Venators: Promises Forged – Devri Wells [WriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour]

Goodreads Summary

It has been mere days in the world of Eon, where Rune Jenkins, her twin brother Ryker, and their friend Grey have been trapped, fighting for their lives. After discovering the truth of their ancestry, the three are far from home, and far from anything resembling their mundane lives of the past.
While Ryker is still held captive by the eerily beautiful Zio and her goblins, Grey falls into the clutches of Feena, the Fae queen. She begins to drain his soul bit by bit to feed her dark underground garden, and Grey has no hope of escaping on his own.
It is now up to Rune to save Grey, as his precious time slips away inexorably. But the Council has denied her permission to embark on a rescue mission, until she can harness her Venator gifts and prove herself capable of venturing into the Fae queen’s territory. As Rune discovers that promises in Eon are forged with life-or-death consequences, she realizes that she must act quickly, or else be swallowed – and Grey along with her – by the dangers of Eon.

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Review

So today is my stop on The Write Read’s Ultimate Blog Tour for Venators: Promises Forged. I was really excited for this, after being part of the tour for Venators: Magic Unleashed, and absolutely loving that book.

It did not disappoint.

The first book left things fairly unresolved, and the second picks up immediately after the first, with the characters recovering from their adventures. They have to deal with the fallout of their actions, and both Rune and Grey realise the world they’re in is a lot more complicated than they initially thought.

Promises Forged does a great job of deepening this world, revealing more of the politics and customs surrounding the council and the various situations likely to affect these characters. We also get glimpses of Ryker, seeing what effect his imprisonment and the strange world he’s found himself in are having.

We get to see more of Rune and Grey, as well as witnessing the consequences suffered when they rush into situations without fully understanding them. Rune, though desperate to get her brother back, knows she cannot do her job without Grey. And Grey still just wants to help people, but through the course of book 2 they both learn how they might be able to use the various rules and constrictions to their advantage.

I really enjoyed seeing more of the characters around Rune and Grey in this book, as well as the further worldbuilding that takes place. There’s some interesting antagonists introduced, and the last third contained enough twists and turns to make it feel almost like a rollercoaster.

Sometimes, in a trilogy, the series starts out with a strong premise that maybe falls a little flat in book 2. It’s the second book which will convince people to read the next, and even if the series is longer, I think it’s the second book which can really hook people in and make them stay for the duration. It can be dangerous territory, but Wells pulls it off really, really well.

Promises Forged delivers on, well, it’s promise. It does exactly what a second book needs to do; it resolves some situations, while leaving others open to be continued in the next book, it deepens our understanding of the world and develops the characters further, while putting them in even more danger than the first book.

I liked the first book, but I loved the second., It was a fun, enjoyable read that does a lot for this series, and now I feel completely engaged with Rune and Grey’s story, caught up in this world and the possibility of what might happen to them. Both Magic Unleashed and Promises Forged, with everything you could want from a portal fantasy and more.

Tiger Queen – Annie Sullivan [Books]

tiger queenTo rule Achra, Kateri – the king’s daughter and only child – must defeat her suitors to prove her right to rule. Gaining the crown means she can fulfil her promise to her dead mother to protect her people. Achra suffers with a long drought and frequent windstorms, made worse by the Desert Boys who come into the city to steal water from the people. When she finds out who her last suitor is, Kateri faces a choice – remain and be defeated, losing her chance to rule, or escape into the desert, seeking help from the last person she ever thought she’d speak to.

Tiger Queen is a YA Fantasy, set in the desert and in a corrupt, broken city where the rich have all the luxuries they need and the poor are forced to abandon their third children after the king brings in a two children rule.

I really enjoyed this book.

Yes, it’s got familiar tropes, yes it’s a touch predictable, but honestly? Sometimes that is exactly what you need. And those elements (I think) can work well in YA, when the target audience might not have come across the same things as many times as, say, an adult reader like myself.

I liked Kateri as a character. She starts off sheltered and naive, with her world painted in black and white. She fully believes the king is doing what is best for the people, and the Desert Boys are evil. Kateri doesn’t question it, not until she escapes into the desert and actually meets the Desert Boys, realising they are, in fact, simply children trying to get by.

