This week I got three books to add to the pile (well, I guess technically my husband got one but it’s in a series we both read so I’ll include it). Good thing I’ve actually been reading more books this month than the last few…

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy, The Seven Realms. I’ve wanted to read this ever since I read Thea’s review at The Book Smugglers but had never actually gotten a hold of a copy of it, so when I was contacted about receiving the first two books for review consideration my answer was an ecstatic “Yes!” It looks like a fun book. The first chapter is available on the author’s website.

Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister Mari. Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell. For as long as Han can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

Han’s life gets even harder after he takes a powerful amulet from the son of the High Wizard. The amulet once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece so powerful at stake, the Bayars will stop at nothing to reclaim it from Han.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn’t looking forward to trading in her common sense for a prince with a big castle and tiny brain. Raisa aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems like her mother has other plans for her—plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from best-selling author Cinda Williams Chima.

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The middle book in The Seven Realms trilogy will be released on September 28. Chapter Two is available to read on the author’s website.

You can’t always run from danger…
Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery—but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

The Exiled Queen is an epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.

Miles In Love by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was the last set of Miles books I didn’t own (at least until CryoBurn comes out next month). I still need to read Memory before getting to this one, but my husband recently picked up the next book he had to read in the series and started going through the rest (and has now finished them all, including this one and the one after it). This omnibus edition contains the novels Komarr and A Civil Campaign and the novella “Winterfair Gifts.”

Two complete novels and a short novel in one large volume:

Komarr—Miles Vorkosigan is sent to Komarr, a planet that could be a garden with a thousand more years of terraforming; or an uninhabitable wasteland, if the terraforming project fails. The solar mirror vital to the project has been shatteredby a ship hurtling off course, and Miles Vorkosigan has been sent to find out if it was an accident, or sabotage. Miles uncovers a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever—and discovers an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.

A Civil Campaign—On Komarr, Miles met the beautiful Vor widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who has no intention of getting married after the heartbreak and betrayal of her first experience. But Miles has a cunning plan to change her mind. Unfortunately his clone-brother Mark and his cousin Ivan have cunning plans of their own, and the three-way collision of cunning plans threatens to undo Miles’s brilliant romantic strategy.

“Winterfair Gifts”—Miles and Ekaterin make elaborate preparations for their wedding. But Miles has an enemy who is plotting to turn the romantic ceremony into a festival of death.

Lord of the White Hell: Book One
by Ginn Hale
346pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: N/A
Goodreads Rating: 4.7/5

Lord of the White Hell: Book Two completes the Lord of the White Hell duology by Ginn Hale. Book One came out in the middle of August and Book Two was just released today. Since the second book picks up right after the first one and this is one book split into two parts, I would strongly recommend starting with Lord of the White Hell: Book One instead of the second volume.

As this is a continuation of the first book, I am going to skip the plot summary and refer to my review of Lord of the White Hell: Book One for those who are not familiar with these two novels. If you have read the first book, you know what the books are about and there is really no need to discuss what happens in the beginning since it’s really the middle and I’d like to write about the book without spoiling it. In this review, I’ll cover some of the differences between this and the first book and what I thought of both books as a single entity.

First of all, I loved the second half of this book just as much as the first one. It did take me a little bit longer to get to the same level of complete absorption as in the first, but before long I was just as swept up by the story. Although it did suck me in pretty quickly, I thought I might not enjoy it as much as the first part for a little while. This was mainly because there was a lot more sex, and I do have a tendency to get bored with a lot of sex scenes. They did not drag on for too long before moving on, though, and they also were often integral to character development so I didn’t mind them as much as I thought I would. However, I still much preferred reading about the various characters, the cultures and mythology, and the curse.

Both books are very heavy on character development and relationships between the characters, and so many of the characters came across as real and likable. Kiram, the scholarly boy with the genius for mechanics, and Javier, the lord controlling the white hell, are of course the best drawn as the main protagonists the books focus on. Yet reading about any of them was immensely enjoyable, and all the friends from the academy had such a wonderful camaraderie shown through humorous, smoothly written dialogue. Even childlike Fedeles, whose conversation mainly consists of singing the names of his favorite horses, shines as sweet and good-natured – and was a character I really cared about in spite of the fact that he is not even normally coherent.

