Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

 

 

Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Published: Hachette Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

In Alena Graedon’s alternate history literary thriller, The Word Exchange, the printed word has all but disappeared in less than four short years. Set in New York in 2016,Just weeks before the publication of the third and final printed North American Dictionary of the English Language(NADEL), its curator, Doug disappears leaving behind a cryptic message for his daughter, Anana. Concerned and confused, Anana, with the support of a colleague, Bart, begins to search for her father, and stumbles upon a shocking conspiracy that threatens to destroy the very foundation of civilisation – language.

The population in The Word Exchange depends on ‘super’smart personal devices, known as Memes, for almost every want and need and to perpetuate that reliance, the company, Synchronic, responsible for the devices has recognised and exploited the profitability in owning not only the means of communication, (ie the Memes) but also language itself through the Word Exchange. Synchronic does this by essentially forcing the development of a new language, but one without any rules or context, thus forcing users to consult (and pay) the Exchange in order to communicate. Only a handful of people, including Anana’s father, Doug, object, and predict disaster but it is too late when meme users begin to develop ‘Word Flu’, essentially aphasia (the loss and the comprehension and formulation of language) that leads to more serious individual and societal complications.

The Word Exchange is, in part, a cautionary tale about society’s increasing reliance on digital communication and information, and its possible impact on language when paired with corporate greed. If you are appalled when the Oxford Dictionary updates with words like ‘vacay’ and ‘phablet’ and insist on spelling every word in full when you send a text message, The Word Exchange will leave you feeling horrified, yet vindicated.

I think The Word Exchange is both an ambitious, complex, and clever novel and a frustrating, vexatious, and pretentious read. The concept, while not unique, is intriguing and creative but for me the execution was largely alienating. The pace is almost glacial til halfway through and littered with incomplete info dumps, Anana is a weak and annoying heroine who uses disruptive footnotes in her ‘journal’, and the prose is wildly overwritten, even allowing for intentional irony.
But for all that there are moments of brilliance in the narrative, like when, for example, we begin to understand and relate to Graedon’s premise as Bart’s aphasia progresses and made up words proliferate, stripping his journal writing of context and meaning.

I am, in all honesty, torn. The Word Exchange is simultaneously too much, and not enough, an intelligent story but somehow lacking in common sense. If you are curious, I do think it is worth the attempt, but I wouldn’t judge anyone who gives up on it.

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Review: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Title: Snowblind

Author: Christopher Golden

Published: St Martin’s Press January 2014

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Status: Read from January 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the midst of a raging blizzard, more than a dozen people in the small New England town of Coventry lose their lives. A young boy falls from a window, a teen is electrocuted while sledding and others simply wandered into the snow, their bodies discovered only after the storm passed, though some are never found at all. Twelve years later another blizzard approaches the town and with it comes the memories of that dark time..and something else.

Despite the heatwave my town is currently enduring, I experienced chills running down my spine as I read Snowblind. This supernatural horror is a slow building psychological thriller, that builds on feelings of unease and dread until it culminates in a fierce life or death battle. The book begins with the deaths in the first storm, hinting at a sinister force, before jumping ahead twelve years as another major storm descends on the town. Here Golden explores the consequences of the previous blizzard for the family and friends who survived before revealing their terrifying fates.

The cast is large and varied, though intrinsically connected by their experiences and losses in the first storm. I found it fairly easy to track them as Golden reveals each character, their fears, their flaws and their desires. They mostly typify small town residents, ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary event. In particular focus is Jake, a photographer, whose youngest brother died in the last storm, and Detective Keenan, who has since felt he failed his community. Both witnessed something during the storm that they have tried hard to forget and now are confronted with something they can’t hope to understand.

This came close to a five star read for me except that Golden fell into the trap of trying to explain the inexplicable which blunts the mystique, and quite frankly, once all is said and done, why would the characters not immediately be thinking of relocating to somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t snow, ever?

