Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

Category: Fantasy Page 2 of 14

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Returning to Discworld for this review, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, it’s Discworld, so it’s going to make me laugh and probably think as well. On the other hand, Interesting Times is part of the Rincewind sub-series, which is by far my least favourite. So the question was more how it stacked up against the other Rincewind books, rather than would I enjoy it.

A strange message arrives in Ankh Morpork, originating in the insular and secretive Agatean Empire of the Counterweight Continent. In the note, a plea is made for the Great Wizzard to travel to the Agatean Empire is made, to save the country from a terrible fate. So of course, the Unseen University send Rincewind, the only idiot to misspell it like that. And so the least magical wizard on the Disc finds himself running away from power-hungry warlords waiting for the current Emperor to die, and a polite if incompetent revolutionary group who believe that he can lead them to successful political change.
So I can say for certain that Interesting Times is by far the best of the Rincewind books so far. This is mainly due to two factors. The first is the conflict that Rincewind finds himself inserted into this time. An obvious fantasy analogue to the Chinese Revolution, minus the child emperor that they had in the real world, there’s a nice black vs grey morality going on. Because while Lord Hong and the other warlords are obviously evil and perpetuating a broken system, the Red Army who aim to be rid of them aren’t necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a section that I really loved, where the Red Army have an opportunity to assassinate the Emperor and Rincewind is dead set against it, because of course it’s a trap. When he argues that there’s a high chance that they’ll die, there’s a revolutionary who retorts that the cause is bigger than their lives or the lives of their countrymen. And it really stuck with me, because of course Rincewind is horrified and can’t understand why you’d value a cause above people’s lives. Considering the times that we live in, where there are whole countries who are divided along ideological lines, I feel like this should be an attitude that is taken to heart more often.
The second factor is Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a group of barbarians who are firmly in old age. They were absolutely hysterical every time they appeared, especially considering that they were apparently trying to learn how to be civilised in their old age. They were the exact counterpart needed to balance out Rincewind’s cowardice and made up for the Luggage not being as big a part.

A pleasant surprise considering how much my enjoyment of the Discworld books has always been tempered whenever Rincewind was involved. But with Interesting Times, I think Pratchett finally got all the elements together to make Rincewind’s adventures actually work. The conflict at the Agatean Empire is more nuanced than expected, and the Silver Horde are a fantastic way to invite chaos into everyone’s nicely planned coups. 4.5/5

Next review: The Automation by B. L. A. & G. B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

After a brief rest with K-ON! I was ready for something a bit darker. Enter my next TBRindr book, Never Die, which promised to be both grimdark and part of a cool looking Asian-inspired world. A bit of a mood whiplash, but I really liked the sound of it.

Never Die follows Ein, a small boy who is on a mission from a god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. Alone, he has no chance of reaching the Emperor, let alone killing him, so he decides to recruit legendary heroes that he read about growing up. The only problem is that to recruit them to his cause, they need to die first.
There’s a lot that I liked about Never Die, so I’ll start with that. The main strength of the book is the characters, in particular the heroes recruited to Ein’s cause. There’s Whispering Blade, a swordswoman of few words and a strict code of honour, wielding two blades but only ever drawing one of them. The second to join is the Emerald Wind, a selfish and cowardly bandit who can teleport and leave copies of himself behind. Iron Gut Chen is a braggart only concerned with glory and a good meal, his skin impervious to damage. And the Master of Sun Valley is an honourable Wushu master, unbeaten in battle but rarely venturing outside of the confines of his valley home. Tagging along is Death’s Echo, a mysterious assassin who is convinced that Ein has the power to cure his leprosy. It’s a good mix of characters, with a nice balance of honourable and selfish characters. Their varied battle styles are fun to watch interact, which is a good thing considering the regularity of the battles that occur.
The plot is pretty damn strong, managing to be both action-packed and yet filled with subtle details that end up being more important than initially expected. There was one aspect of the plot that didn’t quite work for me though, and that was the ending. While it was very subtly signposted in the narrative, the ending kind of left a bittersweet taste for me, because while it made sense from a plot point-of-view, it made a lot of the character interactions feel a bit futile and sad. Not enough to invalidate the high quality of what went before, but enough that it marred what could have been a higher score.

