River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

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In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

REVIEW

I am once again in awe. I have waxed enthusiastic praise on each of the five books I have previously read by this author. River of Stars now makes six. It is a masterpiece of compelling fiction; a narrative that grabs hold and propels the reader along the meandering path of the multi-faceted plot. It is breathtaking in it’s scope; the world created by the author; the characters who fit perfectly into it; the endless tale of court (political) intrigue, a tale worthy to be called a classic.

I read a lot of historical fiction books, a good portion of them are by request as it seems my humble blog of reviews has garnered some interest among authors. I have a backlog of books to read and review, but I also like to read just for the pure pleasure of it. The backlog be damned – there are more Guy Gavriel Kay books yet to be read.

5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Virgin of the Wind Rose (Christopher Columbus) by Glen Craney

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While investigating the murder of an American missionary in Ethiopia, rookie State Department lawyer Jaqueline Quartermane becomes obsessed with a magical word square found inside an underground church guarding the tomb of the biblical Adam.

Drawn into a web of esoteric intrigue, she and a roguish antiquities thief named Elymas must race an elusive and taunting mastermind to find the one relic needed to resurrect Solomon’s Temple. A trail of cabalistic clues leads them to the catacombs of Rome, the crypt below Chartres Cathedral, a Masonic shaft in Nova Scotia, a Portuguese shipwreck off Sumatra, and the caverns under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Intertwined with this modern mystery-thriller, a parallel duel is waged:

The year is 1452. One of the most secretive societies in history, Portugal’s Order of Christ, is led by a reclusive visionary, Prince Henry the Navigator. He and his medieval version of NASA merged with the CIA scheme to foil their archenemies, the Inquisitor Torquemada and Queen Isabella of Castile, who plan to bring back Christ for the Last Judgment by ridding the world of Jews, heretics, and unbelievers.

Separated by half a millennium, two conspiracies to usher in the Tribulations promised by the Book of Revelation dovetail in this fast-paced thriller to expose the world’s most explosive secret: The true identity of Christopher Columbus and the explorer’s connection to those now trying to spark the End of Days.

REVIEW

A sprawling tale spanning 500 years, The Virgin of the Wind Rose, is about as exciting as it gets. It is also a very erudite tome…the reader will inevitably have to think about what they just read…the word square, the navigational methods, the zealous religion aspect, etc. The story alternates between the late 15th century – the mysterious Portuguese sea going activities, and modern day where Jaq and Boz are pulled into a conspiracy to usher in The Last Days – The Rapture. Meticulously researched, the author creates a plausible scenario for the activities of the Portuguese sea going visionaries, and the cult like evangelicals. The characters are well written; their thoughts and emotions on full display. I enjoyed the inner debate of Jaq’s Christian beliefs versus her mounting doubts…but even she, a talented, well educated person can blurt out ,”Everyone knows Jesus was a Christian.”…cults will do that even to smart minds.

The Virgin of the Wind Rose is an unusual read. A page turner with a caveat – must slow down a bit to understand the arcane nature of the narrative, but once the pieces of this 500 year old puzzle fall into place, it is a good read..a very good read.   5⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sorcery in Alpara by Judith Starkston

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A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

“Based on historical events in the Bronze Age, Starkston wraps history and magic together in an unforgettable package.”

If you like unique world building, ancient sorcery, and mythical beasts, with richly portrayed characters and enthrallingly complex plots, then immerse yourself in Sorcery in Alpara, the second in this award-winning epic historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting” and “not to be missed.”

REVIEW

A startling sequel, Sorcery in Alpara, is one intense tale. Tesha, in a series of events becomes an outcast even in the eyes of Hattu. Time and again, situations are twisted to make her situation worse. Powerful magic, sorcery, and a coterie of people who want to see her fall make this story a joy to read.  Time and again, I would wonder how much Tesha could take. Masterful characters, a multi-faceted plot that keeps the reader in suspense…a good read indeed.  4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

Priestess of Ishana (Tesha #1) by Judith Starkston

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A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery and jails him under penalty of death. Isolated in prison, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

Step into this exotic world of historical fantasy, with its richly imagined details of the Bronze Age, evocative of the Near East. In a whirlpool of magic, politics, family crisis and love, Tesha pursues justice over the dark forces arrayed against her.

