Iron Gold – Review

** There will be spoilers for the Red Rising series in this review, but none for Iron Gold **

“Men call him father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy.”

Iron Gold is the behemoth of a book Red Rising fanatics have been waiting all these long months for. It is epic in scope, yet precise in execution. Ending at 596 pages, we get a brilliant introduction to life after the rebellion and all the messiness that comes with forming a new government while still waging war.

When I went to Howler Fest to launch this release, Brown said writing Iron Gold was like coming home. And you feel that in his words. There is a familiar feeling of catching up with old friends while reading, and yet it also launches us into new terrain with three new POV characters.

This feeling of coming home combined with the new characters gives us something quite unique. And this new novel is exactly why I will forever be obsessed with Pierce Brown’s writing. He gives us what we need, but rarely what we want and never quite what we expect. This leads to reading that leaves you breathless and on the edge of your seat, because you can never be sure what twist awaits you on the next page. The only certainty is that there will be uncertainty.

“Our familiar friend, dread, creeps onto the balcony with us, because deep inside, in the shadowy chasms of ourselves, we know Lorn was right. For those who dine with war and empire, the bill always comes at the end.”

The addition of the new characters, especially as new points of view, adds a richness to Iron Gold that is necessary and couldn’t have been achieved as elegantly by simply showing us the perspective of Darrow. Darrow was the driving force in Red Rising, but his choices, and the choices of those that followed him have consequences that reach far beyond what they could have imagined. In this way we the reader, along with the heroes of Red Rising, see how disastrous good intentions can end up being.

One of the first new characters we meet is Lyria, a young Red girl, liberated from the mines where she finds herself living in a refugee camp on Mars. This POV was one of my favorites, only because this is the most direct results of the war the Sons of Ares and Darrow embarked down. Darrow wanted to free his people, and he did. But, is freedom worth the price they paid, and that some continue to pay? Lyria gives us this path to explore and digest.

We also meet Ephraim, a Grey, an ex-soldier and ex Son of Ares. He is now a thief, drawn into the dark underworld that has taken a larger grip of the world, now that Octavia’s grip vanished with her death. I love this story as well, because it shows a different side to a new Society. The side where crime and criminals can form, taking advantage of cracks in the new system not yet filled.

Finally, we get Lysander, the young Gold torn from his life and thrown into exile. Lysander is by far the most interesting of the threads simply because of who he is. Former heir to the throne, now living with Cassius, who is still trying to find redemption and forgiveness for all his actions leading up to Octavia’s death. Cassius needs him to be the man he never was, but can you ever really learn the lessons of someone else’s life?

These new threads open us up to the world in a way we’ve never seen before. The point of the rebellion was to free the LowColors, but is freedom ever that simple? Can choices made with the best of intentions be removed from dark or disastrous consequences? The questions posed in Iron Gold on the nature of humanity and power are complex. We don’t get an idealized society, but instead but a messier reality. And that’s what makes it so fantastic!

“He’s too starry-eyed to see there’s a vast gulf that separates his idea of the Republic and the corrupt reality of what it’s become.”

And of course, this saga wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t get the perspective of Darrow. Now a man, he sees that what he wanted for society isn’t as easily achieved as he believed when he was young. Dreams rarely are. He finds that old sins continue to haunt him in ways he never dreamed, and finds that he needs to make decisions that take him further away from his own ideals and beliefs. Or perhaps they show him who we was the entire time.

Darrow has always been an interesting character. Making choices and doing things that he feels are right, but end up bearing unexpected consequences, at best, and horrific ones, at worst. By showing how these choices and the subsequent consequences impact the very people he wanted to help, Iron Gold doesn’t allow us to disregard the unpleasant nature of a society in turmoil. Or to relish in the happier, easier pieces of society. We have to see the results. Feel them. Submerse ourselves in the dark underbelly of them. It makes for a richly complex tapestry that forces the reader to truly examine murky grey areas that reality frequently resides in.

“After seeing the fall of one empire, I know enough to see the cracks in the foundation of this one.”

That murky area in between good and evil is what I love most about the Red Rising series, and what I find completely delicious about Iron Gold. The heroes aren’t always good, nor do they always do good things, or the right things. Are they justified? Perhaps, in the right light. But that’s the reality of life. The villain is always the hero to their own story, after all, and Brown knows this truth. He weaves it into nearly every character and story line, which forces the reader to truly examine a character and decide who they are at their core.

We are not all good, nor are we all bad. We don’t exist in a vacuum and Brown doesn’t allow his characters to do that either. We can see why a villain has gone down the path they have, or why a hero could be someone else’s villain. Iron Gold takes those undertones from Red Rising and highlights them with these new characters. Brilliantly, Brown also uses the characters we know and love to showcase these ideas as well.

