Book Review: Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

((Did you know that piano music could be so…cute? It’s what I’m listening to while writing this and
I think it’s adorable 🥰))

Ever get told that you shouldn’t take firework videos and to “just live in the moment?” No video can ever capture the true joy and experience of the firework. The colors that splash across other people’s faces, the power of the blasts that ripples through your chest with every blow…a video simply isn’t the same.

My review won’t show you how many tears I shed or how many times my heart was shredded to pieces.
The leaps of joy, the excitement and sheer thrill of reading Aram’s first flight on a dragon, the helpless heartbreak of watching someone die and not being able to do anything because you’re on the other side of the page. All of that.

Book Description

Title: Dragon Mage
Author: M.L. Spencer
Publisher: Stoneguard Publications
Edition: Physical Hardcover Copy
Pages: 818 Pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy > Dragon, Fantasy > High Fantasy, Fantasy > Magic, Adult

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as part of a giveaway hosted by Storytellers On Tour. This doesn’t affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.


Thank you so much to both SOT and the author for sending me with a copy of the book!

Blurb

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.

But Aram is more. Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

Review

I have never read anything by M.L. Spencer before Dragon Mage and now that I’ve gone and finished the book, I know I have to take a look at the rest of her series. Spanning nearly a thousand pages, every page that I read felt a countdown towards the inevitable end. Savoring the words didn’t help and by the time I was halfway there, it didn’t feel at all like I’d just thrown down 400 pages. It was a long read that didn’t feel long. In fact, it left me feeling like there could be more and I wouldn’t have minded. My remaining few days with the book were inhaled in a single evening, the last few chapters too good for me to put the book down. I sacrificed sleep to finish this book and while it wasn’t a good idea to do so, it was totally worth it! By the time I’d closed it, I was in a drunken stupor, unable to process anything that was happening around me.

It was good. It was good good.

Storyline and Plot

The story revolves around Aramon Raythe (Aram), a young misfit boy from a small fishing village. All his life, Aram has known that he was a little different. No matter how he’d try to change himself to fit in, none of the others wanted to play with him. He doesn’t know why or how he’s different, but he knows he is. He’s different because he can see in color, beautiful colors that surround everyone, giving away their true nature; whether they were warm and friendly, spiteful and mean, or downright dangerous. However, he’s not just different in that sense. The ability to see colors is a sign of a deeper power within him, a power that’s strong enough to contest with the gods. But, he must keep his powers hidden for there are people who would love to twist and wring that very power from him for their own good by means of agonizing extractions ending in death after years and years of torture.

There’s so much to this story. No matter what genre, I tend to avoid standalones because I’m always left craving for more and there’s never enough. I left satisfied at the end, but it’s the satisfied that just barely keeps me going. Like hunger, it’ll die down and soon I’ll be aching for the next book again.

This book was labelled as a coming of age book [on Goodreads]. You follow the story of a boy, and his best friend Markus, from their youth to their adulthood. Aram starts off as a 12 year old boy and Markus is two years his senior in the beginning of the book. By the end Aram is 18 and we watch him grow and learn through the years. In the beginning, Aram is still pretty young, though at a ready age to be apprenticed to others. Later on, there’s a handful of chapters where Aram tries and struggles to fit into a new life as he begins the next stage in a school (designed to train Wardens and Sorcerers). There’s progress and a couple of time skips in between as well. Through all of it, he finds himself as student under multiple people some who means well for him and others not so much.

For a better part of the beginning, it felt like there was this constant pressure of mistrust and maybe even of doom. It’s this lingering loneliness that follows Aram and Markus as they go about not knowing who could be trusted only to realize that they probably couldn’t trust a single soul around them other than each other. There’s this haunting and hunted feeling to every chapter and almost feels like wolves forcing a couple of sheep to live with them, swearing they won’t hurt the sheep. Say no and you die but say yes and you live every day feeling like today’s the day they finally eat me.

There’s no room to breath and this sense of doom and danger follows the two through most of the book. From the very beginning, there is plenty of death and nobody dies a merciful death here. Some of the killings are downright disgusting and sadistic. The worst part is, unlike a movie, you can’t turn away from it! The enemy does not discriminate on who they kill, just that they do.

Relationships and Bonds

One of my favorite things in this book are the relationships. I found it to be an outstanding part of the book that made it a special read. All of the bonds throughout gave me such a fantastically warm feeling because there is probably no love greater than the love that was displayed here. It was a soothing feeling considering how terrifying everything else in the story was. You know…no matter how bad it gets, at least you have your friends, mentors, and your dragon who will kill anyone who tries to harm you.

