April 2014
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Review: Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan

promise of bloodPromise of Blood is “flintlock fantasy” or, an epic fantasy set in a world with guns as well as magic, roughly equivalent to the 18th century (ish) in our world, a new-to-me genre. In this particular series, Field Marshal Tamas, the leader of the Powder Mages, who gain strength from gunpowder, has just overthrown Manhouch, the king, an exceptionally corrupt individual, and is now working to set up his own government against many who would prefer he not do just that. Some of those are in his inner circle, so Tamas enlists the help of Adamat, a private investigator, to find out exactly what’s going on, and his son Taniel “Two-shot” to protect his fledgling state from power-hungry neighbors.

The book felt to me very similar to those I’ve read about the French Revolution, except with a less redeemable monarchy and nobility. The fact that there are old-fashioned guns involved undoubtedly helped, as it seems to further the prospective era of the fantasy along in my head from the typical medieval-esque settings. The people are unhappy and the people are hungry; in the case, though, Tamas does genuinely want to help them. It made for a nice change and provided a different atmosphere than what I was used to. I’ve never read a book in this particular branch of fantasy before, as I generally start being less interested in history when guns get introduced, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I really liked the magic system. The Powder Mages don’t exist in isolation; there are also the Privileged, who work a different kind of magic entirely, and act in a sort of opposition to the Powder Mages. When first starting the book everything seemed very confusing, but it sorts itself out quickly and by the end of this first volume I felt very familiar with how everything was meant to work and who was who. I’d say it’s a similar learning curve to most books of this sort. If you’re starting a new epic fantasy series, you’re going to have to learn the ropes before you can enjoy the story, and this is one that drops its readers straight into the thick of it.

Undoubtedly this book benefited from the fact that I’ve spent the last few months craving fantasy (just like certain sets of historical fiction now suffer from over-reading). I really, really wanted to read a proper epic fantasy and this certainly started me off in that direction. It’s also fast-paced, with consequences that are wide and political but characters that are very human, aspects of books that I love. Probably its only fault is that virtually all of the characters and central players in it are men. Women are rarely featured in positions of power, with a few exceptions, in the particular society McClellan has created, although the foreign Ka-poel, Taniel’s bodyguard, is an excellent example of how women can subvert that.  I think Ka-poel is the most interesting character in the book, simply because she’s mysterious and completely underrated by most of the other characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing where McClellan takes her.

Aside from that particular gripe, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the world and the magic system and I felt I really got to know the characters. I’m invested in what happens next and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, out next month.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

Mini Reviews: 2nd Half of January 2014

Continuing with my new determination to write at least a little bit about all the books I’ve been reading …

deadshiftedDeadshifted, Cassie Alexander

This is the fourth book in the Edie Spence series. I’ve not reviewed any of these books previously on the blog, but this is a series I’ve been enjoying. Edie is a smart nurse who was thrust into the world of paranormal healthcare to save her brother. By this fourth book, she’s met her current boyfriend after a particular failure and she’s left the hospital where the first couple of books take place. She’s on vacation – a well-deserved cruise with Asher, her boyfriend. But things are never really simple for Edie, and they run into someone that Asher used to know in his previous life as an active, not-quite-conscientious shapeshifter. Although I’ve missed the familiar setting of the hospital, this book really threw Edie in the deep end (literally). She’s had to deal with so much and, although the summary of the already-pre-ordered fifth book spoiled the ending somewhat, I was still shocked. Definitely continuing with these.

we need new namesWe Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo

I wanted to do a full review of this one, but given how seldom I actually get myself to write full reviews, I thought it was better to get my thoughts down as soon as I could. This book was amazing – it forced me to think about so many issues outside my normal day-to-day existence and reminded me forcefully that there is a reason I want to expand my reading horizons. Darling grows up in Robert Mugabe-era Zimbabwe, now desperately poor and starving in a shantytown called Paradise, though previously her family was moderately prosperous. Though her life in Zimbabwe is a challenging one, to say the least, and she and her friends dream of escape, when she actually does manage to leave her home country she has to confront a huge range of new experiences. One of the most striking parts for me was when Darling can’t understand why her employer’s daughter is depressed and has anorexia. She – as someone who has spent much of her childhood starving – simply can’t understand why a pretty, thin white girl would actively starve herself. Their worlds are too different. And some of the passages about leaving home and trying to decide who you are without your home were unbelievably striking. So worth reading.

orange is the new blackOrange is the New Black, Piper Kerman

When Piper graduates from college, she still hasn’t decided what she wants to do with her life. And she craves adventure. So, as she describes in this memoir, she gets involved with the older Nora, a sophisticated woman who clearly has a large amount of cash to throw around, and finds herself involved with the drug trade. She wises up after a short period of time and runs back into the arms of her family, landing a good job, a loving boyfriend, and a life she thinks is secure. But it isn’t, and ten years after her crime, Piper finds herself in Danbury, a women’s prison.