Still, if your city is currently in the grip of a snowstorm I would recommend caution before reading Snowblind, you may never listen to the howl of the wind or watch the snow fall without apprehension again. This is a gripping chiller.

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Review: Resist by Sarah Crossan

Title: Resist {Breathe #2}

Author: Sarah Crossan

Published: Bloomsbury October 2013

Status: Read from October 09 to 10, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The conclusion to Crossan’s Breathe trilogy, Resist picks up where Breathe ended. If you don’t recall the details of the book, you might want to refresh your memory before beginning Resist as Crossan doesn’t look back.

After leaving the Pod, finding The Grove and having it destroyed by the Ministry’s forces, Alina, Quinn and Bea along with a handful of others are making their way to Sequoia, the last known haven outside of the dome. But for those that reach Sequoia, nothing is what they had hoped for and now they have no choice but to take a deep breath and fight for their future.

As in Breathe, the story unfolds through the multiple perspectives of Alina, Bea and Quinn with the additional point of view from Ronan, the son of the (former) Pod leader. The rapid shifts in perspective ensure the novel moves ahead at a quick pace but leaves little opportunity for character development and I thought the individuals and their relationships took a back seat to the plot.

The plot of Resist has an intensity Breathe lacked however, with Sequoia proving to be a scary disappointment, the Ministry closing in on the Resistance in the Pod and a revolution inevitable, though not in the manner you might expect. The conclusion is action packed and affecting with unexpected loss but in its final moments leaves the reader with hope for the future.

Resist is a solid finale for the Breathe duology. I recommend if all possible you read it immediately following Breathe which I think will lead to a more satisfying reading experience.

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Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

Title: The Returned

Author: Jason Mott

Published: Harlequin September 2013

Read an Extract or Listen to the first chapter from Audible narrated by Tom Stechsculte

Status: Read from August 30 to 31, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I first learned about The Returned when I attended the Harlequin Summit in February and I have been waiting impatiently for its release ever since. Jason Mott’s debut novel poses explores a compelling premise, what if the people you once loved, and lost, come back?

Nearly fifty years after Harold and Lucille’s son drowned tragically on his eighth birthday, Jacob is Returned to them having been found alongside a river bank in China. Their son is just one of many who have returned from the dead, as bewildered by their resurrection as are the ‘True Living’, with no memory of their passing or their absence.

The world is torn, are the Returned a miracle or a sign of ‘the end of days’? An infection or a blessing? People or monsters?  While some welcome the reunion with their loved ones, others shun them. Fear, jealousy, even resentment and regret amongst some of the ‘True Living’ engenders outbreaks of protests and violence. The American government, unable to explain the phenomena, eventually responds by segregating The Returned, housing them in increasingly overcrowded guarded camps.

The Hargraves’ story of Jacob’s Return is intertwined with tales from other Returned individuals including an artist whose fame came only posthumously, a cluster of Nazi soldiers, a family man and a girl murdered in war torn Sierra Leone. These snippets provide additional perspective and mystery.

For some readers the lack of explanation about the how’s and the why’s of the Returned may be a source of frustration but I was pleased that Mott didn’t attempt to make sense of it. There are more important questions to be asked and answered about ‘faith and morality, love and responsibility’, about humanity and the meaning of life. I was impressed by the way in which Mott navigated issues like religion and more prosaic concerns like the strain on resources resulting from a population explosion.

The Returned is a remarkable, captivating read and its questions will haunt you long after you have turned the last page. If your loved one was Returned to you, what would you do?

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Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

 

Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Published: Bloomsbury August 2013

Status: Read from August 17 to 19, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I wouldn’t advise beginning The Bone Season with the intention of reading just a few chapters before bedtime or you may find yourself still turning the pages at dawn as I did. With all the hype surrounding this novel written by twenty one year old debut author, Samantha Shannon I have to admit I was a little wary going in but The Bone Season, though not perfect, is an impressive and engrossing fantasy novel.

