Senlin Ascends – Climbing To The Top Of The Favorite List

17554595Ever since Mark Lawrence gave a vote of confidence for Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft, you can’t swing a dead cat (which is a weird saying might I add) without hitting a positive review of it. As such I figured I ought to check it out, because while you probably don’t need yet another review about this increasingly popular book, I was curious to see if Senlin could live up to all the hype. The short answer is yes, this is a great book. For the long answer you will just have to read yet another review of this great book.

Senlin Ascends is a new take on the Tower of Babel, an endlessly tall tower from the Bible filled with incomprehensible wonders and mystery. There have been a number of Babel stories I have read over the years, from Stephen King’s iconic Dark Tower to the manga Get Backers, and it is a subject matter I never get tired of. The running thread through all the stories is that the Tower of Babel is an infinitely tall structure, with something of incalculable worth (usually the means to ascend to godhood or ultimate power) at the top. To get to the top one must navigate through the endless labyrinthian floors of the tower, each with their own unique identity and themes – each floor getting harder to pass through as you ascend. The great thing about The Tower of Babel is that while the stories share this same skeleton, there is an unlimited amount of white space that authors can work with when they design the floors of the tower, and the people who climb them. It means that while there are a lot of tower stories, almost none of them reuse the same tower and the stories always feel fresh and fun. In this particular story, we follow Thomas Senlin, a dour school teacher who has recently married. Senlin and his new wife Marya have wanted to see the wonders of the tower their entire life, and saved up enough money to travel to it and explore the first few floors. Upon arriving at the tower, the two are immediately separated and Senlin soon realizes he must climb the tower to save Marya who has disappeared into the tower’s depths.

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Senlin Ascends hits everything I want in a good Tower of Babel story. First off, Josiah’s tower is impressive. He has managed to intertwine the feeling that the tower is a selfish machine that crushes the lives of those who enter with the wonder and mystery that pervade the entire structure. Each floor has its own unique feel and theme, exhibiting crazy ideas and concepts that run from awe inducing to horrifying, and each present unique obstacles for our protagonist to overcome. Senlin is a different and enjoyable lead from most fantasy. He is a quiet, dour, and naive school teacher who stands out in the tower like a signal flare. His personality means that his trip up is not easy, as he is constantly betrayed, swindled, and stabbed in the back as he moves from floor to floor. He has a pervasive feeling of helplessness that makes him seem a lot weaker and unimpressive that most protagonists of a story like this, but it resulted in me adoring him as I got to watch him grow and evolve through his trial in the tower. One of the central themes to the book is the battle of Senlin’s faith in humanity and the tower’s power to turn every person who enters into a selfish bastard. It means that most of the conflict in the book becomes emotional, and large parts of the story revolve around Senlin figuring out whom he can trust, and whom he can make a better person. It adds a lot of tension to conversations and relationships and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder if Senlin has made a mistake trusting someone, or if he has finally found a friend amidst the bandits that fill the tower to overflowing.

Senlin is a great character, and I would read about him in almost any context. However, while I certainly don’t dislike Marya, I found her a noticeably weaker character than Senlin. I found myself willing her passages to end faster so I could get back to Senlin, which is not a fun feeling. Josiah did a good job putting life into his damsel in distress, but I am not enamored by the idea of Senlin being so driven by his wife of all of a few days. The story quickly grows bigger than simply Senlin trying to find his wife (which is awesome and I can’t wait to find out what is happening in the tower), but I would occasionally find Senlin’s motivations uncompelling.

Senlin Ascends is a fresh new take on The Tower of Babel, and is just as mesmerizing, exciting, and fun as all the reviewers say it is. Based on the quality of this first installment, I’m excited to see where Bancroft can take this concept. What starts as a simple rescue, quickly becomes one of the most captivating mysteries I have ever read and a beautiful journey of self discovery. I highly recommend you check out this new entrant into the fantasy scene, and I don’t see the buzz surrounding it dying down anytime soon.

