Tag Archives: fantasy

Book Review: Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapwkoski

Baptism of Fire (The Witcher series)     

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski

Publisher: Orbit

American release date:  June 24, 2014

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Fantasy/400 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Milva, the archer,  first meets Geralt, the Witcher, two weeks after the disastrous conclave on the Isle of Thanedd. To say she is not amused would be an understatement, especially as he has seen her face. But Geralt is a friend of Brokilon, and he is injured, so they care nothing for the politics of the situation. So when the leader of Brokilon requests that Milva assist Geralt, how can she refuse?  She can’t, although she doesn’t have to be happy about it. And she isn’t.

Dijkstra, the head of Redanian intelligence, is approached by the Nilfgaardian ambassador who seeks a criminal by the name of Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Caellach. Dijkstra feigns ignorance, but that man always knows more than he is willing to admit to. Once rid of the ambassador, Dijkstra writes to his sorceress, Philippa, revealing that he seeks the man as well. Not that he let slip that fact to the ambassador.

The sorceresses have their own agenda. The situation as they see it is going from bad to worse. It is only by some miracle that they were not all killed on Thanedd. They must take control of the situation before the men screw it up any more than they already have. But they must do it under the utmost secrecy as they work to reestablish the Chapter and the Council. They have to rely on one another, even the Nilfgaardian sorceresses, although there is a decided lack of trust there. They meet telepathically to lay the foundation and make plans to meet in person. Not everyone is pleased to see Assire of Nilfgaard among their number. And where is Yennefer?

Meanwhile, Ciri, who is going by the name of Falka, is having the time of her life, running with her little hoodlum pals, the Rats. So why does everyone else think she’s in Nilgaard, engaged to the emperor?

Having healed and left Brokilon, Geralt and Dandelion begin their journey. Although the Witcher think he’s inscrutable and mysterious, the poet can put two and two together and he knows where they are headed and why. And so the journey begins.

If you think there was a lot going on in the last book, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, b-b-b-baby.

The Witcher series has three main threads which twine and intertwine about one another, those three threads belonging to 1) Geralt, 2)Ciri, and 3)Yennefer. These three are bound by a fate they cannot escape. I can only hope and trust that they will end up together when all is said and done, but that remains to be seen.

Geralt has suffered much in his lifetime, beginning with his betrayal and desertion by his birth mother, to the pains he suffered in becoming the mutant known as a witcher. He had no choice in the matter, but he has certainly embraced this life, such as it is, and is renowned far and wide for his skill and prowess at slaying monsters. On the other hand, he has assumed a mask of indifference in the way he presents himself to the world, as if nothing and no one matters to him. Nothing reaches him or touches him. He is an emotionless killer of bad things.

But we know better, don’t we?

Despite pushing the troubadour away and keeping him at arm’s length, all the while commenting on his bad singing, Geralt considers Dandelion a friend, and has saved his bacon on more than one occasion. Dandelion may be a loud mouth who speaks first and thinks afterward, a braggart who feels that embellishment of the truth is often preferable to the facts, a narcissist who thinks he is irresistible to women… but truth be told, he has a good heart, and he would do anything for Geralt. Dandelion is the only companion Geralt has tolerated for many years, and I love to see them together (and yes, while I realize there is much fanfiction on the relationship between them being more than friendship, I don’t see that and consider it so much wishful thinking).

Geralt and Yennefer—ah, that is one complicated relationship. From the moment they met, something drew them together, almost as if they were magnetized, one to the other. And even though their lovemaking is often followed by separation and anger, they manage to find their way back together again and again, as if they are unable to help themselves. To be honest, I have no idea what he sees in her, and I would be happy if he were to find another love. Such as Triss Merrigold, for instance. But alas, I don’t feel that is meant to be, thanks in large part to the wish Geralt foolishly made (see The Last Wish, although I assume you’ve read it by this point). Whether they can stay together in the end remains to be seen. Yennefer has had a rough life, and I’m sure she feels something for the Witcher, but ultimately I don’t trust her.

