The Empire Of Ashes – Come Get It While It’s Hot

a19o2yo0d2blI find myself sadly wrapping up a number of series this month, leaving me feeling like I am saying goodbye to a number of dear friends. Today’s book is the finale in the Draconis Memoria, Anthony Ryan’s newest trilogy. The final book is called The Empire of Ashes, and I will tell you right off the bat that it sticks the landing. If you liked The Waking Fire or The Legion of Flame, I have no doubt that the final book will give you everything you want. I am going to direct this review to those who have read the first, or first two, book(s), but if you are unfamiliar with the series you can find my sell on The Waking Fire here. It would be easy to say “it’s just as good as the others” and leave the review at that, but Empire does a great job distilling and promoting my favorite elements of The Draconis Memoria – and as we close out the series, this seems like a good time to talk about them.

The PlotEmpire brings it all together. The plot of Draconis has been steller from the start: ragtag group of individuals banding together in a industrial world to stop a dragon menace with guns and magic. As the series has progressed it has been one twist after another, with the plot pulling you along at a breakneck pace. While Empire still has the same level of engrossing story as the previous two books, where it improves the plot is how everything comes together. Anthony Ryan must have planned this story on a giant conspiracy board because every seemingly unrelated thing in the books come together in the end to form a huge picture. The level of detail and connection in the plot is astounding and I felt elated as I watched all the pieces from this series fall into place.

The World – Each book in Draconis has expanded the scope of the world. Waking started on a single island, Legion expanded to the major continents/empires, and Empire shows the you full world that Ryan has crafted. I was surprised at how well Empire managed to balance fleshing out its entire world and a focused engaging story. Ryan’s ability to paint a huge sweeping picture of a living world with tons of different governments and peoples, while also losing none of the pacing and immersiveness of his plot is a step up from his past work with his last series, The Raven’s Shadow. On top of all of this, the plot of Empire sees the birth of a technological arms race to combat the White’s power that is spectacular to witness. Ryan’s talent for fight scenes comes through in spades as you read spectacular show downs of magic, machines, and dragons.

The Characters – While there are many reasons I would tell you to read this series, the greatest is its characters. The cast of this book contains a number of my new favorite characters, including one that might be my #1 badass of all time. When I started The Waking Fire, I thought Clay was the coolest guy in town. While my love for Clay has in no way been diminished, I have realized that there is an even greater champion of amazingness in this series: Lizanne. I don’t normally focus so much attention on a single character, but Holy Christ do I love Lizanne. She effortlessly mixed uptight bureaucrat, fearless leader, and unstoppable badass into one incredible, and believable, person. She feels flawed enough to be real, but capable enough to be someone that would have entire history books written about her. Her reactions to everything are priceless, her fight scenes and stunts are legendary, and she is someone I really wish I could be friends with. While she eclipses the others, the entire cast of Empire has these qualities in some form, and I found I was not ready to leave this world when I was finishing the last pages.

The Empire of Ashes is a phenomenal conclusion to a series that has only gotten better in each book, and started off strong. My one and only criticism of it is that there is a pretty obvious Chekhov’s Gun that is left on the table, Ryan even makes a nod to it, and it left me pretty disappointed. However, other than that Empire is everything I could have wanted it to be and I cannot wait to find out what Ryan has in store for us next.

Rating:
The Empire of Ashes – 9.5/10
Draconis Memoria – 9.5/10
-Andrew

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One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

51dk2bbubyflI thought about spacing these out a little more, but as they say in every single fantasy book with a blacksmith (read: all of them), strike while the iron is hot. Please take a moment to read my review from last week on The Heartstrikers book one, Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron, or a lot of this review won’t make any sense. It was an impressive introduction to a dragon based urban fantasy, and despite its flaws I immediately bought the second book in the series (One Good Dragon Deserves Another) and started reading it. I wanted to jump into a follow up review for book two because it addresses a number of problems I had with the first book, whilend taking the positives and kicking them up a notch for an incredible read. The Heartstrikers is rapidly jumping up my recommendation list and I am super excited I have three more books left to read.

So what’s better about One Good Dragon? Well for one, it’s about twice as long as its previous novel. This gives it a huge amount of additional space for plot, world, and character development. The first book ends with a devious plot from a rival dragon gang foiled, and Julius surviving his mother’s wrath by the skin of his teeth. The second book simply picks up right where Nice Dragons left off, as the aforementioned rival dragon clan comes back for round two. A big theme of The Heartstrikers books is destiny, and the abilities of dragon sages to see and influence the future. In One Good Dragon, an enemy sage has learned a way to force fate down the paths she desires – making things truly unpleasant for the Heartstriker clan. Julius, concerned for the potential destruction of his family, steps up and involves himself in the plots of his mother and enemies to try and save everyone. The plot of book two is a lot more complicated, but a lot more rewarding. Book one felt like a prologue compared to One Good Dragon, and the step up in complexity lead to a much more fulfilling and exciting read. However, I will say that my one complaint for book two was that I had a slightly difficult time understanding some of the internal logic of Rachel Aaron’s world near the end of the story, and she might want to make the workings of some elements of her story a little more clear.

That being said, holy cow did the world building and character development take a significant step up (and it was already strong to begin with). In Nice Dragons Finish Last most of our world building was centered around the Heartstrikers and New Detroit. While it was excellent, it was somewhat narrow in scope – especially compared to the second book which sees an explosion of new characters and cultures introduced. Several new kinds of magic, cultures, and places show up in One Good Dragon and the series has reached the point where I am excited for each new page to see what Rachel Aaron will dream up next. In particular, I loved her “dragon hunter” from the Scandinavian Fjords in this book and hope she continues to work in magic from all over the world (which I am sure she will).

The characters were the big sell from book one, and somehow they have gotten even better. Rachel continues to introduce the reader to a number of Julius’ extended family, each a personality that makes the Heartstriker melting pot more delicious to dive into. In particular, book two brings us Julius’ oldest and most powerful sibling, Amelia, and I can’t get enough of her. In addition, some of my previous complaints about Julius and his repetitious thoughts are gone. His character felt much more coherent and enjoyable to be around, despite still liking him a good deal in the first book.

Overall, One Good Dragon Deserves Another is bigger, better, faster, and stronger than its previous novel. Rachel Aaron clearly improved her already good writing between the books, and I am now selling this series even harder than I was before. The Heartstrikers is turning out to be a real treat and I recommend you check it out as soon as possible. P.S. I am really enjoying the naming conventions.

Rating: One Good Dragon Deserves Another – 8.5/10
-Andrew

Nice Dragons Finish Last – So Many Feelings

20426102I am really annoyed because I thought I had a hidden gem review with this book. Unfortunately, every other reviewer I know apparently read Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron, at the same time as me and has already gotten their review out. However, at the end of the day I am just happy that this story is getting a bunch of exposure because I have so many strong feelings about it. Nice Dragons is a self published (I think, I couldn’t actually confirm) urban fantasy with a ton of heart, and is currently criminally underread. It is the first installment in a five book series that just put out the final book this week. The plot, characters, and worldbuilding are frankly incredible, and while it suffers from some small but noticeable problems, Nice Dragons provides some of the most fun I have had in awhile.

The plot is initially simple. Julius is the youngest and smallest dragon in the Heartstriker family, a dragon clan famous for its large size (number of members) and a powerhouse in the magical world. His mother is extremely disappointed that he doesn’t seem to be doing anything with his life other than avoiding the plans and machinations of her and the other children. To remedy this, she seals his magic and throws him into Detroit with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t do something to make her proud in the next few days he will be put to death. He links up with one of his older siblings who gives him a job/quest, which will hopefully impress his mom and result in his continued existence. While a harmless starting point, things predictably spin out of control and rapidly expand in scope. Rachel has a real talent for keeping a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and the book explodes into a number of different plot threads that are all intertwined. Overall, the story held my interest and kept me engaged the whole way through – and I bought the second book immediately after finishing Nice Dragons.

