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Winter Be My Shield

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A complex, adult epic fantasy from a new Australian author ... original, dramatic, unputdownable ... Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift -- she raises power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the King's Torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince Cammarian A complex, adult epic fantasy from a new Australian author ... original, dramatic, unputdownable ... Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift -- she raises power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the King's Torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince Cammarian and his crippled foster-brother, Isidro. But Rasten is not the only enemy hunting them in the frozen north and as Sierra's new allies struggle to identify friend from foe, Rasten approaches her with a plan to kill the master they both abhor. Sierra is forced to decide what price she is willing to pay for her freedom and her life ... Original, dramatic and unputdownable, Winter Be My Shield is the first in an epic fantasy trilogy from brilliant new Australian talent Jo Spurrier.


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A complex, adult epic fantasy from a new Australian author ... original, dramatic, unputdownable ... Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift -- she raises power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the King's Torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince Cammarian A complex, adult epic fantasy from a new Australian author ... original, dramatic, unputdownable ... Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift -- she raises power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the King's Torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince Cammarian and his crippled foster-brother, Isidro. But Rasten is not the only enemy hunting them in the frozen north and as Sierra's new allies struggle to identify friend from foe, Rasten approaches her with a plan to kill the master they both abhor. Sierra is forced to decide what price she is willing to pay for her freedom and her life ... Original, dramatic and unputdownable, Winter Be My Shield is the first in an epic fantasy trilogy from brilliant new Australian talent Jo Spurrier.

30 review for Winter Be My Shield

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    …the blizzard was her shield – without it she would never have come this far. Sierra has escaped the clutches of the King’s Torturer, Lord Kell and his apprentice, Rasten. For two years she has been imprisoned and abused to break her spirit and her mind. Sierra, a Child of the Black Sun possesses a special gift, a power that feeds off and grows from the sufferings of others. So powerful is her ability, Kell will stop at nothing to bring her back. After a failed coup ten years ago Prince Cammarian …the blizzard was her shield – without it she would never have come this far. Sierra has escaped the clutches of the King’s Torturer, Lord Kell and his apprentice, Rasten. For two years she has been imprisoned and abused to break her spirit and her mind. Sierra, a Child of the Black Sun possesses a special gift, a power that feeds off and grows from the sufferings of others. So powerful is her ability, Kell will stop at nothing to bring her back. After a failed coup ten years ago Prince Cammarian and his foster brother Isidro Balorica, have been on the run and in hiding from Cam’s mother, Valeria the queen. When Isidro is caught and tortured to reveal Cam’s whereabouts, he manages to escape but his body has been so badly burned and beaten that healing is almost beyond hope. This is a brutal, violent world that is described in at times graphic and relentless detail. But for very brief respites, such violence never seems to let up. And especially to the luckless Isidro who from the very beginning of the story to the end, is the target of unbearable torture, pain and misfortune. Yet he remains unbeaten in spirit, though crippled in body. The violence is not gratuitous though when viewed within the framework of this story's culture. Author Jo Spurrier has created two attractive and admirable heroes in Cam and Isidro and a powerful, strong, yet vulnerable heroine in Sierra. There are some light romantic elements woven into the story. The action and adventure is offset well against the characterisations of the leads, a host of secondary characters, and the vivid, well-conceived world of the cold north. This fantasy is very involved and elaborate, and the reader will have to pay attention at first. Winter Be My Shield is an accomplished first novel. And a complex, absorbing tale that I enjoyed a lot. Steam: 1.5 ARC courtesy of HarperCollins Australia via NetGalley

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hillary

    DNF page 118 | 10/05/2020 Why am I so unlucky with high fantasy? I’m so bored.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Krystal

    This was so much more entertaining than I expected it to be! I added it to my shelf waaaaaay back in 2013 and I've picked it up a bunch of times, read a page or two, and decided to pick up something else instead. Finally I forced myself to read it (for an Aussie Readers challenge) and it was so much more captivating than I anticipated! I find that I'm really easily affected by setting, so the fact that this was all snow and ice was initially off-putting but once I got into it I found I didn't min This was so much more entertaining than I expected it to be! I added it to my shelf waaaaaay back in 2013 and I've picked it up a bunch of times, read a page or two, and decided to pick up something else instead. Finally I forced myself to read it (for an Aussie Readers challenge) and it was so much more captivating than I anticipated! I find that I'm really easily affected by setting, so the fact that this was all snow and ice was initially off-putting but once I got into it I found I didn't mind it so much. I think I was just so taken by the characters - honestly, on reflection, I don't even know that there was a lot happening in this story! I was just so in love with Isidro, Sierra and Cam - and, yes, even Rasten a little bit - and the dynamic between them. They are such wonderful characters and I just want to know more! And the magic! And torture! I mean obviously it's a bit weird to be fascinated by torture but I really loved the way the author explored that. I loved that these were fractured people. I loved that we got to see into their souls. I'm pretty proud to read some brilliant fantasy work from an Aussie author, as well. It's so incredibly refreshing to read books from my favourite genre that have been written by Aussies! Honestly, I'm just so much more in love than I thought I would be. I'll be picking up the sequel ASAP!! Add this to your shelf, fantasy lovers!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I really enjoyed this. It was an emotionally intense piece of the growth of a mage in a group of cultures that have very different ideas of what to do with mages, pretty much none of them good. It's also the first part of a larger novel (and says so right there on the cover, well done!), but feels like a complete book with where the main characters end up. Of course, that's with the luxury of knowing that the full trilogy is already published, I don't imagine I'd be so sanguine if I had to wait I really enjoyed this. It was an emotionally intense piece of the growth of a mage in a group of cultures that have very different ideas of what to do with mages, pretty much none of them good. It's also the first part of a larger novel (and says so right there on the cover, well done!), but feels like a complete book with where the main characters end up. Of course, that's with the luxury of knowing that the full trilogy is already published, I don't imagine I'd be so sanguine if I had to wait a year for the next one :) Sierra is an extremely powerful type of mage called a Sympath. She is of Ricalan origin, a country that would have culled her as a child because of her talent, but "fortunately" she was identified young by a pair of Blood Mages. A Blood Mage's idea of training is systematized torture, rape and brutal slavery and after several years of imprisonment and being forced to watch frequent ritual torture, Sierra's training is about to begin. The book picks up with Sierra fleeing from the Blood Mages, but in an incredibly hostile frozen wildland that even she has no expectation of surviving. She navigates between the people of the tribal areas of Ricalan, all of whom have a deep-seated hatred of mages, a pursuing Blood Mage, a group of Ricalan nobles who she falls in with and an invading horde of slave-taking Akharian imperialists. This is a beautifully realized fantasy world with a rich history and interesting geopolitics. There are three main countries represented and you get background on all three and the reasons for the conflict between them are both varied and realistic. Similarly the characters are also treated with a lot of nuance, even the putative "bad guys". There's growth with most of the characters, and even secondary characters are given enough lea-way to change their minds over time. Another thing that's done very well is introducing point-of-view characters as needed and giving them varying amounts of screen-time, as needed. The only thing I'd rate it down for is the glacial (hah!) pacing that is so common across epic fantasy books these days. The instinct of writers in this genre is to do all this intense world-building and then to just wallow in it. This does seem to match up with market expectations and I'm sure a generation of epic fantasy readers lap up books like this, but reviews are necessarily subjective, and my first instinct as a reader is to say, "Yes, you're very clever, now get on with it please."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lady H

