Review: Blood and Chaos (Song of the King’s Heart #2) by Nicole Sallak Anderson (Historical Fiction Blog Tour)

Blood and Chaos (Song of the King's Heart. #2)
Abebooks
AlibrisAmazon
Book Depository
Goodreads

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

The second chapter of Lord Ankhwenefer’s story is one of love, betrayal, and death. The world needs to know this forgotten king’s tale so that the ghosts of the past may finally rest.

Prince Ankhmakis has left his beloved Natasa for war and treacherous obstacles block his path to becoming Egypt’s last native king. He is the warrior that the men revere, and his orders are followed without question. He is strong and powerful with Natasa on his side, and the fear that breeds in those around him is more dangerous to Ankhmakis than the swords of the Greeks.

Natasa has risen higher in the mystic arts than any priestess before her-and she is in more peril because of it. All she desires is to assist her lover, Ankhmakis, in his quest to take back Egypt from the Macedonians once and for all, but his jealous queen, his plotting brother, and the truest evil in the world want nothing more than to be rid of her.

Natasa and Ankhmakis fight not only against the Greeks but also those at court who will do anything to see them both dead. Together, Ankhmakis would become a great general and Natasa the mystic healer who saves him. Apart, they may not survive.

Review

Thank you to Nicole for reaching out to me for review, and all thoughts are just that, mine only. And thank you to Amy Bruno at HF Virtual Book Tours for allowing me on this blog tour!

This is a novel that is on par with Wilbur Smith’s historical fiction. It is as if I have stumbled upon an under-rated historical fiction author who’s weaved a magical spell about a tale of Ancient Egypt. I would thoroughly recommend reading Book 1 in this series, which is Origins: Song of the King’s Heart. Without this, you will not have an idea what happens in book 2. I would also like to inform you that this novel is set after the events of the Ptolemaic victory at the Battle of Raphia in 272 BCE. In a nutshell: the Ancient Egyptians under Greek rule revolted and this is the result of this under-written tale that has been neglected. I think Nicole deserves wider recognition for this.

I am feeling a lot of feelings as I right now type this review. Sadness, heartbreak, and hope. I am reminded that no matter how much we idolize the Ancient World or any period, well any civilization, they were brutal. They didn’t have the same concept of rights and equality that normal humans enjoy today. And it is a brutal reminder of how Ancient Egypt fell. Not because of its military, not because of its people. It fell because of infighting. Egyptians turned against Egyptians which allow invaders like the Persians and the Greeks to come into Egypt. I have no doubt Ancient Egyptians were lamenting over the fact that this was the very cause of their demise, or that the Gods were abandoning Egypt when its male rulers sacrificed themselves for lust.

There are many spiritual moments within the novels, ones that I do not wish to embark upon. Whatever you will read will blow your mind. There are excellent quotes within this novel that force you to transcend your physical mindset to a higher mindset. Make note of what I say because this is a novel that makes Ancient Egypt come alive, and more importantly, it makes a religion that was once finished off by the time of Christianity’s Dawn in the Roman Empire, come alive again. I believe I read an ancient prophecy that the Gods of Egypt would abandon these lands. I then ask: If it was written, then where did these Gods go to? Ra, Horus, Thoth, where did they go? I hope these questions are answered in book 3! I find the Egyptian religion to be very similar to the Hindu path, for some reason. I can’t recall it, but I believe it had something to do with Thoth’s tablets. Religion plays a very spiritual role, and it is at the heart of this book.

There are so many wonderful characters, including Natasa and Ankhmakis. There are so many questions about birth, rebirth, loss, life, death, and hope. The plots in this story involving betrayal between family members, jealousy make me think: We humans haven’t changed in 2000 years. Doesn’t matter what time period. What era. We will be the same way in some form. We can’t rule our emotions until we learn to control them of course. I feel heartbreak for Ankhmakis, and sadness. I sincerely hope that we see a path where the Egyptians actually succeed and actually win for once. It has been too long since they were repressed. I would say this novel brings Ancient Egypt alive, and there are many characters you will come to love and despise. I despise Isidor the most. A horrible man indeed. It is such a good story. I do wish there was an alternate universe where Ankhmakis and Natasa become the King and Queen of Egypt and actually DO lead a prosperous Ancient Egypt into the future. The dialogue is awesome, the writing and prose really good.