The most important bond was between Aram and Markus, the Champion and his Warden. I felt like the relationship and bond between Aram and Markus was deeper than any other bond in the entire book and the story focused heavily on it from both of their POVs. Markus knew Aram way before any of the other characters did. They’re from the same fishing village and two years Aram’s senior, Markus already had this feeling that he was responsible in making sure Aram was safe (and now that I’m looking back, I feel like I know why he felt that tug). In the very beginning, he’d saved Aram from a beating as the boy had been ambushed by a group of village bullies, mocking him for his strangeness. And this protectiveness from Markus to Aram extends through the entire book. Their friendship was so amazingly strong that it was inspiring!

“He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it, but he knew that, if he fell, then Aram would die. And he was convinced that if Aram died, a small but wonderous part of the world would die with him.
So he stood in defiance of the flames as they ravaged the air around him, until he felt his skin start to scorch. And even then, he did not cower or falter.
Even in the face of death, he stood.”

The other bonds, in the book, were very important and just as fascinating too. I’m not familiar with dragon books, lore, stories, movies, or anything else related to dragons. I have only ever come across ONE dragon book, in my life, and it’s sitting in the deepest part of my shelf unread save for a happy few pages when I’d gone and skimmed it. The dragon and riders here are soul-bound. When one goes, so will the other. Their bond is so immensely deep that nothing can sever this, not even death. They can communicate without words and they can feel each other’s pain. Between a dragon and its rider, it’s almost like one soul in two bodies and one would not survive the tragic death of the other.

“There’s two bodies here: the dragon and its rider.” In answer to Aram’s confused look, she explained, “If a rider dies before their dragon, the dragon carries their body off somewhere, usually to a beautiful place, and wraps around them just like this. Then the dragon dies and becomes stone. That way, they’re together forever.”

The Action Scenes and Magic System

I found the magic system to be intriguing, amusing, creative, and fascinating. The world that Aram sees are full of colors and strands of aether. The magic system in this world works in that Aram, and other Savants, can manipulate these strands of energy into different knots and there are an amazing amount of different knots for different uses. Knots are important to both those who use it to fight and significant to even those whom are not fighters themselves (fishing villages and their nets, the knots used to tie necklaces for their loved ones, and as Aram explained, even our clothes are essentially giant fabrics made up of tiny knots).

Strands can be read and those who can see them are able to gather information about events that happen from a long distance away and that news lingers for a long time. In combat, strands can be manipulated into all sorts of things such as hardening them into a shield, using it to draw out heat from fire, weaving (and that’s the term they often use here) blankets and cocoons of them for protection, turning it into spears, whips, and even a web that collapses into a boulder. Thinking of it as art and art being endless imagination, by using strands, the possibilities are nearly infinite and it’s the creativity that grabbed my attention the most. Personally, if you gave me a bunch of string and told me that I can manipulate it in any way I want, that it’s my “weapon”, I wouldn’t have even thought of hardening strings of energy into a shield!

The action and fight scenes themselves are plentiful and very unforgiving, but outstanding and terrifying. With the combination of magic and weapons, you’ll find yourself at the center of chaotic scenes where a moment’s hesitation would be the end of you. There’s no endless rallies against each other and some of the fighting is relatively quick because it’s meant to be so. Nobody has endless stamina after all.

Contrary to what most people think, a swordfight is not a dance. It should be brief, and it should be brutal.”

Then there are the Shields and Warden, people who are impervious to magic. No magic works on them because they’re essentially magic proof, with Wardens and the Truly Impervious being more powerful than the average Shields. They’re purpose is to guard their sorcerers or Champion from magical harm while working together as if they were one person.

So, when it comes to fighting you get this mixture of shields and magically resistant people and then you get people flinging both magic and weapons at each other. The battlefield, I imagine, becomes this spectacular gallery of colors with fire and lightning bolts, literally a rainbow of dragons, a sky of riders piercing through and then mixed in with apparently what is essentially zombies of their own mixture of colors. Throw in auras and strands and I can only imagine what Aram must see in the world.

And when you include characters that you love, with death not caring who you love best, each fight and each battle is a dance that is engrossing to watch, gripping and sometimes unbearably long even if it’s only a mere few pages.

Characters

There are multiple amazing characters. I absolutely loved Aram and found it hard to hate him or find any flaws in him. He lacks in confidence and I just wanted to give the poor kid a hug. A lifetime of being shunned and a misfit, no matter how much effort he puts in to try to fit in, doesn’t just poke holes in your confidence, it takes off the entire bottom of the pail and lets the water run free away! He works on his confidence and there are moments where he allows himself to feel a bit of pride, but no matter what, he always finds a way to humble himself back down, seeing no way in accepting a praise without it feeling like gloating. I found him to be such an endearing character and I honestly haven’t loved a character so much in so long.

