This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 30th)

In hardcover:

Rae Carson's The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition debuts at number 5.

Patricia Briggs' Smoke Bitten debuts at number 6.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider maintains its position at number 5 (trade paperback).

Naamah's Blessing

Though it did show signs of greatness akin to those which made the previous Terre d'Ange novels such incredible reads, I felt that Naamah's Kiss turned out to be Jacqueline Carey's weakest Kushiel-related work to date. Given the originality and the quality of its predecessors, Naamah's Kiss and the next two installments had big shoes to fill. Which is quite unfair as far as expectations go, but that's the way love goes.

Weakest installment or not, Naamah's Kiss was nonetheless better than most fantasy titles out there. And its sequel, Naamah's Curse, turned out to be a better balanced read. Indeed, it was another convoluted book full of wonder and sensuality.

Understandably, I was looking forward to discovering how the author would close the show in Naamah's Blessing. And I'm pleased to report that Carey brought this trilogy to a satisfying ending.

Here's the blurb:

Returning to Terre d'Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée's oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

As is habitually her wont, Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding is great. Eschewing the traditional European medieval environment, Carey's creation is a Renaissance era analog and it is set in an alternate version of Western Europe. Previous Terre d'Ange books took us on amazing journeys that enabled readers to discover more about her universe. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, every installment of Moirin's trilogy was a textured and sophisticated novel that took us to alternate versions of Britain, France, China, Mongolia, Russia, India, and Nepal. Not surprisingly, Naamah's Blessing turned out to be another vast and captivating travelogue which introduced us to Terra Nova, an analog of the New world with alternate versions of Central America and Peru. The author's depiction of the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca cultures was well-done and certainly gave this novel its unique flavor compared to its predecessors.

There was a lot of drama involved in Moirin's return to Terre d'Ange, yet it was nice to see things come full circle in that regard. Scenes featuring young Désirée with Moirin and Bao were emotional and Moirin being named the child's sworn protector added another layer to the already complex relationship between the bear witch and the royal family. But to a certain extent, the tale truly begins when Moirin sails away to the new continent. Readers have always known that they would see Raphael de Mereliot again, that the storyline betwen Moirin and her former lover was not over. But I never expected this. I loved how the author tied up that loose end.

I'm not the only reader who missed the first person narrative of Phèdre nó Delaunay early on. Having spent her childhood in isolation in the wilderness, there was an innocence and vulnerability to Moirin, but also a definite strength that Phèdre did not possess at a young age. That resolve got sorely tested in the second volume. During her search for Bao, she often found herself alone and forced to rely on no one but herself. I feel that her harrowing experiences during the search for her beloved and subsequent captivity and flight finally made her come together as a main protagonist. So much so that I stopped comparing her to Phèdre and Imriel, as if Moirin's voice and perspective had finally taken their rightful place in the driver's seat. And it's even more evident in this final installment.

Jacqueline Carey has a knack for creating endearing and memorable secondary characters, and once more she came up with a wonderful cast for Naamah's Blessing. As mentioned, there are some poignant scenes featuring Désirée. But there is also Balthasar Shahrizai and Lianne Tremaine, as well as Moirin's father. There is Eyahue, the randy jungle guide, the ferocious warrior Temilotzin, and the brave Maidens of the Sun. And, as always, Bao, who carries half on Moirin's soul in his heart.

The author continues to write with elegance. As I've said many times, her lyrical prose is something special and I feel it could well be the very best in the genre today. Once more in Naamah's Blessing, her enthralling prose creates an imagery filled with wonder and beauty. And other than Robin Hobb, no one makes her characters suffer as much over the course of a book/series.

Like its predecessor, this novel doesn't suffer from any pacing issues. The rhythm flows well throughout and the ending is a compelling blend of happiness and heartbreak. One can only hope that Moirin and Bao will now make those fat babies. Round as dumplings! God knows they have earned some joy and peace of mind.

When all is said and done, though rewarding and satisfying, Moirin's trilogy couldn't possibly hope to equal or surpass Phèdre and Imriel's tales. Still, the series is well worth reading and is superior to most SFF works on the market today.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

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.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, all the installments of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia are 1.99$ each here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

Don’t miss one of America’s top 100 most-loved novels, selected by PBS’s The Great American Read.

Narnia . . . a land frozen in eternal winter . . . a country waiting to be set free.

