R is My World

I kind of disappeared from my blog about seven months ago. A lot of things happened and a lot of things changed. So what really happened? The short and long answer is I fell in love. I started running to become fit and before I knew it I was running five times a week and getting better with every run. I still enjoyed reading books, but didn’t talk or write much about them. From one book and run to another I became more secluded in my own world and I realised I was missing something from my ‘previous’ life. I have missed talking about books and meeting people who, like me, attend book events. I went to Peter V Brett and Joe Abercrombie events and it jerked me out of my sole fitness obsession back to what I have always loved. Now, I try gradually to get back to talking about books here on my blog.

Peter V Brett

Peter V Brett

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Joe Abercrombie

I have booked lots of Edinburgh Book Festival and Bloody Scotland events and am really looking forward to getting immersed in the bookish ambiance. I can’t wait to meet old friends, who I used to attend events with, and new ones. Another exciting thing is that I am a juror for the British Fantasy Awards again this year. Together with two other jurors we are going to pick the best fantasy novel:

Best fantasy novel (the Robert Holdstock Award)
Breed, KT Davies (Fox Spirit Books)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books)
A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Moon King, Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)
The Relic Guild, Edward Cox (Gollancz)

All six titles are great books and it is going to be extremely difficult to pick just one winner, but I am looking forward to the book banter with my co-jurors.🙂

The Guardian on the British Fantasy Awards shortlist: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/21/british-fantasy-awards-shortlists-lavie-tidhar-man-lies-dreaming?CMP=twt_books%5Egdnbook

R is my world – I love getting up early for a run and that’s something from someone who is not a morning person. I fall asleep happily after reading that one more chapter. The biggest problem I have had is finding the right balance between my running and reading. Reading past my bed time and getting up earlier than usually has made me feel like a zombie occasionally. My training for my very first half-marathon leaves me totally exhausted sometimes and finding time for more reading is not easy. I am not even going to mention how I neglected my amazing partner who has been very supportive throughout my whole journey – for that I love him even more; if it’s possible. The positive thing of the whole personal journey is that I not only got really fit but also did find something new I love and something that makes me really happy. I realised how much more I am capable of and that I love seeing myself getting better than my yesterday’s self – even if my legs do hate me sometimes.😉 So if you see me reading a book in my running shoes just steer me towards the nearest coffee shop for my fix of caffeine and cake. Another bonus of running is this incredible amount of cake that can be consumed guilt free. Yesterday I had a brilliant day – a 10 mile run, then cake, coffee and my feet up for reading.

RUNNING

Joanne M. Harris The Gospel of Loki – Review

The Gospel of Loki (Paperback)

Laughter disarms the fiercest of men. – Lokabrenna

A child’s fascination with something can last a long time and spark great ideas; ideas that can be turned into books. As a little girl, Joanne Harris found Thunder of the Gods by Dorothy G. Hosford in her local library. She loved the book so much that her name kept appearing on the lending card inside it. She even got hold of it after so many years, but you’ll need to ask her yourself how she managed that – maybe she is a trickster too. This book triggered in her the fascination with mythology and I’m very happy she found it, because her books inspired by Norse mythology are brilliant. I love Runemarks and Runelight and I was very excited to hear that she wrote another book set in the Norse lands of myths and legends.

The Gospel of Loki is a story told by the Trickster himself. The story starts with Loki meeting Odin and ends with Ragnarók. Loki, who is a very mercurial creature in body and mind, tells us about his adventures on the way to becoming a god, as he was promised. His new ‘relatives’ do not warm up to him straight away – Aesir and Vanir are either careful or biased towards his shift(y)-ing personality. It is never easy for him and Loki keeps trying to win them in his naturally charming way. He tricks, lies, he fights or causes fights, he is a hero and a fool, a friend, lover and a foe all in one. He has his family too – yet Loki’s heart is imprisoned in barbed wire. There might be more to the story than he tells us.

The book is divided into four parts (Light, Shadow, Sunset and Twilight) – a giant loop, out of the Chaos throughout light, into the shadows until Ragnarók and back to the Chaos. Each of the parts contains tales spiked with Loki’s lessons for his readers. Being the Trickster extraordinaire, Loki easily can spot someone trying to deceive him, or so he likes to think. He gets too entwined in the web of conspiracies and his role in all that, yet he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He might be the ultimate flawed character, because of his moral compass rapidly changing directions to suit his causes, but he proves to be a hero or anti-hero that has his own side of the story to tell. He might not become a god but he definitely is a luciferous light amongst the gods of Asgard – or it might be just his flame coloured hair. And it’s an astounding story of ups and downs of the Nine Worlds full of runic magic and incredible creatures.

