Book Review: The Fall of Sky City by S.M. Blooding

Review of The Fall of Sky City by S.M. Blooding

Steampunk. Fantasy. Sci-Fi. Adventure—yes, S.M. Blooding melded all four genres into a unique world where they all manage to coexist and provide the environment for this enjoyable new series. It was a fast read with plenty of action and interesting characters.

The pervading conflict revolves around the issue of freedom and government—especially, who sets the rules and how are they enforced. In the past, priests had the upper hand until they became so corrupted the Hands of Tarot rose up to oppose them, bringing them down and establishing the Hands as the neutral arbiters of justice. Only over the years, they have also become corrupted, and the Hands have decided that only by bringing all the independent Families into their version of civilization—centered on a secret city in the sky—will justice be achieved.

Sky City is dominated by Queen Nix of the Wands, who had been rejected by her Family and adopted by the Wands. Her idea of justice is taking revenge by destroying not just her former Family, but also all the other independent Families. The only people she deems fit to live are children too young to have come into their own mystical powers (if they have any). Those children are adopted into one of the Hands of Tarot: Wands, Swords, Coins, or Cups, depending on how their mystical powers manifest.

When Synn’s Air Family—the Families’ spheres of influence and their complimentary Powers are derived from Earth, Air, Fire, or Water—dares defy Queen Nix, he falls into her hands. Synn is seventeen, long overdue to manifest his Family’s Mark of Power, if he’s going to have one, and too old to be adopted by the Hands of Tarot. Both are reason enough for him to die as an example to others who think they can resist the power of the Hands. But instead of dying, his Mark manifests, spectacularly saving his life, and he is claimed by Queen Nix for her Wands.

Queen Nix is clearly a conflicted antagonist—she claims she only wants to be loved, and she’s determined to prove that she can make anyone, even the unwilling Synn, love her. But her approach to winning him over is with a “carrot-and-stick,” alternating torture with manipulating his teen hormones and being solicitous of his needs—give her what she wants, Synn’s total devotion, and she’ll give him what he wants—knowledge of the Hands’ technology. But he wants it not to satisfy his curiosity, as he pretends, but to take it with him when he finds a way to escape.

Escape isn’t straightforward—the Hands have superior technology and airborne military forces surrounding Sky City—and Queen Nix has a few tricks of her own that fuel her confidence that Synn will never truly escape from her. He uses that confidence to take advantage of an opportunity to not just escape, but take other captives with him, along with a ship-full of “liberated” technology created by those captives. With those weapons and other technological advances, Synn is sure he can turn the tide of the undeclared war against the Families.

But Queen Nix is equally sure that he cannot escape her—and despite all Synn’s efforts to prove otherwise, she may be right. At the end, I was left wondering, who is going to out-smart whom?

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Book Review: The Queen’s Blade by T. C. Southwell

Book Reviewed: The Queen’s Blade

Author: T. C. Southwell

Genre: Epic Dark Fantasy

Cost: Free on Smashwords.com

This is a review I’ve been meaning to write for several years, ever since I downloaded this book. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my own writing was eating me alive, so I’ve had time to read, but not to write about it. Now that I’ve got some breathing space, I have to pay tribute to one of the best books I’ve read—and re-read—in recent memory.

The world of this story is unique. Everyone born there has an affinity for an animal that they bond with for life—the animal’s life is bound up with theirs, so shorter-lived animals enjoy an extended lifespan. People’s natures are expressed by the animals they bond with and attributes they share with their bond animal are accentuated. There are cat-kin, bird-kin, snake-kin, even insect-kin. These bonded pairs communicate together and are so close that nothing is more traumatic than to survive the loss of one’s bond-animal.

The story is about an assassin who has no bond-animal. His horrific past has led him to claim that he doesn’t care about anything, least of all whether he lives or dies, which has made his reputation as an assassin because he takes on risky jobs. The law in this land is that the crime of the assassination is against the client who hires the assassin rather than the assassin himself, but that doesn’t make assassins respectable, though they have a guild and some rather rigid ethical restrictions to distinguish them from common murderers. Because assassins are forbidden to kill each other, they obtain status within their guild not by body counts, but by displaying their deadly skills in a “dance of death” that is judged on artistic merit by acclaim of the other assassins. The finest assassin in a city is called the Master of the Dance.

Blade is the Master of the Dance in Jashimara’s capital city. His country has been involved in the Endless War with the Cotti, fierce desert warriors, and the new queen is determined to bring it to an end and has consulted an oracle on how to stop the war. The answer she obtained will demand all her courage to see it through—and she needs someone to carry out the first step—infiltrating the Cotti lands and the Cotti army to kill the Cotti king and kidnap the king’s grown heir, and bring the prince back to her. There is no shortage of gallant and accomplished warriors who volunteer, but don’t return, with or without the prince.

Blade is twenty-eight, the age when most assassins are either dead or ready to retire because their skills are starting to slip, and the queen has offered the tantalizing reward of nobility and a rich estate. Blade persuades the queen to let him try to accomplish the mission, and in doing so, becomes entangled in the political intrigues of both countries—neither of whose political elite are the least bit interested in an unprofitable peace.

I enjoyed the plot, but the thing that made this book—and the series—hard to put down was the character development of Blade as he reclaims his humanity, and despite his claims to the contrary, becomes a true hero.

The series runs for six books, plus two prequels that do not need to be read first. I bought all of them. T. C. Southwell has several other series available, and all the first books are free. I bought two other series, The Demon Lord series and The Cyber Chronicles. I’ve reread all of them, but the Queen’s Blade series is my favorite.

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