Books : reviews

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
The Cipher.
Roc. 2007

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
The Black Ship.
Roc. 2008

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
The Turning Tide.
Roc. 2009

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
The Hollow Crown.
Roc. 2010

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Bitter Night.
Pocket. 2009

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 11 March 2012

Max is a Shadowblade, bound by compulsion spells to serve the witch Gisselle. And despite being superb at her job, she hates it, constantly struggling to be free, and constantly having the bindings strengthened through torture. But then she is sent on a dangerous mission in another witch's territory, and things start to go to hell in a handbasket. Soon she and Gisselle are fighting for the survival of humanity. Can Max continue her private quest for freedom when success might mean the end of the world?

This is a great fast-paced romp in an interesting world. Max is an interesting character, bound to a job she hates, yet loved by the people she commands. Her own integrity puts her in difficult and dangerous situations, but (in the way of all good fairy tales) is also the route to success. There's a good conclusion, but this is clearly the start of a series.

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Crimson Wind.
Pocket. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 22 March 2012

Max has called a truce with Gisselle, the witch who enslaved her 30 years ago. Now they have bigger problems, as the Guardians are gearing up to bringing magic back and wiping out the humans, and the demon "Scooter" is demanding that Max be his, as the price Gisselle agreed to pay for his guarding a path into Horngate. Max gets him to agree to wait until she and Alexander can rescue Max's estranged family, and bring them back to the relative safety of Horngate. But Alexander has received a worrying prophesy, and on their way there, magic erupts...

An interesting "road" story, as Max and Alexander struggle to reach safety after the post-magical-apocalypse. Clearly this is not going to be a covert war. Despite the wrapping up of the local story, it all ends a whopping cliffhanger.

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Shadow City.
Pocket. 2012

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 12 July 2012

Max and Alexander returned to Horngate, and all the debts need to be paid. Max goes off with the demon she calls Scooter, and Alexander needs to become Prime in her place. But he fears that if he does, the prophesy will come true and he will never see Max again, so he is resisting the pull, putting all the Shadowblades in danger. As Max fights Scooter's battles, Horngate and Alexander are beset by a Fury. Even if Max wins free of Scooter, there may be no Horngate to return to.

A little less Max and Alexander agonising over each other, and rather more slam-bam demon-kicking action, leading up to a final showdown where lots of relationships get changed. A good resolution, but with room for further action.

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Blood Winter.
Pocket. 2012

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 29 April 2013

While still reeling from the fallout of the previous battles aroung Horngate, Max discovers a new threat to the witches safe-haven. Benjamin Sterling, a local witch disguising himself as a preacher, has built a huge army, and a pact with a strong power, meaning to destroy Horngate and Max. And Max's relatives aren't making things any easier.

Lots of slam-bam action, but this episode feels rather bitty. Max hares off in one direction to fight demons; Alexander hares off in another, chasing the Grims following a salamander. Although these are deliberate distractions from the main event, it still feels rather disjointed.

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Path of Fate.
Roc. 2003

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 August 2007

Reisil is a foundling, brought up by the impersonal kindness of the township of Kallas, never belonging. But now, trained as a healer, she is finally beginning to find her own place and her own worth. So when the goshawk Saljane arrives, announcing her as one of the ahalad-kaaslane, agents of the Blessed Lady, she fiercely rejects the gift. But then an act of treachery threatens to throw her country back into a terrible war, and she finds herself forced to acknowledge her now-damaged bond with Saljane.

Reisil is a strong, competent character, coming to terms with her new life that has ripped apart her hard-won acceptance. The trials she goes through are realistically uncomfortable, and nothing is too easy (except maybe when the Goddess steps in to lend a hand, and grant Reisil a new power). Saljane comes through as a real character, too, without being too anthropomorphic. The plot manages the standard quest theme, without degenerating into a mere search for Plot Coupons, as Reisil and her colleagues chase after a kidnapped Princess. And although things finish up satisfactorily, the don't have a "reset" or conventional happy ending, either.

There are another two in the series. it will be interesting to see how Reisil copes with the enormity of her new powers, and if the Goddess can manage not to interfere so often...

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Path of Honor.
Roc. 2004

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 13 October 2007

Reisil has saved her country from a war with the wizards, and goes to join the rest of the ahalad kaaslane at the court of the Iisand. But they, and all the nobles treat her with fear and mistrust. The country is now being ravaged by plague and magical nokulas, and Reisil's healing magic has deserted her in this hour of her greatest need. In this hostile atmosphere, she must work to save her country from this new peril. Maybe the only thing she can do is go to the enemy wizards for help.

Somewhat slower, and more disjointed, than the first in the trilogy, this is mainly scene setting for the big final battle to come. It jumps around several viewpoints, and is mostly just grim struggling against an ever-worsening situation: a problem that besets many middle books of trilogies.

Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Path of Blood.
Roc. 2006

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 October 2007

Reisil must battle many foes to win the final battle, and save her country from the plague, the wizards, and several new threats including a new corrupt ruler. Everything seems against her, but she now has her magic back.

This is just one long battle after another for Reisil as she has to stop the magic flood between worlds opened by the wizards, with everyone trying to stop her, for different reasons. We have battles against armies of wizards and magical beasts, and battles to overcome trials set her to prove her worth -- all is grittily exhausting. A non-stop roller-coaster ride.