The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

“No plan survives contact with the enemy – Helmuth von Molkte” 

As a long-time fan of Joe Abercrombie’s work, I was excited to sink my teeth into this latest installment in his Age of Madness trilogy. Immediately following the cliffhanger of events in A Little Hatred, The Trouble with Peace is an intricately woven, stunning sequel and worthy successor to the first that has no issue matching the first book for pace or plot twists.

The shadow of characters that once dominated The First Law trilogy and appear in A Little Hatred are neatly dealt with in a way that feels natural. The world is moving on and changing, and the people with it. Where A Little Hatred and the newer characters within it wrestled with the large shadows cast by well-loved (or hated) and familiar older faces (King Jezal, Sand dan Glokta, Bayaz), The Trouble with Peace is truly where the new characters are allowed to spread their wings. The novel very firmly puts to rest the idea of the fact that, in a world where revolution and the Great Change is baring its teeth, names and who you are will soon mean very little.

In fact if anything, the higher you are to the top means the further you have to fall – a point that this book makes no small point to emphasise time and again. Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by a scene, Abercrombie managed to shock me all over again a few chapters later. In a way, I should have expected it. The world is a grisly, brutal one with little space for idealism or dashing heroics, a point put across often with wry and often dirty humour.

“Sometimes, to change the world, we must first burn it down.”

Each point of view character chapter is just as compelling, each with their own distinct character arc and setting. Whilst there were some characters which I had a harder time caring for (a personal preference rather than anything to do with the writing), to Abercrombie’s credit, the sprawling myriad of POV characters are tightly crafted and well written as ever. From the far reaches of the North to the Union, each one has their own path that makes you wonder how these pieces are all going to connect in the final book.

My favourite chapters lay somewhere between Vick, Rikke, and Savine’s POV. Since the events of A Little Hatred I was intrigued to see where each of these characters went, and this book didn’t disappoint. Whilst each person is so different from the other, each with their own unique trials, Savine’s arc in this book is particularly savage. The glamorous and shrewd woman’s journey taking some intriguing and heart-wrenching turns that still made sense for the character. I was also pleasantly surprised and shocked by Leo dan Brock and Orso’s arc for very different reasons. Orso as he stumbled to try and do the “right” thing as King, whilst jostling with the idea that maybe there just…isn’t one. Leo for – well – I’ll say that being the shiny poster boy for Angland isn’t all it’s cut out to be.

“Winning teaches you nothing,” said Tunny. “You see what a man really is when he loses.”

Something that I adore about Abercrombie’s work, and was particularly impressed with in this book, is how he writes action scenes. Every swing of the blade or lighting of a fuse had me on tenterhooks, masterfully done where writing about fighting might otherwise come across as dull. Not for Abercrombie, however. The latter quarter of the book is dedicated to a particularly brutally stretched out scene (one of my favourite moments), flitting from one character to another as they connect with each other as though a camera might pan in a film. It’s a gorgeously written set-piece, adrenaline fueled, bloody, emotional, and doesn’t hold back.

Once the dust and smoke and blood has settled, the aftermath of what this book leaves behind is devastating in more ways than one. The landscape and the characters in it have changed, some more dramatically and irrevocably than others, and with one final twist that had me mouthing “no WAY!” at the page, the stage for revolution that Abercrombie’s been building for two entire books is now firmly set.

And I for one cannot wait to see what happens next.

Final verdict:

A stunning successor to A Little Hatred, this new book is packed full of plot twists and witty, gripping prose. Just make sure you’re sitting down when you read it; you’ll need it for when Abercrombie sweeps the rug from under your feet.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E.Harrow

“There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.”

*Thank you to Orbit for sending me this book, in exchange for an honest review!

Alix E.Harrow’s latest novel, The Once and Future Witches, is – to put it simply – utterly spellbinding. Following the stories of three sisters, Bella, Agnes, and James Juniper Eastwood, Harrow ties in witching and the sister’s attempts to reclaim their magic, almost seamlessly with the US women’s suffrage movement of the late 1800s.

It is a book of magic and feminism. The struggles of witches are tangled up with the struggles of women; each aspiring to gain agency and power but conflicted and oftimes separated as to how (as noted in a poignantly powerful scene near the novel’s start). I adored how Harrow mingled the idea of witches – typically identified as “other” and outside the realms of ‘civilised’ society – and aligned it with the women’s rights movement.

