Serena’s Review: “The Bloodsworn”

28439795Book: “The Bloodsworn” by Erin Lindsey

Publication Info: Ace, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.

Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear…

Review: The final book in the “Bloodbound” trilogy starts out with our heroes in what appears to be an unwinnable situation. King Erik is being controlled by a bloodbinder making him erratic and prone to paranoia (the extreme kind that leads to executions of close friends and family for “treason”). Rig’s battle at the front line has pretty much reached its limit with invasion imminent. Alix must venture deep into enemy territory to attempt to kill the bloodbinder who is controlling the King. And Liam is left to manage a country that is on the brink of destruction, all while hiding the fact that he has the King locked up in a room in the castle. A fact that would surely lead to his immediate death if it were to be discovered. The stakes are high.

At this point, it’s almost hard to remember that this series started out more as a romantic romp with some military/fantasy aspects thrown in than anything else. Sure, there was a large battle at the end and some political maneuvering here and there. But there were a lot of quieter moments where Alix’s personal life was the primary focus. Then the second book came along and everything changed. That entire book was just one massive failure after another for our heroes. And here, in the third, everything just seems kind of hopeless. All of the odds are stacked against them, and even their best case scenarios look grim. I mean, sure, if Alix saves the King, great! But they still have to deal with the fact that they have no allies (having blown their ambassadorial trips in the second book) and an enemy with an army that doubles their own.

I was happy to see that Alix once again played a major part in this story. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, her reduced presence was my biggest complaint. Instead, understandably, given his brain-washed state, Erik takes a back seat to the other characters here. I also liked the fact that Alix’s story line once again took us into the neighboring realms, this time their occupied neighbor whose resistance fighters had helped Rig win significant battles in the second book. Vel, also, played a more important role in this book, joining up with Alix on her quest to find the bloodbinder. I still struggled to like Vel as a character, though she had some good moments in this book. While it made sense to pair up these two women both for the plot and due to the dynamics that come from their relationships with Rig, I think that it also had the unintended result of negatively contrasting Vel to Alix. But this is a pretty subjective viewpoint of my own, more than anything.

Due to the high stakes nature of most of the action in this book, the story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. There were parts of it where I seriously struggled with the fact that because I was listening to an audiobook and wasn’t able to skim forward and relieve any of the tension. The author did a great job balancing her parallel viewpoints and story lines in a way that just ratcheted up the stress levels on all fronts. And, while the series as a whole is obviously set up to be a generally “feel good” read, the grim realities of war are never glossed over and there were a few tough moments. Alix, in particularly, had a rough road to travel.

And, importantly, the personal relationships between our main characters were not shunted to the side even in the midst of all of this narrative upheaval. Alix and Liam’s marriage is still new and being tested by their own insecurities. Liam and Erik are still learning what it means to be brothers, especially given the effects of Erik’s brainwashing and his lingering pain due to the death of his other brother in the first book. Rig and Vel…yeah, I cared less about this. But it was fine, too.

Ultimately, this series was a very satisfying and consistent read. All three books were strong and the characters and plotlines built steadily over the course of the series with very few stumbling blocks. I would recommend this series for fans of political/military fiction with a strong female lead more than for fantasy lovers. While the fantasy element is important to the story, it is definitely less of a focal point than the rest. This is a lesser known series, but one that I hope begins to get the recognition it deserves!

Rating 8:  A solid ending to the trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodsworn” is a newer book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Military Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodsworn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodforged”

24611461Book: “The Bloodforged” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: As war between Alden and Oridia intensifies, King Erik must defend his kingdom from treachery and enemies on all sides—but the greatest danger lurks closer to home…

When the war began, Lady Alix Black played a minor role, scouting at the edge of the king’s retinue in relative anonymity. Though she’s once again facing an attacking Oridian force determined to destroy all she holds dear, she is now bodyguard to the king and wife to the prince.

Still, she is unprepared for what the revival of the war will mean. Erik is willing to take drastic measures to defend his domain, even if it means sending Prince Liam into a deadly web of intrigue and traveling into the perilous wild lands of Harram himself.

