The Raven Boys is a modern fantasy targeted at young adults, which leaves me way out of the target demographic, and yet it still managed to keep me interested from beginning to end. Set in the fictitious town of Henrietta, Virginia the story quickly introduces us to Blue Sargent, a young girl who lives with her psychic mother and her mother's psychic friends. Blue is the only non-seer in her house but she has an innate ability to make psychic phenomena louder so her presence is often coveted by her housemates. For each of the last ten years on St Mark's Eve Blue has accompanied her mother to an abandoned churchyard believed to be located on a ley line where the soon-to-be-dead will walk past. This year Blue accompanies her half-aunt Neeve to the churchyard instead thus allowing her gift of amplification to make it easier for Neeve to see which locals are going to die within the next year. Blue expects it to be just another evening spent out in the cold, as she never sees anything when she goes, but this year turns out to be different...
Nell has a deep connection to her land, Soulwood. It was simply a green thumb until she was threatened and drew blood on her land for the first time. The forest wanted that blood and with her permission absorbed the life it was offered. Now Soulwood is aware and shares that awareness with Nell. Because of her unique affinity for the land Nell is asked to assist PsyLED, the federal agency tasked with policing supernaturals. She doesn't trust the government but she needs their protection so she agrees to help them find some kidnapped girls. Unfortunately, the investigation leads Nell to the polygamist church she grew up in and forces her to deal with some painful truths.
It seems like fairy tale fantasy is everywhere these days, but with Spinning Silver Novik gives the nod to a few tropes while delivering an entirely original fantasy about three young women who defy the odds to save their land. Polish Novik sets her tale in a slavik inspired land starving under the encroaching ice of the inhuman Staryk, stag riding warriors of ice who raid the human lands for gold and killing all in their way. Under the rule of a dissolute young Tsar, rumored to be an evil sorcerer, the nobility are too busy plotting rebellion to care what conditions are for the peasantry. It's left to the daughters of a village moneylender, an abusive drunk, and wealthy duke to save those they care about.
Yarvi was born the son of a king, but unfortunately for him, the gods also saw fit to give him a crippled hand. In his father's eyes this means that he will never be more than half a son with a future no better than half a man, so Yarvi finds himself destined for women's work as a minister. This is actually a good fit for Yarvi because he has a sharp mind and he finds that his apprenticeship to Mother Gundring, the Minister of Gettland, goes quite well. Yarvi is eagerly awaiting the upcoming test that will promote him out of apprenticeship when both his father and his brother are unexpectedly killed on a diplomatic mission. Now Yarvi's life course is forever altered and he finds that he must take the throne instead. Upon doing so he is counseled to swear a blood oath to avenge his father and brother and kill the person responsible for their deaths. Now Gettland has half a king and Yarvi must figure out how a cripple who can't even hold a shield is supposed to carry out an oath of vengeance...
The Sorcery Ascendant Sequence started with humble beginnings but over the course of the series it has dramatically increased in scope and it finally culminates with a battle of characters from multiple worlds. A few of those characters have grown exponentially in power over time, including Caldan, and now a battle of super powerful beings, each with their own agenda, finally comes together. So is there a payoff for all the buildup done in the first two books? The answer is yes, but this book is not without its flaws, and sometimes how you get there can ruin the destination.
With the city of Anasoma in enemy hands, Caldan finds himself on the run in rather strange company. Elpidia, a healer who is dying from a strange disease and wants to drink his blood because she believes it will keep her alive, Amerdan, a shopkeeper by day and serial killer by night who kills with a blade better than most assassins, Bells, a deadly enemy sorcerer who is being held captive and has vowed to kill them all, and Miranda, his love interest who is the only person that he can really trust in the group. Unfortunately for Caldan that means he is actually quote alone as Miranda remains in a comatose state due to a coercive sorcery accident that may leave her irrevocably damaged. This odd mix of individuals, and their individual secret agendas, provide for a whole host of intriguing possibilities, and this is just one of the story lines as war rages on within the Mahruse Empire.
Mitchell Hogan starts off the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence in a pretty standard way. Caldan is an orphan who was raised by monks on an isolated island after his parents were brutally slain. Caldan is a unique individual, as he is both "touched by the ancestors" and has a sorcerer's well, which is very rare combination. When he comes of age the monks reveal to him that his parents left him some powerful magical artifacts and when they give them to him his world changes. His powers begin to manifest and he finds that he must leave his isolated existence with the monks and make his way in the real world. Although this is a bit of a trope, I have always enjoyed learning about a fantasy world and the magical system within it from the perspective of a character learning it at the same time, and it works quite well here.
In the main trilogy of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, Lady Felicienne is one of the "point of view" characters that plays a key role in determining the outcome of the story. This prequel novella gives you some insight into how she acquired her role in service to the Emperor. Lady Felicienne started as a private investigator in the capital city of the Mahruse Empire and her knack for the game Dominion starts to get her noticed. Dominion is a board game that is played across the empire using a board with 3 tiered levels and a wide variety of pieces, making it very complex and strategic. The annual tournament in the capital is so popular that the Emperor himself meets the winner and this event is the backdrop for this novella.
To review a book a read 25 years ago would usually require reading the book again. Perhaps the greatest recommendation I can offer for A Song For Arbonne is that 25 years and thousands of books later I remember it well. Arbonne is land of wine, music, and very fine seaports coveted by its landlocked neighbor Gorhaut. Unfortunately for the aging Countess who rules Arbonne the bulk of her armies belongs to her two dukes who have been on the verge of civil war for years. Enter Blaise of Gorhaut, an ordinary mercenary in the employ of one of Arbonne's lesser barons and let the game of thrones begin.
Sci-fi authors do love their tropes, especially when they write a series focused on the discovery of an overwhelming alien threat, which has been done many times before. Invariably, after it becomes obvious that humanity is not prepared and faces a real possibility of being wiped out, the story turns inward and the human infighting commences. This is also where I sigh as the story goes on a tangent from the storyline that has my attention; however, much like he did in book one, Joshua Dalzelle embraces this typical trope and finds a way to deliver a compelling story anyway. This means that Call to Arms is more about human interactions than it is about the alien threat looming in the distance, but it is still worthy of your attention and it does set things up nicely for the series finale.