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Book Review: Wolf’s-Own, by Carole Cummings

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Wolf’s-Own Series Blurb

Read Wolf’s-own: the four-book fantasy epic featuring Fen Jacin-rei-Incendiary, Catalyst, Once-Untouchable-and Kamen Malick, who is determined to decode the intrigue that surrounds him. Fen’s mind is host to the spirits of long-dead magicians, and Fen’s fate should be one of madness and ignoble death. So how is it Fen lives, carrying out shadowy vengeance for his subjugated people and protecting the family he loves? With a threat all too close and a secret he needs to explain, Malick is at odds with those who should be his allies, and no matter how much he wants to protect Fen, it may be more than he can manage when he’s trying to keep them alive.

Book 1: Ghost

Untouchable. Ghost. Assassin. Mad. Fen Jacin-rei is all these and none. His mind is host to the spirits of long-dead magicians, and Fen’s fate should be one of madness and ignoble death. So how is it Fen lives, carrying out shadowy vengeance for his subjugated people and protecting the family he loves?
Kamen Malick means to find out. When Malick and his own small band of assassins ambush Fen in an alley, Malick offers Fen a choice: Join us or die.
Determined to decode the intrigue that surrounds Fen, Malick sets to unraveling the mysteries of Fen’s past. As Fen’s secrets slowly unfold, Malick finds irony a bitter thing when he discovers the one he wants is already hopelessly entangled with the one he hunts.

Book 2: Weregild

The amorality of gods makes it hard to tell bad from good and right from wrong. Fen Jacin-rei doesn’t care. All Fen cares about is saving his family, and he’ll sacrifice anything that gets in his way. Including his own soul.
No longer willing to wait for the machinations of the gods’ minions, Fen accepts the trade Kamen Malick offers. Together they set out to rescue Fen’s family and kill the man who betrayed them. But Fen is an Untouchable, one whose mind hosts the spirits of long-dead magicians, and with Voices of the Ancestors screaming in his head, Fen finds it harder and harder to stave off madness.
Malick has his own reasons to hand over everything Fen wants and equally compelling reasons to withhold everything Fen needs. In over his head with his timing as bad as ever, Malick must devise a way to do his god’s bidding without breaking his god’s laws—and keep Fen sane and on Malick’s side in the bargain.

Book 3: Koan

After saving his people, killing the man he once loved, and losing his little sister, Fen Jacin-rei has made his way to Tambalon with his surviving brothers and Kamen Malick. But shortly after arriving, old ghosts resurface, new dangers arise, and Malick tells Fen the gods aren’t done with him yet.
Fen now knows he’s a catalyst for Fate and a magnet for Fate’s players, and he’s dangerously close to falling over the edge into insanity. But tracking down the vicious creatures that have been abducting and murdering citizens of Tambalon is just as critical as dealing with past lives and legendary beings.
With a threat all too close and a secret he needs to explain, Malick is at odds with those who should be his allies, and no matter how much he wants to protect Fen, it may be more than he can manage when he’s trying to keep them alive.

Book 4: Incendiary

Fen Jacin-rei finds himself again on the run after discovering the reality of what he is and why the gods won t let him go. His one source of support, Kamen Malick, is suddenly unavailable, and now hounded and chased by ghosts who want to drive him into insanity and keep him there, Fen will have to face life all alone.
Or maybe not. Old enemies and new allies seek to control Fen, now known as Kamen s Untouchable. It s going to take everything Fen s got to figure out who he can trust and who he should fear. It might take more than what Fen s got to discern who is even real.

Bonus Short: Rapport

Life for an immortal can get a little dull. But Skel has just found a new spark of interest in Wolf’s new Null, and he’s taking another look at life, love, the world, and Kamen Malick.

