an architect as well, because her father taught her those things. However, her father has disappeared, and she disguises herself as a soldier to look for him. Unfortunately, men have to rescue her several times in the book.

One of the most unique characters in the book is the Twister who is a hunchback and quite possibly a madman. He’s a character who can change sides depending on his whims and his unpredictably was great. Another character, a mercenary, was also interesting.

There’s also an obligatory romance and that’s how it felt to me rather than an actual attraction between characters.

The world-building was very interesting. The Faustian Empire feels to me like a Roman Empire -type setting because of the baths and the wax tablets that people use. The Jaelites are apparently modeled after Jewish people, especially considering that they use mystical numbers and writing reminiscent of Kabbalah. There are other cultures as well, but we aren’t shown much of them.

The Hidden Face is a sun god type of deity who is hidden most of the time. But when he (or she) shows his face, or manifests among people, one culture will rise to prominence. This happens every 500 years or so. Not surprisingly, people want to know where the Hidden Face will next manifest and know or even manipulate the events that will follow. The finding of the Hidden Face is the central mystery of the book.

Personally, I would have wanted more details. Now, the cultures feel like sketches which we don’t really know much about. Apparently, women can’t be soldiers because Sunniva has to disguise herself. Yet, she has enough fighting skills that she doesn’t stand out and nobody seem outraged about her disguise, so it doesn’t feel like an enormous taboo.

This is clearly a first book in a series. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the main story is left open at the end.

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The first book in the Eternal sky fantasy trilogy.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Publisher: Tor
Page count: 334+ an excerpt of the next book

This series is set in a Mongol-type culture. However, the book has a lot of traveling and introduces us to other cultures as well, Middle Eastern and a couple of others.

Temur is the grandson of the Great Khagan who conquered large parts of the world around the steppe. However, the Khagan has died and his sons and nephews are now fighting over who will rule. They’ve also brought each their own tribes to war. Temur followed her brother to war and at the start of the book, he is all that’s left of the mighty armies. Alone and severely wounded, he still manages to live and even find a loyal horse, the magnificent mare whom he names Bansh (dumpling).

He finds groups of fleeing civilians, mostly women and children, and managed to tangentially attach himself to one such group because he can guard and hunt a little. One of the young women, Edene, develops an interest to him and they become lovers. However, because Temur’s family is dead, she can’t marry him. After a few weeks, a group of ghosts attacks. They kill some before Edene realizes that they are vulnerable to salt. However, the ghosts capture Edene and carry her off. Temur vows to return her and heads to a city where he thinks he can get help, Qeshqer, which is beyond the Range of Ghosts mountain range.

In far Tsarepheth Samarkar, who was once a princess, makes ready to become a wizard. Because wizards aren’t allowed to procreate, she has been neutered but survived the process. She doesn’t know if she has magical talent and if not, she can become a scholar or something else. But when her magical talent comes to her, she has a lot to learn and she must investigate what is happening in Qeshqer. She and her teacher, who not a lot of about magic but doesn’t have magical talent herself, are sent through the mountain range to the city.

Meanwhile, the head of the cult of the Nameless is planning to further his plans and begin a war. He will use his own assassins, his giant rokh birds, and of course the ghosts to shape the world into what he wants it to be.

The world-building here is just wonderful. People are from somewhat different cultures, with different languages, and different values. The sky is different depending on the dominant culture of the land. Great!

The book has two kinds of magic. Samarkar uses one kind. Apparently she herself powers it. The main villain uses other people’s death and blood to use magic.

Temur is actually something of a cliché but a well-used one: young, an orphan, related to kings, a warrior with a quest. He’s a very capable man, loves horses and tends them before himself. The horses are also a big part of this book which was great.

Samarkar is somewhat different. She’s been trained in court, in the middle of intrigue and was sent as a bride when she was 15 (I think). Her marriage was not horrible but it wasn’t wonderful either, and ended when she asks her brother to kill her husband. She wants to be free of court and not anyone’s pawn. The only way to do that is to become a wizard. However, she still has to do as her masters bid her so she’s not free. She can change substances, conjure things (like make water from the moisture in the air), and she knows healing plant.

They are joined by other people later in the book. I found the tiger-like magical person to be the most interesting one of the lot. They are all very capable and work well together even after just a short time.

The book doesn’t have a conclusion. It just ends and with a twist that will no doubt influence the rest of the series.

The first novella in an urban fantasy series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Chaos Fox
Page count: 100

Evelyn and Quin Hawke are hunters who keep the Prague’s supernatural beings in line. Evelyn is a strong, grim fighter and Quin is a charming negotiator who is fascinated with alchemy. He also acquires magical potions and powders which can negate magic or heal. Evelyn hates magic and trusts only a few people in addition to her twin Quin.

Now, Quin has disappeared and Evelyn is starting to first worry and then become frantic. She goes out to meet with people who might know something about her twin’s disappearance, but they just make her run dangerous errands. She’s really starting to lose her patience and she doesn’t like almost any of the people she’s forced to see.