A really strong story with an interesting world that I would like to see explored further. The characters and their growing camaraderie is the best part of the story by far though. The only thing that bothered me was an ending that felt a bit too bleak for my tastes. I would definitely look into Hayes’ other works, should the chance arise. 4.5/5

Next review: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Night Huntress by Mak Long

So Night Huntress is a bit of a departure for me, as it’s the first book that I have received direct from the publisher since starting on TBRindr. Intrigued, I took a look at the publisher’s WordPress to see what they specialised in. I wasn’t expecting fantasy and science-fiction erotica, that’s for sure. It was a niche that I wasn’t aware was filled much outside of fan-fiction, especially when the focus was queer relationships. Colour me interested.

Night Huntress follows a talented airship pilot, Ailrun, whose ambitions to pilot a vessel of her own are stymied by her place of birth, despite living and working within the Free Cities almost her entire life. Persuaded to take on a contraband run, she soon discovers that there are some unusual aspects to this particular run. First is the highly advanced engine that powers the boat she’ll be piloting. Second is Fia, an escaped Asura slave, bred specifically to maintain these kinds of engine. On their run, a faction from the Free City of Pollenza and an elven warrior-queen both aim to bring Fia and the engine under their influence.
As this is an erotica book, the first that I’ve reviewed on this blog, I feel that I should start with that. I was really expecting more of a build-up to the sex scenes, but then along comes chapter 2 and there’s a woman wrist-deep in someone else’s vagina. To say that it was a shock may be a mild understatement. I think the issue is mostly due to my previous experience of sex scenes, which was through romance novels. In that genre, the build-up is paramount, so sex doesn’t tend to show up until at least the half-way point. Evidently not so here. After the initial shock though, I found myself appreciating the sex scenes more than I would in a romance book. In romance, it’s almost always an affirmation of a couple’s love and can’t just be a thing by itself. In Night Huntress, there are a multitude of reasons to have sex, from just being in the right mood, to a religious ceremony, to sealing a diplomatic treaty. And there isn’t much of the toxic possessiveness that you see so often in romance. Here the characters change partners frequently and the number of participants change from scene to scene, which makes for a refreshing change. I guess that it’s nice to see characters who aren’t insecure about their partner’s affections and to see sex that isn’t inextricably bound with romantic love by necessity.
As for the plot, it’s a decent set-up for what looks to be an unexpectedly political series. There’s intrigue set up about the ancient technology that is so coveted, but as yet unmatched. The treatment of the elves is unusual, as they’re seen to be little more than savages by most of the human Free Cities. And while there isn’t much concrete said about either human or elven societies in this regard, there is a definite matriarchal trend from what has been shown thus far. I’d definitely like to see more of this world, so if another book is announced in this world then I would be more than happy to pick it up.

The plot is an interesting introduction to a political and backstabbing world. I’d love to see more of the weird magical engines and find out more about them. The sex is well-written and varied, although there is less build-up than I was expecting. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

As if the continued adventures of Harry Dresden weren’t grim enough for me, my next book was The Blighted City, a dark fantasy novel dealing with a legendary city of the undead. Since it’s been a little while since I’ve read a proper dark fantasy, so I was definitely looking forward to it.

