Book Review: In Search of Magic Fire by Amber Gabriel

I’m back with another book review!

Today, I wanted to take a moment to highlight book 3 in The Edge of the Sword series by Amber Gabriel – In Search of Magic Fire.

I read through the first five books in this series while on my Christmas holidays – I absolutely gobbled them up. And I’m still thinking about them. There’s one more book for me to read in the series, but I’ve also got a couple other books to get to as well. It’s all happening! But, back to the topic.

I loved this book.

First off, this is the first time in the series we’ve had two completely separate storylines. On one side, we follow Stelan (first introduced in book 2), who is kidnapped on his way back to Lyliana and swiftly caught up in a plot of intrigue, uncertain of who to trust as he fights to return home – hopefully with a few Cerecian secrets too.

On the other hand, we follow Lydima, cousin to Lady Eemya. Lydima had a small role in book 2, but here she really, really shines as she struggles to care for Eemya and Darius’ lands, and a slowly swelling group of children in need of love and care.

I think the two storylines were really well crafted in this book. The two main characters of Lydima and Stelan both have compelling, interesting tales on two very different ends of life – one is a soldier in enemy territory, the other a young woman caring for others and building a family to the best of her ability. In each case the stakes seem equally high, and each character equally determined to see their goals accomplished. Each storyline had me hooked and as the story jumped between the two (one of which kind of splits off into three as Stelan’s and his companion have to split up) I was just as invested and keen to hear what would happen in each one.

Truly, I really enjoyed this tale. I loved watching Lydima grow in her role, learning how to lead, and to nurture, and, maybe even how to love. Seeing her fall for each of the children and be so attentive and understanding of their needs was such a joy, and the family they create feels so warm and heartening in the midst of the horrors some of the children have to deal with. Reading those scenes where Lydima is forming a family, while at times a difficult or emotionally painful task for her, often gave me those ‘warm cuddly’ feelings when you read a lovely book on a cool night, all rugged up and cosy. It was so good!

As for Stelan, his tale isn’t without struggle either, and some romance along the way! It was such a joy to see two characters get to know each other and still have to deal with a tense, dangerous, life-threatening situation. The stakes are high here, as the Cerecian ‘magic fire’ has the ability to wreak havoc on Berush and Artylia, and learning its secrets could make all the difference…

Once again, Gabriel’s writing is beautiful, and we’re drawn into the lands of Lyliana and Cerecia, with some incredible revelations along the way. It was great to get a close look at Cerecia – it’s been a nice way to introduce the three countries in the first three books I think. I’m eager to see where the relationships between these three countries goes in future novels. But, back to this novel. The ending of In Search of Magic Fire in particular is incredibly, incredibly satisfying for each of our viewpoint characters.

On another note, we also get a look in on characters who will have more of their own stories in the future, chief among them Princess Bashalis. She made quite the impact in her short time in this book, it certainly whets the appetite for more! The other side characters were well rounded and delightful in their own ways (particularly Janis, Zariana, Yoused – among others!). Side characters, I think, can really bring out so much flavour and colour and tone to a story, and I love what Gabriel does with them here.

It’s something of a struggle for me to decide which out of book 3 and 1 is my favourite. And honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I think, overall, part of me can’t let go of book 1, though this one (especially its ending) really gives it a run for its money.

Overall, a real bravo to Gabriel for what she accomplishes in this book (and keep an eye out for the deleted scene at the end – I loved it and think it’s a perfect example of the decisions authors have to make when writing, why they make them, and how they change the course of the story – and stories to come!).

TW: This story deals with child abuse. I think Gabriel does an incredible job of handling the issue, showing it’s awful effects on the most vulnerable, and the struggle to deal with it. I applaud he skill and tact in covering this issue in the book. It’s done incredibly well and feels so real and scary and affecting.

So, those are my thoughts on In Search of Magic Fire. Have you read it? What did you think?

Book Review: The Warrior Prince of Berush by Amber Gabriel

I’m back with another review of a fabulous Amber Gabriel book – book two in The Edge of the Sword SeriesThe Warrior Prince of Berush.

Let’s get into it!

This book picks up some years after A Crack in the Rock. Our characters are older, life has moved on, and it’s a whole new phase for them!

This is a lovely second instalment in The Edge of the Sword Series. The novel follows Prince Darius, brother to Cyrus, both of whom we met in book one. I admit that, at first, all I wanted was just a little more of my sweet Sashia and Cyrus, so it was super satisfying to get a look in on the pair before taking off on this new adventure.