    This was a really solid high fantasy! Some thoughts: ★ There are some really interesting characters here! And they're all sympathetic, even one of the villains, who is my favorite type of bad guy: crazy and terrible but with understandable motivations. I loved his relationship with the main character, Sierra, because I love villain/heroine dynamics. This isn't a villain romance by any stretch of the imagination, but Rasten, the villain, is creepily obsessed with Sierra for various reasons, thoug This was a really solid high fantasy! Some thoughts: ★ There are some really interesting characters here! And they're all sympathetic, even one of the villains, who is my favorite type of bad guy: crazy and terrible but with understandable motivations. I loved his relationship with the main character, Sierra, because I love villain/heroine dynamics. This isn't a villain romance by any stretch of the imagination, but Rasten, the villain, is creepily obsessed with Sierra for various reasons, though they make sense given what they've gone through together. I think their dynamic is probably my favorite part of the book. ★ This is a gendered world, so the threat of rape for women is profound, but most of the narrative's focus is paid to the experience and PTSD of a male rape victim, which I don't think I've ever seen before in fantasy. ★ The worldbuilding is so complex, perhaps too complex given how slowly information is doled out. The political setup here is fascinating but not immediately simple to grasp: you've got the natives of Ricalan, the settlers from a country called Mesentreia who have sort of taken over Ricalan but also make alliances with the ruling clans in Ricalan, the royal family of Ricalan is of mixed Mesentreian and Ricalani heritage, and then you've got Akhara, a slaving nation actually made up of Mesentreian settlers hundreds of years ago, who are invading Ricalan ostensibly to burn Mesentreian ports to prevent those ships from raiding Akhara. It's a lot to take in! I mean, I'm not complaining, because I love complex worldbuilding and setup, but it did make me some time to absorb it all. ★ Speaking of worldbuilding, I'm not sure how I feel about the magic system overall here. It took a long, long time for it to actually be explained to some extent (it's literally at the 80% mark that we get an explanation), which makes sense in-universe since our main characters don't know a ton about magic, but it was frustrating to blunder along cluelessly. But even after that explanation, I don't know how much I'm a fan of this system's construction. If we're talking hard and soft magic systems, this is definitely soft; the rules and mechanics of the magic seem really flexible and it almost seems like magic can do absolutely anything you want it to, which I don't like. ★ One odd thing about this story is that it's taking place in the wake of a war that happened hundreds of years ago called the War of the Mages, and honestly, what we hear about the war sounds so much more interesting than the current narrative. I'm not sure why the author didn't just write about that instead! ★ The author's background as a scientist really comes through here. The wintry setting is super vivid and it's clear she knows what she's talking about when it comes to what it would take to survive in such a world. She also clearly understands a lot about landscapes and geologies. It was sometimes a bit too much for me, as I don't really care about all these small intricacies about How Things Work, but it definitely grounded the story a lot. ★ The pacing and structure of the book is a little odd, especially given how it ends. This book didn't feel like a complete, stand-alone story; rather, it felt almost like part one of a single book. I think it was stretched far too long to cover the actual significant plot events that occurred, and there's a lot of going back and forth that is even pointed out by the characters themselves. I think a lot could have been cut and condensed here to make room for a pacier, more satisfying narrative. Overall, however, I think this is a really well-constructed high fantasy. Halfway through I was almost certain I wouldn't be picking up the sequel because I didn't care enough, but now that I've finished and read the summary, I think that the next book might actually deliver on a lot of the things I wanted to see in this installment, now that this first book has served as the introduction to the story. I kind of want to wait and see but that means I'll forget everything I read about here...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    In the kingdom of Ricalan, winter is a formidable force for many months of the year, as well as a useful ally in this time of invasion and attack. It's not only the settlers from Mesentreia forcing the Ricalani tribes off their land as they've been doing for the last few decades, supported by Ricalan's Mesentreian queen. Now they must also contend with forces from the Akharian Empire to the west. The Empire is also feeling the pinch from Mesentreia and its settler-invaders, and is using Ricalan In the kingdom of Ricalan, winter is a formidable force for many months of the year, as well as a useful ally in this time of invasion and attack. It's not only the settlers from Mesentreia forcing the Ricalani tribes off their land as they've been doing for the last few decades, supported by Ricalan's Mesentreian queen. Now they must also contend with forces from the Akharian Empire to the west. The Empire is also feeling the pinch from Mesentreia and its settler-invaders, and is using Ricalan as a battleground. But the Empire are also slavers, taking every Ricalani civilian after attacking villages, and the Ricalani army is doing little to stop them. For Sierra, the ongoing battles - both ideological and physical - are merely a backdrop for her own personal hell. In Ricalan, as in Mesentreia, magic is against the law, hunted down, eradicated. Sierra was hidden by her parents until a powerful Akharian Blood Mage, Kell, now working for the king of Ricalan and his mother, comes for her. Sierra's magical gift is fed by the emotions of others, particularly pain and suffering. And Kell, sadistic torturer that he is, has been using her to feed off his victims, store impressive amounts of power, all for him and his apprentice, Rasten. So she was there when Isidro was tortured, brutalised and defeated. Isidro is foster-brother to the rightful king of Ricalan, Cammarian, the younger son of a minor southern prisoner of Mesentreian blood, Valeria, who was married to the Ricalani queen's brother. The queen chose Cam as her successor, and upon her death his own mother tried to have him killed. Instead, he fled with Isidro, leaving the throne for his older brother, Severian, to take. They have been on the run ever since, falling in with various groups, not staying too long on any one tribe's land lest they wear out their friends' welcome. Until Isidro is captured and then rescued, and Sierra sets herself free. All three of them are being hunted by Rasten and Kell, but it is Sierra who poses both the real danger, and a real hope for salvation. After a bit of a slow start where I was strangely very confused over the three different nationalities and who was of which country and where the story was even taking place (there is a map but I read it weird, don't know how, and that started the confusion), Winter Be My Shield becomes a deeply engrossing, very interesting, solidly-constructed Fantasy story whose consistently measured pacing is nevertheless gripping due to the oodles of tension and anticipation throughout. I've spent a bit of time, in my summary, trying to provide some context and introduce the three nations, mostly because I had been so confused at first - in retrospect, it's hard to see how I could have been confused, but there you go. Spurrier actually does a very good job of doling out the exposition in manageable bites, at relevant points in the story. You never quite get to the end of understanding of this world, though: for as well-crafted as the world building is, there's always more to learn and reveal, and that helps add to the interest. I enjoyed this story immensely, once I got into the swing of things and understood what was going on. There are several different 'sides' but only two main perspectives: Sierra and Isidro. Occasionally, Cam and Rasten get to share their perspective, and an Akharian mage called Delphine provides an absorbing Akharian perspective towards the end. The characters are fairly straight-forward, well fleshed-out, and realistically flawed and human. I was expecting Cam to be the main character - he's a typical protagonist, being heir to a kingdom, a fugitive, handsome, charming etc. Blonde, too - that always helps (his mother's blood; the Ricalani are described as being akin to Asian but very tall). So I was pleasantly surprised - and pleased - when it turned out that Isidro was a key protagonist alongside Sierra. Isidro is a more interesting character, more nuanced, and what happens to him - both at the beginning and at the end - adds to this. Sierra could have been a bit of a formulaic character, but often manages to surprise. It's not the first Fantasy story to feature a character like her, and in some ways this story, and Sierra, reminded me of Kate Elliott's excellent Crown of Stars series. Rasten could be a stand-in for the deliciously evil Hugh, and so on. But I wouldn't go too far with such comparisons: the Children of the Black Sun trilogy stands clearly, solidly on its own feet, engaging with classic fantasy tropes while at the same time bringing new, or refreshed, ones to the genre. The magic system is uncomplicated yet intriguing, and Sierra's untrained ability is fascinating. You also really feel for her - and Rasten before her (a great villain is one you can sympathise with, even if slightly)- when you learn what kind of mage she is, and how much of a blessing her ability could be if Kell hadn't already started warping it for his own ends. With a steady, slightly slow pace and a wealth of detail, Spurrier brings her wintery world to cold life. There's violence, gore and pain, but also simple pleasures and a complex history in the process of being unlocked, discovered and revealed. By the end of volume one, the stakes have only become immeasurably higher, and Sierra in a wary working relationship, of kinds, with Rasten. Everyone has their own motives, their own plans, which cris-cross messily over each other. I look forward to reading the next two books, Black Sun Light My Way and North Star Guide Me Home, and seeing what happens to these interesting characters in this intriguing world. A well-written, exciting Fantasy that only gets more absorbing the further you read. My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rinn

