The Lily and the Lion

Like many other speculative fiction readers, it's thanks to George R. R. Martin that I discovered the excellent The Accursed Kings by French author Maurice Druon. As the main inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire, I was eager to give this series a shot. The first two volumes were very good, but the third installment failed to live up to the expectations generated by its predecessors. The Royal Succession was a return to form for the author and I was looking forward to see if the fifth book would offer the same satisfying reading experience.

The fourth volume ended with Philippe V's coronation, but The She-Wolf totally skipped over his reign and focused on the tale of his sister Isabella, wife of Edward II and Queen of England. Which was a bit odd, as previous installments followed one another rather closely. In the end, The She-Wolf didn't stand as well on its own as I thought it would. Maurice Druon continued to weave a vast number of threads in what is a great tapestry of men, women, and events that will shake the foundations of the kingdom of France and the rest of Europe. That hadn't changed. And yet, focusing more on the demise of King Edward II instead of the intrigues of the King of France's court, The She-Wolf felt like some sort of interlude and was a bit discordant in the greater scheme of things.

Nevertheless, I was eager to discover what would happen next and was looking forward to reading The Lily and the Lion. Unfortunately, this one turned out to be more history textbook than novelization, and as such it was a disappointment. By far the weakest in the series thus far.

Here's the blurb:

The royal house of France has fallen. Charles IV is dead, fulfilling the curse of the Templars once and for all. This leaves the path to the throne open for Robert of Artois to place his cousin, Philippe of Valois, upon it. Having committed fraud, perjury and murder in the name of the new king, Robert expects to receive a title and his full reward.

But the days of betrayal are far from over and Robert is banished to England. In the land of France's enemies vengeance sparks fresh conflict as King Edward III and his new ally prepare for war. As swords are sharpened the lion wakes and a pretender threatens France once more …

Robert of Artois has been a central figure in this series from the very beginning. Indeed, he's been at the heart of every plot and intrigue, and I was happy to realize that The Lily and the Lion would more or less focus on him and his machinations. Manipulating people and events to place Philippe of Valois on the throne of France, it appears that this giant of a man will finally achieve his objective. And yet, over the years he has committed his share of mistakes, some of which will now come back to haunt him. The first few chapters were quite interesting and The Lily and the Lion read as well as The Royal Succession. Problem is, a lot of characters are dead or dying, and the author has no choice but to do a lot of back-and-forth to remind readers of who they are, or who replaced them, with countless dates and interminable background information. Soon, as Robert continues to dig his own grave, so to speak, the prose becomes more history textbook than novel and that puts a damper on the overall reading experience. Sadly, this gets worse the more the tale progresses, and in the end it all but kills the book. Why Maurice Druon was unable to make The Lily and the Lion easier to get into, I have no idea. But there is no deying that it makes it hard to maintain interest the more you go on. And given that this book represents Robert of Artois' endgame, it's a shame.

As always, I found the translation to be quite good. As was the case with the other installments, it is at times too literal, creating occasional odd turns of phrase. But other than that, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Instead of relying on info-dumps, Druon once again opted for footnotes sending you to the back of the novel for more historical background and clarification. In the past, this usually maintained a fluid pace throughout. As I said before, in this day and age when speculative fiction and historical books are veritable doorstopper works of fiction, these novels are quite short. Too short, I've often felt. Not so with The Lily and the Lion, I'm afraid. Though it weighs in at 402 pages, due to the aforementioned problems the book felt much longer.

The structure of these novels continues to revolve around a number of disparate POVs which allow readers to witness events through the eyes of a variety of protagonists. This helps generate more emotional impact, as you see the web of scandal and intrigue which weaves itself throughout all the storylines. The Lily and the Lion doesn't have the same "flavor" because many of the series' main characters have passed away or are now on the decline. As a matter of course, always in the thick of things, Robert of Artois' perspective is an important part of this novel. But the always entertaining Guccio Baglioni is dead and the Count de Bouville is senile. Spinello Tolomei is on the brink of death. Hence, many of the central protagonists of past installments are absent, or play very minor roles in this book. We get the perspectives of Philippe of Valois, King Edward III, Beatrice d'Hirson, and a few more. But for some reason, the sum of all those POVs is not as compelling as that of the previous volumes.

And since The Lily and the Lion is itself an end of sorts, it will be interesting to see how Maurice Druon closes the show in the final installment, The King Without a Kingdom. Here's hoping that the last volume will recapture everything that made the first five books such enjoyable reads.

