The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

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Click here to view the Goodreads page and read the book description.


1/5

I honestly don’t know how The Blade Itself came to be so highly recommended in the Reddit and Twitter bookspheres. It’s often described as “gritty, grimdark fantasy with biting humor and a tinge of hope,” but honestly, the only gritty thing about this was the sand-in-your-mouth feeling I got from the inconsistent writing. The humor and hope were both missing entirely, but you could find plenty of senseless abuse and bland combat instead.

Since reading and writing about terrible books isn’t usually very fun, I’ll try to keep this brief and just touch on a few of my biggest complaints with this book. There were some pretty major issues, but hopefully this won’t go too long. There will be spoilers.


TBI had six points of view – three main characters and three side characters. The first person we meet is Logen Ninefingers, a “fearsome and brutal warrior” on the lam from King Bethod’s court in “The North.” (Side note – why is every fantasy world struggling against mysterious forces converging on their “civilized society” from the North?) His claim to fame is his violence and – you guessed it – nine fingers. Logen and his tiny camp of rebels is being ambushed when we enter the story. After some skirmishing and mostly a lot of running, Logen promptly falls off a cliff, which understandably led his comrades to believe he died. Eventually, he struggles out of the river and through the rest of the North past mountains, forests, and bands of violent Shanka, a very hostile and ruthless race of humanoids. Amazing, right? No resources, hardly any gear to his name, and he travels across half a country by himself in the middle of winter. Super realistic.

All that aside, I had two main issues with Logen. First, we were supposed to believe he was a 30-something extremely violent right-hand man to Bethod. We were also supposed to believe he had a family, including a wife and kid(s) that he cared very deeply about and definitely didn’t abuse. Yeah, I’m not buyin’ it. This is either bad characterization or bad character representation, but either way, it doesn’t make sense. On top of that, in his viewpoint chapters, he acted, talked, and thought like he was in his late teens, early twenties at best. I honestly thought he was around 19 until he mentioned his family and being in his thirties. By the end of the novel, he did sound more realistic for his age, but I felt a cognitive dissonance between my perception of Logen and his supposed age for a good 70% of the book. Second, Logen is one of the flattest, most uninteresting main characters I’ve read in a long time. Basically the only distinguishing characteristic that sets Logen apart from every other brooding “hero” you’ve read about is his missing finger. And don’t worry, people point out his missing finger so often that you’ll have nightmares about it for weeks. Ten years from now, it’s probably the only thing I’ll remember about this book because it was beaten into my brain at every opportunity. Whatever stereotypical image you first get when you hear “grimdark, sarcastic, violent anti-hero” is probably exactly correct.

Sand dan Glokta and Jezal dan Luthar were two more stereotypes we had to read about – one a tortured torturer and the other a stuck-up noble who loves/hates fencing. It’s exactly as boring as it sounds. I won’t spend more time on them – Glokta was only marginally more interesting than Logen and Luthar was absolutely terrible.

Our side character points of view came from Ferro Maljinn, Collem West, and the Dogman. The Dogman is least worthy of more time – he is a side character of a side plot and only exists to keep a tenuous connection to the remainder of Logen’s band of rebels still struggling to get through the North. Ferro Maljinn is the only female character in our list of viewpoints, but she is far removed from the rest of the plot in a very literal sense – she is, physically, nowhere near the rest of the characters or action. Abercrombie also fell into the classic “mentally, physically, and sexually abused woman becomes cold-blooded killer whose only defining trait is extreme anger” stereotype when writing Ferro. I know next to nothing about her, other than her bloodlust and unwillingness to actually feel emotions. I’m guessing/hoping her story is fleshed out more later in the series, but I won’t be reading it.

Now on to my absolute least favorite character – Collem West. Where do we start with Collem West? From the time we first meet West, it is made clear that he came from a very abusive household with an uncontrollable father. He left the house once he was catapulted into the Union military despite his lowborn status by winning the royal fencing competition, leaving behind his sister, Ardee West. After several years, Ardee moves to Adua at Collem’s behest to escape the encroaching northern armies. Ardee, of course, becomes smitten with Jezal and often meets him in secret around the city. We don’t know much more about her than this and the fact that she drinks to quell her torturous memories of her abusive childhood. She hints that she blames Collem for abandoning her to join the military, but instead of actually expressing her feelings, she drinks herself into a stupor instead. Collem dismisses his own troubled thoughts on the matter and pours his focus into military training and Jezal’s fencing lessons. He takes every opportunity to talk about how he has to protect Ardee and how angry he will be if he finds out anyone is trying to court her. No real reason for this, other than the fact that she’s his sister and “commonborn.” Something something, protecting her dignity, something something, reputation. You know it goes. Towards the end of the book, he learns that Ardee and Jezal have been meeting and goes into this absolutely ridiculous, irrational, unholy fury. He beats the crap out of Ardee with no remorse whatsoever and very nearly kills her. This, from the man who spent most of the book talking about how much he hated his childhood and how guilty he feels for leaving her behind. He almost chokes her to death because she is starting a relationship with a halfway decent man who happens to be a nobleman. Luckily, he eventually comes to his senses and feels somewhat horrified/shellshocked. Ardee immediately runs and finds Jezal (who must never learn the truth), leaving Collem to his demons. We get a little bit more tortured inner monologue from Collem, then it cuts to the next day where it’s business as usual – the Union military is shipping off to the North to fight off the advancing troops and Collem just has too much going on to think about how he almost killed his sister. At the end of his chapter, he has faced zero mental or criminal consequences for his violent abuse.


