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June 25, 2022

4 Fantasy Novels to Read

by MK French

Fantasy novels are so fun to read. Today I have 4 to add to your reading list. If you are participating in the Big Book Summer Challenge at Book by Book, then you are going to want to pick up the first two but if you are looking for a shorter read then the last two will fit the bill.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

book cover of fantasy novel The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi
June 2022; Del Rey; 978-0593356944
audio, ebook, print (608 pages); fantasy

In a kingdom whose classes are determined by the color of your blood, three women begin to plot a revolution. Sylah watched her family murdered in front of her eyes and wants to bring down the red blooded elites. Anoor might be the ruler's daughter, but she's been told relentlessly that she didn't matter. Hassa is all but invisible to the ruling class, allowing her to hide dangerous secrets. As trials begin to determine new rulers for the kingdom, opportunities arise to overturn everything.

This is the first book in a new trilogy based on African lore. World building begins at the very beginning, with stories about a potential uprising, subtle and not-so-subtle ways the blood types are treated differently, and the power inherent in red blood. Ghostlings, not just set apart by pale blood, also have tongue and hands removed soon after birth. Literacy is punishable by a torturous death as treason, and there is a "work or die" mentality, with lower classes charged more for the same services. It's a system designed to keep the poor in their place, beaten down, and unable to fight back as they serve the elites. Snippets of textbooks, sayings, and stories within this world serve as epigraphs for each chapter and section of the story and show us what our heroines are up against. The red-blooded Embers rule it all, so, of course, the lower classes want to bring it all down. 

The Final Strife, the group of Stolen Ember children raised as blue-blooded citizens, was meant to be central to that role. Stories told and passed down through generations cemented Ember rule, after all, with the Wardens and richer Embers in a position of power. Each of their courts has a backup, a position earned through trials representing each virtue valued by the Embers, which then learn what to do alongside the current court so that they're ready to take control in ten years. These are the trials that Sylah must enter, but she's become her own worst enemy. Anoor would be mercilessly killed if her blue blood was revealed, but she wants to prove herself in the trials; the two must work together to make that happen. Mute and considered invisible,  Hassa is privy to secrets upon secrets, a history that would upend the Ember rule if it was released. 

I was enthralled by the story, diving in and getting swept away in this world. It's not all pretty, but it's realistic and through Anoor learning about how the Dusters live, we see the shadow beneath the shining opulence that she was raised in. Everyone is keeping secrets, The layers and meaning are exquisitely done, and the surprises along the way had my jaw dropping several times, especially at the end. This is a fantastic, wonderful book, and you HAVE TO add it to your TBR list. You won't regret it. 

Buy The Final Strife at Amazon

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

book cover of epic fantasy novel Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett
June 2022; Del Rey; 978-1984820679
audio, ebook, print (560 pages); epic fantasy

Sancia, Clef, and Berenice are up against an enemy that can not only scrive objects but human minds as well. Gathering an army that the country has never seen before isn't enough, and the enemy is looking for the doorway to the center of creation itself. To stop their foe, the trio must understand the origins of scriving and make the ultimate sacrifice.

Locklands is the third book of the Foundryside Trilogy, following Foundryside (my review) and Shorefall (my review). The amazing worldbuilding in this series continues, now pushing into creation itself.

We open in the midst of war, eight years after Shorefall ends. Trevanne hunts Sancia, Berenice, and their allies, with devastating weapons and terrible scrivings to do their work. The scrivings on Sancia have stolen years from her, and Trevanne has similarly stolen years and lives from the people they use to power their weapons. Sancia and her allies have done their best to free those people, to create a new society of people that aid each other. They share thoughts and information with scrivings, rather than try to make things to isolate or dominate. It's fascinating, how different collectives were created, how the constituents function in unison and apart, and how the people communicate with each other so effortlessly. 

In trying to understand Trevanne, Clef soon gets memories of his life before he was a key, why he created Clevades, and the misery that led to creating him and Clef itself. Trevanne is searching for the door leading to the world behind the world, hoping to reset reality and start over. Of course, it's frightening and every action taken is to fight them off. The anguish the characters go through, particularly at the end, had my heart in my throat right along with them. It's an amazing conclusion to a fascinating trilogy, one that I'm glad for the opportunity to read. I feel like I've learned important lessons along with the characters and come out better for it.

