Tagged: michelle diener

Dark Minds by Michelle Diener

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The mind is the most powerful weapon of all . . .

Imogen Peters knows she’s a pawn. She’s been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.

Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he’d be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she’s not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.

Imogen’s out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she’s good at mind games. She’s been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth…

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve wanted to meet Imogen Peters ever since Fiona met the parrot she trained to sing the final song in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And, well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Imogen’s tale essentially begins with her seeing her captors massacred by a bloodthirsty alien species that seems to go berserk when they fight. It’s not a great start for her so when she’s on board the Class Five with the Krik and meets other prisoners they have taken, things get interesting. The Class Five called Paxe is the one who saves her from the Krik in order to save himself. In this way we get to see a Class Five’s awakening and the beginning of their humanization whereas Sazo and Eazi were definitely more socialized by the time we meet them. It was fascinating to see Imogen try to reign in some of Paxe’s practical if cruel responses to situations as well as see Paxe respond to Imogen’s emotions and become aware of his own emotions. Their friendship isn’t as long-lasting as say, Rose and Sazo’s, but they definitely have some chemistry and it makes for a great read.

While some readers may be disappointed about the romance part of the story being relegated to the side, I actually didn’t mind the change of pace. Imogen is in a very different situation from Rose and Fiona, what with a war between United Council members on the horizon as the true extent of the Tecran treachery is revealed. Cam is still a fascinating love interest and the pure attraction between him and Imogen can’t be denied. But it’s not a main plot point and although I was thrown by it at first, as I said it does make sense given the political situation and the limited amount of time the Grih and others have to avoid all-out war. Dark Minds is definitely a faster read than the previous two novels and that really makes it a great ending to the stories of these three incredible women (because of course we get to meet Fiona and Rose again).

Although I would have of course loved for the trilogy to turn into a ten book series simply because of the quality of Michelle Diener’s writing and world-building, this is a good place to stop. The ending is both happy and tragic but more importantly, it’s satisfying. It ties up all of the loose ends while at least leaving the possibility of more books set in the same world at a later date. Dark Minds was an emotionally resonant, enjoyable end to a trilogy that I’ve fallen in love with over the past few years. If you haven’t started the trilogy, I highly recommend going out and buying Dark Horse. But if you’ve read the first two books, you need to buy the third book; you won’t be disappointed.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Far from home . . .

Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.

Far from safe . . .

Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.

Far from done . . .

Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

For those of you hoping to see a continuation of Rose’s story from the first book, don’t worry! Fiona is obviously her own character and we see things through her eyes but we also get to see what has happened to Rose in the time between the books. With that said, let’s get on with the review.

I was skeptical about switching characters for the second novel but in the end I actually like Fiona a little more than Rose. They’re both great characters but I absolutely love Fiona’s resourcefulness and the fact that while she does find love with Hal, her priorities are more focused on finding out why she was kidnapped and if there are other humans out in space that faced similar predicaments. She’s very practical and determined and I think of myself that way so I guess I’m a little biased toward Fiona because I see myself in her. But really, each to their own. Both Fiona and Rose are strong characters facing tough predicaments and while they obviously aren’t thrilled about their situations, they adapt and maybe even learn to love their new reality.

In the last book, the political tensions between the Tecran and the Grih are almost at the boiling point by the end. However, with the discovery of Fiona, a second kidnapped human that proves Rose’s situation was not unique, things definitely start to boil over. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling some fascinating plot twists, but let’s just say that unfortunately, Fiona and Rose aren’t alone in their predicament either. And the Grih will go to war with the Tecran for their egregious and blatant violations of intergalactic treaties regarding the treatment of sentient beings. Politics definitely plays a bigger role in this book than it did in Dark Deeds.

One of the things I loved in this second book is that rather than letting the plot drag on as it builds up to the third book (as so many second novels do), Michelle Diener ups the ante. Now that the Grih are aware other Class Fives are out there, they’re not all that inclined toward leniency. Even though Sazo is on their side, they know it’s because of his personal connection to Rose. What if Eazi isn’t as attached to Fiona and is more inclined to enjoy true freedom? What if he turns agains them, especially after Fiona is very nearly killed multiple times by both the Grih and others? Again, I can’t say too much without spoiling things but let’s just say that Eazi isn’t Sazo; he’s a little more inclined to find his own path and the results are hilarious and satisfying.