Witness the creation of a magical land in The Magician's Nephew, the first title in C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, which has captivated readers of all ages for over sixty years.

On a daring quest to save a life, two friends are hurled into another world, where an evil sorceress seeks to enslave them. But then the lion Aslan's song weaves itself into the fabric of a new land, a land that will be known as Narnia. And in Narnia, all things are possible.

This ebook contains the complete text and art. Illustrations in this ebook appear in vibrant full color on a full-color ebook device and in rich black-and-white on all other devices.

This is a stand-alone novel, but if you want to journey back to Narnia, read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the second book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 23rd)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider maintains its position at number 5 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of C. J. Cherryh's Alternate Realities for only 4.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Port Eternity

Their names were Lancelot, Elaine, Percivale, Gawain, Mordred, Lynette and Vivien, and they were made people, clone servants who worked aboard The Maid, an anachronistic fantasy of a spaceship. They had no idea of their origins, from those old storytapes of romance, chivalry, heroism and betrayal, until a ripple in the space-time continuum sucked The Maid and her crew into a no-man’s land from which there could be no return, and they were left alone to face a crisis which their ancient prototypes were never designed to master…

Wave Without a Shore

Freedom was an isolated planet, off the main spaceways and rarely visited by commercial spacers. It wasn’t that Freedom was inhospitable, the problem was that outsiders—tourists and traders—claimed that the streets were crowded with mysterious blue-robed aliens. Native-born humans, however, denied that these aliens existed—until a planetary crisis forced a confrontation between the question of reality and the reality of the question…

Voyager in the Night

Rafe Murray, his sister Jillian, and Jillian’s husband Paul Gaines, like many other out-of-luck spacers, had come to newly built Endeavor Station to find their future. Their tiny ship, Lindy, had been salvaged from the junk heap, and fitted to mine ore from the mineral-rich rings which circled Endeavor. But their future proved to be far stranger than any of them imagined, when a “collision” with a huge alien vessel provided them with the oddest first contact experience possible!

You can also download The Book of Magic, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois, for only 4.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

A new anthology celebrating the witches and sorcerers of epic fantasy—featuring stories by George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Megan Lindholm, and many others!

Hot on the heels of Gardner Dozois’s acclaimed anthology The Book of Swords comes this companion volume devoted to magic. How could it be otherwise? For every Frodo, there is a Gandalf . . . and a Saruman. For every Dorothy, a Glinda . . . and a Wicked Witch of the West. What would Harry Potter be without Albus Dumbledore . . . and Severus Snape? Figures of wisdom and power, possessing arcane, often forbidden knowledge, wizards and sorcerers are shaped—or misshaped—by the potent magic they seek to wield. Yet though their abilities may be godlike, these men and women remain human—some might say all too human. Such is their curse. And their glory.

In these pages, seventeen of today’s top fantasy writers—including award-winners Elizabeth Bear, John Crowley, Kate Elliott, K. J. Parker, Tim Powers, and Liz Williams—cast wondrous spells that thrillingly evoke the mysterious, awesome, and at times downright terrifying worlds where magic reigns supreme: worlds as far away as forever, and as near as next door.


“The Return of the Pig” by K. J. Parker
“Community Service” by Megan Lindholm
“Flint and Mirror” by John Crowley
“The Friends of Masquelayne the Incomparable” by Matthew Hughes
“The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror: Chapter Two: Jumping Jack in Love” by Ysabeau S. Wilce
“Song of Fire” by Rachel Pollack
“Loft the Sorcerer” by Eleanor Arnason
“The Governor” by Tim Powers
“Sungrazer” by Liz Williams
“The Staff in the Stone” by Garth Nix
“No Work of Mine” by Elizabeth Bear
“Widow Maker” by Lavie Tidhar
“The Wolf and the Manticore” by Greg Van Eekhout
“The Devil’s Whatever” by Andy Duncan
“Bloom” by Kate Elliott
“The Fall and Rise of the House of the Wizard Malkuril” by Scott Lynch

Plus George R. R. Martin’s classic story “A Night at the Tarn House” and an introduction by Gardner Dozois.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Wild Cards I, the book that started it all, for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The first volume of George R. R. Martin's WILD CARDS shared-world series, back in print after a decade―and expanded with new, original material.

There is a secret history of the world―a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces―those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers―cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

Now in development for TV!