Set in future London following a timeline that splits from ours in the early 1900′s, The Bone Season introduces nineteen year old Paige Mahoney. Paige is a dreamwalker, fighting to survive in a world where possessing any clairvoyant ability is considered high treason. Forced underground, London’s clairvoyant’s have formed criminal enclaves and Paige has given her allegiance to Jaxon Hall, who collects those ‘voyants’ with the rarest and most useful talents.
During a rare journey to visit her father in London’s suburbs, the train Paige is traveling on is boarded by Scion Underguards searching for voyants and Paige is forced to flee but quickly caught, drugged and taken to the Tower. Paige expects to be executed, for no one that has been taken by the Scion has ever returned but is horrified to learn that captured voyants are handed over to a enigmatic otherworldly race that call themselves the Rephaite, to serve them as slaves or food or soldiers. Paige’s unique ability results in her being assigned to the Blood-Consort, Arcturus Warden, whom she is expected to obey unquestioningly. Paige though is not the type to meekly accept the strictures of her new life in Oxford, she wants to go home and she is determined to take as many other voyants as she can with her. TheBoneSeason_ReadingRoom_300x250

The plot of The Bone Season is actually quite straightforward and though there aren’t a lot of surprises, I still found it compelling. There is plenty of tension and a good mix of action and intrigue with just a touch of romance (thankfully left nearly to the end of the novel).

I liked Paige as the heroine – she is smart, resourceful, feisty and both her talent and her personality is interesting. Despite the inherent contradiction she has a core of incorruptible humanity, she cares even when it is in her best interest not to.
We learn only a little about her employer, Jax, and her colleagues given that she spends most of the book separated from them, but I am looking forward to getting to know more about them. Paige’s allies and enemies in Sheol I are reasonably well drawn but obviously temporary.
Warden is necessarily enigmatic, his allegiances unclear and his motives suspect. The issue of trust between Paige and Warden is a crucial element of the story and I think Shannon develops this very well.

The world building of The Bone Season is creative and interesting, though at times a little dense. I found it took a little while to get it all straight but I was intrigued by the variety of clairvoyant talents introduced ranging from Cartomancers to Binders and the ways in which the voyants are linked to the aether – the plane of existence where spirits dwell. The introduction of the enigmatic Rephaite, hidden in Oxford, adds another layer of interest especially as exactly what they are is shrouded in secrecy.

Despite it’s length, The Bone Season is well paced without much of the the forced compression most stories are hostage to. I think the writing is impressive, especially given Shannon’s age and experience. She is a natural storyteller and though a little more polish wouldn’t hurt, the flaws in the narrative are minor. I would think it would be harder for Americans than readers from the Commonwealth to understand some of the slang used in The Bone Season, though a glossary is available to be made use of.

The Bone Season is easily one of the most enjoyable paranormal/distopyian novels I have read, though admittedly I have read few – distopyia is not usually my thing. I’m excited about the development of the series and hope that Samantha Shannon can live up to its potential. I will definitely be picking up the next book.

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Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Title: Crown of Midnight {Throne of Glass #2}

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Published: Bloomsbury August 2013

Status: Read from August 11 to 13, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I really liked Throne of Glass and I have been looking forward to this sequel, Crown of Midnight. I was a little worried that the novel might succumb to the dreaded second book syndrome but all for nought, Crown of Midnight is a terrific read which I enjoyed even more than the first.

Picking up a few months after Celaena was named King’s Champion in Throne of Glass, the book opens as Celaena drops the rotting head of one of Ardalan’s enemies at his feet. As the King’s personal assassin, indentured for four years, she is expected to follow his orders or risk the lives of those she loves, but Celeana walks a fine line between obedience and rebellion.