I keep saying it: With family rivalries, politicking, betrayals and back-stabbings, ASOIAF fans will find a lot to love about Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings. And given the fact that these books were first published back in the 50s, they have definitely aged well and are as easy to read as any contemporary novels on the market today. And although The Lily and the Lion was a letdown, I'm eager to find out how this series will end!

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Ann Leckie's Provenance for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of N. K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with The Fifth Season, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, and The Obelisk Gate, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2017.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.


This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 25th)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is up one position, ending the week at number 5.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties is up three positions, ending the week at number 10. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is up one position, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's It is down two positions, ending the week at number 6 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale returns at number 9 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can once again download Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Senlin Ascends

You may recall that Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends received the seal of approval of both fantasy author Mark Lawrence and popular blogger Adam Whitehead a while back. That immediately piqued my curiosity and I downloaded myself a copy.

Between the time of my purchase and my reading it, Bancroft's debut was picked up by Orbit and garnered a slew of positive reviews. I couldn't close the year before giving it a shot and I'm glad I did. Indeed, Senlin Ascends made it to my 2017 Top 10 SFF reads.

Here's the blurb:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

I reckon that Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends represents a dream come true for all self-published writers. How many of them dream of having a big name SFF author reading and enjoying their book, and then write a rave review that they pimp to their followers, which in turn leads reviewers to give the work a shot? That's what happened to Bancroft as part of Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Contest. And the rest, as they say, is history. Like Michael J. Sullivan, Anthony Ryan, and Andy Weir before him, Josiah Bancroft is the latest indie author to be picked up by a major publisher. Time will tell if his series will enjoy the same sort of commercial success as that of the aforementioned writers.

It's impossible to put a label on Senlin Ascends. That's probably the best thing the novel has going for it. Believe you me, you've never read anything like it. Which is likely why the author had no choice but to self-publish it at the beginning. Since the book defies all labels, it will probably be difficult to market it adequately. It's not fantasy per se, nor is it science fiction. It's steampunk to a certain extent, but that's not it either. Truth be told, it's a strange hybrid, but one that offers a compelling reading experience. It's just unlike everything else on the market today. You can't really put it in a nutshell, is all.

The Tower of Babel is incredibly vast and immensely tall. It is comprised of over forty levels called ringdoms and little is known about those above the first three or four. In his desperate search for his wife, Thomas Senlin will visit the first four; the Basement, the Parlour, the Baths, and New Babel. Each ringdom features some interesting worldbuilding and there are hints that all of them serve some greater purpose regarding the functioning of the tower as a whole. It remains to be seen if Bancroft can maintain this level of originality throughout the series. But as far as Senlin Ascends is concerned, it is evident that the author's imagination is boundless. Each ringdom features a unique and crazy world of its own, which bodes well for what will follow.

I truly enjoyed the character development in this book. Thomas Senlin started off as a particularly lame protagonist, one whose optimism and pleasant disposition get him in trouble at every turn. But the Tower of Babel brings out the worst in everyone, and Senlin gradually realizes that he must change his ways in order to reach his objective. And yet, it also dawns upon him that he must soon find his wife and escape before becoming a monster like so many other denizens of the tower. The supporting cast is relatively small, but it is made up of memorable men and women that help Senlin grow as a protagonist.

Josiah Bancroft's evocative prose creates an imagery that brings the Tower of Babel, its ringdoms, and its inhabitants alive. One wouldn't expect a self-published title that did not go through the editorial process with a professional editor to be that good. Senlin Ascends is cleverly written, with lots of insightful moments. Surprisingly, it's better written than many novels released by major publishing houses.

Other than a few rough patches in the middle, the pace is good throughout. But this is no problem, as Bancroft keeps the majority of his chapters short and you get through those rather quickly.

All in all, Senlin Ascends is an engaging, imaginative, and refreshing read featuring endearing characters whose plights make you want to discover what happens next. You know my usual policy regarding self-published works. But I'll definitely be reading the sequel, Arm of the Sphinx.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of Beren and Lúthien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal elf. Her father, a great elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father's own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the international bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Myke Cole contest winner!

To help promote the release of Myke Cole's Siege Line (Canada, USA, Europe), this lucky winner will receive a full set of the series, courtesy of the folks at Ace. The prize pack includes:

- Shadow Ops: Control Point
- Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier
- Shadow Ops: Breach Zone
- Gemini Cell
- Javelin Rain
- Siege Line

The winner is:

- Marcie Fernquist, from Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

Many thanks to all the particiants! =)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: An Unbridled Rage

An in-depth analysis of The Last Jedi.

