Posts Tagged: halland

Fantasy review: ‘For The Wildings’ by Kyra Halland

September 29, 2016 Review 0

This is the sixth and final part of the Daughter of the Wildings series. I’ve been trying to think how many series I’ve managed to keep up with for six books, and it’s not many. A couple of murder mystery series, perhaps. But in fantasy? Nope. I rarely even get beyond the first book, and only a few stand-out series keep me hooked for a trilogy. So it’s a testament to the strength of the author’s writing that I’ve read and enjoyed every word of all six books.

It was the premise that first caught my eye. Wizards and magic combined with old west cattle ranching and guns? Count me in! And the stories were just as good as I’d hoped. Leading man Silas is a true western hero, tough and determined, but a real gentleman too. His lady, Lainie, is his equal in every respect, and maybe, just maybe, has a little bit more magical power, even. There are villains and good guys and others who veer about from one side to the other. And there are horses and saloons and dried up creeks and flash floods and all the other good stuff that goes with westerns. And wizard battles! What could possibly be better?

At the end of City of Mages, Silas was ill and without his magical power, but Lainie had managed to get him back to home territory. Now she has to find a safe place for them both to hide while she tries to heal him, and help him recover his power. And wouldn’t you just know it, but the dastardly villains are still on their tail, and this time if things go wrong, the whole Wildings will be lost and its people will be slaves. So the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Once again it falls to Lainie to be resourceful and create new ways of combining her magical abilities to defeat the bad guys, but this time she’s not on her own. I love the way Lainie and Silas work together with magic and plain common sense — they make a great team! It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that things work out pretty well in the end — I was very, very happy with the outcome.

I’ve enjoyed all the books in the series, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would be Book 5, City of Mages. Partly it was because it took us to a different part of the world quite unlike the cattle-ranching Wildings, which was an exciting change. Partly also because Silas was out of commission for most of the book, so Lainie had to step up and show just what she could do single-handed, which was pretty spectacular. And partly, of course, because of that awesome wizard battle — Lainie against nine powered-up mages. Brilliant stuff.

But, as with all the best series, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like all the author’s books, the world-building is exceptional, and each book reveals a little more of the complexities of the various cultures, and the several different forms of magic, which all make perfect sense. The characters change and grow, book by book, as Lainie learns to use her abilities and gains confidence, and Silas learns to trust her and not over-protect her. Their romance is gentle and rather sweet. It’s a terrific read — highly recommended. Five stars for this book and the series.

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New release round-up: books I’m looking forward to reading

September 10, 2016 Books that caught my eye 0

Once again, my backlog of books to be read is growing and, with two new releases of my own this month, the time for reading has shrunk alarmingly. I hope to catch up a bit next month when I’ll be off to Australia for three weeks, with my trusty Kindle fully charged. Until then, here are some recently released books that I’m really excited about reading.

Finally, finally a sequel to the amazing The Healers’ Road by S E Robertson, which was a five star read for me back in 2014. I described it as literary fantasy, a beautifully written story of two very different people thrown together and gradually inching towards an accommodation as they travelled about offering their opposing styles of healing skills as needed. In The Healers’ Home, the two have a settled place to live for the first time. I can’t wait to find out how they adjust to a very different way of life. You can read my review of the previous book here.

Here’s one that I should have mentioned before, because it’s been out for a while. For The Wildings is the final installment of Kyra Halland’s six-part Daughter of the Wildings series, a western/fantasy/romance mash-up that I’ve absolutely loved. The mixture of magical fireworks with cowboy-style shoot-em-ups is something that really shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. Combine that with Halland’s customary elegant world-building and a gentle romance, and this whole series is a winner. I’m looking forward to finding out how it ends. You can read my review of Beneath The Canyons, the first part of the series,  here.

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Fantasy review: ‘City of Mages’ by Kyra Halland

November 6, 2015 Review 0

This is the fifth, and penultimate, part of the Daughter of the Wildings series of western fantasies, and this is the moment I’ve been looking forward to from the start. Finally, we get to leave the Wildings behind temporarily and visit Granadaia, the home of rogue mage Silas, and the place where mages are the wealthy aristocrats, and those without magic (Plains) are not much more than slaves.

