Sword of Destiny – a review

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Ever since I met Geralt of Rivia in the game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and posted about it in W is for Witcher, I have been exploring the origins of that world in the creations of Andrzej Sapkowski.

After reviewing the first book in Geralt’s chronology – The Last Wish – I kept reading. I will eventually review the game but I have many hours left so today my Witcher journey continues with a review of the second collection of short stories, Sword of Destiny:

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Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2)

by

Andrzej Sapkowski

The New York Times bestselling series that inspired the international hit video game: The Witcher.

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.

This is a collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH. Join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…
The Witcher series 
The Last Wish
The Sword of Destiny 
Blood of Elves
The Time of Contempt
Baptism of Fire

The Malady and Other Stories: An Andrzej Sapkowski Sampler (e-only)

Review 5 stars

I’m attempting to remain chronological in reading and reviewing Andrzej Sapkowski’s absorbing books about Geralt of Rivia, although I first met the White Wolf in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt video game. I also know that there are some shorts that might not fit this chronology.

However, the six short stories in this second collection are on the one hand standalone but on the other, there are strong threads linking them – not least the White Wolf himself, Geralt of Rivia.

Some see him as emotionless and ruthless, but his potion-subdued emotions emerge, and he is torn by his heart and by his destiny. Sapkowski creates an evolving and complex character who has a code, relationships, habits, quirks, dreams, nightmares…and destiny.

That destiny unfolds in the stories – and I know in later books. However, the author doesn’t use a linear style for the plot, weaving the threads with flashback memories, nightmares and encounters. Some readers might find this approach confusing, but when the pieces fall into place, I sat back and admired the craft, grinning with pleasure.

Each story deals with an event in Geralt’s journey, introducing both new characters and old ones, like Dandelion, the bard and Yennefer, the sorceress. From the opening story, The Bounds of Reason, when we encounter the mysterious Borch Three Jackdaws, we realise that this is neither a black-and-white world nor classical fantasy, but a multi-faceted and richly-visualised world of many hues, some grey and muddy, some earthy and verdant, and some red as blood or purple as lilacs.

Each character, in this and the other stories, has levels of complexity, none more so than the child called Ciri in the last two stories – The Sword of Destiny and Something More.

I could write about all six stories, but other reviewers can do that better. Do I focus instead on Yennefer’s devious attractions or Dandelion’s humorous escapades? Not this time – even if they are both play memorable character-driven episodes.

Ciri is the person who fascinated me most, watching her cope with events as a child, her raw emotions and reactions, seeing her encounter Geralt and struggle together with Destiny. The whole plot comes together in their story, with seeds sown in one of the key stories in The Last Wish collection and continued in the novels (and games).

Everything takes place in a world that mirrors issues that our society still struggles with, like prejudice and racial segregation. Pogroms directed against elves and dwarves echo the horrors that the Jews suffered, totally – and witch burnings were for real. And the persecution of ‘minorities’ continues. People even dislike Witchers so abuse and exploit them – so why not send all Moslems back where they belong.

Geralt’s world is filled with monsters, and sometimes the human ones are the worst – as in ours. Sapkowski takes folklore and cleverly twists it, posing dilemmas. What side do you stand with, Order or Chaos? Are all dragons evil because a knight-errant must rescue maidens in distress? Sapkowski also raises topical issues, such as the struggle to preserve the natural world, vanishing species struggling to survive. Do we have a right to their land?

I have just taken a few enjoyable steps exploring Sapkowski’s creation, even if I’ve visited the world others built from his imagination. Playing the Witcher 3 game and reading the early books creates moments of ‘understanding’ about this complex world. The depth originates in Sapkowski’s mind, so I must keep reading.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Born in a Treacherous Time – Blog Hop

Today, I have the pleasure of taking part in the Blog Hop for fellow author Jacqui Murray’s historical novel, Born in a Treacherous Time. Some of us take our time crafting our creations – I took over 13 years with my debut, even though it was a mystery. It’s therefore totally understandable that Jacqui took two decades to research and write Lucy’s story.