    I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads. I have read a lot of fantasy novels in my life; it has pretty much always been one of my favourite genres since as far back as I can remember. Therefore, if I can find a fantasy novel that feels like a breath of fresh air, is unique and original, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, whilst Winter Be My Shield did not quite hit that high note, it was still a good, solid read. I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads. I have read a lot of fantasy novels in my life; it has pretty much always been one of my favourite genres since as far back as I can remember. Therefore, if I can find a fantasy novel that feels like a breath of fresh air, is unique and original, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, whilst Winter Be My Shield did not quite hit that high note, it was still a good, solid read. The story follows a girl named Sierra, who until recently was held prisoner and forced to work for a sorcerer named Kell. The reason she was so useful to Kell is because she can use the pain and suffering of others to draw power. The book never really explained how this works; I can only assume that Sierra becomes a conduit of power around those who are suffering or in pain, and others can draw upon that power, as well as drawing upon it herself. Sierra is a bit of a mystery, and for much of the book the reader knows about as much as the characters know about her, which is little. This was both effective in that it kept me reading, wanting to know more, and slightly frustrating in that she was then harder to empathise with. A quotation on the cover claims that this book will contain ‘villains you will cheer on’, and I can see where the reviewer is coming from. Although Rasten was, quite frankly, disturbing in his thoughts towards and about Sierra, it was also obvious that his mind was twisted by Kell. Occasionally, it was clear that he wanted to be free of his master, and I did want him to succeed in that pursuit, if not others. By 130 pages in, I had not noted anything that made this fantasy world particularly unique. By 250 pages, I was still waiting for something big to happen. There was a potential romance/relationship which seemed pretty cliche, but then managed to change things round a bit and avoid it. However, it felt like both characters were constantly thinking ‘it couldn’t be love…’, which seemed like foreshadowing. I also had an issue with one of the main male characters, Isidro. We were told that he was, before being captured and tortured, a strong and fierce warrior. However, since he was never shown that way in the book, I had real trouble imagining him as anything but the weak and broken young man he had become. There were also far too many chapters ending ‘And everything went black…’. One of my biggest problems with the book was more edition specific: the font was far too small! Teeny weeny letters… All in all, I did enjoy Winter Be My Shield. It didn’t feel like a particularly special fantasy novel, not in the way that other series have, but it’s a good, solid fantasy read and I’m interested to see where the second book goes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leonie