In all, Iron Gold takes us home. It takes us back to catch up with Darrow and Mustang, Sevro and Victra. We see how the children of the rebellion are growing to be the leaders of a new Society. We see how they’ve changed, or perhaps how they’ve stayed the same. And these characters allow us to see the new characters in a different light. They all work together to show a Society struggling.

“A new wound can take a body. Opening an old one can claim a soul.”

Iron Gold shows us the cracks. We see the fragility of building a Society based on freedom and equality. How an empire can be both good and evil at the same time. It is an interesting examination of contradictions, a delicious study of power. It is still violent and shocking, but everything in this book reads as a set up to a much larger plan. At the end of the book we see a thousand paths laid out before us. A thousand directions our characters can go.

If there’s one thing I can be sure of, it is that Brown won’t take the easy road. The name alone, Dark Age, hints at more tragedy than triumph, at least in the short term. We will not get the path free of pain, but we will get the more satisfying one. The one we need rather than the one we want. But please, Pierce, I beg you: Please don’t kill Sevro!

Amazing thank you to Del Rey, Penguin Random House and The8app for sending me a copy to read, review and promote!

Nevernight – Review

“At the heart of it, two kinds of people live in this world or any other: those who flee and those who fight.”

Enter the world of Mia Corvere. The little girl who barely escapes with her life after her father plots (and fails) a rebellion. Now, she is grown and has vengeance in her blood, driving her forward. Her goal is the Red Church. A school of the worlds most deadly assassins, all fighting for one of four position as Blades of the Church. She leaves Godsgrave and everything she knows to pursue her singular goal.

Jay Kristoff writes in such a unique and addicting way. There is the story, with the narration telling the story of the present but also jumping back to reveal glimpses into Mia’s past. Helping us build the horror of her past into the horror of her future. But, we get an additional narrator, in the footnotes added throughout the book.

At first, to be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure I liked that format. It felt distracting and I kept getting pulled out of the action. But, slowly, without even knowing it, I realized that this is done purposefully and adds to the immersion into the world of Itreya in a way that normal narration simply wouldn’t have allowed. It adds a second personality, and one that I quickly fell in love with.

“Here is the truth gentlefriends: when in doubt, it’s best to be polite when dealing with lunatics.”

This narrator is snarky and sarcastic in all the best ways. He adds all the details and history of the Republic, along with legends and stories from the past. It’s information that would be difficult to add in otherwise, and the humor is fantastic! To be yelled at for reading a footnote in the height of a fight, by the footnote, is just a special sort of magic.

The humor of the mysterious narrator is also needed, because this book while delightful is incredibly dark and violent. I happen to find that sort of dreariness delightful, but be warned, this book is about a school of murderers striving to become assassins in a very brutal world. Kristoff does not hold back when writing about severe punishments inflicted for breaking the rules, or in the very vivid descriptions of torture and torment, or in the fast paced and heart pounding fighting that occurs.

“The wolf does not pity the lamb,” Drusilla said. “The storm begs no forgiveness of the drowned.”

This is not a book about mercy. This is a book about vengeance and betrayal. About one girls fierce desire to take down the Republic that killed her family and destroyed her life. Mia is a fantastic character. Even though she’s more likely to slit my throat than share a meal with me, I think we would be amazing friends. She is driven by revenge, but she hasn’t lost her heart. At least, not yet. But that is something she will have to face in this quest she has set herself on.

Kristoff has given us a world that is massive and epic in detail, with the narrator contributing enormously to the richness of this world. Nevernight shows us a world with three suns. A world where the night sky is only seen rarely. A world where the city is built from the bones of a fallen God, nobles living in the gravebone ribs high above the Spine below, using weapons made of godsbone. It’s a world that is unforgiving and brutal, but wondrous and magical nonetheless.

“She could feel it. All around her. Seeping through Godsgrave’s cracks. The agony. The fury. The pure and blinding hatred nestled in this city’s bones.”

This is a book that takes the cold harshness of a Roman-like Empire and adds a touch of fantasy and magic to it. There is nothing fluffy written within these pages, but that isn’t to say that the book isn’t full of heart. This is a book that gives you the good and bad of human nature and everything in between. You may not think you can find charm in an assassin, but you’d be wrong.

Kristoff doesn’t give you cookie cutter characters where the line between good and evil is clear. Instead, he offers something more real and far more satisfying. He gives you characters that feel like people. Of course, he does add in magic, which makes everything a lot more fun!

Nevernight is a book filled with dark humor and violence. It doesn’t back away from examining the dark reality that lies beneath humanity’s shiny veneer. This is dark fantasy at it’s best. We are taken into another world. A world we don’t know but can easily recognize. We are subjected to pain and hope, betrayal and triumph, love and loss. It is a book that takes us down a very human journey, and is stunning to experience.

For anyone who enjoyed Game of Thrones or Red Rising, this book will definitely be for you!

 

Blade’s Edge – Review

“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”

What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.

To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.

“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”

Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.

I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.

That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!

The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.

“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”

This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.

While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.

“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”

Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.

Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.

The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!

“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.

I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – Review

“Anything is possible,” I said. “But most things are unlikely.”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an epic, all-encompassing story spanning the life of Cyril Avery. Cyril is adopted, “not a real Avery”, as his adopted parent’s Charles and Maude often remind him, growing up in the 1950’s in Ireland. Even though his adoptive parent’s remind him, (quite frequently), of his adoptive status, Cyril doesn’t find himself neglected, or even uncared for. He is simply a participant in an odd family.

Cyril knows he is different. It isn’t just his relationship to his adoptive parents. He is quiet and shy and has a stutter. But nothing life shattering sets him apart. Until Charles ends up arrested and goes to trial for tax evasion. This normally wouldn’t have anything to do with Cyril, no more than natural consequences would provide. However, as fate would have it, this brings Julian Woodbead into Cyril’s life, which sparks his trajectory down a new, frightening path altogether.

“And a moment later I realized I didn’t feel shy around him at all. And that my stutter had gone.”

Even though the interaction between the two boys is brief, it is emblazoned into Cyril’s young mind. And while most boys begin to dream of girls, Cyril finds himself dreaming of Julian. Years later, when another twist of fate brings Julian to the same school, and Cyril’s new roommate, his love for his friend cements firmly and stubbornly into his soul; and launches a complicated, lifelong friendship.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

Growing up during that time period as a gay man was difficult most places in the world. In Catholic, conservative Ireland, it is near impossible. We feel the fear as Cyril walks through parks and pubs, terrified of being beaten and subsequently arrested by the Garda for simply trying to find companionship. We feel the guilt and confusion of wanting to be “normal”. We feel the exhaustion of constantly living a double life and maintaining a constant lie.

Boyne writes so beautifully, it is easy to hear the Irish lilt in their dialogue and feel the depth of Cyril’s emotions. There is a sharp humor in these characters. With all their dysfunction, Charles and Maude are entertaining people who you have to laugh at since they seem to be incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of their ways. And Cyril himself is very funny without trying, or in some instances, even meaning to be.

This is a beast of a book, and yet I read it easily in a few days. This is a book where you fall completely in love with the characters, and get lost in the drama of their lives. Cyril, for all his flaws and mistakes, is very likable. He makes some very wrong choices, but it would be difficult to say anyone would make different ones given the same set of circumstances.

“We all fall in the shit many times during our lives. The trick is pulling ourselves out again.”

And while this is such a beautiful book, make no mistake, it will rip your heart out. Because you will feel the cruel underside of human nature deeply and profoundly in these pages. You will feel what it is to be hated simply for who you are. To be afraid for your life. To be on the receiving end of bigotry. It isn’t easy to bear. For all the warmth and humor and wit, there is an sharp wrenching pain as well.

Which is why these characters and this book will stay with you. It is reminiscent of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful. And yet, overall, very full and rich and full of meaning.

Throughout Cyril’s life, we also get to witness monumental shifts in society. We see the impact of the IRA, the horrific terror of the early days of AIDS, the historic vote to grant marriage to all. We see how attitudes towards homosexuals varied from openly accepting in Amsterdam to barely veiled contempt in America.

But for each shift in time, each life lesson that Cyril experiences, for better or for worse, he grows as a person. He begins to learn to accept his mistakes and his failures. Learns to forgive, himself and those who have wronged him. He learns to accept himself. And it is in this acceptance that he finds not just peace, but acceptance in return.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”

Sometimes life doesn’t give us villains wrapped in a nice, black bow. Sometimes we are presented with good people who make terrible decisions in the name of the greater good. Sometimes we get people just trying to live the only way they know how.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies will remind you that life is sometimes hard. That we don’t always know what we’re doing. That we will make some great decisions and some terrible ones with inconsequential ones strung in between. We will have fond memories and regrets. But the most important thing is to live. To continue to move forward, and try every day to live better than the last.

There are some amazing life lessons wrapped in this plot. Lessons on forgiveness and acceptance, yes. But also lessons on how to let go of this illusion of control we imagine we have over our lives. Charles and Maude showcase the best examples of this. Julian shows us the lesson of friendship and love, while Alice allows us to see how to let go of hurt and forgive. And throughout it all, Mrs. Goggin let’s us see how to let go of regret. Cyril, of course, comes wrapped with all of these and more.

Easily one of the top five books I’ve read in 2017, I would recommend this book to anyone. Be ready to fall in love. To laugh. To cry. I wish I could do the eloquence of this book justice, but I don’t know that I can. All I can do is urge you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Thank you Hogarth Books and Blogging for Books for sending me this book to read and review.

After Life – Review

“To learn the true value of something, all you had to do was lose it.”

After Life is a stunning book, that was so unexpected I am still reeling from it. If you want to read a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat and constantly surprise you, this is a MUST READ!

Will Brody is an FBI agent, tracking a sniper wreaking havoc in Chicago. Claire McCoy worries he takes too many risks on the job, worries one night he won’t make it home. Her concern even more complicated because more than just his lover, she is also his boss.

Claire, running on no sleep and intense pressure to catch the sniper who is wreaking havoc and terror in Chicago, feels herself on exhausted and on edge. She wants to stop the madness. Brody in the field, focused on finding the same sniper no matter the risk, no matter the cost, doesn’t help. The city is wrapped in panic, the fear so intense it is a living, breathing thing.

“Maybe there was no bottom to fear. Maybe that was what made it fear.”

Yet, somehow amidst all this chaos, all this fear and panic and terror, Claire and Brody found each other and fell in love.

When this chase ends in an explosion, Brody wakes up, not a scratch on his body. But, the Chicago he wakes up in is dark, seemingly abandoned and eerily quiet. The relief he feels when he spots other people is short lived when they chase him with weapons. Whatever world he woke up in, it wasn’t the one he lived his entire life in.

Claire mourns Will, feeling the loss of him harder than anything she’s known before. Already running on empty, she can’t face her empty apartment. Strange dreams in an anonymous hotel room lead her down a path she can’t walk away from.

To quote the jacket, “What if death is just the beginning.”

And this is all THE BEGINNING of the novel! Worried I put spoilers in there? NOPE! That’s all in the description and the jacket. This my friends, is the beginning of a novel that throws all the rules of plot out the window and does whatever the hell it wants!

I’m going to try and wrap my thoughts on this book, nice and neat, without giving away any spoilers.

I opened this book expected a thriller. A standard suspense novel where an FBI agent tracks a serial killer. Sure, it says on the cover, “the love story from the film Ghost dropped into The Matrix.” I figured there would be some supernatural elements. Fine, great! Not even close. You really have to forget everything you think you’re expecting and just go along for the ride with this one. After Life will push the boundaries of your imagination and demand your full attention.

Claire and Brody are chasing more than just a serial killer. This novel is more than suspense, more than a supernatural thriller. It is an exploration of life and death, fear and love.

“It turned out that there was a difference between knowing you’d never see someone again and knowing they were dead.”

If you have problems with the idea of any sort of afterlife that deviates from any strict religious doctrine, this probably isn’t the book for you. After Life takes you into a world of life after death. A world where things are both familiar and unfamiliar.

I reference the cover earlier, where this book is described as a cross between Ghost and The Matrix. It is, but it isn’t. To me, this book felt much more a result of Dante’s Inferno meets The Odyssey. It is bold and iconic and epic. Brody and Claire journey farther in their duty to restore peace in the world we all know, and fight hard to ensure that their love doesn’t simply fade away and die out.

I highly recommend this book and am not surprised that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have already embarked on making this into a movie. The plot is masterful, the emotions intense and palpable, and the characters scream with vivid life. If I had one piece of advice to give a reader, it is this: suspend what you think you know. Stop trying to figure it out. Simply let yourself be taken on the journey Sakey has written.

There are many books that examine the war between life and death. That showcase battles between good and evil. Books that take us on love stories that fill our hearts and ones that break them. But none are like this.

“Two lovers in the path of destruction they could not avoid.”

And for all that Sakey has written, all that he has created and plotted, he somehow manages to write an ending that allows for each reader to draw their own conclusions. Not of the story, we are left with a satisfying end. But to decide what it means. What the journey meant, what the future holds. He gives us the end of a story that is still ripe with possibility.

Beyond the existential debate on death and what it means, or life and what it means. Beyond the discussion of fear and terror, of good and bad, of right and wrong. Beyond all that, After Life is a love story. Two souls bound together, and the power of what that sort of love can achieve. What ends it can reach, what boundaries it can push. Life is a power. Death is a power. Fear is a power. And love is a power that can break through them all.

Thank you Amazon Publishing and Little Bird Publicity for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I can’t wait to see this brought to life!