‘Crackling with energy’. @deBieJennifer reviews #Fantasy Asperfell by @thatjamiethomas @UproarBooks #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Jenni. She blogs here https://jenniferdebie.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Jenni has been reading Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

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Before we begin, I should announce two very important facts: Jamie Thomas’ Asperfell has a sequel, The Forest Kingdom (2021), and that sequel is already out and available for all the impatient binge readers out there.

Now, may we carry on with the review?

Asperfell opens with the assassination of a king and the subsequent punishment of his assassin, as seen through the eyes of our narrator, Briony Tenebrae. What follows is a tightly knit political drama as the royal court of Tiralaen devolves into a viper’s nest of corruption and suspicion, driven there by the unbalanced young king who sits on its throne and his fear of Mages. This fear, in turn, spawns from the old king’s death at the hands of one of Tiralaen’s most promising young Mages, the former heir apparent and new king’s older brother, Prince Elyan. Briony serves as the reader’s eyes and ears to this devolution and through her lens we feel every fresh cruelty of this growing police state.

The titular Asperfell, in turn, is a parallel world to the one Briony and all of Tiralaen inhabit. It is the place where Mages who have broken the kingdom’s laws, or simply existed outside the king’s control, are banished to. In Asperfell, exiled Prince Elyan now rules over the worst and most powerful Mages of Tiralaen, and it is to Asperfell that Briony must venture if she wants to save her home.

Does that sound complicated?

Good, it is.

If you are looking for a tidy fantasy world full of straight forward character relationships, motivations, and resolutions, look elsewhere. Asperfell and Tiralaen are not realms for the faint of heart. Here, the usual trappings of fantasy worlds, glittering castles and courtly manners, only mask the growing rot at the heart of both realms; rot beautifully encapsulated in a single, pivotal scene described by Briony in hindsight as just one instance to epitomize the king and his court’s descent into barbarism.

For those of you who have read the book, you know exactly what scene I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t, I shouldn’t spoil the surprise.

With a deft hand, Thomas weaves her narrative through court intrigue, a child’s wonder, fell magic, and a young woman’s growing understanding of her own, perilous position. Crackling with energy and full of complex, stunningly rendered characters, Asperfell is a knockout of a first novel and a compelling opener for what promises to be a powerful trilogy.

5/5

Desc 1

Only the darkest and most dangerous of Mages are sentenced to pass through the gate to Asperfell.

Not one has ever returned.

Never did Briony dream she might set foot in the otherworldly prison of Asperfell. She was, after all, neither Mage nor criminal. She was simply her father’s little whirlwind—fingers smudged with ink, dresses caked with mud—forever lost in a book or the spirit-haunted woods surrounding her family’s country estate.

But Briony always had a knack for showing up where she was least expected.

Only by braving the gate of Asperfell could Briony hope to find the true heir to the throne of Tiralaen and save her kingdom from civil war. And so, she plunges into a world of caged madmen and demented spirits, of dark magic and cryptic whispers… and of a bleak and broken prince with no interest in being rescued.

Hauntingly beautiful and lavishly told, Asperfell is a must-read for fans of Jane Austen who always wished she’d dabbled in blood magic.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Fantasy THERE WAS MUSIC by J.D. Grubb

Today’s team review is from Aidan. He blogs here https://ricketttsblog.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Aidan has been reading There Was Music by J.D. Grubb

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I’ll say upfront: There Was Music is a hard book to read. There was more suffering between its pages than any single person should have to endure. Certainly more than I thought there would be when I saw it described as fantasy. Yet it is absolutely a worthwhile read, since that kind of pain transitions into powerful emotions throughout.

The book is a character study of Prisoner 43-1-12, immersing us in her world. We follow her journey from one tragedy to the next, watching as each event changes who she is fundamentally. There is a rape scene, and others containing sexual assault and torture, while not particularly graphic, set the tone of the novel. It is set to the backdrop of a nation rebuilding after a devastating war, but for the most part the fantasy elements take a backseat to Prisoner 43-1-12, or in some way develop her psyche.

Prisoner 43-1-12 is undoubtedly one of the most complex characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s extremely strong-willed, but more of a quiet perpetually-alive flame than an overt, snarky character. This is a welcome change, as strong women are very rarely portrayed in this way. She’s also introspective, questioning her own choices and perspectives, as well as broader questions like the nature of war and humanity, on a regular basis. This deep exposure to who she is fundamentally really resonated with me, and made it easy to sympathize with her situation, despite never experiencing anything remotely similar to it.

The writing style is a bit inconsistent I found, although I have absolute faith that as J.D. Grubb hones his style, he will overcome this issue. In places there is beautiful prose, which I can only describe as fluid. It had an almost surreal quality to it, and worked very effectively with descriptions of settings and Prisoner 43-1-12’s thoughts. However, there were also places where the writing fell a little flat, more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’. I felt this was particularly the case with the dialogue. Nevertheless, Grubb incorporates other novel aspects into his writing. One such aspect was the use of first person for all the flashbacks, which created a jarring effect between the past and present, among other things.

The other highlight of the novel was the themes. It has a vast amount to say about the futility of war, the nature of love and the power of hope. It certainly doesn’t end there, and I could write pages about each one. A key strength is the open ended approach to these themes though, which allows for each individual reader to walk away with a unique experience from the book.

I did find the other characters to be quite shallow. So much time is spent building up Prisoner 43-1-12 that the others feel underdeveloped, and more like tools for expressing themes than characters in their own right. While definitely not ideal, this was actually not as large an issue as you might think, as most of the time Prisoner 43-1-12 didn’t interact with other people.

The fantasy element of the book was interesting, although not a major part. I thought it worked well sometimes, such as providing a medium for an exploration of death and the after-life, as well as war. However, there was a strange section at the end of the book that felt like a big infodump about the world-building, which seemed strange to me, as most of the information received had no bearing on the overall plot. I think it would have been better off without it, as it made for an anti-climactic ending. I definitely preferred the more unintrusive way the fantasy was handled in the first 75% of the book.

Overall, I’d give it a 5 out of 7. There is clearly a lot of potential in J.D. Grubb’s writing, but there were also elements that could be tightened up. However, I thought the protagonist and themes were high-quality, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the future.

Many thanks to Rosie and J.D. Grubb for providing me with a copy of this book.

Book description

She defied them with survival.

Prisoner 43-1-12 contends with the voices of her past, present, and future in the war-altered world of Illirium. From a ranch outside a rural town, to a prison formed from city ruins, and a wilderness marked by supernatural encounters, There was Music explores the struggle between identity and the cost of survival, the power of music and the hope of healing.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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