It’s hard to believe 2013 is halfway over! While I haven’t read quite as many books as I’d like, there are a few stand out titles that I want to discuss, especially since I’m behind on reviews and haven’t talked about how much I enjoyed many of these books here yet.

Favorite Books Published in 2013

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Not including reprint editions of older books, the second book in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy is easily my favorite book of 2013. Range of Ghosts was excellent with a fascinating setting, well-developed characters, and beautiful prose. I loved Shattered Pillars just as much, perhaps even more than the first book, and I think Eternal Sky may very well end up being my favorite of Elizabeth Bear’s series once it is complete.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

River of Stars, set approximately 400 years after Under Heaven, is a sweeping fantasy based on China’s Song Dynasty. It follows the lives of some very compelling characters, and it’s also beautifully reflective with an emphasis on war, the power of words, the difference one person can make, and the growth of legends. It left an impression on me even after turning the final page and setting it aside.

Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

I loved Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy, including the recently released conclusion Cold Steel. It’s one of those series with characters that I don’t ever want to stop reading about, but alas, it’s ended now and I’m going to miss Cat, Bee, Vai, and Rory.

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds, will certainly not be my last by her! I’m currently reviewing this and still sorting out what I think of it, but basically I had a great time reading it. It’s tragic but without becoming mired in hopelessness, and I loved the characters and exploring the planet of Cygnus Beta along with them. It also has the type of slowly building, not-overly-angsty romance I enjoy.

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

I was pretty excited to read this after hearing Nalo Hopkinson’s praises sung over at DarkCargo and I ended up enjoying it very much. The main protagonist, Makeda, was born into a legendary family, but her twin sister inherited all the magic. I loved the fantasy aspects of this story, plus I enjoyed reading about Makeda’s struggles. She’s a very sympathetic protagonist who cares for her sister but also feels left out since she doesn’t have her gifts or fit in with the rest of the family.

Favorite Books Published Before 2013

A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

Freda Warrington is quickly becoming one of my very favorite authors, and A Taste of Blood Wine is my favorite book I’ve read this year. This is a reprint of the first book in the Blood Wine Sequence, a vampire series originally published in the 1990s. I loved the slightly-post World War I setting, the characters, the drama, the mythology, the writing, the obsessive can’t-put-it-down reading experience that was much like the obsession between Charlotte and Karl—I loved everything about this book!

The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

The Seven Realms series is one of the best young adult fantasy series I have read (of course, I say this having not quite finished it yet since I am saving book 4 for a time when I just desperately need a good book). The Gray Wolf Throne is the third book, following The Demon King and The Exiled Queen. Cinda Williams Chima is a masterful storyteller with a knack for creating tension. Even when I suspect I know what is going to happen, I cannot wait to see it all play out. Also, I adore both main characters, the princess heir Raisa and the charismatic thief Han. Reading The Gray Wolf Throne made me extremely happy.

Author I Need To Read More By

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard On a Red Station Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

In the course of reading the Hugo nominees for short stories and novellas, I read two science fiction stories by Aliette de Bodard: the short story “Immersion” and the novella “On a Red Station, Drifting.” Both are set in the same universe and both are very enjoyable with an intriguing setting and a focus on characterization. The biggest thing I took away from my Hugo reading is that I really should pick up a copy of Servant of the Underworld sometime— and anything else Aliette de Bodard writes in the future.

What are your favorite books read in 2013 so far? Have you discovered any new-to-you, must-read authors?

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Oh happy week! It’s a short work week, and the first book on this list of books received this week is one that seems like a good long weekend read to me. I’m glad my husband managed to save it from the rain!

For reviews, I’m working on a review of The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (a great book!) now that the Zenn Scarlett review is up. I will probably write about some of my favorite books I’ve read during the first half of this year as well.

On to the books!

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards #3) by Scott Lynch

There was much rejoicing about reading this one since I loved the first two books! I’m planning to start reading it as soon as I finish the book I’m reading now.

The Republic of Thieves, which follows The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, will be released in hardcover/ebook in October. Excerpts from the first two books in the series and a preview from the upcoming third book can be found on the author’s website.

The plot description below does contain SPOILERS for the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies.

 

 

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke’s body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him – or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmagi’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

The Executioner's Heart by George Mann

The Executioner’s Heart (Newbury & Hobbes #4) by George Mann

This fourth book in a steampunk mystery series about Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes will be released in hardcover/ebook on July 9. It’s supposed to be a stand alone book, but the previous books are The Affinity Bridge, The Osiris Ritual, and The Immortality Engine. An excerpt from The Executioner’s Heart can be read on tor.com, and some short stories related to the series can be read on the author’s website.