Should be watched by everyone who loved it and believe it makes sense.

Oddly enough, I have to say that I agree with everything in this clip.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on Neil Gaiman's American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic—an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this tenth anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author’s preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.

A storm is coming . . .

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 18th)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is up three positions, ending the week at number 6.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties is down one position, ending the week at number 13. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's It maintains its position at number 4 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 5 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Michael Moorcock's Elric: The Stealer of Souls for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When Michael Moorcock began chronicling the adventures of the albino sorcerer Elric, last king of decadent Melniboné, and his sentient vampiric sword, Stormbringer, he set out to create a new kind of fantasy adventure, one that broke with tradition and reflected a more up-to-date sophistication of theme and style. The result was a bold and unique hero–weak in body, subtle in mind, dependent on drugs for the vitality to sustain himself–with great crimes behind him and a greater destiny ahead: a rock-and-roll antihero who would channel all the violent excesses of the sixties into one enduring archetype.

Now, with a major film in development, here is the first volume of a dazzling collection of stories containing the seminal appearances of Elric and lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist John Picacio–plus essays, letters, maps, and other material. Adventures include “The Dreaming City,” “While the Gods Laugh,” “Kings in Darkness,” “Dead God’s Homecoming,” “Black Sword’s Brothers,” and “Sad Giant’s Shield.”

An indispensable addition to any fantasy collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls is an unmatched introduction to a brilliant writer and his most famous–or infamous–creation.

Musical Interlude

Here's some old school AC/DC for your listening pleasure! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Not sure if there's a Mark Lawrence festival on the other side of the pond, but you can get every installment of his first two trilogies for only £0.99 each here. Red Sister, the first volume in his latest series, is also available for only £2.99 here.

If you have yet to give Mark Lawrence a shot, this is the perfect opportunity! =)

New UK cover art for Mark Lawrence's RED SISTER

The folks at Fantasy-Faction just revealed the cover art for the UK paperback edition of Mark Lawrence's Red Sister. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The cover is by the artist Tomasz Jedruszek.

Let's just say I'm glad I don't have to show up with this one during my lunch break at work. . . :/

Quote of the Day

Face the facts. Then act on them. It's the only mantra I know, the only doctrine I have to offer you, and it's harder than you'd think, because I swear humans seem hardwired to do anything but. Face the facts. Don't pray, don't wish, don't buy into centuries-old dogma and dead rhetoric. Don't give in to your conditioning or your visions or your fucked-up sense of . . . whatever. FACE THE FACTS. THEN act.

- RICHARD MORGAN, Broken Angels (Canada, USA, Europe)

About one hundred pages to go and this one sure is an awesome read! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Two magicians shall appear in England.

The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me...

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

The Fionavar trilogy coming to television?

This from Guy Gavriel Kay's Facebook page:

All right, this press release went out yesterday, bit of a holiday season present. We have Breaking News, as they say. Short version: I've entered a development agreement with the really impressive production company that did "Orphan Black" - to produce The Fionavar Tapestry as a television series.

There are many stages to any project as big as this one will be, but I'm genuinely happy - these are really good people, several of them with a personal passion for the trilogy (including Kris Holden-Ried, who was all-in some time ago, as it worked its way through the 'process').

Here's the press release. You know I'll keep you all posted as events unfold.


Boat Rocker Studio’s Temple Street secures television rights to international bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry.

Toronto, Canada – December 18, 2017 - Temple Street, a division of Boat Rocker Studios, has secured the television rights to international bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry. Published as three volumes in the mid-1980s (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road), the trilogy has sold more than a million copies around the world, and has been dubbed by The Guardian one of the classics of modern fantasy. New York Times bestselling writer Brandon Sanderson has called Kay “the greatest living author of fantasy literature.”

The Tapestry tells the tale of five young men and women who are brought to Fionavar – the first of all worlds. Told they are simply to be guests for the 50th anniversary celebration of a king's ascension to the throne, each of the five discovers they have a greater, dangerous role to play as they're thrust into a war between the forces of good and evil, whose outcome will affect all worlds, including our own.

Kay draws upon a variety of creatures and mythologies, predominantly Celtic and Norse, to create the world of Fionavar, and the saga also features the legendary story of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, heroes of medieval literature.

“Guy’s work is exhilarating and cathartic, and we can’t wait to share this epic story with audiences around the world,” say Boat Rocker’s co-executive chairmen David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg. “Given the current appetite for big budget, high-fantasy adaptations, the timing for Fionavar couldn’t be better. We’re excited to start assembling the creative team to help realize our vision.”