Rating: Senlin Ascends – 9.0/10

The Legion Of Flame – A Battalion Of Hotness

Let me save you some time. The Legion of Flame, by Anthony Ryan, is great. You should absolutely go pick it up and read it (preferably after reading the initial installment The Waking Fire). Great, now we can get into the actual review.

61u8borhpml-_sx329_bo1204203200_Competition has been harsh this summer. As we pass through June and July, I have seen so many strong releases that it is getting increasingly hard to stand out from the pack. Or so I thought, until I got my hands on Anthony Ryan’s next installment of The Draconis Memoria, The Legion of Flame. Continuing the story of Lizanne Lethridge, Clayton Torcreek, and Captain Corrick Hilemore as they attempt to stave off a reptilian apocalypse, Legion picks up almost exactly where The Waking Fire, book one in the series, left off. The White has awoken and is gathering an army of dragons and Spoiled, and doom is coming. Cue our heroes rushing around to a variety of places to try to save the world. The cast has been expanded again, but telling you about the new POV and characters are direct spoilers, so you will have to settle with trusting me that they are excellent additions to an already great group of people.

One of my few complaints with the first book in the series was that while the story and world were inventive and fun, it felt like a lot of the finer details were glossed over in favor of the action. Why do the Corvantine Empire and the Ironship Protectorate hate each other so much? Who even is the Blood Cadre? Why didn’t Hilemore get more screen time? Luckily for us, The Legion of Flame explores more of the world and politics, giving us a much better understanding of why these conflicts exist and who the major players involved in them are. Liz is given a mission to go to the Corvantine Empire to attempt to negotiate a treaty between the Empire and the Ironship Protectorate in the face of the impending attack from the White and his legion of flame (see what I did there?). While we don’t spend a lot of time in Corvus proper, the time we do spend there is rich in detail and gives a much better understanding of the empire and its ruling class. While this is going on, Clay and Hilemore begin a voyage to the South Pole, in an attempt to fulfill the vision Clay saw when he got some white dragon blood in his mouth (gross).

Here we come upon another complaint of mine from book one that is remedied. Hilemore felt like an awesome, but unnecessary, addition in The Waking Fire, with Clay and Liz given a significantly larger portion of screen time. While he still has less chapters than the two of them, he is greatly expanded upon in a way that I felt was beneficial and added a measure of naval fun to a story that had mostly revolved around “Magic Indiana Jones” and “Magic Girl James Bond”.

Speaking of “Magic Girl James Bond”, Liz’s mission takes her to Scorazin, a prison city in the Corvantine Empire that “no one ever escapes from”. I loved this. While it did expand upon the unfortunate and unnecessary (in my opinion) romance between Arberus and Liz, the time she spends within its walls was fast-paced, full of intrigue, and action packed. There were twists aplenty and I was constantly waiting for her next chapter so I could continue the excitement. Liz continues to claw her way up the ranks of my favorite characters with her brilliant competence, interesting mix of cold secret agent mentality and strong moral compass, and asskicking prowess. Character growth is something that I have given Ryan a hard time for in the past, but watching Liz change as she is put through trial after trial is one of my favorite parts of this series.

Touching back on the romance, it seemed like it was a little forced, and only existed to add some unnecessary tension to Lizanne’s story line. Additionally, Liz’s motivations and drives become a little cloudy and hard to understand around the two thirds point in the book and I had a bit of trouble following the logic of her actions for a few chapters. However, this lack of clarity only lasts a short while and soon the book returns to the streamlined and exciting plot that pervades this entire series.