Markus is two years older and he’s been Aram’s longest, and for the most of Aram’s life, his only friend. He was there to protect the boy when he was getting a beat down from bullies at the beginning of the book and the two are inseparable. He would die for Aram (and Aram for him) and is always there to lend a shoulder, especially seeing that Aram can be a bit of a trouble magnet. Because you know…being a chosen one means you’re always going to be a bad luck and trouble magnet.

There are an amazing amount of strong female characters in the book as well such as Wingmaster Vandra, built like a mountain, who is like a mentor to Aram, one of many. She was one of the first to believe in Aram when the other [adults] and even Aram himself, didn’t. There’s also Calise who’s magic differs from Aram’s ability to see and manipulate strands. A healer, her magic comes from within and is the second person Aram calls a friend.

There is also the Council members, the dragons who all have their own personalities, words not needed, and of course Aram’s gaggle of fellow students who later on becomes his friends. Every time the bunch of them hang out, it’s trouble because that’s what friends do. They joke and fool around and get into trouble. I quite enjoyed them around because there were enough of them that made the scenes feel rowdy…but happy and warm! Seeing that Aram struggled so hard to make friends growing up, their willingness to be his group of buddies make them even more special.

Overall

I think it’s been years since I felt so invigorated after finishing a book, and years since I loved a book as much as I did. The worldbuilding was amazing, the characters were vibrant and wonderfully done, the fighting scenes were brutal and deaths are very unforgivingly awful. Some are so vivid I can still see them in my head… The writing, language, and storytelling was brilliant, smooth, and perfect. There is a steady character development and growth, beautiful bonds between friends, mentors and students, and dragons.

It’s a delightful read, one that I sorely missed. The book went down in a hungry way like I haven’t done since maybe middle school and all 800+ pages of it was gobbled up in a few days. There is a beautiful magic system full of creativity and with the combination of people who are null to magic, and warriors who fight with weapons, the fighting scenes are completely absorbing to read through and full of surprises, never a dull moment.

It’s fast paced, never a moment to stop and breath. There was a constant feeling of looming threat from the beginning and even when the duo were relatively safe, tiny bits of this danger and doom feeling still made it’s way into the warmest of chapters like miasma that just wouldn’t leave. There’s often plenty of devastating news to witness and very early on, M. L. Spencer is already not kind to her characters. Death is plenty, undiscriminating, and brutal. You’ll want to grab your heart now before the book takes it from you and rips it up (don’t worry, it’ll offer to stitch it back up for you later, sort of).

An utterly fantastic read that left me speechless and with a massive book hangover. I cannot wait for the adventure to continue in book 2.

Rating

5 Stars
5 Cups of Joe
Because an infinite rating would be a caffeine overdose and I can’t die before book two comes out.

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Ultimate Blog Tour Book Review: Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Shards of Earth
Authors: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Length: 592
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Publisher: Tor ((Publishing May 27th, 2021))
Obtained: Ultimate Blog Tour > NetGalley
Disclaimer: A copy of this ebook was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Amazon: amazon.com/dp/B08HLPZY6X
Goodreads: goodreads.com/book/show/55437088-shards-of-earth

This read was part of the Ultimate Blog Tour for Shards of Earth hosted by Dave over at TheWriteReads. A major thank you to the publisher, Tor, and author for allowing me to participate in this tour and for providing me with a copy!


Praise for Adrian Tchaikovsky:

‘Brilliant science fiction’ – James McAvoy on Children of Time 
 
‘Full of sparkling, speculative invention’ – Stephen Baxter on The Doors of Eden 
 
Shards of Earth is the first thrilling instalment in the Final Architecture trilogy – by the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Blurb:

This high-stakes space-based adventure will be perfect for those who loved Children of Time, also by Adrian Tchaikovsky. 
 
The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . . 
 
Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. 
 
Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans such as Idris – who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete. 
 
Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it. 

Review Summary:

A fantastic and exhilarating space opera. The first book and the entry to the The Final Architecture trilogy, this book grabbed my attention quick and its claws didn’t let me go until the very last page where I sorrowfully craved for more. With a very deep and impressive layout of world and lore, there is so much to explore in Shards of Earth. Multiple different species, factions, religions and extremist groups within those factions, different worlds, different nations, armies and governing bodies, and so much more. The characters are fantastic; a galaxy left to throw different forms of small “found family” groups together; blood families a thing hard to hold down. This book was a book of nonstop adventure and trouble. While there’s the ever looming danger of the original destructive Architect, to add to the mix during present time, there are gangs, extremists and radical parties, cults, governing bodies, you name it. Idris and the rest of the Vulture God never get a chance to breath and thus, ensuring that the reader will not either.

