The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie – Review

Series rating: 4.25/5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, grimdark

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Synopsis Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

This was my first Joe Abercrombie series and as you can tell, I really liked it. This series is the paragon of grimdark, so if you’re looking for any shred of redemption or happy ending, look elsewhere. But if you’re up for some grimness and some darkness, look no further.

My favourite book in the series was the first one. The other two were a bit too long and got boring at times. I feel like there were some scenes that could have been cut out without any damage to the story and would have streamlined it a little. But they were still 4/5 star reads. My main complaint with the series overall is that by the end of it, we don’t understand much more about the world and magic system than when we begin. And within the narrative, that makes sense. None of the POV characters had any reason or opportunity to learn much about it. But I just wish we got more, because I really love magic systems and I would have liked to understand this one more. Especially that so much was hinted at. We do learn some things, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.

The characters were all pretty horrible people. I can’t really think of any one of them that could count as decent. Except for Jezal, who actually becomes half decent by the end of the series. But the rest of them either stay the same, or become even worse. Having said that, they are thoroughly enjoyable characters. I was absolutely invested in their lives and what happens to them and horrible as they are, I was actually rooting for them. Glokta is my favourite. His narrative is just the funniest. He’s got a bone dry wit that’s just so entertaining to read. He’s also probably the most obviously despicable of the lot, since he often tortures people he knows to be innocent.

As I said before, I thought the world was really interesting, but I do wish it had been explored more. There are some things that are mentioned or briefly glossed over which sound so interesting. I’d have loved to see more of them. But I know that they wouldn’t have served to drive this story forward. It’s not necessary to understand them for the purposes of this story. I also really liked the plot itself. It’s definitely more political than it is martial, so I can’t really call it action packed, but that’s not to say we don’t get to see our fair share of battles. I think the second book is the most action-y of them. But as I said, the series focuses more on the politicking and power dynamics of war than on the actual sword-slashy bit. Which for me is very enjoyable because I do like political plots. But it’s something to bear in mind while reading it, because I know some people prefer their fantasy more action-y.

The ending was adequately grim. It almost felt like it took all the classical happy-endings we’re used to seeing and put a nasty twist on them. Which is exactly what I was expecting and anything less would frankly have been disappointing. So all in all, I really liked this series, but it is bleak, violent and full of awful, irredeemable characters. So I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if those kinds of stories seem up your alley, then this is definitely a good series for you.

Book of the Ancestor by Mark Lawrence – Series Review

Series rating: 5/5

Genre: Fantasy, grimdark

Author: Mark Lawrence

Synopsis: At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive

I just finished Holy Sister  today and this is hands down one of the best series I have ever read. There is not one thing that I didn’t love about this. Straight up, 5/5 stars for each book on the series. Also, for those of you who like audiobooks, the narration for this series is top notch. I audiobooked all of them and it was just a great experience.

I’m going to try to insert some structure into this review so, first I’ll talk about the writing style. The whole series is kind of a frame story. Each book gives a glimpse into the present, or rather to the climax that the entire series is leading to as a prologue and epilogue. And then the rest of the book fills in some of the details. And that progresses with each book, with a little more making sense. I hope that makes sense. Each book then in turn is usually told in two different timelines. It sounds confusing when I try to explain it, but it’s actually very well done. It creates this suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. The writing is also very evocative and this is just all around such a well written series.

The world is really cool. The books are fairly short and heavily plot and character oriented, so the world is not very thoroughly explored. At the end of the series, there are still things that I have no explanation for. But it’s done well. We learn progressively about the world as the characters learn about it and that serves as much to drive the plot and characters forward as it does to flesh out the world. It’s just masterfully written. It might be a bit frustrating if you like very clearly defined magic systems such as Brandon Sanderson’s. This series definitely has a soft magic system, though it’s not as vague as say, A Song of Ice and Fire. I personally like both soft and hard magic systems and I really loved the magic in this series. There are multiple branches or aspects of the magic and I thought they’re all really cool. I thought the world was really cool.

I read Prince of Thorns by Lawrence as well and I didn’t like it as much for one main reason. Both this series and the Broken Empire series are set in a past-apocalyptic world where the people have kind of reverted to medieval-ish levels of technology, but they live in a world that used to be inhabited by technologically advanced people and there are vestiges of that. Which is a trope seen in many fantasies and one that I really enjoy, with one caveat. I don’t like it when that world is made out to be a future of Earth. At least not if there’s magic involved. It’s for some reason very jarring for me when that happens and it takes me out of the story and I just don’t enjoy it as much. And that’s what The Broken Empire series did, and I am so glad that this series was just set on some planet called Abeth. It’s all I needed for it to not be ruined for me. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent.

The characters in this series are the best and Nona Grey is the best of the best. I don’t remember the last time I loved a main character as much as I love Nona. She is the most precious murderous nun in the world. She’s just so loyal and values friendship, which are two things I value so much and I feel like they’re so under-explored in books. So this story was just a balm for my soul. It’s so great to see Nona grow and the relationships that she forms and how those shape her and how she shapes others and ugh! It’s really hard to talk about the characters without spoiling anything, but just… amazing! Every single character is so amazing.