"I'm truly happy that David and Ivan and the impressive team at Temple Street are the ones bringing my trilogy to television. I know The Tapestry has had a powerful impact on readers – and on other writers – and that's part of why I've been careful with the rights. I'm excited and anticipate this adaptation will bring new people to Fionavar, while rewarding longstanding fans," says Guy Gavriel Kay.

Fortier and Schneeberg will executive produce for Temple Street (Orphan Black, Killjoys), along with Kris Holden-Ried (Vikings, Tudors, Lost Girl). “The magic of Fionavar transcends the page. It’s a clarion call to that which is best in all of us, and it’s an honour to be bringing the emotional poetry of Guy’s books to the screen,” says Kris Holden-Ried.

Temple Street’s Senior Vice President Kerry Appleyard and Senior Development Producer Lesley Grant will oversee series adaptation for the studio, and Boat Rocker Rights will control worldwide rights.

Speculative Fiction Top 10 of 2017

It's that time of year again! Here are my favorite reads among SFF works published in 2017. The second half of the year wasn't as good as the first, but we still ended up with a good one. Simply click on the title of each novel to read its review. The one for Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends is coming soon.

As always, this shortlist won't satisfy everyone out there. But it features what I consider to be this year's most compelling reads! =)

1- Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.

As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.

For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

2- The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

In this shattering conclusion to The Aspect-Emperor books, praised for their “sweeping epic scale and detailed historical world building” (Grimdark Magazine), R. Scott Bakker delivers the series’ feverishly harrowing and long-awaited finish.

The Men of the Great Ordeal have been abandoned by Aspect-Emperor Anasurimbor Kellhus, and the formerly epic crusade has devolved into cannibalism and chaos. When Exalt-General Proyas, with the Imperial-Prince Kayutas at his side, attempts to control the lost Men and continue their march to Golgotterath, it rapidly becomes clear that the lost Lord-and-Profit is not so easily shaken from the mission.

When Sorweel, Believer-King of Sakarpus, and Serwa, daughter of the Aspect-Emperor, join the Great Ordeal they discover that the Shortest Path is not always the most obvious, or the safest. Souls, morals, and relationships are called into question when no one can be trusted, and the price for their sins is greater than they imagined.

3- Recluce Tales by L. E. Modesitt, jr. (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

For over a thousand years, Order and Chaos have molded the island of Recluce. The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world through eighteen books, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s most expansive and bestselling fantasy series.

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce collects seventeen new short stories and four popular reprints spanning the thousand-year history of Recluce. First-time readers will gain a glimpse of the fascinating world and its complex magic system, while longtime readers of the series will be treated to glimpses into the history of the world.

Modesitt's essay “Behind the ‘Magic’ of Recluce” gives insight into his thoughts on developing the magical system that rules the Island of Recluce and its surrounding lands, while “The Vice Marshal's Trial” takes the reader back to the first colonists on Recluce. Old favorites “Black Ordermage” and “The Stranger” stand side-by-side with thrilling new stories.

4- Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

Teddy Telemachus is a charming con man with a gift for sleight of hand and some shady underground associates. In need of cash, he tricks his way into a classified government study about telekinesis and its possible role in intelligence gathering. There he meets Maureen McKinnon, and it’s not just her piercing blue eyes that leave Teddy forever charmed, but her mind—Maureen is a genuine psychic of immense and mysterious power. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry, have three gifted children, and become the Amazing Telemachus Family, performing astounding feats across the country. Irene is a human lie detector. Frankie can move objects with his mind. And Buddy, the youngest, can see the future. Then one night tragedy leaves the family shattered.

Decades later, the Telemachuses are not so amazing. Irene is a single mom whose ear for truth makes it hard to hold down a job, much less hold together a relationship. Frankie’s in serious debt to his dad’s old mob associates. Buddy has completely withdrawn into himself and inexplicably begun digging a hole in the backyard. To make matters worse, the CIA has come knocking, looking to see if there’s any magic left in the Telemachus clan. And there is: Irene’s son Matty has just had his first out-of-body experience. But he hasn’t told anyone, even though his newfound talent might just be what his family needs to save themselves—if it doesn’t tear them apart in the process.

Harnessing the imaginative powers that have made him a master storyteller, Daryl Gregory delivers a stunning, laugh-out-loud new novel about a family of gifted dreamers and the invisible forces that bind us all.

5- Eagle and Empire by Alan Smale (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

The award-winning author of Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile concludes his masterly alternate-history saga of the Roman invasion of North America in this stunning novel.

