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Cloak and Silence by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Cloak and SilenceSource: Own collection
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

One of the fiercest soldiers the Phrixians have ever produced, Maris Sulle has been an outsider from the moment he was born different from the rest of his family. He grew up with a secret that cost him everything——his birthright, his family, and his military career. In all his life, he’s only had one love, and he has sacrificed his own happiness to see his best friend reunited with the woman he loves. But now that his good deed is done, he feels lost and adrift. Even though they do their best to include him in their new family, Maris is once again on the outside looking in.

Ture has spent his life hiding from everyone around him——his family, the world, you name it——while trying desperately to fit in. Badly hurt by everyone he’s ever known, he trusts no one except his own best friend. And honestly, he can’t understand why he trusts her. Nor can he believe her when she describes a loyalty between friends the likes of which he’s never seen.

But when Ture is in his darkest hour, he’s saved by a hero he thought only existed in novels. A man who is every bit as scarred and mistrusting as he is——one who has no interest in being dragged into another relationship with anyone.

Having spent his life as a living study of doomed relationships, Maris is well aware of the courtship and fiasco that invariably follows. Still, there is something about Ture he can’t resist. Something that won’t let him walk away when he knows he should.

But when old enemies return to threaten them both, they either have to stand together or die alone.

The paramount thought I came away from this novella with was “band of brothers”. Maris and his friends are a band of brothers. Without having read any of the other stories in The League, I could sense their loyalty to one another, clearly brought about through adversity. Ture, a stranger to friendship and loyalty, doesn’t believe it can exist, despite his best friend Zarya’s insistence that her betrothed, Darling, will come and rescue them. To Ture’s great surprise, that is precisely what happens. But Darling is not alone. There is another soldier with him, the mysterious and much-talked about (by Zarya) Maris. As Ture is subsequently taken to Darling and Zarya’s palace to recover from the ordeal, he and Maris grow to become friends, and more. But their developing relationship doesn’t come without its consequences.

A quick read, excellent characters and tight plot. This is my first Sherrilyn Kenyon – I originally picked the book up based purely on the cover, and only subsequently found out who Kenyon is – and I won’t mind reading more of her books.

Note: this is an M/M romance.

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Where or When by Steven Utley

18586183Source: Own collection
Format: Hardback
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I read this as part of The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

Elizabeth Hazel and Lewis Alisdair are time travellers. It seems Lewis has travelled with the mysterious John a few times previously, but that Elizabeth is a new-comer to the endeavour. The book opens as the pair find themselves NOT where they are meant to be. Instead of at the Crystal Palace in London, 1851, they find themselves in bushes. And soon after, gunfire surrounds them. They attempt to escape the apparent battle by wading downriver and then land up in another stand of trees, where another time traveller (not John) finds them. They discover that they’re in Virginia in the first week of May, 1864.

I think I missed something in this story. It was a nice enough read, insofar as gun battles and raging fires go, but… a few connections seem to be missing. Yes, there was no mention of the method of time travel. I realise that the battle in question is related to the American Civil War. But that’s about as far as I get. I clearly just don’t get it.

Nova War by Gary Gibson

Nova WarSource: Borrowed from a friend
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Dakota and Corso are taken prisoner by the Bandati in the second book of The Shoal Sequence

Dakota discovered the Shoal’s dark and dangerous secret, and now she works toward stopping not only the spread of this knowledge, but also the onset of the nova war. Found adrift near a Bandati colony world far away from Consortium space, Dakota and Corso find themselves the Bandati’s prisoners, and it rapidly becomes clear to them that the humanity’s limited knowledge of the rest of the galaxy, filtered through the Shoal, is direly inaccurate. The Shoal have been fighting a frontier war with a rival species, the Emissaries, with their own FTL technology for more than 15,000 years. Realizing that the Shoal may be the Galaxy’s one chance at sustained peace, Dakota is forced to work with Trader to prevent the spread of deadly knowledge carried onboard the Magi ships—but it seems that the nova war is inevitable.

Continuing from Stealing Light, this book opens with Dakota and Corso in the clutches of the Bandati, being tortured for information relating to the Magi ship they arrived on. Communication barriers and misunderstandings relating to differing physiologies mean that the whole experience ends up being far worse for the humans than, one feels, the Bandati originally intended. At least, that’s what one’s given to believe at at least one point of the narrative. One soon learns that two major Bandati Hives are at war – or at least, at daggers drawn – over something they discovered many thousands of years previously. It soon becomes apparent that what they have found is a Magi ship very similar to the one Dakota and Corso arrived in-system on. Soon enough, Dakota is taken by one Hive, and Corso by the other, and they must work together to prevent either Hive getting their hands on the prize. Throw into the mix Hugh, a dangerous psychopath who is definitely not what he appears to be AND is very much alive, Trader of the Shoal, and a few other power players, and one’s in for another rollicking ride that spans star systems and galaxies.

I love Gary Gibson’s writing. It really became clear to me reading this book that here is a writer with true skill. What I love so much is that, while a single scene may take up many pages, that scene is rarely boring. Gary doesn’t pause to describe the scenery, or really to go into too much detail, but every word he uses creates a vision in the mind’s eye that sticks. Even without using all the deep POV techniques that many authors employ these days, Gibson locates the reader right there in the action, with the sights, sounds and smells. I rarely have difficulty imagining the scenery, the finer details that surround the characters.

A wonderful vision of the far future.

Fire Watch by Connie Willis

18586183Source: Own collection
Format: Hardback
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I read this as part of The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

Wow. What an excellent story. Written in diary form, this tale is of a student historian who travels from his time (somewhen in the 21st century, I believe) to 1940s London, St Paul’s specifically, during the Blitz. The task seems to be pretty much to survive for three months until he is recalled to return to the future.

What I really appreciated about this story is its message. What a contrast to ‘Vintage Season’, which had people from the future travelling to the ‘present’ for entertainment and pure, disinterested observation. Even going so far as to pretty much demean and negate the concerns of the locals. Here we have someone from the future who really cares about the people around him, about the integrity of St Paul’s. He befriends people, buries a cat, and gets really mad with his professor when he returns to the future and gets quizzed on a string of facts.

By travelling to the past he learns that history isn’t just about facts and figures, but real lives. Lives and issues that mattered back then. Something we all, living today, could do well to remember. The past is always more complex than just facts and figures. The past is the people, and the people lived in their time with their own perspectives on life. It behoves us to remember that when we view the past, that we cannot place OUR perspectives on life onto those who lived in the past.

Forged in Fire by AR DeClerck

Forged in FireSource: Own collection
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Steel is forged in fire.
Hardened by hatred,
Tempered by blood.
Seasoned by shame,
Sharpened by death.

Gin Draven is a soldier. THE soldier. Sworn to protect the nine planets in the galaxy humans made their home in ninety thousand years ago. He lives for winning the war. He loved a woman once, and she cost him his sanity, his eye, and his heart. He’d taken every moment of their time together and buried it deep. Until the day she strolled back into his life.
Maeve was a woman. THE woman. Back to make Gin Draven her husband. She wants the same thing he does. The end to the war that plagues them all. She knows secrets that can help him win the war, and secrets that could destroy them both.
War brought them together, and war tore them apart. The strongest loves are Forged in Fire.

Forged in Fire is the story of Gin Draven, the Sword Guardian of Dinara, and Maeve, who marries him very early in the book. Though they  have previously loved one another, it is abundantly clear from the outset that there isn’t much love lost. Not least as Gin believed Maeve betrayed him some years previously, that she was a traitor, and that she was dead.

The simple background is that Dinara, a world among nine in a system, is at war with Boderia – another world in the same system. The Dinarans receive support from Maeve’s father, and he requests a marriage with the Sword Guardian for one of his daughters in return for continued support in the war. And when Gin Draven – who at first glance (for the reader) is impersonable, grumpy and disinclined to be nice to a new wife – discovers who his surprise new wife is to be, his world heads for a spin.

It isn’t long before the Dinaran Swords are engaged in a battle with Boderians, except Maeve discovers where the Boderians are attacking, and reveals that the pair have a daughter. Gin may not be on best terms with Maeve, but he isn’t letting a possible daughter of his get caught by the Boderians.

What I really enjoy about DeClerck’s work is that it is generally unpredictable, and inventive to boot. There were several developments I did not see coming, and as usual I keep thinking I must be nearing the end of the book (despite NOT being anywhere near the end) and then a new twist arrives that takes the story further and deeper. While Gin Draven was initially NOT attractive, through the story he developed into a very protective person who would do everything within his power to protect those he loves. But Maeve holds her agency just as well, and is an equal partner with Gin in all they do. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and these were well covered in the story – not laboriously, but acknowledged and displayed is what I mean.

With some polish, though, this book could be a real diamond. It was regrettable that there were some editorial issues here and there – but not so bad as to detract from the story itself.