Fiona was a great character, the political tensions have only increased and Michelle Diener managed not to fall into the temptation of creating a pattern of turning Class Fives exclusively over the Grih. Really, what more can you ask for in a second book? I honestly can’t wait for the third book, Dark Minds. What little we saw of Imogen through Fiona’s eyes makes me excited just to meet her character, let alone find out what happens to the Tecran and the Grih in the end.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Dark Horse by Michelle Diener

Dark Horse by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Some secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.

[Full disclosure: I received and accepted a NetGalley invitation from the author to receive a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I was introduced to Michelle Diener’s work through her debut fantasy novel, The Golden Apple.  After that, I delved into her historical series about John Parker and Susanna Horenbout (set in Tudor times).  So when she emailed me saying that she had expanded into science fiction I was very excited to read her new book.  It took me much longer than anticipated to get to it, but in the end it was worth it.

Dark Horse starts out with our protagonist, Rose, escaping from the alien ship that has held her captive and tortured her for about three months.  The Tecrans that hold her hostage are more advanced than humanity but Rose has escaped by making a promise with the rogue artificial intelligence system, Sazo.  Sazo teleported the Class 5 Battleship into the middle of Grih territory.  The Grih are an alien race the closest to humans and therefore the most likely to accept Rose into their society when they inevitably find her.  But despite Sazo’s help in getting her out, Rose really isn’t sure of the artificial intelligence system’s true motivations and whether or not he plans to harm or help the Grih.  Sazo’s actions in getting her out of the ship really make her doubt that.

Rose is a great main character.  We don’t get to experience all of the horrible things she went through when the Tecran experimented on her but we certainly feel the repercussions throughout the novel.  You don’t walk away from three months of torture completely unscathed.  At the same time, Rose is full of hope that she can build a new life for herself among the Grih, particularly once she meets them.  Her attraction to Dav, the admiral in charge of the ship that found her is undeniable but at the same time she’s still keeping Sazo’s existence a secret.  It’s a dangerous secret that threatens to wreck all that she has worked for and possibly start an inter-galactic war.  Throughout the novel you really get the feeling that Rose is a fundamentally good human being who was in a terrible situation and is now willing to do almost anything it takes to get out of it with her honour and dignity intact.  It’s certainly not easy.

Not only is Rose a three dimensional character, Dav is as well.  He’s an admiral who has followed the book to the letter from about day one to get where he is in his career currently.  But that all seems to change once he meets Rose and is exposed to entirely new ideas, ideas that really threaten views he once thought were set in stone.  Yes, there’s an attraction between the two of them but it really feels organic and Michelle Diener allows that attraction to grow throughout the novel.  It’s far from straightforward either—there are plenty of bumps along the road as he discovers Rose isn’t being entirely truthful with him and the secret she keeps may ruin the tentuous peace between the five main races in the galaxy.

I could go on and on about the character of Sazo, the artificial intelligence, but to do so would spoil some of the lovely surprises Michelle Diener leaves for her readers.  Suffice it to say, Sazo’s and Rose’s banter makes for some of the best parts of the entire book.  And considering the quality of Dark Horse, that’s pretty high praise.  Even the secondary characters are very well fleshed out, something that I’ve found is very consistent with Diener’s novels, fantasy, historical fiction or otherwise.

I really did love the world-building in Dark Horse.  Some of the technology was so creative, some of it was similar to other science fiction novels and a few things will be very familiar to avid science fiction fans.   (Rose even makes a joke about this when asked how she can possibly figure out the Grih technology so fast.)  What I really liked, however, was the cultural aspect of the world-building.  Considering the fast pace of the novel we don’t exactly get an in-depth look at Grih culture but we do get beautiful glimpses into it.  For example, the scarcity of music-makers due to not only the Grih language but their anatomy.  It’s all very fascinating and very well thought out.