Roman Praetor Gaius Marcellinus came to North America as a conqueror, but after meeting with defeat at the hands of the city-state of Cahokia, he has had to forge a new destiny in this strange land. In the decade since his arrival, he has managed to broker an unstable peace between the invading Romans and a loose affiliation of Native American tribes known as the League.

But invaders from the west will shatter that peace and plunge the continent into war: The Mongol Horde has arrived and they are taking no prisoners.

As the Mongol cavalry advances across the Great Plains leaving destruction in its path, Marcellinus and his Cahokian friends must summon allies both great and small in preparation for a final showdown. Alliances will shift, foes will rise, and friends will fall as Alan Smale brings us ever closer to the dramatic final battle for the future of the North American continent.

6- Siege Line by Myke Cole (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

In Myke Cole’s latest high-octane, action-packed military fantasy, the fate of undead Navy SEAL James Schweitzer will be decided—one way or another…

The Gemini Cell took everything from Jim Schweitzer: his family, his career as a Navy SEAL, even his life. Hounded across the country, Schweitzer knows the only way he can ever stop running, the only way his son can ever be safe, is to take the fight to the enemy and annihilate the Cell once and for all.

But the Cell won’t be easily destroyed. Out of control and fighting a secret war with the government it once served, it has dispatched its shadowy Director to the far reaches of the subarctic in search of a secret magic that could tip the balance of power in its favor. Schweitzer must join with the elite warriors of both America and Canada in a desperate bid to get there first—and avert a disaster that could put the Cell in control.

7- Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:Canada, USA, Europe In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, which was hailed by Pierce Brown as “a luminous conspiracy yarn . . . reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z,” Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

8- The Genius Plague by David Walton (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:


In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

9- Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

10- Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. -------------------------

Roll on 2018! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Just saw that you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sylvain Neuvel's excellent Sleeping Giants for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

You can also download Kate Eliottt's King's Dragon for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Set in an alternate Europe where bloody conflicts rage, the first book of the Crown of Stars epic fantasy series chronicles a world-shaking conflict for the survival of humanity.

It begins with civil war....

For though King Henry still holds the crown of Wendar, his reign has long been contested by his sister Sabella. There are many eager to flock to her banner, and there are ways to make even the most unwilling lord into a weapon pointed at the heart of Henry’s realm.

Torn by internal strife, Wendar also faces deadly raids from the north by an inhuman race, the Eika. And now terrifying portents are being seen; old ruins restored to life under the light of the full moon and peopled by the long-vanished Lost Ones; dark spirits walking the land in broad daylight.

And suddenly two innocents are about to be thrust into the middle of the conflict.

Liath, who has spent her early years fleeing from unknown enemies, is a young woman with the power to change the course of history if she can only learn to master her fear and seize what is rightfully hers.

While Alain, a young man who may find his future in a vision granted by the Lady of Battles, must first unravel the mystery of who he is—whether the bastard son of a noble father, the half-breed child of an elfin lord, the unwanted get of a whore, or the heir to a proud and ancient lineage. For only when he discovers the truth can he accept the destiny for which he was born.

Liath and Alain, each trapped in a personal struggle for survival, both helplessly being drawn into a far greater battle, a war in which sorcery not swords will determine the final outcome, and the land itself may be irrevocably reshaped by the forces unleashed....

Quote of the Day

War is like any other bad relationship. Of course you want out, but at what price? And perhaps more importantly, once you get out, will you be any better off?

- RICHARD MORGAN, Broken Angels (Canada, USA, Europe)

A little over 150 pages into this one and it's the shit! Can't believe I waited this long to give it a go!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 11th)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is down two positions, ending the week at number 9.

Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer is down three spots, finishing the week at number 11. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties maintains its position at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's It is down one position, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down one spot, finishing the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

Seventh Decimate

If you've been following the Hotlist for a while, then you are aware that I've been a big Stephen R. Donaldson fan for about three decades. To this day, the first two Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Gap series rank among my favorite reads. Understandably, I rejoiced when it was announced that the author had signed a new book deal for a new sequence, The Great God's War trilogy. And though The Last Dark failed to bring The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to a satisfying end, I was more than a little excited when I received my ARC of Seventh Decimate.

Advance reviews were so-so. Which isn't all that surprising given how divisive Donaldson can be among readers, and it did not influence my expectations.

