Lev Grossman: The Magician King (review)

Grossman-MagicianKingUS_thumb[10]Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians made quite a stir back in 2009 when it was first published with its mix of Harry Potter and Narnia and the way it turned these YA stories into some serious adult fiction. I read it in 2009 and liked it a lot. I’ve had the second book in the series on my shelves for a couple of years and I picked it as one of the books to get me back into reading again.

And that was a smart choice. It was one of the books I read on this year’s summer holiday. I read it over three days. And enjoyed it a lot.

We’re back with Quentin and the other kings and queens of Fillory. Quentin is bored with his job as king of smooth-running Fillory and he is desperate for any kind of adventure. So when it is discovered that the Outer Island doesn’t pay tax to the kingdom, he decides to go on a quest. He readies a ship so it’s just like in the Fillory books, he grew up with, and off he goes. Turns out that what he’s really questing for, is a set of keys – and that Fillory’s future is heavily depending on him getting the keys. Only trouble is, that if you use the keys, you risk ending up somewhere you didn’t exactly plan to go.

What we also get in this story, is the story of Julia. One of my comments to the first novel was, that I felt that Julia flickered in and out of it and that her character wasn’t presented in  a satisfying way because of this. This issue is fixed in this novel. We get Julia’s backstory in probably even more gory details that we knew we wanted! Julia wasn’t accepted to the magical school of Brakebills so she had to find her own way to magical learning. A way that wasn’t exactly paved with flowers.

Just like a lot of fantasy novels play with the tropes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and like J.K. Rowling played with the tropes of British boarding schools, Grossman builds on what was started by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia novels with a nice dose of Harry Potter added to it.  But this in itself isn’t interesting. What is interesting, is Grossman’s way of taking this inspiration and not only making it completely his own but also making it more sinister – and definitely for adults only. And I like that. I like that even though this on the surface is a nice world from a children’s stories, you really can’t trust that we get any happy ending.

What I also like about these novels is, that Grossman is a guy only a bit older than me. This means that he has grown up with a lot of the same culture as me and this means that we have references to modern pop culture like Die Hard and a ‘We were on a break’-moment. As well as a shoot-out to Nicolas Tesla – all of which I really enjoyed.

More than anything this is a book about finding a sense of meaning and purpose for your life. From Julia who wants to learn magic and has to fight for what she knows will give her life meaning to Quentin who has everything he seemingly ever wanted but still isn’t satisfied and goes looking for adventure at the far end of the world.

I really enjoyed going with him – and Julia’s character is fascinating and her storyline is so interesting. This book ended with a bang – it was a very brave ending and I can’t wait to move on to the next novel.

First line: Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher: Plume
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 541 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5
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Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Quest (The Farseer Trilogy #3) (review)

423053_10150667428926823_1450689760_nIt wasn’t Tolkien and Lord of the Rings who taught me to love fantasy. Nope. Weis and Hickman’s Chronicles Trilogy from the DragonLance shared world series is responsible for that. I fell in love with this story of – of course – unlikely heroes who go on a quest to save the world of Krynn and I fell in love with this world of kenders, draconians, gully dwarves and so much more.
It’s been about 15 years since I read this trilogy and since then  I have loved fantasy – and I have read and loved Lord of the Rings too. However, I feel that it’s hard to find good fantasy. More often than not, fantasy is either a band of unlikely heroes – as in LOTR and in DragonLance Chronicles – or one hero facing overwhelming odds but still finishing their quest – like in Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1). There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s done in a new and refreshing way.
The Farseer Trilogy is of the second kind. This is definitely one hero against the world – and never more than in this third book. When we left Fitz in the second book, he had been tortured by Regal, died and had been brought back to life by Burrich and Chade, his sort of adoptive father and his sort of uncle. When we meet him in this one, he is slowly trying to learn to be alive and a human again – after having survived by letting his soul live inside of Nighteyes.
He becomes more and more himself but with a lot of anger inside after being tortured in the Buckkeep dungeon. Anger which he lets loose on Burrich which makes both Burrich and Chade leave him alone to grow up and learn to be his own man. So what does Fitz do? He goes after Regal who has crowned himself king and has moved his entire court away from the coast and left Buckkeep and the coastal duchies to fend for themselves.
But Regal and his group of Skill users are not an easy target which Fitz learns the hard way. This forces Verity to interfere to save Fitz and by doing this, he puts a quest in Fitz’ head – to find Verity.
Verity left on a quest to bring the Elderlings back to safe Buckkeep and save the kingdom and is somewhere beyond the Mountain Kingdom. Followed by Regal’s guards and his skill users, Fitz flees towards the mountains and picks up a group of – yes, you guessed it – unlikely heroes on his way. Most noteworthy of course is always Nighteyes. Fitz’ wolf companion is a huge part of what makes this book special and Hobb manages to create great scenes and amazing action both when Nighteyes is around and when he joins a pack of wolves and leaves Fitz to fend for himself for a period of time.
This is the longest book in the trilogy and it is a bit too long in places. Part of the traveling gets longwinded but still, the book has amazing characters. Kettle and Starling end up as part of the group traveling with Fitz and especially Kettle is a mystery. But even more of a mystery is, why Verity has been gone for so long and what, if anything, he has discovered.
Despite it’s flaws, this is such a good book. Even when I thought it a bit long-winded, I was still intrigued and read every chance I got. I just wanted to know what happened to Verity and Kettricken and if they would ever find each other again? To the Fool who disappeared with Kettricken when they fled Buckkeep and Regal. To Molly, Burrich, Chade, the Lady Patience and all the other characters we’ve grown to love over these three books.
And especially what happened to Verity. Without revealing too much, I have to say that he finds what he was looking for – but that it maybe wasn’t quite what he expected when he set out on his quest.
Finally the cover of this book promises dragons – or at least one dragon – and yes, there are dragons. Not your regular fantasy fire breathing dragon though. These are much more complex creatures – and I absolutely loved them.
Without revealing the ending, this is definitely not your typical ending. Because of this, because of these books being so good and because I want something to come after this for Fitz and Nighteyes, I’m really happy that there are more books about Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. This series has rekindled my love of the fantasy genre.