Only the biggest threat to the kingdom might be one that neither Alix nor Erik could have imagined, or prepared for…

Review: This book needs one subtitle, and one subtitle only: “The Bloodforged: A Lesson in Going from Bad to Worse.” Not in quality, mind you. But the plot…phew! War and politics aren’t fun for anyone it seems!

The story picks up six months after the great battle that ended the previous book, and Alix’s kingdom is still very much at war. And not just any war, a war they are well on their way to losing. As Rig reports back from the front line (being now the General of the King’s armies), they only have a few months left unless they can secure aid from their neighboring countries. And thus Lindsey neatly separates all of our favorite main character off onto dangerous diplomatic missions where we spend a good amount of time wondering who has it worse.

First off, there is a major change in style for this book from the first. While it starts off from Alix’s perspective, it is quickly established that we will be following three other characters, primarily. Liam, who is sent to discover what is delaying the launch of a promised fleet of ships from the neighboring republic. Erik, who along with Alix, begins a treacherous trek through the mountains, home of the fierce mountain tribes, to reach their other neighbors who are also dilly dallying about committing to help. And Rig, back off to the front lines and tasked with holding the enemies at bay while reinforcements are begged for by the others. Alex, really, gets much less page time than the three others, and while at first I was frustrated by this change, I soon found myself equally invested in the tales of these three men.

Even more so than the first book, this second story in the series pushes even further away from any “fantasy” trappings. This book is largely about war tactics and political tactics. Again, it is hard to figure out which would  be more painful to have to deal with. Poor Liam, new to his role as crown prince, is completely out of his league trying to navigate the political maneuvering of a republic whose players are all focused more on re-election than in helping him uncover the mystery of the sabotaged fleet, all while fighting off attempts on his life. And poor Rig. Fighting a losing battle on the kingom’s borders, not knowing when or if help will arrive. Even worse, he discovers that there is at traitor in his midst. And then Erik and Alix, their perils are perhaps the most straightforward, but just as dangerous. Cold, hunger, snow, and wild tribesman who don’t turn a friendly eye on trespassers all present hindrances on their attempts to reach their allies across the mountains. All of these three stories were intriguing and I would have a hard time picking one as a favorite. This is a huge win for a second book in a series where our main character is pushed to the side in favor of splitting the narrative between three other characters who had largely been only secondary in the first book.

Another change is the shift in romance. Obviously, our newlyweds, Alix and Liam, are almost immediately separated which marks a rather distinct end to any expectations that this book was going to have much happy romantic fluff in it. Instead, the book shifts to focusing on those left on the outside of this relationship, most notably Erik who had given up his attachment to Alix in favor of supporting her and maintaining a relationship with his newly discovered brother. Turns out feelings don’t just disappear. Further, Liam is blissfully unaware of the admiration (crush) that one of his fellow soldiers has for him. I appreciated that both of these mini arcs were handled respectfully and honestly. Liam’s naivety was endearing and hilarious at times. And I just felt sorry for Erik much of the time as it was always clear that Alix’s heart was forever Liam’s.

One flaw of the book was the lack of resolution to a few key points. Liam’s admirer is never really confronted, and the story line just fades away completely in the end without it ever being addressed. More frustrating, the spy in Rig’s camp is not outed in this book as well. More so with this second point than the first, some of these dropped plotlines may be simply being left for the final book in the trilogy.

As I said, the magical aspects of this book were largely pushed to the background. However, it does come roaring back in the end of the book, though this does result in a big of a cliffhanger. So , be warned of that. This book does need to be read after the first one, and does end in such a way that would be unsatisfying if you’re not on board for a third book. And, like I said at the beginning, things go from bad to worse in many ways, so readers are left on tenterhooks for the fate of the realm and our favorite characters by the end. I have no idea how Lindsey is going to resolve all of these factors, but I’m excited to find out!