About 50 pages into the novel, I knew I was in trouble. Considering that Donaldson is one of my favorite SFF authors of all time, my expectations were indeed high. Writing at the top of his game, Stephen R. Donaldson is seldom equaled and almost never surpassed. And when two of your series are considered genre classics, this is as it should be. To say that Seventh Decimate failed to live up to my expectations would be a gross understatement. How this novel could fall so short, I'll never know. Shockingly, it felt as though it had been written by someone else. It is by far the weakest Donaldson work to date.

Here's the blurb:

Fire. Wind. Pestilence. Earthquake. Drought. Lightning.

These are the six Decimates, wielded by sorcerers for both good and evil.

But a seventh Decimate exists—the most devastating one of all…

For centuries, the realms of Belleger and Amika have been at war, with sorcerers from both sides brandishing the Decimates to rain blood and pain upon their enemy. But somehow, in some way, the Amikans have discovered and invoked a seventh Decimate, one that strips all lesser sorcery of its power. And now the Bellegerins stand defenseless.

Prince Bifalt, eldest son of the Bellegerin King, would like to see the world wiped free of sorcerers. But it is he who is charged with finding the repository of all of their knowledge, to find the book of the seventh Decimate—and reverse the fate of his land.

All hope rests with Bifalt. But the legendary library, which may or may not exist, lies beyond an unforgiving desert and treacherous mountains—and beyond the borders of his own experience. Wracked by hunger and fatigue, sacrificing loyal men along the way, Bifalt will discover that there is a game being played by those far more powerful than he could ever imagine. And that he is nothing but a pawn…

Donaldson's narrative always conjures up vivid and magical images. I've said before that few speculative fiction authors can match Donaldson when it comes to creating an imagery that literally leaps off the page. His worldbuilding habitually is vast in scope and vision. Seventh Decimate is a relatively short and self-contained novel in which what little worldbuilding there is remains in the background. There are a few hints of a wider world beyond the desert and the ocean, but based solely on this book this new universe shows very little depth. Which was quite a disappointment coming from a man who has captured the imagination of millions of readers. The backdrop of this tale is a centuries-long conflict between two warring countries, Belleger and Amika. The former have mastered the fashioning of firearms to counter Amika's powerful and more numerous Magisters. This war has lasted for such a long time that no one on either side knows for sure what initially started it. When every sorceror in Belleger loses their magical abilities, leaving their nation vulnerable to the might of the Magisters, their only hope lies in a legendary book that contains knowledge which could allow them to make Amika's Magisters powerless and finally give them the chance to end the war forever. This tome is rumored to be found in the Last Repository, a mythical library said to exist beyond the boundaries of all known maps. And although the premise had potential, the poor execution and the lack of depth pretty much kill this one. For the most part, Seventh Decimate feels like an inflated short story or novella that can be big on ideas but that fails to deliver.

Characterization is a facet in which Donaldson usually excels and over his illustrious he has created many memorable protagonists. One would have thought that, in this aspect at least, the author would shine. And yet, the characterization found in Seventh Decimate is so flat and uninspired that it makes it well nigh impossible to get into the story. It falls on Prince Bifalt's shoulders to go on a quest to find the Last Repository and hopefully return with the knowledge to save his country. Trouble is, Bifalt is a bland, conceited, and stiff-necked fellow whose obsession is the destruction of magic. As hard as it is to believe, Bifalt is so unlikable that he makes Thomas Covenant endearing. There is no character growth to speak of and Bifalt remains as rigid in his obsession as a devout Jehovah's Witness. His inner monologues get old real fast and make him an extremely boring protagonist with no redeeming qualities. I understand what Donaldson is doing, that Bifalt is a self-centered shit and that this quest will change him in the long run, yada yada yada. But he takes center stage in Seventh Decimate and a more unappealing main protagonist through whose eyes we see events unfolds I couldn't name. The supporting cast is no better, made up of mostly unremarkable characters that bring little or nothing to the plot. Thinking back, I can't recall a more uninteresting bunch in any of the books/series I've read since the creation of the Hotlist.

The plot is very thin and more or less predictable. There were a few instances where Donaldson could/should have risen to the occasion and bring this tale to another level, but it was not to be. As I mentioned, this felt like a short story/novella padded with filler material. In his last newsletter, the author revealed that the forthcoming sequel will be more than twice as long as this book. In the end, Seventh Decimate is little more than a brief introduction to what is meant to be a bigger and more ambitious tale. In terms of pace, one would think that such a short work would not suffer from bouts of sluggish rhythm. Unfortunately, the story progresses extremely slowly and it felt as though I was reading a much longer novel.