The Gospel of Loki, besides such a great narrator, has lots of different characters. The gods as a pompous crowd – full of all they are known for but not as bright as the gold they would do anything for (maybe with some exceptions here and there). Odin knows how important is the art of PR or gossip and rumours which become true just because he says so. Bragi and his lute might be a part of this lyrical marketing campaign. Balder the “Goldie locks” is just as shiny as Heimdall, and Loki doesn’t seem to be a fan of the precious ones. Freya, the Machiavellian goddess, Thor the Thunderer, Frigg the Seeress and the rest of them fall for Loki’s tricks and they don’t like it, but they owe him on many occasions when his creative problem-solving saves the day.

There is also an undesirable crowd, a vibrant lot that makes the Trickster’s stories more fascinating. He has a soft spot for witches and his relationships with them bear a truly demonic fruit. I love Fenris, Hel and Jormungand – Loki’s misunderstood children. Throughout the whole book, Loki wonders why he was chosen by Odin to join him and the other gods. He knows his value but doesn’t clearly see how it all fits into the bigger picture. Eventually he gets lost a little bit and might end up being served his own trickery which doesn’t taste as nice as jam tarts baked by his wife, Sigyn. Is it possible that the Trickster was ultimately tricked or did the Oracle simply not like him?

The Gospel of Loki is a very faithful account of Norse myths, which are great the way they have been told and re-told, but I think that making Loki the narrator of them, with his goofy humour and the air of superior trickery mastermind, Joanne Harris re-wrote them in a brilliant way. Even though she is so close to the original material and she wrote it in more or less chronological order to enable Loki to tell his story, her quirky and marvellous storytelling is present on every page of this book.

I have known the myths since I was a child too and mythologies have always been fascinating. This book gives me a fresh glimpse into the story of one of the most incredible characters of Norse mythology. It’s not only a melancholic narration of the ever misunderstood Trickster, but also an entertaining story skilfully written as if it was simply told by Loki himself sitting right next to the reader.

 

Author: Joanne M. Harris

Title: The Gospel of Loki

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Hardback

Published: February 13, 2014

 

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Vladimir Bartol Alamut – Review

‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ – The Supreme Ismaili Motto

Alamut is an impenetrable fortress which houses a small Ismaili army ruled by the enigmatic Hasan ibn Sabbah. He is a charismatic yet elusive master. The subjects of Hasan ibn Sabbah, also called Sayyiduna, are in awe of their master on many different levels–some of them are scared of him, while others are inspired by his erudition. Regardless of what people think of him, he’s treated and respected as the prophet of Ismaili believers.

The fortress serves as a training camp for the fedayeen–elite assassins who serve the cause with blind passion and fear nothing. One of the new fedayeen is Avani ibn Tahir, who travelled from afar to join Sayyiduna’s army. His grandfather was a famous leader of the brotherhood and he would do anything to follow in his footsteps. Being so young, Avani doesn’t question, but follows the orders of the strict Ismaili faith and discipline.

The story is told from the point of two intertwining worlds which are so close together but separated by secrets. Alamut has parts which are not accessible to anyone but Hasan himself and his private bodyguards. Just over the other side of the fortress there are enormous gardens. These are Paradise Gardens inhabited by the most beautiful girls. The Paradise Gardens are almost an identical copy of the ones described by the Koran where all martyrs go once they fulfil their purpose as soldiers of the one true faith against infidels.

Halima is a fourteen-year-old girl who, after many misfortunes, ends up in the gardens of Alamut. Together with other girls, she is schooled in many subjects–none of them question anything as they are enchanted by living in an earthly paradise where they feel safe. Their friendships face trials when monstrous jealousy stands in the way. Their schooling is extensive–covering subjects to stimulate their minds as well as creative arts. One of their teachers, Apama, is a ‘retired’ temptress extraordinaire who teaches them how to seduce young assassins into believing they came to paradise to be endlessly pleased by divine houris. In a humorous way, Apama is an icon of seduction, and her knowledge of ‘love’ goes way beyond Kama Sutra.