The Blighted City follows three mercenaries, Oriken, Jalis and Dagra, who are given a job to retrieve a burial jewel from Lachyla, a city known only in stories. Supposedly the city’s king angered the goddess of Life and Death, who cursed the city with a blight that converted the citizens into the undead. Dagra, who is a great believer in the gods, is dead-set against going, convinced that they’ll be cursed if they set foot in Lachyla. But his friends convince him to go, against his better judgement, and they soon find that there may be more to the stories than they first assumed.
It took me a while to really sink my teeth into The Blighted City. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t until the narrative had really entered Lachyla that it picked up for me. While there’s a lot about the story that I liked, primarily some interesting worldbuilding around the city of Lachyla, I found some of the pacing to be a bit off. Like I said, the stuff in the city was great, but the sections covering the journeys to and from there could possibly have benefited from being less detailed. While the travelling covered some nice character interaction between the members of the mercenary party, the narrative spent long enough on the outward journey that it started feeling repetitive and claustrophobic, and then the journey back perhaps wrapped things up in more detail than I am accustomed.
With regards to the city itself, it looks into an interesting variation on how the undead work in this world, especially the origins of said undead. It’s certainly a world that I would be interested in returning to and see how Lachyla has changed.

The Blighted City is a cool variation on your standard fantasy undead lore, and a fun adventure while the characters are in the city of Lachyla itself. I personally found the build-up and wrap-up were a bit over-long and over-detailed, but that might not bother you so much. 3.5/5

Next review: Night Huntress by Mak Long

Signing off,
Nisa.

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

It’s been a long while since I read a Dresden Files book, and I was quite looking forward to it. While I’ve been really enjoying the stuff that I’ve gotten from TBRindr, it’ll be nice to get to a book that I’ve chosen for myself that I actually finish now.

Proven Guilty starts with Harry attending an execution as part of his duties as a Warden of the White Council, a situation that disgusts him whilst still being the necessary course of action. Whilst in attendance, he is given two tasks by members of the Council. First, by his former master Ebenezer McCoy, he is asked to look into why the Sidhe aren’t reacting to Red Court vampires trespassing in their territory during raids on the White Council. Second, by the mysterious Gatekeeper, who gives him a general hint to look out for black magic. Whilst looking into these, he is dragged into looking after his friend Michael’s daughter, Molly, while she is at a horror movie convention and perhaps persuading her and her mother to make up after a series of blazing, teenage-rebellion-fuelled rows. But Molly may have some link to the black magic, as a series of magical attacks start befalling the convention attendees.
As you can probably tell by the time it took to finish Proven Guilty, this one was a bit of a slow start for me. This is most probably not entirely down to the book, but also down to the time since my last foray into the Dresden Files. It took me a little while to get back into that mindset and remember what factions are in play, who is feuding with who, and how many of them want Harry’s guts for garters. At the eighth entry, the Dresden Files is a fairly complex series which, judging by some of the conclusions reached at the end of Proven Guilty, is only going to get more complicated. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a lot to take on initially. By the end I was absolutely devouring it, so it’s certainly not a huge impediment.
So there are two big changes, both to previously established characters. First of all, and most prominently, is Molly, the daughter of my least favourite character Michael Carpenter. Whereas in previous entries she was an adorably precocious and cheeky pre-teen, she’s almost grown up now. And boy did she hit the teenage rebellion button like it had personally offended her. She’s now pierced and tattooed in places her parents would rather she hadn’t discovered, with hair dyed in shades of cotton candy, having also dropped out of school and hanging around with the wrong crowd. It’s an entertaining shift to say the least, and not entirely surprising given the oh-so-holy nature of the family before now. It was, however, the second change in character that caught me more off-guard and I was really pleasantly surprised. Charity, Michael’s wife, had up to this point been more of an annoyance than anything, providing little more than unprovoked aggression towards Harry for little things like breathing and existing. Well, turns out that she had a reason and goddamn if it doesn’t make you reconsider all her behaviour until now. And she gets a chance to kick ass and take names, nailing it with far more aplomb than I could have expected.