Until I got to the end of the book, I was probably going to read the rest of the trilogy, but the unnecessary, horrific scene between Ardee and Collem absolutely ruined it for me. The plot is thin and the writing is stilted, awkward, and non-descriptive, the characters are terrible just for the sake of being terrible, and there’s nothing unique about the overarching story. 0/10, do not recommend.

Age of Death by Michael Sullivan

Click the image to see the Goodreads page.

Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.


3/5

This has been a difficult review for me to write.

When the kickstarter for this book launched, I jumped on the chance to get the ebook ASAP. (I must have been one of the last ones to get it at the lower price, it was “sold out” when I finished my payment.) I did the same thing for Age of Legend and, despite my “low” rating for Age of Death, I don’t regret my decision.

I’ll start out with a confession: in my haste to start the book, I misread the author warning about the ending. For some reason, my brain decided it said there wasn’t a cliffhanger; you can imagine my surprise when I got to 85% of the way through and nothing was resolved. That was my bad.

Now that I’ve had some time to digest my thoughts and get over the cliffhanger disappointment, I’ve been able to development some (hopefully) cohesive thoughts. We’ll start with the positives and some musings on how this installment fits in with the rest of the series.

As with all the Legends of the First Empire books, Age of Death is a solid, well-written book. I’ve said it before and it’s still true – reading this series feels like coming home. The characters are comfortingly familiar and their struggles and conflicts feel like they’re my own. When I see other characters’ nefarious conversations, I just want to shake them and yell their lies from the mountaintops. And when someone dies, I feel a small piece of my heart die with them. I truly wasn’t sure if we would get our seven back after the end of Age of Legend, but I’m so glad that we did, even if they were immediately put into danger again.

Worldbuilding is another strong element in AoD. Sullivan’s imagining of Elan’s afterlife and the history of the gods is unique compared to other fantasy/sci-fi books I’ve read. Most of the gods of Elan want to work together in the beginning, though (of course) one chooses to take a more selfish path and ruin the world for everyone else. Rather than join forces against this rogue god, the others split off and form their own factions/followings. Each has their own view of how to handle the traitor and because of this, nothing really gets accomplished. The First Empire seems more akin to Greek mythology than the stereotypical “God vs. The Devil” conflict we normally see. In fact, it’s hard to tell which gods are evil/neutral/good in AoD. Most seem to be a mixture of the three, which makes them seem surprisingly human. It’s especially evident with the first realm/god the seven meet. I won’t give too much detail on this as it gets a little spoiler-y, but it’s certainly food for thought when you compare what we find out against the hints and stories we’ve gotten in the other books. Age of Empyre will hopefully give us even more interaction with other members of the pantheon and help clear up some of the missing links in Elan’s history.

I also really enjoyed the “door to another afterlife” concept, and especially that those doors could be opened or closed by the ruling god. We didn’t get to see/hear too much of the logic behind the decisions either way, but I suspect we’ll hear more about that in the next installment. I do wonder how rigid these “afterlife assignments” are, though – for example, if someone’s life was spent fighting and they originally travel on to Nifrel, if they were to get tired of fighting and want to settle down, so to speak, do they have the option to go back to Rel? It sounds as though they wouldn’t, but maybe that’s largely because personal development essentially freezes once you’ve gone to the afterlife. The delegation of “final resting places” seems a little too clean as well. Do the less violent, but still feisty people get sent to Rel? What about those with equal parts of both? Or someone who doesn’t fit cleanly into either, but isn’t necessarily evil? We may never get solid answers on questions like this, but it’s interesting to ponder.

Now on to the not-so-good things.

Most of the characters in Age of Death are the same ones we followed in Age of Legend, with much more focus on the group in the afterlife than those above-ground. Persephone’s voice was still missing from this book, which was a disappointment/complain in Age of Legend as well. Nyphron is barely mentioned in AoD and Suri is even worse, despite getting more page time. For most of Age of Legend (and, frankly, Age of War), one of the main concerns for the team has been preventing Suri’s capture and keeping the secrets of the dragons from the Fhrey. Continued with spoilers in the next paragraph:

**SPOILERS HERE** At the end of Age of Legend, Suri was captured by the Fhrey while on a peace mission in an attempt to stop the war. After her torturous trip, she makes it to the city with her kidnappers (Mawyndule included), where she is taken to a holding cell and interrogated over the course of several days. Mawyndule goes off into the city while Papa Fhrey has a chat with Suri. Despite knowing the consequences, she spills the beans with relatively little prompting and tells him how to make the dragons. He has a few false starts, then at the end of the AoD, we see a dragon making it ways out of the city. The amount of effort they put in to get this information out of Suri seemed minimal and inconsequential – yes, she is briefly tortured in her confined space during the trip to the city, but she quickly comes to peace with that and falls asleep. She is also treated relatively well in her “holding cell” and even gets to meet Arion’s mother. Eventually, she decides to just tell the Fhrey how to make dragons based on the assumption that A) it will hurt them to learn the truth; and B) they would just convince her to tell them later anyway. It basically comes out of nowhere and really doesn’t line up with Suri’s usual stubbornness or blunt logic. The justification of her betrayal just isn’t there. **END SPOILERS**