Best of all, Dark Horse starts out pretty fast paced and maintains that pace quite well throughout the novel.  There are some ‘down’ moments but the tension never really leaves, especially when you consider that Rose’s secret is really a ticking time bomb that could have disastrous consequences.  I can’t talk too much about the plot because that would spoil some of the twists and turns, but I think it’s enough to say that you’ll definitely be (pleasantly) surprised with said plot twists.  They’re logical and exciting at the same time.

Basically, Dark Horse is an amazing science fiction debut for Michelle Diener and I personally can’t wait for more, preferably in the same universe (if not the same characters).  I can’t recommend this novel enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Silver Pear by Michelle Diener

The Silver Pear by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

An unlikely princess . . .

Kayla is determined to master her new-found abilities as a wild magic witch. She’s learning everything she can so she and her betrothed, Rane, can put a stop to the sorcerers who are recklessly gathering their power, building up their magic to take each other on in a war that will destroy the countries of Middleland.

An even more unlikely sorcerer . . .

Mirabelle’s father was one of the greatest sorcerers in Middleland, but when he used the magic in the silver pear to bespell his pregnant wife to give birth to the greatest sorcerer who would ever live, he never thought that child would be a girl. Mirabelle is nothing like a usual sorcerer, confounding every expectation, and when she comes to the rescue of Rane’s brother, Soren, she makes a decision few sorcerers would. She saves him, rather than herself, losing the silver pear in the process.

And using magic always exacts a price . . .

With war not just a possibility but simply a matter of time, there are no neutral parties and no fence-sitters in Kayla and Mirabelle’s new world. Everyone is either an ally or an enemy and there is a price to pay for everything. The question is, how high will it be?

[Full disclosure: Michelle Diener gave me a pre-approval widget for NetGalley so I could receive an ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I must admit that while I downloaded The Silver Pear in fall 2014, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to re-read the first book, The Golden Apple and so I didn’t actually get to read it until a couple weeks ago in February 2015.  So by the time I finally got to read this book, I was more than ready to slip back into Michelle Diener’s awesome fantasy world to learn Kayla and Rane’s fates.

What makes this book different from the first one is that it’s told from four different perspectives grouped into two main sections: Kayla and Rane get alternating chapters before the viewpoint switches to Soren and Mirabelle for alternating chapters before switching back to the first pair.  In the hands of some authors this would never work but Michelle Diener makes each character’s voice so distinct that it would be very hard to confuse the points of view of the four different main characters.  And the alternating points of view sometimes overlap but they’re never just a recap of what happened in the head of another character just one chapter ago.  That makes the plot move forward constantly at a really unrelenting pace; it’s part of the reason why I stayed up to read this book until way too early in the morning.

As with the first book, the characters are amazing.  Kayla still remains my favourite because I love seeing her grow into her power as a wild magic witch but Mirabelle is an interesting new addition to our unlikely quartet.  She has a fantastic backstory that’s filled with both tragedy and privilege and once she learns to trust Soren she reveals it bit by bit in a natural, very organic way that never slows down the plot.  Both Rane and his wayward brother Soren were excellent characters as well and you can tell that both of them care very much for not only their sibling but for the amazing women they travel with for a large chunk of the novel.  All four main characters are well fleshed-out but Michelle Diener also never neglects her secondary characters, particularly Ylana, the earth witch Kayla froze in The Golden Apple.  Ylana is not all that she appears to be and she definitely plays her cards close to her chest.  At the end of the day, you never really know what side she’s going to choose and that kept me in suspense for a fair bit of the novel.

So here we have a great plot and very believable, realistic characters, but how was the world-building?  Like with the first book, I was blown away by Michelle Diener’s world-building.  Only this time our adventures are not confined to the Great Forest!  We get to see many of the kingdoms that make up the world of The Silver Pear and the toll the feuding sorcerers have taken on those kingdoms.  Battles between sorcerers can get very, very nasty and the politics behind which king backs which sorcerer are complex and often fraught with danger.  Will Kayla and the gang be able to corner the worst sorcerer, Eric the Bold and his companion before they both destroy the kingdoms?  I’ll leave it up to you to figure that part out when you read the book.