I do not have much to say but this is a 10/10 from me. I thoroughly recommend you read this!

Review: The Two-Faced Queen By Nick Martell (Legacy of Mercenary Kings trilogy #2)

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

Michael Kingman thought he was going to die by the executioner’s axe, forever labelled as a traitor.
Still alive, and under the protection of the Orbis Mercenary company, Michael and his family and friends are deeply involved in the seemingly rival conspiracies that are tearing The Hollows apart.
With the death of the King, both the Corrupt Prince and his sister Serena are vying for the throne, while the Rebel Emperor is spreading lies amongst the people, and all of them want Michael dead. This is a story of betrayal, murder, and rebellion, and in this direct sequel to the debut novel The Kingdom of Liars, also some hope for justice. For readers who love the intrigue and widening scope of epic fantasy like Sanderson’s Mistborn and Week’s The Black Prism, this is your next must-read fantasy series.

Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Michael Kingman deserves a bloody break. Actually, I’d be swearing right now when I’m writing this review as I am so emotional writing this. A masterpiece. A true masterpiece! The Two Faced Queen is a fantastic book, it improves upon the sequel in so many ways. It made me go emotional I had my fists bawling in certain high moments. High tension action, gripping drama, and so many secrets. This book is a temple of secrets. That I can say without a shadow of a doubt. This is a story that had me broken down to tears. A story, that had I looked at it again, would still cry over. I am so amazed, and yet so sad and so happy at the same time. This is a story of triumph over evil. I don’t care how grim-dark it is, there is an element of heroic scope in this story. An understanding. A very mature understanding of the grim realities of what is a hero, and what is a villain. I can see my own bias towards Michael in this story. And to be honest, I don’t mind at all. I have not seen such a character like him, and neither would I ever want to again, because a character like Michael achieves so much in this novel, that he may be the very best definition of what defines an actual anti-hero. He is like Jorg Ancrath from Mark’s Lawrence’s the Broken Empire trilogy, similar but not too familiar. Jorg is more of a coward, whereas Michael is more of a villain trying to be a hero. If these two were to ever meet, I am sure they’d have a lot to talk about. A lot.

I just want to get this out of my system. The people treating Michael as a person who’s a liar, a man that lies to protect his family, are so rude and bad to him I was wondering for a second. Michael may not be the best hero, nor the best villain. But he is Niccolò Machiavelli reborn. He is a clever man. The result of his upbringing of being branded a traitor for something his father was accused of, does not mean that all the people in this world have to be rude to him. I’d argue that most of the characters were far more selfish and evil. Michael is an innocent human being that was beset by powerful figures such as the cunning Angelo, his foster father, and Domet. A man whose’s motives are still shrouded even to this day. And the entire conflict between the Hollow and the Kingman family. Jeez the Hollow’s need to give it a break. They really need to.

Do you know who I’m most angry at? Serena. She is no doubt grieving over the loss of her father. But I ask. What did Serena’s family do to help King Issac’s mental health? Easy, let’s put the blame on Michael because he is there! Although Serena does improve at the end. And Naomi, who is a great character, I just have to say stop flirting with Michael when you have feelings for another person. This, this right here. You see my emotions coming alive as I write this review? This is the hallmark of a great writer. This is the stuff of legends. This is what stories are made of. This is how you tell a story. Kingman may never seek to be a hero, he may never seek to be a good man. But he has a curse. A curse to help people and get insulted by those that were his friends and are still his friends. Trey and Rock? Best characters. I don’t want Trey and Kingman to confront…but there is a chance.