I’ve heard pretty good things about this series, and it sounds like fun!

 

A serial killer is loose on the streets of London, murdering apparently random members of the gentry with violent abandon. The corpses are each found with their chest cavities cracked open and their hearts removed. Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, suspects an occult significance to the crimes and brings Newbury and Veronica in to investigate.

Fiendish Schemes by K. W. Jeter

Fiendish Schemes by K. W. Jeter

This stand alone sequel to Infernal Devices will be released in hardcover/trade paperback/ebook in October.

 

In 1986 K. W. Jeter coined the term “steampunk,” applying it to his first Victorian-era science fiction alternate-history adventure. At last he has returned with Fiendish Schemes, a tale of George Dower, son of the inventor of Infernal Devices, who has been in new self-imposed exile…accumulating debts.

The world Dower left when he went into hiding was significantly simpler than the new, steam-powered Victorian London, a mad whirl of civilization filled with gadgets and gears in the least expected places. After accepting congratulations for his late father’s grandest invention—a walking, steam-powered lighthouse—Dower is enticed by the prospect of financial gain into a web of intrigue with ominously mysterious players who have nefarious plans of which he can only guess.

If he can locate and make his father’s Vox Universalis work as it was intended, his future, he is promised, is assured. But his efforts are confounded by the strange Vicar Stonebrake, who promises him aid, but is more interested in converting sentient whales to Christianity—and making money—than in helping George. Drugged, arrested, and interrogated by men, women, and the steam-powered Prime Minister, Dower is trapped in a maelstrom of secrets, corruption, and schemes that threaten to drown him in the chaos of this mad new world.

Before the Fall by Francis Knight

Before the Fall (Rojan Dizon #2) by Francis Knight

Before the Fall is the sequel to Knight’s debut, Fade to Black, which was just released earlier this year. It will be released in trade paperback/ebook on June 18. The third book in the trilogy, Last to Rise, is scheduled for release in November. An excerpt from Before the Fall can be read on the publisher’s website.

An excerpt from Fade to Black is also available on the publisher’s website, and my review of this book is here.

 

MAHALA IS A CITY OF CONTRASTS: LIGHT AND DARK. HOPE AND DESPAIR.
Rojan Dizon just wants to keep his head down. But his worst nightmare is around the corner.

With the destruction of their power source, his city is in crisis: riots are breaking out, mages are being murdered, and the city is divided. But Rojan’s hunt for the killers will make him responsible for all-out anarchy. Either that, or an all-out war.

And there’s nothing Rojan hates more than being responsible.

The fantastic follow-up to FADE TO BLACK!

Blood of the Lamb by Sam Cabot

Blood of the Lamb: A Novel of Secrets by Sam Cabot (Carlos Dews and S. J. Rozan)

Blood of the Lamb will be released in hardcover/ebook/audiobook on August 6. A short excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

 

The Historian meets The Da Vinci Code in this exhilarating supernatural thriller set in Rome. Rival groups are searching for a document that holds a secret that could shatter the Catholic Church.

While in Rome, American Jesuit priest Thomas Kelly is called upon to reclaim a centuries-old document stolen from the Vatican. An enigmatic letter leads him to the work of a 19th century poet, where Thomas discovers cryptic messages that might lead to the missing manuscript. His search is unexpectedly entwined with that of Italian art historian Livia Pietro, who tells him that destructive forces are threatening to expose the document’s contents. As they’re relentlessly chased through the heart of Rome by mysterious men who quickly demonstrate they would cross any line to obtain the document for themselves, it becomes clear to Livia and Thomas that the pages hold a deep, devastating, long-buried truth. Livia, though, has a secret of her own: she and her People are vampires. But all this pales in light of the Secret that Thomas and Livia discover together—a revelation more stunning than either could have imagined.

Sam Cabot is a pseudonym for:

S.J. Rozan is the author of many critically acclaimed novels and short stories which have won crime fiction’s greatest honors, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Macavity, and Nero awards. Born and raised in the Bronx, Rozan now lives in lower Manhattan.

Carlos Dews is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at John Cabot University where he directs the Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation. He lives in Rome, Italy.

Zenn Scarlett is Christian Schoon’s first novel and the first book in a new young adult science fiction series. It does end on a cliffhanger, and I’m not sure when the sequel will be released.