I had a few more problems with the characterization in this book. As in Age of Legend, we get more varied interactions in the small group traveling through the afterlife, but again, as in Age of Legend, these interactions feel stilted and forced. Maybe it’s because these characters aren’t as fleshed out as our former main cast, but the dialogue in the more recent books doesn’t feel natural at all. It makes it difficult to relate to the group or form any kind of connection with them. Earlier in the series, I was a pretty big fan of Brin, but in Age of Death, she became more like a flat stereotype than a real person (more on this later).

I also took issue with how Gifford describes himself in the afterlife and how he refers to his “living self.” This has been somewhat of a common thread throughout the series, but it escalated in AoD. When Gifford entered the afterlife with the rest of the group, his lifelong disabilities and birth defects disappeared and he no longer felt “broken.” This is so problematic, especially as the book goes on. Throughout AoD, Gifford seems fixated on this idea that he is now whole and worthy in the afterlife, whereas his living body was broken and useless to the point where he has himself convinced that he’d be better off staying dead. It’s honestly appalling how much AoD (and the Legends series as a whole) treats Gifford like a pariah and an inconvenience because of his birth defects. I was hoping this would change after his heroic horseback ride earlier in the series, but if anything, it’s gotten worse.

Last but not least, we have Brin and her “character arc.” In the afterlife, Brin seems to thrive compared to the more troubled members of her group – she is quick, energetic, and (quite literally) very bright. As they get closer to their goal at the “end” of the afterlife, Brin begins to shine like a beacon and her running gets faster and faster. Moya notices the change and asks (redacted because spoilers) what might cause this. (Redacted) observes that Brin is “innocent. The most innocent you could possibly be, I would guess.” Of course, this must mean Brin is a virgin, which Moya immediately calls her out on. Because, of course, a young woman who’s had sex is no longer innocent or pure and would necessarily be “less than” her other compatriots. I’m sorry, I thought this was 2019, not 1950. Are you kidding me? The idea that someone still believes something like this and would make it a trope in their book is just mind-boggling, especially for someone as successful as Michael Sullivan. Not to mention, (redacted) is actually supposed to have been younger than Brin when she died and isn’t nearly as “innocent” as Brin. Seriously messed up.

There are a few other issues with pacing, action scenes, and a lack of real danger to the characters, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll end my review here. In summation, Age of Death has some very problematic elements, but it did move the story forward which is all I really ask of the fifth book in a series. I’ll still be buying Age of Empyre when the kickstarter launches, but it will be with less enthusiasm than the last campaign.

Crazy For You by T.S. Hunter

THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE NEVER RUNS SMOOTH

It’s 1987, and Soho is in the grip of another hot summer. While working part-time in The Red Lion, Joe finds himself agreeing to help a notorious gangster search for her missing girlfriend.

Antonia The Gecko Lagorio is daughter to the ruthless but ageing gang boss, Tony The Lizard Lagorio. When her girlfriend, Charlotte Fenwick, goes missing, Antonia turns to Joe for help, believing her to have been kidnapped by a rival gang.

Charlotte Fenwick is daughter to multi-millionaire, Charles Fenwick—who also happens to be one of Freddie Gillespie’s bigger clients. Keen to keep any hint of a scandal out of the public eye, Charles Fenwick had already asked Freddie to recruit Russell and Joe to help him find his daughter discreetly.

With both of them on the case, Joe and Russell find themselves trying to stop a turf war between the two rival gangs while uncovering all manner of dark secrets about the missing heiress and her troubled life.

Meanwhile Freddie Gillespie has a run in with an old foe that could see him lose both his job and his relationship with Russell.


Crazy For You is the next exhilarating installment of the Soho Noir cozy crime series. I’ve been waiting patiently for more diverse LGBTQ representation and this book delivers with the relationship between Antonia Lagorio and Charlotte Fenwick. Antonia, appropriately nicknamed “The Gecko,” is the daughter of Tony “The Lizard” Lagorio while Charlotte is the daughter of multi-millionaire Charles Fenwick. You may remember Tony from the first book, Tainted Love, where he was interviewed during the investigation of Chris’ death. He is also the one I headcanon as possessing a vast stuffed animal collection and carefully manipulating the media and those around him to believe he is a hardened criminal while not actually having to murder anyone. This, of course, gains him access to the most exclusive stuffed animals available via black market connections, where he collects under the guise of “buying gifts for his daughter.” Most of the toys are lizards, reptiles, and other such creatures, but he’s also been known to pick up reddish colored dogs and puppies. In other words, he’s an absolute genius. Hopefully, we’ll get a spin-off series with Tony’s origin story and Antonia carrying on the family legacy.

Sorry where was I?

