Posted in Literature

Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I’ve kept this one short given the popularity of the series and the length of time it’s been out. It’s hard to provide a no-spoiler review that doesn’t cover what everyone before me has already mentioned.

This was Mark Lawrence’s debut and first in The Broken Empire trilogy where we follow Jorg, a prince to one of a hundred kingdoms all vying to become Emperor and reunite the lands. He’s also a character who has suffered some unimaginable hardship and loss. He has seen terrible things and it broke him as a child so that now, as a young man, he is whip sharp and hardened.

Prince of Thorns is a fast-paced dark science-fantasy (grimdark, specifically) following Jorg and his road brothers as he tries making his first advances to be King. I knew this was going to be a Sci-Fantasy before starting out but if I hadn’t there are plenty of clever little nods to it that Lawrence has worked into the prose before the point where it becomes readily obvious. At times, you can tell this was a debut and the writing could use a touch more polish though this doesn’t impact on the story.

Lawrence has made some interesting choices as to what has survived through the years to reach Jorg’s time. You will recognise names like Plato and Nietzche but nothing more modern; you will likely recognise ‘Jesu’ as a version of Jesus where the ‘s’ has been dropped over time and of all religions it seems Catholicism in particular is what has endured into the era of the Broken Empire. Sadly, it seems nothing like feminism or other concepts of equality have made it through the millenia as succession is still a man’s game and the trappings of patriarchal capitalism remain everywhere. While those do represent some disappointing missed opportunities what does comprise Prince of Thorns remains a satisfying dark fantasy tale that serves as a keen character study.

4 stars

Posted in Literature

Review: We Are The Dead

We Are the Dead (The Last War, #1)We Are the Dead by Mike Shackle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you think of a rollercoaster it’s fast, frenetic and a little bit scary, which is what you’ll get from We Are the Dead without having to queue for two hours first. WATD is the debut novel from Mike Shackle in his grimdark series The Last War, following its characters through the dark and deadly life in an occupied territory as they try to resist the enemy and take back their country, Jia.  The book’s main storyline takes place over a span of eight days, which adds to the fast-paced nature of it, and follows five main points of view: Tinnstra, Jax, Dren, Yas and Darus.  

Tinnstra is a young woman consumed by fear and a desperate desire to live but not necessarily the courage to fight for it until she gets caught up in an escape attempt that could give all of Jia hope for a future of freedom.  While the blurb on the reverse of the book only specifically mentions Tinnstra, she is not the sole focus of the story; nevertheless her arc presents a refreshingly honest take on violence and war. After all, if you look within yourself, would you really have the courage to fight an unwinnable war knowing it would cause your certain death? Or, would you be petrified and forced to run and hide?

Dren’s story – aside from Tinnstra’s – shows some of the most growth. From a reckless, rebellious teenager, hellbent on killing the enemy no matter the cost, to a young man who can see the bigger picture and the part he has to play in it. The character development across the board is excellent and Dren’s is possibly my favourite.

There is plenty of dark, grim and gritty content here too. Everyone suffers some sort of familial loss, even if in one case it’s a twistedly happy affair. There is death on a mass scale, betrayal, failure, torture and the ever-present looming darkness of fear. This is still a tale of rebellion and resistance despite all the odds going against our Jian friends and a brilliant read that is more than it seems.

Some TW/CW for the book: suicidal ideation, sexual assault, mentions of and attempted r*pe, torture 

5 stars

Posted in Literature

Review: Of Blood and Fire

Of Blood and Fire (The Bound and the Broken, #1)Of Blood and Fire by Ryan Cahill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of Blood and Fire from Ryan Cahill is a great debut, marking the start of The Bound and the Broken series, which proved an addictive read. It is a classic epic fantasy with a modern interpretation. Though this starts off in familiar territory – with 3 young men, as close as brothers, on the eve of their manhood trial, which inevitably goes awry and the village bully gets involved – it is very much worth the read. 

The central characters are ones you can care about and root for. Calen, Dann & Rist are our three freshly-proven young men who get caught up in a kerfuffle with the big bad Empire after they befriend the mysterious Erik who is travelling incognito with his brother and father. After coming to the aid of their new friends, our main boys are landed in the shit and it gets worse before getting better.