After seven entries, there is a lot to remind yourself of when you start Proven Guilty, but it shouldn’t be a big issue. The stars of this entry into the series are Molly and Charity, who outshine Michael by absolute leagues. And the hint of something much bigger in the background is intriguing. 4.5/5

Next review: The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

At the moment I seem to have hit a bit of a low point with the books I’ve chosen for myself, so it was with a fair bit of relief that I returned to a TBRindr pick. The fact that the blurb for Sorcerous Rivalry was promising both mage battles and some LGBT romance was all the prompting I needed, even without the colossal misstep that was Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

It’s a dangerous world for a mage in Sorcerous Rivalry. In the years after a Great Mage Hunt, the King’s long-time mistress and the seven children that she birthed are discovered to be powerful mages. Reshi, the youngest of those children, has managed to hide well enough that the kingdom still has no information on him. But when a Mage Hunter turns up in his small village asking inconvenient questions, Reshi finds himself running to ally himself with his scattered siblings. But while some of his siblings will agree to ally themselves with him, others are more interested in a familial battle royale.
I had a pretty good feeling that I would enjoy this, but I hadn’t expected to be quite as engrossed as I ended up being. Let’s start with the characters since they are probably the strongest aspect of the book. There’s the narrator, Reshi, a shapeshifter who just wants to be able to drink and dance the night away. He’s the kind of charming rogue that I can’t help but love, especially when he’s as damn flirtatious as he is. Then there’s the other main male lead, Kestrel, the mage hunter who scares Reshi from his chosen village of hiding. Kestrel, in contrast to our narrator, is stoic and serious, as dangerous as he is alluring. And of course, both of them have a whole bunch of trauma that they have to work through. As it so happens, this is exactly the kind of romantic pairing that ticks every box that I have. So as soon as the chemistry started to kick in, I was a goner really. The six siblings are all very well written as well, with most of them falling into some category of terrifying, but I won’t go into their pros and cons because that will lead to some major spoiler stuff.
The world looks to be pretty interesting too. While it doesn’t go super into details, there are some cool variations on standard fantasy tropes. For example, Reshi establishes pretty early on that his magical energy doesn’t replenish upon resting as you would expect it would. Instead, he must recharge by siphoning off energy from sleeping people, weighing up the risk of drawing attention by draining too much energy versus not draining enough and risk not being able to shapeshift. There are other details like that that get sprinkled throughout the narrative, which is a nice way to gradually learn about the worldbuilding.

I could never resist the romantic combination of incorrigible flirt and super stoic, so Sorcerous Rivalry was always going to win me over with the main characters. The rest of the cast is equally engaging and the world is enough of a variation from the standard fantasy setting to be interesting whilst still being reasonably familiar. I absolutely love this book and will definitely be looking at the sequel at some stage. 5/5

Next review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

Battle Spire by Michael R. Miller

I’ll admit that I was rather looking forward to Battle Spire, given that the blurb was seriously reminding me of Sword Art Online, an anime series that my partner and I have always thoroughly enjoyed watching together. So a book that looked to be a mix of Sword Art Online and Die Hard was definitely going to catch my interest, especially if I could then recommend it to my partner, who is a lot more particular about their reading tastes than I am.

