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Sunday, September 30, 2018

'Breath of Fire' The Kingmaker Chronicles #2 by Amanda Bouchet

From the BLURB:
In a land where magic is might, Catalia Fisa is the mightiest of them all . . .

Catalia Fisa, Lost Princess, has been running from destiny her whole life. Yet deep down, she has always believed that the prophecy shadowing her every step is inescapable: her unimaginable power will bring unfathomable disaster.

But now her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. Although it may be that this, even with all her power, is still the one battle she cannot win, Cat's determined not to go down without a fight.

As the realms descend into all-out war, Cat knows she must embrace the power at her command. With Griffin by her side and Gods willing, perhaps she can emerge victorious in this fiery forging of a new Kingdom.

‘Breath of Fire’ is the second book in American author Amanda Bouchet’s fantasy romance trilogy, ‘The Kingmaker Chronicles’ released in 2017.

Right, so – going on from my epic re-read of first book ‘A Promise of Fire’, I delved right into the second book that had been sitting on my shelf for a year and a bit.

The best way I can describe ‘The Kingmaker Chronicles’ is to say it’s kind of OUTLANDER with Greek Mythology, for fans of Nalini Singh and Thea Harrison. And something Bouchet does very well is continuing the epic journey and launching readers right back into the world with a BANG! … second book ‘Breath of Fire’ tidies up the cliff-hanger left at the end of Book 1 almost immediately in chapter one, and then the rest of the book is in service of the problems/opportunities Cat’s truth brings.

And while the second-half of book 1 ‘A Promise of Fire’ saw Cat settling into kingdom life with Griffin and his family, Bouchet recognises that a big drawcard of book 1 was the camaraderie of Cat with the ‘Beta Team’ trio of soldiers who became her friends – Carver, Kato and Flynn – and the unique heated opportunities that travelling bought for her and Griffin.

So pretty quickly in ‘Breath’, Bouchet sets up a new expedition for Cat and the Beta Team (of which she is now a member) to go off on. This is also a salve, because it’s in travelling across lands and encountering mythological monsters and Olympus Gods that Bouchet’s series also harks back to the best of cult classic television ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ and ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ … though I will say – Bouchet’s series could have done with a lot more LGBT+ representation, which I constantly thought was coming but never really eventuated. For one, I thought this might have been Carver’s storyline – instead there’s literally *one* throwaway sentence that comes to reveal Griffin’s sister, and crowned Queen, Egeria is in a relationship with a woman. This was overall just a thorn in my side with the series because for one thing, it would have fit in with the universe perfectly and because there are such strong ‘Xena’ ties, it seems almost cruel to dangle that similarity but not the heart that made that show so iconic? Anyway.

‘Breath of Fire’ in a lot of ways, manages to do better than even book one in gifting readers more insight into the secondary characters we’ve come to know and love, in soldiers Flynn, Kato and Carver. These three become so much sharper and more complicated, and readers will start seeing possibilities for spin-offs for how full and lovingly developed they are in here.

Cat and Griffin though, remain the stars – and their romance continues to be a new highlight of the fantasy romance genre. To a degree there’s repetition in their storyline (fighting monsters – Cat putting herself in danger, Griffin getting upset and asking her not to do that) but at the same time, it does feel like Cat and their relationship is constantly evolving as she learns to love for the first time in a long time. And they remain hot as anything, which is the other drawcard of the series – the exquisite blazing hot romance.

The other highlight of this book too is the increased presence of the Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology … Ares, Artemis, Persephone and more make appearances and a truly remarkable new secondary casting.


Monday, September 24, 2018

'A Promise of Fire' The Kingmaker Chronicles #1 by Amanda Bouchet

From the BLURB:
Kingmaker. Soothsayer. Warrior. Mage. Kingdoms would rise and fall for her . . . if she is ever found.

In the icy North, where magic is might, an all-powerful elite ruthlessly guided by a glacial Queen have grown to dominate the world. Now rebellion is stirring in the rough, magic-poor South, where for the first time in memory a warlord has succeeded in uniting the tribal nations.

Stuck in the middle is Cat - circus performer and soothsayer - safely hidden behind heavy make-up, bright colours and the harmless illusion of the circus. Until someone suspects she's more than she seems . . .