Seventeen-year-old Zenn Scarlett lives on a cloister with her uncle where she is training to become an exoveterinarian. The cloister once flourished, but it is now struggling. While it was once full of aspiring exovets, the number of students has tapered off since the Martian Rift with Earth and Zenn is the only student. Earning money to keep the cloister running is tough since this lack of students limits their earnings to caring for animals, plus the Rift has made it difficult to replace rundown equipment since it’s shut down trade between Earth and Mars. Trade with other planets has become more difficult since the Indras, large creatures that power the starships, have begun disappearing. Furthermore, the townspeople living near the cloister fear the alien animals, and they think both the land and resources that are getting scarcer the longer the Rift continues could be put to better use than helping these animals. As the time nears for the town council to vote on whether or not they will allow the cloister’s lease to continue, Zenn’s uncle is warned that there’s a good chance they will not vote in his favor this time.

Learning about the potential fate of the cloister and its animals adds more stress to Zenn’s life. She’s worried about her father, who left the planet and has not been heard from in awhile. She’s also struggling to keep up with both her studies and her duties as a caretaker for the animals, and she has to pass a series of three tests that will determine if she is able to move on to the next level of her training. Recently, Zenn has also begun to experience a strange feeling when caring for an animal, in which she seems to suddenly be in the animal’s mind and able to feel his or her pain. Her first test goes horribly wrong because this happens to her while caring for one of the animals, but when Zenn tries to confide in her uncle about these mysterious occurrences, he just says she’s stressed by her various concerns and imagining this bond because she’s lonely. However, Zenn knows this is too real to be a figment of her imagination, and if it keeps distracting her, the results could be disastrous. Can she remain focused on her studies and pass the next two tests—and even if she does, will there even be a cloister full of animals remaining so she can continue her training?

The premise of Zenn Scarlett sounded amazing—a science fiction book about a veterinarian to alien animals. This appealed to me since it made me nostalgic for the books I read as a child about young people and their animals, plus I wanted to be a vet myself growing up. It is a fascinating idea for a science fiction book; however, I thought Zenn Scarlett was not executed very well. It seemed more like the book existed to introduce Zenn’s situation and set events in motion for the next book than to tell a story that stands well on its own. Furthermore, most of the characters did not have a lot of depth and many of them acted nonsensically. While there were a couple of gripping scenes later in the book and Zenn herself had some wonderful qualities, the positive aspects were not enough to make me glad I read this book instead of one of the many others available.

Earlier portions of Zenn Scarlett set up some potential storylines, but it does not progress very quickly and contains quite a few infodumps. It introduces the characters, the Rift between Earth and Mars, the townspeople’s fear of the animals, and Zenn’s mysterious and jarring ability to connect with the animals. Mainly, it follows Zenn as she takes her first test and performs her duties taking care of animals. The section before the first chapter about the disappearance of Zenn’s mother is one of a few disparate parts that obviously seems important, but the very end of the book is where the different parts start coming together and taking shape. In general, the pace of the story picks up more toward the end, but the book is also rather hastily concluded. I was quite surprised to see I had so few pages left when a major event happened toward the end that couldn’t possibly be wrapped up in a satisfying way in the number of pages left (and it did not end in a satisfying place).

This did remind me a lot of the books about children and animals I read when I was younger, even though many of the animals in this book were not from Earth. It featured a main character whose life revolved around the animals, plus there were the ignorant/evil people who wanted to see the whole operation so important to the main character shut down for good.

It did seem as though nearly everyone besides Zenn and the others on the cloister were portrayed as unenlightened people who feared and hated animals. While this does make some sense since groups of people often do join together in fear of the unfamiliar, I prefer to read about complex characters which this book lacked. Some of the younger townspeople did at least have some curiosity, and Liam, a young man from town who helped out at the cloister, was one of the more complex characters in the book. Some seemed as though they could potentially change their minds, but people in general were rather simply presented. Many of the characters fell very clearly on the line as either “educated and enlightened” or “foolish and prejudiced.” The townspeople disliked the alien animals to the point where they turned down free shelter at the cloister when their homes became uninhabitable due to the failure of their local equipment with the lack of trade with Earth.

In addition to shallow characterization, there was some rather weak dialogue between characters, especially when one of the “bad” guys was involved. He doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he is rotten and his lines are overdone and cheesy. (Admittedly, the other villain is not the same way, but the depiction of the first villain as heavy-handedly evil still stands.) I also found many of the decisions and actions of people within the book rather questionable. After Zenn’s uncle believes her to be distracted and responsible for some mishaps on the farm, he still entrusts her with a task that is VERY important to the fate of the cloister. Some conflicts are also very quickly and neatly resolved with several people very suddenly deciding they were wrong (which I found especially difficult to believe).