There is much tragedy for Celaena in Crown of Midnight, the death of a close friend, a betrayal she doesn’t think she can ever forgive and separation from those she cares for. Celaena’s prodigious talents are called upon often but the most deadly action takes place as Celaena seeks revenge and absolution. Bloody, fast paced and Celaena’s adventures left me breathless.

While magic is largely assumed to be extinct in Erilea it begins to make its presence felt in Crown of Midnight. A hooded figure radiating evil lurks in the castle’s library, the spirit of Queen Elena makes another appeal for Celaena’s assistance and an animated doorknocker helps her to solve the mystery of King Ardalan’s power base. Blood outs Celaena, and the Prince, revealing stunning truths in an exciting plot that twists and turns.

Romantically, Celaena makes her choice but betrayal soon tears them apart. *Sigh* I could fall in love with Kings Guard, Captain Chaol Westerfield and their romance is joyful and heartbreaking. However I liked seeing Prince Dorian begin to come into his own in this installment, his loyalty to Celaena and Chaol is admirable given his feelings for them both.

Though ostensibly written for a mature young adult audience I think this fantasy series has plenty to offer to adults of both genders. Crown of Midnight is fast paced, action packed, with great characters and an entertaining story. It is going to seem like a longgg wait for the next book (due out in 2014)!

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Review: Transcendence by C.J. Omololu

Title: Transcendence {Transcendence #1}

Author: C.J Omololu

Published: Bloomsbury UK July 2013

Read a sample

Status: Read from July 10 to 11, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

It has been three weeks since sixteen year old Nicole, sight-seeing at the Tower of London, was dizzied by a vision of an executioner’s axe and a jeering crowd. Now, back home in San Francisco, Cole is surprised but pleased when Griffon, the cute boy who rescued from her faint in England, appears on her doorstep but she soon learns that Griffon has sought her out for a reason. Cole, like Griffon, is Ahket and her seemingly inexplicable visions of people and places in times long ago are memories of her past lives intruding on to her present.

Transcendence is the introduction to a new young adult series by C.J. Omololu in which she explores reincarnation, fate and destiny. I really like this fresh mythology and the way in which the author combines contemporary, paranormal, history and mystery to create a story that crosses genres.

Though I found that the characterisation was not always consistent, most noticeably with Cole, I find both she and Griffon generally appealing. I love that Cole is a cellist prodigy, finally a heroine with a hobby! Unfortunately Omololu hasn’t strayed quite far enough way from the character traits I’ve come to expect in the YA genre, Cole is insecure about her appearance, lacking in generally in self confidence and impulsive enough to create her own trouble.

This being YA, a romance is obligatory. To be honest I think it is a little creepy for Griffon, who is physically seventeen years old but with the memories and experience of a man centuries old, to be in love with Cole, who has still not integrated her memories. The author does make an attempt to address the issues that come from such a significant ‘age’ difference though and I hope that feeling will wane though as Cole regains her knowledge from past lives.

In general, Transcendence is a well written story, the flashbacks in particular are well handled. I thought the pace was okay
and there is a twist or two, though no real surprises.

I think Transcendence, as a series, has promise and this novel is a good introduction into Omololu’s world.  Both Transcendence and the second book, Intuition are already available in the US (from Walker Books)

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Review: The Prey by Andrew Fukuda

Title: The Prey {The Hunt #2}

Author: Andrew Fukuda

Published: Simon & Schuster February 2013

Read an Extract

Status: Read on February 06, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Simon & Schuster}

My Thoughts:

Fast paced and exciting, The Hunt was a promising introduction to this young adult series where humans (also known as hepers) have been driven to edge of extinction by creatures that appear to be a hybrid of human,vampire and zombie.
The Prey begins where The Hunt left off as Gene, Sissy and the boys flee the creatures hunting them. Chugging down a nameless river with death lining the the banks and their destination unknown, the group can only trust in the Scientists directions in their bid for The Land of Milk and Honey, Fruit and Sunshine.