Ciri is Geralt’s Law of Surprise gift, a serendipitous gift for Geralt cannot father a child, so Ciri is the child he cannot have. I don’t think he ever intended to go through with taking her on as his responsibility, and evaded doing so for as long as he could. But he couldn’t stem the tide of Fate forever, and having met her, he would do anything now to protect her. Woe betide anyone who comes between him and Ciri, or threatens to harm her in any way. As for Ciri, I worry about what will become of her after her time with the Rats. I think she likes killing a bit too much, and being a law unto herself. Will she be able to return to a more normal life, relatively speaking, or will she become more rebellious than ever? She’s always been a willful handful, but now…

There are some very interesting secondary characters in this book. If you’ve played the game (I’m only on the first one) you may recognize some of them, such as Zoltan Chivay.  And some interesting new friends, such as Regis. The plot is exquisitely intricate as the author spins an amazing web of intrigue, war, deceit, love, mystery, supernatural, and so much more.

If you love the books, watch the series. Henry Cavill plays Geralt brilliantly

Another great book in the series, looking forward to the next one!

 

Book Review: The Killing Moon (Dreamblood #1) by N.K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, Book 1)   

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Publisher: Orbit Books

American release date: 2012

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Fantasy /448 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Guajareh is a city of peace, prospering under the loving guidance of Prince Eninket. Even in death is peace, for that is the job of the Gatherers of the city. They ease souls into Ina-Karekh through the most beautiful of dreams. The Gatherers serve the Goddess, Hatawa. They work primarily at night, under the auspices of the Dreaming Moon. One such Gatherer is Ehiru. He is given a commission to ease a man of the Bromarte, Charleron of Wenkinslan. But things do not go as they should, and Charleron tries to warn Ehiru that he is being used. Disturbed, Ehiru returns to the Hatawa, expecting to be reprimanded, concerned for his sixteen-year-old apprentice, Nijiri. Despite what has happened, though, he is given a new commission from the Prince himself, who is Ehiru’s brother.

Nijiri had been meant to have Una-une as his mentor, but the man’s untimely death has changed that, and he has been placed under Ehiru’s wing instead. Nijiri is not opposed to the change, although saddened by the reason, for he has deep feelings for Ehiru, despite the fact that his new mentor is forty years of age. He has known Ehiru for most of his life and would do anything for him. To Nijiri, age is immaterial, as well as gender, although he knows it is not allowed for Gatherers to indulge in such passions. But being near Ehiru and learning from him are enough for Nijiri.

Sunandi is from the neighboring country of Kisua, sent to Gujaareh by her master Kinja She Kalabsha to study Gujaareen magic as part of her apprenticeship. But that doesn’t mean that the two countries agree in the way they do things. Sunandi senses something wrong in Gujaareh. If only her master hadn’t died.  She finds Prince Eninket charming, and rather seductive. Doesn’t mean she trusts him. And she certainly can’t afford to let him find out what her true purpose is in being there.

Sunandi is summoned to a meeting with General Niyes, who shows her something shocking, and relates to her the strange events of the past few years. He tells her that war is imminent and that she must carry the news back to Kisua as soon and as stealthily as possible. He warns her that her life may be in danger, and the sooner she and her servant Lin leave the better.

That night, however, an unexpected presence turns up in her room—a Gatherer and his apprentice, whose purpose is to send her to Ina-Karekh. Sunandi makes Ehiru see that his so-called commission is nothing less than assassination, sowing seeds of doubt in his mind. When he becomes convinced that she is telling the truth, and that politics are at play here, he realizes he must keep her safe for the sake of all.

This book was recommended to me by my daughter-in-law, and I am so glad she told me about it! N.K. Jemisin weaves a fascinating world, a unique world, with many strange concepts and many people. At first, I was focused on remembering who was who and stumbling over the strange words and ideas, but suddenly I found myself very immersed in the story and the names became real people to me, and I realized I was hooked.

Ehiru is a very conflicted man, whose beliefs are crumbling around him, barely able to hang on, if not for the love and support of Nijiri. Nijiri is wise beyond his years, and it’s hard not to like him, as well as Sunandi. The author modeled much of the belief system and the countries in her novel after those of ancient Egypt, while also drawing on Freud and Jung. The concept of easing people into death seems meant to be a loving form of euthanasia, but obviously there is much room for abuse in such a system.

At the heart of this story is a tale as old as time itself—power and greed, the eternal struggle between right and wrong, life and death,  recognizing what is right and finding the strength and courage to do what must be done. I loved these people so much that I hated to see the book end. Good thing there are two more, even though the first one is filled with a fair amount of heartbreak. I will have to look for more of Jemisin’s books after I finish this trilogy. She is an awesome writer.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Blood of Elves (Witcher series) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Blood of Elves(The Witcher series)      Blood of Elves cover

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski

Publisher: Orbit

American release date: May 1, 2009

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Fantasy/324 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

War is raging. Nilfgard is aggressively consuming all the territory it can, gaining in power at an alarming rate. Something has to be done about this. But in order for that to happen, the other countries have to come to some semblance of agreement. Is that even possible?

Dandelion, the celebrated bard, thrills audiences wherever he goes with his original music, his tales of people and battles and lost loves. But Dandelion doesn’t always use common sense in singing of things which should not be mentioned, such as Geralt and Ciri. People should not know that Ciri exists, for that would only bring danger down upon her. The time is not yet come, for she has much to learn…

Other than himself, Dandelion truly loves wine, women, and song, sometimes to his detriment. Caught in a trap at a house of ill repute, he finds himself being tortured by an unpleasant fellow with a burn scar, by the name of Rience. Rience wants to know the whereabouts of the witcher and the girl, and doesn’t believe Dandelion’s protestations that his stories are tales without foundation, not truth. Luckily, help comes from an unexpected quarter for the outspoken bard.

Geralt takes Ciri to Kaer Morhen, the secret witcher stronghold. By the time Triss Merrigold arrives, she is surprised to find the young girl training as a witcher. Triss also senses that there is more to the girl than outside appearances might indicate. Do the witchers know this? When a young witcher accidentally lets slip a vital piece of information, Triss realizes more of the truth about who Ciri really is. And Geralt knows that the next step in Ciri’s preparation lies, not with him, but with Yennefer.

Ciri is definitely developing as a character. Of course, we know who she really is, but it’s interesting to watch her blossom under Geralt’s guidance. Their relationship is complicated, but I think it’s something of a father/daughter relationship, the only kind Geralt can enjoy. The same can be said for Yennefer. Reading the books as I watch the series is enlightening, as I’ve seen Yennefer’s backstory, which I haven’t read yet. I’m not sure how much I care for her, but her treatment of Ciri has redeemed her at least a little bit. I’m baffled as to the change of Dandelion’s name for the series, but a bard by any other name is still a fun character And now there is a song, Throw a Coin to Your Witcher which has become an Internet sensation, apparently.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in this book, and sometimes you really have to wonder which side to root for. The choices aren’t necessarily clear cut.  I loved the scenes with Geralt after he became a hired mercenary to protect certain barges from harm. But Geralt has his own agenda, as always. I also enjoyed Geralt’s travels with Ciri and Triss. This was a really good book and I look forward to the next one.

 

 

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (The Witcher series)       

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski

Publisher: Orbit

American release date: July 18, 2017

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Fantasy/LGBTQ/352 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. Which means he slays monsters for a living. He wasn’t born that way. Rather, witchers are made, through the use of herbs and spells and potions and such. They are considered to be mutants, despised by many except when their talents are of use. In becoming a witcher, Geralt’s hair turned completely white, devoid of any pigmentation, thus earning him the nickname of the White Wolf.