Along their journey these three make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. They witness a baby dragon hatching – the first in over 400 years – they meet elves, giants, dwarves and are chased across the continent by a Fade hellbent on destroying the aforementioned baby dragon.

Without giving too much more away there are stakes, there is loss, there is wonder and awe in this book. At times there are some words used that feel a bit jarring or out of place where a simpler descriptor could have sufficed but I think Cahill shows a lot of promise. Book 2 in the series, Of Darkness and Light, is already out and the third installation is due later this year (Of War and Ruin) so you won’t have to wait long to continue the story. Cahill is also planning to release a novella set in The Bound and the Broken world prior to Book 3’s release to keep eager fans ticking over.

I would recommend reading the prequel novella, The Fall, as it clues you in to some of the language and magic of this world and gives a good sense of the epic proportions the main series is heading for. Did I mention there are dragons?

4.5 stars

Posted in Literature

Review: The Hand of the Sun King

The Hand of the Sun King (Pact and Pattern, #1)The Hand of the Sun King by J.T. Greathouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Asian-inspired fantasy steeped in ancestry, obligation and magics. Wen Alder is a child of a Sien father and a Nayeni mother; the Sienese are the conquerors of Nayen (& many other lands) and Alder is torn between the two early in his life. His (maternal) Grandmother names him in the Nayeni tradition – Foolish Cur – and tries to teach him of their ways in secret alongside his training at his Father’s behest towards taking the Imperial Examinations at 17.

Alder yearns for magic and after a foolish attempt to wield it before understanding it his Grandmother departs to join the Nayeni rebellion in the north, leaving Alder only one path to know magic: to become a Hand of the Emperor. In the first series of examinations to take place in Nayen, Alder succeeds and begins his apprenticeship as a Hand, however, his introduction to imperial magic is not what he had hoped and his desperate desire to find that pure and powerful magic he touched as a child is rekindled.

This is a coming-of-age story that encompasses a number of years in the life of Alder, from 5 to 23, and what he learns in his questing journey for magic that has fascinated him as long as he can remember. We follow him through years of study, his examinations, apprenticeship and beyond as he tries to learn as much as can be found on magic. What he finds is often a disappointment to him and his pursuit of this knowledge leads him into some tragic circumstances, changing him forever.

The prose it not thick and is quite easy to read. The book is about the perfect length to introduce you thoroughly to Alder and this world as he learns more about it. The first-person POV I think complements this slow revealing of knowledge very well. One positive compared to other coming-of-age, 1st person POV fantasy novels (e.g. Farseer) is that there is no achingly slow downtime where little appears to happen. The Hand of the Sun-King ensure there is no dull, drawn out expositions or lengthy travel sequences to force yourself through. The only downside I felt was that there’s a lot to fit in and as such some events had more of a cursory going-over.

Nevertheless, I think this is an excellent debut and would love to continue the series.

Thanks to NetGalley and the Orion Publishing Group for access to an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for review.

Posted in Literature

Read: 2020 Wrapup

2020 on Goodreads2020 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If there can be one good thing that came out of 2020, it’s that my reading hit an all-time high. I don’t think I’ve read this many books in a single year before! In part, this is due to all the circumstance changes throughout the year with lockdowns and working from home meaning I was more inclined to read in my spare time. I also started a Booktube and a Bookstagram account because I was enjoying myself so much! (YT: Rai Reads; IG: @what.rai.reads)

Things I learned this year:
– if it has a Goodreads entry, it counts!
– if you’re not enjoying it, DNF it!
– I still don’t like 95% of ‘classics’
– I can enjoy some YA but it’s still largely not my bag
– I still love fantasy & sci-fi
– I am increasingly loving horror books
– I need to be a touch more discerning with thrillers

Challenges completed:
My initial GR goal was 24 books, which I increased to 30, then 36, then 52, then 60 and then ended up reading 80 books. I am still astounded by this and rather chuffed.
I set myself a variety of mini-challenges for the year that I also completed, which can be seen here:

