Review of The Legion Of Flame by Anthony Ryan

July 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - The Legion Of Flame by Anthony RyanThe Legion Of Flame (The Draconis Memoria, #2)
By Anthony Ryan; read by Steve West
25 Hours 50 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: June 27, 2017
ISBN: 9780735206700

For centuries the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood – and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed – to fuel and protect its empire. But now a fearsome power has arisen – a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

Executive Summary:
Another solid entry in this series. Here’s to hoping for a good ending with the final book.

Audiobook:
I hate narrator changes. I’m bad with names, so at first I almost didn’t notice the change from Stephen Brand to Steve West. Plus I like Stephen Brand, and he narrated the last four Anthony Ryan books. So Steve West had his work cut out for him because I came into this book heavily biased against him.

I’m happy to report I thought he did a good job. I don’t know why they changed narrators, but Mr. West read with good volume and inflection and he added a few voices into the mix to make for a good audio experience.

Full Review:
This series mixes such a wide variety of themes, it still seems strange that they all work together, but they do. First you have Lizanne, who I always just think of as Jane Bond in my head. Then there is Clay, who’s got a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe to his story. Finally there is sailor Captain Hilemore.

Their narratives are all tied together with Dragon Blood. Added to the mix is Sirius. I don’t recall if he was introduced in the last book as a minor character, but he certainly wasn’t a POV in that. Much like Hilemore in the last book, his story felt mostly disconnected from the other three until near the very end. Unlike Hilemore however, I had a much better idea how his story was going to fit in with the rest well in advance.

I found the start of the book a bit slow. It took me awhile to remember the characters and the details from last year’s The Waking Fire, and even afterwards I didn’t find myself completely sucked in. Once the book got going however I definitely enjoyed it.

Clay’s story started the slowest of the four, although I didn’t find Sirius much better. Even Lizanne who’s definitely my favorite of the series felt like she was meandering a bit before her story got going again.

The world building continues to be excellent. We learn a lot more about the Dragons and the blood blessed, and the nature of many of the mysteries from the first book. Clay’s story in particular reveals quite a bit of interesting details. I really like the world Mr. Ryan built here.

Based on his previous series, I feel like Mr. Ryan’s good at writing both beginnings and middles, but struggles with endings. Queen of Fire felt rushed, and partially spoiled an otherwise perfect series for me.

I hope he takes as much time as he needs (assuming his publisher will let him) to write the final book of this series. I think this book set things up nicely for that. Now I just have to wait and see how it all comes out.

Review by Rob Zak

Review of The Waking Fire

August 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Waking FireThe Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoira, Book 1)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 July 2016
[UNABRIDGED] – 22 hours, 34 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / epic fantasy / magic /

Publisher summary:

Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Trading Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues, and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.

But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighboring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.

Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.

As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war – or drown in its wake.

Executive Summary: A great start to a new series. It blends a lot of different things together in an interesting way to feel original. I’m really looking forward to see where he takes things from here.

Audiobook: Steven Brand is a great narrator. He reads with good inflection, and does a few voices. In the past my main complaint about him has been he speaks too quietly. He’s either fixed that, or the people making the books are adjusting his volume up to make him a lot easier to hear than past books I’ve listened to.

Full Review
I absolutely loved both Blood Song and Tower Lord. It’s possible that it made it impossible for me to love Queen of Fire. Either way, I was disappointed enough in that book, that I was reluctant to pick this one up. I had planned to wait on reviews from people I trusted to come out before getting it. Then a review copy fell into my lap.

This book is kind of a hodge podge of several things I love: Mistborn, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Dragons. And if that’s not enough there is also high sea adventure, and pirates! That may sound like a mess, but Mr. Ryan does a great job in blending those elements together. I also can’t guarantee all of those things were influences on this book, but they are things I thought about as I was reading.

Mistborn has one of my all time favorite magic systems. This one feels similar, only a little less structured, and with only 4 known types of abilities. The main similarity is the idea of imbibing something in order to do magic, and that only a small number of people are born with the ability. Beyond that they are quite different.

My favorite character is Lizanne, who is basically Jane Bond. Her story line was always my favorite, and I really want to know more about the training she went through. I hope we get some flashbacks or possibly her training new recruits in future books, but then I’m a sucker for the magic school trope.

Clay was also a great character, and a more reluctant protagonist then Lizanne. His story was reminiscent of an Indiana Jones story, with him being basically nothing like him. If anyone is Jones it’s maybe his uncle.

The final protagonist, Lt. Hilemore was enjoyable enough, but I spent much of the book wondering how his story fit in with the other two. Rest assured it’s made clear by the end of the story, but it takes awhile. That doesn’t mean his story wasn’t interesting, it just felt disconnected from the rest of the book for me. With him you get high seas battles and pirates!

None of that even scratches the surface of the great supporting cast. Each subplot has it’s own supply of interesting characters. And if 3 interesting protagonists influenced by different elements, and a great supporting cast isn’t enough. There are Dragons. And really, isn’t that enough?