So, as she says, “After 20 years, I really need a send-off for this baby!”

Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive in the harsh reality of a world where nature rules, survival is a daily challenge, and a violent band threatens to destroy everything Lucy thinks she understands.

 If you like Man vs. Wild, you’ll love this book. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. It will bring that world to life in a way never seen before.

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Summary:

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

 

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout. 

A well-executed tale of early man.” 

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

 

An early reader’s review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must-read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

 –Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

 

Today’s question to Jacqui Murray is:

What one characteristic would you say allowed Lucy to survive in a world populated with Sabertooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

“Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Lucy had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.”

Man v Nature

Book information:

Title and author: Jacqui Murray – Born in a Treacherous Time

Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle

 

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Social Media contacts: 

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

For a sample of this amazing novel, please visit Amazon and Look Inside.

 

Air and Ash – a review

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This is the second of my new Thursday Creation Review posts which will usually be Books, but I am still reserving the right to review Games, Films or other Works of Art – and I will add music to that.

Alex Lidell’s Tides is a series of books that has been on my Want To Read list for too long – and then I won Book 3, Sea and Sand (#3) in a Goodreads Giveaway. First, though, I read and reviewed First Command (TIDES, # 0.5), which was an absorbing taster that introduced me to the main character of Lieutenant Nile Greysik and her world.

The author kindly provided me with Book 1 of the series, and this is my extended review.

AirandAsh

Air and Ash (TIDES #1)

by

Alex Lidell (Goodreads Author)

Born to privilege.
Trained for command.
Destined for danger.

After a lifetime of training, seventeen-year-old Princess Nile Greysik, a lieutenant on the prestigious Ashing navy flagship, sails into battle with one vital mission–and fails.

Barred from the sea and facing a political marriage, Nile masquerades as a common sailor on the first ship she can find. With a cowardly captain, incompetent crew, and a cruel, too-handsome first officer intent on making her life a living hell, Nile must hide her identity while trying to turn the sorry frigate battle worthy. Worse, a terrifying and forbidden magic now tingles in Nile’s blood. If anyone catches wind of who Nile is or what she can do, her life is over.

But when disaster threatens the ship, Nile may have no choice but to unleash the truth that will curse her future.

Review 4.3 stars

After reading First Command (TIDES, # 0.5), the taster that introduced me to Lieutenant Nile Greysik and her world, I had to read Tides #1. This book was provided by the author but without any requirements.

When Nile escapes her Royal obligations and masquerades as a common sailor, events conspire against her. The author ensures that the decks are stacked against Nile in unexpected ways that had me guessing where the story was heading. This was a slightly devious storyline although with few plotlines to misdirect the reader from a fast read.

The characters are varied, and some have complex personalities with backstories that are never totally revealed – there must be more to come. The cast hints at the world created from the political situation and attitudes to the crucial seafaring.

Alex Lidell’s well-imagined world blends seafaring and fantasy, and yet brings back memories of reading the Hornblower books in my teens – although it is wrong to compare the books. This protagonist is female, and the author builds on that – as well as the princess angle. But there is so much more – like magic being a very mixed curse. For Nile, this force that flows through her veins is a primary motivation – and not just for herself.

This is a world where magic is going underground through misunderstanding and a growing sense of discrimination. Attitudes, not just in magic, vary from nation to nation and between cultures. For instance, the Ashing royals serve in their navy, but in other states, the nobility and rich pamper themselves.

The social divide is clear, but onboard a ship there is promotion from the ranks. The nautical details rang true from my limited mucking-around-in-boats and from my copy of The Hornblower Companion. The confined space of a ship adds to the cruel pecking order. However, rank brings expectations as does Royal blood. Nile needs to judge who to trust beyond appearances if she is to complete her goals.

Where do events lead Nile? I’m giving nothing away – even if you keel-haul me – all I can say is ‘don’t expect all the threads to be tied up’. This entertaining read is Book 1 of a trilogy and you won’t want to stop. I’m not, although I must clear the reading decks so I can open War and Wind (#2) and the conclusion Sea and Sand (#3).