Rights to develop Wild Cards for TV have been acquired by Universal Cable Productions, the team that brought you The Magicians and Mr. Robot, with the co-editor of Wild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass as executive producer.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a fully continuous and standalone story, this illustrated paperback of the epic tale of The Children of Húrin will reunite fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves, dragons, Dwarves and Orcs, and the rich landscape and characters unique to Tolkien.

It is a legendary time long before The Lord of the Rings, and Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwells in the vast fortress of Angband in the North; and within the shadow of the fear of Angband, and the war waged by Morgoth against the Elves, the fates of Túrin and his sister Niënor will be tragically entwined.

Their brief and passionate lives are dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bears them as the children of Húrin, the man who dared to defy him to his face. Against them Morgoth sends his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire, in an attempt to fulfil the curse of Morgoth, and destroy the children of Húrin.

Begun by J.R.R. Tolkien at the end of the First World War, The Children of Húrin became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 16th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is down two positions, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish returns at number 13.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth, the opening chapter in one of the best grimdark series out there, for only 4.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

An uneasy truce exists between the thanes of the True Bloods. Now, as another winter approaches, the armies of the Black Road march south, from their exile beyond the Vale of Stones. For some, war will bring a swift and violent death. Others will not hear the clash of swords or see the corpses strewn over the fields. Instead, they will see an opportunity to advance their own ambitions. But soon, all will fall under the shadow that is descending. For while the storm of battle rages, one man is following a path that will awaken a terrible power in him -- and his legacy will be written in blood.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 9th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider maintains its position at number 3 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's Sword of Destiny returns at number 15.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Steven Erikson's Willful Child for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

The ruling Asharites of Al-Rassan have come from the desert sands, but over centuries, seduced by the sensuous pleasures of their new land, their stern piety has eroded. The Asharite empire has splintered into decadent city-states led by warring petty kings. King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, aided always by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan -- poet, diplomat, soldier -- until a summer afternoon of savage brutality changes their relationship forever.

Meanwhile, in the north, the conquered Jaddites' most celebrated -- and feared -- military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, driven into exile, leads his mercenary company south.

In the dangerous lands of Al-Rassan, these two men from different worlds meet and serve -- for a time -- the same master. Sharing their interwoven fate -- and increasingly torn by her feelings -- is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond.

Hauntingly evocative of medieval Spain, The Lions of Al-Rassan is both a brilliant adventure and a deeply compelling story of love, divided loyalties, and what happens to men and women when hardening beliefs begin to remake -- or destroy -- a world.

The Girl and the Stars

I've said it before and I'll say it again. With well over a million copies sold worldwide and four quality series under his belt, there's no question that Mark Lawrence now deserves to be ranked among the very best SFF authors out there. He has continued to make a name for himself with each new release, pushing the envelope further and further with storylines that always grew in depth and scope. It's evident that "That thorn guy," as George R. R. Martin referred to him at a convention a few of years ago, has come a long way since Prince of Thorns was first published back in 2011.

Although quite different in style and tone, The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War series shared the same universe. The same can be said of the Book of the Ancestor and the Book of the Ice trilogies. It's too early to tell whether or not these last two series will ever overlap the way their predecessors did, but you can rest assured that you can fully enjoy The Girl and the Stars even if you are a newbie. To all ends and purposes, though they occur on the same planet, this marks the beginning of a brand new story arc, with new protagonists, a new setting, and new plotlines.

And like all of Lawrence's first installments, The Girl and the Stars is the opening chapter of what should be another compelling trilogy.

Here's the blurb:

In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown.

On Abeth the vastness of the ice holds no room for individuals. Survival together is barely possible. No one survives alone.

To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is not the same.

Yaz is torn from the only life she’s ever known, away from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her days with, and has to carve out a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of difference and mystery and danger.

Yaz learns that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined. She learns that her weaknesses are another kind of strength. And she learns to challenge the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people.

Only when it’s darkest you can see the stars.

There is no question that Mark Lawrence's novels have always been character-driven works. Still, worldbuilding often played a somewhat important role in his three fantasy series. The Book of the Ancestor trilogy featured a dying sun and a planet left with only a 50-mile wide corridor running along the length of its surface heated by a focus moon that allows mankind to survive from the encroaching ice that covers the globe throughout both hemispheres. The Girl and the Stars occurs hundreds, or even thousands of miles to the north, where the corridor and things we take for granted like trees are either unheard of or the stuff of legends. When I inquired last year, the author was still unsure whether or not this new tale takes place before or after Nona's story. Time will tell, I reckon.