The Desert Boys were fun to read about, a mixture of Lost Boy’s and Robin Hood’s Merry Men, all eager to prove themselves. And I really liked the scenes between Kateri and their leader, Cion – there were really good moments here, ones which just made me smile.

Kateri is determined, and keen to do right by her people. She’s not a character given to moping, and she is willing to step aside if she thinks it’s the right thing to do.

There were, however, some things which I didn’t like as much.

I feel there could have been deeper relationships between Kateri and some of the other women presented in the story. For the most part, the women here are just shown as caretakers, from Cion’s aunt, to an elderly lady looking after abandoned babies. Kateri’s maid, at the start of the story, could have been a good source for this, but it feels like a missed opportunity. I also think there could have been ‘Desert Boys’ who were maybe Desert Girls instead – this is a fantasy world, and given the situation, its doubtful every girl in the city would be content with things, especially when male children are favoured and there is a strict two children rule.

Other than that, this was a really enjoyable, action packed read, well written and tightly paced. If you enjoy YA Fantasy with a focus on romance, I suggest checking out Tiger Queen. 

Seven Endless Forests – April Genevieve Tucholke [Books]

seven endlessSeven Endless Forests is advertised as a retelling of the King Arthur legend. After the deaths of her mother and lover, Torvi’s sister Morgunn is kidnapped by a wolf-priest called Uther. Torvi unites with a druid and a group called the Butcher Bards in order to track down her sister and rescue her, as well as seeking out a mystical sword buried within a tree. Whoever pulls the sword will inherit the jarldom.

This is less a retelling of the Arthur legend, and more inspired by. The main links come through some of the names (Morgunn, Uther) and the idea of a sword buried in part of nature (in this instance, a tree instead of a stone). To a point, it works, but don’t pick this up expecting an actual Arthurian retelling. (And one place is randomly referred to as Avalon at points)

This had the potential to be a really good book. There are some lovely ideas wrapped up in here, and the way the relationships are established is lovely to read, with the sort of closeness and affection among all the characters that sometimes isn’t touched upon in books. The problem is it doesn’t feel like we’re given enough time with the characters to actually get to know them. We’re told a lot about them, but we’re not really shown much. And for the most part, it feels like a lot was skimmed over when it came to the characters. One of the Bards has a sad past, but it’s almost forced out of him in such a way and told in so few lines it felt uncomfortable.

There’s a piece of advice often told to fantasy writers; know everything about your world, but don’t let the reader know everything about your world. Worldbuilding, when done well, can completely and utterly transport you into the novel. Unfortunately, in Seven Endless Forests there was way too much. Every single location, every single mention of a random place, or thing, or potion or whatever had a legend behind it. It got really tedious, with a character butting in on every page to say “Oh, there’s a story…” and another one going, “Yes, I know that one…” And proceeding to tell it. Even if it’s apparently a common story all the characters know?

These tales felt too distracting, taking the reader away from the actual plot. And the plot was hidden among a lot of faff. It felt like playing a video game, maybe Skyrim, and spending so long on sidequests you forget what’s part of the main storyline and what isn’t.

The other problem with the book, something which made it very difficult to slog through, was the formatting. I’m relatively new to ARCs in general, and I’m assuming these issues will be cleared up prior to publication, but because of the formatting it was hard to see which errors might lie with formatting, or editing, neither of which would really be the author’s fault. Still, I had to go back a fair few times to check who was speaking or what was happening.

The writer has clear talent, but the story felt a little all over the place and, at times, hard to follow. There were too many characters coming in and out, and some parts felt rushed to get to the next point, with the story veering off into this or that legend and losing the main thread at others.

I would definitely give Tucholke another chance, but in this instance, Seven Endless Forests just wasn’t for me.

Thank you to publishers Simon & Schuster for providing this arc via NetGalley.