First line: I awake every morning with ink on my hands.

  • Title: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1996)
  • Pages: 838 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus (review)

NightCircus.final_.2‘You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.’ (p. 499)
Back in June 2012 I bought The Night Circus. I had been desperate to get it for some time and the first time I saw it in a store, I just had to get it. So I did. And then promptly put it on my shelf and waited 1,5 years to read it. Not because I forgot about it – no. It was more like I was scared. See, I kept hearing that this book was amazing and I kept building it up in my head. So much, that I was afraid to start reading it because I didn’t want it to not be able to live up to my expectations and as long as it was just standing safely on my shelf, I could keep on believing it was good. But finally I decided that that wasn’t the proper way to handle a potentially amazing book and so I decided to read it this year.
When I started it, I did feel like it didn’t live up to the hype I had created for myself about it. But I read on and just got more and more intrigued by the circus. I recently read someone writing about how Lord of the Rings was more about the setting for them, the world Tolkien created, than it was about the characters and the adventure. And to a certain extent this was how I felt about this book. I loved the circus. This amazing black and white wandering circus filled with the most intriguing tents, each more wonderful than the next with beautiful scenarios, extremely talented artists and just pure magic. I loved reading about it and about the new tents that pops up from time to time.
The circus is the background for a magic competition. Two men competes with each other about which school of thought about magic is the best when they are working within the same environment. Celia and Marco are the two children who are taught to create things in two different ways and then pitted against each other in the wonderful Le Cirque des Rêves. Both are extremely talented at creating various illusions but the problem is that of course every action has consequences and this means that more and more people get involved in the circus – and none of these seem to age. And that’s just one of the consequences of the circus.
Well, except the twins born on the first night of the circus, Poppet and Widget. The twins grow up in the circus, the only ones who seem to grow. These two red-haired kitten training twins are only two of the amazing characters in this book. Others include Prospero, the Enchanter, Celia’s father, and Alexander, the man in grey who trains Marco. Tsukiko the contortionist. Bailey, the boy who loves the circus. Herr Thiesen, the amazing clock maker who becomes the first fan of the circus and starts a whole movement of people following the circus around.
Which is difficult since the circus arrives with no warning and with no announcements preceding it, only being open from sunset till sunrise. It just appears out of the blue somewhere close to a city and immediately draws people in. And I would really want it to show up here. I don’t particularly like circuses – they have clowns, they travel around with animals who don’t belong in a circus – but this circus doesn’t appear to have any clowns or mistreated animals. Just amazing sights, illusions and cute performing kittens. The Night Circus is a beautiful and fascinating books with endearing characters who just grew on me even though I started out just loving the setting. It is a beautiful fairytale set in a city resembling Victorian London. It’s a lovely fantastic ride which I will definitely return to – sometime after sunset when the circus is in town.

‘”Don’t look at me like that,” he says, “as if you think me inhuman.” “I can see through you,” Celia snaps. “It is not particularly trying on my imagination.”‘ (p. 392)

First line: The circus arrives without warning.