Little was known and/or remembered of what is trapped under the ice in the Book of the Ancestor, with only hints of hidden and nefarious powers from the deep coming into play. And though it raises new questions, The Girl and the Stars offers some tantalizing answers about what lies under the ice. We learned in the last trilogy that the world of Abeth was colonized ages before by four different alien races known as the Gerant, the Hunska, the Marjal, and the Quantal. Descendants from these four "tribes" may have inherited special powers or abilities associated with each bloodline. Mixed bloods can potentially be even more powerful. But before the coming of these alien races and before the coming of the vast ice sheets which now cover the continents, the fabled Missing held sway. What ultimately happened to them and why they left is unknown. But confined under the ice are the remains of some of their cities and technology. Which means that, as was the case in the previous three trilogies, it seems that age-old technology might play a role in the Book of the Ice as well. As is usually his wont, Lawrence keeps his cards pretty close to his chest throughout this first volume. Yet it is evident that there is much more to The Girl and the Stars than meets the eye. Time will tell if this new series will echo with as much depth as its predecessors, but I have learned to have faith in Mark Lawrence. He hasn't left me down yet.

Unlike The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War series, in which readers were thrown into an ongoing story, with flashback scenes filling in the blanks along the way, like the trilogy that preceded it The Girl and the Stars follows a more traditional format, with a young and more or less clueless main protagonist learning about the world and the plotlines at the same pace as the reader. As a child of the Ictha, Yaz's existence has always revolved around survival and superstition. There is no place for anything else out on the ice. Surviving a fall to the bottom of the Pit of the Missing will bring her face to face with a new world unlike anything she has ever imagined. Her time among the Broken will make her question her former life and the lies underpinning the laws that govern the tribes up on the surface. Her hitherto unknown talents will allow her to unveil ancient secrets that will make her see the regulator and the priests of the Black Rock in a new light.

Yaz of the Ictha is the main protagonist through whose eyes we witness events unfold. And though there are similitudes regarding their respective plights, she is a world away from the POV character from the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. Forsaken and friendless, Nona Grey was a tough nut to crack. She didn't open up easily, to other people as well as to the readers. Although it was easy to root for her, given that all the odds appeared stacked against her, it was nevertheless difficult to relate to Nona. After following the misadventures of the easy-going and likeable Jalan, it definitely took a while to finally get used to Nona and her quirks. Yaz is more empathic and a bit of a do-gooder at heart, which makes it easier to relate to her. That sensitivity will come to plague her and put her in perilous situations, but Yaz remains true to herself throughout the book. The supporting cast is comprised of a bunch of misfits, most of them thrown down the Pit of the Missing and miserably trying to eke out a living trapped under countless feet under the ice.

The pace is never an issue and remains relatively fluid throughout The Girl and the Stars. There are a few battle scenes that felt repetitives and could probably have been cut out without readers losing anything important in the process. I found the endgame to be interesting, but could have done without the cliffhanger ending. Thankfully, we're talking about Mark Lawrence and not GRRM or Patrick Rothfuss and we know that the sequel has already been written. Which means that a year from now, we know for sure that we'll discover what happens next. Having said that, I would have preferred for this novel to be more self-contained and to end with more resolution. Some may find this off-putting, while others won't have any problem with that. You mileage may vary in that regard, and this may understandably influence your overall satisfaction rating.

All in all, The Girl and the Stars is another multilayered introduction that sets the stage for what should be yet another entertaining and engrossing series!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Robert Jackson Bennett's Foundryside for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new fantasy series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Robert Jackson Bennett's SHOREFALL

I'm giving away my advance reading copy of Robert Jackson Bennett's Shorefall to one lucky winner! For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

As a magical revolution remakes a city, an ancient evil is awakened in a brilliant new novel from the Hugo-nominated author of Foundryside and the Divine Cities trilogy.

A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.

But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.

Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.

Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.

The awe-inspiring second installment of the Founders Trilogy, Shorefall returns us to the world Robert Jackson Bennett created in his acclaimed Foundryside . . . and forges it anew.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SHOREFALL." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 2nd)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is down one spot, finishing the week at number 3 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale returns at number 15 (trade paperback).

Kevin Hearne contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive my advance reading copy of Kevin Hearne's A Blight of Blackwings! For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Eric Sullivan, from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

The ship sailed onward, rendering the past a series of memories, carrying us toward a new destiny.