Was I a character in this story, I’d be a High Archmage that could be a Spellborn mage that can manipulate memories for good. Not bad. And I’d say to most of Michael’s friends and enemies. That man has sacrificed himself for you. He’s done a lot more in this book, been on the receiving curse of endless insults, of endless banter. Perhaps you lot could be a little more grateful. If Michael were gone, I’d bet you would miss him. Because I have never seen such a character like Michael, and nor should I ever hope to. I do not think I would want to see a character like that, who has achieved so much throughout all the ups and downs he’s gone through. In the end, Michael has one of the best redemption arcs in this entire novel. And Nick, you’ve done it. I don’t know what structure you used. I know when I read your tweets about writing this novel and how you were struggling through it. Guess what? This was worth every minute. Every minute of blood, sweat, and tear that went into the making of the Two-Faced Queen’s manuscript has worked. I have discovered so many secrets, that I wonder what I would do with all that knowledge. I pity Michael, for he has a far greater destiny ahead of him. A far greater one.

Remembered memories are bitter and sweet, are they not? This novel will take you all over the place. You will discover heart-breaking secrets, engage in vicious brutal combat, and witness some of the most horrifying scenes you’ll see. The quality and level of writing are akin to that of the writers who write the scripts for Elder Scrolls Online, Dragon Age Inquisition, and God of War. Some criticism I’ve had is I’ve noticed there are a lot of noble families. I would have wanted more simplification of them. Another thing is I need a map. There are so many new empires, kingdoms that I want to explore, plus pirates and ships! This world is much bigger. I say dear reader when you read the first book, the Kingdom of Liars, this book expands. And it expands wonderfully. Dark is one of the deepest, best characters I’ve read. He still holds more secrets than I know.

And Angelo is a horrendous being. As was Dark’s Grandfather. As is nearly everyone except Gwen, Dawn, Trey, Rock, Michael, Juliet, Domet, the King of Stories, and the true villains of this story. And a request. I want more of the King of Stories. There is a certain place called the Gold Coast…and I say to Nick, give me pirates, give me oceans, give me glorious naval battles, give me sun-baked deserts, and give me Arabian-style fantasy, please. Let me meet with the Sultans of the Gold Coast, or something like that. Oh and just have Serena and Michael marry each other and break the stupid rigid traditions that their family imposes on them please? It’s clearly evident, the two are in love with each other. I don’t need to be Odin in American Gods to figure that one out from the first book! I’m shipping them now.

You, sir, have done a tremendous book. This is one of those books where my criticism, is naught but few! This is one of those books you need to have on your bookshelf. But it is imperative that you buy both: The Kingdom of Liars Book 1, and the Two-Faced Queen Book 2. Without these two in order, you will not understand the chain of events that link this book together. It is fantastic, and I thoroughly recommend this novel! Thoroughly!

Review: Raji: An Ancient Epic

Raji: An Ancient Epic - Raji: An Ancient Epic
Steam

Rating: 8/10

Synopsis:

ABOUT THIS GAME

The story of Raji: An Ancient Epic begins with the start of a new war between the demons and the gods. Seeking to avenge their defeat in the last great war from a thousand years ago, the demons have challenged the gods who humiliated them and have invaded the human realm, threatening them with extinction.
Thinking that their enemies had been utterly defeated in the last great war, a thousand years ago, the humans had fallen into a false sense of security, forgetting the ways of alchemy, while enjoying the peace. Unable to defend themselves, cities and fortresses fell, leaving the humans at the mercy of the demons.
Amidst the chaos, as cities and fortresses fell, and as young children were abducted from their homes, a young girl named Raji is chosen by the gods to be the sole defender of the human race.

A STORY OF SIBLINGS

Experience a story of siblings. Raji and Golu are sister and brother who have been separated by the attacking demonic hordes and now find themselves in the middle of the great war.Raji has taken it upon herself to find her brother and put an end to this reckless war. However, this can only happen if she manages to break down the might and stratagem devised by the great lord of demons, Mahabalasura.

STUNNING ARTWORK

Inspired by Indian mythologies such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, and by the medieval architecture of Rajasthan, Raji: An Ancient Epic brings a refreshing new style to the action-adventure scene!Every corner of the game’s environment is drawn in the Pahari art style and combines hand-painted textures, rendered in 3D giving the Raji: An Ancient Epic a stunning and unique visual quality rarely seen in games.

TACTICAL COMBAT

Diverse weapons and powers, gifted to Raji by the gods, are at your disposal. Mastering them all will be vital to your success as the demonic hordes will skillfully adapt to each and every situation; while the Trishul may be perfect for one battle, the mighty Sharanga bow may be needed for the next.