  • Title: The Night Circus
  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Publisher: Anchor Books
  • Year: 2012
  • Pages: 508 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Robin Hobb: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2) (review)

RoyalAssassin-UKSo if anyone has any doubts about how I feel about this series, just look at the pace I’m reading them at. The first two books have been read in 10 days. 1200+ pages. I have definitely found a new favorite fantasy author and I have been longing for that. These books are clever and intriguing with well-fleshed out characters.
Including our main protagonist Fitz. When we left him at the end of the first book, he was in the Mountain Kingdom, having been poisoned several times and almost killed by Prince Regal but was saved by his very first puppy. Yes, Nosy showed up, saved the day and gave his life for the boy he had loved. How happy I was to see that Burrich hadn’t killed Nosy as both Fitz and I believed.
He struggles home to Buckkeep where he is greeted with joy by many – but not all, of course. One of the first days back, he happens to walk around in the small town next to the keep and is drawn to a young wolf pup who has been caught and put in a cage by an animal trader. Fitz buys him with the intention of feeding him and making him strong enough to survive on his own in the wild. But slowly the wild animal breaks down the walls Fitz has erected around him after having lost two bonded animals and the two slowly become pack. And so Nighteyes is added to the cast of characters. ‘My mother named me Nighteyes. I was the last of my litter to get my eyes open.’ Nighteyes is an amazing addition to the cast of characters and it is very clear that it wasn’t enough for FItz to bond with a dog – he needed a strong and wild animal, a woolf. But of course, bonding with a wolf and keeping a wolf at a keep is not necessarily an easy task. Not only does the wolf not quite understand boundaries – which can be awkward if you wish to get intimate with someone – but being Witted, being able to bond with animals this way, is not really allowed. If you’re caught, you risk being hanged over water and then burned. So of course Fitz try to keep Nighteyes a secret.
But with more and more tasks given to FItz from the King-in-Waiting Verity and with these tasks requiring fighting, working together with a wolf can be hard to hide. Especially since Fitz is not necessarily is the best fighter and Nighteyes sometimes have to save his life. As Verity comments at one point in this book, ‘The most distinctive part of your fighting style is the incredible way you have of surviving them.’
While Verity is working to save his kingdom from Outislanders attacking the people and turning them into emotionless zombies, the Forged ones, his half-brother Regal is doing his best to gain as much power as possible. And at the same time, king Shrewd is apparently being poisoned by his new man-servant Wallace and it seems that the only one paying any attention to the king is the Fool – who also happens to be one of the most mysterious, enigmatic and interesting characters in the book.
As is Kettricken, the Queen-in-Waiting, who struggles to find her place at a court which is so very different from the one where she grew up – and who is becoming dangerous to Regal when she finds ways to impress the people of both the keep and the country.
So what this boils down to, is some very clever fantasy. I love these books. Fitz is annoying at times but I’m still desperately rooting for him to succeed and find love with Molly, his childhood friend. And I think it is a compliment to Hobb’s writing that she can make her readers care about a main character who sometimes is rather annoying. Also I just love the animal aspect of these. I love the bond between Nighteyes and Fitz and there’s a lot of humor in the description of their relationships – especially when Nighteyes interferes where Fitz doesn’t want him!
I am so happy to have found a fantasy author who can make just want to read and read and see what happens to these wonderful characters – and who luckily has written a lot of books and seem to write a new one every year.

First line: Why is it forbidden to write down specific knowledge of the magics?

  • Title: Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1996)
  • Pages: 752 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

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Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1) (review)