You’ll pick this book up.

And you won’t put it back down.

Main Review:

Shards of Earth is the first book in the The Final Architecture trilogy. An exhilarating space opera, sci-fi, this first book did not fail me with its impressive lore, world, and nonstop action. There are so many different worlds, civilizations, species, and even different factions and religions amongst those said species. There’s different nations and armies. There’s species that barely manage to live together, their relationships held together by the threat of the Architects potential return or others that live and work together through lease contracts. The concept of blood families are few to find and rag tag groups like our main cast isn’t so uncommon. This book is everything and has everything; like a giant mega sundae with all the possible toppings and then some. Gummy bears, anyone?

The book starts out with a prologue, a bit of history introducing you to two of the main characters, Solace and Idris, a soldier and a navigator as they are set to confront the Architect before it destroys another planet, “beautifying” it, and others, by its own standard, reconstructing it to be the titular illustration’s signature bloom.

1 prologue and a few chapters in, I was already quickly drawn into the world. It’s immense and right off the bat, it feels like there’s already a million things thrown at you. I was overwhelmed, at first, with all the names of different species (and some species, the fragments of mankind, even had factions), different worlds, ship names and station names, nations and armies. To my joy, there’s a glossary towards the back along with a timeline of the events that take place before and after the first Architect attacks! I flipped to that part of the book a good deal during the first half of reading.

The cast was probably one of my favorite parts of the book; my favorite starting with Idris and then Solace following close by. Idris because I feel like he’s a cinnamon roll in need of protection and Solace because she’s like 10 levels of badassery (not to say the rest of the Vulture God were even remotely any less badass) There’s a small family kind of bond between the Vulture God crew. Everyone’s got their jobs to do and everyone plays a role on the ship. There’s a mixture of humans and nonhumans onboard from hivers to crab-like creatures. There’s no end to the diversity of the characters, main group or otherwise. 

And there’s no end to adventure, action, and trouble.

Because then there’s the antagonists of the story and it’s not just limited to the Architects; the moon sized behemoth of an entity that can restructure a planet. There’s different factions of men, radical and extremist groups, unwelcoming worlds, scary wildlife, and religious cults involved [and heck, throw in multiple different governments as well]; as if an end-of-the-world creature isn’t enough to worry about. The enemies here are just as well put together as the characters are. They’re relentless and terrifying and they’re strong. 

This book is action packed (and even then, it’s a bit of an understatement). There’s plenty of things happening and I feel like the crew (and thus the readers) just never get a chance to breath. The plot is never too slow or too quick. If there’s a fight, you will really be looking at a fight! There’s pages and pages of action and even running. At the end of the day, it’s not even about who wins anymore. It’s about who survives.

The beginning of the book is a bit slower than the latter half because it’s mostly setting up the stage. We get to know the history of Idris, we get to see how the crew goes about their lives on their usual jobs doing what spacers do in space, and then towards the middle things start to happen and everything picks up. By the time the last few scenes hit, my jaws have already dropped and I didn’t close them or the book until I reached the last page. 

By the time the beginning slowly reeled you in and captivated you, grabbing at your attention bit by bit, you’re stuck and it’s only a tall roller coaster drop from there and on. The action and the events Just. Don’t. Stop. It keeps going and going until you’re frantically flipping through. There’s no break for Idris and his gang so there’s no break for you. Might as well grab another cup of tea and keep reading. Who cares if you have to wake up early for work tomorrow? 

It’s the first time I’ve ever read any Tchaikovsky books and as someone who grew up not particularly enjoying space opera (in films/movies) I wasn’t expecting to love this book. I only went in because I was starting to become buddy buddy with one of my new favorite genres, sci-fi. As it turns out, it’s an adventure like none other. I’ll definitely be checking out his other works as I eagerly await the next part of this tale because as soon as that comes, I’m jumping into that ship. 

If you love sci-fi with multiple species, behemoth entities that humans have no possible chance against, intergalactic life, space battles (and cool space guns) and ships going through another dimension/space to fast travel, and a little lot bit of politics thrown in, you’ll absolutely eat through this book. 

A great first space opera for me! 5 cups of Joe from me!

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

5 Stars

About the Author

((from http://shadowsoftheapt.com/about-the-author ))

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist.