Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

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Did Not Finish – Kushiel’s Mercy (Kushiel’s Legacy #6 / Imriel’s Trilogy #3)

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Summary:

Having learned a lesson about thwarting the will of the gods, Imriel and Sidonie publicly confess their affair, only to see the country boil over in turmoil. Younger generations, infatuated by their heart-twisting, star-cross romance, defend the couple. Many others cannot forget the betrayals of Imriel’s mother, Melisande, who plunged their country into a bloody war that cost the lives of their fathers, brothers, and sons.

To quell the unrest, Ysandre, the queen, sets her decree. She will not divide the lovers, yet neither will she acknowledge them. If they marry, Sidonie will be disinherited, losing her claim on the throne.

There’s only one way they can truly be together. Imriel must perform an act of faith: search the world for his infamous mother and bring her back to Terre d’Ange to be executed for treason.

Facing a terrible choice, Imriel and Sidonie prepare ruefully for another long separation. But when a dark foreign force casts a shadow over Terre d’Ange and all the surrounding countries, their world is turned upside down, alliances of the unlikeliest kind are made, and Imriel and Sidonie learn that the god Elua always puts hearts together a purpose.

Review:

I can’t say I saw myself DNFing this book. While I have recommended the first two of Imriel’s trilogy, it’s always been with the bit of a caveat that I didn’t think it as good as Phedre’s trilogy. Part of it was Imriel himself – he hasn’t been the most likable person for much of the series – but more to point, it’s been the use of magic in his series that has served as a turn off.

Magic has always been part and parcel of Carey’s world. In the first three books, the magic seen was generally Divine in nature. More importantly, magic may have had an influence on the story but it never drove nor dominated the series. Even the ending of Kushiel’s Avatar – in which there is a ridiculously huge bit of magic – the journey leading up to that magic was the focus, not the magic itself.

The exact opposite has been true of Imriel’s story. While Kushiel’s Scion is arguably half Phedre’s book and half his, by the time it shifts to him magic starts coming to the fore. It drove the conflict in the second half of that book. It drove all the conflict in Kushiel’s Justice as it does here in Kushiel’s Mercy. And while I love magic, the magic has to be done right and by and large it hasn’t been. It felt out of place in Kushiel’s Scion – we spent well over 400 pages (if not even more) magic free then BOOM out of no where it drives the whole plot. Albeit still ill defined, it was done better in Kushiel’s Justice as it hung over proceedings and drove some action, because that book was really about Imriel’s growth here.

This book, however, is where we lost the plot entirely. The major push behind the plot is as follows:

Wanting to ally itself with Terre d’Ange, an enemy comes to court and casts a spell during an eclipse that makes everyone lose their damn minds, causing the court to become instant besties with said enemy and to forget pretty much everything else convenient to the story to happened before it. The only ones not impacted by the spell are Imriel himself – who thanks to his mom, gets jabbed with a needle that somehow results in him become completely bonkers for thirty days before returning to instant lucidity – and Imriel’s major political enemy because hey, someone has to help Imriel get the eff out of Dodge so he can try and find a way to save the day.

I am not kidding.

And of course, everyone in court thinks that Imriel is the crazy one and no one behaves like themselves and whatever. I just can’t. It’s such a mind boggling stupid concept that it threw me out of the story entirely. The whole thing is just so convenient and so out of no where that it broke my immersion 100% and it just kinda sapped my desire to finish reading. I did skim to the end and can say that there is a HEA (of course) and the question of secession in Alba is so easily resolved that it makes you wonder why it was even presented as an ordeal.

All told, I still recommend Phedre’s trilogy, but Imriel’s trilogy is very much your mileage may vary. I’d been debating as to whether I wanted to give Moirin’s trilogy a go, but as of this moment I think I’m going to pass. If I do, I think it won’ be til 2016 at earliest – I think I need to put some distance between this books and those if I’m going to have any chance of giving them a fair shake.

Kushiel’s Justice (Kushiel’s Legacy #5) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

My blood beat hard in my veins and hammered in my ears, like the sound of bronze wings clashing. And I understand for the first time what it meant that Kushiel, the One God’s punisher, had loved his charges too well…

Imriel de la Courcel’s blood parents are history’s most reviled traitors, while his adoptive parents, Phèdre and Joscelin, are Terre d’Ange’s greatest champions. Stolen, tortured, and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood, third in line for the throne in a land that revels in beauty, art, and desire.

