Mini-reviews: ‘Words of Radiance’ by Brandon Sanderson and ‘Summer Falls’ by James Goss

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

I only just reviewed The Way of Kings (the first book in this series) last month, and a lot of what I said about that book is true for this one too. Hence the mini-review; I think the blurb will be longer than the new things I have to say. :p

Brandon Sanderson: still a world-building god.

My overall impression of Words of Radiance is that the pace feels a little faster than the first book did, but maybe that’s because I’d already been sucked into the story and the descriptions of the world’s little details didn’t bother me so much. Even the interludes were clearly more directly relevant than they seemed in the first book (though they were relevant then, too; as I said in my last review, Sanderson is the master of literary sleight of hand).

I adore Shallan and Kaladin and ship them super-hard — which is awkward (no spoilers). Both of them experience a fair bit of character growth; Shallan needs to face up to her past, while Kaladin needs to overcome his. I adore them. Dalinar is still all noble and awesome, and my other favourite character is Jasnah, Shallan’s mentor. She is an atheist who defies all of the religiously derived expectations of her as a princess and a woman (the world has some unique cultural expectations of both men and women — only women are allowed to read, for example, making them the clerks, scientists and scholars, while only men can fight). She’s basically the best.

The book has intrigue, attempted assassinations, an interesting magic system, visions, a looming Big Bad, characters you love to hate, characters you kinda hate but feel sorry for, and loads more.

The only tragedy is that this is the first time I’ve started on a Sanderson series that wasn’t already complete. The third book doesn’t come out until November. So I’ll be sitting over here.

Waiting.


In the seaside village of Watchcombe, young Kate is determined to make the most of her last week of summer holiday. But when she discovers a mysterious painting entitled ‘The Lord of Winter’ in a charity shop, it leads her on an adventure she never could have planned. Kate soon realises the old seacape, painted long ago by an eccentric local artist, is actually a puzzle. And with the help of some bizarre new acquaintances – including a museum curator’s magical cat, a miserable neighbour, and a lonely boy – she plans on solving it.

And then, one morning Kate wakes up to a world changed forever. For the Lord of Winter is coming – and Kate has a very important decision to make.

This is a fun little novella that is about the length and complexity of a middle grade book. It is published under the pen name Amelia Williams, which fans of Doctor Who will know is the name companion Amy Pond writes under after she is consigned to the past (and out of the Doctor’s life) in series seven. After finishing the tome Words of Radiance, I was in the mood for something short and light.

Kate is a lot like Amy was — she’s strong, decisive, and doesn’t much like the company of silly people. She befriends a man she names Barnabus, the curator of a museum next door to her house. Barnabus is clearly based on Amy’s Doctor, but he doesn’t take over the story, leaving Kate with the agency to investigate and resolve the plot. The plot itself is fairly traditional Doctor Who fare: an alien masquerading as a supernatural force, clearly inspired by Amy’s experiences with the Doctor. It’s a little bit Lovecraftian without being overt horror, which I quite enjoyed, and is entirely suitable for children.

I love the double-layered fiction in this: that it’s written by a fictional character about another fictional character. Amy’s hand being so clear behind the story shows the talent of the real human that wrote it, James Goss. My only regret is that I accidentally bought the stand-alone novella rather than the collection of three (which has almost the same title).

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‘False Awakening’ release date details

Release date and book blitz

False Awakening, the sequel to my adult urban fantasy Lucid Dreaming, is being released on Saturday 26 August. To celebrate, I am throwing it a birthday party — if you’re a blogger or social media book promo host, you can find out the details and sign up here. There will be excerpts and a giveaway; I’d love it if you could take part.

And if you’re neither of those things, keep an eye out … because giveaway! 😉

Preorder details

The False Awakening ebook is already available for pre-order at a range of retailers; links are below. A paperback will be available, although I don’t have any links for that yet.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia
Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Book details (just in case you’d forgotten)

How can you fight your nightmares when they’re real?