Everything suddenly changes when Hasan learns of a great army of Sultan coming to reclaim Alamut. The young fedayeen are hastily initiated after affirmation of their unprecedented faith in the brotherhood and their cause. The book is a stunning demonstration of Hasan’s military strategic planning and his charisma which can change the most cowardly and timid boy into a fearless soldier.

As the story gradually unravels, so does the life of Hasan. His philosophical approach to self-proclamation of being a prophet with powers given to him by Allah is very complex. In an utterly compelling and profound way, Sayyiduna explains the meaning of the Supreme Ismaili motto: Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Hasan’s philosophy might be a superior mastermind strategy of gradual world domination, yet on many levels, it tells the story of a very lonely human being. A human being, who after an excruciating journey through a life of youthful inquisitiveness, betrayal and harsh reality of constant battles between religions and supremacies, comes to a point where he is soberly aware of the absurdity of everything around him. He seems very vulnerable in his state of total intoxication with pursuing an understanding of everything, including philosophy, religion, astronomy etc.

Coming to terms with the fickle capacity of human understanding of the world, he initiates an experiment which would prove how gullible and hopeless people are. How easy it is to mould them to fit any purpose. By sending young assassins to the Paradise Gardens, Hasan proves wrong those who thought he lost his mind. He learns of what cruelty he is capable of on the way to fulfilling his dreams and his youthful visions. The paradox of faith and human existence pushes him to extremes, and some of his actions, though affirming his unparalleled status, are tragic. Are any of the fedayeen going to open their eyes in time to learn the truth and fight for their lives? As far as such young warriors are concerned, first love is bound to alter their life experience. It will free some of them and incarcerate others forever.

Vladimir Bartol portrayed the world of Alamut in an intricate language of stunning facts and details, which he must have spent a long time researching. The characters are multidimensional–both in their mundane duties and when they are torn by their demons. Even though there are main characters that lead the story, all the characters in this book are fascinating. They are written in a way the reader can follow, get lost, and find their way to another plot from a different angle while wrestling with an understanding of the force behind the actions. The storytelling is enthralling and flawless. Alamut is a fairy tale set in 11th century Iran. With all the splendour of Asian kingdoms, Alamut reads like an imaginative tale of One Thousand and One Nights with Machiavellian ideologies, the thrill of battles and moral dilemmas.

Alamut is a book like no other. I bought this book as I heard it inspired the creation of the Assassin’s Creed game, which I love. I didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded my expectations. Vladimir Bartol created a beautiful story of many dimensions, twists and turns. It is a fascinating and vivid world inhabited by characters haunted by arduous passion, power, melancholy and sorrowful love.

Another aspect of this book is that it’s not only a stunning fairy tale, but also an allegory by means of which Bartol questions fascism in 20th century Europe. Alamut might be read many times and understood in a different way each time. I love the language in which the book was written (I refer here also to the translation by Michael Biggins) and I fell in love with the characters because of their human erroneousness and dreams. Bartol challenged a lot of my opinions and left me thinking for hours.

I would recommend Alamut to anyone who loves a brilliantly written book and enjoys being challenged with every page.

Author: Vladimir Bartol (Translated by Michael Biggins)

Title: Alamut

Publisher: North Atlantic Books, USA

Format: Paperback

Published: 01/01/2008 (first published in 1938)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Graham Joyce Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Review

Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Paperback)

‘No doubt we shall have to sit there all bloody evening listening to some awful drivel about fairies.’ – William Heaney

Thousands of people go missing every year in the world. Some of them might never come back, but those that do, after a long or short period of time, have different stories to tell about what happened to them. A lot of them are quite straightforward, but others will remain a mystery forever.

Christmas Day for the Martins was about to be pretty much the same as every other year since their children left the house. Until, that is, Mary and Dell Martin get an unexpected visitor who might as well be a ghost. It is their daughter, Tara, who vanished without a trace twenty years ago. It felt like an eternity of anguish and unanswered questions for her parents and her brother, Peter. For the Martins, it was a long twenty years, for Tara it was a mere six months, or so she believes. Regardless of the length of the time, she disappeared one day and left everyone in despair and in fear of what could have really happened to her. Now that Tara is back, it is difficult for her family to deal with it. On one hand they don’t want to know what happened as they are relieved to see her alive, on the other hand, they need answers.

Peter was always close to Tara and losing her turned his life upside-down, but in the process of growing up and having a family of his own, this sudden arrival makes him angry and resentful, rather than delighted to see his baby sister. However, it’s not only Tara’s appearance that causes concerns but also her story about what happened to her and why she left without a word.

