Author: Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Endeavor, #1
Published by Piatkus Books on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Being a well-conditioned Star Wars fan, having a ragtag bunch of misfits playing Robin Hood, with its leader as the ultimate rebel sounds exactly like the sort of rogue space adventure I will always want to read. ‘Nightchaser’ is so different from Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles (which I admittedly did struggle with) with the promise of the swashbuckling adventure of space pirates, rogue traders and a large, sort-of evil empire—all with the shades of the much-beloved Star Wars universe that I inhabit—that it was compelling enough to get into: not too epic at the start that I was left lost and wandering in an asteroid field of complex world-building but with just enough futuristic technological details so that I was eased into Bouchet’s own brand of galactic adventure before the heavy stuff comes in.

 

Tess Bailey isn’t who she seems and her story gradually unfurls after a rollicking start, though a little more slowly by the time she encounters Shade Ganavan who in turn, is both enthralled and caught in a moral dilemma where she’s concerned. Bouchet juggles both Tess’s and Shade’s backstories quite well, buoyed by a strong and loyal supporting cast of characters who make up a crew of escaped convicts—all of whose pasts aren’t exactly fleshed out. By the time this instalment ends however, there’re more questions than answers, with things left very much unfinished.

What I find particularly jarring is the use of the first-person POV for Tess, which then moves onto the third-person for Shade, so much so that it feels like the former’s voice is coming straight out of a New Adult Fantasy novel versus the more distant yet crafted/sophisticated narrative voice of the author via Shade. My preference is firmly for the latter and even as I read on, I never quite got used to these switches, as infrequent as they may be.

Still, this is a read that’s not too heavy-going—I found myself putting it down more than I though I would nonetheless—and it’s not hard to get through, even if Bouchet does insert some of the socio-political themes that history cycles though time and again. The sage words of wisdom that several characters dole out are ultimately, variations on the typical but popular moral questions that syfy always posits, or at least, they provide a meta commentary that jumps out from the pages when this happens.

In all, ‘Nightchaser’ is a decent read, even if my lingering sense of frustration from an incomplete narrative arc is going to stay for a while longer yet.

four-stars

Heart of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Heart of Fire by Amanda BouchetHeart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Published by Piatkus on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 448
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two-half-stars

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

War-games and politics converge in the last installment of Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker series, though admittedly, it isn’t that much different from the first and second book, except for the fact that the plot moves on with loose ends consolidating and the sun setting over a new, united kingdom. In essence, a ‘Heart on Fire’s’ ending cannot come without sacrifice and blood and tears as with the epic tales that follow this trajectory, along with the big questions of destiny and human choice that run consistently through the narrative.

The biggest draw of this series had always been the intriguing mix of gods and people with magic swirling in the midst of them—with screwed up characters mingling with equally screwed up deities who do nothing but act on their own whims just because. It’s deeply imaginative and what I envisage pre-Christian, ancient Greek civilisation of mythology could have been, supercharged in a way that can only come alive in fiction with many modern inserts in it.

Yet apart from Greek gods messing around in people’s lives and paving the way for a woman who’s supposedly unique in the whole universe, I found myself having the biggest problem with Cat Fisa at the start: petulant, juvenile and reckless, though this isn’t too far-off from what might come from a teenage girl thrust into power and kingship, who’s doing everything she can just to survive and go with the flow.

But somehow I expect characters in New Adult fantasy to be larger than life with traits that transcend petty teen tendencies which means I need to see some kind of exponential growth from the Cat as the main protagonist, so the depiction of an immature twit with TSTL moments didn’t gel with these expectations. Yet because Cat annoyed me so much, the little pockets of drama involving secondary characters had turned out to be more entertaining than the main plot itself. As was the descriptions of the magical parts and the landscape that thrilled me more than the adventures of Griffin and Cat (who can suddenly grow wings) with too many ‘easy’ Deus Ex Machina devices here at play.

In short, ‘Heart of Fire’ wasn’t quite the breath of fresh air as the first book was, and it required a greater suspension of belief that took a lot of effort on my part. And before it becomes mortifyingly obvious that I’m just desperately digging around for things to like about this story, it’s probably best to say that this is a series that I should have stopped earlier on.

two-half-stars

Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Breath of Fire by Amanda BouchetBreath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 448
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three-stars

"Cat" Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what's a girl to do when she knows it's her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
Griffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom...or not at all.

“Breath of Fire” left me underwhelmed, unfortunately; the psychotic episode scene in the beginning with Griffin and Cat made me wonder if both had an instant personality transplant, which pretty much left me wary about what would happen, character-wise, for the rest of the book.

There’s no shortage of action sequences here, which is where Amanda Bouchet excels. The Greek mythology is so strongly woven into the narrative that it did make for an engaging read, though albeit a restless and sometimes too pacey one when there was hardly a time to stop and breathe. Yet the characters prevailed always—thanks to several Deus ex machina plot devices—which really made me wonder if they were meant to be indestructible after the number of brutal fight scenes that had copious amounts of blood and viscera flung everywhere. But I liked that Bouchet didn’t shy away from delving deep into the classical psyche that pretty much encapsulated vengeful gods, destructive habits and plain cruelty that doesn’t elude even the main characters. Blood, gore and strange paranormal happenings—everything is permitted where magic is concerned it seems—this has become status-quo in this series.

The political scene at large still sort of eludes me—maybe I’m really slow that way—and the name-dropping got confusing at times, but by and large, all that’s really needed is the knowledge that chess pieces do shift, as does the balance of power the moment Cat and Griffin come together officially. The book ends less unfinished as the first one, with hints of other pairings but clearly the ascendancy of Cat and Griffin is just writing on the wall that remains to be fulfilled in the last installment. Could I get excited about the ending part? Maybe, but the jury is still out on that one.

three-stars

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire by Amanda BouchetA Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 2nd 2016
Pages: 448
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three-stars

Catalia "Cat" Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…
Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he's ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.

“A Promise of Fire” surprised me from the start: a mish-mash of Greek mythology (coming to life) that functions within a fictitious land of warring factions (that can be hard to keep up with) and in it, a budding romance between the second-in-line to the throne of Sinta and a mysterious runaway woman who has found refuge and family in a circus.

Yet for all the world-building basics that have been laid out in the 400+ pages of the book, very little actually happens in the story. Cat Fisa gets taken by Griffin, who’s desperate for a Kingmaker for the Sinta throne and most of the story is this roundabout trip to Sinta city with some adventures along the way. A petulant, hostile and somewhat childish abductee who made me think she was a rebellious teenager than a twenty-something woman, Cat spends most of her time antagonising Griffin and fighting the attraction building between them.

I didn’t mind the focus on romance and less hard-core fantasy here, but I did find that a lot of it frustrated me, especially when it degenerated into the jealous ex-lover drama in the end and a huge pile of lies/secrets that Amanda Bouchet hadn’t yet revealed by the time the last page was turned. As a result, it ended unfinished and on an unsatisfactory note, with a sheen of HFN that you know is merely temporary.

It’s not a bad read at all though. The first-person narrative, the world-building and the unique take on mythology makes “A Promise of Fire” a special combination of NA/paranormal fantasy that’s definitely accessible to fans of these genres, though I can imagine hard-core fans of either or all of them might find something to complain about.

three-stars