Category: Adult

Review: Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling

With the Leran threat laid to rest, Alec and Seregil are now able to turn their attention to the ancient evil which threatens their land. The Plenimarans, at war with Skalans, have decided to defeat their ancient enemy by raising up the Dead God, Seriamaius. The early attempts at this reincarnation–masterminded by the sinister Duke Mardus and his sorcerous minion Vargul Ashnazai–once left Seregil in a sorcerous coma. Now, an ancient prophecy points to his continuing role in the quest to stop Mardus in his dread purpose.Seregil’s friend and Mentor, the wizard Nysander, has long been the guardian of a deadly secret. In a secret, silver-lined room hidden well beneath the Oreska, he has served for most of his 300 years as the keeper of a nondescript clay cup. But this cup, combined with a crystal crown and some wooden disks, forms the Helm of Seriamaius, and any mortal donning the reconstructed Helm will become the incarnation of the god on earth.

Nysander holds the cup and Mardus the wooden disks–one of which was responsible for Seregil’s coma–but the crown must still be located. Threatened under pain of death by Nysander to keep his quest a secret even from his loyal companion, Alec, Seregil is dispatched to find the last missing piece of the Helm so that he and Nysander can destroy it. But this is only the beginning of one of his deadliest journeys ever, for the prophecy also holds that four will come together in a time of darkness, and gradually all that Seregil values is placed at risk as he, Alec, Nysander and Micum are drawn into a deadly web of terror and intrigue.

Stalking Darkness is the second book in the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling, and I read it faster than I read the first one.

The events set in motion in Luck in the Shadows catch up with our characters in Stalking Darkness. The war is coming, and with it an evil force that could obliterate the world as they know it. Faced with impossible choices and life threatening tasks, the loyalty and bonds between the friends are tested. Additionally, they have a prophecy to contend with (What Epic fantasy doesn’t have a prophecy?), and there’s no guarantees that all of them will make it out alive.

In this second book the relationship between Alec and Seregil deepens. As best friends and confidantes there is a level of trust and loyalty there, but could there be something more? And if there is, is it worth risking what they have to pursue? I think that all of the relationships in this book–both romantic and not–develop beautifully in this book. They explore the complexity of true loyalty and friendship, and what it means to truly love someone above yourself in all things.

It is rare for me to like a second book in a series more than the first, but Stalking Darkness has accomplished that. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and seeing where these crazy characters find themselves next.

Review: Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be…Luck in the Shadows.

Some friends and I were at a bookstore looking at a spinner of mass market paperbacks, when I picked up a book with a cover which was amazing in that slightly bad way. “Look! Gay pirate spy elves!” Upon investigation, we discovered that while they weren’t pirates, they were gay spy elves. Naturally, we concluded that that was amazing and that we had to read the book.

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling is the first book in this series. An epic fantasy surrounding the spy Seregil and his apprentice Alec, the book was honestly far better than I was expecting it to be. If you know and love epic fantasy, you won’t be disappointed. There is world building-a-plenty, and world shattering stakes that outreach the length of a single book.

Also impressively, this book was released in the ’90s, when openly gay characters were even more scarce than they are now. In Flewelling’s world, homosexuality of both genders is openly accepted and embraced (with an intricate brothel culture involving different colored lights and sexual preference–frankly an entire book could be written about their red-light district). As well as a highly equal society where women make up a good percentage of the leadership and most of the world doesn’t bat an eye. Sounds like our world could learn a few things from theirs, right?

With tons (and I mean that literally–500 pages worth) of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance, Luck in the Shadows is the start of a great series for all lovers of fantasy.

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

If you’ve been around the fantasy world at all in the last fifteen years, you’ve probably heard of Diana Gabaldon. The Outlander series is one of the most popular and best selling series in that world. It’s been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time. But now that they’re making a TV show (Starz) out of it, I knew I had to read it before the show ruined it for me forever.

Outlander is many things. Part time travel, part fantasy, part romance, part adventure, and a WHOLE-LOTTA-BOOK. It’s a long book. It’s sequels are long too. It’s a daunting task to think about taking on a series full of eight-hundred page books, but in this case I think it’s worth it.

Set against the backdrop of tribal Scotland, Outlander follows Claire on the adventure of a lifetime. She disappeared from post world war two Scotland, and into the middle of the English oppression of the scots. Things only get crazier from there as she meets and falls in love with the notorious Scot and outlaw Jamie Fraser. (Who, of course, is a hero any woman would wish for.)