Her journey through the prison system was fascinating reading, although I suspect it was easier for her than the other women in a number of ways. She freely acknowledges that her shorter tenure and her frequent visitors were huge factors in helping her cope, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of prison. By far the most shocking part was towards the end, when Piper enters the program meant to prepare inmates for the real world again. Instead of useful advice, like how to rent an apartment or find a job with a criminal offense against your name, the inmates are advised on topics like what to wear; they weren’t even advised on how to use the internet when some of them had never encountered it or a computer in their lives. It’s fairly obvious why some of them simply fall back into the drug trade, which is disastrous. I learned a lot I didn’t know and am glad I read this – I’ve never seen the TV show, so can’t comment on how it compares there.

the iron witchThe Iron Witch, Karen Mahoney

This book demonstrated, quite vividly, that some YA just isn’t for me. In this particular book, Donna is a teenager who was scarred during her youth in an attack which also cost her her parents. Her father was killed defending her and her mother has been mentally unstable ever since, sometimes unable to recognize Donna. She’s raised by her aunt, but has spent her entire life being considered a freak due to the iron scars that twine their way up her arms. Now the wood elves who ruined her life so thoroughly when she was a child have returned, and only she, her best friend Navin, and the mysterious half-fey Xan have a shot at saving themselves.

My attitude towards this book was decidedly “meh”. It’s even complete with a love triangle. I actually kept expecting Xan – the mysteriously sexy object of Donna’s insta-love, as opposed to her nice guy best friend – to turn out to be evil, simply because it all seemed ridiculous to me, but instead all the gooey eyes and instant connection were actually sincere. I was disappointed, similar to how I felt about Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Won’t be reading the rest of the books.

I purchased all of these books.

Mini Reviews: 2014 So Far

So far I’ve managed to read 6 books in 2014, greatly aided by the fact that I was off work until the 6th (how I wish I could have another break just like that one now …). I really want to at least record a few thoughts for what I’m reading this year and draw a line under most of last year’s reads, except for a couple of review books, so here goes.

ironskinIronskin, Tina Connolly

This is a fantastical re-telling of Jane Eyre, one of my favourite books, and while I wanted to read it, I put it off for a little while because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the fact that it is blatantly the same story. I’ve avoided a lot of joke re-tellings and sequels to classics because I love the originals too much to want those worlds changed. But this – this is a serious effort at creating something that pays homage to a classic but doesn’t take away from the original. I needn’t have worried. Connolly’s story can stand on its own two feet. While it’s clear that the basic story is the same, and many of the characters’ personalities match, Connolly’s magic usage, and the very real symbolism of the iron skin / iron mask Jane wears, adds something else to the story. I really liked the fantasy element and the way that the iron’s usage develops and I’m intrigued particularly to see where Connolly goes next in the sequel, now that she no longer has Charlotte Bronte’s brilliance to guide her.

demon angelDemon Angel, Meljean Brook

As I mentioned in my Long-Awaited Reads post, I’ve had this book for ages and had no real reason for *not* reading it. I didn’t love the only other book I read by Meljean Brook, so I think I was worried I wouldn’t like it. I’m pleased to say that I finally did get to it and I even liked it. A lot.

I wasn’t really that enthused by it at the beginning. The book takes us throughout centuries of history, in which the two characters get to know each other and we learn more about the background of the world, but once the story got to modern-day California everything changed. We moved into the permanent part of the story rather than the bit that felt like background. I think the book definitely suffers from first-book-in-a-series syndrome; there is almost too much world-building and not enough characters at the start. By the time the story kicks off, though, I began to actually feel for these two characters and the way they felt about each other. It’s longer than a typical paranormal romance (or any romance for that matter) but after that slightly rough start, I never felt like it was too long. Instead I felt anxious for Hugh and Lilith because I so badly wanted them to be together but wasn’t quite sure how it would happen.