Through the eyes of her three main protagonists, Harrow gives her readers a highly nuanced, enthralling exploration of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society, and the distinctions between the women themselves (there’s POC representation in this discussion on women’s suffrage  – an often missed but sorely needed inclusion in more books). There are the usual obstacles for them to overcome: classism, sexism, ignorance, fear, but Harrow cleverly adds another, more supernatural and darker, twist which becomes horrifyingly evident in a gut-wrenching twist the further you read.

“If a woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box”

Each of the three women are so starkly different to the other, filling the ‘maiden, mother, crone’ archetype, each with their own worries and doubts brought up to the surface in a way that makes them wonderfully real. Bella is the academic, hungry for lost knowledge, Agnes is the core, beating heart with strength and sense, whilst Juniper is the wild-child, the feral hothead ready to change the world with nothing but a few spells and determination.

The book is bursting with gorgeous prose, and wonderful character development. As someone with two sisters, I really enjoyed seeing this kind of platonic relationship as the main core of this novel. You watch as Bella, Agnes, and Juniper’s relationship – fractious at the start – merges closer as their quest to find the Lost Ways of Avalon (the source of long-forgotten witching power) gets increasingly more perilous against those who would try to stop them.

As a final note, I really enjoy books that interlink lore with the narrative, and this is a book that hits the nail on the head. There are spells, and fairy stories, and rhymes that make up the backbone of the “magic”, littered throughout the story, which really adds to the magic that drips off the page.

Final verdict:
With October ‘spooky season’ fully at our doorsteps, this new novel is one you won’t want to miss when it’s released on 13th October. A bewitching book, The Once and Future Witches is poignant and gripping in equal measure, with a powerful exploration of feminism rooted firmly at its core. I can’t wait to share this with as many people as possible.

Paladin’s Grace by T.Kingfisher

“Stephen’s god died a little after noon on the longest day of the year. […] It had never occurred to Stephen or any of the others that a god could die. Such things happened in mythology, not in real life”

Paladin’s Grace was a book I stumbled across – much like how Grace encounters Stephen early on in the novel – entirely by chance. I’d been riding on a high of playing a lot of fantasy ttrpg (tabletop rpgs), and wanted the chance to sink my teeth into a new fantasy book to pass the time.

And then, I found this. 


The premise of the book had me intrigued immediately before I even opened the first page, and then the first chapter hooked me entirely. Even for someone as agnostic as I am, I have a deep, abiding love of seeing how faith and pantheons of gods are depicted in fantasy worlds. I’ve seen gods disappearing in fantasy books, their magic ebbing from a broken world (R.S Ford’s A Demon in Silver is a good example of this), or fantasy books with no religion at all. But a god – the “Saint of Steel”, a god of barbarian-like, scarily precise, and holy killing machines – dying? Their followers left to pick up the pieces? This I had to read.

The book is engagingly written, a heady blend of romance, fantasy, intrigue, and mystery, such that I raced through it in less than 48hrs, my eyes practically glued to the page.

It follows Stephen – a paladin without a god, a towering man in chainmail who likes knitting in his spare time – and Grace – a talented perfumer with a wish to disappear from a distasteful past life – as they meet and, slowly, kindle a romance that is very much the heart of the story. Their bashful flirting and burgeoning sexual frustration for one another was an absolute joy to read, although perhaps clouded the ongoing plot (and trust me, there are a lot of subplots flying about) to uncover a potential murder the two find themselves embroiled in.

“Stephen had no idea how you complimented a woman on her ability to imitate someone in the throes of passion without sounding like an unrepentant lecher.”

That being said, whilst I love romance, and whilst this was maturely written with a lot of realistic bumps along the way (the protagonists are in their 30s) it was a little much for my taste, as I was also keenly interested in the other aspects of the book that Kingfisher merely touches on.

And boy, was there so much about this book that I wanted Kingfisher to explore further.

Whilst it plays off recognisable fantasy tropes and archetypes (paladins, priests, a pseudo-medieval town) that is not to say that the world-building is dull. My intrigue away from the main love story, I suppose, is testament to the rich world Kingfisher had created, and something I found myself fascinated with. What were these different sects worshipping different gods, each with different sorts of followers? Who were these other gods? So much history and lore seemed to burst from the page, and I am only sad that they didn’t have time to focus on it for longer. (If another book detailing these things ever were to appear, I would totally read it, just saying).