    This review forms part of my contribution to the AWWC 2014. I enjoyed this book. It was an excellent taster for what promises to be an excellent series. Jo Spurrier is a clever writer, and has built a really interesting world. Having said that, this book was clearly a book that sets up the rest of the story, and I did vacillate somewhat over how many stars to give it. I was torn between 3.5 and 4, primarily because I became entwined in the characters enough to want to know what happens to them. I This review forms part of my contribution to the AWWC 2014. I enjoyed this book. It was an excellent taster for what promises to be an excellent series. Jo Spurrier is a clever writer, and has built a really interesting world. Having said that, this book was clearly a book that sets up the rest of the story, and I did vacillate somewhat over how many stars to give it. I was torn between 3.5 and 4, primarily because I became entwined in the characters enough to want to know what happens to them. I rarely bother with tracking down a sequel to a three star book, but this time I will, so for me it's better than three, but came close to not being a four. There was a lot of setting up in this story. The characters were well established, relationships became clear, and the political situation evolved over the course of the book, and in the end, they were the things that made me return to reading the story quite eagerly. What I would have liked to see, was an earlier explanation of 'the reasons for' all the stuff that was going on. That would probably have made this a four and a half star read for me. As it was, at the beginning, I was wondering where it was all going, (and where all the characters were going because of all the moving around). I thought that the magic system was interesting, and different enough that it stands out from the crowd of fantasy books a bit, and the issues related to blood magery were stomach churning enough to leave a deep impression. Fortunately from my point of view, they were cleverly implied, rather than graphically written. That was one of the things that impressed me most. There often needs to be a 'turn off' to distinguish different types of magic systems so that we know who is 'good' and who is 'evil,' but some authors use such graphic detail that it becomes more prominent than the story. Jo Spurrier has skilfully implied horrible nastiness without needing to make it graphic to get her point across. That is a real skill, and for me, that's a huge plus. I will be reading the sequel/s to this story.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karina Webster

    I’m not sure I can summarise this novel better than the queen of fantasy herself, Robin Hobb: “Unlikely heroes, villains you will cheer for, and cold that eats your bones. Winter Be My Shield will take you to an unforgiving place, but you won’t want to leave it.” This is definitely a 4.5 star read for me, I found it utterly immersive with an intriguing political landscape and complex characters. I can’t believe this was a debut, the writing is superb and the pacing is great. For the ground and tim I’m not sure I can summarise this novel better than the queen of fantasy herself, Robin Hobb: “Unlikely heroes, villains you will cheer for, and cold that eats your bones. Winter Be My Shield will take you to an unforgiving place, but you won’t want to leave it.” This is definitely a 4.5 star read for me, I found it utterly immersive with an intriguing political landscape and complex characters. I can’t believe this was a debut, the writing is superb and the pacing is great. For the ground and timeframe this novel covers I can’t believe it wasn’t longer and I didn’t find it lag. This story is definitely one for those who enjoy character focussed novels versus fast paced, action packed plots as there is a lot of growth between the protagonists. However, saying that, there are plenty of battle and quite intensely gory scenes of torture and deaths. There are also many descriptions of pain and frequent references to rape. I thought it was all dealt with very well and the author really manages to capture all the shades of grey in people to make them realistic and compelling. There are so many things I would like to talk about in this review but I really enjoyed reading this blind and not knowing anything about it other than what’s in the blurb. That is the beauty in stumbling across an under-hyped book. Luckily, the whole series is complete and published so I can dive into book 2 and find out what happens next as it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter Greenwell

    I tried my hardest to wade through this book but in the end, it was simply not possible. I'll agree with other reviewers here that the book does possess a lot of originality, but I can't empathise with their enthusiasm for it. My issues with this book are many - for starters the characters for most of the book, do nothing except wander about in seeming circles from one snow-bound location to the other. There's lots of dialogue, lots of going back and forth, but little of substance happens. Nothi I tried my hardest to wade through this book but in the end, it was simply not possible. I'll agree with other reviewers here that the book does possess a lot of originality, but I can't empathise with their enthusiasm for it. My issues with this book are many - for starters the characters for most of the book, do nothing except wander about in seeming circles from one snow-bound location to the other. There's lots of dialogue, lots of going back and forth, but little of substance happens. Nothing really happens in the first fifty pages of this book and while that is unfortunately par for the course with fantasy novels, you do live in hope someone will buck the trend. Not today, big guy, not with this one. Next is the motivation why anything is happening to begin with. There's a three way war between the natives and two competing empires/kingdoms but we're given no indication why this is happening. What makes the Ricalani so seductive that two different powers want to subdue them? Then there's the characterisations themselves. People do and say things in this book that run contrary to what's in their face. Not just one character - which is forgivable and indicative of real life itself - but they all do it, villain and hero together. Show them a red ball to the west and they'll call it a yellow ball and head east. That sort of thing. It's all very frustrating to read. And there's a couple of characters in this book that serve no purpose than to provide opposition to the protagonist's actions and words for the sake of opposition itself. In other words, what we have here with Winter Be My Shield is a well-written account of slightly nasty, but generally faceless people puttering about in a magical land of snow.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bibliophile

    Solid world building and nuanced characterization make this fantasy novel worth reading. The pacing is slow and there is a lot of trudging through snow and setting up tents, but also some bracing (by which I mean brutal) action scenes. It's not that original, but refreshing all the same. There's the mandatory exiled prince, but he's not the protagonist - his foster brother Isodro is. Isodro is nobel and brave enough for a hero, but he is also disabled and suffering PTSD after enduring torture an Solid world building and nuanced characterization make this fantasy novel worth reading. The pacing is slow and there is a lot of trudging through snow and setting up tents, but also some bracing (by which I mean brutal) action scenes. It's not that original, but refreshing all the same. There's the mandatory exiled prince, but he's not the protagonist - his foster brother Isodro is. Isodro is nobel and brave enough for a hero, but he is also disabled and suffering PTSD after enduring torture and rape by the enemy. The other POV is Sierra, who has escaped the same enemy and has great magical abilities but little control of them. She draws power from other people's pain, which is considered bad form due to a) magic being strictly prohibited by her people, and b) using the pain of others is just tacky. She has no choice in the matter, and her shame and anger over this is nicely depicted. The harsh climate is a character of its own and you can almost feel the frostbite. The magic is not the whimsical kind, but hardcore battle magic with some interesting mechanisms (although I could have done with a little less crackling and hissing blue lightning). The characters are conflicted but tough, and though they frequently question their own motivations there is no excessive hand-wringing. They've been through a lot and are intent on surviving, whatever it takes. Pain is a constant presence in their lives, but the torture and violence is not sensationalized. The plot? Oh. Well, there's a war, and invaders from two countries and divided loyalties and..a lot of running from the bad guys. I expect this will become clearer in the next book. 3,5.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jack Lanigan