In book two, there is a break from school and Kiram goes home to the Haldiim district in Anacleto. At first I was concerned that this meant there wouldn’t be as much time spent with the characters I’d come to love so much, but it didn’t end up being a problem since some of them lived nearby and others visited. Also, this allowed a firsthand look at the Haldiim and how their way of life contrasted with that of the Cadeleonians. It was particularly refreshing that even though they were more open-minded and less strict than the Cadeleonians, they were not portrayed as perfect in every way. Even though they allowed people to marry a person of either gender and seemed in general more lenient, the matriarchy still had some of the same pitfalls as a patriarchy. Marriages were still often made based on forging an advantageous connection with another family, and mothers still refused to give their sons certain freedoms. Regardless of culture, everyone seemed human with their own strengths and flaws – even compassionate Kiram was not immune to some prejudice when it came to the Cadeleonian religion.

The conclusion was very exciting, and every plot thread was wrapped up. Even though it had a satisfying resolution, it does feel like there is room for sequels since more adventure is probably in store for Kiram.

Although it had many similarities to Wicked Gentlemen, such as the examination of two conflicting cultures, a character driven story and a romance between two men from opposing societies, Lord of the White Hell was not as prettily written. Even so, it is a stronger story, although perhaps I think that because I usually prefer longer stories with more time to get to know the characters.

Lord of the White Hell is highly recommended to readers who enjoy character-driven fantasy with some romance and focus on social structures. It had me captivated from start to finish and is easily one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Read Excerpts:

Read an Interview with Ginn Hale


by Ann Aguirre
368pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.33/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.72/5

Killbox, the fourth book in the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre, was released on August 31. The other books in this space opera series are Grimspace, Wanderlust and Doubleblind, in that order. There will be six books total in the series with Aftermath scheduled for September 2011 and Endgame for September 2012.

Please note that since this is the fourth book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first three books. This is a series that I would definitely recommend reading in order beginning with Grimspace (review).

After leaving Ithiss-Tor, Jax sends a message that she is quitting her job as a diplomat the first chance she gets. It’s not that she doesn’t want to do her part to save humanity (and any other species that refrains from hostile actions such as devouring the flesh of anyone it feels like eating) – but diplomacy has never really been her strength. Instead, she takes an apprentice jumper and begins teaching him how to traverse grimspace.

Daily life is not as safe as it used to be, and for some peculiar reason the Morgut appear to be targeting scientists. As more and more people are attacked by the deadly Morgut, Jax and her friends realize that there are serious consequences to destroying the corrupt Farwan, which at least had a large number of patrols dedicated to aiding those in trouble. The Conglomerate comes to the same realization and offers March a position as commander of a new armada – with free reign to be “creative” due to limited funding and the urgency of defending the universe. Although it is a lot of responsibility, it’s also impossible to refuse, and the crew begins gathering a force of mercenaries of ill repute as the last hope against the Morgut threat.

After the political diplomacy in Doubleblind, this book packs in a lot more action. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this, it actually took a little longer for me to get emotionally involved in Killbox than the previous three novels, although I was very much emotionally involved by the time it ended. The beginning is not at all slow, quite the opposite – I was just being impatient about wanting to see certain threads from the last book picked up. The previous installment dealt a lot with Vel, my favorite character in the series, and I was hoping to see some of the parts about him from it followed up on some more. Although it took a little while to get to them, there were definitely some great scenes with Vel that I’m now hoping to see continued in the next novel.

There’s lots of danger, excitement and battles, and Aguirre continues to maintain an excellent balance between moving the plot forward and developing the characters. At first it did seem as though there was more adventure and less of the character moments, but there were some – they were just mainly with March. Ever since the second book, I’ve much preferred reading about the friendships Jax has developed to the romance, especially her relationships with the alien Vel and the ship’s mechanic Dina, an exiled princess. By the time it reached the big cliffhanger ending, not only had there been some fantastic conversations with both Vel and Dina, but it had definitely also taken me on an emotionally harrowing journey. The last 50 – 60 pages made me cry not just once but twice (which rarely happens at all).