Rating 8: A solid sequel that surprised me in many ways!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodforged” is included on this Goodreads list (probably not that helpful) “Redheads”  and should be on this list (probably more helpful) “Political Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodforged” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Bloodbound”

Serena’s Review: “The Thousand Names”

15810910Book: “The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Roc, July 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

Review: I honestly don’t remember how this book came to be on my to-read pile, and I also had very little to zero memory of what the basic premises was when I picked it up. A fantasy novel…ok…got it. So, without much preparation or expectation, it was an adventure discovering this book and a pleasant surprise, especially considering it was not the type of fantasy I typically read.

As readers of this blog may have picked upon, my fantasy reading tends to veer towards the “fairytale-like” and medieval fantasy. This is decidedly not that. It can only be described as military fantasy, and, surprisingly, I kind of dug it. Our two chapter perspective characters, Marcus and Winter, both serve in a regiment of the army that is stationed in a far-away outpost, only now seeing action after an uprising of the native people have pushed their army to the sea. They meet up with the newly-arrived Colonel Vhalnich, and while at first skeptical of this eccentric new leader, both, in their own way, come to discover that he may be a military genius…and also caught up in some other nefarious plots! My use of the ellipses is intentional.  The military genius portion is by far the more emphasized part of the story than the mystical plots.

Hats off to Wexler for making such a military-focused story appealing to even casual fans like myself. While it took a bit longer for me to become invested in the story and to fully realize (and accept) that this is what this book was going to be, ultimately, by halfway through the story, I was thoroughly enjoying even the most detailed of military strategy. Most likely this was due to the fact that by this point I was thoroughly invested in our main characters (Marcus/Winter), and almost equally invested in their subordinates (Bobby, Graff, etc) and was frantically urging them to “form square!” and “pull back!” and dreading each page turn where surely one of them wouldn’t make it through.

I also really enjoyed Colonel Vhalnich. We never get a chapter from his perspective, but in many ways he is the Sherlock to Marcus’s Watson. And I always love a “Sherlock-esque” brilliant character! He even throws out “Just wait and see, my dear lad, all will be clear in time!” lines! This may be a very specific joy of mine and not mean much to others, but I loved it.

Marcus was a decent protagonist, fairly straightforward and reminiscent of a “knight in shining armor” character. While I admired his devotion to his friends, there were plenty of times where I just wanted to smack him upside the head at the idiocy of some of his gallantry. There were a few twists that I saw coming a mile away that I couldn’t quite forgive him for missing (though I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be surprised as readers as well…ah all, this is what comes from reading so much of the same genre!).

Winter, however, was a completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable character to find in this type of novel. A run-away young women who has disguised herself as a man and been hiding out in the army for years as a form of survival and, almost, self-penitence for failing her lover Jane in a critical moment years before. I’ve come across the warrior-women-disguised-as-a-man character plenty of times before, but what is notable about Winter is not only sexuality (we avoid many of the romance tropes with other male characters in the military this way) but also her general reluctance to be there. It’s more a survival tactic than some deep-seeded desire to be a combatant. Her arc and growth was the most compelling part of this story.

The first half of the book is, as I said, very firmly rooted in its military tactics, and while this emphasis continues to a point throughout the whole story, I was happy when we got into a bit more of the magic and  mystery towards the second third. The history and players in this set-up were interesting and new. However, by the time the book wrapped itself up, I was still left with a lot of questions. I’m unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It is clearly set up as the first in a series, so not all secrets should be told. But, especially with regards to the title object itself “The Thousand Names,” I found myself still largely confused about what exactly it was and how it was important.

Overall, for a story that was pretty far out from my usual preferences, I found myself very much enjoying this book. Winter was a refreshingly new lead character; it was fun to be annoyed with Marcus’s “idiotic nobility” moments; and, as I’ve said many a time, I like genius characters like the Colonel. So, while I won’t be in a mad rush for the second book, I will definitely include it on my “get to it eventually” list. But if you like military fiction more than I do, definitely check this book out!

Rating 8: A surprisingly engaging read, though perhaps not sticking the landing and reveals as well as I might have liked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Thousand Names” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “LGBT Sci-fi and Fantasy.”

Find “The Thousand Names” at your library using WorldCat.