tumblr_static_assassins_aprenticeFor some reason, it’s important which book you start the year with. If you start the year with a lousy book, you sort of have to spend the rest of the year trying to make up for it, whereas if you start with a good or even great book, it’s like the year can’t go wrong. So a huge amount of pressure rests on that first book.
My first book this year was the first book in Robin Hobb’s The Farseer TrilogyAssassin’s Apprentice is a book I’ve been waiting to read for a while after my good friend Henrik told me about it. However, he also told me that I would cry my eyes out while reading it – and that sort of book demands a certain kind of mood. And even though I’m not quite sure how to describe that mood, apparently that was the mood I was in when I started reading this book – and it turned out to be perfect.
Assassin’s Apprentice is the story of the bastard Fitz. Fitz is born to the King-in-Waiting Chivalry and when his grandfather delivers the six-years old kid to the castle, he sets more events in motion than anyone could foresee. Fitz is handed over to the stable master Burrich who is told to take care of him. Burrich is the best at his job – at taking care of dogs, horses and falcons but not exactly skilled at taking care of boys. Still he does the absolutely best he can – by putting the boy in with one of his dogs and her puppies. Fitz survives but bonds with one of the puppies. Normally no one would mind that a boy bonds with a puppy but Fitz has a certain ability, the Wit, which makes him able to sense what animals see, smell, experience. And Burrich will not allow this bonding because he’s afraid that Fitz will turn into a dog himself as the old legends say will happen. So he takes the puppy away and Fitz is heartbroken.
However, Fitz’s uncle, the King-in-Waiting Verity interferes and orders that the boy is taken to the keep and trained properly as befits a boy of the royal blood – even if the boy is a bastard. Still, Fitz has to grow up in a hostile environment. He’s the bastard and his father gives up his position, apparently because of the shame of fathering a bastard and what this means to his barren queen. So just by being born, Fitz has upset the kingdom.
But king Shrewd recognizes the importance of a bastard and he lets the boy know that whenever the boy needs him, he can come see him. But despite all this, Fitz has to learn everything the hard way and not everyone wish to see him succeed. Especially his other uncle, Prince Regal, is keen to get rid of him.
But Fitz grows up and makes some friends – among them Verity and also his late father’s widow the Lady Patience who even gifts him a small terrier, the second animal Fitz bonds with. Smithy becomes Fitz’s strength in a harsh life that includes training as a assassin with the mysterious Chade. But even more important is Molly, the candle maker’s daughter he meets in the small town next to the King’s keep. The children spend many happy hours playing and growing up together – even though Fitz always hides from her that he’s the royal Bastard.
And when the kingdom of Six Duchies is attacked repeatedly by raiders who not only kill and destroy but also does something to the people they capture that leaves them as bare shells of themselves; shells that are still capable of killing whoever they come in contact with, Fitz has to prove his worth. These Forged ones, as they are called, and their destruction becomes one of Fitz’s first duties for his king.
This was fantasy when it’s best. It was just so very clever throughout. I could see some of Hobb’s tricks at times and whenever I noticed one, it was to marvel at how clever she was at creating a world with a believable magic that doesn’t overpower the world or the story. In this world, there’s two types of magic – the Wit which is bonding with animals and the Skill which is a sort of telepathy. Only the Skill is socially acceptable and actually a part of the Royal line whereas the Wit is frowned upon and therefore Fitz has to hide his bonds with animals and his ability to sense their thoughts and feelings.
I really liked how the people in the Royal family are named after the traits, they are hoped to possess. So we have King Shrewd, his three sons Chivalry, Verity and Regal, we have a lady Patience and much more. I also really really liked the way she describes the animals and Fitz’s connection to them. Here’s Fitz and Smithy on their way back home after meeting Molly: ‘All the way up to the keep Smithy keep prattling to himself about all the perfumes he’d smelt on her and how she had scratched him ust where he could never reach in front of his ears and of the sweet biscuit she’d fed him in the tea shop.’ (p. 282-283) And I liked that the characters are not just black or white but have several shades of grey. The bad guys are bad yes, but there are reasons that explains at least part of why they are the way they are. One of my favorite characters was Burrich. This big strong man who would do anything and everything for his master, king-in-waiting Chivalry and who is very hurt by being left behind at the keep when Chivalry abdicates. And even though he is a stern teacher, he takes care of Fitz as he knows best – and he can be a real mamma bear when someone hurts Fitz.
All in all I just flew through this one, enjoying everything about it. It was engaging, interesting and exciting. This is what fantasy can be when it’s strong. I am in love with this world, Hobb has created and I’m so glad that not only is this the first in a trilogy but there are several more trilogies taking place in this world – and some even claim that this is the weakest trilogy. Whether that is so or not, I’m looking so much forward to spending more time in this world.

First line: A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.

  • Title: Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1)
  • Author: Robin Hobb
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year: 2007 (original 1995)
  • Pages:  460 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Lisa Shearin: All Spell Breaks Loose (Raine Benares #6) (review – audiobook)

All-Spell-Breaks-Loose-final-cover-186x300I have reached the end of this series! And there was much rejoicing! Now, don’t get me wrong. It has been an allright experience but it hasn’t been more than that and the books feel very similar. Except for specific plot details, I feel like I should just quote my review of the fifth book in the series, Con & Conjure, because I’m not sure how much new I have to say about the series as a whole or the narration of the audio books.

So things have never looked more grim for Raine Benares, the spunky seeker. After having been bonded to the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone, since early in the first book in this series, things have been cumulatively going from bad to worse but now, things are really bad. Sarad Nukpana, psychopath par excellence, has finally succeeded in getting the Saghred and after a goblin attack on Mid, Raine, her boyfriend Mychael, her former umi’atso-bound friend Tam and others decides to head to the Goblin capital of Regor to get the Saghred back from Nukpana and put the renegade prince Chigaru Mal’Salin back on the throne as well as reunite him with his girlfriend who Nukpana intends to marry. But to get there, they have to rely on Raine’s arch enemy Sylvanus Carnades since he’s a mirror mage and the only one who can get them to Regor and back safely.