A UNIVERSE SET IN ANCIENT INDIA

For the very first time, experience a game set in ancient India and infused with Hindu and Balinese mythology. You will find yourself immersed in ancient India where every corner is begging to be explored.From enchanting stories from the lore of the game to tightly packed battles against ferocious demons and bosses, ancient puzzles, massive forts and palaces, experience a sibling story who find themselves at the center of a divine war.

Review:

Glossary:

Asuras – Half Brothers of the Hindu Gods but bascially Demons

Devas – the Hindu Gods.

Once in a while, an uncut gem arrives in the gaming market. You see this game on the Steam Store, and you’re amazed. It’s dazzling splendour, it’s the fantastic art design and its engaging story. Then you realise that this uncut gem remains an uncut gem because it has more potential. It has so much potential that if expanded with DLCs and free updates, this game can become even greater. The main strength of this game is a strong story and a solid artistic design. Its puzzles are fun, but they can be complex for a beginner at first. I failed many times having to defeat multiple bosses and it was frustrating, to say the least. Many moments kept me scratching my head on how to defeat the Asuras. 

In the city of Vishnu

It’s a solid game, however, and I’ll try to evenly look at the positives and negatives of this game. It is a perfect game for introducing children to Indian mythology, and the strength of the narrative often lies in the mythological tales as you encounter ancient ruins and explore mythical realms. Each of them gives a balanced, simple view of Hindu Mythology. Which to be honest with you, is ripe for the triple AAA Market. It’s a shame.

Mechanical lifts

The team at Raji were often short of cash, meaning one of their developers had to mortgage their houses, investors in the Indian gaming market were woeful, not wanting to invest in such an expensive game, and many investors they went too only wanted the gaming mobile market which is alive and well in India with Fornite and PUBG.

Now, seeing the success of Raji, I sincerely hope it convinces Indian game developers to stop being shy and to create more video games based on Indian mythology because there is so much that can be done here. I mean Chinese video-game companies are making games on Chinese mythology and Sony I believe is making a video game based on Sun-Wukong (A mythical creature from Journey to the West) so why can’t Indian game developers do that instead of just going for mobile gaming? 

The reason is being that most children spend their entire lives in India studying. The second reason is peer and parent pressure. The third is that games are just looked at as a waste of time and effort. Hence, you have this reason in societal issues that cause problems for Indian game developers. I’m wanting Raji to become even more popular, to break this stereotype in Indian society (I know because I’ve belonged to it.) I sincerely wish that Indian game developers would make a triple AAA game on Hindu Mythology. Because there is so much potential here.

One of the main weaknesses in this game is, however, the multiple bosses you get to fight. Let’s name a few. The Demon Chieftan. Rangda. The main boss in the end. I managed to find a glitch with the Demon Chieftan and managed to destroy him. He was stuck in that position. Here is my screenshot. Then when it came to Rangda, who is inspired by Balinese Mythology as you’ll see in the design of the demons (Asuras in Hindi) the only thing I had to do was to destroy her fingers and boom. Some interesting dialogues were coming Rangda, but it didn’t work for me. Some of them felt cliched.  Like say: Did Vishnu aka meddler train you?

I understood what it was trying to do. Hindu Mythology from a simple lens is good vs bad. But if you interpret it once again, it becomes very grey. Because the Asuras (Demons) and the Devas (Gods) are siblings to an extent with the Asuras being half-brothers to the Devas. Let’s put this in a nutshell: The Asuras worship the Devas, then get weapons from them, and then go and attack them. It’s quite amusing when you think about it, but there’s a lot to Hindu Mythology that if you even read it, you still wouldn’t scratch the surface. But I understood what they were going for, I would have wanted more dialogue from Rangda but it had to be very sharp. Lord Vishnu (The Balancer of the Universe) and Maa Durga (The name for Durga, a fierce Goddess is of War, Strength and Protection and combat evil that destroys purity) – provide a good direction and backstory aiming to introduce the player. They got the best dialogue lines in my opinion and I would have wanted to seen more Gods explaining their narrative.