Will I read the sequel? Based on the poor quality of this first installment, one would think that I wouldn't. Then again, The Gap into Conflict: The Real Story was by far the weakest volume in the Gap series. Had I stopped reading then, I would have missed out on an awesome grimdark space opera that blew me away. Granted, that first Gap book was head and shoulders above Seventh Decimate as far as quality is concerned. Still, though I can't promise to read the whole thing, in all likelihood I'll give the second volume a shot when the time comes.

There is no way to sugarcoat this. Seventh Decimate is the most disappointing fantasy title of 2017.

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Joshua Palmatier contest winner!

This winner will get her hands on a copy of Joshua Palmatier's The Throne of Amenkor, an omnibus comprised of The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Stacy Reynolds, from Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

The Mageborn Traitor

Like many fantasy readers of my generation, I was a big fan of Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series back in the 90s. And when The Ruins of Ambrai, first volume in the Exiles trilogy, was published in 1994, I bought the hardcover edition as soon as it hit the shelves. Did the same when its sequel, The Mageborn Traitor, came out. Daunted by the proliferation of big fantasy series on the market, like I did with many other SFF sequences, I decided not to read them until the entire trilogy was done. Which turned out to be the right decision, for as most of you know, the final installment, The Captal's Tower, has yet to see the light. But now that Rawn is working on the third volume, it was time to give this series a shot.

According to the majority of the author's fans, Exiles is by far Rawn's best work to date. For that reason, I had lofty expectations when I finally sat down to read The Ruins of Ambrai. Other than her latest high fantasy series, The Glass Thorns, I've read everything she has written. Hence, knowing what she brings to the dance, far be it from me to doubt anyone's claim that this trilogy was Melanie Rawn writing at the top of her game. And yet, as I've mentioned plenty of times, expectations have a way to come back and bite you in the ass, and this is exactly what happened to me with that book.

After a confusing beginning and an uninspired few hundred pages, I had a feeling that The Ruins of Ambrai would be a total disaster. Absolutely nothing worked for me and this was by far the author's weakest novel that I had ever read. I should have known better than to throw in the towel, for Rawn came through with a captivating engame and an interesting finale. Sadly, it wasn't enough to save the book. It was not a complete loss, however, and I still wanted to read the subsequent volumes to discover what happens next. But even though it got better toward the end, The Ruins of Ambrai was plagued by too many shortcomings to be a satisfying reading experience in its own right. Given how much love this series has been getting over the years, one had to wonder if The Mageborn Traitor raised the bar to another level, for the first installment could not possibly warrant that much appreciation.

Unfortunately, The Mageborn Traitor doesn't raise the bar. If anything, it lowers it. To my dismay, this sequel suffers from all the flaws that nearly killed its predecessor, while adding yet more shortcomings to the list. And although my expections were nowehere near as high as they had been for The Ruins of Ambrai, this second installment was a major disappointment.

Here's the blurb:

The Mage Guardians have survived the war, barely. Now Mage Captal Cailet and her sister Sarra are struggling to rebuild their society, politically, economically, and magically. Yet though defeated, their ancient enemies, the Malerissi, have not been destroyed, and under the leadership of Cailet's and Sarra's sister Glenin, these masters of a darker magic are once again weaving a web with which to entangle the entire world. And even as Cailet's dreams of a restored Mage Hall become a reality, Glenin prepares to strike at the very heart of both her sisters' power…

Worldbuilding is an aspect in which Melanie Rawn habitually shines and to a certain extent that was the case with The Ruins of Ambrai. She created an intriguing matriarchal society and was in complete control of the genealogy and the convoluted history of her universe. Problem is, the presentation of everything left a lot to be desired. As far as the setting was concerned, the world and its people truly came alive through the author's vivid prose. But most of the information was conveyed to the reader through some massive info-dumps that really bogged down the narrative. Too often the reader was subjected to a barrage of names/family trees/family connections/history. This was as confusing as it was overwhelming, and made it quite difficult to keep track of everyone's loyalty and where they fit in the greater scheme of things. Sadly, in that regard things are even worse in The Mageborn Traitor. Especially considering that one family in particular breeds like vermin, the complicated genealogies are impossible to sort out. We are introduced to what feels like hundreds of men and women and children, most as forgettable as the next. As a fan of George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and Robert Jordan, I'm used to vast casts of characters. I have no problem keeping track of a huge number of protagonists and secondary characters. Trouble is, most of those introduced in The Mageborn Traitor have little or no importance as far as the plot is concerned. Which means that other than bewildering readers, they serve no purpose. To tell the truth, I started skimming through portions of the narrative in which Rawn introduced us to yet another batch of unimportant people early on and kept doing that throughout the book. Another disappointment stemmed from the fact that the author doesn't elaborate a whole lot on the way magic works, especially the Mage Globes, or on the Malerissi themselves.