A fifteen-year-old Tara walks in to the Outwoods, the local woods, and disappears. She claims she met a young handsome man on a white horse, who after talking to her, invited her to his place. After a dramatic argument with her boyfriend, Richie, she is keen on a new adventure – if only till she figures out what she really wants. The stranger leads her through the forest and its intoxicating sea of bluebells, where they ride until dusk and suddenly end up at a strange lake. Here the story really begins.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautifully told story of loss, uncertainty, love and the supernatural world just next door to where we live. This is not the first time I have read this book. I tend to come back to it, as it’s a book which haunts you and lures you back to flick through the pages filled with clashing worlds of folklore stories and a seemingly normal pragmatic life. Once Tara reveals what happened to her she is treated as a victim of some kind of trauma prior to her disappearance. Different characters in the book voice their opinions on Tara’s story – as different as they might be, their common denominator is that her story can’t be true. It cannot be true because no one believes in fairies, not even those nymphomaniac fairies that live all together in one loving and harmonious community.

Graham Joyce’s writing is intelligent, complex and imaginative. That’s what really makes this story so delightful and enthralling. He managed to make Tara’s story believable, with the supernatural world intricately woven into our world, and at the same time easily discredited by plausible psychiatric diagnoses. The characters are remarkable and full of quirky qualities which make all of them so vivid and distinctive. The descriptions in Some Kind of Fairy Tale are enchanting and captivating – reading the book, I really badly wanted to go out into the woods to experience the tranquillity, magic and the intoxicating smell of the bluebells.

Loss, or rather dealing with loss, is one of the main aspects in the book; and as much as they all try to come to terms with it, the dynamic of it affects the relationships in a major way. The friendship between Peter and Richie is one of them. Besides Tara, Richie is probably the most complex character in the book. Being Tara’s boyfriend at the time she went missing put him in a difficult situation and froze his life at that moment. Unable to have an adult life, he is a diluted version of his younger self-obsessed with his music and Tara. Love is another crucial aspect of the book; love, and its multiple layers and convoluted ties it creates between the people. This is one of the ideas in the book that really moved me – how one person loved in a different way by many people can either bring them together or divide them.

The plot is intriguing and superbly written. The world of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is built on a difficult ground of people’s believes and disbelieves in the supernatural. The characters smoothly drive the story in the directions which they trust are right. What I like about them is that they can easily make the reader change their mind as to what they are prepared to believe in. In the book, the idea of fairies inhibiting the world is dissected and analysed through people’s perceptions of what could be true or false, and the difficult aspect of trying to understand the intangible proofs that there might be a possibility that the supernatural might have a place in an almost surgically sterile world, where what is believed in has to be scientifically feasible. Graham Joyce prefaced each chapter with a quote about fairy tales, fairies and folklore which adds a little more insight as to why folklore and fantasy are a part of human perception of the supernatural. One of the quotes, which prefaces my review, is by William Heaney – a.k.a. Graham Joyce who published another great book, Memoirs of a Master Forger, under that name.

Graham Joyce in his unique way of writing, apart from creating the perfect story on its own, gives the reader enough thinking space to fill in the gaps between the lines. His storytelling is effortless and ingenious. He is one of my favourite writers and of course I can give lots of reasons why, but one of the main reasons is that his books make you think laterally about life and the things people face every day. His gift is that his writing sometimes removes and sometimes just obscures the boundaries between the world of reason and the supernatural. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is an extraordinary book which doesn’t let you stop for a break – the reader just feels compelled to read on and find out what happens next. To see if what initially was thought to be an illusion turns out to be true or the other way round.

If you love books which flawlessly erase visible lines between fantasy and reality then Some Kind of Fairy Tale, or any other of Graham Joyce’s books is what you are looking for.

Author: Graham Joyce

Title: Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Hardback

Published: March 14, 2013 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Edited by Stephen Jones Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome – Review

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome (Hardback)

Reading fairy tales can be more thrilling than visiting haunted houses and dungeon attractions. So how scary are fairy tales?