Even the final boss I was able to defeat using the Vishnu Chakra (a final endgame weapon that bascially destroys the annoying Asuras I had to fight with.) In the Land of the Mystics, I failed 10 times. Yes. You read that right. 10 times. To defeat those lurching Asuras that spit purple and green fireballs I assume, and then to defeat the ninja style Asuras which were more highly advanced than I could defeat them. I feel disappointed here. The balance of the bosses vs defeating the normal asuras was frustrating to me. I had failed plenty of times defeating wave after wave of normal asura. Then how I ponder, was I able to defeat the bosses so easily? That’s from my perspective. The puzzles in this game were unique, and the way the camera angle works. I’m mixed. The lack of Hindi Audio was also a pain because the dialogue would have worked much better in Hindi than English in my opinion.

On the one hand, if this is a linear game as it is, it worked fine. But on the other, you can upgrade your weapons. The upgrading system didn’t work and many times, I was assigned these new weapons, there wasn’t much to work with here. However, they were fun when fighting against the asura. There needed to be more clarity on the keyboard commands because many times I was pressing Q, W, E often not knowing what I was doing. More on special attacks. Granted, that the tutorials were good, but there needs to be a training arena mode. Before you enter that specific combat area, you can and should be able to practice to get better. An option could be like: Do you want to train before entering combat? A simple yes or no answer.

On the other hand, there should be a first-person camera mode and a third camera mode as well. A screenshot filtering mode as well. I’m still mixed on the camera angles. Also, I appreciate the level design that went into the arenas you fight in. But it was all wide open circles and some squares. I’d have wanted more variety in the type of demons I had to defeat, and more hexagonal shapes. Now, moving onto combat. Combat is not that hard to figure out, it’s your use of the keyboard and the mouse. I’m again mixed. Because on the one hand, you are fighting against endless hordes of asuras. Then, one of them comes and just wipes you out. All that progress you made has gone and you start over. That is something I just didn’t like at all. On the other hand, it’s the same variety. There isn’t much combination but then again, Nodding Heads was strapped for cash, and therefore I think there were much bigger plans to make combat even more challenging. However, because of the money issue, they must have resorted to just a normal combat system that everyone can play as opposed to a good combat system that can give you more challenges. Instead, combat should have been designed in a variety of other ways: Like give us a circling ball and Raji has to keep her balance while we fight for more asuras. Make Raji fight in a game of chess. Make Rajii fight in the galaxy through a variety of other levels. What I’m saying is, the puzzles should have been wide, extensive, and the combat should have reflected that. When I was in Lord Vishnu’s city, Hiranya, there should have been more verticle style puzzles to solve, more spiraling staircases.

It may seem like I’m being too critical, but it’s because Raji has immense potential to become even better. Let’s focus on the strengths: The music of this game is good. I would have wanted more cinematic soundtracks if I’m rather honest. The mythological stories are an excellent foundation for anyone to get interested if they want to learn about Hinduism. The developers wanted to show that India’s more than the Taj Mahal, and that I applaud because India has a lot of amazing architecture that is hidden and not known, including the mythology of Hinduism (which has plenty of amazing stories that could just be a video game in by itself.) The story is strong from the start. But the ending seemed like it foreshadowed a sequel in my opinion. Maybe there wasn’t enough in the budget perhaps to extend more on the story. The puppet-style animations are brilliant, and the visual landscape is awesome. The artists behind this game were really good. Yes, this game has a lot of inspiration from Prince of Persia, Assassin Creed, and many others. But it’s a unique game and dear lord, the breath-taking beauty of this game is just amazing.

My last kind of well, request to the developers would have been to show-case how the mythical realms of the Gods have changed after Raji defeated the Gods. I would have wanted to see Shivloka (The Land of the Mystics) alive, with more NPCs around. I would have wanted to see Lord Vishnu’s bustling city. I wanted to see the Hindu Heavens and what it would have looked like.

Overall, it’s worth playing through. It has plenty of excellent moments, plenty of great story-telling moments, and it has a straight-forward story. Even if the story-writing could have been better in some places, and maybe some re-drafting could also have been needed. It does the job. Raji does what it says on the tin. I just hope the profits made encourage the developers of this amazing game to expand on this game, add in more features, and give us DLC expansion. Make this game a revolution so to say, as in, make it a revolution in the Indian Gaming Market. Because there are plenty of people out there that want a game on Indian mythology. And the developers have done an amazing job. An amazing job. It’s worth it!