Interestingly enough, you may recall that I didn't have any problem with the over-the-top matriarchal society and its ramifications until I got to the Selective Index at the end of The Ruins of Ambrai. When I learned the planet was colonized during what is referred to as the Second Great Migration by thousands of mainly Catholic settlers following a 7-year intergalatic voyage, things immediately went downhill. Since Rawn doesn't elaborate on any detail that could have explained the shift from a more patriarchal to a decidedly hardcore matriarchal society, all of a sudden one of the underpining elements of the series' backdrop lost most of its credibility and didn't make any sense anymore. Unfortunately, The Mageborn Traitor doesn't shine some light on this. Moreover, the gender role reversal occasionally gets even more ludicrous. Female readers have often condemned male authors, with good reason, for writing female protagonists that were little more than men with tits. For all that they were written by a woman, most female characters other than the three sisters definitely are like that. Even worse, most of the male characters are chicks with dicks, so to speak. I mean, no matter how emasculated they can be, to have male characters become absurdly frivolous fops who care about the colors of wallpapers and fabrics, trendy clothing, style, yada yada yada, while women are the only practical ones often felt ridiculous. Until Rawn explains just how Catholic settlers grew into a matriarchal society in which men have basically no rights, the entire backdrop of the Exiles trilogy will continue to make little sense.

As was the case with its predecessor, the political intrigue at the heart of The Mageborn Traitor is a bucket that doesn't always hold much water. The Council and the Assembly are ineffectual and at times dumb and naïve in a manner that defies comprehension. The politicking involved is often quite gauche in its execution. The great plan orchestrated by the Malerissi is too drawn out and takes too much time to come to fruition. Hence, what was meant to be one of the novel's most pivotal moments ends up being more than a little lackluster. The same can be said of the repercussions caused by Sarra's legal reforms. And the trial. . .

Characterization is usually a facet in which Melanie Rawn excels at. And though there were a few in The Ruins of Ambrai, for the most part the protagonists were not as engaging and interesting as I expected. Things go downhill in this second volume, which I didn't see coming. It's mostly due to the fact that both Sarra and Cailet, both of whom are supposed to be intelligent women, act absolutely stupid for plot purposes. Sarra, who supposedly has a knack for politics, shows incredibly poor judgement and no political or social savvy. Cailet, now Captal, is aware that a powerful Mageborn has been sent to murder her and destroy the Mage Guardians, that it is one of two potential suspects, and yet she does nothing to unmask him. Their combined stupidity leads to the destruction of all they hold dear and the death of countless loved ones. Given how smart they're supposed to be, this should never have happened. Trusting in old wards is no excuse for showing such poor judgement. Sarra and her sister Glenin continue to be two sides of the same coin. The former is over-the-top good, in that she wants to end poverty, inequalities, etc. Glenin, on the other hand, due to her upbringing is the polar opposite and is over-the-top evil and vicious. In the end, their being too much, one way or the other, makes it impossible to relate to either sister. The twins, approaching young adulthood, act like they're ten-year-olds and are nearly as annoying as their mother. The supporting cast is made up of a revolving door of forgettable characters that often bring little or nothing to the tale. All in all, I've never read anything that featured such a weak cast of protagonists by Melanie Rawn. All the main characters are insufferable and the incessant bantering between them often makes the book sound like a Friends episode.

In terms of rhythm, The Mageborn Traitor is an interminable slog. The last hundred pages or so see the pace pick up as we move toward the endgame. But it's a case of too little, too late. Once more, all the info-dumps, the poor political intrigue, the inexplicable stupidity of the main protagonists, and the occasional clumsy execution prevented this book from achieving its full potential. In The Ruins of Ambrai, Rawn closed the show with style and aplomb with an ending that promised a lot of good things to come. It's just that you had to go through a lot of extraneous material to get to the good stuff. The problem with this sequel is that you have to go through the same crap for hundreds of pages, only to find out that the ending is somewhat uninspired and not at all satisfying.

Now that all of the groundwork had been laid out, I was hoping that Melanie Rawn would return to form and that The Mageborn Traitor would be everything it could be. In my review, I opined that The Ruins of Ambrai was Rawn's weakest work to date. That was true then. Sadly, The Mageborn Traitor is no improvement and turned out to be the author's worst novel thus far.

A major disappointment. . .

The final verdict: 4/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe