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Month: February 2024

Book Review: Ashes of Man (The Sun Eater, #5) by Christopher Ruocchio

Book Review: Ashes of Man (The Sun Eater, #5) by Christopher Ruocchio

This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on Ashes of Man

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

Cover art illustrated by Kieran Yanner

Ashes of Man by Christopher Ruocchio

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Sun Eater (Book #5 of 7)

Genre: Sci-fi, Space Opera, Science Fantasy

Word Count: 200,000 words

Pages: 544 pages (Hardcover edition)

Published: 13th December 2022 by DAW Books (US) & Head of Zeus (UK)

“Ashes lay in drifts about the ruined splendor of the sanctum, mounded against the altar and about the feet of my divine ancestor, triumphant beneath the oculus far above. I wore no helmet then, and heard with my naked ears the roar of engines approaching. I felt the dead wind in my hair, and smelled the foul burning of the ashes of man.”

I am caught up with the main books in the series now, and with the completion of Ashes of Man, I am increasingly confident in crowning The Sun Eater as the best sci-fi series I’ve ever read.

“The ugliness of the world does not fade, nor are fear and grief made less by time, nor is any suffering forgotten. We are only made stronger by its blows.”

The past is written; simple words with terrifying effects. And our lives are filled with so many beginnings and so many endings. As you hear me speak these words, they are already part of your past. They are all irreversible, just like all the good and bad things in our past. Hadrian understands this truth through the cruelest roads in Kingdoms of Death, and you would be mistaken if you think he will get a rest in Ashes of Man, the fifth novel in The Sun Eater series. Ashes of Man is also the second half of Kingdoms of Death, originally intended to be one book long, but now it is the fourth book in the series. Obviously, I don’t have the power of the Quiet, and I wouldn’t know how that one big book without the division would turn out. But as it stands, I am actually glad Kingdoms of Death and Ashes of Man are two separate books. Even though the stories between the two books seamlessly continue from one to another without huge time jumps like usual, Kingdoms of Death ends in a fitting and satisfying place. Ashes of Man begins with the exploration of the various effects the cataclysmic events in Kingdoms of Death have caused to Hadrian and the Sollan Empire. And if there is one thing we can be 100% sure about our lives, the stream of time leaves no one unscarred.

“Time does not turn back, and not even the gods of night our pale enemy worshiped could grant my dearest wish.”

Do understand that my review for Ashes of Man will be shorter than my usual Sun Eater reviews to avoid spoilers. This is the fifth book of the series now. I have mentioned the greatness of Ruocchio’s storytelling and writing in my previous reviews, and even though I know I will submit to repeat my praise, I would like to focus this spoiler-free review on the highlights of the novel and the three key characters in it that made Ashes of Man receive another incredibly positive rating from me. Other than Hadrian and the characters that appeared in the cover art of The Sun Eater post Ashes of Man, this means that other than Hadrian Marlowe, Valka Onderra, Lorian Aristedes, and a few new characters’ names like Sir Hector Silva and Prince Kaim, to avoid spoilers, the other character names will barely be mentioned in this review. I will begin with Hadrian Marlowe… The Sun Eater himself.

“We have need of heroes, however broken, however terrible, however insufficient they may be. And we have need of more than one hero, for heroes do break, you know.”

Hadrian is old. He is 384 years old now in Ashes of Man, and thanks to him being a palatine and the constant usage of fugue, it has been almost a thousand years since he was born. And he is no longer as strong as he was in Howling Dark and Demon in White. The overwhelming events in Kingdoms of Death have changed and weakened him. I might have mentioned this before, but Hadrian Marlowe is one of my favorite characters in speculative fiction. If not before, then it is now. His passion, fear, rage, and grief felt so palpable to me. As I said before, I do not always agree with Hadrian’s actions. But through contexts, background, and well-written motivations, I understood his actions. His oath and responsibilities hung like a circle of chains around his neck on his journey. He cannot escape it, no matter how hard he tries. And the tragedy inflicted by the ugliness of the world never ceases to stop for him. One of the things I appreciate most, even if it resulted in a slower and more contemplative pacing, about Ashes of Man is how the sense of guilt, sorrow, and regret over the harrowing years in Kingdoms of Death is reflected over and over again. The memories are permanently stamped in Hadrian. This is super important to me. Something as traumatic as the ones in Kingdoms of Death should never be easily forgotten by the character. It would not feel realistic. The horrors of the Cielcin were too insane to dismiss. I loved reading about Hadrian’s character development and attempt to recover himself physically and mentally. He would have failed at abating his sadness without the love and loyalty of his remaining friends and Valka Onderra, one of the central figures in The Sun Eater series.

“I had loved Colchis when first I came to it, and loved parts of it still. But one cannot step into the same river twice, nor onto the same world. All things are always in motion. That is why it is the highest good and cause of civilization to preserve—to conserve—what is good. It is for that reason we plant new seeds, that if we might not preserve the trees, we might preserve the forest. If Earth is truly lost—as I believe—and not returning, then it is good that we plant her children across the stars.”

Every cover art in The Sun Eater series (on top of being some of the best cover art in the science fiction genre) consistently has a reason why the chosen character earns the spotlight in the cover art. There are many good and valid reasons why Valka Onderra is the character on the front cover of Ashes of Man. The relationship and journey between Hadrian Marlowe and Valka have always been evident in each book in The Sun Eater series, and it is even more so in Ashes of Man. And it is hard not to like Valka. Centuries of adventures and companionship through thick and thin have passed since their encounter in Empire of Silence. Even though the story is dramatically narrated from the sole perspective of Hadrian, Valka is essentially the second main character of The Sun Eater. And with that in mind, it’s not only Hadrian who has gone through substantial character development but Valka as well. She still retains her personality, but she, too, has learned a lot about the world, the Sollan Empire, the Anaryoch, and Cielcin. In return, she, too, has developed into a better person. Without giving any spoilers, I highly enjoyed reading her story and the relationship between her and Hadrian. Ashes of Man is, in a way, her book.

“The centuries, it seemed, had worn her down at last, and at the last she had found in the bottom of her soul a wish and want she’d never known was there.”

Of course, as I said, Valka is not the only one responsible for keeping Hadrian sane. In his journey, Hadrian has earned the loyalty of his band The Red Company, and in Ashes of Man, Lorian Aristedes exhibited a powerful unwavering display of loyalty to him. Lorian the Misborn. Lorian the good commander. Lorian has always been one of my favorite characters in The Sun Eater since his first appearance in Demon in White. And Ashes of Man has practically turned him into my second favorite character in the series, just slightly below Hadrian Marlowe. Who knows? This ranking could change after I read The Dregs of Empire soon. Hadrian will have a tough competition as the champion of my heart in the series. Not only against Lorian but other characters, too. This is an intricate galaxy-spanning space opera series. We have ventured into multiple planets with their own distinct culture and settings, and it is not a surprise this magnificent and ambitious series is filled with many memorable characters. The crew of the Red Company, Bassander Lin, Olorin Milta, the Emperor, even the newly introduced Sir Hector Silva, who reminded Hadrian and me of young Hadrian himself, and more. The list goes on. But Lorian Aristedes is definitely in the runner-up spot for now. I love reading characters like him. He is a character reminiscent of Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire and Sand dan Glokta from The First Law series. And as Lorian laid his emotions bare to Hadrian here and vice versa, I can’t even begin to explain how much I grew to care about him. If you have read this book, when Lorian said, “My lord, I never left it,” it was an emotional damage to me, in a good way. I am not only excited to read Disquiet Gods, the sixth book in the series, but also The Dregs of Empire, a companion novel that will focus on Lorian Aristedes.

“But could I fault him in his thinking? Had I not thought much the same of myself, a hundred hundred times? Do we not all think this way sometimes—whatever our condition—and in a sense is it not true? Evil occurs because we are insufficient to challenge it. Too weak to stop it at the gates, too blind to see it bubbling within. Were we all angels in our virtue and heroes in our capacity, we might hold all chaos at bay, might stop even the unkindling of the stars. Yet we are but men. Even me.”

It goes without saying there are other characters that became a positive factor in this review, such as Prince Kaim, but this is a spoiler-free review. I want readers who stumbled upon this review to be able to experience Ashes of Man to the fullest without me giving up key events. I can, however, say that in Ashes of Man, we finally learn more about the Jaddians. I don’t know about you, but since Olorin Milta’s display of prowess and skill as a Maeskolos in Empire of Silence, I have always been eager to learn more about the Jaddians. I finally got what I wanted here. Maybe more in the next book. The Jaddians are now involved in Hadrian’s story. There’s no book in The Sun Eater series that felt wasted. Readers are supplied with something new that increases our immersion in the world or universe that Ruocchio crafted. I won’t trace back the details of what we have reaped from all the books in the series, but if in Kingdoms of Death we learned the most about the Cielcin, we get to read more about the Sollan Empire, Jaddians, Mericanii, Monumentals, Watchers, the Firstborn, and Vaiartu in Ashes of Man. Chapter 17, in particular, was a chapter of heavy lore that I must visit again someday. Ruocchio made sure everything matters in this battle of darkness and light. And every step, every decision, and every action led Hadrian to the life-changing Battle of Perfugium.

“My dead outnumbered my living—as becomes true for each of us in time. The dead become ever closer companions as we grow old ourselves and nearer eternity. And afterlife or no, they live on in us. Perhaps that is why it seems we have ghosts. Because we carry them in ourselves.”

As repetitive as this sounds, Ruocchio’s prose continues to impress me. Hadrian’s narration is simply one of the most distinct and compelling storytelling I’ve read in speculative fiction. There were some subtle insertions of Hadrian’s current thoughts and feelings in the present time frame—the one who wrote the tale of Hadrian in the chronicle we are reading—toward his own past; it was utterly brilliant and poignant. It is true Ashes of Man is not a novel as relentlessly grim and devastating as Kingdoms of Death, but if you approached Ashes of Man thinking it won’t leave you emotionally scarred, you would be making a mistake.

“AMONG THE EXTRASOLARIANS, THEY say, there are men who take memories, who siphon them away in crystal phials and stopper them like djinni. But I could not seek their services, not and remain myself. I said once that a man is the sum of memories, and it is so. Thus, to discard those memories—however terrible—is to discard a part of ourselves.”

The narrative in Ashes of Man takes time to build toward the climactic concluding sequence. There was a short chapter in the book titled The Call; this is the calm before the storm moment. The calmness before Perfugium. The tranquility before the chaos seeds of foreshadowing planted in Howling Dark bloomed into fruition. The peace before I read a violent chapter I haven’t ever witnessed in any other storytelling medium. And yet, that chapter somehow managed to deliver one of the most beautiful moments in the series in harmony. It’s impeccable. Darkness and light. Despair and hope. Hatred and love. Cielcin and humanity. They constantly vie for dominance in the narrative of Ashes of Man. This is why it is so challenging to encapsulate everything that occurred in a single book of The Sun Eater series into one review. We need a term for Ruocchio’s final chapters or sequence. If Sanderson has Sanderlance and John Gwynne has Gwynnado (I name this myself), maybe we should apply “volcano” to Ruocchio: The Ruocchano. Expect heart-hammering and satisfying final chapters in each installment, and you will get it. Ruocchio has constructed them with finesse.

“Silent was my fury. A silence beyond words. Nothing endures, nor lasts forever. Not stone, not empires, not life itself. Even the stars will one day burn down—as I have seen and know perhaps better than any other man. Even the darkness that comes after all will one day pass away to new light. This record, too, and this warm scribe—my hand—perhaps, will fade. The stones here on Colchis shall fall into the sea, and the sea dissolve to foam. The stars shall burn the worlds to ash, and cool themselves to cinders. All things fade. Fall. Shatter. I raised a bleeding hand.”

Despite the carving of oppressive darkness into the skin and bone of Hadrian’s past, the potential of greater light in the future is still colossal. If Empire of Silence up to Demon in White is to illustrate the rise and glories of Hadrian Marlowe and the Red Company, Kingdoms of Death and Ashes of Man exists to show the blackest days and grievous chapters of Hadrian’s life. The parchments of The Sun Eater are marked with melancholic and ashes of man. And similar to Hadrian, sometimes the worst wounds we suffered left no visible scar. There’s so much darkness to defeat. But I believe the bright light we cannot see remains to be grasped. Ashes of Man is another excellent novel in The Sun Eater series. As an installment, I did not love this as much as the previous books. But it is still an amazing 4.5 out of 5 stars novel. The series overall so far is just staggeringly tremendous. If you’re reading this review right now, I will assume you have heard me praise the available five books in the series so far in lengthy consideration. However, my praises won’t capture the full grandeur of the series. You have to read and experience reading them yourself. For me, right now, we know where Hadrian’s story ends. There are still details of his chronicle to consume. I am saddened to have caught up with the published books in the main series, but I am also brimming with delight at the thought of reading Disquiet Gods. Before that, The Dregs of Empire awaits me. I shall go on to Disquiet Gods after I read The Dregs of Empire, and this time, I will not be alone. But together with my fellow Red Company readers.

“I told you once that the universe has no center, and thus every point is its center, and it is so. If I have strained you, reader, by my repeated insistence that every action matters, that every moment of every life is the moment, the axis about which all things turn, understand that I say these things because they are true. Every step, every turn, every refusal to step. Everything matters. The cosmos is not cold or indifferent because we are not indifferent, and we are a part of that cosmos, of that grand order which has dropped from the hand of He who created it. Every decision creates its ripples, every moment burns its mark on time, every action leads us ever nearer to that last day, that final last battle and the answer to that last question: Darkness? Or light?”

You can order this book from: Amazon | Blackwells (Free International shipping)

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Book Review: Voice of War (Threadlight, #1) by Zack Argyle

Book Review: Voice of War (Threadlight, #1) by Zack Argyle

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art by Omer Burak Onal

Voice of War by Zack Argyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: Threadlight (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Pages: 382 pages (Hardcover edition)

Publish date: 19th of March 2020 by Zack Argyle (Self-Published)

Promising beginning. Readers weren’t exaggerating when they said Voice of War by Zack Argyle is a great Sanderson-lite fantasy novel.

“The Rite of Revelation was such an important event for a parent, but would a parent really love their child less based on the color of their eyes? Love is not a calculated result of features and faults. Love is the unseen thread binding two souls together no matter the externalities.”

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Book Review: Defiant (Skyward, #4) by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: Defiant (Skyward, #4) by Brandon Sanderson

Cover art illustrated by Sam Green

Defiant by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: Skyward (Book #4 of 4)

Genre: Sci-fi

Pages: 415 pages (Kindle edition)

Word count: 117,000 words

Publish date: 21st of November 2023 by Delacorte Press (US) & Gollancz (UK)

This is another series wrap-up from Sanderson. Defiant is a satisfying concluding volume to the Skyward series that reflected the root of the first book: friendship.

“Some of them might die, I said. And it’s going to hurt. We’ll get through it though. Pretending that nobody will ever be in danger is the same as living in the nowhere, pretending loss doesn’t exist.”

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Book Review: The Dollmakers (The Fallen Peaks, #1) by Lynn Buchanan

Book Review: The Dollmakers (The Fallen Peaks, #1) by Lynn Buchanan

This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on The Dollmakers

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

Cover art by Ashley Mackenzie

The Dollmakers by Lynn Buchanan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Fallen Peaks (Book #1)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 400 pages (Kindle edition)

Word Count: 114,000 words

Published: 13th August 2024 by Harper Voyager

The Dollmakers is guaranteed to be a contender for one of the strongest fantasy debuts of the year 2024.

“Shean enjoyed thinking. Logic was a comfort— as long as she had a plan, she had direction, a guide to follow and mull over and think and rethink until she’d thought of every possible outcome to every possible event.”

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Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Cover art illustrated by Dave McKean

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Pages: 201 pages (Lyra’s Books Hardcover edition)

Word Count: 31,000 words

Published: 2nd July 2002 by Harper Collins

Coraline is the best book by Neil Gaiman that I’ve read. And maybe, all this time, I might have picked the wrong Neil Gaiman books to read.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

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Cover Reveal: The Fall of the Giants (The Dance of Light, #2) by Gregory Kontaxis

Cover Reveal: The Fall of the Giants (The Dance of Light, #2) by Gregory Kontaxis

Hi everyone! Petrik from Novel Notions here.

We have an exciting post today. Novel Notions will be hosting the cover reveal of the new cover for The Fall of the Giants by Gregory Kontaxis. This is the second book in The Dance of Light series.

The cover was inspired by a scene from the second book of The Dance of Light series. The swords of the elwyn, one of the first races in the world, have the ability to absorb the light that resides within them. This light is dangerous for the wyverns and the tigers of the north.

This series was inspired by several great stories, written by J. R. R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson and Mark Lawrence. It is also inspired by Greek mythology and other Greek tales about war, magic, loyalty and bravery.

Without further ado, here’s the cover art to The Fall of the Giants!

Cover art  by MiblArt

Interior art by Omer Burak Onal

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Book Review: Winter’s Heart (The Wheel of Time, #9) by Robert Jordan

Book Review: Winter’s Heart (The Wheel of Time, #9) by Robert Jordan

Cover art illustrated by Scott M. Fischer

Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Series: The Wheel of Time (Book #9 of 14)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 705 pages (Kindle edition)

Word Count: 238,000 words

Published: 7th November 2000 by Tor Books

This was so damn rough. Winter’s Heart is easily the weakest book in The Wheel of Time so far.

“A man who trusts everyone is a fool and a man who trusts no one is a fool. We are all fools if we live long enough.”

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Book Review: The Trials of Empire (Empire of the Wolf, #3) by Richard Swan

Book Review: The Trials of Empire (Empire of the Wolf, #3) by Richard Swan

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

Cover art illustrated by: Martina Fackova

Cover designed by: Lauren Panepinto

The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Series: Empire of the Wolf (Book #3 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy

Pages: 496 pages (Kindle edition)

Word Count: 164,000 words

Published: 6th February 2024 by Orbit (US) & 8th February 2024 by Orbit (UK)

The Trials of Empire bestowed readers with a different direction and satisfying ending to Empire of the Wolf trilogy.

“One of the greatest feats of human cognisance is to realise and accept that every being capable of thought has a life as complex as one’s own.”

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