Fairy tales and legends had a very long oral history before they began appearing in print. Although all countries have their own tales and legends, reflecting their beliefs and character, many of them have a similar plot and an almost identical goal. The goal is to teach, warn and scare into obedience. Many fairy tales have plots surrounding children who disobeyed their parents and what consequences they met. Anyone who was told or read any of them knows what elements of horror they contain. The Brothers Grimm compiled many stories and published them together. In this way, as Stephen Jones says in his introduction to Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, they became the first horror stories anthologists.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome is an anthology inspired by fairy tales and folklore legends. They are not only re-imagined tales but are all brilliant horror stories, bringing a faster heart beat, fear of shadows and good old-fashioned nightmares. All the stories are intertwined by the original Brothers Grimm tales – some are re-written tales and some are just their subtle echoes.

The anthology includes traditional themes of changelings and child kidnapping. They are re-imagined stories of “Rumpelstiltskin” and elfin changelings. Two stories based on “Rumpelstiltskin”, book-end the anthology. “Find My Name” by Ramsey Campbell is the first story in the book – just after the lesser known Brothers Grimm’s “The Wilful Child”. Ramsey Campbell’s writing is delightfully creepy. So is “Come Unto Me” by John Ajvide Lindqvist (translated by Marlaine Delargy). Both of the stories show how unconditional love for a child can make you fearless. In a similar theme, “Crossing the Line” by Garth Nix took me to the scorching Wild West. The main character of the story, Rose Jackson, crosses many boundaries on the way to save her daughter and let her be who she is. I found this story bittersweet and touching. Neil Gaiman’s “Down to a Sunless Sea”, which was based on “The Singing Bone” also tackles the loss of a child. It’s very short and sorrowful, but beautifully written.

I love stories about changelings and how they merge the supernatural with reality. “The Changeling” by Brian Lumley is a nostalgic tale of old sea gods and nautical shape shifters. The descriptions are great – the reader can find themselves pretty much alongside the main character listening to the melancholic story told by a stranger on a remote beach. Whereas “The Artemis Line” by Peter Crowther brought me nightmares full of trolls and evil faeries. Reading it also made me fall in love with scarecrows. This is one of my favourite stories in this anthology. It’s a brilliant horror written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe which is perfectly set in the modern world. It contains the supernatural elements which despite their intangible fear factors, blend dreams and shadows in such a way that you will want to keep your lights on after reading it.

The counter balance to the traditional horror stories is “Fräulein Fearnot” by Markus Heitz (translated by Sheelagh Alabaster). This one is based on “The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”. Even though it’s loaded with spooky stuff from beginning to end, it has a kind of a dark humour approach to the original story of a boy unable to understand fear. The main character Asa, who is totally fearless, unintentionally ends up in trouble and from there it’s like a ‘domino effect: horror edition’ game of outsmarting ghosts, murderers, monsters and the devil himself. One thing leads to another and there’s no way of stopping. Though, what is it like not to be able to be scared?

“The Silken People” by Joanne Harris is another gem in this anthology. The story is about the elusive Lacewing King (People who follow Joanne Harris on Twitter are familiar with her #storytime which very often features the Lacewing King) and a girl who is determined to find him despite the danger it entails. This story is truly awesome – it is a horror story, fairy tale and a love story in one. It is written with this unique storytelling gift which all her books contain – although it broke my heart into lots of little pieces, it made me want to read it again and again. This is not the only compelling love story in this anthology, “The Silken Drum” by Reggie Oliver is also full of obsession and longing. It has elements of Japanese folklore which put this story in between enchanted fairy tale and the mundane reality of a small town.

Another poignant story is “The Ash-Boy” by Christopher Fowler. It is a wonderfully re-imagined story of “Cinderella” with a twist. It uses a lot of original fairy tale elements and I love the writing style. “Open Your Window, Golden Hair” by Tanith Lee is a very interesting re-written tale of “Rapunzel”. This works perfectly as a chilling story. Open Your Window, Golden Hair is not what you think it might be. The writing is engaging and it brings goose bumps when you least expect it. “Look Inside” by Michael Marshall Smith gave me an uneasy feeling caused by what one can’t see, such as strange things happening without any reasonable explanation. I have to check if my door is locked twice before I can go to bed now. The story also gives a quirky little idea about ‘welcoming’ thieves and intruders.