Review: The Runes of Destiny (#2) by Christina Courtenay

Rating: 8.5/10

Synopsis:

Separated by time. Brought together by fate.

Indulging her fascination for the Viking language and losing herself in an archaeological dig is just what Linnea Berger needs after her recent trauma. Uncovering an exquisite brooch, she blacks out reading the runic inscription, only to come to, surrounded by men in Viking costume, who seem to take re-enactment very seriously.

Lost and confused, Linnea finds herself in the power of Hrafn, a Viking warrior who claims her as his thrall and takes her on a treacherous journey across the seas to sell her for profit. Setting sail, she confronts the unthinkable: she has travelled back to the ninth century.

Linnea is determined to find a way back to her own time, but there’s a connection forming with Hrafn. Can she resist the call of the runes and accept her destiny lies here…

Review:

The Runes of Destiny is a book that shall I say, is a sort of book that I wish to read more of? It’s in the same vein as Outlander that is for sure. I def enjoyed all the historical settings in this book. Hrafn was the best character, a stoic, noble, kind of man that would be perfect for anything if you gave him a role to do so. This book features some historical time-traveling elements, but it’s not so entirely magical. You’re always grounded that’s for certain. I can’t speak for the historical accuracy in this book, as I am no historian. But I was immersed in the characters, especially Linnea, as I loved her viewpoint a lot. In this book, you’ll travel through the cities of the Kievan Rus, and explore the fabled city of Byzantium (Which, I wished we had seen more of this in this novel)

I’m shipping the chemistry between Linnea and Hrafn. When I envision Hrafn, he reminds me of wearing a Suebian Knot and a German knotted beard reminiscent of the Germanic Peoples centuries ago. I also like how Christina showed the most boring aspects of Viking life and how Linnea as a woman, had to fit in with it. Because back in those times, the concept of equality for women just didn’t exist, or it didn’t exist specifically as spelled out. Women in notable positions of power, rich or poor, had an equal influence on men who were their husbands, fathers, sons. I am seeing this with Hrafn’s Aunt for certain.

That said, I would have wanted Hrafn to spend more time in the modern world and eventually discover what became of his homeland, etc. Of course, that could be breaking the rules of the time travel restraints that have been added here. Thure was a horrible man that should never have existed on the face of the planet, and he ended up becoming the half-brother of Hrafn. However, Hrafn is a shrewd businessman. Put him in modern times, and he could end up running a profitable company! While I loved Linnea’s family, I do wish we had seen a little more restraint when there’s the sort of ‘eventual’ mutual greeting between the past and the present, and that we would have had seen more of Linnea’s parents suddenly amazed and wonderous if they could too, travel back in time for research purposes (it’d certainly help!). Also, I think it’s time, that time travel novels should include people of the past getting to grips with 21st-century technology, especially social media. It would be so damn cool just to see that. Imagine if Hrafn started using it!

I enjoyed this novel a lot. It’s a fun ride, and I don’t take it too seriously from some of the gritter fantasy/sci-fi that I’ve read. It’s fun. And that’s what matters. Also, Kadir was the next best thing to happen in this novel, I want to see more of him! But is he from Serkland? I wonder if he’ll ever go back to the warm lands of the The Runes of Destiny is a book that shall I say, is a sort of book that I wish to read more of? It’s in the same vein as Outlander that is for sure. I def enjoyed all the historical settings in this book. Hrafn was the best character, a stoic, noble, kind of man that would be perfect for anything if you gave him a role to do so. This book features some historical time-traveling elements, but it’s not so entirely magical. You’re always grounded that’s for certain. I can’t speak for the historical accuracy in this book, as I am no historian. But I was immersed in the characters, especially Linnea, as I loved her viewpoint a lot. In this book, you’ll travel through the cities of the Kievan Rus, and explore the fabled city of Byzantium (Which, I wished we had seen more of this in this novel)

I’m shipping the chemistry between Linnea and Hrafn. When I envision Hrafn, he reminds me of wearing a Suebian Knot and a German knotted beard reminiscent of the Germanic Peoples centuries ago. I also like how Christina showed the most boring aspects of Viking life and how Linnea as a woman, had to fit in with it. Because back in those times, the concept of equality for women just didn’t exist, or it didn’t exist specifically as spelled out. Women in notable positions of power, rich or poor, had an equal influence on men who were their husbands, fathers, sons. I am seeing this with Hrafn’s Aunt for certain.