After a year abroad to study at university, Imriel returns from his adventures a little older and somewhat wiser. But perhaps not wise enough. What was once a mere spark of interest between himself and his cousin Sidonie now ignites into a white-hot blaze. But from commoner to peer, the whole realm would recoil from any alliance between Sidonie, heir to the throne, and Imriel, who bears the stigma of his mother’s of his mother’s misdeeds and betrayals. Praying that their passion will peak and fade, Imriel and Sidonie embark on an intense, secret affair.

Blessed Elua founded Terre d’Ange and bestowed one simple precept to guide his people: Love as thou wilt. When duty calls, Imriel honors his role as a member of the royal family by leaving to marry a lovely, if merely sweet, Alban princess. By choosing duty over love, Imriel and Sidonie may have unwittingly trespassed against Elua’s law. But when dark powers in Alba, who fear an invasion by Terre d’Ange, seek to use the lovers’ passion to bind Imriel, the gods themselves take notice.

Before the end, Kushiel’s justice will be felt in heaven and on earth.

Review:

When I reviewed Kushiel’s Scion, it was a slightly mixed bag. To say it was a weaker than Phedre’s triology is to do the book disservice: Carey is a strong enough author that even a “weaker” book is still above what most titles could hope to reach. If anything, my biggest problem with that first book was an over-reliance of magic to drive the plot (yes, I’m aware that this will again become an issue in the next book, but I’ll deal with it when I actually sit down to read it) as the magic in these series has always been relatively subdue. It’s influence unquestionably felt, but never at the fore. With Kushiel’s Justice she brings things back into balance. As before, magic does drive the plot, but again it is more subtle as it is what man chose to do with the knowledge that magic brought that truly drove the piece.

Like the best of Carey’s work, at its core, this is a character piece. We truly see Imriel grow up in this story: he goes from insufferable teenager to man. And make no mistake: Imriel is very insufferable at times. As noted above, he loves another when he embarks to be wed, and man getting through the parts where he’s all but constantly moping about can be difficult. So much so, that his wife eventually makes the following remark:

You may be insufferably self-absorbed, but you do have a good heart, Imriel – Dorelei mab Breidaia

Quite honestly, it’s that good heart that makes you want to keep reading. To be fair to Imriel he’s trying. He knows that Dorelei deserves better than him, deserves someone who truly loves him, but he does find his own way to fall in love with her and he gets to a point of at least contentment, and when something happens to her, Imriel gives over everything that he is to bring justice to her in a way that he probably wouldn’t have at the start of the story. I will allow that it’s a bit of stretch to think he was able to make the journey – Alban tradition or not, he’s still third in line to the throne of Terre d’Ange but like the best of stories, it’s well written enough that you’re willing to forgive that (admitted large-ish) problem with the plot.

I have seen some complain of just how much religion plays a part in this book, notably with Imriel’s development, but it honestly didn’t bother me. Generally speaking, fantasy is a genre that rarely touches on religion. Characters are either atheistic or the characters may be religious, but the gods are so interfering that (or perhaps their human ambassadors) are villain characters. Outside the excellent Son of the Morning (which appears will be getting a US release in 2016!) I can’t recall too many titles off the top of my head where the characters are religious and do have faith and it’s an aspect that I really enjoy in these books. Furthermore, faith has always had a large role within these books: Kushiel’s Avatar was largely driven by Phedre fighting her desire to stay out of a situation she knew would be awful, and forsaking the blessing she’s received from Elua’s and Kushiel’s after all. I think the issue probably stems from the fact that Imriel doesn’t seem as religious as Phedre does in the first book as he does here. But as I said, he grows up and his circumstances change. It works.

What also works is the focus on Imriel’s relationships with other people. The last book got bogged down with the magic and with the siege, the plot here allows more room for the characters to breath and ultimately make them more relate able and give you more reason to care for them. It’s a testament to Carey that even the smaller players feel developed when they can often get lost in the fold. All told, I think this will make or break you on whether or not you want to continue with his trilogy. I say this because the torch has finally been well and truly passed: though both books are from his point of view, his foster parents played a large enough role in the first half of the last book, that the book still felt that large portions of the book were here story. Here, their role is appropriately diminished and Imriel has stepped out from the shadows of his heroic parents. As much as I adore Phedre and Jocelin, it is a welcome change and this book is the stronger for it.

Finally, those of you concerned about such things: the sex contained within is all consensual and by this series’ standards, vanilla. There is a visit to Valerian house, but the focus of that scene is less the action than Imriel’s state of mind.

I’m glad that I decided to give this a chance, as I think overall it’s one of the strongest books in the series and it makes me excited to read the final book of this sequence. Combine that with the excellent character growth and the always fantastic setting and I’m a very happy reader: you simply can’t ask for anything more from a book.