I prayed that for once, the gods would be merciful.

But I doubted it.

- JACQUELINE CAREY, Naamah's Blessing (Canada, USA, Europe)

I have a feeling that things will get worse before they get better. . .

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Nicholas Eames' Bloody Rose for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.

Quote of the Day

The wounds an honest tongue can open sometimes take a lifetime to heal.

- MARK LAWRENCE, The Girl and the Stars.

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 24th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's The Institute returns at number 14. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is up three spots, finishing the week at number 2 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's Sword of Destiny returns at number 8.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

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.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Tad Williams' Tailchaser's Song for only 4.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Meet Fritti Tailchaser, a ginger tom cat of rare courage and curiosity, a born survivor in a world of heroes and villains, of powerful feline gods and whiskery legends about those strange furless, erect creatures called M’an.

“The hour of Unfolding Dark had begun, and the rooftop where Tailchaser lay was smothered in shadow. He was deep in a dream of leaping and flying when he felt an unusual tingling in his whiskers. Fritti Tailchaser, hunterchild of the Folk, came suddenly awake and sniffed the air. Ears pricked and whiskers flared straight, he sifted the evening breeze. Nothing unusual. Then what had awakened him? Pondering, he splayed his claws and began a spine-limbering stretch that finally ended at the tip of his reddish tail.”

Join Tailchaser on his magical quest to rescue his catfriend Hushpad on a quest that will take him all the way to cat hell and beyond.

Quote of the Day

Aim for honesty with others, girl. But never, ever lie to yourself.

- MARK LAWRENCE, The Girl and the Stars.

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Jim Butcher's Grave Peril for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Harry Dresden's faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book.

But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble — and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone — or something — is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc.

But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself...

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.

And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good. . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

The international hit that inspired the video game: The Witcher.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 17th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is down one spot, finishing the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish is up one position, ending the week at number 6.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale maintains its position at number 14 (trade paperback).

The Vanished Birds

Something about Simon Jimenez's debut intrigued me. To this day, I can't really say what it was. Perhaps it's the fact that everyone seemed to agree that the book was impossible to confine to one genre category. Now that I've read it, it's evident that The Vanished Birds defies all labels. This might be a boon to some readers. But for others, like me, it could make for a novel that's decidedly difficult to get into.

The Vanished Birds is a well-written debut, no doubt about it. It's just that the plot meanders all over the place, often leaving readers completely lost and wondering what the heck is going on. And in the end, although there are signs of brilliance here and there, this book left me totally indifferent.

Here's the blurb:

A solitary ship captain, drifting through time.

Nia Imani is a woman out of place. Traveling through the stars condenses decades into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her. She lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power.

The scarred boy does not speak, his only form of communication the haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and otherworldly nature, Nia decides to take the boy in to live amongst her crew. Soon, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself. For both of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy.

A millennia-old woman, poised to burn down the future.

Fumiko Nakajima designed the ships that allowed humanity to flee a dying Earth. One thousand years later, she now regrets what she has done in the name of progress. When chance brings Fumiko, Nia, and the child together, she recognizes the potential of his gifts, and what will happen if the ruling powers discover him. So she sends the pair to the distant corners of space to hide them as she crafts a plan to redeem her old mistakes.

But time is running out. The past hungers for the boy, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Though it can be considered a science fiction work, Jiminez's The Vanished Birds is more a tale of interpersonal relationships and the emotional connections that bond people together. In many ways, it's an ensemble of love stories unfolding across different timelines that span centuries. At its core, it's a very emo novel. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But it's not something I expected, nor is it something I would have been keen to read had I known it would be the case.

Simon Jimenez's lyrical prose makes for a beautifully written novel, and this was one of my favorite facets of The Vanished Birds. Even when nothing happens, the author creates an arresting imagery that fills the mind with wonders. Jimenez came up with some well-drawn weird and exotic locales, many of which I would have loved to discover more about.

The book features the perspectives of three main protagonists. Nia Imani, ship captain approaching the end of her current contract and unsure as to what comes next. Ahro, mute boy full of scars whose only means of communication is the soul-stirring music he plays on his flute. And Fumiko Nakajima, a brilliant scientist whose discoveries have permitted mankind to take to the stars. Though quite disparate in every way, at one point in time their paths will cross, changing the world in the process. Trouble is, it takes a mighty long time for Jiminez to finally reveal what The Vanished Birds is ultimately about. With the plot seemingly going nowhere, as the story progresses one slowly loses interest. By the time things picked up and the various threads came together and were moving forward toward what appeared to be a compelling finale, I had become totally indifferent to what was taking place.