REVIEW

An entertaining tale – historical fiction mixed with magic and sorcery in an alternate Hittite world prior to the Achaean Invasion (Trojan War).  Priestess of Ishana is not only a captivating look at that ancient empire, it is also the story of a young woman and her struggle to serve her goddess while in the middle of an investigation that could see her father and family destroyed. It is a complex plot, a conspiracy of hate and revenge, that had me engaged from the start. Characters that fit the time and place, giving the tale a realism. Even the magical element feels right; the sorcery believable and real, the demons full of power, the invocations full of danger to the user, the goddess a demanding one. It is also a tale of intense emotions, stressful situations. One in which Tesha must find strength she never knew she had, steadfastly clinging to her faith in Ishana in order to come to the truth whatever the outcome. 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

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Not all enemies are visible.
Sometimes the most defiant ones exist only in the heart and mind.
The Defiler of Prille and his hound are dead, and the houses of Sajen and Vitus are united. With the birth of a new heir to the throne, peace settles over Agrius.
But it’s a fragile peace.
As King Casmir works to restore the former glory of his inheritance, rumors of betrayal and treachery reach the throne, threatening to shatter everything he has worked hard to achieve.
When old enemies surface, the rumors become real. Disaster strikes, plunging him into a darkness that feels palpable.
Many advisers step forward to help, but it’s never easy to determine friend from foe when it comes to the power around the throne.
Faced with the decision to forge his own path and stay true to his honor, or to become like his father, a man he despised, his bonds of unity are tested.
To the point of breaking.
What compromises will he make to secure the future of his family and his kingdom?
Will he lose both himself and the ones he loves?
Follow his journey into darkness.

REVIEW

As is somewhat evident in our world today, not all people react positively in the face of a changing political or social environment. This truth forms the basis for The King’s Furies as Casmir is beset with issues brought on by old enemies, and those resistant to, or adversely affected by the ban on slavery. The main characters in the series are put to the test in this pulse racing drama as they deal with the soul crushing events. The author has crafted a wonderful story…her characters are such that their pains, anxieties, and joys resonate with the reader. The plots against Casmir, insidious and seemingly unsolvable, bring out the worst in him and some surprising talents in Jack (I say no more, other than that he is more than just a blacksmith turned noble and friend to the King).

The King’s Furies is certainly a worthy addition to the series – a fantasy world, yet one that is easily recognizable as it could be a historical rendering of our past. A very real look at the ironic fact that no period of history is ever ‘peaceful’. 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Under Heaven (Under Heaven #1) by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Award-winning author Guy Gavriel Kay evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in an masterful story of honor and power. 

It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father’s last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already.

REVIEW

I know I should probably expect this, but once again I am blown away by Mr. Kay’s storytelling. After the death of his father, a famous general, Tai undertakes a Herculean task burying the dead on a distant and haunted battlefield. What results is a gift that changes everything, and forms the basis for an incredible tale. Like many, I suppose from a Western culture, I’ve always seen the East as mysterious and intriguing. Under Heaven showcases an Eastern empire, and the author has injected that sense of mystery and intrigue into a page turning wonder. The characters fit perfectly, the twists and turns of the plot flow seamlessly, the narrative has an atmospheric quality that pulls the reader into the pages. It is more than just a page turner. It is more like, “just one more chapter, I’ll skip breakfast in the morning.” 😊  5 stars

Akela by Ryan Uytdewilligen

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Forrest Gump meets Woody Allen in this endearing story about a sea turtle seeking to be reunited with the love of his life.

When Akela is separated from his migrant soulmate, Kalea, he will do anything to be reunited with her. Journey with this charming and neurotic sea turtle as he crosses paths with celebrities, politicians, and other moments in history with unbreakable determination to be reunited with his love.