Oh yes, back to the story!

When Charlotte goes missing, Antonia enlists the help of Russell and Joe in order to keep the police out of the situation while also avoiding tangling with Charles Fenwick. Charlotte’s involvement and naivety in Soho’s underground scene has gotten her in trouble, as her capture is about to start a gang war between her kidnappers and the Lagorios. I won’t go into detail with this so as not to spoil, but the anxiety and tenseness of the situation kept me on the edge of my seat.

As characters, Russell, Joe, and Freddie all continue to grow and evolve. Russell and Joe are both a far cry from the grumpy detective and naive small town media enthusiast we met in Tainted Love. Freddie’s backstory also sees continued development through his relationship with Russell and his encounter with an old flame.

T.S. Hunter’s writing gets better and better between each book – Who’s That Girl? was my favorite before this, but Crazy For You has definitely taken the cake now. His incorporation of distressingly real legislation from England in the 80s along with his descriptions of the vibrant and anxiously fast-paced Soho underground come together to form an easy-to-read and satisfying crime series. Each book also opens your eyes more to the realities of the early days of LGBTQ injustice, which makes you appreciate how far we’ve come that much more.

Two more books remain in the Soho Noir series and personally, I can’t wait!

Check out the other blogs on the tour and don’t forget – you can click here to buy directly from Red Dog Press!

Thank you to Dylan at Red Dog Press for my ebook copy and the invite to the blog tour!

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The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

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Mistborn #6

Click here to see the Goodreads page.

The penultimate book of Mistborn Era 2 solved many of the complaints I had from The Alloy of Law (AL). Shadows of Self (SOS) started to address my concerns, but Bands of Mourning really pulled everything together. That being said, despite its 500-page length, I found myself yearning for more context and worldly background. I’m hoping we’ll get exactly that in the final book as Wax and Wayne dive deeper into other cultures and the world’s history.

Character development was key in Bands of Mourning. While AL and SOS focused largely on Wax and Wayne’s character development, Bands of Mourning gave us more insight into Marasi and especially Steris through Wax and Wayne’s perspectives (and a few chapters from Marasi’s). BOM definitely focused more on Steris, while SOS saw more growth from Marasi. In BOM, Marasi is shown settling into her role as lieutenant in the local constabulary and struggling against sexism and ageism from her fellow constables. I’m guessing we’ll get more scenes with her in the next installment – BOM was rather sparse with Marasi’s development. I do appreciate Sanderson’s honesty in her plight. While the other constables in her jurisdiction clearly don’t take her seriously because of her age and gender, I never got the feeling that Marasi was a throwaway background character. The ageism and sexism of her colleagues is clearly shown as unacceptable and Marasi does her best to stand up to it. I’m looking forward to seeing her growth as a constable in the next book.

Despite my earlier grumblings about the perplexing Steris, she really grew on me in BOM. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still plenty perplexing – she’s just also more well-rounded now. During a few heart-to-hearts with her and Wax, we see more of who Steris actually is and honestly? A lot of the things I like about Wax can also be found in her. Steris basically represents what most of us would be like in the noble world – nervous, anxious, and overcompensating way too much. Now that I’ve read about her methods of handling those social situations, I have to admit: I’d probably do the exact same thing. There are few things I relate more to than being born into a world where you don’t feel you fit in. The nobility in Elendel is a mysterious, ever-changing enigma and navigating it as an outsider would be terrifying. Steris’ cold, emotionless approach is her reaction to an unhealthy, judgmental, and unwelcoming environment; Sanderson’s handling of her character development has been masterful, especially in taking her from unlikable/unrelatable to a valid, well-rounded character with her own individual thoughts and goals. Steris does the best she can with the tools and resources she has and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she came out on top when all is said and done.

BOM finally started to explore the outside world that was hinted at in SOS. Up to this point, virtually all of the present-day action has occurred within the city confines. Since Elendel is a huge city, this served the purpose of the other books, but I’ve been itching to know more about the surrounding areas. Not to mention, inn the original Mistborn trilogy, we (again) stayed mostly in the city – I’m looking forward to seeing what Sanderson can do with a larger Mistborn world. The glimpses we’ve had of other civilizations and their technological advancements has been promising already. Though the series has had some steampunk-inspired themes already, the introduction of flying ships was still very surprising to me, especially with their futuristic construction and function. The waterfall city was also intriguing in its design and seemed wholly different from other fantasy cities I’ve read about. Honestly, I’d love to read books set in both the futuristic civilization and the waterfall city (despite its resemblance to Elendel’s noble society). The possibilities are endless with both of these and I’m a little sad the next book will be the last.

All in all, Bands of Mourning gets a 5/5 from me and a 10/5 for anticipation of the next installment. Another Sanderson novel well done!

Careless Whisper by T.S. Hunter

Click here to order direct from Red Dog Press!
Click the image to buy direct from Red Dog Press!

LOOSE LIPS COST LIVES.

It’s 1986, and Adam Cave, lead singer of sensational pop group Loose Lips, is struggling to stay in the closet, especially as his group is going through a messy split, and media speculation about the reasons behind it are rife.

Joe Stone is assigned to Adam as a runner for the behind-the-scenes, warts and all expose of the recording of the bands last album, and an unlikely friendship begins to form.

But when Adam’s manager, Jack Eddy, is found dead in Adam’s hotel room, in what looks like a sex game gone wrong, Joe turns to his flatmate, Russell, to help him clear the pop star’s name, and keep his secret.

Russell, meanwhile, has a secret of his own. He’s just been for a test, the results of which may change his life forever.


T.S. Hunter has done it again with another great installment in the Soho Noir series! When I saw the cover reveal for Careless Whisper during the Who’s That Girl? blog tour, I was immediately pulled in by the vibrant color and design and I just knew the writing would go along perfectly with it. Special thank you to Dylan at Red Dog Press for the blog tour invitation and my ebook copy!

I even got my physical book before the blog tour started! Talk about HYPE! 😀

As soon as I opened this book, I was once again transported back to 80s London with Joe and Russell, both of whom feel like old friends. Though I’ve never been to London myself (or anywhere in the 80s for that matter), I’ve never had trouble connecting with these two and following along in their world. I just hope we get to see more of the drag shows at the Red Lion in the next book – Paul and Scott are some of my favorite secondary characters so of course I’d love to see more of Patty and Miss Terri!

T.S. Hunter’s delicate and sensitive handling of Russell’s HIV testing is another testament to Hunter’s writing. Though I was born after the HIV crisis, the tense moments with Russell at the clinic and his anxiety in the days to come really pulled me into what was a near-daily experience in 80s Soho. Despite all the flair and fun of drag shows, clubs, and bars, the threat of HIV was an insidious undercurrent throughout Soho nightlife. These cozy crime novels don’t necessarily focus on this crisis, but Hunter’s ability to weave it into the story makes Joe and Russell’s on-page lives seem that much more real.

I will end my review here to avoid spoilers, but trust me – you’ll want to pick up Careless Whisper, even if you haven’t read the other Soho Noir novels. But really, you should get the others, too! They’re a great read and I have full confidence that the rest of the series will be just as enjoyable.

Check out the other bloggers on the tour and don’t forget to purchase the books! I can’t wait to have the whole rainbow collection on my shelf!

Who’s That Girl? by T. S. Hunter

Click the image to buy direct from Red Dog Press!

From the book description:

A FEMME FATALE WITH A POINT TO PROVE

It’s the summer of 1985 in London’s Soho, and Joe Stone is settling into his new life living in the heart of London’s developing gay scene.

When Danny Devraux—the compere they’ve hired to host their charity ball, The Frock Show—is found dead backstage, it falls to Joe and his friend and flatmate, Russell, to figure out what happened.

All they have to go on is a broken stiletto found near the scene, and the briefest glimpse of a mystery woman fleeing the club. But who was she? And why did she kill the most loved man in cabaret?

Past secrets, bent coppers, drag queens and old lovers all play their part in this noirish murder mystery.

THE SECOND IN THE SOHO NOIR SERIES

Russell stepped back calmly, smiling. “You didn’t think I’d take it lying down, did you?” he asked. “After what you did to me, I’m gunning for you, son.”

T. S. Hunter strikes again with an excellent second installment to the Soho Noir series! I’m super excited to be a part of the blog tour for this release – Tainted Love was my first adventure into cozy crime and I was thrilled to continue on with Who’s That Girl?. Thank you to Red Dog Press and T. S. Hunter for giving me this opportunity with a free ebook! I’ll most certainly be ordering the physical copy to match Tainted Love. With a design that’s both suggestive and relatable, I can’t not.

Joe and Russell have become flatmates since the ending events of Tainted Love, and they’ve developed a cute/friendly relationship of Joe dragging a reluctant Russell out for nights on the town. One of my favorite quotes from Russell is near the beginning of the book, as he’s musing on the drag show they’re putting on at the bar:

“Even though he’d helped to organise it, Russell never enjoyed this kind of crowd. He said it was all too extrovert.”

Relatable as HECK. Maybe it’s because I see a little of myself in Russell, but I was so happy to see him develop into the badass we’ve always known he was. While he had some excellent scenes in Tainted Love as well, he really comes into his own in WTG, from his sense of control after Danny is attacked to his confrontations with Skinner later in the book.

Speaking of Skinner! Here’s another great quote:

Skinner tried to mould his face into anything but a slapped arse, and failed.

PERFECTION!

T. S. Hunter packs a lot of punch into a short novella. Several new characters are introduced after the murder of Danny Devraux and their histories are explored thoroughly, tactfully, and succinctly throughout the book. The ending is twisty and exciting – even though a suspect is introduced immediately after the murder, their motive, identity, and true actions are completely unexpected. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling, but needless to say, even when you think you’ve got it figured out, there will be one more thing on the next page to shock you.

Cozy crime is quickly becoming a favorite genre of mine, especially the way Hunter writes it. Who’s That Girl? is a quick, enjoyable, and surprising read packaged into a neat 95 pages. The character development is excellently crafted and every sentence furthers the plot and storyline. I used “twisty” to describe Tainted Love as well, but honestly, there isn’t a word that sums these up more – and that’s exactly how I like it!

I was sad to get to the end of WTG, but lucky for me (and you!), the next book’s cover was announced earlier in the blog tour! Check out #3, Careless Whisper:

Look at this deliciousness!

So far, Who’s That Girl? is my favorite installment in the Soho Noir series, and if T. S. Hunter keeps up this momentum, Careless Whisper will be even better! I can’t wait to read #3 and see the shenanigans Joe and Russell get into next time.

Thank you again to Red Dog Press and T. S. Hunter for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour! Check out the earlier blogs from the tour, then go order your copy of Who’s That Girl? and Tainted Love! Click here to order direct from Red Dog Press and click here to order from Amazon.

It’s WWW Wednesday for the first time!

Hello, WWW Wednesday readers! Meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. There are three questions to answer every week’s Wednesday. I may or may not be posting my link on Taking on a World of Words’ blog.

The Three Ws are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Click to preorder!
Soho Noir #2!

I’m finishing up Who’s That Girl? by T.S. Hunter (whose name you may recognize from my Tainted Love blog tour post) for another upcoming blog tour! I’m super excited for this one – #2 in the series is just as good (if not even better) than #1. Click the image to preorder your copy direct from the publisher!

Side note, who wouldn’t want a cover like this?! It’s well-executed AND perfectly matches the Tainted Love cover!

I’m still chugging away at The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson and The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala in between taking notes on T.S. Hunter’s book. Though I don’t normally read YA, I’ve been enjoying The Tiger at Midnight – the world is rich and vibrant and I love the unique relationship between the two “countries.” Not to mention Esha and Kunal’s cat-and-mouse game puts a great spin on the typical enemies to lovers trope. The Alloy of Law is, of course, another Brandon Sanderson hit. If you were a fan of the Mistborn trilogy, I definitely recommend picking up the Wax and Wayne books. They’re western-style fantasy and it’s beautifully done. Plus, it perfectly coincides with my current “western-meets-indie” music kick.

What did you recently finish reading?

Check out my review here! The last book I read is still Age of Legend by Michael Sullivan – I’m somewhat of a slow reader so I’ll probably forgo this question more often than not in the future.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Good question! I just ordered the next two Wax and Wayne novels (and two Cosmere novels I didn’t already have), so I’ll probably dive into those once the blog tour’s over.


and that’s about it! Thanks for reading!

Age of Legend by Michael Sullivan

Release date July 9th 2019

Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #4)

Spoilers removed for WordPress and hidden on my Goodreads review. I received an early ebook version via the Kickstarter campaign. It was awesome.

4/5

This was another excellent addition to the Legends series, but it did fall short of the other novels. I think it would have landed better with me to have a shorter novella bridging 3 and 4 since there was such a time gap early on in the book. The jump hurt my immersion in the world and made some of the character developments feel hollow. I was able to get back into the world after a few chapters, but the abruptness took away from my experience as a reader.

After the jump, we also got very different character perspectives from the other books. While I enjoyed the character development we saw in Tesh, Tekchin, Moya, and Tressa, I did miss Persephone’s voice, which had filled the void left by other characters’ deaths. The cliffhanger ending was also disappointing compared to the other books, but that’s probably more due to my anticipation of #5’s release – if I had the next book to start right away, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least.



See all my reviews

Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Click here to see the book description on Goodreads.

Disclaimer: spoilers ahead. Also, this is a long post.

Normally, I avoid putting too many spoilers in my reviews, especially when linking to them on Goodreads, but I tried to articulate my criticism without them and it just didn’t make sense. I’ll be spoiling major plot points and “twists” so you may want to skip this one if you’re interested in reading the book. Also, the post is stupid long. With a 600-page problematic book, I couldn’t help but ramble.

LitRPGs

Before we get started, I wanted to address the genre of this book. Sufficiently Advanced Magic is typically shelved as a “LitRPG” book, which I (surprisingly) hadn’t heard of before starting the book. From the Wiki entry, “LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels.” Links have been left in in case you’d like to look into it more. The most popular book in this genre is Ready Player One (Ernest Cline), though I’m not sure I agree with the label for RPO. Otherland by Tad Williams is also hailed as a popular LitRPG novel – I haven’t read it myself, but it has a 3.9 on Goodreads so it’s probably pretty decent. The hallmarks of LitRPG as a genre are “stats” that get assigned to main characters, some kind of virtual reality element, MMORPG terminology (mobs, loot, stats, set amount of mana, etc.), and visible improvements on character skills, usually signaled by an increase in stats. A book doesn’t need to have all of these to be considered LitRPG, but the major presence of a few is enough to earn the classification. Sufficiently Advanced Magic has mana stats, an “alternate reality” in the form of towers with malleable, individual realities, and loot/mobs within those towers. There’s also extensive discourse about the mana/magic system and different magic “classes” in the world, delineated based on location/country.

The nitty-gritty

Originally bought in December 2017 during a sale, this book has been languishing on my Kindle for a looonnnng time. I dove in head-first after finishing Tainted Love (see my review here), but honestly, Sufficiently Advanced Magic was a slog to get through. Clocking in at a staggering 621 pages, this book is just two hundred pages shorter than Game of Thrones. Now, the page count in itself is not an issue, and actually lines up with my typical reading style, but this book did not need to be this long. I’ve decided to break down my thoughts on this book based on different characteristics.