There is no way to sugarcoat this. The pace is atrocious for the better part of the novel. Once the truth about Ahro is unveiled and Fumiko Nakajima's plan for him becomes clear, the rhythm improves a little. Still, even when the plot starts to move forward with more fluidity, The Vanished Birds remains a slow-moving affair.

If you are looking for an extremely emo work that explores themes such as love, relationships, corporate greed and capitalism, colonialism, technological wonders that change the course of humanity, mass tourism and its repercussions on the environment and its inhabitants, and more, Simon Jiminez's The Vanished Birds just might be what the doctor ordered.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Quote of the Day

Omens are difficult and open to interpretation but if the oracle that touches your newborn dies moments later, frothing at the mouth, it is hard even with a mother's love to think it a good sign.

- MARK LAWRENCE, The Girl and the Stars.

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download S.A. Chakraborty's The Kingdom of Copper for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—"the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind" (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad's towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 10th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's The Institute is up one position, ending the week at number 13. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is down two spots, finishing the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish returns at number 7.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is down three positions, ending the week at number 13 (trade paperback).

Sixteenth Watch

If you've been been a fan of the Hotlist for some time, you have heard me complain that it often feels as though Myke Cole remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. Not everyone is a military fantasy fan, true, yet his first two series are as accessible as they are captivating. Indeed, the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads. From the get-go, you could tell that Cole would become one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices. And he did. In this house at least. Unfortunately, following Siege Line Ace and Headline did not renew the series and the Shadow Ops sequence came to an abrupt end.

I remember corresponding with the author at the time and Cole truly believed that his writing career was over. Thankfully, he was wrong and the Sacred Throne trilogy was published by the folks at More novelette than novels, you probably recall that I didn't enjoy these books as much as I expected. Everything about the plot was black-and-white, which was a disappointment. Myke Cole habitually writes in shades of gray and there is always more than meets the eye. Trouble is, that new series was thoroughly YA in style and tone. It lacked all the shades of gray and substance that had made Cole one of my favorite SFF authors writing today. It didn't deliver the way Cole's novels normally did. Be that as it may, plenty of readers absolutely loved the Sacred Throne series and the author signed a new book deal with Angry Robot for a science fiction work that would feature the US Coast Guard in space.

And I'm pleased to report that Sixteenth Watch is a return to form for Cole!

Here's the blurb:

The Coast Guard must prevent the first lunar war in history.

A lifelong Search-and-Rescuewoman, Coast Guard Captain Jane Oliver is ready for a peaceful retirement. But when tragedy strikes, Oliver loses her husband and her plans for the future, and finds herself thrust into a role she’s not prepared for. Suddenly at the helm of the Coast Guard’s elite SAR-1 lunar unit, Oliver is the only woman who can prevent the first lunar war in history, a conflict that will surely consume not only the moon, but earth as well.

The premise of the novel is that both China and the USA are endeavoring to secure access to lucrative Helium-3 extraction points on the Moon. Tensions between the two countries have been rising and it appears that an armed conflict is fast becoming inevitable. Given the current situation, the US Navy has been overseeing most of the conflicts along the borders between American and Chinese lunar territories. But with the Navy considering every case as a potential military engagement, some believe that the Coast Guard, a branch of the US armed services but more of a law enforcement agency, could help deescalate those tensions if they patrolled the borders and dealt with smugglers and any other problems. Alas, the American military powers that be don't seem to have much faith in the Coast Guard.

Having served in the military allowed Cole to imbue the Shadow Ops books with a credibility regarding the realism of the use of magic and its ramifications up and down the chain of command. As a US Coast Guard veteran, the author was able to imbue Sixteenth Watch with an authenticity even as he extrapolates on the Guard's future duties in space. I also found it interesting that he was able to throw his reality TV experience into the mix. This book is unlike anything you have read so far. And that's a good thing.