Another major highlight is the return of some characters we haven’t seen since the very first book, but the most rewarding part is the development of Jax herself. She continues to grow as a character and has changed so much since the first book. Even better, just how much she has grown is shown through her actions – we’re not just told she’s not the same Jax but we’re shown time and again that she has come a long way since the first book. It did get on my nerves a little that we were told she wasn’t the same so many times instead of just letting her deeds speak for themselves, but considering the story is told from Jax’s perspective, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. Someone who has undergone as much of a metamorphosis as she has over the course of this series is probably going to be continually amazed by the contrast between how she reacts now and how she would have reacted just a short time ago.

The writing itself has also improved since the first novel. While is still mainly straightforward and sometimes fractured prose as it’s told from Jax’s perspective in present tense, there were a couple of phrases and observations that struck me as lovely. The turmoil at the end especially was very moving.

It was somewhat annoying that March and Jax were apart yet again in this book. Although the reason behind it was logical, the fact that it keeps happening over and over again is making it feel contrived to me. It’s starting to seem like every book needs to have a new dilemma for keeping some tension in the romance so it doesn’t get stale before the final book.

Overall, this is a strong addition to the Sirantha Jax series. It has plenty of action and adventure, the characters continue to grow, and the writing has matured since the first book. One final word of advice: do have a box of tissues handy and be prepared to curse the book for ending where it does.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Reviews of other books in this series:

This month I bought one book for National Buy A Book Day. (I also decided to also make it “Buy Cookies and Caramel Mocha Day” at the Borders coffee shop – I hadn’t been to their cafe in a long time and didn’t realize just how delicious their cookies were but they were soft and chocolatey and really, really good. Maybe I need to make this a monthly holiday.) Every once in a while I try to go over there and buy a book or two that I know I want to read. We had a bookstore on our mall that I can’t remember not having there that closed down recently and I really don’t want the same thing to happen to our Borders!

Elfland by Freda Warrington

Somehow I had completely missed this book until I read Sarah’s review at Bookworm Blues. It sounds like it is just my type of book – a character-driven story with captivating prose. I had already decided I must read this when I looked for it at the bookstore, and then I found it and opened the cover and what do I see under the “Praise for Elfland” section?

Elfland is an absorbing and gripping journey into a world where the otherworldly shivers alongside us, unseen. – Storm Constantine, author of the Wraeththu Chronicles

Wraeththu Chronicles is of course one of my favorites ever for the same reasons this book sounded appealing to me. It turns out some of Freda Warrington’s other books have been published by Immanion Press, Storm Constantine’s publishing company.

Another Aetherial Tales novel, Midsummer Night, is coming out in the US in November. Each novel in the series is supposed to stand alone.

Elfland is an intimate, sensual novel of people—both human and Aetherial—caught between duty and desire. It is a story of families, and of Rose Fox, a woman born to magic but tormented by her place in her adopted world.

Led by Auberon Fox, a group of Aetherials—call them the Fair Folk, if you will—live among us, indistinguishable from humans. Every seven years, on the Night of the Summer Stars, Lawrence Wilder, the Gatekeeper, throws open all gates to the Other World. But this time, something has gone wrong. Wilder has sealed the gates, warning of a great danger lurking in the realm beyond them. The Aetherial community is outraged. What will become of them, deprived of the home realm from which their essential life force flows?

Rose Fox and Sam Wilder are drawn to the lands beyond the gates, even as their families feud over Lawrence’s refusal to do his duty. Struggling with their own too-human urges, they discover hidden truths that draw them together in a forbidden alliance. Only by breaching the dreaded gates and daring the danger beyond can they confront that which they fear most— their otherness—and claim their birthright.

Today I have an interview with two special guests, Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones. They have three books published they wrote together: Havemercy, Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul. While I have yet to read Dragon Soul, which was published over the summer, I very much enjoyed both Havemercy (review) and Shadow Magic (review) for their character-driven storytelling and the humor woven throughout the various narrative voices. For more information on the authors and their books, visit their website.