Only issue – or not really only – but one of the big issues is that Raine has lost her magic. The Saghred has shut her down. She tries to hide this and it is actually rather helpful for sneaking around in Regor, but of course she can’t hide it for long and that of course creates a whole new host of problems.

The trip to Regor gives Shearin the chance to let us meet more of Tam’s family as well as Nukpana’s mother, Tam’s former teacher Kesyn Badru and more. Several of these are quite interesting although not quite as interesting as cousin Mago or Nachtmagus Vidor Kalta, who’s probably my favorite character in the series – him or Imala Kalis, the head of goblin security.

I missed Vegard a bit in this book. The big guardian is left behind on Mid to be stand-in for Mychael and make sure that the student population is not killed by the goblins – together with Raine’s pirate family. It makes sense to the story line, but I still missed Vegard’s attempt at keeping Raine safe – including sitting on her – and her flamboyant cousin Phaelan.

So the Saghred is of course hugely important in this whole series. And I have some issues with that. This rock seems to have a consciousness – at least it bears a serious grudge against Raine. I’m not sure that the idea of consciousness in objects really works in this world and parts of the plot hinges on that. I know it’s minor issue if you’re just able to suspend disbelief, however, it did mean that the final showdown didn’t quite work for me, even though it was otherwise very well executed.

This novel marks the end of the story arch that has been developed through all six books in the series. This doesn’t mean that this series is necessarily over. Lisa Shearin does leave room to take the characters up again and write some new adventures for Raine and Mychael on Mid so for people really enjoying this series, there’s hope. I’m not sure I will read another Raine Benares novel but I might read another Lisa Shearin novel. I think there’s a lot of potential in her writing.

  • Title: All Spell Breaks Loose (Raine Benares #6)
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 20112
  • Pages: 303 pages
  • Time: 9 hours 19 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Top Ten Favorite Fantasy Authors

So this week, we each get to decide on what genre we want to highlight ten favorite authors from. One of my favorite genres is fantasy. But even though that is so, I find it hard to

As usual, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. And did I mention this is the fifth week in a row I’m participating in Top Ten Tuesday. And there are a lot of us, check out The Broke and the Bookish blog to see the links to the other participant’s blogs.

  1. Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman: Weiss & Hickman introduced me to fantasy as an adult. Their DragonLance books are a great series of light fantasy with some great characters. This group of heroes – Tanis, Goldmoon, Riversong, Raistlin, CameronTas, Flint, Tika, Laurana – are wonderful and I love them. Chronicles
  2. Adrian Tchaikovsky: Tchaikovsky has taken a very normal fantasy theme – the unlikely heroes banding together against the big bad – and turned it into something new and exciting by creating insect kinden. Basically, various groups of people resemble various types of insects.
  3. Phil Pullman: I loved His Dark Materials. I thought it was both exciting and intelligent – and I so badly wanted my own dæmon!
  4. J.K. Rowling: Well, of course you can’t make a list of fantasy authors without mentioning Rowling and the Harry Potter series.
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings – need I say more?
  6. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was one of my favorite books as a young teenager and I also liked the Dirk Gentry books. I really want to reread Hitchhiker!
  7. Jasper Fforde: Literary fantasy – in the sense, that this fantasy involves literature. Thursday Next is a literary detective solving literary issues – that sometimes do involve traveling in books.
  8. Susanna Clarke: I wish Clarke would write more books. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I haven’t read The Ladies of Grace Adieu yet because I’m not that much into short stories but I will read it and I really hope she will publish another novel real soon.
  9. Neil Gaiman: Even though I so so so need to read more of Neil Gaiman’s works but I love The Graveyard Book, the Sandman and Death series. I plan on reading American Gods and Neverwhere very soon.

Making this list has made me realize, that I have to read more fantasy. I feel so behind – there is so much fantasy I want to read, on top of the list authors like George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss and Robin Hobb.

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Lisa Shearin: Con & Conjure (Raine Benares #5) (review – audiobook)

It’s actually really hard to write reviews of this series since they all just seem to blur together. Yes, I know I start listening to the next one as soon as I finish one but they are all so similar that it’s difficult to separate them.