With the characters confined to the boat we are able to learn more about Sissy, Ben, Epap, Jacob and David. Born in captivity, each proves surprisingly knowledgeable and capable with skills they attribute to the patient teaching of The Scientist. Gene finds himself slowly warming to the hepers but struggles with having left the relative safety of the only world he has ever known, deserting Ashley June and placing his life in the hands of an absent stranger. Gene is no less conflicted in The Prey than in The Hunt, and when he discovers the identity of the man the others know only as the Scientist his world is turned upside down.

After several close encounters with the ever persistent Hunters the group follows the trail left by the Scientist to The Mission. Believing they have found the promised land the boys delight in their generous reception but Sissy is suspicious and when Gene recovers from a near fatal illness he too grows wary of the community.
For me this part of the story fell somewhere between chilling and absurd. Beneath the veneer of smiling faces and cheerful singing The Mission hides a very twisted secret. With young women happily enslaved to the Elders – a small group of old, balding and overweight men, a captive Dusker and a train that leads straight to hell.

The Prey won’t work as a stand alone. It is very much a continuation of The Hunt and details from that story become relevant to Gene’s journey. Unfortunately I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as it’s predecessor though, with the uneven tension, flawed logic and too many misogynist elements, it all began to fall apart for me.

A fast read with great action scenes but ultimately disappointing, I think I’ll be tempted to pick up the third but it won’t be a priority.

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Review: The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

 

Title: The Hunt {The Hunt #1}

Author: Andrew Fukuda

Published: Simon & Schuster May 2012

Status: Read on February 05, 2013 -I own a copy {Courtesy The Reading Room}

My Thoughts:

In Andrew Fukuda’s fast paced, exciting young adult novel, The Hunt, humans (also known as hepers) have been driven to edge of extinction by creatures that appear to be a hybrid of human,vampire and zombie.

Seventeen year old Gene has lived amongst the ‘people’ his entire life, carefully disguising his human scent, adopting their mannerisms, being like them, all to avoid a bloody, violent death. He lives alone, keeps to himself, remains unobtrusive at school… until his number is chosen. Gene is to join The Hunt, a government sanctioned extravaganza that happens only every decade, a chance to hunt and feed on a handful of hepers released into the desert. Sequestered to the Institute for Heper Research with his fellow competitors, Gene is desperate to maintain his subterfuge, or risk becoming the hunted.

I very quickly got caught up in this fast paced story upon being introduced to Gene, a heper hiding among creatures that would devour him in seconds should they learn what he is. I enjoyed reading a male perspective for a change in this genre and Gene proves to be a likeable protagonist. I liked that Gene was a little conflicted by his human status wishing, on occasion, he could be like everyone else and even that Gene’s first extinct is self preservation, despite learning the truth about the captive hepers. It’s such an interesting internal conflict and one that Fukuda doesn’t shy away from.

The behaviours of the people are unusual but satisfyingly visual and different. The creatures scratch their wrist to express amusement, affection expressed by grinding armpits with elbows and they drool copiously. Yet they go to school, they hold down jobs, they live an ordinary life, albeit one where the eat raw meat, sleep hanging from the ceiling and disintegrate in sunlight.

I’m not sure how I felt about Gene’s fragile relationship with Ashley June, she is fairly inscrutable and remains so through out the story. I am looking forward to getting to know the Heper’s better in the next installment and predict that Sissy will replace Ashley June as the love interest.

I have no problem suspending belief in fantasy but there has to be an internal logic that makes sense in context. There are some flaws with the world-building in The Hunt, elements that don’t quite make sense or contradict each other. It’s a shame because these issues could have been easily resolved and done a lot to enhance the credibility of the author’s world vision.

The Hunt offers something a little different to the current field of young adult dystopia fiction, though it also embraces familiar elements, with similarities to The Hunger Games. Despite it’s problems, I loved the action and the constant tension which carried me through the story quickly and I looked forward to reading the sequel, The Prey.