Captured by the Southern warlord Griffin, Cat's careful camouflage is wearing thin. For how long can - or should - she conceal the true extent of her power? Faced with dragons, homicidal mages, rival Gods and the traitorous longings of her own heart, she must decide: is it time to claim her destiny and fight?

‘A Promise of Fire’ was the 2016 fantasy romance debut and first book in the ‘Kingmaker Chronicles’ trilogy from American author, Amanda Bouchet.

Okay. Full-disclosure: I did actually read this when it came out in 2016 and LOVED it, RAVED about it. But then book two came and went in 2017, and book three released this year in 2018 and I just didn’t get around to reading them (but I did buy them!). I think some part of me was putting them aside to binge, and/or pull them out when I needed to be out of a reading-slump. So I went back and re-read book one, read book two and three and did just that – BINGED, big time and I am unsurprised to say that my initial assessment still holds true. This trilogy is *amazing* - and if you’re new to fantasy romance or wanting to try it out for the first time, I’d put this at top of your list. ASAP!

The ‘Kingmaker Chronicles’ trilogy is – best I can describe it – a cross between the brilliant schlock 90s and early-00s television series ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ and ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ meets romance writing by the likes of Nalini Singh and Thea Harrison. It’s pulling on Greek-mythology as we follow a young woman – Cat – who has a magical ability to tell when people are lying, and is captured by a ‘Warlord’ whose family recently united the working class to band against an unfair and unjust society. Griffin sees Cat as an opportunity to play the noble families who now bow down to his family, and ensure loyalty – along with his ‘Beta Team’ band of warriors consisting of his brother Carver, and friends Kato and Flynn, Griffin captures Cat and starts the long journey back to his recently fortified new castle and realm.

But Cat has secrets these men can’t know – like the truth of her birth and birthright, and what the Gods have planned for her.

I will say – don’t be put off by the “capture” storyline, gross as it sounds. It’s actually something that is constantly interrogated throughout the books; and Griffin and his men don’t do anything untoward to Cat (aside from – y’know – capturing her in the first place, um) and underlying all of the motivations is a bit of God-play at work. And Cat never lets up with the whole ‘being captured’ thing either – she is a fighter through and through, and as they meander across the lands back to Griffin’s castle, she never once lets up and always keeps her struggle. Even when she starts to find Griffin’s trio of soldiers – Carver, Kato and Flynn – unfairly kind and charismatic, and Griffin himself to be an alluring and inspirational man …

In that respect, there is a *tiny* hint of the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series in Bouchet’s too – for that moment in the series timeline when Claire was captured by the Highland Clansmen and made to march back to their castle, all while tucked against the chest of one James Fraser who she comes to begrudgingly care for…

And much like ‘Outlander’ eventually does, there builds this indelible trust and connection between Griffin and Cat – and when that switch is flipped, everything changes and the novel becomes a charged and electrifying love story that is H-O-T. Cat and Griffin are up there with some of my all-time favourite romance novel pairings; her fiery temper and his level-head, and their fierce loyalty to each other and those they love. Not to mention their scenes are searing and intense, written to utter perfection by Amanda Bouchet.

Though ‘Heart on Fire’ leaves a few cliff-hangers dangling, especially regarding Cat’s origins – I actually think this is also a very good self-contained book (I mean, I read it back in 2016 and even without diving into books 2 and 3, I felt satisfied)

It’s not wonder when this book came out in 2016 it raced through romance communities like wildfire, and heralded a new ‘must read’ author. It’s mythological, sublime romance.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

'Magic Triumphs' Kate Daniels #10 by Ilona Andrews

From the BLURB:
Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle.

But she has to try.

For her child.
For Atlanta.
For the world.

‘Magic Triumphs’ is the tenth and last book in Ilona Andrewws’ epic urban fantasy series, ‘Kate Daniels’ that first began back in 2007.

Okay. This is it. The end.

There may be some SPOILERS ahead so, consider yourself warned.

This book came out on August 28 but I held off until now (my birthday weekend, as a special treat) to actually sit down and read. And I fully admit, there was a degree of stalling to this strategy because I don’t think I was ready to say goodbye to this universe that I’ve been checking in to for eleven-years now … though with the caveat that; it’s pretty clear Ilona Andrews is not entirely done with this universe, even if Kate Daniels-focused arc is wrapped up …

This is the big-bad end to the ‘Kate Daniels’ series and show-down with Kate’s all-powerful, egotistical father. But from ‘Magic Bites’ to now, Kate has slowly been accumulating love, life and family from the loner she once was. There’s so much more she risks losing now, and the stakes (that have been accumulating across 9 books and countless short-stories) are higher than ever.