This of course is the Raine Benares series. It consists of six books, taking place over a rather short amount of time. In the first book, Raine helps a friend steal a necklace with a stone. She puts it on – and is instantly bonded with the rock which turns out to be the Saghred, a soul stealing nasty thing that can destroy whole kingdoms and normally, turns it’s wearer, it’s bond-servant, insane. However, Raine is able to wear the rock without getting insane and the rest of the series is spend with Raine trying to get rid of the stone and find a way to destroy it as well as trying to avoid the psychopath Sarad Nukpana who wants both her and the rock. Luckily, Raine has help from not only her friends but also from new friends like Paladin Mychael Ellisor and archmagus Justinius Justinius Valerian.

As per usual, this one starts off with a bang. The conflict between the goblins and elves is slowly escalating and when the Goblin prince Chigaru Mal’Salin arrives to Mid, things gets moving. The prince is wanted dead by almost everyone so before he even sets food on Mid, several assassins try to kill him. Luckily, Raine is there to save him – even though not all the goblins see it that way.

While the elves – or at least some of them, led by Sylvanus Carnades – is trying to get their hands on Raine, having a specially prepared cell ready for her with magic-reducing manacles in the cellars of the elven embassy, the Goblin king and Sarad Nukpana is preparing to attack the elves – and just being nasty as usual.

It seems to me that the new characters being introduced in these last books in the series, are rather more interesting than some of the ones who have been in all the books. In this one, we’re introduced to Raine’s cousin Mago, a banker, who’s of course still in the family business of sneaking, stealing and other sorts of criminal activity. He’s the prince’s banker and is of course in an excellent position to help Raine. Also, we have Raine’s ex-boyfriend and former fiancé who is a most skilled assassin who’s of course after the prince. And maybe others? Someone at least is taking shots at Mychael.

So when you listen to a whole series, it’s hard to come up with something new to say about the narrator for each book. However, when you have listened to a whole series and the narrator suddenly starts saying something in a different way, it does distract from the listening experience. For some reason, in this book Eileen Stevens has started saying ‘the Saghred’ in a different way.The Saghred is mentioned a lot and every time, she says the word in this new way, I start wondering why she has changed it and it takes me out of the listening experience and ruins the flow of the story for me.

Other than that, this is just like the other books in the series. Plenty of action, very fast pace, some things are repeated over and over etc. If you’ve come this far in the series, you know exactly what you get. It’s decent light fantasy. It’s quite entertaining when you read it/listen to it but nothing more. I do admit that at a few points in this one, I really didn’t want to put it down but just to keep on listening but normally, I don’t think about it when not listening to it. I’m actually looking forward to finishing this series so I can try out other audiobooks and see if my lack of enthusiasm is because of the book or the medium I experience them through.

  • Title: Con & Conjure
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 323 pages
  • Time: 9 hours 19 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Lisa Shearin: Bewitched & Betrayed (Raine Benares #4) (review – audiobook)

This book starts a few weeks after the last one left out. Because of the demon queen’s attempt to rescue her husband, some souls escaped from the Saghred, this mighty rock our main protagonist Raine Benares is stuck with. Of course, her arch enemy and serious sadistic black mage Sarad Nukpana is one of the souls who escaped from the Saghred and of course, Raine has to try and  find him. Preferably before he finds her. Only trouble is – maybe Nukpana is even more dangerous than expected. Maybe he has found a creepy ritual that will enable him to bring him back to life or else he’s just being even more evil and creepy than usual. In either case, his idea of gifts – as in the sucked dried, leathery smelling husks of dead elven generals – really needs improving.

So Raine has to find a way to find Nukpana who is working on becoming corporeal again – with the help of his uncle, a very dark and cruel nachtmagus, a man who toys with the dead and their souls for fun. Nukpana’s plan is to suck the life, soul and memories out of enough people to make himself corporeal again – and with each kiss of death, he becomes even more powerful. And more difficult to stop.

A couple of new characters really stepped up to the plate this time around and greatly enhanced the reading experience. Imala Kalis, the head of goblin security – as well as the cutest little thing with dimples. She knows Tam from his time at Goblin court and they pretty much rubbed each other the wrong way. So much in fact, that Imala stabbed him at one point. However, she’s back and she’s great! I hope she will be a huge part in the remaining two books – and since the inevitable war between elves and goblins seem to be getting closer and closer, I think she will be a huge part in the attempt to avoid this war.

However, my favorite new character in this book is Nachtmagus Vidor Kalta. He is this seemingly creepy man who works with raising the dead – or so it seems. In reality, he is an extremely clever man who knows his business, has deep respect for the work he does – and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in, which creates one of the best scenes in the book when he actually makes Silvanus the little man in a discussion. Priceless!

I also enjoyed that Mychael got out from his desk and really became part of the action this time around. We get to see Mychael in action, actually in ways we hadn’t expected of our knight in shining armor. Parts of his past is revealed and it’s not exactly the past we expected either. All these things mean that Mychael becomes a more well-rounded character – who even knows his way around a bordello… and isn’t afraid to go under-cover.