Verdict: Buy Now

Available: Now

Crucible of Souls (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence #1) – Mitchell Hogan

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Summary:

When Caldan’s parents are brutally slain, he is raised by monks and taught the arcane mysteries of sorcery.

Vowing to discover for himself who his parents really were, and what led to their violent end, he is thrust into the unfamiliar chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to earn an apprenticeship with a guild of sorcerers.

But he soon learns the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths.

As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that brings the world to the edge of destruction…

Review:

Self-publishing is where it’s at, it seems. Or at the very least, it’s where its at for traditional fantasy. Following in the footsteps of Anthony Ryan, Mitchell Hogan has used his success to land himself a deal with Harper Voyager. Unlike Inked which did nothing of real interest with the tropes it used to tell its tale, A Crucible of Souls at least bothered to take the time to develop an intricate magic system that almost results in a kind of steam-punk flare to it, using crafting (sometimes paper, sometimes metals) to great impact. That said, much of the rest of the world is pretty familiar. There is an Empire. There are people that have some kind of conflict with the Empire that will undoubtedly be expanded upon in the second book. And then there is Caldan. Caldan is clearly not your average sorcerer. What he is…we don’t know. And we don’t find out, presumably with the idea that the desire to find out will help nudge the reader into picking up the second book. We also don’t really find out anything about the jewelry bequeathed to him by his mother (and the “twist” at the end is easily guessed at a few different points in the book to be honest), nor much of anything about his parents at all except the tiniest scrap of information.

While I have no issues with the inherent idea of giving away everything in the first book, I still feel like the reader should be given something, even if it was just one thing because now it’s coming off as coy. Case and point: early on in the book Caldan comments on how hungry he is, and how he’s eating like twice as much as everyone else and clearly going through a growth spurt. There are then at least another half-dozen variations of this same scene. Any fantasy vet would be able to tell you at the first scene that it wasn’t a growth spurt. The rest of the scenes may as well be bashing you over the head with PAY ATTENTION TO THIS IT IS IMPORTANT. If that still wasn’t enough, he’s thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to having special snowflake powers. Clearly, he is not your average sorcerer, so see what I mean about playing coy? Just tell the reader what’s going on! There are plenty of other mysteries to last the remainder of the trilogy.

As for the rest of the book? It’s solid enough, I guess. The side-stories didn’t really grab me, but it was nice to see that many of the side characters were women, and many of them were varying degrees of powerful, so I will give him that, and hey, even though I’m tired of the trope of the character who will let all manners of evil be committed in the name of wiping out a specific kind of evil, again, it’s nice to see a woman play that part. Equal opportunity crazy!

All told, this book is very much classic traditional fantasy with only slight modern updates (c.f. the number of female characters). There is absolutely an audience for this kind of book and if you’re a part of that audience, I think you’ll dig this. If you’re looking for something more modern, something a little different, this may not be the book for you, so take that into mind wen deciding to pick it up.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: September 22nd

Kushiel’s Scion (Kushiel’s Avatar #4/Imrael’s Trilogy #1) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

It is whispered that Kushiel’s lineage carries the ability to perceive the flaws in mortal souls, to administer an untender mercy. I sense its presence like a shadow on my soul…the memories of blood and branding and horror, and the legacy of cruelty that runs in my veins, shaping my own secret vow and wielding it like a brand against the darkness, whispering it to myself, over and over.
I will try to be good.

Imriel de la Courcel’s blood parents are history’s most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d’Ange’s greatest champions. Stolen, tortured, and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood, third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty, and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies…and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his birth mother Melisande, who nearly destroyed the realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother’s irresistible allure – and her dangerous gifts. And as he comes of age, plagued by dark yearnings, Imriel shares their fears.

At the royal court, where gossip is the chosen poison and assailants wield slander instead of swords, the young prince fights character assassins while struggling with his own innermost conflicts. But when Imriel departs to study at the fames University of Tiberium, the perils he faces turn infinitely more deadly.

Searching for wisdom, he finds instead a web of manipulation, where innocent words hide sinister meanings, and your lover of last night may become your hired killer before dawn. Now a simple act of friendship will leave Imriel trapped in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess; where a dead man leads an army; and where the prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

Review:

Kushiel’s Scion is the first book of Imrael’s trilogy, and the continuation of the Kushiel’s Legacy. While it is its own trilogy, like true epic fantasy, it draws on characters and events of the first three books: it will make much, much, much more sense for having read Phedre’s books and your enjoyment will go up accordingly.

That aside, there’s a question that all but hangs over the series: is it as good as Phedre’s tale?

In short: no.

And to be fair, it almost couldn’t be. Phedre is genuinely unique. I cannot think of anyone who comes close to comparing Phedre, there are many more out there like Imrael.