At the end of the fourth book, To The Gap, Silas had been shot and captured by mage hunters, to be taken back to Granadaia. It’s all down to his wife Lainie, Wildings-born and a mage with both Granadaian and Wildings abilities, to ride to the rescue. Although I missed Silas, it was wonderful to watch Lainie rise to the occasion and work out ways to find her man and then rescue him, almost single-handed.

The opening of the book feels a little bit like a rehash of the cattle-drive in To The Gap, although this time there are Granadaian mages alongside the hands, and Lainie has to steer a careful course between the Wildings folk, who are suspicious of all mages, and the Granadaian folk, who are suspicious of untrained mages. However, luck falls her way, seemingly.

Granadaia is fascinatingly different from the Wildings. Some aspects felt a little bit modern, but it felt believably different from the western-style Wildings – instead of the desert, with its capricious flash-floods, Granadaia is a lush, green place, all its land given over to intensive agriculture (which is why they need the Wildings cattle), tall cities and the estates of the mages, of course. I have to say, I found it fascinating to see a society where mages are the ruling class, not just tools to be used and controlled by those in power, but actually wielding all the power themselves. And Silas’s family is very much part of that controlling power. This was very much a ‘meet the relatives’ story, and all the more fun for that reason!

The ending is suitably nail-biting, and if I didn’t find the final magely shootout totally convincing (I know Lainie’s powerful now, but even so…), it was still hugely enjoyable. This wasn’t quite the pleasantly adventurous romp of some of the previous books. Seeing Silas in captivity was gut-wrenching, and the author used the symbolism of Silas’s hat to remind the reader constantly of what was at stake. And OMG, I would never have thought the single word ‘Friend’ would reduce me to tears. Another skillfully written chapter in the series, which neatly resolves one problem while setting the scene for (hopefully) an even bigger showdown in the final book. I can’t recommend this series enough! Five stars.

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Fantasy western romance review: ‘To The Gap’ by Kyra Halland

August 17, 2015 Review 0

Well, that was a ball of fun, and no mistake. I’ve been loving the whole Daughter of the Wildings series, but I positively inhaled this fourth installment, quite unable to tear myself away from it. For anyone who likes a little fantasy served with their westerns, and a side helping of romance, this is absolutely the series for you. Start with Beneath The Canyons.

Silas is a trained mage from Granadaia, sent to the Wildings as a bounty-hunter, catching rogue mages. Lainie is Wildings-born, with untrained mage power, which taps deep into the natural power of the region. Now they’re married and on the run, while Lainie learns to control her power and the two of them avoid mage-hunters and the hostility of Plain folk (those without magical ability). All they want is a safe place to live, and to be left alone, but those are proving hard to find.

In order to make enough money to escape the mage-hunters, they join a cattle drive, and this part of the story was fantastic fun. Dealing with weather, stampeding cattle, river crossings and possible rustlers while trying to keep their magic out of sight provides plenty of entertainment in the first half of the book. But when they encounter some mischief-making mages, all hell breaks loose and things get very tense.

Silas and Lainie are a lovely pair. In most fantasy that I read, I look for characters that are complex and not solely black and white; a little grey makes things more interesting. But here there’s so much old-fashioned charm in these two that I wouldn’t change anything about them. The side characters could do with a touch more depth for my taste, but it’s not really a problem, since it all fits perfectly well with the western black-hats/white-hats style.

The magic is quite complex, and each book reveals a little more about it, and about how Lainie can use it. There’s also some intriguing political backstory going on behind the scenes, which is becoming more significant as the series progresses. I love the fact that Lainie is both more powerful than Silas, and also more inventive (which is logical, given that she’s untrained; she doesn’t know what she’s not supposed to be able to do!). I also love it when they work together as a team.

The ending is a bit of a humdinger, although not entirely unexpected; not exactly a cliff-hanger, more of a can’t-wait-for-the-next-book moment (and it will be called City of Mages! At last we will get to Granadaia, which I’m desperate to see! Write faster, Ms Halland, write faster!). This book is possibly my favourite of the series so far, enjoyable from start to finish, with an awesome mage battle, and Lainie’s little victory near the end a terrific punch-the-air moment. Five stars.