Buy Locklands at Amazon

The Quarter Storm by Veronica G. Henry

book cover of dark fantasy novel The Quarter Storm by Veronica G. Henry
March 2022; 47North; 978-1542033916
audio, ebook, print (287 pages); dark fantasy

Mambo Reina Dumond has a business providing care and spells for clients out of her New Orleans home. She has the gift of water magic through her patron and a network of friends and found family in the different neighborhoods around the city. A ritual slaying puts all Vodou practitioners at the center of suspicion, especially with Reina's ex, Detective Roman Frost. Despite everyone warning her away from investigating it, Reina is compelled to delve deeper into the dark corners of her city and the Vodou community to find the truth.

The magic Reina possesses is gifted to her by Erzulie, the goddess of love. The water-based magic comes at a cost, as it draws its strength from her connection to Erzulie, as well as her own fluids at times. Reina can't use her magic for selfish means without facing backlash; trying to find her mother who went missing after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city means she loses a memory each time she tries to scry a location. She isn't supernaturally strong, and must prepare herself magically before going places she isn't comfortable with. Reina is at risk when she's up against burly people with weapons, and even her own ex undermines her authority or puts down the skills that she has because of his own narrow-minded way of doing things. Later he hints at the political underpinnings to his actions, but it still feels like a too little, too late explanation for his behavior. I see why he's an ex, but not why they even got together in the first place.

I enjoyed the glimpses of Reina's relationships, from her romantic strain with Roman, the friendships in the community, the talks she has with her father, and even her relationship with Erzulie. Being a goddess that rides her body, Erzulie is a more disembodied and distant kind of figure, but Reina takes her relationship with her goddess and her faith seriously, and it does impact her choices and the way she moves forward. Vodou isn't the same as movies or tourists might see, it's a way of life and belief as any other religion would be, and the "true" practitioners that have a relationship with a god or goddess can feel the pull of power and imbue the ingredients they use. The Vodou community isn't exempt from jealousy and power differentials, either, giving a fascinating look at their faith as well. Reina's love for her city and its people also shines through, and we get a view into a modern post-Katrina city and the fallout of the deadly hurricane. That adds a layer of realism and grounding to a novel where the magic is real and not just faith.

Characters and situations are extensively described, and some of Reina's speech or thoughts seem a little stilted in places. But I was still sucked into her story and feared for her, and wanted to shake her whenever she talked about Roman in a way that made it sound like she wanted to get back together with him. Yes, the characters are all messy and not always likable. But that made them feel real to me, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of Reina's adventures.

Buy The Quarter Storm at Amazon
(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for FREE)

Dragons in the Clouds by David Blair

book cover of sword and sorcery fantasy novel Dragons in the Clouds by David Blair
December 2020; Author Reputation Press; 978-1952250965
ebook, print (114 pages); sword & sorcery

Dragons roamed the earth, freely killing humans for food. The king ordered the extermination of all dragons, but his court wizard Merlinius disagreed with this order. In order to protect the dragons he befriended, he cast weightlessness upon them and had them live in the clouds. The wizard’s apprentice had his own plan and hid dragons deep within mountain caverns. A young boy is now caught between the king’s orders and a conflict between the different groups of dragons.

Starting out with a forward then with a framing chapter of a father telling his daughter a story to explain a gift he bought for her, this story takes on an epic fantasy’s tale. Some of the sentence structures jumped out at me as awkward, tenses changed from one sentence to the next, and the characters’ speech didn’t always flow naturally. Maybe it’s to showcase the fact that this is a story within a story, but I found that too distracting as I was trying to read. I wasn’t particularly attached to any of the dragons, and most of the humans weren’t fun for me to read either. Motivations varied back and forth, and some characters were little more than thin sketches. I didn’t feel for anyone, didn’t get attached, and wasn’t wondering what would happen next. The war between factions didn’t draw me in, and the cliffhanger ending of the novella implies that there must be more to the story. Because I wasn’t very engrossed in this world, it isn’t a story that I’m in a rush to come back to and finish.

Buy Dragons in the Clouds at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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