For the past century, a series of wardstones has imprisoned demons near an area named the worldwond, which is a gateway to places better left unvisited. Now those once-imprisoned demons are escaping and wreaking havoc wherever they roam. Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard (ironic) Radovan are in search of a blasphemous text that opened the gates to the abyss in the first place. The problem is that to find it, they must search through the ruins of several cities in a fallen nation to try to find this text. As fate would have it, this dynamic duo isn’t the only team in the game, and before the novel is over, they join forces with pious crusaders, local barbarian warriors, and even what are known as god callers. Time is of the essence. To make matters worse, there is a vampire who is intent on making himself the god of blood. So the question is will finding this blasphemous text save the world or speed it toward demonic doom?
390 pages, Pyr
On the back of the dragon Wahirangi, Finn the Fox flees the world he has known. As he sets out to find the brother he never knew existed, he still holds in his heart the memory of the Hunter. He has denied his love for her, but he cannot deny it forever. In the halls of the Last Believers, Talyn begins to uncover her own mysteries, but her lust for the death of the Caisah is still strong and clouds her vision. She must choose her path, as the Seer of her people or as the assassin of the overlord. Meanwhile, Byre, Talyn’s brother, must venture into the fiery world of the Kindred, to rebuild the pact that his ancestors made. He will risk everything he is as he forms a new pact that will change his people forever. Dragons and myths will be reborn, as the Hunter and her Fox face each other once more.
Kindred and Wings picks up right where Hunter and Fox left off. I finished that book with a great desire to find out what had happened to the realistic and fantastic characters that Philippa Ballantine had crafted. My desires were satisfied—I got to know some characters I never thought I’d get to know, and the story and action moved at a breakneck pace that had me on the edge of my seat. I was on the verge of a flaming wreck, but Ms. Ballantine kept me on rails. I do not often have these feelings when reading a book, which is the mark of an exquisite wordsmith.
The Viceroy’s Monocle is the second book in a trilogy, and it serves as a good example of what can go wrong when you try to condense a really good and epic idea into a trilogy that will end up weighing in at fewer than 500 pages. I know that real world physical page space shouldn’t be a factor, because let’s face it—that is one of the reasons we love books so much. The movie can be only so long, but if the story doesn’t fit in one book, the author can just add a part two or three or twelve. Sadly, the Storm Giants Trilogy will end up being less successful than it should be for lack of page count to support the deep and rich story that Mr. Stills has conjured from his mind and gaming experiences.
This book starts out with Merlin. I’m sure you’ve heard of him—he hung out with that guy who had that table and that sword. It turns out he had a son named Morlock, and thus A Guile of Dragons has a hero. As you can guess, the story is much more complicated than that, but that should get you through the first part of this book. Fast forward to the future, where dragons and dwarves have lived in what appears to be an armistice for an undetermined amount of years. Throw in a group called the Guardians, who distinguish themselves by the color of their cloaks and have a big tower that they train in, and you have a basic overview of the setting of this story. For reasons known only to them, the dragons decide to break the truce and mayhem ensues.
Introducing Will Swyfte, who has earned the descriptors of spy, adventurer, swordsman, rake, swashbuckler, wit, and esoteric scholar. His exploits against the forces of Spain have made him famous, which isn’t exactly good for a spy. But Swytfe’s above-the-covers, undercover life has been made public to give the people of England hope. He is a decoy that distracts people from his masters’ real work. Spain and England are on the brink of war, and elements of Faerie have chosen sides. Dr. John Dee has erected magical defenses for England and created strange gadgets to be used by spies like Swyfte—he’s a kind of old-school Q. In this book, little is as it seems, and the war needs only a spark to turn from hot to cold.
I really enjoy alternate historical fiction, and when it is done like The Silver Skull, I feel like it is Christmas in July. This book takes place in a time period that I, as a Yank, know about but am not familiar with. I have some knowledge of many of the characters such as Dr. John Dee and Will Swyfte, which added to this novel’s appeal. The cover art for this book was wonderful; it had the feel of an oil painting that one would find at the Louvre. The story does not hesitate to get its hands dirty with the action, and I found that the pace of this story kept up the intrigue. Mark Chadbourn intertwined some great backstory elements in with the over-the-top almost pulplike action while maintaining that British sensibility that so many of us across the pond have grown to love.