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Western Fantasy Review: ‘The Rancher’s Daughter’ by Kyra Halland

May 3, 2015 Review 0

The Daughter of the Wildings series is possibly my favourite reading at the moment. This is book 3, and the author’s getting into her stride now. The characters are charming and heroic, the villains are exceedingly villainous (or just plain stupid), the setting is wonderfully detailed with a bit more revealed with every book, and the stories are just out and out good, rollicking fun.

The two main characters, Silas and Lainie, are (unusually for fantasy, but not for this author) a married couple. Theirs isn’t a straightforward relationship, which allows for a bit of angsting along the way, but they still get along fine. I’m usually critical of books where the characters fall headlong into stereotypical gender roles, but here it works really well. Silas has a gentlemanly desire to protect Lainie from… well, everything, basically. She still blushes at any mention of sex.

Yet they still have total respect for each other’s capabilities. So when they come to do business with a rich rancher, Lainie stands back and lets the more experienced Silas deal with it. And when they encounter the strange blue-skinned A’ayimat, he leaves it to Lainie, who has an affinity with their kind of magic. This kind of character detail is lovely.

The plot this time centres on the disappearance of the daughter of a the aforementioned rich rancher, kidnapped by the A’ayimat. Even though Silas and Lainie are manipulated into taking on the search, and even though they’re quite sure that the rancher isn’t telling them some important details, they need the money too much to refuse. And off we go into another fast-paced adventure, and it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the rancher was hiding a lot. But then, he’s not the only one. Knowing who to trust and who’s telling the truth is a big part of the plot.

I’ve been looking forward to meeting the A’ayimat up close, and here we get right into the midst of them and their magic, which isn’t quite like either Silas’s or Lainie’s. The subtle variation in magics is a big attraction for me in this world. Once again matters are resolved with both guns and magic, with heroism and luck, and a big dose of love to keep the evil at bay. And if perhaps our heroes manage to survive an improbable amount of beating up, gunshot wounds and arrows (sometimes all at once!), it would be churlish to complain (this is fantasy, after all).

Another charming and entertaining adventure in this series of good old-fashioned western fantasy tales. It’s so much fun I can’t give it less than five stars.

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Fantasy Review: ‘Bad Hunting’ by Kyra Halland

April 3, 2015 Review 0

This is the second book in the ‘Daughter of the Wildings’ series, and I loved the first, ‘Beneath The Canyons’, when I read it last year. What do you know, this one is even better. Part of the fun is the genre mash-up – if you’ve ever wondered what a western would look like if you threw wizards and magic into the mix, wonder no longer. This has all the traditional elements of a western – desert badlands, saloons with swinging doors, gun-slinging bad guys, dust storms, horses and big hats. But it also has two or three different kinds of magic, some strange blue-skinned creatures who are probably not human and a whole heap of conflict between the different magic users.

The world-building is a strength of the series, and although each story seems to be no more than a simple adventure, each book pulls back the curtain a little to reveal more of the politics going on behind the scenes. There are enough factions and hidden agendas to fuel a far more epic work, but the author weaves the detail seamlessly into these rattling good yarns so it never feels heavy.

The two main characters, Silas and Lainie, have a wonderful old-fashioned charm about them. Silas is a gentleman who worries about Lainie and wants to protect her, while also respecting her. I loved that he was constantly thinking about her welfare, and worrying whether he was doing the right thing. Lainie is a perfectly capable woman with her own magic, but the author resists the temptation to turn her into a kick-ass warrior-babe. Instead, she only intervenes when absolutely necessary. And both of them take their turns at being rescued from disaster, or, sometimes, rescuing themselves.

The plot – well, there’s not much to it. Silas is summoned to help out a fellow mage, only to find him dead, along with a third mage. Then the hunt is on to find the killer and deal with him before Silas ends up as the next one to die. Along the way, Silas and Lainie work out a few wrinkles in their still-new marriage. But really, the pleasure of this series is the wonderful western-with-magic setting. My only complaint – it’s very short, only 120-odd pages, and the last 10% of the book is a teaser chapter of book 3 and other advertising.