That said, I would have wanted Hrafn to spend more time in the modern world and eventually discover what became of his homeland, etc. Of course, that could be breaking the rules of the time travel restraints that have been added here. Thure was a horrible man that should never have existed on the face of the planet, and he ended up becoming the half-brother of Hrafn. However, Hrafn is a shrewd businessman. Put him in modern times, and he could end up running a profitable company! While I loved Linnea’s family, I do wish we had seen a little more restraint when there’s the sort of ‘eventual’ mutual greeting between the past and the present, and that we would have had seen more of Linnea’s parents suddenly amazed and wonderous if they could too, travel back in time for research purposes (it’d certainly help!). Also, I think it’s time, that time travel novels should include people of the past getting to grips with 21st-century technology, especially social media. It would be so damn cool just to see that. Imagine if Hrafn started using it!

I enjoyed this novel a lot. It’s a fun ride, and I don’t take it too seriously from some of the gritter fantasy/sci-fi that I’ve read. It’s fun. And that’s what matters. Also, Kadir was the next best thing to happen in this novel, I want to see more of him! But is he from Serkland? I wonder if he’ll ever go back to the warm lands of the Mediterranean. I loved it!

Review: The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens (Book #1 of the Songs of the Drowned Triology)

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

A fantasy epic of freedom and empire, gods and monsters, love, loyalty, honour, and betrayal, from the acclaimed author of GODBLIND.

For generations, the forests of Ixachipan have echoed with the clash of weapons, as nation after nation has fallen to the Empire of Songs – and to the unending, magical music that binds its people together. Now, only two free tribes remain.

The Empire is not their only enemy. Monstrous, scaled predators lurk in rivers and streams, with a deadly music of their own.

Review:

My express and gratiude to Jamie at Harpervoyager for allowing me to access an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. My thoughts only.

This is a a dazzling triumph of a new fantasy novel set in one of the most mystical civilizations of this world and I for one, applaud this. Very well written. Exactly the perfect book needed for this time of year. And it is completely different from a Medieval European settings, its Mesomamerica! Finally! This novel has excellent written female protaganists that you will come to love. I loved Xessa a lot more, than Enet for that matter. I tried to sympathise with Enet, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t. You will see why.

The entire continent of Ixachipan became an ever torment mass of fire, fighting and blood. I watched, as an observer, witnessing the events of a fight that would soon engulf everyone. Wars fought for religion. Conflicts started because empires must expand. The cost of innocent lives. War is brutal. And a religion that demands sacrifice to our esteemed Singer and the Song is no less than an evil cult from what I have seen of the Singing City and the Pecha. I like how Anna has described a city of perfection in this novel, and you will witness its unraveling in front of you. You will witness fighting in the Sky City, witness ambushes you have never seen before, and blood will run through this novel.

And never have I felt so much sadness in one book. The shackles of royalty create a growing dark feeling within the Singer himself. That is the only clue I will give. He is a character that you will despise but somewhat sympathize with. Because the most truly evil people weren’t evil in the first place. Circumstances, events, and time presented itself. You may say that the reason the Gods don’t appear anymore in this world, is because of humanity’s free will. Everything is a consequence of human will. If this structure of a story was put in sci-fi and historical fiction, it would fit very well.

That said, I did feel the pacing of the novel could have been a bit faster. I would have had wanted more native-style words of swearing. That would have added a little more immersion in my opinion. The Empire of Songs is a perfect example of what happens when a cult is developed around one figure called the Singer, and that Godhood slowly reveals the madness that the people living in the Empire of Songs are witness to. It is not a perfect empire. It is not an honorable empire. Eventually, all the benefits for their slaves will go to waste at some point. The Empire has a fanatical ability to believe that spreading the Song will bring peace. The people of Tokoban and Yalotan want to be left in peace, but their Council is very arrogant. Very arrogant indeed not to realize the impending threat that the Empire of Song is doing.

