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.