I am definitely going to continue with this series.

clean sweepClean Sweep, Ilona Andrews

I think I’m destined to love literally everything by this husband-wife writing team. This little novel was no exception at all. I didn’t read Clean Sweep in free installments, as it was initially promoted on the website. I decided to wait until it was all available as an ebook, because I’m essentially impatient and didn’t mind paying the small amount for the privilege of reading convenience. I was immediately drawn to Dina the Innkeeper’s story and the bizarre way that Andrews set up the world. It’s short, so it’s easy to read quickly, and it’s a great example of the writing style these two produce. They’re also fantastic at building relationships between characters – and characterization in general I suppose – even within the confines of a short novel. Highly recommended, as usual, and I’m looking forward to further installments.

the countess conspiracyThe Countess Conspiracy, Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan knows how to pull *all* the heartstrings. In this, her latest novel in the Brothers Sinister series, Violet, Countess of Cambury, is a female scientist in a nineteenth-century England without female scientists. But, rather than keep her work quiet, she enlists her long-time best friend Sebastian Malheur as scientist. He becomes her public face. But after years of living a lie, he can’t take it any more – and slowly, gradually, neither can she.

I love romances where the main characters have known each other for ages. I don’t know why, they just work really well for me. This worked really well, too. I don’t think I loved it as hard as I loved some of her earlier romances, maybe because it’s not as different as the others, but I got really wrapped up in this story and I adored Sebastian and Violet. The main characters from the other books in the series appear, too, a little bonus for those of us who have read them all. Courtney Milan will continue to be an auto-buy author for me.

I’ve read a couple of other books this year - Life after Life by Kate Atkinson and Edward III and the Triumph of England by Richard Barber – but I’d like to try and actually give them full reviews. We’ll see how that goes!

Has your 2014 started well on the reading front?

Review: River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay

river of starsGuy Gavriel Kay has been one of my very favorite fantasy authors for years. When I first started reading his books, they seemed to fly under the radar for most other fantasy fans, and a new book by him was always a treasure. They’re never very heavy on the fantasy, but usually have a huge amount of historical influence with just a touch of mysticism. I really love this mix, because the historical backgrounds are immensely appealing to me while Kay’s ventures into fantasy allow him to create stories that resonate and have meaning. Though River of Stars is one such book, it won’t sit amongst my favorites of his works.

Set hundreds of years after Under HeavenRiver of Stars is based loosely on the period of wars that separated the Northern Song dynasty from the Southern (thank you Wikipedia as this period was completely new to me). We follow two main characters through the outcome of the wars; Lin Shan, a female poet who stands out against her contemporaries, and Ren Daiyan, a general who rises to greatness.

This book is truly a book about myth-making and how ordinary people who commit a few great deeds, or who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they think is best, pass into legend. There is a story, of course, and it’s a good one, but Kay’s writing is incredibly introspective and he spends a considerable amount of time examining what’s happened to events in their retelling. This is so extensive that the ending of the book itself isn’t concrete, letting readers make what they choose of the myths (or not). The downside of this is that he frequently foreshadows, blatantly, what’s going to happen next – the text is so self-referential that there isn’t space for surprises or suspense.

Kay’s writing is always beautiful but in this far more than any of his other books I noticed how very slow it is. Characters spend small eternities thinking and considering what has happened to them and what they might choose to do next – how their seemingly small decisions can have major impacts. It takes a very long time for the two protagonists to meet, even longer for what seems inevitable to actually occur. It’s been a long while since I read The Lions of al-Rassan or Tigana but I definitely don’t remember feeling bogged down in the same way. Every word is well-placed, but I never felt called back to this book.

Would I still recommend River of Stars? Probably. It’s a beautifully written book, very evocative of this period in China despite its slight separation as a fantasy, and very thoughtful. It’s just worth preparing for it to be a slower read.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

Review: Huntress, Malinda Lo

huntressI originally bought Huntress for A More Diverse Universe before I decided not to blog in November. I also didn’t manage to read it in November. But I loved Ash and I still wanted to support the initiative, even a full month late, so I recently picked it up and found myself devouring it in just a couple of days.

Set centuries before Ash but in the same world, two girls and a prince are tasked with making a journey to the Fairy Queen, across deadly lands with no maps, to find out why the kingdom exists in a permanent state of gray. The girls are students:  Kaede, the Chancellor’s daughter who rejects her life as a proper lady, political marriage and all, and Taisin, a gifted future sage whose dreams are true visions. With them go the heir to the kingdom and three guards to the first summons to the Fay in a generation.