    Fine, I think is the word that I'd use to describe this book. Just fine. Nothing harmful or particularly terrible but nothing that really engrossed me either. Probably the weirdest thing was the tonal shifts. Obviously it's going to be a bit dark, what with the whole magic from pain thing, but for the majority of the book it reads more like YA with how many internal monologues there are, and how much so many of the characters elaborate on their plans and feelings. Then we start talking about pris Fine, I think is the word that I'd use to describe this book. Just fine. Nothing harmful or particularly terrible but nothing that really engrossed me either. Probably the weirdest thing was the tonal shifts. Obviously it's going to be a bit dark, what with the whole magic from pain thing, but for the majority of the book it reads more like YA with how many internal monologues there are, and how much so many of the characters elaborate on their plans and feelings. Then we start talking about prisoners of war getting gang raped. It's rather sudden. The villains kind of bothered me as well. They started off fairly one note and I expected them to get a bit more three dimensional given the quote on the cover, but they... don't. Not really. The main baddies start off evil and sadistic and end evil and sadistic (even though we only get about 4 lines of dialogue from one of them), and any of the secondary antagonists are sure to appear once they've revealed their plans, practically chuckling and steepling their fingers. But in the end, 80% of the book is paced well enough, and characters are consistent enough, and there's a few interesting ideas and hints tucked around inside the chapters. Get it if you want to spend a couple of days/sessions enjoying yourself but don't come in expecting a life changing experience.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ari

    Chiefly a story about Sierra, a sympath - a mage who gathers energy from the pleasure/pain of those around her - after she escapes a powerful mage find of torture and meets up with one of her former Master's victims and his foster brother, who happens to be a prince hunted by his mother and King brother. Very good, though with a couple of weak points - the biggest of which was that the book ends on a cliffhanger without much resolved - definitely not a stand alone read. Chiefly a story about Sierra, a sympath - a mage who gathers energy from the pleasure/pain of those around her - after she escapes a powerful mage find of torture and meets up with one of her former Master's victims and his foster brother, who happens to be a prince hunted by his mother and King brother. Very good, though with a couple of weak points - the biggest of which was that the book ends on a cliffhanger without much resolved - definitely not a stand alone read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aneta

    Well, that was great. RTC

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tsana Dolichva

    Winter Be My Shield is Jo Spurrier’s debut novel and the first book of Children of the Black Sun trilogy. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced review copy of this book from Harper Voyager. Set in a country where winter lasts about six months and involves piles of snow (much like the cover depicts), the story follows Sierra, Cam and Isidro. Sierra is a powerful mage but was enslaved by the sadistic Blood Mage Kell and forced to feed him power while he tortured various prisoners. She was parti Winter Be My Shield is Jo Spurrier’s debut novel and the first book of Children of the Black Sun trilogy. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced review copy of this book from Harper Voyager. Set in a country where winter lasts about six months and involves piles of snow (much like the cover depicts), the story follows Sierra, Cam and Isidro. Sierra is a powerful mage but was enslaved by the sadistic Blood Mage Kell and forced to feed him power while he tortured various prisoners. She was particularly valuable to Kell because the nature of her magic is such that she gains power when people near her are in pain. You can see how that might be handy to a torturer. At the start of the novel, she escapes and falls in with other fugitives including the disinherited Prince Cam and his foster brother Isidro who is crippled after suffering torture which Sierra witnessed. In the country of Riclan, where the action takes place, people with magical abilities are considered tainted and cursed by the gods. Children who show magical talents generally have their powers shackled even then are still considered dangerous and unlucky. Spurrier uses this to great effect to explore ideas of prejudice and discrimination. Despite the fact that Sierra only harms people that are trying to kill her, people are afraid of her and, more interestingly, have difficulty accepting that she isn’t evil. Almost no one offers her any consideration, even after she saves their lives. It’s very frustrating (in a good, well-written way) to see characters make stupid decisions because they’re afraid of her or because they want to profit somehow. It’s also satisfying when it comes back to bite them on the arse. There are a lot of shades of grey in terms of character in Winter Be My Shield. There are the sympathetic central characters and there is the torturing Bloodmage, Kell. But everyone else is caught somewhere in the middle. The characters that mistrust Sierra and try to hurt her aren’t necessarily bad people (OK some of them are), mostly they’re just acting based on how they’ve been brought up or past bad experiences. Kell’s apprentice, Rasten, is also more complicated than he originally appears to be. He was captured and broken (under torture) by Kell at an early age so how much of what he does is really his fault? It was delightfully frustrating to watch (and heckle at the page) characters throw away their best hope of not dying (ie Sierra and her magic) out of misguided notions of evil. You know it’s a good book if it evokes such strong reactions. Spurrier also brought up interesting questions in the way Isidro, the man crippled by torture, was treated. Those closest to him, like his brother Cam, were willing to do a lot to look after him. Other people with less of a connection see him as a useless burden. Of course, he’s sympathetic to the reader, but how much can one really blame the people who want to look out for themselves? Answer: it depends on how they go about it. It’s been a little while since I read such an involved fantasy novel that wasn’t a sequel and/or by an established author. Winter Be My Shield is a striking debut and I look forward to reading the sequels (and hope it’s not too long a way between them). 5 / 5 stars

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    "Black Sun" count: 95. Gee, what series is this again? I can't remember; better repeat it another BILLION times. I probably wouldn't have noticed if the rest of the book had been good, but it wasn't at all. I didn't care about a single character; in fact, I was rooting against all of them by the end simply for something interesting/entertaining to happen. They trudge around in snow, whine, call each other infuriating nicknames, yadda yadda. The magic system wasn't interesting enough to save this "Black Sun" count: 95. Gee, what series is this again? I can't remember; better repeat it another BILLION times. I probably wouldn't have noticed if the rest of the book had been good, but it wasn't at all. I didn't care about a single character; in fact, I was rooting against all of them by the end simply for something interesting/entertaining to happen. They trudge around in snow, whine, call each other infuriating nicknames, yadda yadda. The magic system wasn't interesting enough to save this, though it had potential. Would not recommend to anyone.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Luiken