Really, if you read and loved The Golden Apple, you’re going to love the second installment in the Dark Forest set.  If you haven’t picked up the first book I would definitely recommend reading it before tackling The Silver Pear but it’s not totally necessary because of the handy summary of events Michelle Diener has at the beginning of the novel.  I can’t recommend both books enough so if you like unique fantasy with three dimensional characters and fascinating worlds, you can’t go wrong with either this book or the first book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Mistress of the Wind by Michelle Diener

Mistress of the Wind by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Delighted Reader.)

Bjorn needs to find a very special woman . . .

The fate of his people, and his own life, depends on it. But when he does find her, she is nothing like he imagined, and may just harbor more secrets than he does himself.

Astrid has never taken well to commands. No matter who issues them . . .

She’s clashed her whole life with her father, and now her lover, the mysterious man who comes to her bedroom in darkness and disappears to guard his mountain by day as a bear, is finding it out the hard way. And when he’s taken by his enemies, no one is prepared for Astrid’s response.

It is never wise to anger the mistress of the wind . . .

A captivating and magical adult retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

[Full disclosure: I won this book in a giveaway by Michelle Diener and there was no expectation of review so as always this review is my honest opinion.]

I’d previously read a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon in the form of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George.  It wasn’t really that memorable but I did enjoy learning about the original myth.  Mistress of the Wind is a huge improvement on the original myth.  Astrid is, of course, still as feisty as the girl in the original myth but Michelle Diener has given her world far much more depth.

Astrid is a very special girl with some pretty awesome abilities.  Bjorn is powerful but Astrid is powerful in her own right and they’re both incredibly stubborn.  It makes for an interesting dynamic in their relationship, that’s for sure!  They both have their flaws and strengths but the thing that I liked the most was that unlike in the myth, they didn’t fall in Insta-Love.  No, they slowly come to respect and eventually love each other and it’s only when things go wrong that Astrid truly realizes just how much she really loves Bjorn.

Michelle Diener has also taken creatures from Scandinavian myths to populate her world.  There are both good and evil creatures and in the end both types of creatures contribute to the balance and therefore survival of the world.  However, the balance has been thrown off and it’s up to Bjorn and Astrid to restore it together.  So not only is there the main plot but there are plenty of these interesting little subplots that tie into the main conflict of Astrid and Bjorn’s relationship.

The plot isn’t break-neck but it was exciting enough for me not to want to put the book down.  Like with all of Michelle Diener’s books, I quickly became invested not only in the plot but in the three dimensional characters.  If you’re interested in fairytale retellings you can’t go wrong with Mistress of the Wind.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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A Dangerous Madness by Michelle Diener

A Dangerous Madness by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Michelle Diener’s site.)

The Duke of Wittaker has been living a lie…

He’s been spying on the dissolute, discontented noblemen of the ton, pretending to share their views. Now he’s ready to step out of the shadows and start living a real life…but when the prime minister of England is assassinated, he’s asked to go back to being the rake-hell duke everyone believes he still is to find out more.

Miss Phoebe Hillier has been living a lie, too…

All her life she’s played by society’s rules, hiding her fierce intelligence and love of life behind a docile and decorous mask. All it’s gotten her is jilted by her betrothed, a man she thought a fool, though a harmless one. But when she discovers her former fiancé was involved in the plot against the prime minister, and that he’s been murdered, she realizes he wasn’t so harmless after all.

And now the killers have set their sights on her…

The only man who can help her is the Duke of Wittaker–a man she knows she shouldn’t trust. And she soon realizes he’s hiding behind a mask as careful as her own. As the clock ticks down to the assassin’s trial, the pair scramble to uncover the real conspiracy behind the prime minister’s death. And as the pressure and the danger mounts, Phoebe and Wittaker shed their disguises, layer by layer, to discover something more precious than either imagined–something that could last forever. Unless the conspirators desperate to hide their tracks get to them first.