The main character, Zenn, was likable with some great qualities. I admired her since she’s willing to work hard to make her dream of becoming an exovet happen. Zenn understands that fulfilling her dream means studying hard and isn’t afraid to dig in and get her hands dirty. She loves her animals, and she does make sacrifices to help them. While I appreciated her determination and work ethic, I did find Zenn to be somewhat numb for someone who is supposed to be very smart. Much of this boils down to the fact that Zenn seems to be utterly fearless to the point of stupidity. Even this probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much, except that she also came up with a theory that she had no evidence for whatsoever at the worst possible time. After being blamed for a few occurrences that went wrong on the cloister due to negligence, Zenn comes to the conclusion that there is no conceivable way she made any of these mistakes—right after she makes one of the very mistakes she now vehemently believes she did not! She does acknowledge the fact that this is a bit strange when it is pointed out to her by the one who noticed her mistake in the first place, but that didn’t change the fact that this was an odd time to become convinced of her innocence.

Despite my issues with it, there were times that Zenn Scarlett was entertaining and even had some intensely exciting scenes, especially closer to the end. I also enjoyed reading about some of the animals, and it did make me wish for a pet like Zenn’s rikkaset Katie, a creature that could both communicate via sign language and disappear from sight by blending with her surroundings. It was also refreshing to read a young adult book that had a budding romance but also kept that relationship fairly low key. Zenn did occasionally think about the boy she was beginning to like, but her every waking thought was not centered around him. She had her own goals, and she spent most of her time pursuing them.

Zenn Scarlett is based on a great concept, but the lack of complexity or subtlety, bland writing and characters, and some awkward and cheesy dialogue kept me from truly enjoying it despite some positive qualities. Zenn herself is an admirable heroine, but she’s also frustrating since her capabilities are counterbalanced by some moments of foolishness. In addition, this book mainly seems to be setting up the next in the series, only to come to an abrupt halt just when the plot threads finally seem to be coming together and the main story seems about to begin.

My Rating: 4/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher after being contacted about reviewing it by the author.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Zenn Scarlett:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

First a quick review update: I’m still working on a review of Zenn Scarlett, and I’m going to revise the review draft as soon as this post goes up so hopefully it will be done soon and ready to go up next week! It’s been a crazy, exhausting work week so I didn’t get as much done on it as I’d hoped. After that, I’ll probably start working on reviewing either The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord or Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear (both were books I enjoyed very much).

This week two books showed up in the mail.

The Best of Connie Willis

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories by Connie Willis

This contains ten short stories, novelettes, and novellas written by Connie Willis that have won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, or both awards. It also has an introduction by Connie Willis, an afterword for each story, and three of the author’s speeches: her 2006 Worldcon Guest of Honor Speech, her Grand Master Acceptance Speech, and her Grand Master Backup Speech. The Best of Connie Willis will be available in hardcover and ebook on July 9. An excerpt from the story “A Letter from the Clearys” can be read on the publisher’s website.

Confession: I have never read anything by Connie Willis, despite the fact that she’s such a well-known, lauded science fiction author. This is an omission from my reading list I need to remedy at some point!

 

Few authors have had careers as successful as that of Connie Willis. Inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and recently awarded the title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Willis is still going strong. Her smart, heartfelt fiction runs the gamut from screwball comedy to profound tragedy, combining dazzling plot twists, cutting-edge science, and unforgettable characters.

From a near future mourning the extinction of dogs to an alternate history in which invading aliens were defeated by none other than Emily Dickinson; from a madcap convention of bumbling quantum physicists in Hollywood to a London whose Underground has become a storehouse of intangible memories both foul and fair—here are the greatest stories of one of the greatest writers working in any genre today.

All ten of the stories gathered here are Hugo or Nebula award winners—some even have the distinction of winning both. With a new Introduction by the author and personal afterwords to each story—plus a special look at three of Willis’s unique public speeches—this is unquestionably the collection of the season, a book that every Connie Willis fan will treasure, and, to those unfamiliar with her work, the perfect introduction to one of the most accomplished and best-loved writers of our time.

Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning

Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning

Star Wars: Crucible will be released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook on July 9. An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

 

Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, and Luke Skywalker return in an all-new Star Wars adventure, which will challenge them in ways they never expected—and forever alter their understanding of life and the Force.