This book opens with a vision; Taisin sees an element of the future, but she doesn’t understand it or how she will get there. As the book unfolds, the mystery of that vision unwinds, and it’s only towards the end of the book that she, and we, understand exactly what she saw and how she needs to use it to ensure that she and those she love survive.

In Huntress, women (and girls) take on all the primary roles; Kaede and Taisin are the main characters, who go to visit a Fairy Queen, while their enemy similarly turns out to be a woman. As in Ash, the love story is between women, in a world where all love is freely accepted (although it seems political marriages still need to be between men and women in order to produce children). The change is perspective is not radical, it’s just enough to subvert expectations slightly and produces a much richer book for it.

The core of the story is an adventure into unknown lands, where mysterious perils await and some of the small band may not survive. As with all such stories, this makes it easier for us to get involved in the world as we discover new elements of the universe right along with the characters. And two diverse main characters make it easier; Taisin is destined to be a nun, or so she thinks, and acts accordingly, while Kaede wants nothing more than to live an unconventional life. Yet these two very different girls bond truly, through shared experiences and deep emotion, and their journey is one that is worth following and loving.

A quick and engaging read, Huntress is definitely recommended for other fantasy readers.

I purchased this book. All external book links are affiliate links.

Review: Cobweb Bride, Vera Nazarian

cobweb brideIn all four corners of the world, people are about to die. Every moment, someone’s struggle comes to an end. But suddenly, death stops. No one can die, even those with mortal wounds. All of the citizens in the Kingdom of Lethe are perplexed and terrified. Battles rage on, assassinations fail spectacularly, and the elderly continue suffering past their time. Then Death himself arrives and asks for his Cobweb Bride. Only once his bride is found will death resume and the kingdom return to normal. But with no sign of the Cobweb Bride and no hints on where to find her, how will the citizens restore normality to their lives?

Cobweb Bride is a crowd-funded phenomenon by the award-winning author Vera Nazarian. This, plus the concept of the story, had me immediately sold, and I was very eager to read this book.

This book feels unlike anything I’ve read that’s been traditionally published at the moment. It reminded me most of books that I used to read as a child, when fantasy was paramount. The descriptions are incredibly evocative and the world described, though derived from medieval Europe, feels different and special. I could picture the thin, sickly Infanta and the rosy group of girls headed off to find out if one of them was the Cobweb Bride. I could feel the cold seeping into the bones of those who should have died. I could see the royal court and the forests. For someone who isn’t a visual reader, I found this remarkable and really well done.

I also loved the concept. Nazarian doesn’t stop at the end of death for humans; animals and plants can’t die, either. This means that even food supplies are threatened, and by the middle of the book people have to rely on food that’s already dead. She envisions what happens in a body that continues working even after all the elements that make us alive have gone. It’s eerie but really thought through. And some of the conflicts that arise within the story are solely based on this, because supposedly dead people are still alive. The relations between an assassin and the person he would have successfully killed were my favorite part of the book.

Where the book falls down a bit is the way the plot is laid out. It’s a very good story, don’t get me wrong, but the beginning seems to last for a long time. Nazarian very carefully sets the scene for the rest of the book, but as a result it feels like it takes a while to get going. We’ve realized that death has stopped coming after the first two stories, so there is no further surprise factor, it’s just setting up the different storylines to interact in the rest of the book. Once those four storylines are set, I felt the book sped up considerably and I remained spellbound by the story.

Cobweb Bride ends with a lot left open, as it’s the first in a trilogy. I for one will definitely be looking forward to the next, Cobweb Empire, which is released next week on September 25th! Recommended to those who really enjoy fantasy.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

Review: The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

the golem and the djinniChava, a golem only a few days old, is stranded on a boat to New York City in the early twentieth century with no idea who she is, how to live, or where to go. Ahmad is a djinn trapped in a bottle for centuries, unleashed accidentally by a Syrian metalsmith. These two unlikely friends meet and immediately understand what it is to be different from everyone around them. But as those differences force them apart, will they find their way back to one another?

The Golem and the Djinni is a book that I’ve seen all over the Internet in the last few months. It’s received so many positive reviews that I thought it was well worth reading, not to mention the fact that its blurb compared it to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a book that I adored. The decision was a good one as I greatly enjoyed this tale of turn of the century New York and its two unusual occupants. The book was certainly heavy on the fantasy, but it worked within the story.