The story itself is fast paced and as I said before, keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s dark. I mean it gets super dark sometimes, but it’s also ultimately such a hopeful story. And those are my favourites. I classed it as a grimdark fantasy, but I’d say it fits better with the more recently coined subgenre of ‘hopepunk’. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can google it. But just to give you a feel of what I mean, you know that scene in The Two Towers, where Sam and Frodo were captured by Faramir and on their way to Gondor, but the Nazgul attacked and Frodo almost put on the ring and then almost killed Sam when he tried to help? And then Sam talks about “the great stories of old” and what made them stick with you? And Faramir hears and Gollum hears and Frodo hears and they’re all in the middle of a battle terrified and hopeless, but Sam somehow gives them hope and it’s a super powerful scene? Yeah, it’s that feeling. That’s hopepunk. And that’s exactly what this whole series feels like.

That’s all I can really say without any spoilers, so I will close by saying that I wholeheartedly recommend this series.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – Series Review

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Genre: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, YA

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Synopsis: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living

This is a review of only the original trilogy. I know there’s another book that’s out, but I haven’t read that and I’m not sure whether I will.

That said, this is a series that I absolutely loved when I started it, but that I waited a very long time to complete and I just outgrew it. I remember reading the first book back in 2015 and LOVING it. However, I only just finished the series this year, and while I still enjoyed the final book, I had a lot of issues with it.

The writing is good. The plot is… not terribly original but still very fast paced and entertaining. The characters are I think what I had the most trouble with. They’re just so angsty, I found myself frequently annoyed with them while reading the final book. And yes, I know they’re teenagers in a shit situation, tensions run high. But teenagers can be reasonable. I feel like the way the characters behaved was an insult to teenagers sometimes. I mean, okay, it’s been a while since I was 17 and I know relationships can be hard, but come on.

Anyway, leaving that aside, I did really enjoy the series. I’m more than happy to give Alexandra Bracken’s other books a try. I really enjoyed Zu and Clancy as characters. I thought Clancy was actually a pretty good antagonist and I wasn’t entirely happy with how things ended.

Had i read this entire series in 2015, I’d have loved it. But I’ve grown and matured both as a person and as a reader in the intervening 3 years and I’m less into dystopia and much more critical of books. I’m saying this because I think that if you’re someone who hasn’t been saturated with dystopia like me and who enjoys the genre, this is one of the better dystopian YA series out there. Not the best, but certainly worth the read.

This review is a mess, but I’m not sure what to say. I may in the future read the book that was recently published, since I really liked Zu and it is a book from her perspective, but I’m not sure.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Series Review

Series rating: 5/5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis: What if the prophesied hero had failed to defeat the Dark Lord?

For a thousand years the ash fell.

For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousend years, the Lord Ruler reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Every attempted revolt has failed miserably.

Yet hope survives.

An new kind of uprising is being planned, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the courage of an unlikely heroine who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a mistborn.

I already did a spoiler free review for The Final Empire, as well as a spoilery rave, however, because I read books 2 and 3 in rapid succession, I’d rather do a series review. This review of only of the original trilogy, as I have not yet read the second trilogy. I’ve already covered the main points about the world and magic system in my review of The Final Empire, so I won’t go through that again. You can go and check that out if you’re interested. I’m going to focus more on the series as a whole.

As you can tell from the rating, I freaking loved this series. Everything about it was awesome. The world, the magic system, the characters, the plot. Let me tell you about the plot! It was… wow. I mean I would never have seen that coming in a thousand years. The way it just evolved from one book to the next, the way seemingly insignificant details from the first book became so important in later books. The way you’re given just the right amount of information at every step so that you’re not totally confused, but the plot twists are also not glaringly obvious so you can still be surprised and there’s still that tension and anticipation of “What’s gonna happen next!?”. Just top rate storytelling!

The magic system also gets expanded throughout the series as we learn more about the history of the world and the magic in it and it’s just mind-blowing how seemingly unrelated things connect. It’s amazing.

The story arcs for most characters are also great. You get to watch them grow and learn and change and become more mature. I will say I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about a couple of character development points particularly regarding one character in the second book. I’m kind of okay with it by the end of the series, but also… I don’t know. It’s not bad in itself, it’s just personal preference I think. Some of the things that I enjoyed the most about that particular character changed, so I’m not entirely happy about that. And actually I think that applies to two characters, but one of them more than the other.

I’m also not sure how I feel about the ending. It’s been a few months since I finished the series (I’m really behind with reviews, what’s new?), and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It makes sense, but at the same time… I’m like… but… buuuuuuuuttttt no. And again, that comes from me being really invested with all of the characters in this series and wanting them all to be happy and okay. But that’s impossible and I’m kind of bitter about it.

Having said that, this series is masterful. I love it so much, I cannot recommend it enough for fans of epic fantasy. I will say that if you’re not used to epic fantasy, this isn’t the place to start. It’s a bit heavy for beginners. But if you’ve already dipped your toes into the world of epic fantasy, this series is awesome.