The Qwillery | category: Dark Arts


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018

There are 3 top novels for me from 2018. These are books that I have thought about long after I finished reading them. I'm listing them in order by author name not order of favorite because trying to put one first would be like trying to choose a favorite child. Each novel features a well crafted magic system. These novels stand out for their exceptional worldbuilding but, more important, for their wonderful characters and riveting stories.

I love Robert Jackson Bennett's writing. From The Company Man to Foundryside, his work is just fantastic. Vigilance (from is out later this month. I'll be letting you know what I think. Check out The Divine Cities Trilogy if you're looking for great fantasy read. Don't miss reading The Troupe either. Just read everything he's written. You can thank me later. My review of Foundryside is here.

The Founders Trilogy 1
Crown, August 21, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 512 pages
   Trade Paperback, May 21, 2019

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
“The exciting beginning of a promising new epic fantasy series. Prepare for ancient mysteries, innovative magic, and heart-pounding heists.”—Brandon Sanderson

“Complex characters, magic that is tech and vice versa, a world bound by warring trade dynasties: Bennett will leave you in awe once you remember to breathe!”–Tamora Pierce

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

David Mack's The Midnight Front, the 1st novel in his Dark Arts series, is set during World War II. The titular Midnight Front fights the war on the magical level. The Nazis have magic wielders and so do the Allies. Mack's magical system is finely developed and like all well-written magical systems there is a price to pay for the magic users. While some passages in The Midnight Front will be perhaps just a disturbing historical footnote for some, to others (including me) there is a visceral gut-wrenching reaction. Mack pulls no punches in The Midnight Front. He doesn't sugar coat what happened during WWII as part of the Final Solution. He brought tears to my eyes more than once.

With or without magic Mack writes about some difficult events to which his characters bear witness. Yet the novel is not all doom and gloom. This novel is in equipoise - the horrific and evil balanced expertly by humor and good. Not everything is black and white though. The Midnight Front is as close to a perfect novel that I've had the pleasure to read in a long time. Mack leaves no cliffhangers and beautifully sets up the next novel in the series. I can't recommend The Midnight Front enough.

And I've just finished book 2 - The Iron Codex - which was published yesterday, and is set several years after the end of the first novel. It features some of the wonderful characters and not so wonderful characters from The Midnight Front. I can unequivocally recommend both novels.

The Midnight Front
A Dark Arts Novel 1
Tor Book, January 30, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
   Also available in Hardcover

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
From New York Times bestselling author David Mack comes a visionary World War II-era adventure. The Midnight Front is the epic first novel in the Dark Arts series.

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front—the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program—and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first—his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick—Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul—and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

Aching God by Mike Shel is the first novel in his Iconoclasts series and The Qwillery's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Finalist. It's going up against 10 other books to be the last book standing. Read more about SPFBO here at Mark Lawrence's site.

After going through a slush pile of 30 books, Shel's Aching God stood out. It's a terrifically fun read. I loved this novel from the moment I started reading it. The worldbuilding, history, and characters are outstanding. Read more of my thoughts here.

Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
Trade Paperback, eBook, Audible

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017

Welcome to November! I am feeling very novembery as I write this. Perhaps I should be explicit. I am feeling very novembery in the UK - chilly, grey and raining. Boo hoo. I was having one of those 'meh' days until I realised that I have not 1 but 2 end of trilogies to tell you about. Please queue blue skies and rainbows :) Here I go!

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
Soulbound is the final instalment of Bec McMaster's Dark Arts series. At the end of Hexbound everything the good guys were fighting for seems lost and London is only days away from being destroyed. Sebastian has never had anyone stick up for him before and when his father sacrifices his own very soul to a demon to save him Sebastian doesn't know how to react. He is drawn to his beautiful wife but doesn't want to hurt her. He doesn't know how to survive in a world where others want to fight to save him but he needs to find the strength to fight for everything that he has grown to care about.

Meanwhile Cleo yearns to save Sebastian but doesn't know how to reach him. She has had a terrible vision of the destruction of London and she knows that she is pivotal to the event and needs Sebastian's help along with their new friends to save them both. The race is on to save their love, their friends and themselves.

I think this series improved with each book. That isn't uncommon but in this case there was less sex and more action with each book which I appreciated. Cleo was quite sugary sweet but this was balanced out by the much darker Sebastian and his half brothers. McMaster included a few of the lead characters from previous books to work alongside Cleo and Sebastian which made them more interested and well-rounded than they would have been had the story focused only on these two. Overall, I liked this series and appreciated that McMaster didn't drag the story out over a longer series, which I think would have made it too mundane. If you are like steampunky fantasy and don't want to invest years reading to find out who wins then this is the perfect series for you.

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
The second trilogy that I finished was the Memory Collector series by Jamie McLachlin with Rise of the Phoenix. The author wraps up the story of Moira, the empath and her forbidden love the police detective Keenan. In this instalment Moira has to come to terms with her role in the deaths of prominent Elite members. At the end of book 2 she discovers who the Phoenix really is and now he wants her to continue his mission to free all empaths, despite the cost. Moira is torn. She has always been a slave and desperate to be free but the price for freedom may be too much.

I really liked this series. I think that Moira is a truly conflicted character and this conflict is even more prevalent in this instalment. Moira learns the true extent of what happened to her when her memories are returned. She was a slave in more ways than her body. The Phoenix takes almost everything away from her and I couldn't even guess how she was going to save herself and the newly found love for Keenan. McLachlan also delivers a HUGE twist towards the end of the book which I did not see coming. There is quite a bit more sex in this instalment than I would have preferred but it was still a great ending to a great series.

That is it for me this week. I am going to find another series to love. Any and all suggestions are welcome. Until next week. Happy Reading.

The Dark Arts Trilogy 3
Lochaber Press, October 24, 2017
eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
A dark force is rising in London...

Sebastian Montcalm knows freedom for the first time in his life, but it has come at the cost of his father's soul. If he can learn to harness his uncontrollable sorcery then he might be able to save his father from a demon's grip, but every move he makes leads to failure. The only thing that gives him hope is the innocent touch of Cleo Sinclair, the woman he was forced to marry. But will his darkness drown out her light?

He could be her destruction…

Cleo knew her father only ever loved her for the power of her visions, but when he bartered her away in marriage to a man she'd never met, she realized how little value she truly had. Her husband, Sebastian, was nothing more than a dark warmth in her bed, a stranger who refused to touch her. But together, the two tortured souls found friendship. And now, when he needs her the most, he won't even look at her.

...Or she could be his salvation...

When Cleo receives a powerful vision of a darkness that threatens London, she knows she is the key to defeating it. Only by working together can she and Sebastian prevail. But is Sebastian the one who can end this prophetic doom, or the one bound to begin it?

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017

Rise of the Phoenix
The Memory Collector 3
Penner Publishing, October 24, 2017
eBook, 339 pages

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
Moira has dreamed of freedom ever since she became a concubine at the Pleasure House. With the Phoenix locked in prison, she's finally as free as a slave to the Elite could ever be.

But the Phoenix, a serial killer intent on freeing empaths, is not who she thought, and this time he wants her to use her powers of persuasion to help him. Moira must decide what's worth more: freedom, survival, or the destruction of her enemies. Her growing relationship with Detective Keenan Edwards threatens all three, even if he offers her something she never dreamed of—love.

When she's imprisoned for an Elite member's death, she finds herself back where it all began: facing her execution. In her darkest moment, she'll have to dive into the deepest parts of her mind to defeat the Phoenix once and for all. But the past won't stay hidden for long, and it demands a price.

Her freedom. Her life. And the only man she's ever loved.

Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017
Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017

Melanie's Week in Review - June 19, 2016

Melanie's Week in Review - June 19, 2016

Hello readers.  I hope you didn't miss me too much since my last WIR post on the 5th June! I did leave you with a review of Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley last week so hopefully that was a suitable replacement.  I haven't been doing as much travelling recently so my ability to read has dwindled a bit but I have plans to pick up the pace over the next few weeks. Enough of the excuses. What did I read?

Melanie's Week in Review - June 19, 2016
Amazon very helpfully suggested a new series for me - The Dark Arts by Bec McMaster. Shadowbound, book number 1 in the series, has been released and as I have been reading her London Steampunk series I thought I would give this new one a go.

Shadowbound is described as a Victoriana paranormal romance but for at least the first half it verged more into erotica than romance. The story starts when the lovely Miss Ianthe Martin gains the release of the equally handsome Lucien,  Earl of Rathborne, from Bedlam. She needs his help and his magical abilities to track down a magical relic that has the power to wreak death and destruction across London. Lucien isn't that inclined to help Ianthe as she was the person who put him in Bedlam the year before, after he summoned a demon that killed his father and seriously injured the Prime (head of their magical order). In order to gain his help Ianthe and Lucien make a blood pact that he will help her during the day and he will help himself to Ianthe during the night. This makes for a steamy start to the novel which leads them on the quest for the relic before everything and everyone they loved are victims of its power when in the wrong hands.

I thought that Shadowbound was OK. Despite the fact I have read McMaster's London Steampunk series which has quite a bit of sex in it there is usually some form of 'stop it I love it' that happens first. I think the sex happened way too early in the story to give the later romance much credibility. Ianthe was supposed to be strong and upstanding yet she allows herself to be treated like an object for Lucien's revenge. I thought that as the story progressed that their relationship improved and as a result they became more two dimensional. The story ends on a cliffhanger with a teaser epilogue which felt rushed to me as what happens to two of the characters doesn't make sense. I can't say more without giving the plot away so you will have to read the book to see if you agree with me.

Melanie's Week in Review - June 19, 2016
The Qwillery is very honoured to be part of Mark Lawrence's Self Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016 and I have been reading through some of the entries. I am going to tell you about Aneeka Richins' The Wanted Child. This is the first instalment of the Chaos Gods series which tells the story of the fifteen year old Ki who in order to save her parents becomes a servant of the fallen god Tavk. She has to complete all of his missions and the final one may well and truly be her final one. She is sent to be a the trainer for De, the handsome 18 year old who is fated to be the Hero of the gods. He is also fated to kill 'the wanted child' who is none other than Ki. Caught by her pledge to save her parents Ki is signing her own death warrant by training De.

The Wanted Child is definitely written for the younger reader and I normally enjoy youth fiction as I have read a number of great books in this genre before. I didn't however, enjoy reading Richins' tale of Ki and the fallen gods.  It was almost 50% of the way into the book that we learn anything about the fallen lands, any of the other lands and why Ki's parents need protection. This made it very difficult to get into the story and understand why Ki was in the situation she was in. I never really understood why Ki was the only one who could save her parents and why as fifteen year old she was the only one who could attempt it. She didn't come across as being a credible heroine (or anti-heroine) and De was portrayed as very immature and innocent. The dialogue and characterisation really reminded me of a video game by Bioware called The Jade Empire. It was one of the first RPGs that Bioware developed and the plot-line was very linear, the characters one dimensional and the dialogue fairly basic. I quit playing part way through as it was just a bit boring after playing some of their more developed and sophisticated games. Perhaps if I was a teenager I would have appreciated Ki as a character a bit better but as an adult she just wasn't well written enough to keep my interest and helped me to engage with her struggle to win her parents freedom.

That is all for me this week. I plan to be able to tell you a bit more about the books from SPFBO 2016 next week. Until then Happy Reading.

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018Melanie's Week in Review - November 12, 2017Melanie's Week in Review - June 19, 2016

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