Also, we actually finally get the love triangle between Raine, Mychael and Tam resolved. Raine made the choice I had expected – although resulting in a rather bad sex scene that I could have lived without (and I’m a bit sad that it wasn’t better since I wrote in my review of the third book in the series that I genuinely enjoyed it when Lisa Shearin played the sexual innuendo game – maybe it just got too explicit and left no room for the humor that so far has been the best part of every sexually loaded situation). However, the bond between Raine, Mychael and Tam is also changed in this book – no longer a threesome. The way of fixing this was clever and rather unexpected – and this part of the plot gave me a bit of a surprise that I enjoyed and it created some great tensions and gut wrenching moments for Raine (as well as a excellent fundament for the further books in the series).

The issues I have with this book, are the same as I’ve had with every book in the series. There are a lot of recaps of what has happened before and it really gets too repetitive. Also, Raine still keeps mentioning that she’s a Benares and therefore, no good – although one should think that after all what she, her cousin and uncle has been doing to help the Guardians, it should no longer matter to her that some high elves might not like her name – especially since she doesn’t like them. So enough already. The Benares family has proven itself – no reason to keep pretending to believe yourself a lowlife. Also – what’s up with the teeth? Everyone smiling has to bare their teeth or fangs – and I think it has been mentioned in every book that a goblin’s fangs are not just for decorative use. Again – enough! Raine’s way of handling things, her sarcastic thoughts and replies to every situation, sometimes feel very off. Not every situation demands a snarky reply!

When listening to these books, I often get a sense of something not being right. Something happens and I think ‘wait a minute – how can that happen?’ It seems to me that this world and it’s magic as well as the various creatures living in it, are not quite consistent. That small changes are made to both the characters and the laws of magic as it suits the plot. Some of the mages also seem extremely powerful – and there seem to be no drawback to using magic. You can just go on and on, throwing out one powerful spell after another and you don’t get drained. You do when you heal people – but not when using spells. I would have liked to see a more developed magical system (that’s one thing I love about the DragonLance series for instance – that mages constantly have to commit spells to memory to be able to use them).

Also, it does feel like Raine, Mychael and Tam – with the support of Archmagus Justinius – should be making progress with at least some of their enemies, specifically the high elf Silvanus who has been after Raine from when she arrived on Mid. We all know that he’s power hungry, we know he wants to rid himself of both Raine, Tam and Mychael and we know that Justinius knows this as well. With Silvanus’ abilities to lock people up as he sees fit, shouldn’t the other side be able to do something about him too? Like maybe just lock him up for slandering, lying and being deceitful? With the combined resources of Raine, Mychael, Tam and Justinius, they ought to have had time to spend 5 minutes tossing about ideas about how to get rid of him – and then just do it. It’s not believable that these very capable people can’t fix at least him. I get that he may be needed for the plot – but if it isn’t believable that he stays free and in power, Shearin has to find another way to move her plot forward.

We did get rid of one of the main bads – and even though that was solved off-camera, so to speak, it was a nice way to end that part of the plot and it made sense. The plot in this book was moved forward and we’re left with a plan for how to proceed.

I haven’t got anything new to say about the narration.Eileen Stevens does her job well, her voice is the voice of Raine to me, and she adds little touches here and there that adds to the listening experience. I still think some of her male voices sound a bit too alike but overall, it works well.

Now, if you haven’t already read/listened to this book, you might want to stop reading now. There’s going to be a bit of spoilers, I think. One thing I don’t quite get is why can’t they just cut open the Saghred and release the souls and diminish it’s power that way? The bloody rock is the cause of all Raine’s problems and with Nukpana now having a bit of link to it as well – or at least Saghred-enhanced powers like Raine – I see no reason to not just cut up the stone, release the souls – and just make sure there’s Reapers around to eat them. Wouldn’t it make it easier for everyone if the stone was dried out – or am I missing something here? Also, I thought the way the umi’atso bond issue was solved was excellent – however, I can’t stop wondering if the Saghred who created the bond in the first place, can’t just do so again…

If you’ve made it this far, I will end by saying, that overall, I do enjoy these books. They are light and fun fantasy romps which suffers a bit from a not completely developed world and a at times too high-paced plot. However, they are enjoyable and at times hard to put down and works great as light entertainment.