Esme’s Gift – Elizabeth Foster [Books]

esmes giftLong-time readers of this blog might remember my review for Esme’s Wish, a wonderfully charming book about a young girl who finds herself in a new world, and discovers her mother spent much of her own time there before her disappearance.

The adventure continues in Esme’s Gift. Here, we originally see Esme returning home, joyfully anticipating being reunited with her father, only to discover he is an absolute mess, struggling to cope with her missing status. But even when she returns, it isn’t the reunion she hoped for. Her father doesn’t believe her, so Esme returns to the wonderful world and her friends.

This book sees Emse exploring more of the magical world, gaining understanding over her gift, and even attending school alongside Daniel and Lillian.

The school set up will be familiar to those who have read any other magic schooling books, though with another differences to still make it feel fresh. And the school feels more like Xavier’s School from X-Men than Hogwarts, with kids displaying a variety of different powers and trying to learn to control them. There’s the stuck-up girl who verges on bullying, a mysterious boy who Esme doesn’t quite trust, and various other characters who prove to be allies to the main trio.

And as for the trio itself, it’s refreshing, as it was in the first installment, to see a trio made up of two girls and a boy, rather than two boys and a girl. And there’s no love triangle here, no forced romance. There’s hints of it, but nothing tips over and it’s actually kind of refreshing. Instead, the focus is on growing friendship, their adventures, and how they’re navigating being teenagers with extraordinary powers. Abilities. Gifts! In this world, they are gifts, hence the title of the book.

The interactions between different characters are well done, the revelations provide some good moments of making the reader really question things, and Esme’s travels, seeking out ingredients for a rare elixir, give plenty of tense moments as well as the opportunity to learn even more about this world.

The worldbuilding in this book is wonderful, as it was in the first, and it really makes the setting come alive, feeling fresh and different. The growing friendships between characters, the new dangers they face and the additional cast really make this a wonderful addition to this series, and I eagerly await the third book!

 

We Hunt The Flame – Hafsah Faizal [Books]

we hunt the flameZafira is The Hunter. Disguised as a man, she enters the dark, dangerous, cursed forest, to feed her people. If she is exposed, it will all be for nothing, her actions rejected no matter what good they have gone. Nasir is The Prince of Death. The heir to the throne, and an assassin, killing by order of the sultan.

Zafira is tasked with a quest: to go to a cursed island, and restore magic to the land. Nasir is issued with an order: to kill the Hunter, and steal whatever is required to restore magic.

We Hunt the Flame is the debut novel for author Hafsah Faizal. This is something I’ve said about other novels before, but it also applies to this one – it doesn’t feel like a debut. The worldbuilding is tight and we’re introduced to this land in a really fluid way. Everything feels natural, rather than events stopping to explain to the reader exactly what one thing or the other is.

Faizal skillfully weaves together this world and characters, making them feel completely and utterly part of one another. And the relationships built up between the various characters, whether it’s the relationship between the two protagonists or between them and the ‘side characters’, are an absolute delight to read.

The danger hangs over the heads of the characters throughout their journey, and Faizal effectively increases the tension and mystery with every page, keeping the reader absolutely hooked. I found myself completely caught up in the characters’ quests, eager to see how they would cope with the next obstacle thrown in their way.

There are familiar tropes buried within these pages, but given a fresh breath of life at Faizal’s skillful hand. The characters and this world are fun to read, the events that transpire are absolutely gripping, and I can already see this being one of my top books read this year.

Venators: Magic Unleashed – Devri Walls [WriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour]

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From Goodreads:

Six years ago, Grey Malteer was attacked by creatures he thought couldn’t possibly exist. They repeated a word, calling him a name he’d never heard before…Venator. Since then, his life has been a hellhole of secrecy—hiding old pain alongside strange new abilities.

Rune Jenkins has an itch, as she calls it, but it’s more than that. It’s an anger that builds up like the inside of a boiler whenever she’s around anything remotely supernatural. The pressure is growing steadily worse and she can’t understand why. All she knows is—her control is slipping.

By order of an unknown council Grey and Rune are pulled through a portal in the St. Louis arch, landing them in an alternate dimension where creatures of myth and legend exist. A realm that calls them, Venators.