And to the characters of this story, I think they are mature enough to understand that they live in a world that is inherently grim-dark to an extent. Mesoamerican society, however, is interpreted from the viewpoint of Monks and not very favourable viewpoints come often. However, there was a Spanish Monk named Bartolomé de las Casas, who arrived in New Spain at the time when the Aztec Empire had ceased to exist. It was he that opposed the coloniser’s brutal efforts of committing atrocities over the local natives of Mexica. An entire story can be written on this hero himself. He owned slaves and then seeing the atrocities that Cortes’s administrators were inflicting, he freed them. He was ahead of his time and it brought the wrath of the Church on him.

Bartolomé often argued in favour of the Native Peoples that were now under Spanish rule, and during a debate in 1550, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, a theologian, philosopher, and an active opponent of anti-slavery, argued that the Indians were less than human and they needed the full might of Spanish civilization to master and subjugate them. In this book, you will see a lot of this when it comes to the Empire of Songs believing that they are superior.

Back to this tale, however, Las Casas argued that the Indians were free, fully human, and that subjugation was not only unjustifiable, but it also was immoral and against the word of God. Las Casas would go on to fight 50 years to stop the atrocities inflicted on indigenous peoples, trying to persuade the Spanish Court to adopt the human policy of colonization, and he opposed those priests who sought to destroy the indigenous people’s native books. I have no doubt there were many other prudent administrators, soldiers, priests that supported Las Casas in this endeavor, and hence we still have the preservation of Aztec and Mayan manuscripts and Anna did a lot of research when it comes to the worldbuilding of this culture.

We don’t have enough viewpoints from the Mesoamericans because the Spanish did order their holy texts to be burned. Temples raised to the ground. The Romans destroyed Carthage and razed it to the ground. Often, we get a viewpoint that has to be interpreted from the winner’s point of view. The loser’s viewpoint is harder to study. Does no one remember the valiant efforts of the Gauls against Julius Ceasar? Who is celebrated more, tell me? Julius Ceasar or his Gallic enemies? Julius Ceasar of course. The reason I bring this to attention is the fact that Anna has done a very good attempt at creating an authentic immersive world that is very free of this bias. The themes of colonialism are rife and the theme of subjugation is ever-present in this novel.

And there is the presence of good vs evil. Of good and evil co-operating with each other. The character I began to sympathize with was the Singer. A man that has a tragic crisis in terms of identity. I don’t wish to spoil what happens. Enet was truly, the most despicable character that I hated. She’s a true politician at heart and a wretched soul. You will discover the reasons why. Xessa was a true dragon at her heart. Along with her lover, Toxte. Tayan and Lilla are the central characters and I liked their viewpoints. Tayan because his mystical viewpoint as a Shaman allowed more exploration into the Drowned and who they were. I felt the story detracted from this very exciting character arc, as it had to focus on other viewpoints. In book 2, I would like to see more of this happening. As for Pilos, he’s a man fighting for the wrong side. He is! The fool should realize that the Empire of Songs is crumbling and it will do no good for him! None! None whatsoever! And there’s an enormous cast of characters that you will come to love and despise. You will learn love, loss and revenge very quickly.

For many years, I have wanted a fantasy novel that was set in Mesoamerica. It seems HarperVoyager and the Gods listened to my prayers. This is truly part of an epic novel. It has the hero’s journey to an extent. But it is more than that. It is about the freedom of people from tyranny. The freedom of a free life is crushed by tyrannical rule by those who think they are doing right. Often, we think of ourselves as heroes. Never for once, do we see ourselves as villains? Human nature is fickle. That’s what I felt from this story. Is humanity so fragile that it cannot stop to think for a second that war is pointless? That love, loss, suffering, and grief are the same? That’s what made me think in this novel. Tragic stories but a hint of hope as well.

This was an excellent novel. I give it a 10/10 and I cannot wait to see what happens in book 2!