Den of Wolves

Den of Wolves is the third novel in Juliet Marillier’s Blackthorn and Grim series. Each book deals with the untangling of a mystery, but there is also an overreaching arc for the whole series, so I’d recommend reading the first two books before getting this one.

The novel is set in a long ago, mythical Ireland. Blackthorn is a healer and wise woman in a rural community, while her friend Grim, a big, strong man, is handy with all sorts of things, especially building. Although they live together in the same house, they are reluctant to love again because both of them have been hurt in the past. They are an unusual couple for a fantasy novel: both in their thirties, with past relationships, just ordinary people who have been hurt, neither very tender nor extraordinarily handsome. What they have in abundance however is strength, truth and courage.

In every novel they stumble onto a mystery made up of old tales and the involvement of the otherworldly powers and end up righting old wrongs. Den of Wolves develops slowly at first, with the mystery introduced and Blackthorn and Grim making separate discoveries. There is also a new and likeable viewpoint character, Cara, who has to discover a secret about her parentage, find out about her abilities and finally choose a path for herself. Being apparently the final volume in the series, this book wraps up both Cara’s mystery and the overreaching story arc – which is a shame, as I would have liked to read more stories about Blackthorn and Grim.

In my opinion the mix of elements of a detective story with a traditional fantasy setting works really well and I always enjoy how Marillier weaves in old tales and the truth they hold. As a writer, I also found it interesting how she uses a different viewpoint for each character, first person present for Grim, first person past for Blackthorn and third person past for Cara. I would have thought it quite difficult to carry off, but Marillier manages brilliantly and so gives each character his or her own particular flavour.

To sum up, it’s a series for people who like realistic, unusual characters, good writing and skilful world-building. However, though the books all have a happy ending of sorts, this is also a world where good people get hurt, some scars are permanent and not everything always ends happily ever after. Beware that the first book especially has some very dark scenes.

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Goldenhand is the latest book in Garth Nix’s popular Abhorsen series. Some of his other books can be read as standalone novels, but with this one I would very much recommend reading his other books first.

It takes place in the Old Kingdom, a world made special by the concept that death is not the end, but that instead some of the dead struggle to come back into life by any means possible. The necromancers of this world have the ability to travel into Death and to command the dead by the means of magical bells – which are not without danger to the wielder however.

For the first two thirds of the book, it is divided into two different narrative strands. One deals with Ferin, a woman from the northern tribes, who needs to deliver an urgent message, while the shamans of the tribes do everything to stop her. The other narrative strand accompanies Lirael and Nick (characters from previous books) on their journey to the Clayr. I have to admit that personally I found Ferin’s chapters a lot more interesting. I liked that for once here is a character with no magic at all, just a lot of determination. I felt she brought a fresh perspective into the series, what it is like to live in the Old Kingdom as a normal person with no means to defend herself against the dead by magic. In fact it got almost to the point where I got annoyed to get Lirael’s point-of-view again, because there was not a lot of action in those chapters, just the slightly awkward romance with Nick, which I did not find particularly captivating.

As for the plot, as usual they end up saving the Old Kingdom and the way they did it was not terribly new or exciting. However, I always like those scenes that take place in Death, simply because it’s such an interesting and original concept. Overall the book ties up a lot of loose ends, so much so that you almost feel it’s a bit obsessive – every major character gets his or her love interest by the end of the book.

All in all, I would have liked the novel to be longer and to see more of the characters from previous books like Sabriel, Touchstone and Sam. After the long build-up, the climax felt a little bit rushed. However, it is a solid, well-written novel that provides good, original world-building and I liked to learn more about the tribes of the North and to find closure for Clariel.

If you like the Abhorsen series, Goldenhand is definitely worth reading. If you haven’t, I’d recommend you try Sabriel first, which I still consider the best book of the series.

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Riddlemaster Trilogy

A reader recently asked me for fantasy recommendations and as I stood in front of my book case, my eyes fell on the Riddlemaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip. Together with The Lord of the Rings and the Dragonriders of Pern series, these books were my introduction to fantasy and I’ve loved the genre ever since.

I originally bought ‘The Heir of Sea and Fire’ first (the second book in the series), simply because I was intrigued by the cover – the scene where Raederle, the heroine, bargains with one of the dead Kings of Hel by offering his skull back. But once I started reading, the story sucked me in and I had to get the other books as well.

Patricia McKillip has a truly magical way with words, her descriptions are poetic and spot on at the same time. This, for example, is how she introduces the ghost of King Farr of Hel: He was, as she imagined him, a big, powerful man with a wide slab of a face hard as a slammed gate. The world she has created matches her style, deep, diverse, with a long history and full of magic.

The protagonist of the series is Morgon, Prince of Hed and a riddle master. He has been born with a pattern of three stars on his forehead and the story follows his journey as he has to discover their meaning – for this is a world where unanswered riddles can prove unexpectedly deadly. Raederle, the woman he loves (’the second most beautiful woman of An’), goes looking for him and together they face the dangers his stars have called up from the past.

I love the way Patricia McKillip has woven the idea of riddles through the whole story. Answering them teaches you something about the world and yourself – there’s even a whole College of Riddle-Masters! Altogether it’s a world you can lose yourself in while reading, like a rich, slightly faded tapestry of events long past.

The books are now available as a single eBook on Amazon and very much worth buying.

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Bride to the Sun update

brideJust a quick update on my publishing venture – I first released Bride to the Sun on Amazon, but it is now also available at other retailers: iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords and many more. I’m planning to have a print version done as well, but this will take a little more time.

May I just say many thanks to all of you who’ve read my book – I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And special thanks to those who’ve left me a review! I love hearing what people think of my stories, as it’s only through feedback that you can grow as an author. Also, it’s a great motivator to keep writing!

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Bride to the Sun

cover_finishedI’m so very pleased to announce that Bride to the Sun, my first novel, is now available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon! From the blurb:

Once, she could pluck fire out of the very air. Now she is the most insignificant member of an imperial court seething with intrigue.

Shay, firedancer and bride to the sun, faces punishment for the crimes of her dead father: she has her magic bound and at the emperor’s whim finds herself handed over as concubine to a barbarian lord. However, Lord Medyr of the Hawk doesn’t particularly fancy such a dubious gift – proving a surprise  both to Shay and to the man who wants to use them as pawns in his ruthless bid for power.

The reserved, self-controlled firedancer is bewildered by the task of having to deal with that strange creature, a male. Yet with enemies threatening on all sides, Shay and the hot-headed warrior from the north must build a fragile bridge of trust. But will they realise in time that the growing attraction between them is also their deadliest danger?

A tale of elemental magic, perilous intrigues, a tortoise and pond slime.

The story, set in a fantasy world inspired by my travels to Asia and my interest in ancient Chinese history, has been a long time in the making, but is now finally seeing the light of day. If you want to have a peek inside, the first two chapters are available here, or you can use the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon. So read, review and recommend it to all your friends!

Bride to the Sun on Amazon: US  UK   Germany  Canada  Australia  France  Netherlands

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