Made up of centuries old fae, vampires, werewolves, elves and succubi the council’s corrupt nature becomes obvious as they seek to wield the newly returned Venators as weapons. Wedged in an impossible position, Grey and Rune must decide their fate—do they go against the council’s wishes and help the innocents of this unforgiving land, or face the possibility of execution by the council.

Review

I was absolutely delighted with this book. I have to admit, I am a complete sucker for fantasies which use a variety of different creatures, and that is something Magic Unleashed does really well, introducing us to a world where vampires, werewolves, succubi and others live side by side, and where Venators were once revered, Venators being humans powerful enough to withstand most the effects from the other types of beings.

The opening introduces us to the two main characters. Rune, desperately trying to take care of her twin brother, putting him first and herself second, and Grey, who brushed against the supernatural years before, and has been training himself and studying up on it ever since.

Through the eyes of these two characters, taken from their world into the world of the supernatural, we get introduced to the various other inhabitants, and witness the dangers threatening the Venators. They work their way through a fae forest and a pack of werewolves to reach the Council. All Grey wants is to be a hero, to save the innocent and protect those around him, while Rune just wants to be reunited with her brother.

I really liked the main characters. There’s an instant connection between them and the reader, giving us plenty of reasons to cheer them on and want to see them succeed. The idea of Venators is explained really well, without the story slowing down or stopping completely to convey exactly what it means to us. Instead it feels natural, just as the world Walls has created does.

And they don’t feel overpowered, despite their abilities. When they do come up against the supernatural creatures, they feel all too human and vulnerable, unsure and with no idea how to actually fight in the various situations they’re put in.

The novel is fast-paced and tightly packed, especially once the set-up is over and Grey and Rune leave our world. From there, we’re taken on a rollercoaster ride, leaving us to wonder what exactly will happen next to our two heroes.

The only thing I didn’t really like was the way it ended. It felt too unresolved. Of course, if a book is part of a series there has to be questions left unanswered, but for the first book in a series it felt like there was too much missing. The ending felt a little abrupt.

Despite this, Magic Unleashed is a really good introduction to this world and characters, and feels unique in the setting and the way various supernatural creatures are used. It’s definitely a series I can really see myself really getting into.

Devri Walls

devriDevri Walls is an international best selling author. She lives in Meridian, Idaho with her husband, two children and one adorable little mutt. Writing in all things fantasy, she would do just about anything for a working magic wand.

Mostly because she’s a walking disaster and a wand would be of enormous help…although she’d probably trip and break it. So, there’s that.

She graduated with a degree in theater and has studied vocal performance most of her life. She now teaches voice lessons when she’s not writing novels, cooking dinner, playing taxi, spending time with her amazingly supportive husband or trying to read.”

My question for Devri Walls: What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

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A Heart So Fierce and Broken – Brigid Kemmerer [Book Review]

a heart soThe curse is broken. Harper has remained in Emberfall with her brother Jake and his boyfriend, Noah, and with Rhen. With no sign of Grey, rumours of another heir threatening to break the kingdom apart, added to the fact people believe the alliance with ‘Disi’ is a scam, something must be done.

Grey has killed the enchantress Lilith and returned to Emberfall, but with a secret he is unable to share with Rhen, he goes into hiding, taking on the name ‘Hawk’ and working at a tournament ground, staying as hidden as he possibly can.

Look, I’m going to be honest. I was completely and utterly revved up for this book. I don’t often pre-order books, but I did for this one, cause damn was I keen on returning to Emberfall.

Unfortunately, this is one of those sequels that makes you wish the original was a standalone.

I gave this 4*s on Goodreads because Kemmerer’s writing is, in all fairness, fantastic – it’s vivid and beautiful. And the last third of the book had me hooked, but before that…

Well it took a while to get into this one.

The book starts with Harper, then shifts into two POVs which take over for the novel – Grey and Lia Mara, the eldest daughter of Karis Luran but not the heir, that honour going to her sister, instead. And that’s where I felt like the book let me down first. Karis Luran enters Emberfall with her daughters, keen to marry off her heir to Rhen and forge an alliance with Emberfall.