  • Title: Bewitched & Betrayed
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2010
  • Pages:  366 pages
  • Time:  13 hours  25 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars: 3  stars out of 5

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Lisa Shearin: The Trouble With Demons (Raine Benares #3) (review – audiobook)

True to form, this third volume in the Raine Benares series starts with a bang. Or rather – The Isle of Mit gets invaded by demons coming in through a Hellgate and of course, Raine is right in the middle of it. Luckily, Raine is able to save the day yet again, with a little help from Tam. Since the Saghred has made sure that Raine and Tam are bonded together to try and make Tam feed it when Raine steadily refuses, Raine is now able to use some of Tam’s magic and power and boost her Saghred enhanced skills even more.

So why are all these demons doing on Mid? Turns out, one of the souls trapped in the Saghred is the demon king and of course, the demon queen wants him back. With a Hellgate raised somewhere on Mid, demons come pouring out. Rudra, the Saghred’s former bond servant, is also on the loose, enjoying himself immensely, trying to wreck as much havoc as possible while getting back in control of the Saghred.

A bad situation gets even worse when Raine finds out that not only can the Saghred be opened and souls released from it, the demon queen wants her to find the dagger forged to do this. A dagger that can be found by a virgin. On a college island. Where students soon discover that to get laid is actually a way of protecting yourself. Of course, Raine succeeds – and of course we all know who the virgin is.

So besides demons being on the loose all over Mid, not much has changed. Raine is still caught between Tam and Mychael, she is still being pursued by Nukpana and in this book, by Rudra especially. She still has lots of spunky replies to everything, no matter what situation she finds herself in and she still rushes headfirst into trouble, without stopping to think. While this is light, action-packed fantasy, it would be nice if once in a while, she did take a breather, listened to advice and acted accordingly. That said, these books take place over a very short amount of time and so, she of course isn’t given much time to ponder her actions – or her love life. But since I think Lisa Shearin has a lot of humor in her writing when the action slows down, I would like to see more of that. Towards the end of this novel, there’s some very amusing scenes between Mychael and Raine and since Shearin has set this three-way between Tam, Mychael and Raine up, there’s plenty of room for sexual innuendo – like the finding of a virgin to help her find a dagger or Mychael having to heal by being naked in bed with Rane… I actually find Shearin at her best when she writes these scenes with lots of humor and lots of sexual tension.

I did like that we got to see more of Justinius, the archmagus. He’s one cool old bugger – with a lot of power! I also think some of the other lesser characters – like the leader of the demon department – are rather entertaining. And, of course, Vegard. Big burly Vegard. The poor Guardian who has gotten the job of keeping Raine safe. Definitely not an easy gig. I like Vegard! He’s a big, dangerous, puppy dog!

My main issue with this book is the same as I had with the second volume. It gets too repetitive. Again, yes, we know you’re a Benares, yes, we know that the Benares are a family of thieves and pirates, and yes we know that Mychael is law abiding and that causes trouble and no decent persons will look your way – yes, yes, yes. We get it. You’ve been saying it for three books now. And why is that everyone smiling shows their fangs or teeth all the time? It makes sense in some cases that the goblins want to show their fangs to show their weapons, but everyone does it over and over. Stop mentioning it!

I’m hoping the 4th book in this series will flesh out Tam and Mychael more – so far, they are still just pure good and pure (reformed) evil and each other’s opposites and it would make the love triangle more interesting if you actually knew enough about these two to be able to root for one of them. I’m also hoping that Shearin will realize that if readers are reading the 4th book in a series, it’s their own fault if they haven’t read the first three and they should go do so – she doesn’t have to retell everything that has happened in the series once more! We got it. Let’s move on! And finally – no more showing of teeth and fangs, no more ‘I’m a Benares’ crap. And then we’ll have us a good book!

As this is an audiobook, I want to comment on the narrator. While Eileen Stevens has become the voice of Raine to me, and her way of reading is overall quite good, I do think there are a few issues with her making voices. To me, some of the male characters sound too much the same and sometimes, that’s a bit confusing. It’s not a huge thing, it’s just a small complaint. Overall, Eileen Stevens does a good enough job for me to enjoy listening to it.

All in all, this book didn’t progress the series’ story arch that much. There simply wasn’t time to investigate how to get rid of the Saghred and in the end, Raine is almost worse off than she was in the beginning. With that said, this book really sets up the next book(s) nicely, maybe hinting at what Raine needs to get rid of the Saghred but also setting the scene for even worse trouble than has been the cause so far. This feels like a typical middle book and hopefully, Shearin can cash in on the ideas she hints at.

  • Title: The Trouble With Demons
  • Author: Lisa Shearin
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Publisher: Ace/Audible Frontiers
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 370 pages
  • Time: 13 hours 41 minutes
  • Source: Own Collection (Audible)
  • Stars:  3 stars out of 5

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