REVIEW

I wasn’t sure what to expect when the author requested that I read his novel about the travels and travails of a Green Sea Turtle, but the premise was intriguing. I mean how could I resist seeing 20th century American history through the eyes and thoughts of a sea going reptile? While that is a major theme running throughout the book, it’s the emotional experiences Akela goes through in this wonderfully creative take on humanity that pulled me in. Add in some entertaining characters, both human and animal (a couple of my favorites are a gator named Earl, and a group of vultures known as The Good Time Gang), and what transpires is part whimsical fantasy, and part poignant introspection. A journey full of expectations, dangers, surprises, and self-realizations await you dear reader, making for an enjoyable read. 4 stars

Lord of Emperors (The Sarantine Mosaic #2) by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Beckoned by the Emperor Valerius, Crispin, a renowned mosaicist, has arrived in the fabled city of Sarantium. Here he seeks to fulfill his artistic ambitions and his destiny high upon a dome that will become the emperor’s magnificent sanctuary and legacy.

But the beauty and solitude of his work cannot protect his from Sarantium’s intrigue. Beneath him the city swirls with rumors of war and conspiracy, while otherworldly fires mysteriously flicker and disappear in the streets at night. Valerius is looking west to Crispin’s homeland to reunite an Empire — a plan that may have dire consequences for the loved ones Crispin left behind.

In Sarantium, however, loyalty is always complex, for Crispin’s fate has become entwined with that of Valerius and his Empress, as well as Queen Gisel, his own monarch exiled in Sarantium herself. And now another voyager — this time from the east — has arrived, a physician determined to make his mark amid the shifting, treacherous currents of passion and violence that will determine the empire’s fate.

REVIEW

An intricate tale, as I have come to expect from Mr. Kay, full of interwoven strands, ironic circumstances, and an amazing array of characters. The full range of personalities, ambitions, hopes and dreams permeate the pages beckoning the reader into the very souls of the players. Take it from this humble scribe, but Holy Jad, Guy Gavriel Kay can sure spin a yarn.  5 Stars

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Marik’s Way by Nick Brown

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I have really enjoyed the author’s previous works. His series Agent of Rome is top notch Roman historical fiction, and I wasn’t too concerned that he switched to a more fantasy like tale especially since this fantasy tale isn’t heavy on the fantasy, but more focused on telling a believable tale of a man and the world in which he lives. Marik is a warrior who, due to circumstances he is wary of discussing, finds himself adrift in an unfamiliar land, broke and without weapons. In a series of episodes/adventures, the author gives us a character who is many faceted; diligent, brave, caring, but also prey to his past and to the uncertainty of his future. This depth of character is found in many of the supporting cast, my favorite being Nasreen, a fierce warrior in her own right burdened by a gruesome physical affliction, and the revenge she seeks for having it.

Since this tale takes place in a fantasy world, it is up to the author to provide the necessary geography, and the lowdown on the people who inhabit this world. This, my fellow readers, is done most admirably by Mr. Brown. The varied landscapes/waterscapes are a prime example; a crashing surf or a region made of reeds, I was drawn into the sites, canoeing the labyrinth of an endless marshland, or surviving a deadly storm on a makeshift raft.

A well told tale of a resourceful wanderer still looking for his future.  5 stars

Michael – Book 3 of The Triptych Chronicle by Prue Batten

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Astonishing, amazing, creative – fiction that stirs the heartstrings. When I first started writing reviews, and was on the hunt for authors who would feed my passion, Prue Batten came highly recommended – to paraphrase the recommendation – “Prue could write a phone book and make it compelling.” The depth of character that permeates her narratives is certainly on display in Michael. The mental anguish, the sheer trauma, the weight of responsibility, the relentless downward spiral of hatred and revenge – all that and a downright entertaining story to boot. A tale of merchants and the life and death competition for riches and power set against the political maneuverings of the unpopular ruling class in Byzantine Constantinople. Like an exquisite piece of fine needlework, the author has embroidered an intricate tale highlighted by the details of that vast city and the life within it. So, dear reader, if you have not read Prue Batten, then you are denying yourself a literary treat. 5 stars