The anthology also has three stories which I love because they are eerie and very dark. “By the Weeping Gate” by Angela Slatter is a murky ghost story set in a small harbour town. Her writing is very atmospheric – darkness at the core of the story is skilfully touched-up by vibrant characters and magic. It’s very different to other stories of this type and this makes it so interesting. The most harrowing story in this anthology is “Anything to Me is Sweeter, Than to Cross Shock-Headed Peter” by Brian Hodge. The bleak surrounding and forlorn characters create an unforgettable story. It seems to have an element of dark satire in it, but its set is terrifying – a house occupied by misbehaving children which is a visitors’ attraction and a house of horrors in one. The story, despite being gruesome, is a whimsical tale of friendship and finding one’s place in the world. It was moving and horrifying – just as much as “Peckish” by Robert Shearman. “Hansel and Gretel” is somewhat a fairy tale horror, but this re-imagined tale is much darker. Gingerbread Men will never taste the same to me.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, edited by Stephen Jones, is a marvellous horror anthology of fairy tales. Each story is great in its own way and together they just work remarkably well to bring thrills and nightmares. All of them are terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. The illustrations by Alan Lee are incredible and perfectly compliment the stories. Read it if you dare and see if you can keep your lights off during the night.

Author: Edited by Stephen Jones

Title: Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (UK)

Format: Paperback

Published: October 24, 2013 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Sebastien de Castell Traitor’s Blade – Review

Traitor's Blade - The Greatcoats 1 (Paperback)

The world isn’t a romantic stage play; it’s not all love and glory. And a swordfight isn’t always about skill or strength; sometimes – maybe even most times – it’s about who’s willing to take a blow just to make sure he delivers a worse one to his opponent.

Traitor’s Blade was one of the books published this year to which I was really looking forward to. I was excited that the book would be filled with swordfights, unusual characters and something unique that drags you right into the new world written just for readers like me. Readers thirsty for infuriating villains, those who loyally fight against them and all those things that happen on purpose or brought on by the capricious characters who know how they want the story to be told.

Jo Fletcher Books added to the excitement prior to the book’s publication with their intriguing pre-book-launch campaign. Anyone could become one of the Greatcoats! So I did, and when I was reading Traitor’s Blade I really wanted to be one of them with my double-edged Bastard sword, gauntlets with hidden blades (my own personal preference of weapons) and the Greatcoat. The Greatcoat itself reminded me of a coat worn by Van Helsing who had lots of curious items hidden in its numerous pockets – just in case something came in handy when on the road.

When Tristia was being torn apart by the self-righteous and greedy Dukes and ruled by Kings who didn’t see anything wrong with depriving people of everything, the legend of Greatcoats lived in many hearts. As much as some people loved the idea, not many of them believed that they actually existed. Bal Armidor, the travelling storyteller, tried his best to keep the legend alive, until one day a young King Paelis decided to stop the injustice and assembled his Greatcoats. They travelled everywhere to hear cases of those who sought justice and passed their judgement as King’s Magistrates.

Falcio Val Mond lost everything and all he had left was his want of revenge on those who brought sorrow into the lives of people of Tristia. People like him, who did everything they could to abide by the rules to live their lives in peace. Falcio became one of the Greatcoats – about whom he heard so many stories that fuelled his imagination when he was a boy. Nevertheless, the reign of King Paelis was short-lived and with his death ended the time of justice. Yet again Greatcoats became a legend.

Falcio, the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, together with his two friends, Kest and Brasti, stayed together after all the other Greatcoats scattered. Taking odd caravan security jobs kept them busy, however, they kept trying to fulfil the final wishes of their King. Finding King’s Charoites was like looking for a needle in a haystack or even worse, as they didn’t even know what they were, but they knew they were important to their late King. Events of one night, when they ended up being accused of the murder of one of the Lords Caravaner, triggered in motion something big. The events brought them together with unlikely allies and face-to-face with brutal adversaries.

Reading Traitor’s Blade left me breathless with the amazing swordfights, unscrupulous machinations, unexpected turns of events and the velocity of the actions. The first thing I really liked about the Greatcoats is their unbiased attitude to justice. Even though they were responsible for upholding the King’s Laws, they were not sworn to the King in a way that would make them unable to judge fairly.

The characters are very compelling. Although the Greatcoats are highly skilled fighters, who endured a lot in their service to the King and as disgraced Trattari (or Tatter-cloaks as people called them with disgust), they were very human and down to earth. The book is also full of villains whose thirst for power is overwhelming. Their canny machinations to obtain total dominance over Tristia were full of the blood of those who could pose even the slightest threat.

Duke Jillard brought Ganath Kalila, the Blood Week tradition, which once a year seized the people of Rijou with uncontrollable fear for their lives. Ganath Kalila simply meant kill or be killed. Whereas, power seeking Patriana was ready to sacrifice everyone and everything to help her cause with her very sophisticated torture methods. Also, there are lethal assassins, The Dashini, who I hope will appear in the subsequent books as I found them really intriguing.