In the attempts to clear Jamie’s name of a crime he did not commit there are many injuries, near-death experiences, torture, wolves, perhaps a wedding, and lots of sex. Without spoilers, I think that this book (and it’s new TV show) is about to spring into the world and be called the ‘new’ Game of Thrones for both it’s scale and it’s addictive story.

The TV show is premiering August 9th, so read it before it’s too late!

Blog Tour: #FridayReads, The Books that Got Me Into Shakespeare

SWheaderIt is true. The Jedi Doth Return. In a series that has broken all kinds of barriers since the first book released, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is one of those literary phenomenons that cannot be missed. With the third book in the series releasing in just a few days on July 1st, Quirk Books asked if we’d like to have the author, Ian Doescher, on the blog to talk about Shakespeare himself.

I’m so thrilled to not only be a part of this blog tour for such a fantastic series but to also live in a time where these books actually exist. Stick around after the post and you can enter for a chance to win the first book in the series! Take it away, Ian!

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When I was in eighth grade, my brother Erik (then a senior in high school) was studying Hamlet in his English class.  Like most younger brothers, I thought my older brother was pretty cool—though I never would have told him—so I bought a copy of Hamlet at a used bookstore on a family trip to the Oregon coast (shown here).  I think I found the “To be or not to be” speech and pretty quickly put the book aside.  But from that point forward I called myself a Shakespeare fan.

The next year, as a freshman, I read my first Shakespeare play when we studied Othello.  I did a lot of theater back then, and here was a play—meant to be performed!—that we were reading in English class.  When we had to memorize Othello’s “It is the cause” soliloquy from Act V, I was excited about the assignment and was the first to raise my hand to perform it in front of the class (yes, I was that guy).

My interest in Shakespeare snowballed from there.  Sophomore year we studied Julius Caesar, and I adapted it with the idea of performing it with some friends (it never happened).  That summer, Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing came out, which I saw in the theater with my mom about ten times.  This tells you something about my interest in Shakespeare and my social life at the time.  Junior and senior years my interest in Shakespeare continued—I started seeing Shakespeare performed live in Portland, memorized some soliloquies just for fun, and started building my Shakespearean library.  After that first copy of Hamlet, the first three Shakespearean books I owned were The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard by Norrie Epstein (still a personal favorite), Shakespeare A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times by Charles Boyce, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare.   (The summer after my junior year of high school, the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus was filmed at my high school, and I stalked Richard Dreyfuss to get him to sign my complete works.)  As a budding Shakespeare devotee, Kenneth Branagh’s book Beginning was significant—it’s not a book about Shakespeare, but about how he became an actor and, ultimately, how he made his debut with the Royal Shakespeare Company and his first film, Henry V.

In college, I would discover The Riverside Shakespeare—still the best complete works available—and the Arden Shakespeare series, which are the best individual versions of the plays.  (I’m proud to have Sir Patrick Stewart’s autograph on my copy of The Riverside Shakespeare.)  It was also while I was in college that Looking for Richard came out, Al Pacino’s performance of Richard III/documentary on the difficulties of the play itself.

Those were the books and films that led me to Shakespeare.  Today, I would add into that list Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom and Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson.  How about you?  What are your favorite editions of Shakespeare or books about the Bard?

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To keep up with the rest of the blog tour, CLICK HERE!

Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

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All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman
who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

In the last few years there’s been an upswing in the amount of mainstream books about dragons, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I’m pretty sure ‘More Dragon’ will always be one of my mottos.

When I first saw the cover of A Natural History of Dragons, it turned me off. I thought that this book approached the subject somewhat like a mythical textbook, and I couldn’t imagine that that would be anything but boring. So I put it on my long-term reading list, and put the thought out of my head. But I recently picked it up, and discovered that I loved it!

Written, not like a textbook, but as a memoir from an aging dragon naturalist (and explorer, adventurer, and all around breaker-of-rules) Lady Trent. The voice of this book is very unique. It blends the clear and ironic observations of hindsight with the firsthand sensation of memory, and weaves a truly fantastic tale. The society and manners of period England, combined with an alternate world provide something that is oddly familiar and strange at the same time. Natural History is the first in a series of books chronicling the adventures of Lady Trent, and this covers a good part of her childhood, her marriage, and her first expedition with her husband.

One other unique thing about this book are the illustrations. They are beautiful, and scattered throughout the book to help us picture key creatures and moments. If you’re a fan of dragons, than this is definitely a book you shouldn’t leave off of your list.

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