All Shadow Ops installments were character-driven affairs and the same can be said of Sixteenth Watch. Myke Cole always had a knack for creating genuine three-dimensional protagonists with absorbing back stories. Pushing the envelope even more, this time his main protagonist is an "older" Coast Guard female officer approaching retirement. A no-nonsense type of woman, Captain Jane Oliver is put in charge of what can only be called a PR mission whose objective is to persuade politicians and the military brass back on Earth that the Coast Guard is indeed the best branch of American armed services to help secure the country's lunar borders. As was the case with Colonel Alan Bookbinder, the main character from Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, Cole came up with an unusual protagonist readers are not supposed to root for. And yet, from the start, you can't help but love Oliver. The supporting cast is made up of a diverse group of men and women, but sadly they are not as well-drawn as the only POV character. Other than some sequences with Oliver's Executive Officer and some with General Fraser, I feel that the other members of the cast could have benefited from a bit more depth. I always thought that Cole never did receive the credit he deserves for having a deft human touch which allows him to come up with unexpected emotional scenes packing a powerful punch. And this is certainly the case once again in this novel.

Sixteenth Watch features a lot of military lingo and acronyms. In order to maintain authenticity and not interrupt the narrative, Myke Cole elected not to define those acronyms for the most part and included a glossary at the end of the book. As a reader unfamiliar with such lingo, personally I would have preferred to have most of them defined the first time they appeared instead of having to go back to the glossary time and time again. It's not off-putting per se, but it does slow down the momentum of the novel when you're forced to do so.

As was the case with each new Shadow Ops novel, Myke Cole continues to grow and become more mature as a writer and he's in better control of his craft. As is usually his wont, the author keeps the pace nice and crisp. As political as it is action-packed, Sixteenth Watch is another compelling and entertaining read.

Sixteenth Watch is another military speculative fiction title with heart and soul. Here's to hoping that Myke Cole has plenty more such works in the pipeline.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Stephen R. Donaldson's Seventh Decimate, first volume in The Great God's War trilogy, for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

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…

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's The Healer's War: A Fantasy Novel of Vietnam for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Winner of the Nebula Award: “A brutal and beautiful book” that follows the surreal, fantastical journey of a Vietnam War nurse (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

A literary departure for acclaimed fantasy author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, The Healer’s War draws on her personal experience as an army nurse in Da Nang to create a classic novel of the Vietnam War, enriched with a magical, mystical twist.

Lt. Kitty McCulley, a young and inexperienced nurse tossed into a stressful and chaotic situation, is having a difficult time reconciling her duty to help and heal with the indifference and overt racism of some of her colleagues, and with the horrendously damaged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians she encounters during her service at the China Beach medical facilities. She is unexpectedly helped by the mysterious and inexplicable properties of an amulet, given to her by one of her patients, an elderly, dying Vietnamese holy man, which allows her to see other people’s “auras” and to understand more about them as a result. This eventually leads to a strange, almost surrealistic journey through the jungle, accompanied by a one-legged boy and a battle-seasoned but crazed soldier—as McCulley struggles to find herself and a way to survive through the madness and destruction.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 3rd)

In hardcover:

William Gibson's Agency debuts at number 10. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's The Institute is down three positions, ending the week at number 14. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is up two spots, finishing the week at number 2 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's Sword of Destiny debuts at number 9 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale maintains its position at number 11 (trade paperback).

James S. A. Corey's Tiamat's Wrath debuts at number 14 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Fonda Lee's Jade City, recent winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

In this epic saga of magic and kungfu, four siblings battle rival clans for honor and power in an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

* Aurora Award for Best Novel, winner
* Nebula Award for Best Novel, nominee
* Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, finalist
* World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, finalist

Jade is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. It has been mined, traded, stolen, and killed for -- and for centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their magical abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now, the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone -- even foreigners -- wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones -- from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets -- and of Kekon itself.

Jade City is the first novel in an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 27th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's The Institute maintains its position at number 11. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider returns at number 4 (trade paperback).

Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish is down four spots, finishing the week at number 8.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is down one position, ending the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

The Many Deaths of the Black Company

Chronicles of the Black Company, the first omnibus comprised of Glen Cook's first three Black Company installments, was everything I wanted it to be. Perhaps not as groundbreaking today as they were when the books were initially published, they were nonetheless as entertaining as anything you are likely to read in the fantasy genre. Understandably, I was eager to read the rest of the sequence.

Alas, the second Black Company omnibus turned out to be a fun yet quite uneven read. And sadly, The Return of the Black Company, the third omnibus suffered from more or less the same shortcomings that plagued its predecessor. Indeed, it featured novels that vary greatly as far as depth and merit are concerned. Still, She is the Darkness moved the tale forward like no other Black Company volume thus far, setting the stage for what could be a memorable finale.