I was utterly fascinated by the female characters in the book. The mysterious Tailor was very interesting – almost like an oracle of sorts. She knows a lot but instead of imposing her way, she lets others follow their own path. One of my other favourite characters was a remarkable little girl Aline, whose story in the book is very poignant but also uplifting.

The Greatcoats have their goals to fulfil but being tangled in the political intrigues and wars brought them to the edge where they could either withdraw or actively take part and change the world. And maybe now the Greatcoats will come together again.

Besides complex characters, the book has a gripping plot. Flashbacks do not always work well in books like Traitor’s Blade, but Sebastien de Castell made the story more engrossing this way. His writing is terrific – the book is written with vivid narration and humour. It made me laugh out loud and it made me shed an occasional tear. It dragged me right in to the world of Tristia. Traitor’s Blade is a great book and I’m already looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Author: Sebastien de Castell

Title: Traitor’s Blade

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: March 6, 2014 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Stephen Deas The Adamantine Palace – Review

The Adamantine Palace (Paperback)

It’s hard to believe that dragons once ruled the world. Now they are used by humans as mounts, hunting and war machines, precious gifts to settle diplomatic disputes and as bargaining chips. Dragons have a unique place in the world of The Adamantine Palace, but they are far from their usual formidable selves. Their breeding and upkeep is strictly monitored by the alchemists whose Order knows the danger of letting these amazing and fiery creatures live freely.

The Adamantine Palace takes you right into the middle of the political strife amongst the rulers of Nine Realms. The realms struggle to understand how one of their queens died, with there being talk of carelessness and foul play. But this is not the only unknown that puzzles them. The health of King Tyan is deteriorating and there is rumour that his ambitious son Jehal is poisoning him. At the same time, the Speaker of the Realms seems to have similar symptoms and needs to find his successor. Prince Jehal is getting married to Lystra, daughter of Shezira, the powerful Queen of Sand and Stone and Salt. With her hand, he is about to receive Snow, a pure white dragon admired and coveted by many others.

As Snow suddenly disappears on the way to the Realm of the Endless Sea, the game of betrayal, domination and deceit takes a new turn. While humans are preoccupied with their power struggles and political strategies to gain more influence and wealth, one of the dragons gradually awakes and regains full awareness of power and purpose. The power and purpose repressed by the alchemical potions when they became slaves of the human race. Have humans forgotten about the superiority of dragons?

The world of The Adamantine Palace is divided and haunted by constant political intrigues. The characters have goals and hardly any of them are motivated by charitable intentions or the good of all the realms and their people. Or so it seems. Many of them are consumed by their want of power which makes them ultimately flawed. In a way it makes them even more interesting and likeable to me, because of their complexity and ability to stay ahead of the game – well, it doesn’t always work for all of them. I found all the back-stabbing plots, scheming characters – who change the course of the plot so often it is like a vortex of mind tricks and treachery – really enjoyable to read. It is the world dominated by rulers, and normal humans are either outsiders or servants, but they also play an important part in the story. Sell-swords and Scales are amongst my favourite characters. I really liked the constant change of the point of view – it works really well in the book where there is no single protagonist that is meant to stand out or have the story revolve around them.

Stephen Deas conjured this magnetic world of perpetual chicanery, lust and power where humans are too busy to realise that their authority is about to be burnt and reduced to a mere background by fiery, sophisticated and far more intelligent species. Dragons in The Adamantine Palace are daunting and majestic creatures full of fire as their nature requires, but only when they are either commanded by their riders or when they are free of the potions clouding their exceptional mental faculties. The shift in the story is so clever and it seems to show the mirror image between humans and dragons. Both species are selfish and ready to do everything to maintain the upper hand at all costs. But who is going to outsmart whom?

The Adamantine Palace is a fast paced book, written with great skill and intricacy. Stephen Deas knows how to lure readers into the world and keep them turning pages with astonishment of one conspiracy after another. The book might be difficult to get into at first for some readers, as there is a vast number of characters (the genealogical trees are provided), but Stephen Deas’ writing is great and he tells this multilayered story marvellously. The Adamantine Palace is book number one in the Memory of Flames trilogy which I highly recommend.

Author: Stephen Deas

Title: The Adamantine Palace

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Paperback

Published: February 1, 2010 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.