A MelanieM Review: A Taste for Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) by Aleksandr Voinov

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Even a king gets stung when he reaches for a scorpion.

ATasteForPoison_200x300Once the leader of the band of mercenaries known as the Scorpions, Adrastes is now King and a changed man.  Ruler of two countries, along with his sister/wife, King Adrastes has just survived an assassination, just barely.  In poor health and still recovering, Adrastes trusts no one and is determined to find the assassin and make the individual pay.  Wary of everyone now, including allies and friends, King Adrastes prepares his kingdom for war against the only kingdom and ruler outside his control, the Elder of Vededrin.  But not everyone supports Adrastes, including the man who loved and rescued him, Kendras.

Kendras, former lover to Adrastes and leader of the Scorpions, no longer blindly supports his king.  He’s watched Adrastes change and the orders from the King are making him uneasy and reluctant to obey.  And to go to war with Adrastes against Vededrin just might mean the end of the Scorpions for all time.  And replacing Adrastes in Kendras’ bed and heart is Graukar, newly appointed general to the king, an event the King is not happy with.  Kendras must figure out how to balance responsibilities and loyalties in a world gone increasingly complex and grey.  And quickly before someone he loves is injured.

As Kendras tries to work through his thoughts and feelings, a new threat arises to King Adrastes rule.  An anonymous outrider wearing a mask calling himself Death foments rebellion in the mountains, aided by a prophecy that promises he’ll stop the Black King.   Ordered to find and kill the man called Death, Kendras leaves feeling unsettled, uncertain and sure of only one thing…his love for Graukar.

From the moment I read the first book in this series, Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1), I knew that Kendras and the Scorpions would lead me on a remarkable journey.    It’s been a brutal, raw, and violent saga and one of the best in its genre.  The life of a mercenary is a hard and savage one, unsparring in the injuries and deaths that come as part of the profession.  Only the loyalty to each other and the tight rules and rich history of the Scorpions, make this band of soldiers a family.  Voinov’s saga begins with Kendras, his entrance into the Scorpions, his scant memories of his childhood, and the heartbreak and pain of finding and then losing Adrastes, not to another lover, but to the kingship itself.  Told from Kendras’ point of view, the character grows from a soldier with a single minded focus and goal to one floundering amongst the political seas at court.   It’s a mesmerizing and arduous scramble as Kendras rises up the social scale, pulled along by Adrastes, whether he wants to go or not.  Kendras must grow as a character and Voinov delivers that mental and emotional growth in spurts that come with despair along with great joy.

A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3)  finds Adrastes suffering the effects of an assassination attempt, one that profoundly changes the King’s outlook on those around him and accelerates his goal of expanding his rule to all three kingdoms.  The man who rules is not the man Kendras followed and loved.  That dichotomy is cause for depression, and uncertainty, along troubling thoughts of disloyalty  is adding to unrest among the Scorpions and Kendras.  Voinov has made Kendras a man of honor and depth and to see and feel him floundering and pulled by this faction and that both enriches this story and ups the suspense for the welfare of all involved.

Everything is heightened here in A Taste of Poison.  Goals, loyalties, love, trust…the bar is now so high and the repercussions of any deviation or conflict are swift, exacting, and devastating.  Voinov reveals more of Kendras’ past, unknown even to Kendras  Also revealed are hidden alliances, and schemes to depose one ruler or another.  There are no black and white sides, only grey as Kendras has been slow to learn.  And with every startling exposition and shattering event, we are pulled deeper into the lives of all the Scorpions and their leader, Kendras.

Voinov has delivered a saga rich in character development, alive with action and battle sequences, and complete with the horrors that love and jealousy can and does inflict on all involved.  Aleksandr Voinov has said that the quote from Leo Tolstoy: “The best stories don’t come from “good vs. bad” but “good vs. good.” helped shape not only the characters of  Adrastes and Kendras but the stories themselves.  Only a tilt of the prism or a slight change of perspective will make either character “good” or “evil”.  Is it evil for Adrastes to want to solidify the 3 warring kingdoms into one for the betterment of all?  At what price is that not acceptable?  Is Kendras’s feelings and actions betrayal or loyalty?  Whose goals are the ones that should be honored by personal sacrifice and love?  That Voinov is able to bring all facets to life in each of these strong personalities is not only a marvelous achievement but makes this a series worth reading and remembering.

The Memory of Scorpions series is astonishingly inventive, beautifully crafted and fiercely passionate. From the bloody sands of battle to the lethal layers and complex rituals of court, Alexandr Voinov brings his world and characters to life word by word, page by page using vivid imagery and an attention to detail that leaves no construct of person or kingdom feeling shallow or undone.  Just masterful.

I don’t know if this is the end of the Scorpions.  Voinov is silent about future stories.  I hope not.  There is so much here I still need to know.  The Black King still lives…if the prophecy is correct, who will bring him down?  What is ahead and possible for Kendras and the Scorpions?  This amazing story and series begs the questions.  Hopefully Aleksandr Voinov will answer.  Meanwhile, pick up this wondrous series and get acquainted with some of the most powerful and engaging characters around.  One of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words “must reads” and highly recommended stories of 2014.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  Love that cover, powerful and perfect image that speaks to the story within.