While it continues the overall story, and sets up book three with an absolutely tantalizing cliffhanger (the suspense is actually killing me), The Legion of Flame contains a remarkably tight story arc of its own, expanding many of the existing plotlines and spinning a whole tapestry of new ones that captivated and astounded me. I spent a ridiculous amount of my time reading this book having absolutely no idea where it was going. The characters are grasping at straws as they try to come up with ways to combat the White, and the narrative structure mimics this beautifully. I was worried that the reveals and twists at the end of the book would not live up to the build up and I was extremely happy to be proven wrong. I am barely able to contain my excitement for the next installment in the series, and continue to be impressed by Ryan’s growth as an author with each of his novels.

If you’re looking for an end of the world driven by dragons, great characters, and a fast-paced but intricate story look no farther than The Legion of Flame. The Quill to Live heartily recommends this book and series.

Rating: The Legion of Flame – 9.0/10

Soul Of The World – A New Frontier Of Magic

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_This week I get to do one of my absolute favorite things, talk about a new dark horse on the 2017 release list. I love magic systems, and today’s book has not one, not two, but three original magical systems to sink your teeth into. Soul of the World is a debut novel by David Mealing that has taken me completely by surprise. I had heard almost nothing about this book until someone handed me an advanced copy, and I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. As such, I am making it my miniature mission to shout to all of you how much fun it is because while you may not have heard of it, it is definitely worth checking out.

They say when you write your first book you should start small, which is apparently a saying that Mealing did not care about. Soul of the World is a huge epic fantasy and just the opening chapter of a complicated and interesting world. The book is set in a semi-alternate history American revolutionary war, except that the English and the French have switched places in the story. The book is initially very confusing with regards as to what is going on, but it is still a blast to read as you try to get your feet on solid ground. Our plot follows three protagonists, each a paragon of one of the three magic systems and a window into three different factions in our story. What is actually happening in the book is a bit of a spoiler, and a mystery I greatly enjoyed unraveling, so instead I am going to focus on the character and magic for this review. Strap in, it’s going to be much longer that usual but I promise you this is worth your time.

First, we have Sarine, a street artist living in the ghettos of the new world using her unique magical talents to survive and scrape out a living. I immediately fell in love with her as a lead and always looked forward to her chapters. Sarine’s magic revolves around a Kaas, a snake/basilisk-like familiar that allows her to manipulate the emotions of those around her. Usually I am not a fan of ‘mind control’ magic as it can make conflict resolution too easy, but Mealing’s take on the concept is much more up my alley. Sarine’s Kaas familiar can influence others, but only by broadcasting things like anger to incite riots, or emanating tranquility to calm a crowd. It is a much less precise form of emotional control than I have seen before – and Mealing uses it to create some interesting situations. Sarine is a solitary, and rather sad, character who spends most of her time talking with her familiar. Her sweet nature and strong moral code won my heart quickly and I enjoyed her story through the entire book.

Second we have Arak’Jur, a tribesman who functions as a Native American surrogate. Originally Arak’Jur was my least favorite lead, but by the end of the book he was easily my favorite. A large part of the book revolves around huge and dangerous magical beasts that roam the continent our characters inhabit. While the English/French live behind a giant magical barrier that keeps the beasts out, the natives have human guardians who protect their tribes by killing the beasts. When a beast is killed, the guardian may beseech the spirit of the animal to give them a boon if the animal was impressed with the guardian’s prowess. These boons allow the guardian to channel some aspect of the beast for a short period of time. I. Love. This. Magic. I cannot begin to express how invested I got in Arak’Jur’s story once I got to see how his magic worked. Mealing is incredibly inventive with his magical beasts, and every time I opened to one of Arak’Jur’s chapters I was bouncing in my chair with excitement to see the next creature that Mealing had made, and what new amazing power that Arak’Jur might get. My original problem with Arak’Jur was he seemed to be a cliche depiction of a Native American and I was going to lambast Mealing for not making him more complex. However, as I spent more time with this stoic and stubborn man I found his personality to be deeper than I originally gave him credit for, and I grew to be more attached to him than anyone else. He can feel like a stick in the mud sometimes, but if you stick with him he will blossom.