Battle Spire follows a college student, Jack Kross, who is logging back into a VRMMO after a year’s abstinence from gaming. Aiming to legitimise his hobby by making money as a gold farmer, he picks the Scavenger class, which is really not intended to be used in combat, but will increase the number of interesting and expensive things that he can sell to other players and NPCs. Unfortunately for him, just as he’s finished the starter quest he finds that a group of hostile players have taken over the server and prevented anyone logging out. To make matters worse, if he’s killed in-game the VR headset will either give him severe brain damage or kill him. Faced with the prospect of either slowly dehydrating and eventually suffering organ failure in his hotel room or being killed by hostile players, Jack finds himself teaming up with the game’s AI to try and take down the players holding the server hostage.
The comparison to Die Hard was a particularly apt one, considering that it’s one person trapped in a tower taking out opponents through traps and subterfuge. And it was a thoroughly enjoyable read because of it. Given that he is a very low level, he can’t engage in any direct combat, so he has to come up with a lot of out-of-the-box, game-breaking strategies to beat all of the high-level players pitted against him. I think the primary strength that makes all of the game-breaking stuff work is the depth with which the game world is described. Everything comes into play, from character stats to how the server deals with NPC respawn rate to NPC behaviours, and that level of detail really pays off. I will say that the level of detail was, at least at first, kind of disconcerting. The thing that comes to mind is when Jack is first creating his character. At this point, he has already explained to the reader what character and class he will be rolling up, so I thought that the character creation process would be more or less glossed over. Instead, all the different options that the game made available at each stage are detailed for the reader to look over, and damn if they don’t genuinely sound like something you’d get in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. There was a part of me that worried that this might get a bit overbearing, because that level of detail is present throughout the book, as it appears with every level-up and change of weapon. I personally found that it helped with immersion, but I could possibly see people who were hoping for something a bit lighter on background flavour.
In terms of characters, the main two that the reader gets are pretty good. There’s Jack, also known as Zoran, a hardcore gamer who loves the rush that he gets from an MMO, but isn’t sure that it’s healthy for him in the long run. He kind of starts out as the kind of player that I avoid in MMOs, but has a decent character arc that addresses those sorts of issues. Then there’s the game’s controlling AI, dubbed Ellie by Jack for lack of a better name. She’s probably the more interesting of the two, alternating between emotionless robot, concerned server mum and shifty, untrustworthy frenemy. I loved the interaction between the two of them, and how both keep surprising each other.

I was a bit predisposed to like Battle Spire, since it promised a lot of things that I loved about Sword Art Online. While the stakes don’t necessarily feel as high in Battle Spire, I was still thoroughly gripped and entertained by the story. The game world that has been created is interesting and definitely somewhere that I would like to see explored further. The features that define it as a video game are used really cleverly, much more than I’d expected. And lastly, the characters are solid and reasonably likeable. Overall, a thoroughly entertaining read. 4.5/5

Next review: Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

Signing off,
Nisa.

Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

I return again to TBRindr, this time with Under Ordshaw. With a cardsharp as a main character in some kind of intriguing fantasy city, its blurb was definitely ticking a lot of boxes for me. And I’ve had some pretty good books come out of TBRindr, so I was liking my odds.

For Pax Kuranes, her night could have gone better. After winning a sizeable sum of cash from an underground poker game, she has it all stolen after a strange Roma boy approaches her at a bar. When she tries to get her money back from him, she finds a coded book of horrors and a strange intricate device that makes her of great interest to several incredibly dangerous parties. Where she was once struggling to make her rent, she’s now struggling to stay alive.
So my Under Ordshaw review took a little longer to get to than I had originally thought it would. Christmas and New Year were busier than I had expected and I didn’t get around to reading as much as I ordinarily would. As such, while a long reading time can sometimes indicate that I’m not getting on with a book, I can say with certainty that this is not the case in this instance. While I do have a couple of issues with Under Ordshaw, I did thoroughly enjoy myself.
There are two areas that I want to talk about, the first of which will be worldbuilding. There’s a lot that I like about it, mostly the stuff to do with the Sunken City and the Fae. There’s not a huge deal that’s been revealed in great detail, but the horrifying descriptions and the main cast’s lack of power in comparison makes it feel really eerie and threatening. Additionally, I liked that one of the agencies involved, the Ministry of Environmental Energy, actually feels like a typical UK civil/public service where every attempt to make changes is blocked by red tape and a cutthroat working culture. Having worked in an environment like that, I can well sympathise with Casaria’s impotent rage at his superiors. The only thing that bugged me, and this is a very minor point, is that there seem to be a lot of weird names for seemingly regular people in modern Britain. Pax, Rufaizu and Apothel are all names of human characters in Under Ordshaw, while Letty is a Fae. If anything, I’d have gone the other way around. Like I said, not a huge point, but it bugged me every time I saw them, especially Rufaizu.
Second, I’ll talk characters. I find myself in two minds about the characters. On the one hand, the majority of the characters are really well-written and interesting. My particular favourites are Letty, a Fae who makes up for her tiny size with enough rage for a bear fresh out of hibernation and enough firepower to back up her angry threats, and Casaria, a cowboy Ministry agent with delusions of grandeur who is convinced that he and Pax are the only ones who understand the darkness enough to police it. The only one that I can’t really get my head around is Pax, which is a bit of an issue. The thing that I don’t get is why she gets involved. Her POV sections state multiple times that she does what she needs to to survive, and that she doesn’t go and get herself involved in other people’s troubles. But then she keeps going and doing the exact thing that she supposedly never does, often out of concern for people that she doesn’t know. She asks after Rufaizu and charges herself with his safety, having spoken to him for maybe a couple of minutes. She saves Letty because she’s small and cute, and Pax would feel bad at her dying. She gets involved in someone else’s daughter’s safety because she’s a civilian who stumbled into this whole mess by accident. If she was really such a hardass with no interest in getting involved in other people’s problems, then she would have taken her money at the first chance and skipped town. Like I get needing to get her involved in the plot, but the characterisation doesn’t quite sit right with me.