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Book – Wolf’s-Own

Author – Carole Cummings

Star rating – ★★★★

No. of Pages – 994

POV – 3rd person, multi-POV

Would I read it again – Books 1 and 2 – YES. Books 3 and 4 – No

Genre – LGBT, Paranormal, Fantasy, Samurai-esque

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** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

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*WARNING: this bundle includes triggers for suicide, self-harm, slavery, mental illness, contains violence, BDSM submissive elements and death.*

Wolf’s-Own is a fantasy series that follows the life of Fen Jacin, while simultaneously exploring the life of Kamen Malick, loyal to the god Wolf and considered Wolf’s-Own. Between the pair, there is plenty of chemistry, sex and violence. They share a love/hate relationship which morphs into a kind of love where they can accept the worst parts of each other more easily than they can accept their love for each other. In the mix are Malick’s band of merry assassins and friends – Umeia, Yori, Shig, Samin – and Jacin’s family – Joori, Morin and Caidi – whom he’ll do anything to protect.

Within the first two books (which are more like one extended novel) the dynamic is explosive, the chemistry is off the charts and the plot is seamlessly woven into the lives of all those involved. It’s in books three and four (another extended novel cut into two parts) that things begin to fall apart.

Here’s why:

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Book 1: Ghost

Length: 0-29%

Star rating: ★★★★★

HOLY COW! It cannot end there!

Thank God this is a bundle, because I’d go stir crazy if I had to end the story there and wait for the next book to be released or to go buy it. I barely have the patience to write this review, before I move on to read the next part.

Okay…

First off, I love the POV. Multi-POV’s used is a tricky thing to pull off, but it works perfectly in this story. We get to see events unfold from the POV of: Malick and Jacin, who are the two main characters; Samin, Umeia and Yori, who are all part of Malick’s “team”. Then we get Qiri’s POV for the flashbacks, to show us the birth of the twins, as well as Joori’s POV to show us Jacin’s childhood through the eyes of someone who wants to take care of him. We also get the POV of Asai, who becomes Jacin’s mentor and puppet-master, and his servant Vonshi, as well as a brief POV for Xari. Shig is another part of Malick’s team, but we never get her POV in this story, perhaps because she’s the biggest fruit loop out of all of them.

The characterisation is genius. Right from the start, I loved Malick’s smartass, worldly wise and devious nature, knowing that there was a big secret about him but never quite sure what it was until the big reveal. Jacin was adorable, to begin with, such a great kid and with a beautiful brotherly relationship with Joori. Their childhood flashbacks made me love them both so much. For me, Shig is the next best thing, in the list of who I loved most, because she is a total nutcase, but a deviously genius one and she just knows how to push all of Jacin’s buttons.

I loved the way that we were slowly eased into the complexity of each character, even those who were supposedly ‘minor’ like Yori and Umeia. Their stories all weave into each other, all having a bigger part to play in the overall picture and the supremely clever storytelling, world building and characterisation all compound together to make sure that we’re told their story in the perfect way. Not only does it have balance between detail, showing and telling, but it gives us what we need to know when we need to know it and not a minute sooner. In this way, the flashbacks are perfectly placed.

Almost from the end of Chapter 1, I knew that I’d be stuck to this story like glue. I couldn’t put it down to even go get a drink or something to eat, without turning over everything I knew so far, trying to figure out who the Mage was, why Asai set off my Spider senses and wondering just how much more adorable Joori and Jacin could be. Not to mention the seriously lip-biting-good chemistry between Malick and Jacin, or Fen as he’s known in Malick’s POV.

Most importantly, I loved getting to see Jacin growing up, both as an innocent kid and then again as Asai’s student, learning and questioning, slowly beginning to see the light and find his own voice. His journey is just so beautiful that it’s unbelievable.

And, of course, the final revelation of who the Mage really was and who Malick really is was mind-blowingly great and everything I’d hoped for.

Overall, I loved every word. I cried, I laughed, I snorted, I melted and I nearly fainted over the best parts. And I’ll be coming back to read it again and again, in the future.

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Favourite Quote

Okay, I had so many. Literally, I marked off nearly ten quotes, so I really had to work hard to choose my favourites.

“He’d never known anything could hurt so badly, so deeply, could raze the core of him and leave it scraped raw and burned to cinders. Like every step he took formed a scar between himself and Joori, wide and malformed, and ugly as the bare, scrubby earth over which he trod.”

Now d’you feel wooed?”

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Book 2: Weregild

Length: 29-58%

Star rating: ★★★★★

Carole Cummings owes me a box of tissues. Or three. I swear, I didn’t stop crying from beginning to end with this one and it was torture!