Recommended for those that enjoy their seafaring adventures spiced with fantasy – 4.3 stars adjusted to 4.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

First Command

Avalanche – a review

Kristina Stanley is one of my writing inspirations through her Stone Mountain mysteries. For the release of Avalanche in 2016, I ran her thoughts on ‘Writing A Series’ which encouraged me in writing my Welsh police procedural. Why I put off reading Avalanche until now is another mystery, especially as I rated the first two books as five stars each.

Anyway, that lapse is now corrected so here’s my review:

Avalanche Cover Final 

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3)

by Kristina Stanley (Goodreads Author)

On a cold winter morning, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed, and Kalin Thompson’s brother, Roy, suspiciously disappears. As Director of Security, Kalin would normally lead the investigation, but when her brother becomes the prime suspect, she is ordered to stay clear.

The police and the president of the resort turn their sights on Kalin, who risks everything to covertly attempt to clear Roy’s name. As threats against her escalate, she moves closer to uncovering the guilty party. Is Kalin’s faith in her brother justified? Or will the truth destroy her?

Editorial Reviews:

“A mountain as deadly as it is majestic; characters far too familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins and murder—Kristina Stanley’s Avalanche has it all. This fast-paced mystery is as thrilling as a heart-stopping run down the slopes.” —Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve mysteries

“Layer upon layer, like snow building for an avalanche, Stanley weaves a story that keeps you guessing. You can’t turn the pages fast enough.” —Jeff Buick, author of Bloodline

“Avalanche smashes and uproots relationships in Stone Mountain Resort, leaving devastation in its wake. With as many layers as winter’s snow, this whodunit will keep you turning pages and guessing to the end.” —James M. Jackson, author of the Seamus McCree Series (less)

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Review – 5 stars

Although Kristina Stanley says at the end of the novel that she wrote Avalanche first, this became the third book in the series. Having read and enjoyed the first two Stone Mountain mysteries, I recommend them all and suggest reading them in order. Once again, Kalin Thompson is the main protagonist, but characters from previous books return and previous incidents are cleverly referred adding to the backstory.

From the fast-moving opening when Kalin’s brother, Roy, suspiciously disappears, the plot twists and turns with enough clues and suspects to keep the reader thinking to the end.

There are multiple suspects when the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed, but with Ray as the prime suspect, Kalin must act covertly to clear his name. How she handles her discoveries and her torn feelings about her brother’s guilt drive the main thread of the novel.

The story is tightly plotted, well-structured and, as I noted down while reading, it’s ‘edge of my snowmobile tense’. There are various suspects when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police begin investigating from Ray to Kalin via other employees at Stone Mountain Resort. I kept wondering, ‘Who will be next?’, ‘Who is guilty of what?’ and ‘Who do you trust?’. Not only Kalin needed to be wary but others caught up in the events as the threat level escalated.

The suspects were gradually narrowed down, although there were enough remaining as the end drew near. Plus, the accusations against Kalin were ongoing, adding to the tension. Twists kept coming, leading to the final confrontation that I only half-guessed in advance. Key elements were cleverly foreshadowed.

The author’s characterisation is excellent in that everyone has something to distinguish them – even the lift-girl from New Zealand. The reader sees the other characters through Kalin’s eyes and through other characters’ viewpoint. The use of various POVs enhances the story and adds to the subplots, diversions and to the red herrings that I always enjoy in a mystery.

The resort offers an evocative setting and Kristina Stanley’s knowledge of that world rings true without creating unnecessary detail. From my time in Canada and my winters skiing on different hills, Stone Mountain Resort and the intrigues came alive for me.