One of the aspects of the book that I found very interesting was the way that the two fantasy characters got adopted into different nationalities. Both of them are effectively christened by and welcomed into the Jewish and the Syrian communities in New York, appropriately in both cases. I know life in the city was difficult for immigrants at the time, with so many seeking the American dream and failing to find that the streets were paved in gold. Instead, many of them found prejudice and further poverty. But I love stories about it anyway, particularly the way that immigrants sought familiarity and made their own little communities, and I enjoyed the way these two were still further distanced even from those immigrants. They are a world unto themselves, even while many of their experiences are echoed by others.

The fantasy aspects themselves are well integrated within the novel; I didn’t think the world felt too inconsistent. Both Chava and Ahmad belong distinctly to Old World mythology. They are creatures which have long been consigned to tales, but which truly existed in their own parts of the world. As such, when people close to them realize what they are, they often understand the nature of their beings but have a difficult time imagining that they’re real. They delve into old books and legends to find out the truth, which of course adds just another layer to the book’s appeal.

And, of course, there is the relationship between Chava and Ahmad. It took some time for them to meet, and their initial interactions are tentative, but the way they work together makes sense, even if they aren’t technically human. It was easy for me to relate to both characters and I was very invested in the outcomes of their lives.

I really enjoyed this read – I would definitely recommend The Golem and the Djinni to those who enjoy a mix of fantasy and historical fiction.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

Review: Daughter of the Sword, Steve Bein

daughter of the swordI could sum up this review with just four words: this book was awesome.

Daughter of the Sword is about a group of swords created by master Japanese craftsman Inazuma. In the present day, only three swords are known, and Mariko Oshiro, the only female detective in the Tokyo Police Department, is about to become acquainted with one. Constantly fighting for her place in the department already, Mariko faces fierce sexism in her determination to prove herself. Instead of a case which is easily solved, she’s sent all the way across town to help an older man, Professor Yamada, in a seemingly inconsequential case. Twined in with her story are those of other sword owners, set in a variety of historic versions of Japan, as we learn more about the swords’ unique personalities and their context throughout history.

This book combined so many fantastic elements to create a beautifully cohesive whole that was simply a pleasure to read. I loved each and every story as we followed the swords throughout history. I’m not all that familiar with Japanese history, but I love the feel of these and I relished in the unfamiliar. I liked getting back to Mariko, but I also felt like each of the smaller stories was surprisingly fleshed out for a relatively short book. They added so much context and history which could have otherwise been lost in big city Tokyo – it’s a clever construction that adds layers of Japanese culture onto a modern day bustling city and police department.

Contrasted with these beautiful bits of history, the yakuza, or Japanese mafia, comes to light through the character of the villain, a man who has and is seduced by one sword but is determined to have two. I’d never even heard of the yakuza before, but having poked around on the internet, it appears to be a real thing, an institutionalized part of Japanese culture. He’s not exactly a pure villain, though; how many villains go and visit their fathers in the hospital in the course of a story?

And then there is Mariko herself, who is a wonderful main character, so determined and stubborn and ambitious. The sexism that she comes up against is so frustrating that I wanted to scream against her superiors myself. She is Japanese, but because she grew up in the United States instead of in Japan, she is determined to fight against the trend and make a name for herself, paving the way for other female detectives in Tokyo, while the establishment is firmly against her. This not only helps this American reader cheer her on, but gives those who are not Japanese an easy way in to start trying to come to grips with a culture that is mostly unfamiliar to us.

The fantasy touches in this book are very very light, mainly around the personalities of the swords and the way they influence their owners. I thought the focus on swords was fantastic, but I have a strange fascination with swords anyway, so your opinion of this may vary. But I love books that take a single element and use them to tie everything together, and in this case, all was beautifully done.

Very highly recommended! I can’t wait for the release of book 2 in December.

All external book links are affiliate links. I purchased this book.

Review: Greywalker, Kat Richardson

greywalkerI’ll admit that I am not the world’s pickiest reader. I adore urban fantasy and I am often very willing to overlook faults in one of these books if one of the elements in the book – the world, character development, general plot, etc – stands up to me as worth reading. I have series in the genre that I adore, like the October Daye and Kate Daniel series, and I have some that I generally keep reading because they’re amusing and quick and keep my mind busy. I never know what to expect when I start a new series, and I’d heard some great reviews of Kat Richardson’s books.