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Review: The Scrivener’s Tale by Fiona McIntosh

@ Goodreads

Title: The Scrivener’s Tale

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Harper Voyager December 2012

Synopsis: In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant… until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.  As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe’s life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible. When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia. Soon, Gabe’s world will be turned upside down, and he will learn shocking truths about who he is . . . and who he can – or cannot – trust.

Status: Read from December 10 to 11, 2012- I own a copy {Courtesy Harper Collins Australia)

My Thoughts:

Reader’s familiar with Fiona McIntosh’s popular fantasy trilogy The Quickening will be thrilled with her latest release, a stand alone novel that is set in the same imaginative landscape. Though best known for her fantasy series I have only read McIntosh’s stand alone historical fiction novel The Lavender Keeper and recently purchased the first two books of her crime fiction series. I am pleased I took a chance on The Scrivener’s Tale as I found it to be a fabulous read. Moving from Paris, France, to the kingdom of Morgravia, The Scrivener’s Tale is an extraordinary, epic fantasy adventure that involves a bitter curse, a vengeful demon and a magical prophecy.

In present day Paris, Gabriel is persuaded to assess the mental health of a young woman, Angelina, despite having abandoned his successful psychology practice some time ago. Though initially reluctant to become involved, Gabe finds himself intrigued by Angelina’s delusions particularly when she reveals an odd connection to his own dreams.
In the Kingdom of Morgravia, Fynch senses the approach of a great evil that threatens the Wild and puts his long term strategy to protect the land into action. As Gabriel is pulled into the magical realm, Cassien, a warrior of great mental and physical strength, is dispatched to protect Queen Florentyna, soon joined by Hamelyn, a young orphan. Together the three unwittingly form a triad of power, destined to defeat the demon, Cyricus and save the land.

Though the story begins in our modern day real world, where Gabriel works as a bookstore clerk in Paris, it swiftly moves into Morgravia with all the elements of an epic fantasy including a daring quest, magic and a final battle between good and evil. Morgravia is a medieval society, reigned by royalty, neighbored by the kingdoms of Briavel and The Razors. Magic still lingers, tolerated but rarely acknowledged. The land will be familiar to reader’s of Myrren’s Gift though The Scrivener’s Tale is set several generations after the events of The Quickening series and the novel is a stand alone.

Fynch is the enigmatic guardian in The Scrivener’s Tale, charged with ensuring the demon, Cyricus, is unsuccessful in his plan to destroy the land. His manipulation of events has been centuries in the making, sometimes raising questions about if he is to be trusted.
I found myself drawn to Cassien’s character more than Gabriel’s, perhaps because Cassien as the warrior is the more active hero of the story. I would have liked to get to know Hamelyn a little more as I felt his his extraordinary gifts are never quite fully realised.
The royal Morgravian family has it’s own intrigues, a poisonous step mother, a spiteful, envious princess and a young queen desperate to lead. I really liked Florentyna who is a strong, intelligent Queen, despite her vulnerabilities.
As a demon, Cyricus is of course utterly irredeemable as is his acolyte, Aphra. After escaping the void he was trapped in eons ago after trespassing upon the Wild, Cyricus seeks vengeance for his exile, possessing the bodies of those that advance his cause. His goal is to take Queen Florentyna’s role and then order the destruction of the Wild while pitting kingdom against kingdom for his own amusement.

While The Scrivener’s Tale is quite a lengthy tome at 500 pages, McIntosh sustains the adventure and intrigue through out. The novel moves at a good pace, weaving together the destinies of Gabriel, Cassian and Hamelyn, leading to a final pitched battle between good and evil.

The Scrivener’s Tale is an entertaining fantasy novel which I really enjoyed, so much so in fact that I wish I could expect a sequel. Instead, I will be sure to seek out some of the author’s earlier fantasy series.

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