The worldbuilding is really on point for an urban fantasy. I think that saying urban fantasy has lazy worldbuilding as a genre is a gross generalization, but I will say that I expect less of it than when reading a more traditional fantasy novel. Rachel took that expectation and broke its spine over her knee. Nice Dragons has an astounding amount of imaginative worldbuilding that puts you in a place that is both vaguely familiar and completely new. The book mostly takes place in a reimagined Detroit, and the changes she described paint a city that has evolved into a magical city state – self ruled and self regulated. The mix of background subjects that Rachel draws her inspiration from is also impressively diverse – including lore from England, Mesoamerica, Russia, Scandinavia, and more. This lore is used to highlight small loveable details such as the fact that Heartstrikers are feathered Aztec dragons descended from Quetzalcoatl. It is a small detail, but it felt so fresh in the landscape of traditional european dragons. Every single new idea and detail Rachel introduced in her world had me excited and awestruck.

While I enjoy heaping praise on the plot and worldbuilding, the real place that this book shines is the characters. I ADORE the full cast of this book. It is filled with unique and memorable characters from top to bottom regardless of their immediate importance. Julius’ oldest brother Bob is particularly delightful, and ranks up there with some of my all time favorite characters. Julius himself is wonderful, if a little whiny at first, and the second protagonist Marci (who you meet a little ways into the book) balances him out perfectly. Everyone feels relatable, interesting, and fun making me feel highly invested in each member of the cast.

Despite all my praise, Nice Dragons definitely has a few shortcomings. The most glaring is that a couple conversations in the book can be extremely repetitive. Julius feels like he talks about his status as the weakest dragon in his clan every ten pages, and constantly goes to pains to remind you how he usually tries to avoid his older siblings. Occasionally, his frequent talks of how scary his siblings are can lead to some great emotional payoff when you finally meet them, but often I found myself thinking “yes, yes, I know” when reading pages. Additionally, there is a romance subplot that can be painfully awkward sometimes, though I do like the general direction that it is going.

I read Nice Dragons Finish Last in almost a single sitting, and bought the sequel immediately after setting it down. This by itself should tell you my overall feelings about the book, I highly recommend it to everyone. The Heartstrikers is shaping up to be my favorite urban fantasy ever, and will definitely place well among all books that I have read. If you want to read about a lovable dragon taking on impossible odds, surrounded by fantastic characters, in a kick ass world – then this might be the book for you.

Rating: Nice Dragons Finish Last – 8.0/10
-Andrew

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

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – A Fitting End

As always when I review the end of a series, the review can either go one of two ways: a detailed breakdown of how the author messed up the landing or a confirmation that the last book is still great and an overarching review of the series. I am happy to say that Within the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennen, falls into the latter category. I have touched on this series a lot here and there in past reviews and other posts, but as it winds to a close I wanted to take a moment to talk about it as a whole and to give it the credit it deserves.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the books follow an anthropologist’s memoirs as she tells the tale of her work with dragons as one of the first female scientists of her time. It must be said that they are beautifully illustrated. The series is five books long, each book taking place in a different setting with different research goals in mind. Each book builds upon the discoveries of the last, ending in a society changing discovery (which I of course won’t spoil). With the arrival of Within the Sanctuary of Wings, we finally get to find out what we have been building towards. My reaction to the big reveal was a good summary of my general feelings towards the series: I was genuinely surprised, intrigued by the really cool concept, but not blown away.

One of the key take aways I keep mentioning when I talk about this series is that while I really enjoy it for a number of reasons, it isn’t the most exciting of stories. I have decided that this isn’t a fair criticism of my experience with the book, because it results directly from one of the book’s biggest positives: these books feel like an actual history/science journal. These five novels are the closest I have ever felt to feeling like dragons were real and alive, and reality is not always super exciting. Science is not a field where everything is splitting the atom every month, there is tons of slow painful research leading up to that – and this series reflects that without its storytelling suffering in the name of accuracy. The series finds the perfect balance of accuracy and liberty with scientific process so that it feels correct, but not boring.