A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy book, Under Ordshaw provides a great introduction to what looks to be a really interesting world. The characterisation of the main character Pax could do with a bit of reworking, but otherwise the cast is engaging and well-written. The main star of the show though has to be the glimpses that the reader gets of the Sunken City, a series of tunnels beneath the city filled with beasts straight out of Lovecraft’s nightmares. 4/5

Next review: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Signing off,
Nisa.

Banebringer by Carol A. Park

Returning to TBRindr, I settled on Banebringer, the first in what looked like a fairly grimdark series, with some cool magic and monsters. I’ve been on a bit of a roll with my grim books, so I was quite looking forward to this one.

In the world of the Heretic Gods, the eponymous Banebringers are reviled as worshippers of heretical gods and summoners of the predatory monsters known as Bloodbane. Vaughn, an unwilling Banebringer of noble birth, is trying to have a low key life but finds himself hunted by his own father, obsessed with maintaining the reputation and influence of their family name. Not able to bring himself to kill his father, he appeals to the assassin Sweetblade, hoping that she might be able to do what he can’t. Sweetblade has her own reasons for wanting Vaughn’s father dead, but the risk of angering the power of the Conclave that he works for, and her own instant dislike of Vaughn might see the Banebringer sharing the same fate as his father.
There is a lot to like about Banebringer, but the two things that I’m going to focus on for this review are the magic system and the main characters. Magic in this world is primarily a Banebringer trait, which is activated by using up aether in their blood. Depending what kind of Banebringer the character is, this then activates their particular special powers, which range from invisibility to ice powers. And if a Banebringer is killed, it rips a hole in reality and summons a horrifying monster called a Bloodbane. So far so good. The thing that I really love about the magic system though, is that it develops as the plot goes along. A lot of fantasy series would probably look at that magic system and decide that it’s good enough as is, but because a large chunk of the novel involves other Banebringers who are actively researching into how and why their powers work, the magic system continues to grow more complex and layered. I’d continue the series just to find out how far it can go.
The other thing that I particularly liked was the relationship between Vaughn and the assassin Sweetblade, revealed to be a woman called Ivana. The fact that they clash is hardly surprising, considering that Ivana is aloof and has a particular hatred of being propositioned, while Vaughn is an incurable flirt content to never settle for one woman. And of course, opposites attract, that I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was the depth of feeling and consideration that each of them get over their separate character arcs, and certainly not the direction that it took in the end. And rather than feel cheated that my expectations weren’t met, I’m eager to find out how their relationship progresses as the series continues because it still felt really natural and well-explored.
The only thing that I will say is that the rest of the world can feel a bit vague at times, with names of regions mentioned in passing, only to not be revisited, or certain racial traits skimmed over. Like I’m pretty sure that Ivana is meant to be black, but only because she briefly compares her appearance to someone else, and even then that’s only a few chapters from the end of the book.