Unfortunately, I completely failed to connect with Greywalker. I just couldn’t become invested or interested in the plot. It seemed like the heroine spent the entire book just talking to people. She’d go to the office, talk to people on the phone, go investigate in the evenings, talk to more people, and so on. It’s a shame because it starts out fantastic. She actually dies for two minutes after being attacked and, when she wakes up, discovers that she can suddenly “see” a whole other dimension of the world which is called the Grey, hence the title of the book. Unfortunately her discovery of the Grey mostly leads to her spending a lot of time talking about it, and when she does experience it, it’s mostly confusing and then needs to be explained. I still don’t really feel like I have a handle on what exactly she can do there or even what it is, probably because she spends most of the book denying that she has this new ability.

There are aspects of it that I should have liked. The setting is a good one. It feels very much like the book was set in the early 90′s. All of the characters have pagers, for one thing, which just seemed odd to me, as I’m mostly too young to have experienced the actual use of pagers in every day life. The book is set in Seattle and has a very rainy, very appropriately grey vibe pervading it. Harper also seems older than a standard urban fantasy heroine, experienced in her job and to a degree set in her ways.

But as a character, she didn’t appeal to me very much. Despite the drastic beginning of the story, she didn’t change very much, and I couldn’t understand why the main love interest was actually attracted to her, especially after a few of the events in the story took place. Not that I liked him much, either; all of the characters felt peculiarly shallow and I didn’t really care what happened to them. Harper is meant to be special, but I couldn’t really figure out why she in particular was special or what purpose she actually served that another person who could see the Grey couldn’t. Maybe my brain was just working too slowly while I was reading, but the details of the story just never fleshed out and became clear.

At this point I’m not sure I want to read the rest of the series. I’ll definitely get it out of the library if I do. Has anyone else continued reading and found it worth persevering?

I purchased this book.

Review: Elisha Barber, E. C. Ambrose

elisha barberElisha Barber lives in a fourteenth century England with witches and mages, unlike our own world, and war, poverty, and suffering, very much like it. He does all he can with his two hands, both acting as a barber, cutting and shaving men and women alike, and as a surgeon, plying the medical trade to save lives. But when he fails to save the life of his brother’s child, or indeed his brother himself, due to a feud that he initiated, Elisha can hardly live with his sins, and his capture by the king’s men is almost a mercy. Sent to practice his trade on wounded battlefield soldiers, Elisha learns to practice his true gift in the face of opposition thrown at him from every possible angle.

This book starts off rocky. It’s hard to explain why; I think it just took a little while for the book to find its purpose and its actual story. The first few chapters are almost like a prologue, an explanation as to why Elisha gets where he’s going, and as such don’t really feel like they fit the story as well as they might. Once I’d persevered past that point, though, I could see why it was chosen to go first, because the rest of the story can’t happen without it. It’s worth continuing, in any case, if you do find yourself somewhat stuck there, as what comes after is a lot better than the beginning.

Mainly, this is because we see Elisha in his element, and start to actually learn more about the world that he lives in. His skills as a medical practitioner start to come through, and we can admire the fact that he’s saving men’s lives and fighting in the face of “modern” medicine. Of course, some medieval medicine did more harm than good, while some actually was perfectly sufficient, and Elisha experiences both kinds, although more of the former than the latter.

In terms of characterization, Elisha is the only character that we actually come to know particularly well; the book is experienced exclusively through his perspective, although it’s narrated in third person. Everyone else seems to be the mirrors through which he discovers himself and what he can actually do. Most of the characters are either good or bad, aside from a couple whose intervention changes his life at various times. A lot of the characters are somewhat stereotypical peasants with hearts of gold, while the truly “bad” characters are nobility. But there is enough variation amongst the nobility to avoid falling into any traps, and in any case, Elisha is the star of the show, with the book a bit too short for us to get to know anyone else particularly well.

Finally, the magic system. Mages in this book have a few skills; they can talk to one another through various mediums and they can transform similar objects into other objects. They also seem able to feel other people’s emotions by attuning themselves to the environment and other people, but I felt like that particular skill wasn’t as well defined. There are other abilities too, but they were also not as clearly defined, leaving me to wonder what else the author might come up with!

In all, Elisha Barber was a very solid, ultimately enjoyable read – a great choice for someone who enjoys reading about medieval England and fantasy rolled up into one. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for the next in the series.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.