The Many Deaths of the Black Company can be called many things, true, yet memorable is not one of them. Although there are some high notes throughout, there's no denying that the storylines peter out over the course of these last two installments and end in a somewhat lackluster fashion.

Here's the blurb:

In Water Sleeps, the surviving members of the Company regroup in Taglios, determined to free their fellow warriors held in stasis beneath the glittering plain. Journeying there under terrible conditions, they arrive just in time for a magical conflagration in which the bones of the world will be revealed, the history of the Company unveiled, and new worlds gained and lost… all at a terrible price.

And in Soldiers Live, no Black Company member has died in battle for four years. Croaker figures it can’t last. Then a report arrives of an an old enemy newly active again. It attacks them at a shadowgate — setting off a chain of events that will bring the Company to the edge of apocalypse and, as usual, several steps beyond.

Following in the footsteps of both Croaker and Lady, The Return of the Black Company saw another change of point of view, with Murgen now as the new protagonist through whose eyes we witnessed everything. I'm aware that not everyone agrees, but I truly enjoyed Murgen's narrative. As a sometimes inept soldier and someone with low self-esteem, the company's Standardbearer was nearly as much fun to follow as Croaker used to be. Given his fate in the last book, he couldn't possibly be the narrator for what came next. Sleepy's is thus the perspective through which we see the events of Water Sleeps unfold. Her POV is unlike those of her predecessors, but I liked the chance to discover how she feels and thinks. Problem is, the first half of this omnibus is extremely slow-moving and often boring. As was the case with Bleak Seasons, I doubt that there was enough material to warrant a full novel here. In a nutshell, Water Sleeps is about Sleepy preparing the remnant of the Black Company for their rescue attempt of those companions trapped underneath the Glittering Plain without alarming Soulcatcher of their true objective. There are some good parts here and there, but it's mostly a slog from start to finish.

Soldiers Live features the return of Croaker as narrator and it's awesome to have him back! For my money, Croaker has always been the true voice of the Black Company. As a narrator, his witty and sardonic observations remain one of the highlights of the entire saga. The man is aware of his strengths and his flaws, and it's always a joy to follow his narrative. And now that he's older, supposedly wiser, and crankier, his perspective will make you chuckle in every chapter. With revelations pertaining to the Plain of the Glittering Stone, the Shadowgates, Khatovar, Kina, the birth of the Black Company, and so much more, Soldiers Live probably answers more questions than any other installment in the series. Honestly, I was expecting more out of Narayan Singh and the Daughter of Night, but it was not to be.

The ending notwithstanding Glen Cook truly shines as an author in this novel. Along with She is the Darkness, Soldiers Live is one of his his best works to date. With unexpected twists throughout, a decidedly creepy and evocative imagery, this final volume definitely shows Cook at the top of his game. But as the second portion of The Many Deaths of the Black Company following a lackluster Water Sleeps, once again it just shows how disparate in quality and originality the Black Company novels ultimately all turned out to be.

Cook's worldbuilding has always been minimal, but the author seriously upped his game in these last two books. All the Black Company installments have been character-driven affairs and the same can be said about the works comprising this last omnibus. Kudos to Cook for not being afraid of killing many of our favorite characters. I would have expected him to do so with a bit more emotion, yet that's just me. I relished the opportunity to be reunited with most of the old crew one last time.

As I mentioned, the ending felt somewhat uninspired. Those readers hoping for resolution and a conclusion that ties up all the loose ends are bound to be disappointed. It's with mixed feelings that I reached the last page. I would have loved for Cook to close the show on a high note. Alas, though it occasionally showed signs of brilliance, the series has been dragging for a long time now and it's no wonder that the tale of the Black Company would draw to a close in such a fashion.

Many new readers give Glen Cook a shot based on Steven Erikson's blurbs. I know it was the case for me more than a decade ago. If you are a Malazan fan and love the Bridgeburners, please keep in mind that the Black Company series saw its first work published in 1984. At the time, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman dominated the bestseller lists. Hence, Cook's novels really stood out. Needless to say, the face of the fantasy genre has changed dramatically over the course of the last few decades and I'm afraid that the Black Company sequence, like many other beloved SFF works from the 70s, 80s and the 90s, has not aged well. For potential readers thinking of picking up this series, I suggest that you get your hands on the first omnibus and take it from there.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.