The Witcher – Geralt receives a cold welcome on his arrival at The Fox inn in Wyzim, but demands to be taken to the castellan, Velerad, whom he shows the proclamation which has brought him there. After viewing Geralt’s witcher emblem, Velerad tells the tale of the king who lay with his sister and created a child, born a monster known as a striga. The people of Wyzim want the striga to be killed, as it has been running rampant and killing townspeople. King Foltest wishes his daughter to be uncursed, but there are others who wish her dead, and are willing to pay for that to happen.

Geralt begins to prepare for his job, speaking with the king as well as those few who survived the striga. It is said that the way to undo the curse is to survive the night in the old palace where she holds sway, and that after the third crow heralding dawn, if she remains outside her sarcophagus, all will be well. Easier said than done, apparently. Geralt prepares himself with his usual potions and his silver witcher sword. He also has an ace in the hole. He wishes to undo the curse, if he can, but he has sworn he won’t hesitate to defend himself if necessary.

A Grain of Truth – After finding the bodies of a dead couple who were viciously mauled, although not by a werewolf, Geralt discovers a tower hidden in the forest. As he approaches, he spies a young girl who instantly flees from him.  Dismounting from his steed Roach, he approaches the mansion on foot, and strange things begin to happen, such as the doors and shutters flying open and closed at one time. Then a monster rushes straight toward him. Although he threatens Gerald in no uncertain terms, Geralt doesn’t run, as has been suggested, and instead converses with the creature, whose name is Nivellen. Once he calms down, Nivellen agrees to tell Geralt his story, and how he came to be there.

The Lesser Evil – Entering another town, Geralt runs into someone he knows, an alderman named Caldemeyn, so of course they have to get a drink together.  Geralt has brought a strange spider-like creature with him, slung across his saddle. It’s known as a kikimora and he hopes to receive a bounty for its death. Caldemeyn has no use for such a creature and suggests Geralt consult the local wizard, irion. They had to the wizard’s tower, but a fish-head on the door informs them that Irion is not receiving and to go away. On learning that Geralt is there, the wizard agrees to let him and turns out to be someone Geralt knows, using a different name. Irion tells Geralt his tale, and why he is holed up in this tower under an assumed name. But every story has two sides, and Geralt has a choice to make. Will he be forced to choose the lesser evil?

A Question of Price – Geralt is invited by a queen to a banquet. The odd thing is that he is to go disguised as someone else, posing as the Honorable Ravix of Fourhorn and wearing a coat of arms of a bear passant. Geralt questions the castellan who admits that something bad is happening, something that has people frightened. They say there is a monster that is small and hunchbacked, that creeps around the castle at night and rattles chains. Geralt is still not sure why he needs to go in disguise. Geralt finds some interesting people at the banquet. Once he figures out what he needs to do, then it’s just a question of price.

The Edge of the World – One of Geralt’s oldest and closest friends is a poet/troubadour by the name of Dandelion, who loves wine, women, and song, is very bawdy, and prone to act first and think later. Sometimes he travels with Geralt to find material he can write about. Between the two of them, adventures just seem to happen.

Geralt and Dandelion are invited to the home of Nettly, in Lower Posada, that he may discuss witcher business with Geralt. His home is in the Valley of Flowers, a lovely place where everything seeds mightly… and grows as to make the heart sing. Elves live in the nearby mountains, but the two groups do not mix with each other.  Geralt and Dandelion meet with Nettly and Dhun, the elder of Lower Posada, who tells them that the problem is they have a deovel, or devil. Oddly, Dhun doesn’t wish the devil to be killed as he has shown himself helpful in the past. But when he is up to mischief, he is hard to bear. Dandelion doesn’t believe in devils, but Geralt has a more open mind. Geralt finds he will have to work to uncover the truth of what is afoot in the Valley of Flowers.

The Last Wish – When Geralt and Dandelion go fishing for breakfast, Geralt gets more than he bargained for when he meets Yennefer, a sorceress. Instead of a fish, Dandeliion catches a large jar, which he believes to contain a djinn. The delighted troubadour is determined to get his three wishes, but trouble ensues and he is injured, necessitating Geralt to take him to a healer. Unfortunately, at the nearest village, they cannot gain egress at night. Geralt finds himself in the same company as other travelers who cannot get in, and one of them tells him of Yennefer and where she is staying. As first light, Geralt goes to gain her assistance, but isn’t prepared for what he is about to receive.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories chronicling some of the exploits of Geralt the Witcher. Always traveling in search of the next job, Geralt has never put down roots, or entered into a stable relationship. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ladies he has loved, or friends with whom he has shared adventures.

Each chapter begins with The Voice of Reason, which takes place in the present, and leads in to each tale.

I first discovered Geralt through the first Witcher game, which I am still playing and greatly enjoying. When I learned there were books, I had to read them, of course.

Geralt is a great character, and he’s fun to read about as well as to play. The stories are well told and fascinating, drawing on recognizable tales as well as original tales. If you’re a Witcher layer, this is a must-read book. But you don’t have to play the game to appreciate these stories. Mythical creatures abound, but it’s important to remember that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Not all beautiful creatures are good, and not all ugly ones are bad.

There will soon be a Witcher series on Netflix, starring Henry Cavill. The previews look good, so I’m looking forward to watching, and I am waiting for the next volume of Witcher tales to come to my library. I highly recommend this series, especially if you are into fantasy and video games.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Hierophant’s Daughter by M. F. Sullivan

The Hierophant’s Daughter       

Author: M.F. Sullivan

Publisher: Painted Blind Publishing

American release date: May 19, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Kindle/Urban Fantasy/267 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Disgraced Governess Dominia di Mephitoli is on the run. Member of the Holy Family and one-time ruler of the land formerly known as Italy, her sole focus is on, besides staying alive, resurrecting her dead wife, Cassandra, whom she wears in a diamond around her neck. Rumor has it that the man known as Lazarus can help her with this. But, assuming he is not a myth, no one knows where to find him.

Seeking refuge with a family in a remote farmhouse, she realizes too late that the Hierophant—her father—is there, seeking to reunite her with the family. She knows better than to trust him, however, which he proves with his actions, killing the family and taking out one of Dominia’s eyes, as well as her incisors. Dominia is no ordinary woman, she is a martyr, as are all the Holy Family—the Hierophant, who is the head of the family; brothers Cicero and Elijah (also known as the Lamb), who are husbands as well as brothers, sweet innocent sister Lavinia, and Dominia. Once Dominia’s name was Morgan, but many years have passed since she answered to that appellation. Besides possessing special strength and abilities, martyrs subsist on a diet of blood and flesh, and are restricted in their movements by the sun. The Hierophant has walked among the people of Earth for many years, and claims to come from a distant planet, but no one can either prove or disprove his story, so it remains accepted as truth. At least for now.

Once the poor family is dead, and the Hierophant gone, Dominia flees once more, taking the family dog with her. Why, she isn’t sure, but it seems like the thing to do.

Dominia reunites with an acquaintance of hers, René Ichigawa, a Franco Japanese professor, who is helping her to reach Lazarus. First, they have to get to safety, which is a challenge considering both Dominia’s restrictions and her infamy. Her reputation as a ruthless general precedes her, and not in a good way. René’s plan is for them to go to Japan, which is one of the few areas not under the Hierophant’s control, via boat. When Dominia awakens in the hold, she is surprised to find the dog still there. René assumed he was hers since he wouldn’t leave her and followed them onto the boat.

All Dominia has to do is find Lazarus—assuming he actually exists—have him resurrect Cassandra—assuming he can actually do that—and keep from being killed by a member of the Holy Family… or anyone else, for that matter. This is one journey Dominia won’t soon forget.

The Hierophant’s Daughter is the first book in the Disgraced Martyr Trilogy. I received a Kindle copy of the book in exchange for my review.  Before I had even finished reading the book, I had placed a pre-order for the paperback, which will show how very much I liked it, since I’d already been given a copy. The Hierophant’s Daughter turned out to be much more than I expected. M.F. Sullivan did a fabulous job of world-building, and gives us a creative and unique take on this world. The Hierophant is the benevolent (somewhat) holy father who has managed to gain control of most of the planet. It’s not hard to guess what his ultimate goal is. Martyrs are a unique spin on vampires. In this world, humans know they exist and co-exist with them… for the most part.

The Holy Family is most fascinating, especially the Hierophant. While I know in my head he’s the villain, it’s not quite so cut-and-dried as that, since he is at the same time terrible and compelling, a very charming man indeed. I found myself looking forward to seeing more of his scenes. Cicero is cruel and vicious but when it comes to his husband, Elijah (the Lamb, an obvious reference to Jesus), he would do anything for him, and the feeling is mutual (before anyone gets squicked out by them being brothers, they are not blood brothers, vampires don’t have children, and they were together as a couple before they even met the Hierophant). Lavinia is an unusual case in that she died while an infant, too young to become a martyr, yet she ended up growing even after death… so she is looked upon as very holy. Well, still waters do run deep.

Dominia is someone you have to admire for her strength and her character. She’s done many terrible things in her long life and she knows it. And yet, despite being a martyr, she is quite human in many ways, and vulnerable to making mistakes. Sometimes she just has no choice.

The more I read of this book, the deeper into it I got. The characters draw you in and make you want to know more. It’s a horrible world, and I wouldn’t want to live there, but reading about it is a different matter entirely. The biggest criticism I can make is that the author would have benefited from better editing. There are some especially stupid errors which should have been caught. But these do not detract from the overall value of the story.

There are so many things about it that I love, including the religious allegory. It’s a terrifying glimpse into a future that could be if vampires existed on other planets and came here to make this their new home. At the end of the book is a timeline that chronicles the Hierophant’s ascent, from the time of his arrival. It’s well worth reading.

I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait for the next volume in the trilogy to come out.

 

Book Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf     

Author: Marlon James

Publisher: Riverhead Books

American release date: February 5, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Literature/fantasy/620 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

A man named Tracker has a story to tell, and such a story it is. He is called Tracker because of his nose, and his penchant for finding things. So he is sent on a mission to find a missing boy, and such a group he finds himself in. There is the shapeshifter Leopard, with whom the Tracker has a past but now the Leopard has a boy named Fumeli who carries his bow and arrows and maybe his heart. There is Sadogo, who will tell you he is not a giant. There is the Moon Witch, Sogolon, and others as well.

Their journey will take them to many strange places in the heart of Africa, and they will see many things in their quest for this missing child. Along the way the Tracker discovers many things about himself and his companions. Everything is not as he thinks, and he can’t believe everything he sees.

There is much mischief afoot and many creatures and people who mean harm, and who would prevent this group from finding the lost boy. What is the boy’s importance in the scheme of things? Who is right and who is wrong?

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first book in Marlon James’ Dark Star Trilogy. It is a book steeped in mythology and fantasy and history. But most of all, it is the story of one man, Tracker. Tracker is a compelling narrator. I found it impossible not to like him and not to root for him, to rejoice in his victories and grieve with him in his sorrows. This books takes you on a journey the likes of which you’ve probably never experienced before. I know I haven’t.

This book is beautifully written in a language that will pull you in and make you an interested bystander with a vested interest in what happens to its narrator. The writing is rich and deep and very compelling. Some of the creatures you will meet will enthrall you, others will terrify you.  I hope to never see such as the Omuluzu, creatures who come out of the ceiling and walk on it as if it is floor. The children will capture your hearts—the Smoke Girl and the Giraffe Boy, the Boy with no legs and the twins who share one body….how can you not love them? As well as the man who wins Tracker’s heart.

I cannot even begin to imagine what will happen next, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out. In the meantime, I shall be visiting Mr. James’ other novels.