[Full disclosure: Michelle Diener invited me to review her book and I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

For all that I’m a history buff, I knew absolutely nothing about the period that A Dangerous Madness is set in.  I really hardly know anything about England in the 1800s so after finishing Michelle Diener’s latest release I can very honestly say that I learned something.

Phoebe, the main character, is my type of woman.  She’s strong and feisty but at the same time is actually aware of social norms and generally tries to follow them.  Sure, she gets fed up with them and ends up not caring about certain ones but at least she isn’t your stereotypical total outcast of a heroine.  James, the Duke of Wittaker is a good male lead.  He’s not your perfect knight in shining armor but he does his best to improve his character when he starts to fall in love.  In the past he’s done things he deeply regrets and you can tell that his guilt for some of the things weighs on him but he’s also done quite a bit of good.

The story begins with Phoebe’s fiancé dumping her and fleeing the country and it only heats up from there.  Soon the prime minister is shot (which actually happened) and there’s a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of the country behind the assassination.  There are so many twists and turns you can’t tell how things are going to end up because Michelle Diener is so good at writing tales of political intrigue.

I’m not qualified to speak to the historical accuracy of A Dangerous Madness, but as Michelle Diener writes in her historical note, many of the events really did happen as she described them.  The conspiracy is pure speculation but at the same time when you look at the real people involved it might not be all that far off from the truth.  Perceval had many powerful enemies, that’s for sure!  And that’s how historical fiction is best done: mostly history with a little bit of fiction in to spice things up.

Even if you haven’t read the first two books in the Regency London series, you can certainly start with A Dangerous Madness just like I did.  They don’t have to be read in any particular order but I still can’t wait to read the first two books because I loved this one so much.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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In Defense of the Queen by Michelle Diener

In Defense of the Queen by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Michelle Diener’s site.)

An artist never betrays her patron . . . especially one of the world’s most powerful kings.

Susanna Horenbout has learned this lesson from the cradle. But when she receives a letter from her father telling her to do just that, she faces a dilemma. Betray Henry VIII, or carry out the request of her father’s employer, Margaret of Austria, and pass secret information to Henry’s queen, Katherine of Aragon.

Caught between the machinations of her husband and her nephew, the Emperor Charles, Queen Katherine needs all the allies she can get. But what can Susanna really do to help her, and even if she does, will it be enough?

Susanna and her betrothed, Parker—one of Henry’s most trusted courtiers—balance on the knife’s edge of treason as they try to make sense of both international and domestic conspiracies. Sometimes, it’s better the enemy you know . .

[Full disclosure: I was sent a free paperback copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

With the serious cliffhanger at the end of the second book I knew I immediately had to start In Defense of the Queen.  I’m very invested in this series by this point so you can understand why I was a little anxious to find Susanna in a lot of trouble in this third installment.

As with the previous two books, I loved the characters.  Susanna and John’s bond is stronger than ever partly because of all of the trials they’ve gone through as a couple.  Still, I was more than little worried about the two what with all of the assassination attempts and Susanna being accused of treason.  I’ll admit that I have become quite attached to both Susanna and John.

I liked how we were in Susanna’s point of view a lot more than we were in the second book because she still is my favourite character.  She’s tested again and again but I love that no matter how hard or awful the situation is, she stays loyal to John (even when it works against her).  It’s not easy to be torn between your family’s loyalties and your loyalty to your patron and Michelle Diener played that dramatic tension perfectly.

The previous two books both had the complicated plots I’ve come to expect and love from Michelle Diener.  This one tops them.  There are twists and turns everywhere and the larger conspiracy is both well hidden and very believable.  I honestly didn’t see the end coming and for a cynical reader like myself that’s very unusual.  The ending wrapped things up nicely while at the same time leaving a little wiggle room for another sequel.  I don’t think John and Susanna’s story is over quite yet.

If you haven’t read the first two books I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Michelle Diener writes some darn good historical fiction and whether you’re looking for accuracy or a good plot you’ll be satisfied by her writing.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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