When Han and Leia Solo arrive at Lando Calrissian’s Outer Rim mining operation to help him thwart a hostile takeover, their aim is just to even up the odds and lay down the law. Then monstrous aliens arrive with a message, and mere threats escalate into violent sabotage with mass fatalities. When the dust settles, what began as corporate warfare becomes a battle with much higher stakes—and far deadlier consequences.

Now Han, Leia, and Luke team up once again in a quest to defeat a dangerous adversary bent on galaxy-wide domination. Only this time, the Empire is not the enemy. It is a pair of ruthless geniuses with a lethal ally and a lifelong vendetta against Han Solo. They will stop at nothing to control the lucrative Outer Rim mining trade—and ultimately the entire galactic economy. And when the murderous duo gets the drop on Han, he finds himself outgunned in the fight of his life. To save him, and the galaxy, Luke and Leia must brave a gauntlet of treachery, terrorism, and the untold power of an enigmatic artifact capable of bending space, time, and even the Force itself into an apocalyptic nightmare.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

First a quick review update: I’m still working my way through the to-review pile! I’m currently working on a review of Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon, a young adult science fiction book in which the main character is studying to be a vet on Mars.

This week one book showed up in the mailbox.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne

Hunted (The Iron Druid Chronicles #6) by Kevin Hearne

Hunted will be released in mass market paperback, ebook, and audiobook on June 25. It includes a novella, Two Ravens and One Crow, that is set between books 4 and 5 in the series. The series is supposed to end up with nine books total, and the previous books in the series are as follows:

  1. Hounded
  2. Hexed
  3. Hammered
  4. Tricked
  5. Trapped
 

For a two-thousand-year-old Druid, Atticus O’Sullivan is a pretty fast runner. Good thing, because he’s being chased by not one but two goddesses of the hunt—Artemis and Diana—for messing with one of their own. Dodging their slings and arrows, Atticus, Granuaile, and his wolfhound Oberon are making a mad dash across modern-day Europe to seek help from a friend of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His usual magical option of shifting planes is blocked, so instead of playing hide-and-seek, the game plan is . . . run like hell.

Crashing the pantheon marathon is the Norse god Loki. Killing Atticus is the only loose end he needs to tie up before unleashing Ragnarok—AKA the Apocalypse. Atticus and Granuaile have to outfox the Olympians and contain the god of mischief if they want to go on living—and still have a world to live in.

A Taste of Blood Wine
by Freda Warrington
501pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.86/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.25/5
 

Freda Warrington’s A Taste of Blood Wine, the first book in the Blood Wine Sequence, was first released in the 1990s and was out of print until recently. It was reprinted in the UK earlier this month, and it appears that it will be available in the US in October. The next two books in the series, A Dance in Blood Velvet and The Dark Blood of Poppies, are also being republished. A Dance in Blood Velvet will be available in the UK in October, and the new cover was recently revealed. In addition to the original three books, Freda Warrington is also writing a new fourth book, The Dark Arts of Blood.

The vampire Kristian believes himself to be doing the work of God, giving others the vampiric gift of eternal life and making each “a feather in God’s dark wings” (page 14). One of Kristian’s chosen vampires, Karl, is particularly rebellious and refuses to remain with Kristian and the others. After four years of separation, Kristian finds Karl wandering through a battlefield during World War I and entreats his wayward creation to leave any concerns with humanity behind and return to him; while he could force Karl to come home, Kristian would prefer he do so of his own free will. As he has during this same argument many times before, Karl rejects Kristian’s beliefs in God and the Devil, stating they have no meaning for him. Angered by Karl’s defiance and denial of God, Kristian threatens Karl and one he cares for but eventually leaves Karl to continue his task on the battlefield. As Karl witnesses the pain and suffering of humans and gives the gift of a quick death to some, he contemplates God and the possibility of finding explanations elsewhere:

There is no God here. No revelations to explain any of this, he thought. Science then? What might that tell a vampire, who by the laws of nature should not exist? [pp. 15-16]

After the war is over, Karl becomes acquainted with the scientist George Neville in hopes of learning more about science and how it might explain the supernatural. Most of the Neville family is quickly charmed by Karl, and Dr. Neville soon invites him to join the small research team that works in his home laboratory. However, one person in this group is very unhappy about this situation—Dr. Neville’s daughter Charlotte, who is uncomfortable with strangers and does not want one intruding on her daily work. Charlotte remains reserved and distant toward the newcomer, but Karl is intrigued by her when she forgets herself for a moment and shares both her belief in ghosts and some of her theories on explanations for their existence with him. As Karl learns about Charlotte’s true inner self she tends to hide from the world, he begins to fall in love with her and she with him—but Karl knows that one cursed as he is can never remain with a human like Charlotte, no matter how much the two care for one another.