The third and final lead is Erris, and I ended up liking her the least despite her having probably the most original of all the magic systems. My problem with Erris was less with her as a character, and more with the fact that she is a high ranking officer in the French military and as a result her chapters highly revolve around military strategy. I am a fan of strategy and tactics, but I felt that a decent number of Erris’s passages could drag as they were bogged down by logistical minutia. However, her magic is called binding and is based on territorial control – which is awesome. Binders are born with access to a few of the many ley lines running throughout the world – and each country in the story has access to a number of leylines equal to the size of their territorial control. This creates this weird and awesome need to keep expanding the size of your country and made conflict constantly feel natural and inevitable. Binders can sense pockets of power around them that gather when the corresponding emotion or aspect is concentrated in that location. The easiest example of this is if a lot of people die someone, Death binders will find a pocket of ‘Death’ to fuel their magic. I am not doing this system enough justice with this paragraph, trust me it is cool.

On top of having just a ridiculous number (3) of magic systems, our characters gain an insane number of powers as the book progresses. In most fantasy novels I have read, you might have a protagonist find one or two new powers in a story and then spend the entire book contemplating how it changes their lives. I kept a counter next to me as I read Soul of the World, and by the halfway mark the protagonists had collectively gained over twenty new powers. If you had asked me what I thought of characters gaining that many new powers before reading this, I would have said I bet the story devolves into an incoherent mess. But, while Soul of the World certainly gets messy, it is a mess that is fun to roll around in that has a clear underlying cohesion that runs through it. Things get really exciting when characters start combining their powers, adding endless freshness to the combat, and when some characters start mixing the different magic systems I was clawing at the pages with unbridled joy.

While I have just given you a truck load of reasons to go out and buy this debut immediately, I would be remiss if I didn’t also do my job and talk about its flaws. The combat is thrilling, but the general prose of the book could definitely use some polish. As I was reading Soul of the World I could definitely tell that this was Mealing’s first book and some of his word choice, phrasing, and dialogue could be improved a little bit. However, this is very typical of a first novel in my experience and I am sure that as he continues to churn out more awesome books his authorial voice will only get better.

Soul of the World is a magical book, almost overflowing with originality. The few problems I had with the narrative were vastly outweighed by the fascinating world, fun characters, and captivating magic that pervade the story. I have no doubt that this book will be considered a hidden gem for the next few months, but I hope that with help from myself and others, enough people will pick this up to give it the attention it deserves. The Quill to Live definitely recommends you give David Mealing, and Soul of the World, a chance.

Rating: Soul of the World – 8.5/10

Tyrant’s Throne – Goodbye For Now

30317594As I have gotten older I have noticed a change in my reaction to the conclusion of series I love. When I was younger, I would buy final books the moment I could and then power through them immediately, dying to know what happened next. Now, I look at them nervously with a little sadness as I think about how I won’t be getting any more. I usually sit on the book for awhile, savoring the coming end and thinking about all the good times with the series I have had. This was particularly true with Tyrant’s Throne, by Sebastien de Castell, the last of The Greatcoats series. If you have read any of my past posts you will know I absolutely adore this series, and I was terrified to start the finale. On the other hand, once I opened the first page of the book the worries washed away from me as I leaped into the wonderful mind of Falcio val Mond once more.

When we last left our heroes, they had just survived death by the narrowest of margins in a conflict that left their country in shambles. Once again they find themselves the janitors to the world biggest mess, but their country has been broken so many times at this point that the pieces are starting to look unrecognizable. After three internal conflicts, Tristia is now facing its first external conflict: Avares. Their barbarian neighbors to the northwest have raided Tristia for centuries, but an unknown force has united the country under one banner to invade Tristia once and for all in its moment of weakness. While Falcio tries to put Aline on the throne, they must bring together a group of individuals who hate one another to keep Tristia from being wiped off the map.

