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Book Review: Black Stone Heart (The Obsidian Path, #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

Book Review: Black Stone Heart (The Obsidian Path, #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Obsidian Path (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

Pages: 487 pages

Published: 1st April 2020 by Michael R. Fletcher


Insanely brilliant. Fletcher did it again. Black Stone Heart is one of his best works so far, and Fletcher has finally crafted something as good as his Manifest Delusion series with this one.

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Book Review: We Are the Dead (The Last War, #1) by Mike Shackle

Book Review: We Are the Dead (The Last War, #1) by Mike Shackle

Review copy provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Last War (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

Pages: 496 pages

Published: 8th August 2019 by Gollancz


So much bloodshed and actions, Shackle’s debut is fast-paced, grim, and unputdownable.

I’m very eager to recommend this debut to readers of The First Law World series by Joe Abercrombie and War for the Rose Throne series by Peter McLean. We Are the Dead is the first book in The Last War series by Mike Shackle, and it leans towards the grimdark sub-genre rather than heroic fantasy. “No More Heroes” is put at the top of the cover art, after all. I honestly thought I was super late in joining the party for this great book because it has been six months since this debut was first published, but I must say that I’m surprised that not many readers have read this yet. I hope more readers will give this book a go.

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Book Review: Valley of the Free (Pandemonium Rising, #0.5) by Michael Sliter

Book Review: Valley of the Free (Pandemonium Rising, #0.5) by Michael Sliter

Valley of the Free by Michael Sliter

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: Pandemonium Rising (Book #0.5 of 4)

Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

Pages: 128 pages

Published: 18th December 2019 by Dragyn Press (Indie)


Short, violent, and bloody; this is a good place for you to try Sliter’s writing.

Valley of the Free is a prequel novella to Mike Sliter’s grimdark fantasy series: Pandemonium Rising. The story follows Ferl’s quest for vengeance, and this little novella depicts the conception of the infamous Ferl’s Company. Having read—and loved—the two available books in the main series so far, I can safely vouch that no prior reading of the main series is required. You can enjoy Valley of the Free without any knowledge of the main series; excluding the main character—Ferl—only one or two other characters appeared briefly. In fact, I do honestly think that this is a very starting point for you to try Sliter’s work. Valley of the Free is not as dark/brutal as Sliter’s debut work, Solace Lost, and it’s good to familiarize yourself with his writing style and gritty content first. I would say that Valley of the Free is more attuned to Wisdom Lost in terms of content and quality, which, in my opinion, delivers a more balanced narrative and also encapsulates Sliter’s craft at his best so far.

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Emma’s Best Books of 2019

Emma’s Best Books of 2019

The featured image above was specifically designed by Felix Ortiz for Novel Notions’ Top 20 Lists. 


Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m cheating… my Best Books of 2019 post is a little different from the rest of the Novel Notions team.

It’s felt like a bit of a strange reading year for me, with a lot of study, non-fiction, and comfort rereads. My number is sitting at 164 so far, with a whole load getting that very respectable 4 star rating. However, there have only been a small amount that have truly floored me, that have deserved the 4.5 or the big, shiny 5 star rating. These are the kind of books that stay in your memory forever, that you recommend EVERYWHERE and as often as possible. They’re the ones where it’s almost impossible to stop your eyes from flicking forward to see what’s coming next because you’re so excited to get there. When I made that feeling the criteria for my list, it made things immediately clear. I don’t have 20, I have 10. They were all published this year and I loved them all. I hope you consider giving them a go too…

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Book Review: Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #2)

Book Review: Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #2)

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen (Book 2 of 10)

Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy

First published:  2000 by Bantam (UK) and 2005 by Tor (US)


For those who have read Gardens of the Moon and thought it was relatively tame for a grimdark fantasy series, Deadhouse Gates will change your mind. This sequel took the series to new heights and was also when I begun to wholly understand Erikson’s opening quote in the debut. The grimness, violence and brutality in this book made me rethink of how I viewed A Song of Ice and Fire.

The events at the end of Gardens of the Moon saw the Bridgeburners splitting up, with the bulk of squad remaining on Genabackis with Dujek Onearm and Whiskeyjack to face the threat of the Pannion Domin. Meanwhile Fiddler and Kalam headed off to Seven Cities, where the Bridgeburners were forged, and which is on the brink of rebellion as the Seventh Year of Dryjhna, the Apocalypse, approaches. When the Book of Dryjhna is delivered into the hands of the Sha’ik, the spirit of the goddess will embody this prophetess and the Whirlwind together with the rebellion will rise.