Overall, I’m glad I got this is a review copy because I really enjoyed this book. I just hope he can take his time on the sequels because I felt like his last book suffered from rushing to completion to meet a deadline. I love getting new books in a series once a year, but I’m willing to wait longer if the author needs more time. I’m hoping he’ll be able to bring this to a more satisfying conclusion than his previous series.

Review by Rob Zak.

Save

Review of Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

July 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Queen of FireQueen of Fire (Raven’s Shadow #3)
By Anthony Ryan; Read by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 7 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 26 hours, 43 minutes

Themes: / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant – those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark – and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named battle lord of the realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the realm is to prevail – a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power that has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent.

After how much I enjoyed the last two, it was almost going to be impossible for this book to live up to my expectations.

Some of this is probably on me. I read Blood Song and Tower Lord back to back. It’s been about a year since then, and my memory on the details were fuzzy. I should have reread. I wish there was a wiki or something with plot points and character bios I could have used to refresh myself.

I struggled at the start remembering many of the minor characters. I think all books in a series (and really all audio books in general) should have a list of the important characters with maybe a 1 sentence reminder of who they are. It would really help a lot. There are just too many books to reread previous books every time a new one comes out, even books I loved as much as the last two.

Both of those books grabbed me early on and never let go. That never really happened here. I was always happy to pick it back up, but I wasn’t making excuses to listen longer or counting down the time until I could get back to listening. So unfortunately I can’t give the whole series 5 stars.

I also found myself wondering for much of the second half of the book if there would be enough time to resolve everything. For the most part I think he does a good job of converging the different story lines, but it required a fairly large info-dump near the end to do so.

That said, I really love the world Mr. Ryan has built, and I’m especially fond of the characters. It’s always great to read about them, and this book is no different. Much like Tower Lord, I think Frentis and Riva both sort of steal the show again. However Vaelin’s chapters are pretty interesting as well. Lyrna’s story was still enjoyable, just not as much as the others.

Overall this has been one of the best series I’ve found in the last few years. I’d happily read another series set in this world, especially if we can visit again with some of the characters. This is definitely a series I’ll revisit down the road on a reread. Maybe reading all 3 back to back I won’t struggle as much as the start and enjoy it more the second time.

Either way, I’ll be looking forward to checking out what Mr. Ryan has in store for us next.

Much like the last 2 books, I enjoy Steven Brand as a narrator, save for the fact that he’s so QUIET. Thankfully my audiobook app lets me increase the volume, or it would be incredibly frustrating. I wonder if the publishers listens to the book with noise canceling headphones only or something, or if even that would be sufficient.

If you’ve done the previous two in audio, you should know what to expect. Hopefully like me you have a way to increase the volume so you can enjoy Mr. Brand’s otherwise excellent narration.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

August 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

towerlordTower Lord (Raven’s Shadow #2)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / warrior /

Publisher summary:

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’ vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’ wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do. The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

How do you follow up a debut novel that seems to be almost universally loved by those who have read it? By writing a book that may be even better in my opinion.  My opinion may not be shared by everyone who loved Blood Song. This is definitely a different book from that.

Instead of a single narrative about Vaelin told in the form of a flashback, we are instead given three new point of view characters in addition to Vaelin and the interludes from the perspective of the chronicler.  Two of the characters, Frentis and Lyrna, will be instantly familiar from the first novel. The fourth, Riva, was probably my favorite. As a new character she probably got the most character development of the four. I think having two male POVs and two female ones gave the novel a good balance.

I found Lyrna’s story to start a bit slow, but I was quickly grabbed by the book as a whole and eventually sucked into her narrative as well. Much like Blood Song this is one of those books that grabbed hold and didn’t let go. I hated to put it down and loved to pick it back up.

I’m glad for the format change as I think Mr. Ryan was able to tell a much larger story as a result. There were parts of the story where the various POV’s overlapped, but there were also a lot of things that would have gone otherwise unmentioned if he stuck with just Vaelin’s story.

There are some excellent action scenes, though probably fewer overall than the first. While the first book was more a hero’s journey, this book is more epic fantasy with larger implications to the realm as a whole.

There are answers to many of the big questions I had from the first novel. Often times it seems like authors jealously guard all their book’s secrets and wait until the last possible minute to reveal them. Not so with this series. I felt there were several big reveals in parts 2 and 3 that other authors might have held back.  There are plenty of new questions to take the place of those that are answered that kept me wanting to keep listening and find out what would happen next.

Mr. Ryan has put himself in a precarious position of writing two really excellent novels in what I believe is supposed to be a trilogy. Now the expectations are that much higher for the finale of what has quickly become one of my favorite series.

Stephen Brand is a great narrator that could stand to have his volume boosted. He does an excellent job with voices and inflections, but can be frustratingly quiet in places.

If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. And if you haven’t read/heard of this series you should check out Blood Song as soon as you can.

Review by Rob Zak.