Freda Warrington is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors. I very much enjoyed all her Aetherial Tales novels, especially Elfland, but A Taste of Blood Wine is my now my favorite of all her books I’ve read and one of my favorite books period. Like Elfland, it has compelling characters and family and relationship drama, but it also manages to avoid the same level of intense melodrama in Elfland, though there are some delightfully dramatic moments. It’s compulsively readable with some beautifully written passages, and even though I’m not usually a big fan of vampire lore, I thought what the author did with the myth and the backstory of some of the vampires was quite interesting. I devoured this book, and had a difficult time putting it down, especially since it contained characters I desperately wanted to read more about. A Taste of Blood Wine is one of those rare treasures I simply cannot imagine my bookshelf without because I can see myself returning to it again and again.

I loved Charlotte’s transformation throughout the course of the novel. At the beginning of the book, Charlotte is barely surviving her aunt’s attempts to bring her into society. While her sisters seem to fit right in at parties, Charlotte is withdrawn, reserved, and quite terrified, and she tries to make herself as invisible as possible. She’s also not particularly happy in general and not in control of her life, which is illustrated by how quickly Charlotte’s family talks her into accepting a marriage proposal from a man she does not love. Charlotte is told she must marry someone, and since she doesn’t want to marry anyone she thinks a marriage that will make her family happy is the best solution. She is living her life for other people, and I saw this story as partially being about Charlotte learning to accept herself and follow her own heart instead of the will of her family (though the results of her choices are bittersweet). I also loved the writing, such as how this passage took what was happening around Charlotte and tied it to her feelings of loneliness and isolation:

 

She was alone. The house was shrouded in rain and she felt eerily isolated, as if on an island with nothing beyond but grey veils of water. She felt like a dream figure, a formless ghost. Only the rain was real. [pp. 93]

In addition to Charlotte, there are many other characters I enjoyed reading about. Her friend Anne, who is engaged to Charlotte’s brother, does not understand why Charlotte would allow others to control her. Anne has confidence and strength, and she will not accept anything less than equal treatment from her own fiance. Her concern for Charlotte was quite touching, and she was one of my favorite characters. Karl is a rather typical character, the basically good-hearted person who struggles with the dark supernatural side of their nature, but I liked him and found his history quite compelling once it was revealed. The other vampires in the story do tend to be darker than Karl, and each of them has their own individual personality. Kristian is shaped by his past as a preacher, clinging to his religious beliefs and the idea that his purpose is to do God’s work. Ilona too is influenced by her past, and I found her own backstory was very illuminating when it came to her present attitudes.

Vampires didn’t follow the traditional myth in every sense. They were able to go outside during the day, and turning someone into a vampire took much more effort than merely drinking their blood. They also had access to a second realm, and I found the revelation toward the end about why that and vampires existed very interesting (though I won’t say what it is so as to not spoil it!). Like Warrington’s Aetherial Tales, A Taste of Blood Wine dealt with immortality, but the idea of being immortal also didn’t seem like wish fulfillment since the disadvantages of immortality were explored. I enjoyed reading some of the conversations that took place, such as one discussion on the coexistence of science with the supernatural. Kristian was opposed to science, seeing it in opposition to his religious beliefs, yet the scientist Dr. Neville explained to Karl his beliefs that God and science could coexist.

There’s a focus on obsession: Karl’s obsession with Charlotte, Charlotte’s obsession with Karl, Kristian’s obsession with Karl, everyone’s obsession with Karl—well, many were quite captivated by the charismatic, beautiful Karl. It’s also largely a love story as Charlotte and Karl desperately want to be together, but A Taste of Blood Wine is a difficult book to describe since it is fantasy-focused, character-focused, and pulls subjects such as science, religion, immortality, love, and war into the story. In short, I loved it and it made me want more of the world, characters, and writing. I was sorry when it ended and my thoughts kept returning to the story long after I put it down. There is nothing more I could ask for from a book that riveted me from the start and pulled me in further the more I read, and I cannot wait for the next installment to be re-released. Freda Warrington is a truly remarkable author, and A Taste of Blood Wine showcases her incredible skill with prose, story, character, and fantasy.

My Rating: 10/10

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

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