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Book Review: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)

Book Review: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen (Book 1 of 10)

Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy

First published:  1999 by Bantam (UK) and 2004 by Tor (US)


Gardens of the Moon is the grand overture to Malazan Book of the Fallen, providing just a glimmer of what this massive, grimdark epic fantasy tale has to offer, which is best described below in the author’s own words.

“Now these ashes have grown cold, we open the old book.
These oil-stained pages recount the tales of the Fallen,
a frayed empire, words without warmth. The hearth
has ebbed, its gleam and life’s sparks are but memories
against dimming eyes – what cast my mind, what hue my
thoughts as I open the Book of the Fallen
and breathe deep the scent of history?
Listen, then, to these words carried on that breath.
These tales are the tales of us all, again yet again.
We are history relived and that is all, without end that is all.”

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Book Review: Smoke and Stone (City of Sacrifice, #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

Book Review: Smoke and Stone (City of Sacrifice, #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: City of Sacrifice (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy

Pages: 511 pages

Published: 1st November 2019 by Michael R. Fletcher (UK & US)


Utterly remarkable post-apocalyptic grimdark fantasy.

It’s surreal, but as it turns out, it’s been two years and approximately two hundred books since I’ve read anything new by Fletcher. It’s a serious shame that after all this time, Fletcher still hasn’t received the fame and recognition he deserves. When it comes to grimdark fantasy, I find that George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Steven Erikson tend to be the most often mentioned names; for many good reasons. However, I do strongly believe that Fletcher should be equally ranked as high as them. I am drowning in books to read, but when Fletcher asked me to read and review his newest book, I accepted, started, and finished reading it immediately within two days.

“The fifth age ended in catastrophe and the death of a world. We live now in the sixth age, the age beyond life, the age of apocalypse. We live a nightmare. We are damned souls, doomed to a slow and rotting demise.”—Loa Book of the Invisibles

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Book Review: A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Book Review: A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1) by Joe Abercrombie

ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: The Age of Madness (Book #1 of 3), First Law World (Book, #8 of 10)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy

Pages: 480 pages (Hardback)

Published: 17th September 2019 by Gollancz (UK) & 17th September 2019 by Orbit (US)


Grim, dark, fun, and glorious; A Little Hatred is irrefutably worth the wait.

Let me begin by saying that although this is a new series in the First Law World and you can technically start your journey into this world here, it’s quite mandatory to read at least The First Law trilogy in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of this book; even better if you’ve also read Best Served Cold and The Heroes. Reading A Little Hatred without knowledge of the previous books would be a similar experience to reading Pierce Brown’s Iron Gold without reading his previous three books or reading Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy without reading Farseer trilogy first. Do yourself a favor and make sure you read The First Law trilogy first before you start A Little Hatred, I even binge reread the entire trilogy to make sure that I can start this book with refreshed information. Make some time for it, not only it’s a brilliant trilogy, but you’ll also be doing a huge disservice to the book and most of all your reading experience if you don’t do it. On to the actual review now.

“Nothing like being wanted, is there? Wanted by someone you want. Always seems like magic, that something can feel so good but cost nothing.”

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Book Review: Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3) by Joe Abercrombie

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3) by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: The First Law (Book #3 of 3), First Law World (Book, #3 of 10)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy

Pages: 704 pages (UK paperback edition)

Published: 20th March 2008 by Gollancz (UK) & 8th September 2015 by Orbit (US)


Abercrombie has been titled as Lord Grimdark for years now; I truly believe that Last Argument of Kings is majorly responsible for this.

“Round and round in circles we go, clutching at successes we never grasp, endlessly tripping over the same old failures. Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.”

Last Argument of Kings is the third—and final book—in The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Every plot lines from the first two books lead to the revelations and ruthless conclusion in this installment. The story picks up immediately from where Before They Are Hanged left off, and it has come full circle. Depending on your perspective, the Last Argument of Kings is either bittersweet, depressingly bleak, or in between; I personally think it’s the latter. Abercrombie writes as if he’s a maestro of death and hopelessness. If you’re hanging on the edge of a cliff, Abercrombie will give you a dangling rope to save you but when you use that rope to save yourself from falling, he annihilates your hopes by using that rope to strangle you when you’re at the top. Yet, I must say that it is precisely for this unforgiving realism that I end up considering Last Argument of Kings as my favorite book in the series.

Picture: Last Argument of Kings by Alexander Preuss

By this point of the series, I think it’s safe to assume that you—like me—have grown very attached to the utterly memorable characters. Although some of the side character’s story continues in the next standalone trilogy of the series, this is where the main story arcs for the six main POV characters ended. Abercrombie has expertly weaved a tale that exhibited a harsh truth; despite insanely hard works and virtuous intentions, things may not go in our favor just because of one cruel reason: life isn’t fair. If you’re reading this review, and you haven’t started The Blade Itself, I’ll suggest you to not expect that a happy conclusion will be reached; you’re not getting one. In my opinion, none of the main characters attained what readers usually consider as a satisfying/happy ending; what they do get, however, is an ending that fits the narrative of the series. Expect an unflinchingly vicious finale, and it’s highly probable that this trilogy will go down as one of your favorite series; it’s certainly one of my favorites. What Abercrombie does well, he does extremely well.

“I have learned all kinds of things from my many mistakes. The one thing I never learn is to stop making them.”

Speaking of the things that Abercrombie does well, the action scenes in this book were top-class. Out of all the grimdark fantasy series I’ve read, when it comes to close-quarter combat, Abercrombie’s First Law and Jeff Salyards’s Bloodsounder’s Arc are always the first to come to mind. Abercrombie has conjured tempestuous war and battle scenes within this finale. We’ve seen glimpses of the deadly magic of the series in the previous two books, but in Last Argument of Kings, Abercrombie displayed the cataclysmic potential of the magic and why they became forbidden to use. The action sequences were bloody, violent, and downright merciless. This is by far the most action-packed and explosive installment in the trilogy; even if I were to include all the books published in the series so far within my assessment—this includes The Heroes—I’d still put Last Argument of Kings above them all, both in quality and quantity.

“Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever.”

The war scenes were incredible, but if I were to choose one main highlight of the book, it would have to be the duel scene. If you’ve read this book, you’ll know which confrontation I’m talking about. Back when I first read this duel three years ago, I immediately thought that it was phenomenal; on my reread, I still feel the same way about it. It’s terrifying to me how vivid it was; it honestly felt like I was there. I could hear the sound of swords singing, and I was able to see blood and gore poured from the heart-hammering trade of skills and deathblows unleashed that made the decisive duel unforgettable. Abercrombie has seriously outdone himself in this particular scene. Abercrombie painted a devastating scene that’s incredibly easy to visualize within this circle of death where chaos and the Great Leveller reigns. I’ve read many fantasy novel that features amazing duel scenes, and I can easily vouch that the mighty clash of death here, together with the one in The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, are indeed the best duel scenes I’ve ever read in a novel; it was THAT good!

“You can never have too many knives, his father had told him. Unless they’re pointed at you, and by people who don’t like you much. ”

It suffices to say that Last Argument of Kings is grimdark fantasy at its best, and it is one of my favorite books of all time, simple as that. I loved this book on my first read, and I’m gratified to say that I still absolutely love it on my reread; maybe even more now. Abercrombie is a fantastic writer and storyteller; his characterizations are masterful, his prose is compelling, and his capability in creating vivid cinematic scenes that are brutal, intense, philosophical, and at times hilarious established him as one of the finest authors in the genre. For years now, The First Law have often be recommended as a must-read series for A Song of Ice and Fire fans and grimdark fantasy enthusiasts. The longevity and the assurance of high quality in this recommendation can exist only if a specific series has received a world-wide qualification and praises from readers around the world. And this is a crowning achievement that Joe Abercrombie, the Lord of Grimdark, has indisputably claimed from this trilogy. If you—somehow—haven’t read this series yet, consider fixing that mistake by reading The First Law trilogy. Now. You have to be realistic about these things.

“If you want to be a new man you have to stay in new places, and do new things, with people who never knew you before. If you go back to the same old ways, what else can you be but the same old person?”

Series Review:

The Blade Itself: 4.5/5 stars

Before They Are Hanged: 5/5 stars

Last Argument of Kings: 5/5 stars

The First Law trilogy: 14.5/15 stars


You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

View all my reviews

Book Review: Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Book Review: Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: The First Law (Book #2 of 3), First Law World (Book, #2 of 10)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy

Pages: 573 pages (UK paperback edition)

Published: 15th March 2007 by Gollancz (UK) & 8th September 2015 by Orbit (US)


Before They Are Hanged succeeds over The Blade Itself wonderfully.

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”—Heinrich Heine

I’ve mentioned in my review of The Blade Itself that although I highly enjoyed it, Abercrombie’s debut felt like more like a setup book; a necessary installment for the remaining two books in the trilogy to shine. Before They Are Hanged is where Abercrombie starts progressing the storyline and the third book is where he wraps things up explosively. On this reread, I’ve come to realize that The First Law trilogy can be defined as one gigantic volume divided into three; the conclusion of the first two books in the trilogy continues immediately in their respective sequel as if it’s a simple chapter change and there were no definite conclusive storylines until the end of Last Argument of Kings. This storytelling style makes binge-reading the trilogy such a great experience, and I love this book more than The Blade Itself.

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