Fantasy Cafe: How did you two meet and begin writing together?

Jaida: Dani commented on my livejournal to a post I’d made about Narnia. It always really frustrated me that Edmund, Peter, Lucy and Susan had to leave this entire life they’d lived behind, and apparently that was something that hit home with Danielle, as well. We started talking about books we loved, stories we were obsessed with, and characters we just couldn’t forget, and discovered we had a crazy amount of those things in common. My first reaction to everything back then was, ‘OK, let’s write together!’ whenever I was talking to someone I got along with. I just loved—and still love—collaborative writing. We tossed a few ideas around, playing the letter game (writing a story through letters, each of us in the voices of specific characters) for a while before we found an idea that actually clicked. And that idea, apparently, was giant metal dragons.

FC: I was surprised to learn that you wrote by one person writing a few pages and then handing it off to the other since I thought you probably each wrote two of the four main characters’ storylines. It seems as though each narrator maintains his own personality without feeling like there is a change in voice at all. How did you start this writing process? Did you try any other methods of collaboration before settling on this way of writing together?

Dani: We decided on the characters beforehand, but what we really wanted to do was make sure both of us had a solid handle on all four protagonists. While we had characters that each of us associated with specifically in the beginning, we talked about them and their dynamics and relationships enough so that we’d both feel comfortable writing all four of them. We didn’t ever want to feel as though we were out of character writing our own characters, and we also saw it as a challenge to make the writing style flow smoothly—so that people would have to say they didn’t know where one of us started writing and the other stopped. We also did a lot of editing as we went along, so that we found one specific voice—or rather, four specific voices—that could be consistent throughout the book.

Jaida: We did try the letter game beforehand, which was more of a ‘I write this character, you write that one’ style, but we just didn’t like the way it came out; it was too disjointed. That was probably a subconscious deciding factor in why we ended up tackling the book the way we did, like a written version of hot potato, just tossing the manuscript back and forth and keeping it flowing as quickly as possible. It forced us to be spontaneous, to think on our feet, and in the end—while it did make it a really hard story to edit—it’s what got us from start to finish. We were just so excited the entire time, and writing the book was a learning experience about what was actually going to happen in the book.

FC: Is there anything you can tell us about the next book you will be releasing? Is it going to be set in the same world as Havemercy, Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul or will it take place in a different setting? Do you have a planned number of books that will be in the series or any plans to write books outside of it?

Jaida: After a lot of back-and-forth—we’re awful with titles, and it usually takes us about as long to think up a finished, working title as it does to write the actual book—we’ve all decided on ‘Steelhands’ as the title of book four.

Dani: Obviously, if you’ve read the ending of Havemercy, the title itself is a pretty big spoiler!

Jaida: The book is another direct sequel to Havemercy, but it tells a different story than Dragon Soul does, and it gets back to our Thremedon roots.

Dani: There are a lot more stories we’d love to be able to tell, especially set in and around Volstov… So hopefully we’ll have the chance to some day! So far, ‘Steelhands’ is our last for-certain deal—so far, anyway!

FC: Until Dragon Soul was written, each of the four narrators had been male. Was there a particular reason for mainly writing from the perspective of men? Why do you always write from four perspectives within one novel?

Jaida: Since our writing is a collaborative effort, we always come at a book from the perspective of pairs—since we’re a pair, ourselves. Four seemed like just the right number to us when we started Havemercy, and we stuck to that number in the subsequent books because it worked so well for us to come to the same story from that many different angles. Havemercy was based on this idea of hazing in the world of firefighters, so that sort of testosterone-driven chauvinistic world was what we decided to build—we had to build it, first, but our hope is to slowly tear it down, as well. We had to set it up before we could blast it apart, which is hopefully what we’ve started to do with Steelhands

FC: Would you prefer to live in Volstov or amongst the Ke-Han? What is it about one culture or the other that appeals to you more?