“Have you seen any of the severed heads that have turned up around the city?”
“Saw one.”
“And?”
“I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the cause of death was decapitation.”

Notably, Kingfisher isn’t afraid to shy away from the deeper, darker aspects of human emotion. Suicide is mentioned, and both Stephen and Grace are individuals who are very much dealing with and recovering from their own emotional baggage and traumatic pasts – which are examined and explored with both tact and empathy. But there is a lightheartedness and humour to this book that adds to this, and the supporting characters help to add to the feeling of creating this real and vivid world. The author does a brilliant job at exploring the city through smells in particular, which effectively conjures and gives an interesting perspective to the world.


As one example, given that Grace is a master perfumer, albeit far less sinister than Patrick Suskind’s Jean-Baptiste in Perfume, there is an amusing segment when she contemplates the possibilities of bottling up human scent to capture the essence of Stephen (such are the depths of her immediate sexual longing over him). It is sections such as this, that add another element of humour and depth to the novel.

The character’s aren’t perfect, but clumsy, flawed, and real – although if you’re prone to intense bouts of second-hand embarrassment from watching characters stumble through social situations, perhaps find yourselves duly warned.

So, if you’re looking for another fantasy book fix during your time inside, filled with romance, and a dash of mystery and intrigue, I would heartily recommend this book.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Luke Arnold’s debut novel The Last Smile in Sunder City – the first installment in the Fetch Phillips Archives – is the type of noir fairy-tale so immersive and vivid, you can almost smell the scent of whiskey (or in this case Milkwood, a sugary drink favoured by our protagonist) smothered on the page. Its heady blend of fairy-tale fantasy characters are mixed with the teeming seedy metropolis that is Sunder City, making for a unique, highly enjoyable blend of genres.

We are introduced to a city whose heart has been bloodily ripped out of its chest; a shambolic, zombified cityscape, shuffling through and struggling to come to terms with the “Coda” (the term for the ruinous period of time the world now finds itself in, where magic has simply stopped working – and a piece of naming lore I really enjoyed).

“So you’re a Man for Hire?”
“That’s right”
“Why don’t you just call yourself a detective?”
“I was worried that might make me sound intelligent”

Because, of course, this is a book that starts at the end. We are thrown into the wake of a magical disaster, and as we fall into this pit of grey, grim despair we find our protagonist, through whose first person perspective we see. A “recluse, recruit, soldier and a criminal”, Fetch Phillips is possessed of the perfect blend of dry humour, gruff likeability, and emotional depth. A perpetual underdog and barely functioning alcoholic trying to make up for the mistakes of his past, Arnold creates a surprisingly emotionally nuanced character, who you want to see do better. Tasked to find a disappeared vampire teacher, we follow Phillips on a journey as he uncovers more and more mysterious, tangled threads, all the while trying to atone for his past as the person who caused this magical catastrophe.

Whilst admittedly cliched in parts, The Last Smile in Sunder City feeds into classic noir tropes with gleeful, reckless abandon, done in such a way that it comes across as enthralling rather than off-putting. Tangled up with this fantasy element, in some ways this novel reminded me of the premise of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us (an RPG where you play as the enigmatic Bigby Wolf in the suburb of Fable – a place for lost fairy tale creatures), but also in a way that is delightfully unique as the opening scene in which we see children of different races watch a film about coping with life after the Coda proves.

“All that was left were the sparks, petrol, and pistons of the Human factories. The Human Army had won the war, but their victory had destroyed the spoils.”

The effects of this magical “castration” is vibrantly evidenced in the people who inhabit this decaying world. Elves are no longer beautiful, but aged, ancient creatures. Vampires are walking skeletons, rendered inert by their inability to feed, and Sirens have lost their voice. Humans are the only ones left untouched – both a blessing and a curse. It is under this hazy, drug and alcohol induced cloud that we follow Fetch, the weight of what he’s done sitting like stones in his shoes and culminating in a thrilling scene where we find out exactly what took place to make the magic disappear and Fetch’s role in the destruction of a city he is now trying to piece back together.