Does that make this less of a good book?

Not really.

It’s just different. The quiet start is expected: it lets Imrael grow up, and to try and deal with some of the demon’s of his past. Carey takes her time with it: if he never fully conquers them (which wouldn’t have been believable) he’s begun to heal from them, which is nice to see. Even when the action picks up, its of a different flavor – more political – and not as adventurous, I guess? This is more a character study, I think. It’s different, but still compelling. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t read both books. I will also say there is no antagonist as compelling as Melisandre, and her shadow still hangs over the books. It’s both good and bad, because another strong antagonist could have really helped this trilogy distinguish itself.

If I’m not as wildly enthusiastic about this book it’s because I think Phedre’s books were truly special. This wasn’t quite on the same level. It’s still a great book, and I’ll still get around to reading the next one, but I just don’t see this sticking with me in the same way, and I think there’s a reason that the first trilogy is the one that has had the most staying power. So yeah. A lesser version of an amazing book is still a great book and that is what this is.

Finally, I will contract my earlier statement and statement say that if you haven’t read the first set because you couldn’t get behind the erotica aspects, this may be worth picking up. There’s not nearly as much sex and it’s much more vanilla, so that is something to consider. Maybe it’ll even entice you into giving Phedre’s trilogy a chance. For the rest of us though,  you know if you’re into Carey, and if you are, you’ll enjoy this.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy #3) – by Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It’s inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phedre n Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phedre’s path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve. But Phedre’s plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phedre and a nation. The search will take Phedre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land . . . and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.

Review:

There’s something about Carey’s words that I slip back into her world not unlike a comfortable bathrobe. No matter how much time has passed, it envelopes you in comfort and begs you to sit there and read. And lucky for us, her journey is as worth reading as ever. I will not lie: these books can be a heavy read, for in each of the three books of Phedre’s she winds up in slavery, and third time is easily the worst as what she suffers goes past sadism into torture, only her love of pain allowing her to keep her sanity. Thankfully, this section of the book is relatively small and handled well. We feel more than we see, and she never lingers. Instead, the bulk of the talk focuses on the Name of God, and here too she displays a deft and respectful hand. She never presumes to give him a name and there remains an ever presence sense of awe when she even thinks of it, it’s done well.

As always, the story remains part travelogue. Our tale take us to the Middle East and to Africa this time, and always, I love to read her descriptions because they are always so vivid. I admit, the amount of time dedicated to the intricacies of travel and locale could easily feel like dead weight in other stories, but here they work and work well.

Finally as a conclusion to a trilogy and the start of a new, it also works well. There is without sense, absolute closure. Had she never written another book, you could walk away content. But there is another trilogy (well, two if we are being all technical about it) and this book sets us up well for it. The character it follows (to tell would be a bit of a spoiler) is rather likable and I look forward to starting to read it. I do own and I will get to it, though perhaps not for some time.

Overall, I think this is as satisfying a series I’ve read as absolute any and I implore you to give it a chance. If we only all followed Elua’s precipt, we would all be in a far better place.

Love as thou wilt.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) – Sebastien de Castell

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Summary:

Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.

Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Daishini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…

Review:

Had I done an honorable mention for my Top 10 of 2014, Traitor’s Blade would have probably been my pick. It was a fun adventure story with good action and a solid bond between the three Greatcoats to ground it.

I wish I could say the same for Knight’s Shadow.

This book feels all around darker this time around, which I suppose is in keeping with where the plot is going. But it’s more than that. It feels like they’re more violence and more torture. de Castell does a good job of keeping it in balance – most is off page and it never feels explotiative – but it still is there. More importantly though, there’s this sense of despair, of bleakness that blankets the whole affair. Time and time again they get told to turn around and to stop. Again and again we hear how it’s a suicide mission – and they act like it’s one, fully with an attitude of “At least I’ll have died trying.” I can’t remember it being in the first book, but felt impossible to miss here.

And this might have been more tolerable had the three main characters stayed together, but again, one goes off for a large chunk of the book. There are some good female characters here, but there is an unmistakable emotional distance between them and Falcio so that they don’t recreate that bond.

It’s a well constructed book to be sure, but I no longer found it a fun read and that’s a shame.

Verdict: Borrow It While still very well done, it lacks the lightness of spirit that made the first book work so well.

Available: June 2nd

One final note: the original title for this book was going to be The Greatcoat’s Lament. Honestly, I wish they hadn’t changed the title. When you find out what that it, you realize what a perfect title it really was. Knight’s Shadow just feels more generic and doesn’t capture the feel of the book in the same way.