One of my favorite books of all time is Legend, by David Gemmell, and de Castell seems to have taken a page right out of his magnificent book. An age old threat, coming together to become an unstoppable force that must meet the immovable object of our protagonists. Once again de Castell has raised the stakes of his series with a fantastic new villain, and he has pulled together the threads of his past four books to create a very memorable conclusion. Tyrant’s Throne has everything you love about the previous books; heartbreaking moments, laugh out loud humor, a lovable/hateable cast of characters, a fascinating world, and a fantastic author’s voice. However, Tyrant’s Throne also brings its own voice to the chorus that is the series and presents us with a new and terrible theme: the corruption of Falcio. It was a direction that I did not expect Sebastian to take – and it left a horrible oily slick feeling on my brain while I was reading it (In a good way?). Falcio is so very close to achieving the goal that he has spent his life reaching towards, putting the daughter of his king on the throne. As he gets closer, he finds that he might be willing to break the ideals that he espouses in order to end the conflict once and for all. The exploration of Falcio and his adherance to his own rules was masterfully done, despite the sickening feeling it gave me. De Castell did an incredible job of devising scenarios where there just was no way to win and left you (and Falcio) to wonder what was the best way forward.

As I mentioned before, the final villain is fantastic. It was a perfect antagonist to conclude the series, and it felt like an excellent final foe for our trio. The book has a number of heartfelt moments that hit me hard, and while the book favored less humor than its predecessors due to a more somber tone; the book still had me in stitches repeatedly. De Castell still impresses me with his ability to work profound ideas into such funny characters, and I always love how deep these books can be while also remaining a fun swashbuckling romp. There was very little not to love with Tyrant’s Throne, but I do feel that the final battle was a little less climactic that his previous novels. The series finale sees a shift in focus from our trio of leads to the greater cast as a whole, and while I thought it was masterfully done I liked the tight focus on Falcio more.

That being said, my complaints with Tyrant’s Throne are a small footnote on an essay of why I loved it. The thing that impressed me most was the ending of the full series. De Castell manages to close out his story in a beautiful and magical way that also leaves the door wide open for him to pick the story up at a later date. He manages to do the rare thing of giving our cast full closure on this part of their lives, while also looking to the horizon and paving the way for a return of our greatcoats in the future. Sebastien continues to build his world and reveal new secrets about how it works, right up until the last page. While our trio might be done, the future looks exciting and interesting for our cast – and I would love to come back and see them soon.

So Greatcoats, it has been an incredible journey – and I thank you for allowing me to accompany Falcio on it. While this is certainly an end for the story of our greatcoats, I hope it is not THE end. So I will say goodbye for now and I hope to see your shining hearts again soon. As the door closes on one of my all time favorite series, I will be turning to de Castell’s new book Spellslinger to keep me company. For all of you who have not picked up The Traitor’s Blade yet, well have I got a recommendation for you…

Rating:

Tyrant’s Throne – 9.0/10
The Greatcoats – 9.5/10

The Wall Of Storms – A Book So Large, You Could Use It In Liu Of A Weapon

wallofstormsJune of 2017 has been a crazy month of great book releases, and I have a ton of interesting reviews coming up for the many books that have come out. However, before I get to any of these hot potatoes, I need to take a moment to talk about a big release from the end of last year: The Wall of Storms, by Ken Liu. Ken Liu made a huge splash in the fantasy world with his incredible short stories, in particular his story Paper Menagerie that I guarantee will make you cry. He then followed that up by translating a world famous science fiction novel, The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, from Chinese to English, before finally moving on to start publishing his own fantasy series. His series began with The Grace of Kings, a book that made a big splash for its original setting but has seemed to fade a bit from existence. I was a fan of the first book, and I was surprised more people didn’t seem pumped for the sequel because it is definitely worth checking out.

The Wall of Storms, much like its predecessor, is a very difficult book to review. I couldn’t really put my finger on it when I was reviewing Grace, but upon finishing Storms I have realized its because they are so damn large (almost 900 pages) that they are each really two books. Each half of the book tells a continuous story, but in two distinct arcs. The problem is I had very different feelings about the arcs making the book as a whole difficult to talk about as a collective piece. So, instead I am going to review them separately.

