Sorcery Of A Queen – Brilliance Of An Author

9781250309679The excellence of Sorcery of a Queen is honestly flabbergasting. Queen is the second book in The Dragons of Terra trilogy by Brian Naslund, and it’s a crime that as of writing this review there are only 10 ratings on goodreads. This book does so many things right that it straight up blew my mind. It has incredible characters, exciting action, deep and original worldbuilding, a gripping plot, a compelling antagonist, great themes, excellent pacing, strong character growth, and a level of polish and inclusivity that made me positively vibrate with happiness. Sorcery of a Queen is easily one of my top books of 2020; Naslund positively killed it with his second novel.

If you are just hearing about this series for the first time and wondering why I am raving like a lunatic, may I kindly redirect you to my review of book one in the series: Blood of an Exile. Naslund’s first book was a 2019 gem that I missed and didn’t get to until January of this year. I refused to make the same mistake with his second installment. I can’t really go into many plot details without spoiling things, something I absolutely refuse to do. If you have read Blood of an Exile, Queen’s story picks up immediately after the end of book one and revolves primarily around the escalation in stakes, technology, and conflict caused by the first book finale. If you haven’t read Blood of an Exile, you have made a mistake, and I again recommend you check out my review of book one. However, before you realize your error and dive into Exile, let me shout at you about its excellence.

The series follows a quartet of characters: A queen, an exile, a bodyguard, and a young alchemist. Each character has their own rich backstory, and Naslund does a wonderful job giving each of them agency and distinction, while cleverly interweaving their stories. Sorcery of a Queen is an extremely powerful character story and has so much delicious character growth. The alchemist gets pulled into a conflict by chance, but ends up learning about himself and the world while working as a field medic. The queen, a master of politics and leadership, finds that she is actually a woman of action and there is a powerful joy in physically pushing humanity towards a better future. The bodyguard is a woman of honor and conviction, but her chosen path in life forces her to closely examine the value and worth of bonds and where she will draw the line. The exile is a man condemned to death, who learns he cannot die, who then learns he cannot escape death. The amount of change this rollercoaster of events unleashes on his personality and life outlook is a work of art and a truly original observation of the human condition. These are excellent characters.

In general, the overall quality of Queen has also improved from Exile. The prose is better, the action is punchier, and the humor is funnier. The pacing in Exile was good, but Queen’s is perfect. I absolutely flew through this book, reading it in just two weekdays. The POVs all strike this great balance that constantly compels you to read more. The worldbuilding is also just bigger. The stakes of Exile were fairly small, with each of the characters having fairly simple and straightforward goals: stay alive, find a girl, get a job, research dragons. Towards the end of Exile, things began to escalate and it paved the way for Queen to grab a perfect narrative baton-pass and expand into a fully fleshed out world with bigger stakes. In particular, one thing I was enamored with was the evolution of themes. In Exile there was really one major theme, this idea of naturalism and that dragons were an important part of the ecosystem (and hunting them was destroying it). In Queen, this theme is still very present, but a number of additional themes like the cost of war, the nature of friendship, and the dangers of unchecked science all join it to build a much more luscious and juicy story. This enhancement of an already good story builds to something wonderful.

Sorcery of a Queen is fantastic, breaking every single one of my high expectations to tell a story that was nothing short of wonderful. Blood of an Exile had some good ideas and great characters, but Queen has it all. Usually, when I review a book I like to talk about if its best for readers who focus on characters, plot, worlds, or ideas. It is very rare that I come across a book that I can unilaterally recommend to all of those people, and this is one such occasion. I loved Sorcery of a Queen and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

Rating: Sorcery of a Queen – 10/10
-Andrew

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