For a lot of the book, I found Lia Mara to be overly whiny and woe-is-me. She’s not helpless, at all, but every other sentence was about how her sister is stronger and how her sister is going to be queen and how she doesn’t match up to her sister and mother. I think a lot of her, especially in earlier chapters, felt forced, too. Like there were moments that felt less relevant to the plot, and there only so we could have some slight reason to like her.

She had some strong moments, but these were overshadowed by the really annoying ones. And then there is Grey. Although I didn’t fully buy into the idea of a love triangle in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, it was evident here, and felt like there was going to be a bit of a build up between Harper and Grey. But nope, we’re quickly whisked away from Harper almost as soon as we get a tiny glimpse of her.

The romance between Grey and Lia Mara, again, felt a little forced. Grey remains one of my favourite characters, but so much of this book was him – and yep, again – whining. Following motions and never really doing much of anything until he was backed into a corner. I liked the way he did react to certain situations, as it’s clear he’s still very much a guardsman, and once more, a lot of the issues I found in the first half disappeared in the second.

Regarding Rhen and Harper now. In A Curse, I absolutely loved the three characters who formed the focus on the book. Harper was a strong, powerful woman who did not put up with anything untoward from either Grey or Rhen. Rhen was troubled and tortured and desperate to do anything to save his kingdom, and throughout the novel it really felt like he grew as a character.

We get none of that growth in this book, none of Harper’s fierceness. Every time we see her, she’s running to greet one of the men in her life or blushing under Grey’s praise. She basically lets Rhen torture people, she sits back while his kingdom is falling to pieces around him because he’s too stubborn to do really consider any option except kill. There are moments near the start of the book where Grey could have actually spoken to Rhen, but they all decide that nope, dying is the best option so let’s just get this over with!

Okay! Things I liked, because I did like a few things. I liked the relationship between Lia Mara and her sister. I liked the additional characters we meet in this novel, and the way the discord among the populace is shown. We also get to see more magic here, used in much better ways, and it works well.

This book isn’t as good as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which felt more natural in terms of plot progression, character development and the choices made by the characters. Instead, we have two intelligent characters who go around in circles seeming to make life more difficult for themselves, making it feel like everything they do is in service to the plot rather than the world around them. The writing remains beautiful, and Kemmerer clearly has a way with words, but unfortunately the two main characters we follow in this book have less of an impact than both Harper and Rhen, two characters thrust aside for the sequel, whose presence could have made this book that much stronger.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Tomi Adeyemi [Book Review]

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The second in the Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance continues the story of Zélie and Amari, who, together, have brought magic back to Orïsha. Although the maji have regained their powers, nobles with magical ancestry now find themselves able to use magic as well, presenting even more dangers for the two young women.

The maji are still hunted, but can now fight back. And Zélie knows the best chance her people have of a safe, peaceful future is with Amari on the throne. But getting her there will be difficult, especially when both find themselves hunted by the remaining nobility.

I really liked Children of Blood and Bone, the first in this series, but Children of Virtue and Vengeance shows how much Adeyemi has already improved as a writer, even in the short time between the release of her debut and the sequel.

The writing is stronger, and in some ways, even the characters feel more realised. THe multi-POV worked that little bit better in this book, as Zélie and Amari no longer have a single goal uniting them. Throughout, a distance grows between them, and though both want to close it, neither seems able to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I liked the wider scope of it, the introduction of more maji and information about them, about how they worked together before The Raid and how their history unfolded. I liked the different relationships that emerged through this, and the way both Zélie and Amari are portrayed. Neither are the same as when we first met them, and it’s clear how recent events have affected them both, as well as the events contained in the novel.

The ending packs a strong punch too, leaving the reader desperately eager for the next installment to find out what happens next.

There is a lot more I’d like to say about this, but I feel saying much more risks introducing spoilers into this post, and this book is one that definitely has some nice surprises you don’t want spoiled.

If you liked Children of Blood and Bone, definitely check out this continuation. I cannot wait for book #3.