I absolutely loved that this story picked right up from where book 1 left off. There was no messy re-telling of the entire plot of book 1 or going too deeply into the backgrounds of the characters – just plain and simple, moving flawlessly into the next chapter of this epic story.

Similarly, I loved that the POV’s didn’t change either. No one was missing that got their POV in book 1 and we didn’t get any messy new POV’s that changed how things had been going so far. Everyone got to say their piece and show their story, just as they did in book 1.

However, I have to say that this one had a whole lot more story packed into it. Probably because so much of book 1 centered on solving the mystery of Fen, that they never really had the chance to delve too deeply into the “how” of helping him. Not that book 1 didn’t have plenty of story, but I clearly saw three parts in this book that would have made fantastic endings, only to go on and give us even more too look forward to, all winding into the same plot seamlessly. For me, book 2 packed more of a punch, both with action and the emotional rollercoaster, which is hard for me to say since I loved book 1 to the nth degree.

There was a really interesting dilemma at the start, where Joori and his family were just being rescued and settling into their new safe house, while trying to work around Jacin’s moodiness. I loved the way that Joori was so fiercely protective of Jacin, the way he butted heads with Malick and all that it entailed. They’re both strong characters, both ready to lay their lives down for Jacin, who is his usual oblivious self, so it really made sense that they couldn’t get along.

To the sticky stuff – the stuff I can’t mention without spoiling it – I’ll say only this:

Umeia broke my heart

Caidi stole it.

Yori…well, I can’t honestly say that she made any difference to me.

I cried when Malick gave Fen the ring (and a whole bunch of other times that I can’t mention)

The Umeai storyline was a shock, but one that kept me on my toes and really made me nervous. I hated watching her and Malick falling out and ending up on different sides. But, at the same time, I do think that her talk with Joori really opened his eyes about Malick and I can’t regret that. I was so mad with Umeai though that I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive her for being so stupidly bloody-minded and short-sighted. How could she doubt Malick that way?

And, yes, I’m a terrible person. Just as Yori and Joori are getting their flirt on, my full attention is focused on his brief talk with Madi and I suddenly had this amazing image of them together. However, considering the end of the story, I don’t see that happening. I do, however, want to see Joori maybe make another exception in the future. Hint, hint.

I nearly squeeed my heart out when I saw Morin finally come into his own and be more than the annoying pain in the ass he’d been until now. To see him growing up, revealing his truth and becoming useful to the team was just beautiful to see and I love how much promise it has for the future.

Malick and Shig, even more than in book 1, have such a special relationship. They way they take care of each other, can read each other without needing words or thoughts, and the fact that they (generally) know what is best for each other is really special.

And, finally, before I give too much away, I have to say that I LOVED so hard the revelation of who “the one” would be. It was just who I wanted it to be.

Overall, again, the magic touch of a perfect balance between genius plotting, brilliant storytelling and heartfelt characterisation made this another knock out. I can’t wait to go into the next one.

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Favourite Quote

It was incredibly hard to whittle down my favourites to just a choice few, but here goes:

“When Fen glared at you, you instinctively checked to make sure you were armed, and when he spoke, you listened for the snarl and made sure you had a clear shot to the exits, just in case. When Joori came at you, it was more like being scolded by an unhappy duck – all squawks and flapping about, and empty attempts at offense he couldn’t carry through.”

“And all at once, Joori could almost understand what his brother might see in Malick. He was brilliant in his fury, diamond-hard in his pain, almost beautiful in his extremity of pure and perfect rage.”

“You said you’d pretend.”

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Book 3: Koan

Length: 58-79%

Star rating: ★★★★(3.5, rounded up to 4)

It started off really well. I loved seeing a little deeper into Malick’s psyche and learning more about him, because despite having had his POV as the main POV for two books, we don’t know all that much about the “before Fen” part of him. So the beginning was really great and enjoyable. The fact that it takes place three months after the events of books 1 and 2 gives it a more thorough divide between the two stories.

Again, we have the multi-POV, but we have the addition of Dakimo’s and Goyo’s POV, both of whom have their own agendas and bring the action to Malick and Fen’s door. Xari also returns to give her POV, while new girl Imara also offers hers. Again, this is all because they see individual events that are important to the overall scheme of things.

I really loved that Morin got more of a role here, that he was finally appreciated for the part that he plays – though the answer of how Wolf has marked him is still in question – and how he has really grown into maturity.

Malick and Jacin’s relationship, for me, only because more beautiful and loving, with Jacin so conflicted and needy, at the beginning of the story. Then the inevitable pain and breakdown, followed by reluctant acceptance of how he really feels about Malick. I think the fact that Malick’s fate isn’t resolved by the end is another of those sticking points that doesn’t sit well with me. I also think part of the problem is that we’re stuck inside the uncertainty and insanity of Jacin’s head for far too long. Though I loved books 1 and 2 dearly, I have to question whether all of that insanity was needed; I think it could at least have been cut in half, that we didn’t need the constant running and fighting and the way that Jacin checked out of his own head for so long. The events wouldn’t have changed for him and he would still have faced that difficult squishy scene where he had to decide if he really did want Asai’s affection or if snogging him was too much of a betrayal to Malick.

Overall, this is the weakest of the bunch, so far, and the story fell apart when Malick left it. All I can hope is that the situation is resolved in the next book and I get answers to all of my questions, because, if not, I’m going to be ending my love affair with this series at the end of book 2. Like book 1, this one ends abruptly and without a clean ‘ending’, but in a much more unnatural way. The book itself doesn’t have a point. A purpose. Whatever you want to call it, there is no beginning, middle and end, for this story. Just the ‘beginning’, which is frustrating.

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Favourite Quote

““This,” Malick said softly, as he let go of one hand and traced the hollow of Jacin’s left eye with a gentle fingertip. “This is where you hide yourself when it all gets too much. I only wanted to find you.””

“Leave it to Morin to say the things that no one wanted to acknowledge but everyone needed to hear.”

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Book 4: Incendiary

Length: 79-99%

Star rating: ★★★☆☆

Sadly, again we have an ending that is not really an ending. There’s clearly more to come, much more, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Honestly, right now, I kind of wish I’d stopped at the end of book 2 and never read any further. Because, although I love the moments where Morin got his big part and Malick and Fen’s quiet moments together, these last two books in the series didn’t feel like they had the same people as the first two.

Joori, for me, became a royal pain in the ass within this book especially, so blind to everything that mattered that it became a little ridiculous. Meanwhile, Morin had some kind of ‘power’ that wasn’t explained or explored or even mentioned until the very end. And that damned fish still makes no sense! If it was merely the symbolism of how Jacin and Joori are the same as two of those deadly fish then, sorry, but I already knew that and I didn’t need a bloody showdown between two fish to tell me it.

When it comes to POV, we get the usual, only with the added POV of Hitsuke, the most important and powerful Incendiary of history. The revelations about him, concerning Jacin, also feel a little too coincidental and unbelievable, unlike the twists and turns within the first two books that were surprising and felt natural when the links were made. This just feels too much like trying too hard to make Jacin out to be something new and unexpectedly but insanely important.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t change my feelings about book 3. The storytelling and worldbuilding was great, as always, but it was the plot itself which felt too forced and too unnatural for the characters. The fact that Malick was missing for 80% of the story didn’t help.

And, one more thing that really bugs me, is the way that everyone jumps down Malick’s throat for being selfish and blinded by Jacin, for being bad for him and trying to control him. No one but Jacin and maybe Morin actually acknowledge all that he does for Jacin and no one thanks him for it or apologises when their interference only proves just how much sanity Malick gives to Jacin when they’re together. I actually got really sick of everyone – Imara, Dakimo, and even Shig – laying all this crap onto Malick for trying to protect Jacin even from himself, without once admitting they were wrong or that he had done the best thing for Jacin. It felt too much like everyone but Malick, Samin, Morin and Joori forgot that Jacin was a living breathing person before he became anything he later proved to be. The fact that it was never acknowledged, either, just made me wonder what the point was? Because there was all of this unnecessary drama about it that never went anywhere.