For anyone starting with this book, there’s enough backstory dribbled out along the way to explain everything, but I recommend you start from the beginning for maximum enjoyment. This is one of the most entertaining fantasy series around, and I loved every moment of it. I wouldn’t normally hand out five stars for something this light and easy-to-read, but dammit, it was just so much fun! Five dusty, bullet-riddled stars.

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Fantasy Romance Review: ‘Urdaisunia’ by Kyra Halland

December 9, 2014 Review 0

Kyra Halland is one of those rare authors capable of creating a deeply realistic fantasy world, with an equally realistic romance embedded within it. Too many fantasy authors tack the romance on as an afterthought, or else the romance is all-important and the fantasy elements are hurled randomly into the mix, as if it doesn’t matter whether the obstacles keeping our pair of lovers apart are meaningful or not.

Here everything is carefully thought out. Rashali is a simple village woman, struggling to survive in an Urdaisunia now conquered by neighbouring Sazars. Eruz is a Sazar prince, treading a careful path between his father the king, his vicious, squabbling brothers and his own conscience. When chance throws Rashali into his path, he is forced to face up to the consequences of his father’s rule. And then, delightfully, the gods take an interest in matters and start poking around in the affairs of men for their own not particularly altruistic reasons.

I’m not usually a big fan of having gods as active participants in a story, but here it works really well. It took me a while to overcome my resistance to miraculous events that just happen to carry the plot in the right direction. Here, of course, that’s the whole point, the gods are interfering and causing all sorts of things, good and bad, to afflict our heroine. Once I stopped worrying about the realism (or otherwise) of it, however, the story swept me up and carried me along beautifully, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the story. The gods are not at all as you’d expect, and their little squabbles and rivalries are great fun.

There is a little (non-god-related) magic in this world, and one rather clever communication contrivance that weaves into the plot very well. The world itself is a simple one, with just a few neighbouring societies: apart from the Urdai and Sazar, there are the Sangh, the Kai-Kalle and the Xaxan. Urdaisunia, the focus of conflict between these various countries, has two major rivers but (because of a quarrel in the god-world) they are on the brink of drying up, leading to major tensions. The political differences, particularly between the Urdai and the Sazars, form the backdrop to the whole story.

If I have a grumble, it’s that the characters tend to fall neatly into the good or bad side of the equation. The king, Eruz’s father, in particular, was a little too stupid for my taste. Even when Eruz brought evidence of his brothers’ treachery, the king made no effort to investigate, simply believing the brothers. His dislike of Eruz, who was an excellent army commander, seemed somewhat irrational. Kings really have to be better judges of character than that, if they’re to survive long in power. They also have to be pragmatic, and not allow their personal feelings to interfere with political decisions, although I suppose having a son and heir who constantly says, “Yes, but…” might get rather trying.

My only other complaint is that I found the names difficult. Eruz and his brothers, for instance, are Eruzasharbat, Hazramatanarg and Teshtarganazad, and all the rest of the family, army commanders and the like, have similar jaw-breakers. Fortunately they were often shortened. But that’s a minor point.

This is a refreshingly different fantasy, with writing that brings the world vividly to life (I swear I could feel the sand between my toes as Rashali walked through the desert) and a clever balance between the earthly world and the realm of the gods. A very enjoyable four stars.

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Fantasy Romance Review: ‘Beneath The Canyons’ by Kyra Halland

November 28, 2014 Review 2

What could possibly improve a good old-fashioned western? Why, a little magic, that’s what. Yes, folks, what we have here is a western/fantasy mash-up, complete with horses tied up outside the saloon, gambling and whoring inside, and gunfights in the street, but some of the people wearing the big hats are mages, and the mining going on in the hills is digging up something a lot more powerful than gold. And is it fun? You betcha.

Silas is a mage visiting the Wildings from neighbouring Granadaia, a bounty hunter looking to round up a renegade mage for profit. Lainie is a rancher’s daughter with her own untrained magical powers. Silas ought to hand her over for training, or else remove her powers altogether, leaving her a shell of her former self, but somehow he can’t quite bring himself to do either. Meanwhile, the town is being torn apart by the mining for some valuable commodity which damages the ranchers’ land and produces terrible nightmares. What is going on?

Now, the mystery isn’t terribly complex and most of the characters fall into one of the standard categories: white hats, black hats or red shirts. No shades of grey here. But the two main characters are lovely, a solidly honourable and gentlemanly hero, and a spirited, independent but smart heroine. Lainie’s determination not to be docile does get her into trouble sometimes, and yes, she does have to be rescued by our stalwart hero once or twice, but she also uses her initiative and is just as instrumental as he is in saving the day. And the romance between them is wonderful, sweet rather than hot (although magic does create certain… erm, interesting effects).

There’s some fascinating world-building in the background, and I would have liked a little more detail about some of it, particularly the blueskins living in the hills, who have the power to understand any language spoken to them. There’s the politics of Granadaia, with its Mage Council, too, and I loved the idea that a person’s magic is rooted in the land they were born on. Fortunately, there’s a whole series in the pipeline, so I’m hopeful that more of this will be revealed.

What didn’t work so well for me? There were a huge number of miners who were almost uniformly stupid and selfish and greedy. And a lot of them got shot in the numerous gunfights. They were very expendible, and I wondered how many of them had wives and families back in town, and perhaps wouldn’t have been quite so cavalier about their own safety in reality. But perhaps that’s just me with my twenty-first century sensibilities. [ETA: Apparently they were all vagrants and drifters, a point that whizzed by me as I sped through.] Another minor grumble: I found the plot just a tad predictable at times. There were one or two twists, but not quite enough for my taste.

But these are trivial complaints. I really loved this book, and tore through it in no time. I loved the blend of magic with western conventions, I loved the politeness (Silas always addresses Lainie as ‘Miss Lainie’) and I loved the gentle romance. An entertaining read. A good four stars.

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Fantasy Romance Review: ‘The Lost Book of Anggird’ by Kyra Halland

October 10, 2014 Review 0

This is exactly the sort of book I love: a well-conceived fantasy world with an intriguing magic system; some great characters who behave in a believable way; a plot that’s driven more by the background and characters than the need for relentless action; and a strong, satisfying romance. Why can’t all fantasy be like this?

Let’s start with the characters. Perarre (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced) is a woman determined to make a success of her career in a male-dominated world. After a wild phase, she’s settled down to an academic life as a translator of old books, aided by her ability to magically ‘read’ the intent of the author (and haven’t we all read books where we could have used a talent like that?). Roric is the buttoned-up and demanding professor she ends up working for, a man hiding a surprising past. He’s given the task of finding out why the ‘magica’, the tricky to manage magic system, is no longer easy to balance. Something has gone wrong, but finding out what has happened and whether it can be fixed means taking big risks.

As the two investigate, they naturally start to see each other as more than working colleagues. This part of the book is exceptionally well-written, as they circle round each other and gradually set aside their prejudices and inch towards an understanding. The romance builds slowly, right up until the point where they hurtle headlong into a passionate affair. The change felt a little bit abrupt, but given their personalities (Perarre’s wild-child past and Roric’s obsessively constrained behaviour), it was believable and I can go along with it.

From this point onwards, the pace accelerates to become a breathless ride from one end of the country to the other, and back again, multiple times. I was quite relieved that later journeys were condensed to ‘After a month of travel…’. Nevertheless, the various locations where the pair end up, whether the sophisticated and political big city, the village or small farming community, the isolated woodsman’s hut or the very different society of the nomadic steppe clans, are beautifully described. I never had any trouble visualising the settings and understanding the prevailing customs.

Both Perarre and Roric have to leave their old ways behind and open their minds to other cultures (quite literally, in fact). I found it fascinating to watch Roric in particular shed the thick shell he’d built to protect himself from hurt, and face up to both his own heritage and a future very different from anything he’d ever envisaged. This is where the rock-solid love between the two is absolutely critical. And yet he never changes his inner self, and never loses his scientific spirit of seeking the truth, regardless of the cost.

There were moments in the second half of the book where I began to feel that the pace was sagging a little, and wondered whether I was being fed a certain amount of filler. But then things would veer sharply off in a completely unexpected direction. I do love it when a book surprises me, and this one has several such moments, much to my delight. The ending is less unexpected, and (to my mind) falls slightly flat, and I wasn’t totally convinced by the oh-so-convenient way the population of the capital city falls into line, but it isn’t a major stumbling block. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. Four stars.

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