    Strong world-building (as a Canadian I can really get into a wintry setting.) A three-sided war with no side that doesn't want to use or kill the heroine leads to hard choices. Ditto for the tortured hero. I will definitely look for book two. Quibble: I was hoping for more of a climax, but this was more of a character-makes-a-choice ending for book one in a series. Strong world-building (as a Canadian I can really get into a wintry setting.) A three-sided war with no side that doesn't want to use or kill the heroine leads to hard choices. Ditto for the tortured hero. I will definitely look for book two. Quibble: I was hoping for more of a climax, but this was more of a character-makes-a-choice ending for book one in a series.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rosa

    I choose this book because I was at the public library and decided to give some fantasy a go. Aside from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (which I of course enjoyed!) - I have absolutely hated most fantasy when I have previously attempted to read it, mainly because it has seemed so hard to believe and because all fantasy books seem to involve similar themes, namely, dragons, swirly whoosy magic and unlikely heroes rising to defeat a powerful force of evil! I know many people like these types of I choose this book because I was at the public library and decided to give some fantasy a go. Aside from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (which I of course enjoyed!) - I have absolutely hated most fantasy when I have previously attempted to read it, mainly because it has seemed so hard to believe and because all fantasy books seem to involve similar themes, namely, dragons, swirly whoosy magic and unlikely heroes rising to defeat a powerful force of evil! I know many people like these types of books but I have just not previously enjoyed them. However, this book may have just changed my mind about the genre. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed a fantasy novel. The category this book completes is a fantasy/science fiction book. It was really fascinating and although it took me ages to read I am very glad I did. The book was about a woman named Sierra who escaped from the evil Rasten and Kell who is the King’s torturer. She is on the run in a desolate winter environment with low hopes of survival when she meets two men (Isidro and Cammarian) and their friends who are fugitives, in hiding from the queen who is Cammarian’s mother. She joins them and together they attempt to evade their pursuers while also avoiding the slavers and the battles which rage across their country. It seemed much more believable than some fantasy I’ve read or heard of, and had a believable world (with no fairies or anything of the like!), and with magic that didn’t seem ridiculous. I liked also how it wasn’t all about magic being used to heal or make things appear and disappear, fly or other typical ‘fairy dust’ things. The magic in this book was dark, used as a weapon in battle and was raised through the suffering or happiness of others, which made for a much more interesting and less innocent story. The battle scenes complete with the use of magic were actually very good and well written as I could feel the tension and even though I usually scoff at magic, it’s use was believable and was well described. As I said earlier, I’ll be less reluctant to try fantasy now I’ve read this book. I also enjoyed how this book was set in a rich and extremely well developed world. The book carried a historical element too, although not from one recognizable culture. This helped it seem much more real as did the description of the harsh environment in which the story took place. A quote I liked from this book was “Sierra turned her face towards the blizzard. Needles of ice stung her skin and blasted tears from her eyes and strands of black hair lashed around her face, stiff as a whipcord with frost. Huddled deep within her stolen fur she forced her way through the drifts, as the wind howled and shrieked in her ears.” This quote conveys the harshness of the environment the characters live in and it uses good descriptive language. When I read this quote, I can picture the blizzard and the situation the character is in well. It also seems to portray the overall mood of the book, which was to be honest, rather bleak and a bit depressing. Saying this, I also found parts of the book especially hopeful and fairly dramatic, the drama is another thing reflected in this description. My favourite character was Sierra. She is a type of mage called a Sympath who draws power from the suffering of others. Contrary to this, she is not a horrible person and does not kill or torture people to gain her strength, unlike her pursuer Rasten who is a complex character but not afraid to kill or maim to get power. I enjoyed reading about her character as she is a unique character with a troubled background but she does not let this stop her from having morals and does not let her powers sway her to become overly twisted and evil. This shows she is very strong in herself and her beliefs. She is also a main character who has her own opinions and ideas and doesn’t let people tell her what to do. I usually make a comment similar to this about the protagonists in novels I read that I enjoy, as I can’t stand a book with a pathetic main character! In general, most of the characters in this novel were pretty strong due to the harsh environment and lives they had grown up with, and they all felt well developed with interesting back stories. Something this book taught me was that fantasy is not necessarily boring or cheesy. Of course, I already knew this after reading the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but some of this genre I have found to be pretty average and repetitive. I am so glad I picked up this book as I have now decided that I will read more of the good fantasy instead of simply rolling my eyes at its mention. Another thing this book taught me, that relates to the first point, is that magic does not always have to be for fairies - a goody good shower of pink and sparkles. This book involves gritty magic that is more of a force of bad than good, and I have enjoyed this much more. In summary, Winter Be My Shield was a really good book. I couldn’t find time to read, so it took me a while but it was well worth it as it has reintroduced me to the Fantasy genre. I am really glad I picked up this book and want to read the next one. Also, I hear they might be making a movie of this in 2015!

  19. 4 out of 5

    K.

    I was on the struggle bus with this book from pretty much page one. I don't know what it was, but there was just something about it that dragged. I made it about 25% of the way through and seriously considered throwing it on the DNF pile because I was JUST. SO. BORED and it had taken me days to read that far, which never happens. I never felt like I was making any progress with it - you'd turn page after page after page, and my Kindle was all "Nope, you're still only 11% done. LOL." In addition t I was on the struggle bus with this book from pretty much page one. I don't know what it was, but there was just something about it that dragged. I made it about 25% of the way through and seriously considered throwing it on the DNF pile because I was JUST. SO. BORED and it had taken me days to read that far, which never happens. I never felt like I was making any progress with it - you'd turn page after page after page, and my Kindle was all "Nope, you're still only 11% done. LOL." In addition to the epic drag factor, I struggled a lot with the violence. We're not talking "epic battle" violence here or fight to the death violence. We're talking extended scenes and discussions of rape and torture, and how some characters suffered through this for years. We're talking a man getting slowly skinned and dismembered so that a character can absorb his life force. We're talking about one character who likes to make his (straight) "apprentice"/slave rape other men and who isn't against paedophilia provided the girls don't have a "womanly figure" yet. We're talking about a society that's totally okay with slavery. We're talking bizarre decisions like Isidro being in constant pain thanks to the pulverised bones in his arm that he's told several times won't heal properly and he'll end up unable to use his arm or move his hand, but he (and those around him) refuses to consider amputation because "then I'll be a cripple". DUDE. YOU'RE ALREADY THERE, WITH A SIDE OF CONSTANT PAIN. Your logic is not like our earth logic. Add in to that the fact that Spurrier has created a world with an incredibly complex society, but there's not nearly enough world building to adequately convey how society works. (Unless, you know, it took place during one of the many sections in which I was basically asleep with my eyes open) Each family unit seems to consist of two husbands and two wives, and the child refers to all of them as their parents. We're told that there are numerous tribes and that some are more powerful than others. But then there are entire countries who refer to the tribes as "barbarians" and operate with a whole different type of society. And there's nowhere near enough explanation of how any of it works. Basically, about 75% of this book seemed to consist of people wandering about in the snow, making big plans and then having to change said big plans because they were ambushed. Rinse, repeat, add in a fair whack of torture, a little sex and a couple of battles, and you've got yourself a book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Georgia Claire