Favourite Books of 2020:
The Arkhel Conundrum
The Priory of the Orange Tree
The Obelisk Gate
The Hate U Give
All Systems Red
Artificial Condition
Fahrenheit 451
Gods of Jade and Shadow
The Gravity of Us
Traitor’s Blade

Disappointing* Books of 2020:
Spare Room
The Woman in the Window
The Woman in Black
The Haunting of Hill House

*These are books that I was disappointed by, which doesn’t necessarily make them bad, it means that I expected a lot more of these titles and was sorely let down: I didn’t enjoy them, I found them boring or over-hyped, and they were a bit of an effort to get through. Don’t get me wrong I read some genuinely BAD stuff this year but I don’t feel like that stuff is even worth mentioning.

Moving forward:
– in keeping with my +6/year approach to my GR target I think I’ll start with a goal of 30 and if I hit that before mid-year I might up it to 52.
– I’m attempting #MountTBR2021 and starting with a climb up Pike’s Peak: this is a challenge to read books you already owned before the start of the year and Pike’s is a humble target of 12. I suspect I’ll read more than that but as it’s my first attempt I’ve started off at the lower slopes.
– I’ve written up a new list of challenges for myself and tried to keep them fairly generic and simple just in case my reading slumps in 2021 after such a boom year in 2020. Challenges are here:
– I’ve sorted myself a few buddy reads already: Dune, House of Leaves & Black Leopard, Red Wolf
– I’m considering an extra bonus challenge to read all books I received this Christmas by next Christmas (that’s 10 books)

So that’s my wrap up for 2020 and a taster for 2021’s ideas and plans. Thanks for reading and good luck in all your challenges!

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Bear & the Nightingale

The Bear and The NightingaleThe Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is floating somewhere between a 3 and a 3.5 for me so I’m hedging my bets with a 3.

I really enjoyed the folkloric elements of this story especially Vasya’s interactions with the various spirits she encountered as well as her affinity with the horses as another part of the natural world. The conflict between Christianity and the old ways is a fraught one and I found myself getting frustrated with the characters championing ‘good Christians’, which is testament to Arden’s writing that I’m supposed to hate those characters and did! The same can be said of getting frustrated by the very patriarchal and sexist society (historically accurate, I’m sure) and many people constantly reminding Vasya’s that it’s “just a woman’s lot” to get married and have babies or get hidden away in a convent. This really helps to push your sympathies towards Vasya as a character who doesn’t seem to fit in.

The book overall felt a little more like an origin story you might read as an extra to an existing trilogy or series and I would’ve liked it to feel a little more like the start of a trilogy than it did. I can see where threads will be picked up in book 2 but this one feels like a completed story on its own; the threads that continue (based on reading book 2’s blurb) are really quite negligible in this book that they’re almost forgotten entirely. I was expecting Vasya and Morozko to meet properly a lot sooner than the 75% mark and while I can see why the set-up before this was useful it did make the final section of the book seem a bit quick or rushed.

I’m curious to see where Vasya goes next, yes, but I have a lot of other books I’ll be prioritising above continuing this series.


This was book 78 of 2020.

Posted in Literature

RaiReads: Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1)Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’ve come for the “lesbian necromancers in space” then, er, readjust your expectations. There’s no romantic or sexual involvement between anyone. Sure, Gideon fancies women but at no point does anyone identify themselves by a set sexuality – she could be bi for all we know – and while she sort-of fancies one of the other necromancers (not Harrow) for a while, that’s it. She notices when one of the other women is in very flimsy attire but also notices the ’58 abdominal muscles’ of one of the male cavaliers too. Also, Gideon is not a necromancer. Also, they’re not really in space, they’re on a planet. So forget all the taglines, because they’re bullshit.

I liked Gideon as a character but felt like there wasn’t enough development of her and Harrow (more in the spoiler section below). Sure, their relationship changed but it made some big leaps as opposed to a steady progression and as such some of the story that relied on their relationship fell a bit flat. The necromancy and sword fights were pretty fun and if there’d been more than 2 or 3 actual fights I might not have felt quite so bored mid-book. I started skim-reading toward the end of Act III through some of it just to get to the next dialogue section as that seemed to be where all the information lay.

One criticism I heard before reading was that it was hard to follow all the names of characters because there were so many ways to refer to the same person, e.g.: Coronabeth Tridentarius was also Corona and ‘the glorious twin’ (or something similar). And while ‘the mayonnaise uncle’ was an amusing moniker, it was a bit difficult keeping everyone straight in my head and I had to keep referring back to the roster at the start of the book. The names were also a complete pain to try and pronounce correctly and I spent the whole book arguing with my brain and ended up shortening names to make it easier to read. After I finished the story, I found the pronunciation guide right at the back of the book, however, even then, my brain rebels.

One such other naming scheme was that of the Fourth house’s obnoxious teens. The awful teens. And so on. Despite the fact Gideon and Harrow are also teenagers. This felt like something a person in their late 30s or up would moan about – teenagers so obnoxiously full of life – not an 18 year old.


There was a lot unexplored and unexplained and bits that seemed to contradict other parts of the story; it is mentioned that Gideon survived huffing nerve gas for 10 hours as an infant; she’s survived a lot of things that should’ve killed other people; her parentage is a mystery; and then all of a sudden she’s dead at the end of the book. Um, what? Sure I expect those things will be explored in the next book(s) but the ending doesn’t exactly encourage me to read those because there’s just too many arrows that were let loose all at once and only some hit their mark, the rest are scattered all over the place.

In a review for Harrow the Ninth, I read that Gideon was H’s “one true love” and, I’ll be honest, that is 100% not what I got from this book. They realise they need each other and rely on each other but “one true love” was not what they were exuding at all. Here, I’ll point back to my comment about their relationship development taking some awfully big leaps without any groundwork to justify them.

It took me almost a month to read because of all these little niggles and because Act 3 & 4 were just a bit bleh. The novelty of having Gideon be a foul-mouthed teen using 21st Century language wore off pretty swiftly as I wondered how the heck she was meant to have heard of pizza or mayonnaise while spending her entire life on a dingy rock of a planet where they all live underground and eat gruel and ‘snow leeks’. Hm. It’s not quite bad enough to be a 2 star but I was really hoping for better.

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This was book 75 of 2020.

Posted in Literature

Rai’s Reading Challenge 2021

I’ve put together 20 prompts for my reading next year. I think there’s a good mix below and I’m sure there’ll come a point where it’ll help me choose what to read next! I’ve kept them fairly simple as who knows what surprises await us next year, given how bizarre my reading went in 2020.

  1. Take part in #MountTBR2021 and aim for Pike’s Peak (12 books I already own) – see more info here:
  2. A translated book
  3. A non-fiction (not for uni) book
  4. Speculative fiction either by an LGBTQ+ author or with queer (main) characters
  5. A space opera
  6. An epic fantasy
  7. A horror novel
  8. A non-police-procedural mystery/thriller
  9. A contemporary/literary fiction
  10. The first in a new series
  11. A sequel
  12. Published in the 20th Century
  13. A green book
  14. An award winner
  15. A debut novel
  16. Set in or inspired by a country you’ve never visited
  17. Something that’s been turned into or inspired a TV show or film
  18. A book recommended to you (by an algorithm or a person)
  19. A book containing poetry
  20. Take part in a read-along or buddy-read
  21. BONUS CHALLENGE: Read all the books you received for Christmas 2020 by Christmas 2021

If you’d like to join in with these prompts, please consider using the tag #RaiReadsChallenge2021 so I can see you!

Posted in Literature

Reading Challenges 2020: Update

Back at the start of the year I published a post with my self-assigned Reading Challenges for 2020 and now it’s time for an update as I have completed the main list! Below I’ve re-listed all the challenges and updated them to include what book I read for them or what/when I completed an activity. I allowed myself to use the same book for more than one prompt initially because I was worried I wouldn’t otherwise complete the list but as 2020 has progressed I’ve read a lot more than I anticipated so I’ve added extra books in that fit the prompts I may have previously ticked off.

Rai’s Reading Challenge Prompts 2020:

  • A ghost story: Pine; The Carrow Haunt; The Haunting of Ashburn House
  • A story with dragons: The Arkhel Conundrum
  • A book that’s published in 2020: Pine; Mexican Gothic; Home Before Dark
  • A book by a trans or nonbinary author: Beyond the Gender Binary
  • A previous Goodreads Choice award winner: The Silent Patient
  • A sci-fi/fantasy novella (< 150 pages): Bloodchild; Binti
  • A ‘doorstopper’ (> 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman: The Arkhel Conundrum; The Priory of the Orange Tree
  • A book you picked because the title caught your attention: The Nothing Man
  • Read a banned book during Banned Books Week: Slaughterhouse-Five
  • A book published in the month of your birthday: Craven Manor; My Sister, the Serial Killer
  • Read the last book in a series: The Stone Sky
  • Read a retelling of a classic, fairytale or myth: The Turn of the Key
  • A book gifted to you: The Arkhel Conundrum; The Priory of the Orange Tree; The Turn of the Key; The Gravity of Us
  • A book you chose because of the cover art: Pine
  • A book outside of your (genre) comfort zone: The Gravity of Us (YA/Romance)
  • A book with a queer character/s: salt slow; The Gravity of Us; The Priory of the Orange Tree
  • A book with a disabled character: The Stolen Ones
  • A book with a 4 star rating on Goodreads: The Echo Man; The Killing Room
  • An audiobook: The Power
  • A book that has been on your TBR since 2017 or earlier: The Girl With All the Gifts

Reading-related Challenges:

  • Only buy myself secondhand books
  • When buying a new physical book, ‘destash’ an equal number of books to make space on the shelves I’ve let myself off these two as the pandemic has made it very difficult to get to secondhand/charity shops to do this!
  • Show up to a Book Club at least once: Work Book Club (organised by me!)

Goodreads Challenge: 24 books67 read as of 4th October 2020

6 ‘Must Read’ TBR 2020:

  • The Obelisk Gate – finished in July
  • The Arkhel Conundrum – finished in July
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree – finished in August
  • Reality is not what it seems – finished in July
  • Daughter of the Empire
  • The Twelve
Posted in Literature

Read: The Whisper Man & The Hate U Give

The Whisper ManThe Whisper Man by Alex North
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5.

An engaging thriller with a hint of the supernatural mixed in.

This is a multi-perspective thriller with a good balance between victim/s, killer and police POVs set in England with some internal themes around parenthood – specifically fatherhood – and the relationships between fathers and sons. The added reflection between the different father-son relationships in the book made for some extra content to think about in relation to the central story and characters as well as a couple of unseen twists along the way.

One part of the killer’s identity was guessable but another aspect to it was hidden until late in the book and there were other reveals that I didn’t see coming.

The prose was easy to read and still engaging and the main character was sympathetically written. There were some supernatural-ish elements that I can’t add much more about without spoilers and some additional creep-factor moments that added to the suspense.

Worth a read and can be picked up fairly cheap (e.g. The Works, paperback, £2; Amazon Kindle ed, £2.99).

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant book that, while fictional, is drawn from the author’s own experiences as a black woman in a predominantly white environment in the aftermath of police shooting and killing Oscar Grant (2009). Thomas has taken some of her own experiences, feelings and even guilt over her silence in that situation and turned it into a novelisation focusing on Starr, a 16 year old black girl who attends a predominantly white private school and lives in – as she describes it – “the ghetto”.

Starr witnesses her childhood friend Khalil get shot dead by a policeman and the book then follows her as she struggles to keep herself and her world from falling apart. She seeks justice for Khalil while her neighbourhood erupts into riots and the police roll in with tanks and tear-gas.

Black Lives Matter has been around since 2013 and we have seen a huge surge this year, 2020, again following the multiple unlawful killings of unarmed black people by police in America. THUG is as relevant now as it was in 2017 and when it began as a college short story for Angie Thomas in 2009. Despite being fictionalised this is a very realistic account of aftermath of one such police shooting and the various ways in which oppressed people can react.

I am not usually one for YA but this book doesn’t feel like YA to me. By all means, it still is, I mean more than it doesn’t dumb things down and that’s important especially with a topic like this.

If you haven’t read it, please do so, it’s a brilliant book with captivating prose and a seriously important story.

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