This was a fun, quick read. I rather like action heroines like Evelyn. However, she made no effort to think about the situation, she just ran from one place to another hoping to find something relevant. It seems that Quin is the brains of the duo and without him Evelyn doesn’t really know what to do, except demand answers with her fists and knives. She’s angry and grim most of the time. But underneath, her emotions are churning. She’s rude to the people she meets and dislikes almost everyone. She’s also very worried about Quin and at one point she cries when she thinks about her former boyfriend.

The world-building was very interesting. I’ve never been to Prague but it was very nicely described. This world has witches, werewolves, necromancers, and various undead. It also has several kinds of fairies, including the sidhe and redcaps. Also, alchemists seem to play a big role.

Evelyn and Quin are orphans and one of the people Evelyn meets hints that their parents had some secret the twins never knew. But we don’t find out more than that. Other than that, the story can be read as stand-alone. It’s described as a prequel to the Infernal Hunt so it’s nice to see a complete story. Even though Evelyn and Quin are twins, they don’t seem to share any mystical bond which was another nice change from most twins in fantasy.

The first book in the Bibliophile mystery series.

Publication year: 2009
Format: print
Publisher: Obsidian
Page count: 289

Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder: she restores old books. She’s participating in a party celebrating an upcoming book exhibit in the Covington museum. She’s a bit nervous because she’s going to meet her former mentor and friend Abraham Karastovsky and they haven’t even spoken to each other in six months. However, Abraham is in a very good mood and they patch things between them quickly. Unfortunately, later Brooklyn finds Abraham’s murdered body. With his final breath, Abraham gives Brooklyn a very valuable old book (Goethe’s Faust) and a mysterious message. Moments later a handsome but gruff British security man Derek Stone finds Brooklyn kneeling beside the body and thinks that she killed him.

I loved the world of bookbinding and Brooklyn’s strange family and friends. Her family lives in a hippy commune making wine. She has five adult siblings who all grew up there, following Guru Bob. She also has a nemesis, a crazy woman who hates her and tries to put her down verbally and even attacks her. Brooklyn has a female best friend who is much more into fashion than she is, and she’s also friends with a lesbian couple lives next door. This was very refreshing because often in mystery books if the MC is female, she doesn’t have female friends.

But Brooklyn is a bit strange protagonist. On the one hand, she’s clearly smart and very good in her profession but as an amateur sleuth, she’s not too bright. She lies to the police, takes items from crime scenes without telling anyone, and makes rather thoughtless decisions, especially near the end. She also faints at the sight of blood which I find rather strange in a woman who has to, you know, deal with blood on monthly basis. But I liked that she likes to eat. She’s also quite funny.

Unfortunately, the plot is based on keeping information from the reader (and to be fair also from the main character) so I don’t think there was any chance of finding clues. The suspect pool is also very small. Also, Brooklyn doesn’t actually do much investigating. She only questions a few people and none of those she meets near the first murder. She does have a knack of showing up at the wrong time, though.

As you might guess, Derek is the romantic interest and I think there’s more romance in the book that mystery solving. At least there’s no romance triangle or too toxic troupes, although Derek (and other men) do save Brooklyn several times.

So, overall I did enjoy the book but not as much I thought I would. I can’t recommend it to people who read mystery books in order to solve the whodunnit.

The first book in an action and adventure series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: Turning Leaf Productions
Page count: 218 and the first chapter of the next book

Poppy McVie is a new US Fish and Wildlife Service Agent. In fact, she still has a little bit of training to do when she’s assigned to her first undercover job. Poppy is training with an old agent in Michigan. She’s relentlessly tracking down bear poachers when her boss calls her and she has to return to service headquarters. She’s nervous at first that she’s going to be fired, but to her amazement given her first undercover assignment. However, she’s less thrilled when she finds out that she’s been given the mission because of her gender. Agent Dalton’s backstory calls for a wife.

Dalton is in Costa Rica tracking down a local wildlife smuggler and seller. Two other male agents are there, as well, but one of them hasn’t reported in when he should have. Poppy’s boss gives her strict orders to obey Dalton and just play the rich wife. Poppy thinks that Dalton is going to be a middle-aged agent but much to her surprise and delight, he turns out to be hot ex-SEAL. However, Dalton isn’t thrilled to see her and just orders her to hang out at the beach and stay out of his way. But Poppy is very smart, dedicated, and ruthless when she has to be. So, she investigates on her own.

Poppy is passionate about catching and convicting animal abusers. Unfortunately, as a US agent, she has no jurisdiction in Costa Rica. But that doesn’t stop her. She investigates on her own and puts herself and Dalton in danger by doing so. In fact, she’s rather reckless and sometimes I wondered if she was too trusting. Also, she clearly doesn’t respect her superiors because she doesn’t obey their orders. Her poor judgement skills put her in danger a couple of time but she’s able to save herself with quick thinking.

Dalton is an ex-SEAL and somewhat a loner type. He doesn’t know Poppy and he doesn’t trust her. He has a mission which he’s focused on and Poppy is an unknown element. In other words, he doesn’t trust her training as a fellow agent. He also comes across as liking Poppy as an attractive woman but keeping her at an arm’s length.

