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

A Sacred Storm by Theodore Brun

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8th Century Sweden: Erlan Aurvandil, a Viking outlander, has pledged his sword to Sviggar Ivarsson, King of the Sveärs, and sworn enemy of the Danish king Harald Wartooth. But Wartooth, hungry for power, is stirring violence in the borderlands. As the fires of this ancient feud are reignited Erlan is bound by honour and oath to stand with King Sviggar.

But, unbeknownst to the old King his daughter, Princess Lilla, has fallen under Erlan’s spell. As the armies gather Erlan and Lilla must choose between their duty to Sviggar and their love for each other.

Blooded young, betrayed often, Erlan is no stranger to battle. And hidden in the shadows, there are always those determined to bring about the maelstrom of war…

MY REVIEW

Erlan is an outsider with a mysterious past (hint- I hadn’t read A Mighty Dawn, the first book in the series, before reading A Sacred Storm, but will certainly rectify that soon) who becomes a favorite warrior and adviser to the Svear King Sviggar.  To say that Erlan is a complex, and tormented character is an understatement. He is a fierce warrior with a crippled ankle, a troubled past, conflicted by oaths, doubt filled thoughts about the gods, and is in love with a woman he cannot have. The story centers around a blood feud between two kings; Sviggar and Harald Wartooth, the Danish King, but is also replete with subplots that ripple throughout the tale providing not only excitement and drama, but also provides impetus to the exhilarating climatic chapters. Indeed, the last quarter of A Sacred Storm is a pure, page turning, emotional ride of battle lust, revenge seeking and sorcery. The author has created a thoroughly enjoyable tale complete with an interesting cast of characters; the irrepressible Kai, the jovial Einar Fat Belly, the beautiful but haunted Lilla, and especially the masterfully evil Saldas. I am looking forward to catching up with Erlan’s past and with his future.  5 stars

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theodore Brun

Theodore Brun studied Dark Age archaeology at Cambridge, where he graduated with a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology and an MPhil in History. Professionally, Theodore qualified and worked as an arbitration lawyer, in London, Moscow, Paris and finally Hong Kong. In 2010, he quit his job in Hong Kong and cycled 10,000 miles across Asia and Europe (crossing 20 countries) to his home in Norfolk. Theodore is a third generation Viking immigrant – his Danish grandfather having settled in England in 1932. He is married and lives in London.

The Du Lac Devil – Du Lac Chronicles 2 – by Mary Anne Yarde

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After finishing book 1 of The Du Lac Chronicles, I wondered what was going to happen in book 2, as it did seem like the Du Lac brothers had a penchant for intrigue; for the wherewithal to survive in a world filled with enemies, and there was so much more to be told.  Even with those high expectations, I could not begin to imagine or expect the sheer magnitude of intrigue and survival wherewithal that is encountered in The Du Lac Devil.  The author has crafted a powerfully emotional tale set in post-Roman, post-Arthurian times; a time of upheaval as Saxon, Briton and Frank seek to enlarge their kingdoms; or, just to maintain what they have.  Populated with fascinating characters; enough emotional turmoil and plot twists to have this humble scribe stop reading occasionally to catch his breath and exclaim, “Whoa, didn’t see that coming.”  I was left with a bewildering sense of loss; of sadness, as the book moved to the rather traumatic ending, but also with a feeling of hope – there’s more to come in this mesmerizing saga.

4.8 Stars

 

Sailing to Sarantium – The Sarantine Mosaic Book 1 by Guy Gavriel Kay

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I read a lot of fiction, mostly historical-fiction, but also some fantasy/historical-fiction; fiction that takes on the feel of history, events that could have happened, cultures and people that could have existed.  Such is Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay; a work that has the look and feel of a Roman/Byzantine world, but that also carries a look at contemporary issues such as religion and it’s hold on humanity through the ages.  An excellent example of this can be found in a discussion between an architect and the Patriarch concerning the proposed ideas for the dome of a new sanctuary, “Deference becomes you,” said Artibasos, mildly enough. “It might be worth cultivating.  It is customary – except perhaps among clerics – to have opinions preceded by knowledge.” I don’t know about you, my peeps and fellow travelers, but that speaks volumes to current affairs in 2018 America, if not the world.

I read a lot of different authors; a lot of different writing styles and strengths, some who move me with their descriptive abilities, others with the depth of their characters, or their grasp of fine dialogue.  What I have found in my reading of Mr. Kay is an author who moves me with all of those things, but especially the beauty of his narrative; his “way with words”.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I would read a passage, pause, reread, and then pause again to allow the flow of words to both fill me with wonder, and with just a smidgen of jealousy (I too, fancy myself as an author).

Sailing to Sarantium is a complex tale, filled with surprises; with the full range of human emotion, and human experiences – emotions and experiences that can be carried over to modern times – a time of wonder, but also a time of uncertainty. I can hardly wait to read the sequel.  5 Stars  – BTW the chariot race chapter is worth the price of admission.  🙂