Melaina, half-human dream therapist, just wants her life to return to normal. Yes, her Oneiroi father is in prison and, yes, the place she worked burned down, but she has a cute boyfriend and a new house. She beat the bad guy. She’s earned a break. Right?

Unfortunately for Melaina, people are still getting possessed by nightmare spirits; the police are investigating her past; and the bad guy’s brother, the Morpheus himself, is coming to town to demand answers. When a deranged ex-nurse checks himself out of hospital on the same day her cousin runs away from home, Melaina is dragged into a fight not just for her life but for her soul.

 


Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

Look, you guys! I’m over at Aussie Owned today, talking pacing in stories … and recommending two of my favourite books. ❤

Aussie Writers

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or…

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Review: ‘The Way of Kings’ by Brandon Sanderson

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on the ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by the ancient text named The Way of Kings and troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Brandon Sanderson is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long. That is a lot of 30-minute commutes.

Still, the time commitment is worth it.

I started out a little concerned, because Sanderson does something a little unorthodox in modern fiction and starts you off with not one but two prologues. I felt a little dropped in the deep end, and wanted to get to the main character so I could begin to learn about this new world. But Sanderson came good. And, boy, do we get to know this world. With a book this big, he can immerse you in many of the cultures, let you see how different characters think, let the characters and their decisions and mistakes drive events.

It turns out there are three main characters — which I’d have known if I read the blurb rather than buying the book on faith and diving straight in. (I’ve read/listened to quite a few Sanderson novels now and he’s an autobuy for me.) But we get chapters from other characters too. Honestly, I could have lived without some — though not all — of the interludes, because they didn’t seem that relevant to the main story. However, Sanderson has tricked me before when I’ve thought details were interesting but not relevant. He’s the master of literary sleight of hand.

I enjoyed all three main characters: Shallan is very intelligent and quick of wit but also incredibly naive; Dalinar is a hot older guy (I’m showing my age) who is a true noble, big on honour in a society where war and betrayal are almost tenets of faith; Kaladin is young, determined and a talented warrior and leader, but struggles with depression and bitterness due to some awful betrayals in his past.

Although this is a hugely character-driven story, there is a big bad looming in the background, a force or deity called Odium (which I imagine is like the elemental force Ruin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series: something that seeks the destruction of the world and is resisted by a Preservation equivalent). The more you read, the more you realise how all-pervasive Odium’s influence is over the world of Roshar. I suspect from this first book that the disintegration of the Alethi culture of which Dalinar is a part can be attributed to Odium’s influence.

I’m super-excited to read the rest of the series to find out if I’m right.


Advice, originality and vampires

Today I’m at Aussie Owned, giving advice to my younger self about writing. Check it out!

Aussie Writers

You think I’d know better than to take the last post slot of the month when we’re doing an advice theme. By this point, dear reader, you’ve seen all sorts of excellent “what I wish I knew” advice posts — and my main messages to my younger self would be very similar to those already described:

So I considered my main advice to younger reader me, and decided it would be “one format of books is not better than another — and, BTW, audiobooks are awesome so get onto that”. But I’ve blogged about the audiobook thing here too.

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Review: ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more — she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren, Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible.

I read my first Rainbow Rowell novel last year: Eleanor & Park is exceptionally well written, albeit darker than I was expecting. Maybe I was subconsciously misled by the fact the author’s first name was “Rainbow”? :p

Still, when I heard Rowell had written a novel about a girl obsessed with fan fiction (aka fanfic) about a series of books inspired by Harry Potter, I was definitely keen. Those are two brands of geeky subculture that I’m familiar with; I experimented with fanfic when I was in my 20s (although when I say it like that it makes fanfic sound like illegal drugs or something!) — and Harry Potter … well, duh! I haven’t been living under a bush.