We begin with trouble with neighbouring Artylia that Darius and Cyrus are forced to face. It’s a strong opening to the book that sets the scene for the overall story, and some pretty crucial moments towards the end of the tale.

Darius starts off as, well, a bit of an oaf. Not the ‘dumb’ kind of oaf, but the ‘brash and quick to anger’ type of oaf, and makes a couple of bad (ahem terrible) decisions. BUT, of course, that’s only the beginning of the story…

Our other main character is Lady Eemya, another excellent leading lady. Eemya is intelligent, compassionate, wise, and beloved by her subjects – it’s easy to see why. Some of the happiest moments of the story for me were seeing how Eemya cared for, interacted with, and encouraged the innovations of, her people.

When Darius and Eemya meet, sparks fly! But, not necessarily good ones (at first at least)!

There’s a lot to like about this fantasy romance. First, besides Darius and Eemya, we have the sweetest sweetheart ever, Stelan. The relationship he comes to have with both leads is fabulous, and he plays some vital roles throughout the story. We also have Effan, whom readers of book one will remember. It’s special to see his close relationship with Darius continue, and I feel sad for what he went through in book one even more!

The characters themselves deepen as the story progresses and we can see inside their heads a little more, and understand their backgrounds, motivations, and priorities.

The setting is delightful – a beautiful island completely different to Berush! The other supporting characters work so well and, once again, the characters and the setting work wonderfully to create a lovely atmosphere for the novel.

Being more predominantly a romance (or perhaps a slightly more traditional one, I’d say) the plot of this book felt less dire throughout than A Crack in the Rock. That’s not a bad thing at all, just a reflection on the feel and tone of the novel. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s a lot of tension and some real drama does go down. And the ENDING ahh, so, so good!

As for antagonists, we have a few in different ways! First, there’s the tensions in the kingdom of Artylia which lurk at the edges for much of the story, breaking through in big ways a couple of times, there’s also the environment (which creates its own challenges), and some other leaders on the island who might not see eye-to-eye with Eemya or Darius. Then, of course, there’s the tension between the characters themselves. There’s enough here to keep you wondering, without a ‘big baddie’ deliberately trying to thwart Darius and Eemya’s story throughout the entire book – which is nice to not have in a more deliberate romance like this one!

This story, while less intense (in some ways) than A Crack in the Rock, has some big themes and deals with important issues. Darius struggles with PTSD, and it clearly affects him – and others around him – in the story. I really appreciate how Gabriel deliberately weaves these real-world themes into her stories. It gives them a heft and richness I so appreciate. Other key themes that stood out to me are the impact of first impressions (and how drastically they can change), self reflection and growth, and forgiveness.

I know A Crack in the Rock (while first chronologically) came out later than this novel. But while this story was published earlier, the writing quality is still excellent!

Overall, another highly recommended! It was such a fun, smooth read! I think A Crack in the Rock is still my favourite of the two, but The Warrior Prince of Berush is an excellent and engaging read that had me reaching straight for book three!

Now I’ve finished the main section of the review, I just have to indulge myself to take a moment and comment on something.

Head hopping.

What is head hopping, you ask?

Head hopping is when an author ‘hops’ from the perspective of one character to another in the same scene.

Frank Herbert did it. Jane Austen did it. JRR Tolkien did it. But it’s almost universally frowned upon today.

As this article from the Writing Cooperative points out, this is a modern convention, current taste, rather than a hard and fast rule.

And to be honest, I don’t get the hate.

Sure, it can be done badly – but so can every aspect of writing. Here, in The Warrior Prince of Berush I feel like it’s appropriate and done well at important moments where the audience wants or needs to know multiple perspectives of an event or situation.

Why am I bringing this up?

Well, because, the ‘it’s terrible’ prevailing opinions of head hopping really, really bother me. And I wanted to take the opportunity to point out that just because head hopping exists, doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad (see authors above, this book, and more). I might do a more in-depth article on this one day, but for now I’ll get off my soapbox. Head hopping can be done well!

So, what do you think? Have you read A Crack in the Rock or The Warrior Prince of Berush?

Book Review: A Crack in the Rock by Amber Gabriel

The first book in any series has a lot riding on it.

The first book is what hooks readers in for more, makes them fall in love with the characters, the world, the writing style.

A Crack in the Rock by Amber Gabriel does just that. And does it well.

The novel follows Sashia, a daughter of goatherds who finds herself facing incredible physical, emotional, and mental struggle on her journey to carve a place for herself in her country. Along the way, she also carves a place in the future King’s heart. But, will it be enough…

I loved this book.