Arc I: When we left off with book one, the Dara empire had just be reunified and we had reentered a time of peace. The first part of the book is about infrastructure, and I never thought I would say this: I loved it. It felt like a really good look into Asian philosophies, allowed for some great character development of older characters, and introduced a fantastic new cast from the next generation in the story. It reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones, in the sense that we are now getting a look at what it takes to maintain a “happily ever after”. Seeing the small changes to the countries structure and government was thrilling, and watching people play political games in the peace that follows war was awesome. I have almost no negatives from the first half of the book and I feel like I would have given it a 9.5/10.

Arc II: Here is where we start running into some problems. In the second half of the story we go back to war, this time against an external threat. New villains have arisen from behind the impassable wall of storms that isolated the island of Dara from the rest of the world and it puts the new country to the test. While there was a lot of good in this second act, it did have some points I was not fond of. I thought that while some of the military engagements were awesome, a few felt lack luster. The Gods of Dara, which are part of the appeal of this series for me, are largely absent in the second arc. Finally, one of the things that Ken Liu does really well is impart a sense of impartiality in his books. The characters all feel like real people, and there is no plot armor to protect them from the ravishes of time and history. By doing this he makes his books feel like a blend of fantasy and historical fiction, which I really like. The problem with this is sometimes he WILL give a few characters plot armor, and it makes the events stand out negatively with how he treats the rest of the cast. It makes it hard to swallow when some favorite characters die “as that’s just the way the world is sometimes” compared to when some characters seem to walk-off having mountains dropped on them. However,I still found the second arc a great read, even with its flaws: 8.0/10.

This series continues to be one of the most original and interesting ones I have picked up. While I am sure some people are going to hate its style, I think it is worthwhile for all fantasy fans to try it out and see what they think for themselves. The story has some really great morals and philosophies that I love, and I really don’t know where Liu is taking the plot – which excites me. So considering all of that, it should be no surprise that The Quill to Live definitely recommends (a second time) you pick up The Grace of Kings or continue with The Wall of Storms.

Rating: The Wall of Storms – 8.5/10

The Prey Of Gods – Gods And Robots And Popstars (Oh My)

y648Two of my favorite things come together in today’s review: interesting settings and science fiction/fantasy mashups. The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden (her debut novel), takes place in South Africa and has a whole lot going on including reborn gods, super drugs, mind control, and AI gaining sentience to name a few. The excellent cover caught my eye, and when I read the first chapter and it ended with gay sex between a dolphin and a crab I was intrigued to know what the next chapter had in store (you know you are a little curious).

The Prey of Gods most reminds me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, in all the best ways. The story tells of several fantastical players’ machinations coming to a head in the modern age. There is an age-old sadistic goddess stuck doing manicures for a living as she tries to regain her power. There is a young boy who is discovering that he has the power to mind control others while he is high. There are AI servants who are slowly gaining consciousness. All of these people are thrown into a pot where they work against and with one another to create this weird tapestry that feels hectic, but is a blast to follow along with.

This book might have the most diverse cast I have ever read, and I guarantee it has something for you. My personal favorite character is a politician who turns into a drag pop diva as the story progresses, as he is hilarious. While his story didn’t appeal to me initially – his personality is magnetic and I just loved the way his voice on the page pulled me in. Drayden has a real talent for multiple POVs, as she managed to give her characters very different voices while also maintaining a nice cohesion across the story. Another favorite of mine is the robots. As opposed to most robot uprisings that I have read, this is more an uprising of robot moms? One of the AI’s is observing a second POV and is essentially concerned for his health and is constantly worried about him – which was adorable. Despite the fact that there were definitely POVs I liked more than others, there weren’t any I disliked.