There’s another very handsome man whom Poppy is interested in and whom she trusts rather quickly. There was some jealousy between him and Dalton which I thought was absurd. Similarly, near the end Poppy was jealous about Dalton which was also absurd. So, while most of the romance bits were ok, I didn’t really care for the whole jealousy aspect.

Overall, this was fun, well-paced book with lots of action. There’s also a grimmer theme under the fun story, about how animal poachers and smugglers would be out of business without their clients.

As I understand it, this book was originally a stand-alone but then Priest was contracted to write two independent sequels. Not surprisingly, it works as a stand-alone. It’s the April book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 2005
Page count: 285
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor

Eden Moore is an orphan. Her mother died in childbirth and she never knew her father. Her mother’s sister Lulu took her in and is raising her. However, Lulu doesn’t talk about the past which is frustrating to Eden. You see, Eden can see ghosts. She sees the ghosts of three women who claim to be her ancestors. But the only thing Eden knows about them is that they were murdered. She doesn’t see them all the time, just when things are stressful or dangerous. However, the three women also protect her. When Eden is eight years old, a crazy gunman comes after her and the ghosts warn about him.

However, when Eden grows older, she wants to know more about her family and past.

The book starts when Eden is very young and in a couple of chapters we follow her into adulthood where the main story takes place.

This is a very atmospheric book about the US South. Eden and Lulu are mixed race women which brings difficulties. I found some people around them unforgivably rude for asking about their race but apparently that’s how some people behave. This has made them both strong women who don’t take crap from anyone. That is good because Eden encounters some hair raising things in the story and her extended family aren’t pleasant people, either. Eden is feisty and sharp tongued; she likes or dislikes people quickly.

The characters feel life-like to me, except perhaps the main villain. Eden’s aunt wants to leave her painful past behind her and so doesn’t talk about it. Lulu and her mother are estranged for fifteen years because they can’t talk to each other. Eden’s grandaunt is white and doesn’t even want to acknowledge her mix raced relatives. The grandaunt is apparently mean to everyone around her. The gunman Malachi thinks that he has a mission from God and kills people for Him. Sadly, all of these people are very plausible.

The horror aspects of the book are probably mild for horror fans but I’m not a horror reader. For me, they were enough as a spice in the book. There wasn’t much gore which was good because I dislike it.

One episode felt a bit disconnected to me: when Eden is 13 she’s sent to a summer camp where she meets another girl who can see ghosts. Then, this girl is never seen again. It establishes that other people can see ghosts, too, but otherwise it was pretty pointless although horrific. The added horror was, of course, that the girls are children and the adults wouldn’t have believed them if the girls had told them about the ghost. However, even at such a young age, they have already learned not talk about it.

The main villain feels a bit cartoon-like to me but he fits well into the atmosphere of the book and the sense of history that surrounds most of the latter half of the book.

It’s a short book and the story is a quick read, especially after the half-way point when the plot picks up. The start of the book is mostly setting up the characters and the atmosphere. I felt that the first half of the book also had more horror elements although maybe they just stood out more to me at the start.

I’ve been intrigued by Priest’s steampunk books and after this one I’m likely to try them when my TBR pile gets smaller.

I still have one more review to do about the last audiobook I listened to on 2009, but instead I decided to take a look at the reading I did last year.

I managed to read and listen and review 83 books, and read 25 graphic novels (one not reviewed), so 108 in all. It’s around my average. I was a bit surprised to realize that I didn’t read much from my old favorite authors Lois McMaster Bujold (1), Anne Logston (0), Steven Brust (0), and Roger Zelazny (1 + 1 short story). On the other hand, in 2008 I found a new favorite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and read this year 6 books from her. Otherwise, I read a lot of new authors and books which were first in the series.

Monthly numbers:
First in a series: 5+6+4+1+1+2+1+3+1+1+3+3
Stand alones: 1+3+1+2+0+3+1+0+1+1+2+0
Later in a series: 5+2+2+2+3+2+2+4+3+4+1

Fantasy:5+7+4+3+2+5+2+6+4+2+2+3
SF:6+3+3+1+2+1+1+0+1+3+3+1
Mystery:2+0+1+1+0+1+1+0+0+1+2+0

I took part in five challenges: 1st in a series, 2nds challenge in 2009, ebook challenge, 9 books for 2009, and comic book challenge 2009. The only one I didn’t complete was the 9 books for 2009 -challenge. I admit that I took a wrong tactic with all of them. I should have started reading the challenge books right at the start of the year. I also made lists beforehand and tried to keep to them too doggedly instead of just growing the lists while reading. I’ve certainly learned my lesson and will take the latter tactic this year. 🙂

I mean to sign up again for a variety of challenges. Also, many of the challenges this year allow the same book to be read for many different challenges, which makes things easier. I’m thinking of joining at least five challenges this year, too. Many of them are the same ones.

Best lists:

The Booking through Thursday’s previous post went through the new reads but I just have to add these.

The Best Nostalgic Read: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run. Without a doubt.

Best Short Story Collection: Datlow and Windling: Coyote Road. This was a hard choice between this and the fantasy pirate collection.

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