Dani: We’re both obsessed with Asian cultures, especially Japan, which is part of the melting-pot hodge-podge that went into creating the Ke-Han landscape. We sort of thought of it as that when we were first creating it as a samurai-era Japan that was conquered by Mongolian raiders—and the latter subsumed the former, but also integrated much of its culture at the same time. When we were writing Shadow Magic, I think we realized we’d much rather live there because of all the delicious food we kept describing. It made us, and our then pregnant editor, crave dumplings!

FC: I can’t help it, I have to ask because he’s my favorite character so far: Will we get to see more of Caius?

Jaida: He’s our favorite, too! So we really, really hope so!

FC: Giant metal dragons have destroyed your library. You have time to get only five books from your collection. Which five do you run with before they’re incinerated?

Jaida and Dani: The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami; Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie; The Real Live of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; The Voyage of the Basset, by James C. Christensen, Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foste.

FC: Which character is the most fun to write and why?

Jaida: The craziest characters are always the most enjoyable, so probably Rook and Caius.

Dani: Rook was particularly daunting to pick back up again in Dragon Soul, however; it was surprisingly hard to find his voice again, despite how specific it was. We kept having to ask ourselves, are we cursing too much? Are we not cursing enough? Why are you such an asshole?

Jaida: I think Rook was so much fun because he just says whatever he thinks; there’s no filter, and he can be that insulting, callous, horrible jerk I always wish I was—without fear of repercussion—whenever I’m having a really bad day. Caius, on the other hand, was just nuts, and it was so much fun trying to think of all the things he just wouldn’t think of, himself.

FC: In Jaida’s journal, when discussing her fear of first reviews shortly before Havemercy was released, she wrote, “If you’ve written the perfect book then what’s left to improve upon next time? What’s left to discover about yourself, and your writing?” What do you both feel you’ve discovered about yourselves and your writing between working on your first book and your third?

Dani: We’ve discovered that writing an outline always helps and we should probably do it more often.

Jaida: We’ve also discovered that the longer we take on a manuscript, the less our editor will want us to edit.

Dani: With all three of the sequels to Havemercy, the stories had been in our heads since the moment we finished the first draft—pre-agent, pre-editor, pre-publisher. But they changed a lot since that first inception, when we turned to each other and thought, sequel! I think one of the most important things we learned was how to let our ideas change and adapt and evolve into something totally different from what we expected they would be.

Jaida: We’ve also learned how to edit. Maybe.

Dani: Probably.

Jaida: We hope.

Thank you to both Dani and Jaida for answering some questions! Best of luck with work on Steelhands – I’m looking forward to reading it.

Shadow Magic
by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
464pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.88/5

Shadow Magic is a loose sequel to Havemercy, the debut novel for Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones. In June a third book, Dragon Soul, was released in hardcover. Dragon Soul continues the story of Thom and Rook from Havemercy, and also introduces two new characters.

Even though Shadow Magic takes place after Havemercy, it could work as a stand alone book. It does give away what happens with the conflict between two nations for the previous book though, so those who like to avoid any spoilers at all may want to avoid reading it first. However, I would have had no problem with starting with Shadow Magic and then reading Havemercy – it follows a completely different set of characters and these books are more enjoyable for reading about how developments unfold than what exactly unfolds.

Please note that if you are one of those people who do not want to know any details at all about the end of Havemercy, mentioning them is difficult to avoid when discussing this book so you will not want to read the rest of this review. If you are curious about these books but do not want to read this review, there is a review of Havemercy you can read instead.

The war between Volstov and Xi’an has come to an end. On the seventh hour of the seventh day of observing the loss of the war, the Ke-Han emperor traditionally committed suicide to atone for their national defeat, leaving behind his two sons. Iseul, the older son, must follow in his father’s footsteps by either ceremonially ending his life or assuming the role of Emperor for himself. He chooses the latter, so he and Prince Mamoru prepare to discuss peace with the delegation from Volstov – who arrive sooner than expected on the day of their father’s death.