For me, I just have to wonder what the point of these last two books were. It would have been utter perfectly for me if book 2 had ended on the boat to Tambalon, with Malick and Jacin all curled up in a blanket on deck, having the conversation that ends book 4. Because, at least that way, I wouldn’t have had to watch characters I loved lead this weird, unnatural life that made no sense for months on end, while reaching the exact same conclusion in the end, only with a lead into more books to come.

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Favourite Quote

“Before Malick could reply, Fen’s hand came up and gripped his arm. “No, wait, not here,” he mumbled then sagged even further into Malick’s chest. “All the shitty things always happen in alleys.””

“There was probably something very wrong with the fact that an exchange of death threats made Malick all warm and fuzzy, but there it was.”

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Book 2.5: Rapport

Length: 99-100%

POV: 3rd person, one character POV

Star rating: ★★★★

While it’s interesting to see Skel for the first time, in his own POV, the short doesn’t really add anything to the overall series. Malick is as mysterious, cheeky and yet wounded as he’s always been, only with more of a ‘newness’ about it than before. Skel is just as manipulative and arrogant as Asai, too wrapped up in his own sense of power and his own needs to really care about anyone else. The only thing it did do was make me wonder why Malick even bothered with Skel, how he was able to feel such affection for someone like him and if, in the long run, it was only because Skel caught him at one of the most emotional moments of his newly immortal life.

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Favourite Quote

“The look could have been anything from disdain to interest to humor to threat. Rose and thorn in singularity. And yet still, the pulse of potential violence thrumming from Kamen was like a live thing.”

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EXTRAS

Yes, I went to Carole Cumming’s website and read the free stories for this series. One, ‘Rapport’ was included in this bundle, so I didn’t read it from the website. I’m including my thoughts on the free reads, in terms of how important they are to be read along with the series and whether they add anything new or interesting to what we’ve learned within the bundle.

ORIGINAL PROLOGUE

Told in Jacin’s POV, it reveals a little too much too quickly, so I can see why it was cut. Plus, it would have been the only present-day POV of Jacin’s to actually explore his insanity and the job he’d set himself up to do. It also reveals that his blood isn’t his own to spill, which was a surprise when it was eventually revealed within the novels. By revealing so much with info dumps, the beginning of the story wouldn’t have been so captivating, as Malick’s interest in Jacin was what sealed my attention to every page, so I think cutting it was the best idea.

BREATHE ME

This one, I believe, takes place after the events of book 4, and is the first story, ever in the series, to be told in present tense, though still 3rd person. Goyo’s POV shows the pain of accepting that Jacin may have once been Hitsuke, but that he’s not actually him anymore. Morin uses his POV to show his training to become the great Kurimo. When it comes to Malick’s POV, it’s to show Jacin’s reaction to Morin’s wish to be the Kurimo, both for himself, his family and the fate of the Jin. But it also shows a sweet moment between Jacin and Malick and how Fen turns into the softer Jacin when Malick does all the right things.

Definitely a good addition to the end of the bundle, but one that I thought might have been put into an actual novel to follow up on the promise of a Kurimo storyline.

BREATH LIKE A PASSING SHADOW

Taking place between the end of book 2 and the start of book 3, on the boat, Malick gives his POV to show Jacin’s nightmare after the ordeal in Ada.

This is such an important scene that I really wish it had been in the novels. Not only does it lay the groundwork for the whole ‘call on me’ that is later used and fulfilled in book 4, but it’s another of those precious moments between Malick and Jacin that explains so much. It would have been perfectly placed within the novels and would have really helped explain a little more of why Jacin couldn’t find peace on the boat and elaborated on his always being cold in a way that makes more sense.

DELETED SCENES

The first excerpt is short, in Jacin’s POV and it really would have given away far too much if it was kept in the story. From book 1, it mentions Jacin being the Incendiary, which we don’t find out until book 3, but it also calls him Wolf’s-Own though he never really is, in any of the books. It’s a nice moment between Jacin and his mother, but it gives far too much away far too soon and would have set up the expectation of Incendiary well before I, the reader, was ready to learn about it. And, without explaining what it meant until book 3, I would have felt cheated of that information by the end of book 2, which has such a clear cut ending that it wouldn’t have worked.