Worldbuilding & Storyline

For a book with so much dialogue and classroom-type discourse, the worldbuilding left much to be desired. The book starts out with Corin Cadence in line to attempt his first trial in the Serpent Spire. His end goal is to become a “climber,” someone who dedicates their life to reaching the top of the tower. He spends most of his time in line anxiously hoping he doesn’t have to confront anything living or, if he does, that it will let him pass without a violent combat. Strange, considering he wants to reach the top floor someday. We get some character information through his internal dialogue here – he’s always been in his brother’s shadow, his parents split up after his brother’s disappearance, and he hates fighting. His parents are, of course, professional duelists, so this is another thing that sets him apart from the rest of his family. Typical outcast.

Inside the tower, we get a good look at Corin’s combat abilities (strangely excellent, despite his eschewing violence of any kind) and some more details about how the spires function. Some mobs are introduced here as well along with puzzle rooms. We also find out that the main source of currency for this world comes from “loot” that monsters drop, which may or may not be their souls. Corin acknowledges this later in the book when he realizes this is used as a “climber currency,” but he never really explores the topic more. I guess we’re just supposed to accept it and move on. On the towers themselves, I have a few issues with them other than the loot system: first, you can basically pick which room/test you go in by opening a door, looking in, then quickly closing it before the other door(s) in your current room disappear; secondly, and more importantly, the difficulty scale is ridiculous. Yes, the tower trials are supposed to be optional when you turn 17 (where your only other choice is to skip any schooling and go straight into the military at a disadvantage), but it still seems ridiculous that the first room you enter might kill you. Perhaps this was intentional so that the book met the LitRPG requirements of having a game-like reality, but the execution was definitely lacking.

Corin finishes his test in the tower with hardly a scratch, of course, and somehow manages to unearth a worldwide conspiracy along the way. One thing that I found particularly unbelievable was the book he immediately discovered that allowed him to talk to a mysterious entity called “The Voice of the Tower.” The Voice used the book to conveniently provide guidance in each room of the tower as Corin was progressing through it, which severely undercut the suspense of Corin’s success. It also made it hard to believe when he supposedly “accidentally” circumvented the normal test route and ended up in a room with high-security prisoners: a mysterious man named Keras, a woman named Vera, and a silent child who looks near to death. Given the chance to leave the room or release the prisoners, bleeding-heart Corin uses his “random” extra keys to open their cells. This incurs the wrath of Katashi, a powerful visage who serves the goddess. Keras manages to hold off the visage while Vera, the child, and Corin escape the tower. Before being forced out of the tower, Corin manages to snag an attunement from a fountain along a bottle of the mysterious attunement water. The “escaped prisoners” plot-line plays out slowly through the rest of the book. It also connects him with Orden, one of the professors at the University, at the behest of the mysterious Voice.

Once Corin leaves the tower with his new enchanting attunement, the worldbuilding and action pretty much stop there. He immediately enters the university and starts his lessons in learning more about his attunement and how to utilize his mana properly. The majority of the rest of the book is classroom lectures, internal monologues, and study sessions with his friends. There is one “trial test” towards the middle of the book, which he and his friend group fail miserably, then we get more talking and lectures and little to no exhibition. We also get one randomly aside where Corin and his half-sister Sera agree to let her fight in a combat tournament with a man named Derek, who Corin met in a “tower shop” while buying enchanting supplies. As a first-year student, Sera nearly gets herself killed facing a demigod, but Derek manages to save the day with his ridiculously powerful weapons. Then, we’re immediately thrown back in the classrooms and study groups.

This book is the epitome of “tell, don’t show” and based on my research, that tends to be a hallmark of LitRPGs. If you like reading class lectures and professor ramblings that have no relevance to real life and no discernible lessons to teach you, as the reader, then you might enjoy this book. The lectures center around mana control, attunements and how to use them, and the towers. It would have been nice to have a history-type class that would give the author an excuse to tell us about the rest of the world, but instead, we get probably 450 pages of information about the magic system with some minor combat filtered in-between.

In the last portion of the book, Corin and Co. venture back into the tower with Orden and Vera in an attempt to placate Katashi, who has attacked the school in retaliation to Visage Tenjin’s disappearance prior to the start of the book. (I know, it’s a mouthful.) Corin and his friends are woefully unprepared for this, but luckily, they bring along Derek, the strangely powerful man from the tournament earlier in the school year. We get a little plot twist right at the end of the book: Orden reveals that she orchestrated Tenjin’s capture through a government-wide conspiracy and careful manipulation of Vera and there is a betrayal in Corin’s friend group. We also find out that the Voice is actually Corin’s missing brother, who has been watching Corin’s progress since he went into the tower. The book ends with this cliffhanger/twist along with a lot of loose ends.

Characters

Following the LitRPG idea of a video game in a book, each of the characters in Sufficiently Adanced Magic fits into one or two classes. Corin represents the enchanter/healer, Sera is the warlock, Marissa (aka Mara) is the tank, Jin is the rogue, and Patrick is the mage. They also follow the associated stereotypical personality types that go along with these “classes.”