The Esar of Volstov has sent nine delegates to Xi’an, mainly composed of magicians with a few soldiers thrown in for good measure. The members of the envoy become uneasy when Emperor Iseul declares his more personable brother as guilty of treason, and the prince goes into hiding. As the proceedings continue with very little progress made and they begin to see glimpses of a darker side to Iseul, the Volstovics become increasingly wary of the new emperor.

Like Havemercy, Shadow Magic captured my attention from the very first page and held it throughout with its character narratives. In this novel, there are two narrators from Xi’an, the prince Mamoru and his servant Kouje, and two from Volstov, the delegates Caius and Alcibiades. After only seeing characters from Volstov in Havemercy, the inclusion of two of the Ke-Han with a broader, more sympathetic look at their culture and how they were affected by the war was very welcome. Mamoru and Kouje were perhaps the more easily likable of the four main protagonists with their good intentions and their story’s focus on loyalty and a long-standing friendship.

However, Caius and Alicibiades were the more intriguing with their more humorous voices and propensity to get into trouble. Caius is a magician previously exiled for using his talent to wreak revenge. Alcibiades is a soldier who also has a talent but hates the fact that he has magical ability and does whatever he can to avoid using it. Their observations about each other were quite entertaining – Caius decided that he simply must be friends with Alcibiades, who thought Caius was a pest, and a crazy one at that:

One of his eyes was queerly discolored, and being looked at by him felt like you were having a conversation with two people, and both of them equally insane. [pp. 17-18]

After reading more from the perspective of Caius, it becomes clear just how apt this description is. Because of this, Caius was easily my favorite to read about – he appeared so carefree and easygoing most of the time with his main concerns focusing on fashion, gossip and breaking down the barriers Alcibiades built outside the door between their rooms. Yet he also had this love of danger coupled with the ruthless streak that lead to his infamous exile from Volstov that almost made him eerie.

There are a lot of other similarities to the preceding novel, particularly in its structure. The entire story is told from the first person perspective of four different men, one of which is another gay magician although there is no romantic involvement as in Royston’s part in Havemercy. Two of these perspectives overlap as they spend a lot of time together throughout the novel, and these two paired protagonists only very occasionally actually meet up with the other two. One of these two converging storylines is more serious while the in the other hilarity ensues. Throughout the novel, most of the story is told through character interaction and the observations of the various narrators, but at the end there is a lot of action and it concludes in a rush.

In spite of these parallels, it does not feel at all like a rehash of Havemercy. For one thing, it almost entirely takes place in the Japanese-influenced country of Xi’an instead of Volstov. Now that the war is over, there’s an absence of the metal dragons and the conflict is completely different since it is not Volstov vs. Xi’an. Also, each of the characters is very different from the previous ones. Alicibiades may seem a little similar to Rook since he doesn’t tend to care about social niceties, but he also was not nearly as obnoxious and was more understandable. He didn’t want to just gladly accept the people who almost managed to conquer his nation, and as a soldier in the war he was a lot closer to the situation than most of the delegates.

Although I really enjoyed reading Shadow Magic, I did feel that it had a weak point in the character of Iseul. Iseul seemed to be purely evil with no real motive beyond being born innately villainous, plus his particular brand of evil made him seem rather stupid. He turned against his own brother, a compassionate young man who never gave him any reason to do so. Plus the people of Ke-Han loved Mamoru, who did his best to make sure they were taken care of during the war, and no one who had ever met him was going to believe he was truly guilty of treason. It didn’t even ring true to the delegates from Volstov who spent merely one evening in his presence. He seemed to have no beneficial reason in the long term to act the way he did, although I suppose he had no concept of ideas such as being held in high regard for virtues such as kindness.

Also, I felt that Mamoru and Kouje’s story dragged at times. While I liked both of them and enjoyed reading their tale of loyalty and friendship, I much preferred reading about Caius and Alcibiades, who were so much fun to read about, especially when it concerned each man’s reactions to the other.

Even so, Shadow Magic was very readable with plenty of strengths. Its often humorous narrative told from the perspective of four very different and likable protagonists kept me turning the pages, and I also enjoyed getting to learn more about the Ke-Han. I’ll definitely be reading more by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Other Reviews: