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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Review: Shadows by E. C. Blake


Shadows
Author:  E. C. Blake
Series:  Masks of Aygrima 2
Publisher:  DAW, August 5, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $19.95 (print)
ISBN:  9780756407605 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Shadows by E. C. Blake
In Masks, Mara Holdfast's life changed forever. As the daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, she had a clearly defined future: a quiet, ordered life in the capital, making Masks with her father and doing work important to the ruling Autarch. But when her Mask, specially made by her own father, cracked and fell to pieces during her Masking ceremony, Mara was exiled from everything she once knew.

Now she has become part of an underground rebellion, rejecting the unjust rules of a Masked society. She must try to understand her unprecedented ability to use all types of magic—and to tear magic from the living bodies of those around her. But Mara has yet to discover just how horrifying her power can be….



Brannigan's Review

E.C. Blake provides an excellent sequel in Shadows. We continue Mara Holdfast's journey in discovery of her magical gift and how to properly control it, before it controls her. I still really enjoy this magical system. It's not your basic rainbow spectrum magical system. I found myself thinking about the magical system even when I wasn't reading the book, trying to figure out all the facets it might hold. In general, Blake does a great job of building on the foundations he laid in the first book when it comes to both the magical system and world building. Blake expanded his world by introducing a new island kingdom, Korellia, represented by Chell, and another kingdom, Stonefell, that is only mentioned in conversation, which leaves enough mystery in the world to leave you with questions and wonder.

Mara deepens as a character as we learn more about the struggles she faces in controlling her gift. It becomes more clear the power she can wield is more addictive than she realizes, which is a wonderful allegory for many things any one of us might face in life. We also see her fail and triumph in Shadows, which continues to make her relatable and engaging as a heroine. The love triangle I found a little annoying in the first book began to scare me in this book as it appeared to morph into a love square, but thankfully Blake took care of that in a very real and respectable way.

Some sequels are easier to read as a stand alone novel or a jumping in point book, this is not one of them if you truly want to understand Mara and the world she lives in. Blake does not give a lot of background information about what's happened before. He does mention events and people from the first book, which helps readers remember events if it's been a year since reading the first book, but these references would probably confuse a new reader. As a person who strictly believes in reading a series in proper order, this is not an issue for me.

I had mentioned in the first book's review that I would like to learn more of the villain, sadly I did not learn many new things in Shadows. I feel this is the only real weakness in the book. I understand the less is more approach to a villain, but as a series progresses I want to learn more about them and their motivations to truly fear them. Otherwise, they start feeling like a cut-out villain. This could still be remedied in the third book, by making the villain more prominent or even a POV character.

Blake ends Shadows in one of those perfect 'no, no, no there's got to be one more chapter' moments. You can see Blake planting plenty of seeds for future books in the series beyond book 3. I'm looking forward to going on many more adventures with Mara. There are still several descriptive acts of violence, minor language and minor sexual situations, so I'd recommended it to older teens and adults. Anyone who liked Masks needs to read this book. Fans of realistic heroines will love Mara.


Melanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014


Melanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014



Welcome to April. I can't believe that we are already a quarter of the way through 2014 with spring here and summer in the not to distant future. I decided to say goodbye to March and hello to April by having a HEA week. I sort of achieved it. So what did I read?

Melanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014
I discovered that Karen Chance had released Masks (Cassie Palmer 4.3) which tells the story of Mircea's early years being a vampire. For those who aren't familiar with either the Cassie Palmer or Dorina Basarab stories, Mircea is a very powerful vampire in both series (Dorina's father & Cassie's honey bunny), but in Masks he is just starting out as a fledgling vampire. I thought this was going to be novella or a short story but it was a full length novel (I think) and took me much longer to read than I thought it would. Masks is based in Venice just two years after Mircea was cursed and turned into a vampire (sound like Angel from Buffy?). Mircea has been bought by a wealthy courtesan and finds much more than a warm bed as the favourite of one of the vampire senators. Much like the series from which this story is born there is murder, mystery and political intrigue on every corner and all set in 15th century Venice. Like her other novels Chance keeps a healthy pace and you need to pay attention in order to figure out 'who dunnit'. I had figured it out but only a few pages before the big reveal. I also thought the ending was a bit bittersweet but I don't want to ruin it and also, you need to have read the Dorina series to understand why. Mircea isn't my favourite character but overall there was a solid plot and a good backing to the Dorina series which I enjoy.

Melanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014This was also the week for books downloading onto my Kindle. The first was Death's Daughter which is the second in the Realm Walker series by Kathleen Collins. I have to say I had no recollection of book 1 when I saw this one pop into my Kindle library. I had to go back and read the ending of book 1, the Realm Walker to figure out why I had pre-ordered book 2 but it all came flooding back quite clearly. In this instalment children are being kidnapped and ending up brutally murdered. Juliana is determined to make the killer pay. This instalment is a bit unusual as it written from both Juliana and Thomas's POV in alternate chapters. Juliana is all about solving the case but Thomas is only concerned with protecting Juliana and exacting revenge on Raoul who had viciously raped his mate over 10 years ago. Normally, I prefer the romance to take a back seat to the action but in the case of Death's Daughter the romance was almost non-existent and when it did surface it was a bit 'snoresville'. There is just no chemistry between these two. I can't put my finger on it but there just isn't. I thought the plot was OK but guessed who the baddie was way before the ending.

Melanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014
The next book to help fill up my TBR was Six Months by Danika Dark which is the second in the Seven Years series. If you read my WIR when I discussed book 1  - Seven Years - I was a bit nervous about starting a series by this author as she tends to write erotica which I don't enjoy. While book 1 was practically labelled '' this is not erotica " book 2 veered away from its urban fantasy beginning and focussed much more on 'tingling cores' and 'throbbing manhoods'. This instalment shares the same characters as book one but we get the inside story on Lexi's colleague April and the hunky, tough shifter Reno. April is pretty much your femme fatale who is in serious debt to loan sharks while Reno is a PI with an over protective streak. There was a lot happening in this story but there were almost too many bit characters who fought with April and Reno for centre stage. It was also full of a lot of testosterone and studly shifterness. Where Lexi stood up for herself April allowed herself to be trampled by almost everyone and there were so many bad things that happened to her it got a bit formulaic by the mid-way point. I am still interested though where Dark takes this series next. There are many more characters that are ripe for their own story but I am not sure who will get centre stage next.

I was a bit disappointed by my HEA week as I thought a number of the romances were a bit flat. I think I will stick to reading a mix of genres so that I have some variety and not comparing one book to another so readily. I hope you have had some success reducing your TBR and until next time Happy Reading.



Review: Masks by E. C. Blake


Masks
Author:  E. C. Blake
Series:  Masks of Aygrima 1
Publisher:  DAW, November 5, 2013
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $19.95 (print)
ISBN:  9780756407599 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Masks by E. C. Blake
Masks, the first novel in a mesmerizing new fantasy series, draws readers into a world in which cataclysmic events have left the Autarchy of Aygrima the one land blessed with magical resources cut off from its former trading partners across the waters, not knowing if any of those distant peoples still live. Yet under the rule of the Autarch, Aygrima survives. And thanks to the creation of the Masks and the vigilance of the Autarch s Watchers, no one can threaten the security of the empire.

In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.

At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks which denote both status and profession whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.

Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch s Master Maskmaker, is fast approaching her fifteenth birthday and her all-important Masking ceremony. Her father himself has been working behind closed doors to create Mara s Mask. Once the ceremony is done, she will take her place as an adult, and Gifted with the same magical abilities as her father, she will also claim her rightful place as his apprentice.

But on the day of her Masking something goes horribly wrong, and instead of celebrating, Mara is torn away from her parents, imprisoned, and consigned to a wagon bound for the mines. Is it because she didn t turn the unMasked boy she discovered over to the Night Watchers? Or is it because she s lied about her Gift, claiming she can only see one color of magic, when in truth she can see them all, just as she could when she was a young child?

Whatever the reason, her Mask has labeled her a traitor and now she has lost everything, doomed to slavery in the mines until she dies. And not even her Gift can show Mara the future that awaits her a future that may see her freed to aid a rebel cause, forced to become a puppet of the Autarch, or transformed into a force as dangerous to her world as the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire.



Brannigan's Review

Masks is the first novel in a new fantasy series. From the first page, you're thrust into an epic story involving a very interesting magic system. One I've never see before and one that I never got tired learning about. The magic system is its own character in the book, and since it is unique, you spend a lot of time learning about it and how it relates to the world. Still, the author leaves enough mystery that you hope to learn more about it in future books.

Mara Holdfast is a very identifiable character, one that almost any female can find a common thread with, while also not alienating males who would like to read the series. The book begins with Mara being very young and illustrates her ideal home life and the tests she goes through to discover her magical gift. This is an important area to develop her character, so the readers will be able to understand the struggles she goes through later in the book. In the majority of the story, however, she is a 15-year-old.

I've read some complaints by other reviewers that Mara is a bit whiny in the book and it drove them away. I think it's important to talk about the target audience for this book. The publisher has categorized it as General Adult/Grades 12 & Up, however based on the character's age and the plot, I see it as more of a Young Adult book. I think some adult readers will find Mara on the whiny side, whereas older teenagers may not find it annoying, since they're still exploring the world around them as well as exploring the same inner emotions and learning how to deal with their world. Mara is true to this and does spend time thinking about what she has been forced to do.

For you romance fans, there is also the beginning of a love triangle in the story, but thankfully for the non-romantics it's not the center of the story. I suspect it will be used in future books, but since it is handled very naturally, I don't think I'd mind reading more about it in future books.

The only complaint I have about the book other than an unclear target audience, is I didn't get to spend more time with the villain of the series, the Autarch. He's still a bit of an enigma. I know some authors like to take this approach with villains—less is more. There are plenty of other minor villains in the book, but I kept wanting to see the Autarch in action, instead of learning about him second hand from other characters.

If young adults or parents of young adults would like to read the book, I do feel obligated to mention there are several scenes of graphic violence, as well as several implied references to rape and one scene of attempted rape. There are also a few instances of strong language. Lastly, there is a scene of under-age drinking, but it also shows the morning-after effects.

Masks is a strong first book in a promising new series, however, I hope the author finds his target audience by the second book. I'd recommend Masks to older young adults, and adults who enjoy Fantasy and Dystopian fiction with teenage characters or anyone who likes unique magical systems.
Review: Shadows by E. C. BlakeMelanie's Week in Review - April 6, 2014Review: Masks by E. C. Blake

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