Indeed, there is something to be said for Arnold’s worldbuilding, and the cleverness and poignancy with which he presents to us the beauty and life of the world that had come before, only to shatter it over and over again before our very eyes in the present day. The exposition and stories that intermingle with the plot are pitched as sad, bitterly remembered memories as we delve more and more into Fetch’s backstory, the people he cared for and knew, and find out more of exactly what happened in this ‘Coda’. 

Not only did I wish to find out more of the world and the people that had come before the Coda – of the majesty of elves, and dragons, and angels that are hinted at in the present or are shown in brief flashbacks – but to see what happened as Fetch’s search for his vampire charge led him into deeper, darker waters as mysteries tangle on top of the other. Phillips’ regret is palpable, and as his past relationships – with past friends and mentors and lovers – are brought up, we see just how heavy the burden of responsibility lies.

With a bunch of intriguing characters, rich backstory, and vivid world-building, I for one cannot wait to see what is next in store in the Fetch Phillips Archive. This book is a wonderful addition to those who love gritty, grim novels that pack a surprisingly strong emotional left hook.

[*Thank you for the lovely people at Orbit Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!]

This book is now out in paperback, and can be purchased from all good book shops.

Buy it here.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S Villoso

*[Thank you to the lovely team at Orbit for gifting me this book, in exchange for an honest review]

There is something incredibly refreshing about K.S Villoso’s debut epic fantasy novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the first installment in the brilliantly titled Chronicles of the Bitch Queen. In a market arguably saturated with European faux-medieval epic fantasy books, the setting of this novel – heavily inspired from Villoso growing up in the Philippines – is a vibrant and welcome addition to the genre. From the way in which the language, food, or various cultures are depicted, to the historical lore and stories that pepper their way through the main story, the world of this novel is one that teems with life and character.

It follows Queen Talyien, the Dragonlord of Jin-Sayeng and Wolf of Oren-Yaro, as she goes to meet with her estranged husband Rayyel Ikessar five years after he mysteriously abandoned her the night before their coronation. However, the plans quickly disintegrate and during her visit Talyien finds herself the target of an assassination which almost kills her. Friendless and alone in a strange city, and abandoned by those she once trusted, the story charts her journey to try and find her husband, and moreover uncover the identity of those who tried to kill her.

“They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me”

For an introspective character-driven novel like this, it benefits from having a well-rounded and complex character at its head. Queen Talyien, the “Bitch Queen of Oren-Yaro ” is arrogant, brash, and proud, brought up amongst privilege and the daughter of a fearsome and brutal warlord from the Oren-Yaro clan. But she is also a woman who, for all her titles, is still very much human.

Villoso is careful to depict her protagonist so that we see her strengths and flaws as believable, and so we buy into her as a protagonist. She is anxious, conflicted, and afraid of where she currently finds herself, but she is also brave and stubborn. In fact, Talyien’s emotional introspection about her situation and those she cares for strengthens the character, adding a surprising extra layer of pathos and depth as the novel progresses.

“Wolves ran in packs, and lone wolves didn’t live for very long. However I looked at it, I was on my own.”

Of course, the supporting characters do much to aid the novel, even if some are more believable than others. From people in Talyien’s past, to those who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in her current travels, their connections to the Bitch Queen seem for the most part convincing and real. The character of Khine the penniless good hearted con-man, whilst a welcome breath of fresh air in what can seem to be an inescapably dark narrative, is at times a little too conveniently placed for him to seem convincing. But perhaps that is the point of this novel, that you – along with Talyien – are supposed to question everyone and everything.

Indeed, even in this murky grey world of corruption, murder, and shady moralistic choices, Villoso still manages to deliver up a spine-tinglingly grotesque antagonist, despite only making his appearance in the last third of the book. This character’s description and actions actively made my skin crawl, and so superbly adds to the impending claustrophobic tension that is increased throughout.

The resultant atmosphere is one that makes for a suspenseful and well-paced narrative that teeters on a cliff edge between being an action-packed thriller, and a slower intriguing mystery as Talyien tries to evade capture and figure out just who she can trust. However, mention has to be made of the description of the food – something that I felt particularly stood out about about this novel. Not only did it make me wish I could replicate the food described, it did much to cement the world as real and palpable in my mind (and made for a colourful, flavourful change, separate from your typical fantasy meal fare of meat and some sort of cheese).