From book 2, the second excerpt features Madi, after the whole Umeia/Joori incident. And since I love him, this is great. He really needs his own story. However, I actually find this scene not only touching and another reason why Madi and Joori really should have had a fling or long term relationship (think how adorable and helpful Madi would have been with them in Tambalon) but it is also important to Jacin’s part of the story, since it’s in his POV and sets up his sneaky plans.

Excerpt three takes us back to book 1, with Samin’s POV. Another very important scene, which though would have given the game away too quickly, could have been slipped in later to explain how Morin found his way into the carriage and how he ended up with a weapon in his hand. And, after all, knowing how this came about makes so more sense of how and why it had happened, but also the close bond that Morin and Samin share. At the same time, it explains the presence of the two Judges that was never explained, while also explaining what “army” Malick had been talking about, which was also never explained in the novel. This would have answered so many questions.

Finally, following directly from the previous excerpt, the last excerpt shows Jacin’s POV as he leaves on the carriage for Yakuli’s property. It’s a really important scene because, although never named, Ragi makes his big mark on the story and finally does something more than cook and hand over letters. The very fact that Jacin speaks to ordinary people, confronting those who shun the Untouchable, who aren’t in his way, is something monumental and it really does add another layer to the story and his character.

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OVERALL

I fell in love with book 1 instantly. The journey was amazing, exciting and full of emotions that I wasn’t prepared to experience when I cracked open the book for the first time. Then the journey ended abruptly, but in a way that felt like a really clever cliffhanger and in a place that I was okay leaving it, at the time. I was too caught up in the story to notice or care whether it was too quickly or not neatly done. Book 2 dragged me under just as deeply and easily.

Sadly, book 3 saw the beginning of the end and I no longer felt compelled to love every inch of this bundle. In fact, by the end of book 3, I was pretty set on buying the paperbacks and re-reading only books 1 and 2, in the future. Book 3 didn’t even make it into e-book re-reading territory, because it lacked so much of the clever plotting and storytelling of the first two books.

Books 1 and 2 are one story. Books 3 and 4 are another. However, it’s clear that both stories were far too long to be contained in one novel, so have been halved in two. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well for book 3, which is left dangling like the little lost boy who doesn’t really know his purpose, until book 4 comes in to actually move things along.

Book 3 was too long, too focused on Jacin’s insanity, which we already knew well, and, without Malick it just lacked those lighthearted moments that broke up the awkwardness of being within Jacin’s unstable mind. Unlike book 1, which focused on showing the characters in as much detail and background as needed to follow the rest of the story, book 3 didn’t have a purpose in mind; it merely gave jumbled events that didn’t make sense until book 4, while not doing much to progress the story.

Is there a significance to the titles? Well, I’m not sure. Ghost is self-explanatory. Weregild has no meaning that I can discern, either in relation to the characters or the plot, unless you stretch it a bit thin and relate it to the fact that everything they do is in Wolf’s name, due to Malick, and they’ve somehow, inexplicably, become a Weregild in those terms. The same goes for Koan. I can find no explanation for that anywhere within the text, with a name as I’d expected it might be, or within the glossary. Incendiary, again, is self-explanatory. However, the only “theme” within the titles that I can find is that Ghost and Incendiary pretty much explain Fen’s part in the tale. The other two, since I don’t know what they stand for or mean, will have to be left up for debate.

I’d definitely recommend going onto the author’s website and reading at least the deleted scenes and Breath Like a Passing Shadow, if you loved books 1 and 2. If you’ve read all the way to the end of the bundle/series, then also read Breathe Me, as it offers a little something from after the timeline of the bundle. They definitely add a little something to the story that’s worth reading.

So, though the characters were wonderfully interesting, evocative and in some ways relatable, and the storytelling took us on a real journey into a world that I didn’t know but quickly felt comfortable in, the plot of the second storyline fell too flat to leave me feeling excited about this bundle. It’s a game of two halves; the first was brilliance and re-readable material, the second had small moments that shone through, like when Malick and Jacin were together or when Morin found his voice, but they were too few and far between to salvage the lacklustre storyline and the somewhat forced ‘revelations’ that twisted most of the characters – like Shig and Joori, but especially Jacin – into something they’d never been before.

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