Despite a messy start, the story quickly solidifies into a clear plot. I mentioned the sadistic goddess? She is quickly established as the antagonist of the book, and it is up to the rest of the ensemble cast to band together and pool their skills to stop her. Drayden does an excellent job mixing her crazy ideas with small poignant emotional moments between her characters that get you invested quickly. My favorite scenes varied between huge flashy displays of magic, and small quiet conversations between family members. It is a book that knows how to balance the serious and the fun to make you appreciate both.

If I had any critique for the book it might be that despite being set in South Africa, I didn’t feel like I got a strong enough sense of the culture and environment I was immersed it. Drayden does show us some of the old goddesses, tribes, and cultures of the land but I never quite found myself fully transported into Africa in quite the way I was hoping, but this could be just as much a failing on my part.

Overall, The Prey of Gods is an incredible debut from an author with a vivid imagination, and a talent for bringing tons of different POVs to life. This book felt like a stand alone, but there is definitely room for a sequel if Drayden wanted to, and I would be happy with any additional books she cared to write. The Quill to Live definitely recommends you check out this wacky and poignant adventure sometime soon.

Rating: The Prey of Gods – 9.0/10

Raven Stratagem – Worth Rav(en)ing About

30691976Well we are back to this crazy series this week. For those of you unfamiliar with The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee, it is a ridiculous military science fiction in a confusing and exciting universe. For those who have not read the first book (The NineFox Gambit), I highly recommend you just go read my review instead of lingering around here – nothing is going to make sense otherwise. For those of you who are still here, let’s talk about the brand new second book in the series, Raven Stratagem.

If I had to distill my experience with The Ninefox Gambit down to one sentence, it would be: I have no idea what is going on – but it is so fast and exciting that I am fine with it. In Raven Stratagem, things are still confusing as all hell – but Yoon Ha Lee spends time making events noticeably more clear than book one. This does, however, come at the cost of some speed and excitement. I think it is a good trade off, especially for a middle book in a series, and in the long run is of service to the story. As a result, Raven Stratagem didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat quite like book one, but I feel like I have a much better understanding of the players in the story and the direction the plot is going. One of the major changes to the story is a narration change from a central POV to multiple POVs. When we had last left our intrepid heroes (Cheris/Jedao) their health was a bit unclear and they fell off the grid. Raven opens with their reemergence onto the scene and the theft of a new fleet of ships in order to wage war. To add mystery and intrigue to their plan, the POV shifts away from them to the displaced general of the stolen fleet, Kel Khiruev, and the hexarch of the Shous, Mikodez. These two POVs allow for a much bigger 360 degree look into Cheris/Jedao’s plans and allowed for a lot more world building that was present in the first novel.

The result is a lot less brilliant strategic executions, though they still litter the book, and a lot more small stories adding depth and emotion to the characters. Both of the new POVs are good, but I really got behind the hexarch. He gives tons of insights into how the hexarchate works, and was just a blast to read about as a character. His hilarious dialogue and strange personality go a long way to adding some levity to this mostly sad story, and he is just a fun person to read about – even if he is trying to inconvinence our protagonists. The other POV, Khiruev, is fine but just didn’t resonate on the same level for me as the hexarch. While I think the trade off of excitement for structure was good, I will say that Raven does occasionally slow down a bit too much for my taste. Cheris and Mikodez both have small quirks that I found to be nice breaks from the action, but Khiruev’s sections could occasionally feel like they were dragging on a little bit. Finally, one thing I loved about Raven was how it fleshed out and spent more time with all of the orders of the hexarchate, and I am hoping that the next POVs might be from one of the four other factions we have not got a detailed look into yet.

Raven Stratagem might not have the speed and excitement of The Ninefox Gambit, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great time. The second book in this series grounded me in the world, introduced new and exciting characters, and still had a good helping of the excitement and twists that made the first novel so powerful. This is shaping up to be one of the best science fiction series in recent memory, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Rating: Raven Stratagem – 8.0/10