Fangirl blew me away. I’ve really fallen in love with the subgenre of YA that is geeky contemporary over the past few years, and this book is another addition to that shelf. Rowell’s writing shines here, both in the day-to-day tale of Cath’s life and in the extensive excerpts of her fanfic. I was just as hooked by her take on her Simon/Baz fic as I was by her main storyline. Happily, Carry On, the fanfic story that Cath works on throughout Fangirl, is also now available as a novel — a fact so meta that it makes me grin. I’ll definitely be buying it as soon as I can.

As for Cath, it’s hard not to love her. She struggles with anxiety, which is made worse by her twin, Wren, effectively abandoning her as soon as they hit university. Her father is bipolar so Cath spends a lot of time worrying about him — and Wren has her own issues, which she seeks to forget about through her new party lifestyle. At times, as much as I understood what she was going through, I wanted to shake Wren till her teeth rattled; she has moments where she is particularly mean-spirited. The times that Cath stood up to her were some of my favourite parts of the book.

There is a romance here, though it’s hard not to name names without spoilers. There are a couple of different males on the scene, but this isn’t a love triangle in the traditional sense. One of the guys turns out to be a selfish a-hole and the other is a sweetheart. There’s no competition. And that’s all I will say about that.

As far as other characters go, I adored Reagan, Cath’s roommate. Despite how prickly she is, she takes Cath under her wing in a “tough love” way that it’s hard not to love. Also, Professor Piper receives a notable mention — she’s the sort of supportive writing lecturer I wish I’d had when I was at university. (And I love the way Rowell handled the storyline as it related to Cath and Wren’s mother. So realistic!)

Fangirl is a story about stories, about getting out of your comfort zone, and about finding out who you are. I love it.

 

 


Review: ‘Fast’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Quinn Hamilton had it all—A grades, a loving family, and a spot on the waitlist for the latest Hermes handbag. The one item left unchecked on her to-do list was her brother’s best friend, Liam, and that was only because Braden was overprotective when it came to his mates.

When tragedy struck, Quinn was left with nothing. Not even the handbag made it.

Three years later, Quinn’s focused on the things that count—getting a steady job, looking after her mother, and playing it safe. Her dreams of working for a fashion magazine haven’t just left the building—they’ve dived into the gutter, never to be touched again.

But when completing a two-week internship in the city, Quinn meets someone who makes her do the one thing she’s been trying desperately to avoid—feel. Will this sexy man who knows so much of her history help her go after what she wants? Or is their brand of passion as outdated as last season’s trends?

She’s running from her past, but her past is running faster.

Life has been pretty hectic for me lately, so what better to read than a novella by the amazing Lauren K. McKellar? Her prose flows so smoothly and her story so quickly that this is truly a fast read — I gobbled it up in two sittings and was left with that satisfying “plentiful and delicious dessert” feeling. And I say this as a person who doesn’t generally read romance.

For fans of the genre, all the goodies are here: the girl, the guy, the obstacles that draw out the process of them getting together (but not too far; this is a novella). Quinn has scars on the inside that are worse than the scar on the outside: a massive case of survivor’s guilt means she subconsciously believes she doesn’t deserve happiness. Liam is an A-grade hottie who struggles with a minor case of the same. Together, they manage to muddle their way through to a place where they might be able to start healing.

Through Quinn’s eyes we also get another glimpse into the world of magazines, a place that the author knows well. It was nice to see Madison, the leading lady from Fame — although Fast had none of Fame‘s steaminess, unless you count the smooching.

I love Lauren’s writing. Regular readers of my blog will recognise the name; she is my editor, the one who I (as a professional editor myself) trust with my books. What this means is that you can buy her books — most of which are self-published — safe in the knowledge that they will be beautifully written and professionally treated. She has a keen eye for story and her editing game is amazing.

If romance is your thing and you’re keen to try a new author, why not give this novella a try? It’s a great way to discover someone new. You won’t regret it.