Additionally, Brennan did a fantastic job developing the world and cultures of her series. Looking back over the five books, the vast array of locations and people I explored is impressive. Her world is deeply fleshed out and feels like a real ecosystem. The character growth from both the protagonist (Lady Trent) and the support cast was very well handled and it was great to see character’s prejudices, opinions, and scientific understanding grow and evolve as the series progressed. The story takes place at a time of war, and the elevation of the conflict adds a lot to the tension and excitement of the books. Everything in this paragraph essentially sums up to the fact that The Memoirs of Lady Trent succeed not only as books, but as a collective series. The pacing and exploration of the world are masterfully handled, and the characters and story are a joy to progress with.

If I had to change anything about the series, it would likely to spend a little less time at the beginning of each book prepping for the eventual adventure. I understand the importance of setting a stage, but the first third of each book eventually boiled down to “someone shows Lady Trent something awesome, so she goes on an adventure”. However, even this couldn’t dampen my joy with this story. Ever since I was a child I have loved the idea of dragons, and I can’t say enough that this is the closest I have gotten to feeling they were alive. The Quill to Live definitely recommends The Memoirs of Lady Trent, and suggests you grab a copy of the books and learn about the natural history of dragons.

Rating:

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – 8.0/10
The Memoirs of Lady Trent – 8.5/10

His Majesty’s Dragon – A Good Ole English Time

I have finally gotten around to reading one of the most popular fantasy series from the last decade, Temeraire, by Naomi Novik. The nine book series starts with His Majesty’s Dragon, and has just concluded last year with its final installment. The series is a historical fiction set in the Napoleonic Wars, with almost everything the same except that everyone has dragons. This book has been on my to do list for a long time and I was excited to see if it lived up to the hype.

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Our protagonist is a man named Laurence, former captain of His Majesty’s Navy, who gets unfortunately coerced into the aerial corps. Laurence, and the ship under his command, open the book by capturing a French vessel that contains a dragon egg about to hatch. Due to the value and importance of dragons to the war against France, the officers of the ship decide they need to have someone try and imprint with the dragon as it hatches to recruit it for England’s forces. Unsurprisingly, the dragon (Temeraire) imprints on Laurence.

The rest of the book follows Laurence as he transitions from his life as a naval man to the air force and begins his training with Temeraire. Novik does a great job of showing the life of a dragon rider, and the training of Temeraire had me captivated from the moment that they set down at boot camp. The dragon corps and its effect on England’s wartime strategies are very well fleshed out and integrated into the history of the Napoleonic wars. That being said, while Novik did a great job showing how dragons have impacted the current era wars of England, there was little to no indication of how the advent of war dragons affected the course of human history. It felt as though they had just showed up right before the start of this book and the rest of history stayed pretty much the same. However, this is an instance where I am hoping that the historical effects of dragons is explored in the later sequels.

In terms of characters, we kind of get a mixed boat. I was a big fan of Temeraire. The dragons have a lot of personality, and watching Temeraire explore the world and learn things was incredibly endearing. On the other hand, Laurence is a bit of a wet noodle. He is the most stereotypical English character I have ever read, whose idea of a good time is queuing in a line. While Laurence doesn’t really detract from the story, another reviewer I saw put it best when she said “we could have had Jack Sparrow, but instead we got James Norrington”. Moving past our leads, I found the support cast very strong. Laurence spends a good part of the book recruiting a crew for Temeraire, and I found his underlings and fellow dragon captains a lot of fun.

Overall, the book was fun but slightly on the dull side. The final conflict of book is a bit of a let down, but the build up and the reveals are exciting. I will definitely be continuing the series, as I suspect that it is a bad idea to judge the series from just its first installment. Overall if you like dragons, historical fiction, or queuing in lines than this will be a great book for you.

Rating: His Majesty’s Dragon – 7.5/10