    I liked this book, but honestly got so bewildered by who was on what side in their ongoing tussles that it became very difficult to follow any of the machinations. Basically: Isidro and Cam are against literally everyone else, including their own mothers. I think. I don't know, I got really confused. Honestly, the depictions of surviving winter in a perpetually frozen landscape were far more interesting. One significant nitpick, speaking as a geographer. A major plot point revolves around the cli I liked this book, but honestly got so bewildered by who was on what side in their ongoing tussles that it became very difficult to follow any of the machinations. Basically: Isidro and Cam are against literally everyone else, including their own mothers. I think. I don't know, I got really confused. Honestly, the depictions of surviving winter in a perpetually frozen landscape were far more interesting. One significant nitpick, speaking as a geographer. A major plot point revolves around the climate, that the country is frozen well below zero for half the year and extremely moist for the other part. Sorry, but that doesn't happen except in very small localised areas. Any high moisture area is typically right along the seaside, with the moisture present in the air due to very high evaporation because of high incoming sunlight (like, around the equator). However, the ocean acts as a major stabilising influence on temperature, so any area very close to the ocean doesn't get significantly cold (look into continental versus oceanic climates). Meanwhile, very cold areas are typically very dry. You can get very cold areas that are also very moist, but they're due to localised influences and aren't the size of a country. Look, I realise no one else cares, but it bothered me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maja Ingrid

    The book started slow. It took almost a 4th of the book before stuff actually started to happen. The action scenes that came after that were interesting but the rest of the book was dull. It was also lots of chunky info-dump on info dump. Seriously it felt like the first 100 pages was nothing but. Now I don’t mind info-dumps because high fantasy novels do need to exposition, but it gets heavy to handle when there’s more exposition than actual plot in the book. Because bigger parts of the book wa The book started slow. It took almost a 4th of the book before stuff actually started to happen. The action scenes that came after that were interesting but the rest of the book was dull. It was also lots of chunky info-dump on info dump. Seriously it felt like the first 100 pages was nothing but. Now I don’t mind info-dumps because high fantasy novels do need to exposition, but it gets heavy to handle when there’s more exposition than actual plot in the book. Because bigger parts of the book was boring I felt myself skim reading it after a while. The book is multi-perspective. The PoVs we follow the most are those of Sierra, Isidro, Cam and Rasten, but also a few that show up like once or twice. The book also switched PoVs within the chapters and not alternating characters every chapters (something that I prefer more). Of the characters I liked Cam, Isidro and Sierra well enough. But I couldn’t care for the other characters at all. The “villains” weren’t that likeable and most I got from them was just that they were torturers and rapists with little to no redeeming qualities (okay it’s more or less impossible to redeem a rapist in my eyes). Other characters that were against Sierra were painted in a dislikeable fashion as well.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kron

    Both heavy on characters and world. The characters were fully fleshed, though I did not particularly connect. Isidro was my most favourite character, followed by another that works directly with him but doesn't appear until 75% of the way through the book. The first third of the book kept me interested - the world fascinated me and the characters interactions with each other. Then a switch flipped and I suddenly no longer cared. There was no upping of stakes, I became disinterested in the story a Both heavy on characters and world. The characters were fully fleshed, though I did not particularly connect. Isidro was my most favourite character, followed by another that works directly with him but doesn't appear until 75% of the way through the book. The first third of the book kept me interested - the world fascinated me and the characters interactions with each other. Then a switch flipped and I suddenly no longer cared. There was no upping of stakes, I became disinterested in the story and I began to wonder "yeah, but where's this going"? It wasn't until the last 40 pages that we get an actual direction of plot. Like I said at the top, this is more of a character/world book than a plot driven book. While I enjoyed the world and the characters at the beginning, the ending and through-journey did not keep me so hooked that I want to continue the series.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    2.5/5 Winter Be My Shield is Jo Spurrier's competent debut novel. It's not your average fantasy book, as there's some interesting and unique ideas going on in it. The magic system in particular is a good one. However, this is brought down by bland story-telling and irritating main characters. These problems are off-putting enough that it made it a chore to finish the book, let alone continue on to the rest of the trilogy. It's hard to say if Winter Be My Shield is worth the effort, but each to th 2.5/5 Winter Be My Shield is Jo Spurrier's competent debut novel. It's not your average fantasy book, as there's some interesting and unique ideas going on in it. The magic system in particular is a good one. However, this is brought down by bland story-telling and irritating main characters. These problems are off-putting enough that it made it a chore to finish the book, let alone continue on to the rest of the trilogy. It's hard to say if Winter Be My Shield is worth the effort, but each to their own, you may find something to like here.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Renee V

    A great high fantasy novel from an Australian author. Recommend to lovers of fantasy. I enjoyed this story so much I bought the second one almost as soon as I had finished. (Sadly though I didn't enjoy the second one as much and was frustrated with how the character development happens) The character stories in this one however really drew me in and I'm still looking forward to seeing how it all pan's out for them. A great high fantasy novel from an Australian author. Recommend to lovers of fantasy. I enjoyed this story so much I bought the second one almost as soon as I had finished. (Sadly though I didn't enjoy the second one as much and was frustrated with how the character development happens) The character stories in this one however really drew me in and I'm still looking forward to seeing how it all pan's out for them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adrielle

    3.5 - 4 stars An intriguing world with layered characters. Quite gritty in parts and you can tell that the author is trying to illustrate the violence of the world in a subtle matter. However, dropping a C-bomb in the last 10 pages did not lend any effectiveness, rather, it turned me off. Hence the drop by half a star. I will give the second one a go though.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Full review to come, but OMG, best fantasy I've read in ages. Think Te good bits of Robert Jordan, JV Jones, Sara Douglas....just darn good story telling, with great characters. Full review to come, but OMG, best fantasy I've read in ages. Think Te good bits of Robert Jordan, JV Jones, Sara Douglas....just darn good story telling, with great characters.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    10 November 2015: $1.99 on Kindle 10 November 2015: $1.99 on Kindle

  28. 5 out of 5

    West Hartford Public Library

    "A terrific, complex fantasy that you cannot put down. I have the ebook. It's awesome!"--patron "A terrific, complex fantasy that you cannot put down. I have the ebook. It's awesome!"--patron

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Grace

    It was wonderful to read this tale of a devastating blizzard-covered escape on a 37 degree summer day. I can't believe how hard this series is slept on. I've been waiting to read Winter Be My Shield forever, and it was as good as I imagined. I know I'm seven years late, but hell, you wouldn't understand how much I want to drop everything right now and make a Save Isidro Balorica campaign. I really wonder if Jo Spurrier was answering a challenge to make a character suffer the most humanly possible It was wonderful to read this tale of a devastating blizzard-covered escape on a 37 degree summer day. I can't believe how hard this series is slept on. I've been waiting to read Winter Be My Shield forever, and it was as good as I imagined. I know I'm seven years late, but hell, you wouldn't understand how much I want to drop everything right now and make a Save Isidro Balorica campaign. I really wonder if Jo Spurrier was answering a challenge to make a character suffer the most humanly possible while deserving nothing but happiness. I mean, come on, he's an orphan with a tragic backstory who gets brutalised over...and over...and over again yet keeps sacrificing everything for his friends, every time you think he's finally gotten some respite. For fuck's sake, (view spoiler)[he literally escapes Ramsay Bolton-level torture with a forever crippled arm, chronic pain and PTSD, finding some short happiness with a beautiful girl, only to be captured by a different torturer mere weeks later at which point he decides he's had enough and tries to kill himself, only to be magically kept alive by his original torturer so he can keep on wallowing in pain. (hide spoiler)] I actually could not believe what I was reading at certain points, because it was almost comical how much torture this one guy was going through. Despite the high level of brutality, this book remains readable because it never gets gratuitous, no matter how cruel the scenes depicted. I'm really grateful for that and it gives me hope for the trilogy. Yes, I know this finished several years ago, but please by the Black Sun save everyone. Isidro first of all. But also let Sierra have her happy ending, and Cam have his happy ending, and even Rasten have his happy ending. There are some nice touches of dark humour if your sense of humour is on the same wavelength as mine. I'm primarily looking at Rasten scenes, of course. And yeah, he's got it so bad for Sierra, I'm a bit scared he'll run off the deep end. The two of them and Isidro make for an interesting telepathy triangle which makes their interactions by far the most interesting. This also means that Isidro's arc when separated from the rest of the squad is the weakest segment of the book and simply a bore, not least because I find Delphine absolutely grating. Please, for the love of the Black Sun, get the entire Akharian Empire (faux-man Empire, don't try to tell me it's not a budget high fantasy Rome) out of Ricalan. I dislike them more than Kell.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erin-Claire

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This review is informed by having finished all the series, but I'll just repeat the review in each one. Overall I'm glad to have read to the end of the third book, I thought the story was worthwhile and well done, the character development definitely improved over the series, and the magic system was pretty original (I would really like to read a series set later in time that explored the magic a lot more). Warning for spoilers ahead. Characters: Sierra – did we ever really get to know her? Motivat This review is informed by having finished all the series, but I'll just repeat the review in each one. Overall I'm glad to have read to the end of the third book, I thought the story was worthwhile and well done, the character development definitely improved over the series, and the magic system was pretty original (I would really like to read a series set later in time that explored the magic a lot more). Warning for spoilers ahead. Characters: Sierra – did we ever really get to know her? Motivations were often a little unclear and seemed more to suit the plot than actually fit her character, and her character moved further and further from the limelight as the series continued. The character development was limited in a way because the reader never really got to know much about any of the characters. While avoiding info-dumping is important, I really wish I could have got a sense of each character’s back story fairly early in the book, because I was still trying to piece together exactly where everyone was from and how they fit together halfway through the third book. Having said that, Rasten's character arc was fantastic and the characterisation of his mental state mostly very believable. Magic system: Totally lacking in clarity! A bit like characters – there was an info dump on how magic worked somewhere in I think the third book. This should have been somewhere near the start of the first because it was never completely clear til then. The reader needs to understand the system so it’s not a distraction wondering if you understand it yet. Torture: Torture was a central theme of the book. Questionable whether it was perhaps too much, too often. Was it really believable? Especially, is it believable that anyone can put up with that much? The author does a fairly good job of showing the post-traumatic injury done to everyone by the torture, especially in the second and third books. But is it realistic? Slavery: I could just about cope with the torture scenes, but the whole depiction of slavery was a bit too much – made me want to throw the book against the room. I don't really enjoy slogging through those 'how much awful can we put the character through before they rise in triumph on the other side' type books (although the redeeming feature here I guess is the lack of rising in triumph...) I didn't really find the behaviour of the ‘slavers’ group that believable. It felt at times like the author had read the worst accounts of child abuse, torture and slavery and decided that in societies where these things happened, they must happen in their worst form, all the time, to everyone. Real people and societies are much more varied, their motivations and personal convictions clash. I didn’t feel this came through well in the first book in particular. Disability, acquired injury, trauma: The way the author deals with the mental and physical trauma and disability acquired through a traumatic incident seems good (although speaking from limited experience or research). At least she doesn’t have them get over it and get better, and especially not within an unrealistic timeframe. Because it’s such a trope of fantasy books, I kind of expected Sierra’s power would actually turn out to be a power to heal, so it was nice to be surprised here (even though her power was never really well explained). Relationships and romance: I liked the diversity of relationships, and especially a whole culture where monogamous relationships were not the norm (although it was never quite explained how the family system worked). The development of relationships between the characters, whether romantic or not, was one of the best bits of character development in the books and one of my favourite parts of the books.

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