The books opens not with an adrenaline-rush – as most readers would have been coiled for – but with a more sedate pace and establishment of Kate and Curran’s home life. Including, yes – a child, a baby called Conlan who is developing at a rapid pace. And it’s in this sweeter side that Ilona Andrews remind readers of the true crown they wear in the realms of serial fiction – gifting readers the best example of life after ‘will they or won’t they?’ dramatic romantic tension. Conlan is another jewel in this crown, as possibly one of the best examples of a child-character integrating perfectly into a previously childless core cast.

But when the coil snaps – as it always needed to – Ilona Andrews hits the ground running. But it must be said, they owe a lot of the perfect pacing and wrap-up to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ finale blueprints; particularly season 5 ‘The Gift’ and series finale ‘Chosen’. There was one moment in ‘Magic Triumphs’ that so perfectly harks back to season 5 episode ‘Checkpoint’ and Buffy’s epic power speech to The Watchers' Council (“You're Watchers. Without a Slayer, you're pretty much just watchin' Masterpiece Theater.”) I say this with the utmost respect that I could see these tendrils in Kate’s finale, because truth be told – nobody did season finales and big-bad arc wrap-ups better than ‘Buffy’ and that legacy carries over here to Kate’s grand finish to great effect.

I particularly loved that we got to touch-base with all the secondary characters we’ve come to love, and who populated Kate’s life to the point that those stakes became perilously high. A particularly lovely addition to the cast was a character named Yu Fong, who first appeared in Dali & Jim short-story ‘Magic Dreams’ and then later became part of Julie’s scholastic world in ‘An Apple for the Creature’ anthology short-story, ‘Magic Tests’. Yu Fong has long stayed with me and intrigued me, and I was so glad to see him become a player in ‘Magic Triumphs’ … it begs the question then; why establish such an intriguing character most fully in the series finale? Hmmmmm.

I would have also loved a Raphael and Andrea (and baby!) scene together, because I loved that couple. Ditto Dali and Jim (though we get a lovely sense of their future, even without the two sharing a scene physically). BUT … I am slightly wounded that a favourite character – teen bouda and bad-boy Ascanio – makes no appearance. He is alive, and well, and alluded to on a confusing number of occasions throughout … but he doesn’t get a single scene and it’s slightly maddening. The only thing that lessens this wound is a niggling suspicion that he has bigger things in store for the future; I do believe a lack of Ascanio and meatier role for Yu Fong were big hints of what’s to come.

As to that … I was GLEEFUL over that epilogue. Julie has felt like a storm gathering speed to become a tornado for a while now, and with that send-off cliff-hanger it’s an out and out confirmation from Ilona Andrews that they’re tucking her away for another day. I’ve no doubt that the writing-duo will concentrate on Hugh d'Ambray and his ‘Iron Covenant’ world for a little while (or not – maybe ‘Iron and Magic’ will be much like Andrea’s one-off ‘Gunmetal Magic’?) but I can see them having a little rest after their mad-cap ten-books-in-eleven-years publishing schedule, and any break could also act as time-passing for Julie’s character. Because – yes – much as I am ready for her to come riding back already, with Erra and a cast populated by Ascanio, Yu Fong, and especial concentration on Derek … Julie does need to mature, and the easiest way to do that is off the page where she can obtain some mystery and secrecy for readers too.

But it’s a testament to Ilona Andrews and the ‘Kate Daniels’ series that ‘Magic Triumphs’ is – wait for it! – SUCH A TRIUMPH that concludes so beautifully, but I’m also already desperate for them to keep carrying this world along. This tenth book walks a majestic tightrope of being both utterly fulfilling as its own entity, while also mouth-watering for the possibilities of Julie and more.

I will not begrudge Ilona Andrews a rest. But when you’re an author this good and so much at the top of your game, you’ve got to expect that your readers will be baying for more books. That’s the price you pay when you’re THIS DAMN GOOD – to end a series with such satisfaction, at the same time stoking the fires for more. Brava.


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