I gave it a 5 Star rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

And I want to talk about it.

I had been eyeing off A Crack in the Rock for ages, after discovering author Amber Gabriel on Instagram. Finally, in the Christmas holidays, I felt like I had the time to dedicate to picking up a book just for fun.

I’m so glad I did!

First off, the characters.

First off, we have Sashia. Sashia is our heroine, and she certainly deserves that title. Throughout the story we watch Sashia grow from a fairly unimportant child of goatherders who is unfairly treated by her mother, to a confident young woman with dreams of making a difference. Her character goes through a lot more from there, but, you know, I don’t want to spoil it!

Gabriel has done a fabulous job of crafting Sashia into a genuinely, intensely likeable character. From Sashia’s humble beginnings, I was swiftly sympathising for her on account of her mother’s unfair treatment. There’s such a sense of victory as Sashia discovers a new life and a passion, and the story goes on from there.

Along the journey, Sashia becomes a strong leading lady, but never in that abrasive ‘I-don’t-need-no-man’/’men-are-useless’ kind of way that tends to grate on me as a reader. She comes across as a very real person, with varying wants and needs that change over time depending on her circumstances. She’s fabulous, I love her, and I wish she could have all she wanted out of life.

Alrighty, Cyrus is dreamy. He’s a sweetpea who once or twice makes a foolish decision – but I can’t hold it against him because he’s so earnest and genuine in his desire to do the right thing. The love he has for Sashia is so vibrant and real, and watching the two of them interact and care for each other is utterly beautiful. I feel like there’s a lot more I could say about this character, but for now I’ll just say *chef’s kiss*.

I love this character. Berush as a nation (where the story takes place) comes across as tough but fair in it’s laws, and within that context Lang’s character is a beautiful example of the importance of mercy. His incredible loyalty and love are a highlight of the novel to me, and his character’s key moments shine.

Other supporting characters
First off, I want to touch on the parents. Sashia’s mother and father, and Cyrus’ father, are excellent characters. Sashia’s father’s strict but genuine love, her mother’s complicated past and growth, and the enigma that is Cyrus’ father all create a rich tapestry in the story. It’s great to see visible parents who are active in the story, especially when those parents are looking out for their children (if in ways the children don’t always understand or agree with). Cyrus’ loyal soldiers and brother Darius are also highlights.

Overall, the characters are strong and concisely realised, and I connected to them so quickly.

The Theme
Gabriel says, right off the bat, that the story deals with polygamy. And it certain does. It’s an unflinching look at the impact this kind of relationship can have on individuals, and the pain it can cause. Throughout the story, we encounter polygamous marriages in a few different ways, and discover how those relationships came to be. Never have I been more heartbroken for people in polygamous marriages, never more clearly have I been able to imagine the pain and irreversible change that kind of marriage can cause.

At the same time, while the story deals with hard topics, and because of the subject matter doesn’t have what I’d consider to be a standard ‘happy ending’, I deeply admire the way Gabriel has handled the issue. The characters, because of their own values and personalities, come out of the struggles not unscathed, but in what I’d consider the best way possible.

The Conflict and the Worldbuilding
I love it when a book has more than one element or conflict to it. In A Crack in the Rock, we have tense relationships with parents, a mysterious figure behind assassination attempts, and struggles of dealing with polygamy.
We also have a beautifully crafted world, focussing on the land of Berush. The wild, rugged landscapes, the detailed understanding of the cultures and political structures, the fabulous descriptions of Sashia’s goatherd life and healing prowess all meld together to form a world that feels very real, very believable, but also unique and memorable.
The setting too, has a real influence on the story. The landscape plays an important role and impacts the characters in very real ways.

Overall, I feel as though this post is a somewhat dry, analytical look at what is, at its heart, a deeply emotive, passionate, wonderful story. I don’t want to say too much that could give things away, but it’s such a good, easy, delightful read. Gabriel has a wonderful writing style that flows seamlessly, while her research shines through in the realism it lends to important elements of the story. The book is 371 pages, and they fly right by.

I highly, highly recommend this book. It hooked me completely, and I’ve just started book 5 of the series after devouring books 2-4 (more reviews will be coming on them too!).

If you love a desert adventure filled with romance, political intrigue, and deep emotional notes (I didn’t even TOUCH on some other roles Sashia takes up and the impact that has on her for good and bad – I don’t want to spoil the story!) you’ll thoroughly enjoy A Crack in the Rock.