“A wolf of Oren-yaro fights to make it right, down to the last breath. A wolf of Oren-yaro does not beg. A wolf of Oren-yaro suffers in silence”

Yet, there’s a lot more going on in this novel that Villoso doesn’t delve into and there are places where the story and the lore becomes a little too saturated by its own richness. There are so many names of clans and peoples, history, stories, and monsters (I particularly liked the lore about the dragons who were said to roam the northern lands but who we hardly see) all bubbling away that made me want to find out more. But seeing as this is the first part in a series, I can only imagine that any loose threads will be picked up and focused on in later books.

In fact, the resultant pay-off towards the end is worth the denser, and sometimes confusing, earlier parts of the novel. The final 100 pages or so are where most of the questions are answered, character’s motives and identities are questioned, and in a world that seems murky and grey, a stark and unnerving revelation comes to the fore that shows you the story is only just beginning.

Taylien continues to fight, and if there’s anything you learn from reading this novel, despite the oppressive turn of events that seep in and try to smother the bitch Queen, is that this particular wolf does not do well in a cage.

A rich and expansive novel, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a brilliant opening book to what promises to be a uniquely epic series, and well worth your time if you’re looking for a vivid change of setting for your next fantasy novel fix.

-:-

To be released on the 6th February 2020 (published by Orbit Books) this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Don’t want to wait? Read a segment of the book here.

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

There have been few books which have pulled me into the story with such giddying force that it meant I stayed up until 1am, speedily reading with tired eyes, to try and finish it. And yet – somehow – Naomi Novik’s Uprooted manages to do just that. (If you’re a fan of her Temeraire series, then you should definitely give this book a read). 

A high fantasy novel, the narrative follows the protagonist Agnieszka, a young woman in the village of Dvernik who is taken by “the Dragon” – a local wizard who takes a girl every ten years, as payment for protecting them from the magical, and extremely dangerous Wood – and their ensuing, ongoing battle against this ever-spreading malign entity.

“All those stories must have ended this same way, with someone tired going home from a field full of death, but no one ever sang this part.”

Right from the start, there is something enthralling about Novik’s work. The world building is rich and dramatic, blending rural folklore and the nightmarish monsters of the Wood seamlessly with magic of the Dragon’s high tower and religion of the large cities. The description of magic styles too is intriguing, and we see how different the Dragon is in comparison with Agnieszka or indeed with other wizards – like the “Falcon” – who appear later in the story.

Indeed, Novik’s characters are brilliantly realised. Agnieszka is a welcome, if unlikely heroine. She is clumsy, messy, stubborn, wilful, and full of heart; a character who you cheer on and empathise with as the narrative progresses. In comparison, the Dragon is irritable, but whip-smart – a perfectly realised grouchy, learned scholar with the face of a young man (even though he’s more than one-hundred years old) and a surprising, albeit begrudgingly bestowed, soft side.

“His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength, and the rasping whisper of scales.”

There is something joyously real and warm about the relationships depicted. Agnieszka’s friendship with Kasia is a wonderful example of the power of loyalty, platonic love, and friendship – and the character is a strong addition to the story in her own right, the epitome of the human, non-magical heart that Agnieszka and the Dragon fight for. Certainly, for all the character’s battle an inhuman, terrifying foe, at its heart Uprooted is packed with raw, human emotion about friendships, family, love, and loss. It is this that grounds the high fantasy tale, and – although I won’t spoil it – makes for a wonderful ending, gripped full of pathos.

However most of all, is Agnieszka’s relationship with the Dragon that I adored, and quietly grinned over as I read (I do love a good slow burn romance). They are two people bourne together through magic and the dangers that seep out of the Wood, their interactions gradually giving way to a burgeoning sexual and romantic tension that weaves itself through the story nicely.

“There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.”

When it comes to the Wood, the antagonist that creeps like a particularly poisonous set of vines beneath the surface of this story, there is something wonderfully sinister about how it affects, and infects, the lives of the people throughout the novel. Novik conjures up horrific images and fairy-tale like horror stories, and there are plenty of action-packed scenes and shocking reveals that keep you constantly alert. The Wood plants seeds and subtly infects everywhere, showing the reader and the character’s that danger and corruption is never really far away.

Uprooted is a darkly enchanting book, gripping and thrilling in equal measure. I promise that if you like your fairy tales dark and high fantasy rich, you won’t want to put it down.

Rating: [5/5] 

Buy it here