Since the entire book is told in first-person, I’ll focus in on Corin as a character and narrator. Most of Corin’s inner monologue is spent on working out magic/mana problems, feeling awkward about social interactions, and event analysis that’s quickly set aside. We are constantly reminded that Corin hates being touched (even by his half-sister, Sera) and generally abhors most social niceties. That being said, he is still charismatic and doesn’t seem to have much trouble interacting with fellow students. He even takes a few opportunities to challenge professors during class in front of 20-30 other students. It makes his monologues about his awkwardness much less believable and much more irritating.

Tainted Love by T. S. Hunter

Click here to buy your own copy!

From the book description:

SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE JUST MURDER

It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town where Joe and Chris grew up.
When Chris is found brutally murdered, the police write his death off as just another rent boy fallen foul of a bad hook up. But Joe knows his friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why. 
Spiralling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer? 
A noirish whodunnit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination and lethal killers that the era had to offer. 
Tainted Love is the first book in the Soho Noir series of cozy crime novellas.

“But we have to do something”

“I know. And we will.”

MY GOD this was a great book. From the first page, I was absolutely hooked on the story, plot, and characters – it’s amazing how attached you can get in a 125-page novella when the writing is this good. T.S. Hunter is an up-and-coming author who’s just getting started with this explosive release. Book two in the series is coming out later this year, so you can preorder your copy as soon as you’re done devouring Tainted Love. I am honored that Red Dog Press invited me to participate in this blog tour, and provided me with a free copy of the book!

Now anyone who follows me on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook/wherever probably knows I’m normally a fantasy/sci-fi kind of gal. I don’t usually go outside of these genres, but I happily made an exception for Tainted Love when Red Dog Press reached out to me, and I am so glad I did. I’ll admit, the first thing that caught my eye, and what got me started on this path was the cover art:

You can imagine my confusion when this popped up on my Twitter feed – confusion that quickly turned to giggly delight when I tweeted at T.S. Hunter and Red Dog, who confirmed the cover is very intentional. Talk about eye-catching! Who would’ve known this could land me a spot on their blog tour to celebrate the publishing of Tainted Love?

After the murder of the much-beloved Chris in the beginning of the book, Joe and Russell find themselves working together, much to Russell’s chagrin, trying to solve a crime that they know the police will dismiss outright. I couldn’t help but feel my own rage at the lack of respect and blatant bigotry shown by Detective Skinner, and the officers who set up the sting on Russell to get him kicked out of the force. Even the violent bonafide gangster showed more emotion at hearing of Chris’s death than the detective did. As Joe and Russell start working together, Joe’s small town innocence (which I related to on a very personal level) pulls Russell out of his self-loathing pit of despair and into a little bit of a brighter place. Russell has the opposite effect on Joe, which may not seem like a good thing at first, but Joe is idealistic and naive at the beginning of the novella and learns some important life lessons along the way. I absolutely loved their character arcs as they navigated this new situation together – even Russell’s grumpy “I’m not looking for a new [detective] partner right now” attitude couldn’t handle the intensity of Joe’s desire for justice or his righteous view of how the situation must end.

By the middle of the book, you’re suspecting everyone and probably their mothers of murdering Chris – though, if I’m being honest, at that point I’d written off the gangster as a secret softy who probably had a stuffed animal collection and never actually did any murdering of anyone. Now the multi-millionaire that Russell glimpses from across the street? That guy has some dangerous skeletons in his closet, guaranteed. Russell definitely has a point; the violence of Chris’ murder just isn’t Tony’s style. I’m sure Tony is a guy with much more class and poise. And stuffed animals. I won’t go into detail about who actually did the whodunnit, but suffice to say, you will never see it coming.

Tainted Love also paints a truthful and painful picture of the 80s in London and the world at large. While drag queens like Patty and young men like Joe are starting to get their feet wet in the club scene, a crisis rages on the fringes of their culture – death, brutality, judgment, and homophobia subtly plague their lives and drive them to seek refuge in these underground scenes. Joe found solace in the new Chris and his London life until the violent murder of Chris changes Joe forever. Watching him grow with Russell’s bitter-tinged guidance is a reward in and of itself. The whodunnit aspect of the book is engaging, twisty, and, most importantly, shocking, but the characters themselves can be appreciated just as much as the false starts and plot twists of the murder investigations.

If you’re interested in a quick, engaging, and fast-paced read, you need to pick up a copy of Tainted Love immediately. I’m already on my second read-thru and can’t wait to find more foreshadowing and clues this time around.

Plus! There’s a giveaway happening on a few awesome pieces of book swag. Click the link below to enter a drawing for a signed copy of Tainted Love, a wonderful “Go Away I’m Reading” tote bag, a delightful rainbow button badge, and (last but certainly not least) CHOCOLATE!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b5939c611/?

Thank you again to Red Dog Press and T.S. Hunter for allowing me to take part in this blog tour! Check out the banner below for the other bloggers that have come before me (and will follow until the 25th!).