Avalanche was a fast-paced and easy read, and, as I’ve come to expect from Kristina Stanley, and from Imajin Books, it’s well-edited. A definite recommendation if you want a pacey mystery. But read Descent and Blaze first for maximum enjoyment – not vital but best.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Storming – a review

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Time for another review – Storming by K.M. Weiland – the third novel from a writer whose website is a mine of writing gems. Her fiction writing certainly demonstrates all the craft that she mentors on her website. So on to the review:

Storming lives up to the blurb that inspired me, “Cocky, funny, and full of heart, Storming is a jaunty historical/dieselpunk mash-up that combines rip-roaring adventure and small-town charm with the thrill of futuristic possibilities.”

I was hooked from the opening, when a young woman falls from the clouds in front of Hitch Hitchcock’s biplane. Hitch is a pilot protagonist who has run away from his past, but now has to face it head-on as he tries to “save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.”

The young woman, Jael is mysterious and spunky, and tied to the pirates, which is craftily revealed. I wanted Hitch and Jael to fall for each other, but nothing is ever so easy, especially in one of K.M Weiland’s novels. I gave up trying to suss out what was going to happen next – after getting caught out in her first novel, “Behold the Dawn” [another recommended read]. She knows exactly how to make the twists pay off.

All the characters are memorable, including the supporting cast – I could really visualise the Berringer brothers. The young boy Walter adds a strong thread that kept me on the edge of my Kindle as his story weaves throughout, and he adds to the exhilarating climax.

Having read a few ‘steampunk’ novels, I relished the sky pirates and their strange weather-controlling airship, and their unusual language. At first, Jael speaks only this language and a smattering of English words, adding to the mystery of her and her people. I sensed a Slavic origin, and have my own theories, but read the novel and form your own.

K.M Weiland has written yet another novel that demonstrates that she ‘practises what she preaches’.

 

 

 

Why read?

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It’s February 3rd and time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly post. I may be Insecure but I’m putting aside the whining and complaining – for a few days at least.

Today I want to be positive and talk about the benefits of reading from a writer’s point of view. And by that I don’t mean just reading what you write, although as writers we should to do that a few times from a reader’s perspective.

For now, I’m talking about other books, not just for the sheer pleasure but for the lessons that we can learn. We can learn what works and what doesn’t from both great reads that keep us hooked from the first sentence, and from those shockers that are an endless struggle. In each novel there should be at least one lesson – even if it’s ‘make sure you use an editor’ or ‘flowing words are like magic’.

So what have I learned over the decades?

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Roger Woddis in 1986 – photo by BG

When I started out on my writer’s journey, my writing tutor, the late great Roger Woddis said that my writing suffered from too much ‘purple prose’. The problem stemmed from my passion for “Lord of the Rings” and the style of J.R.R. Tolkien. I was trying to emulate him without understanding the way that he used language. However, over the decades and with many re-reads, I am learning to see the master at work. And as I read other writers, I see that a writer can effectively use beautiful language without obscuring the meaning.

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The current lesson is about ‘Multiple POVs’, which is relevant since my current WIP, “Storms Compass”, tells the stories of various characters struggling to survive after a mega solar storm devastates the Earth. My critique partner suggested that I look at how Steve Harrison handles multiple viewpoints in TimeStorm”. The POVs each have their own chapter with the character’s name as the title. Each one feeds into the evolving plot, which has me gripped – so a review will follow very soon.  There is a main POV character and the other POVs add to his story.

I could go on, giving examples from books that I have read, but I want to end by directing you to K.M. Weiland, a writer whose website is an invaluable resource, and includes many articles that refer to novels and movies as examples. For instance, I am working through my character’s arcs at present, and she gives some great examples – see: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/character-arcs-3/. This and other articles show the importance of reading other novels. The added bonus is that K.M Weiland writes novels in which she practices what she preaches, from her early novels Behold the Dawn and Dreamlander – both of which I enjoyed – to Storming, which is next on my To Read list.

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And beyond that I may be delving into the real classics like Machiavelli ‘s “The Prince” and the stories in “The Mabinogion“. We can all learn from the master storytellers of the past.

So read on dudes!

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the February 3 posting of the IWSG are Allison Gammons,Tamara Narayan, Eva E. Solar, Rachel Pattison, and Ann V. Friend!