There’s a lot going on in Banebringer, and a lot of questions that have been set up for later books. It’s definitely worth a look for fantasy fans looking for something a bit darker, as well as those who want an in-depth, evolving magic system. The relationship between the two main characters is engaging, their “opposites attract” dynamic written with depth, maturity, and with a bit of a twist. The rest of the worldbuilding can seem a bit woolly at times, but it’s rarely much of a distraction. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 3 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Woven Ring by M. D. Presley

I now return to TBRindr with a review of The Woven Ring. In the same vein as my last indie fantasy title, this promised a kind of fantasy that was somewhat rare, in this case a fantasy take on the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods. I’ll admit that while I was interested to see some more fantasy that diverged from the norm a bit, I was a bit wary about the particular period of history chosen. You see, while I’m not that knowledgeable about the American Civil War considering that I’m British and all, I’ve learnt enough to know that it’s still a touchy subject and there was a part of me that was rather wary about how it would be translated into a fantasy world.

The Woven Ring follows Marta, a former spy in the civil war that tore the country of Newfield apart and left her an exile from her home. Charged with transporting the daughter of widely-hated inventor into the east of Newfield by her manipulative brother, Marta finds herself torn. Part of her orders state not to kill the inventor, but she finds herself unwilling to consider that possibility due to his role in the civil war. Complicating the issue is the daughter herself, an unresponsive mute who has succumbed to combat fatigue and will only act upon Marta’s strict orders, and a series of pursuers that may include agents of the devil herself.
I really shouldn’t have worried myself, because The Woven Ring is fantastically written and manages to avoid the main issue that I was worried about regarding the civil war setting. Thankfully, the civil war isn’t to do with slavery in this world, so there isn’t a tortured race metaphor that the reader has to deal with. Instead, the setting combines the early industrial, post-war feel of the Reconstruction era with a really well fleshed out religion/magic system. I say religion/magic, as the two are very closely intertwined, and I’m not at a point where I can clearly define it as one or the other. It’s a fascinating and intricate, and would take me all day to properly explain what I know currently, seeing as the narrative presents a few unexpected twists about it at the end that I hope will be explored in much greater detail.
The plot has two main strands, which can be broadly called the present and the past. The present strand focuses on the above blurb, with a traumatised and intensely bitter Marta on her transportation mission. The past strand focuses on Marta growing up in a family of spies in the years leading up to the civil war, and during the civil war as the situation only gets more and more dire. It alternated between the two, a technique that I have seen used incredibly poorly in the past. Here, it worked out because the two plot strands were equally interesting and each chapter has enough in it that you’re not necessarily left hanging for too long.
The characters are similarly well-written. First there is Marta, a bitter and battle-hardened woman trying to regain her family’s approval. She was both unnerving and incredibly refreshing as a protagonist, as I don’t think I’ve had a main POV as bleak as this since Best Served Cold. I loved her as a protagonist, but I can see her being a bit much for someone who prefers their main characters to be a bit friendlier. Second, there’s Caddie, the mute girl that Marta is transporting across the country to return to her father. She’s apparently been traumatised by something in the past, but by what is unknown and there may be much more to her than initially meets the eye. And lastly, there are Luca and Isabelle, two mercenaries who join Marta to help her reach her destination in the east. While Luca is chatty and obviously shifty, Isabelle is mute and seems about as sick of Luca’s shit as Marta is. For me, they weren’t as interesting to follow, but they do provide some nice contrast to Marta and allow her to have some interactions with someone who isn’t a child in a stupor.

The Woven Ring is a fantastic novel with a lot of intricacy and depth. The characters are well-written, if a bit on the bleak side, although that’s to be expected in a Grimdark fantasy book. The main draw for me though is the world-building, unusually enough for me, but the level of effort that has gone into it and into making the world feel like a living thing is obvious and very much appreciated. I will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel at some point. 5/5

Next review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Signing off,
Nisa.

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