Sales Links:   Riptide Publishing    All Romance eBooks (ARe)     Amazon      A Taste of Poison

Book Details:

alternative world, gritty fantasy, warrior mercenaries

ebook, 265 pages
Expected publication: October 13th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626491557
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/a-taste-for-poison
seriesMemory of Scorpions #3

Books in the Memory of Scorpions series in the order they were written and should be read:

Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions, #1)
Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions, #2)
A Taste for Poison (Memory of Scorpions, #3)

Scorpion coverLying with Scorpions coverATasteForPoison_200x300

Review: Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2) by Aleksandr Voinov

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

If you lie with scorpions, you’d better have a taste for poison.

Lying with Scorpions coverNow that Adrastes, ex leader of the Scorpions and Kendras’s lover, has assumed the throne of Dalman along with his sister Queen, Kendras is finding himself increasingly out of his depths. He feels uncertain not only his own leadership of the Scorpions but of Adrastes the King. Kendras was brought up to fight, his enemy clear.  Now he is smothered in political games of treachery, poison and succession.  Even his past is shaken when old memories are stirred up of his childhood and parents.

Adrastes has a new role for the Scorpions, one which means leaving their centuries old rules and traditions behind to become a fighting army for the king.  Once Kendras would have followed Adrastes blindly but now he starts to have questions.  And with the arrival of the formidable Commander Graukar, General of the West, Kendras becomes even more unsettled.  Graukar is the opposite of everything that Adrastes seems to becoming.  Graukar is forthright, a formidable fighter, a person  unlike any Kendras has known before.  Now the future seems uncertain. What is the truth and what is false?  Can Kendras, the Officer and lover, still trust the man he risked everything to find and save?  Or is there more going on around Kendras that even he can imagine.

What a brutal and brilliant saga this is turning out to be.  In the first story of the series,Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions, #1), we are introduced to Kendras, member of the Scorpions, an elite fighting force that has been decimated by the constant warfare between the rival cities.  Kendras’ world has been a very straightforward place up until recently.  He had a mission, to find and rescue his Officer, the leader of the Scorpions who also happens to be his lover.  No person or obstacles kept Kendras from accomplishing his task.   His life is the Scorpions, a group of men who have become a family steeped in the traditions of this mercenary unit.  But by the end of that story, Adrastes, the Officer Kendras rescued turns out to be someone unexpected, a King. And upon assuming the throne, the title and responsibilities of the leadership of the Scorpions passes to Kendras.  Suddenly his life is overwhelmingly complicated and his loyalties stretched to include not just his close-knit band of fighters but a king and his political agenda.

One of the elements I appreciated with this story is the manner in which Voinov deepens his characterizations to compete with the equally evolving complexity of his plot.  With each new political intrigue or added plot layer the author unfolds a revelation about a character to ensure that all the elements remain in balance. Central to the story is the growth that Kendras must experience in order to cope with his ever changing (and precarious) position in almost every aspect of his life.   The author paints a very clear portrait of a man out of his depths, a “rank in file” soldier promoted to Officer, a position he reluctantly assumes.  His lover went from Officer of a small fighting corp to ruler of two city kingdoms and possibly more. Kendras used to be certain where he belonged and his role in the Scorpions, now everything around him feels like smoke and mirrors, leaving Kendras desperate to adjust.  The story is again told from Kendras’ point of view, and that provides the reader with a front seat to his confusion and increasing doubts about Adrastes, his role in the King’s life and indeed, the very future of the Scorpions themselves.

Voinov has a gift of creating characters that exude a  great vitality, a certain brutal realism that is perfect for the world they inhabit. This ability to believe in Kendras, Adrastes, Widow, and all the others makes it relatively easy to slide into their lives and the conflicts that arise around them.  Kendras is the core of the story and its through his eyes that we watch his world undergo fundamental changes that start to force him to question the very tenets of his life.   The introduction of new important characters is one aspect of the change in direction for both storyline and character growth.   It is also one of the most disconcerting elements of Voinov’s series.  Much like Game of Thrones, this is a savagely violent and ruthless world where conflict and death is the norm and lives are short lived.  It contains merciless killers, barbarous priests, and sadistic, conniving rulers.  Deceit and treachery are not only commonplace but almost necessary for survival.  Need I say that to get too fond of anyone in the series is probably a mistake?  Because everyone in this series seems expendable, perhaps even Kendras himself.

The author starts expanding his universe with this story.  New lands and seas are added, and the Jaishani themselves make a remarkable and stunning entrance into the story and Kendras’ life.  Richer in texture and more deeply layered, Lying with Scorpions is full of surprises and twists.  Like shards of glass, small bits of information are laid out for Kendras and the reader to ponder, wondering where they will fall and who they will cut the deepest.  Foreshadowing of the future or a deception designed to obscure instead of instruct?  A mask, a mosaic and even a legend, all have the ability to bring forth both shivers of dread as well as anticipation.  Just more of Voinov’s master storytelling at work.

Prepare to undergo as many changes as Kendras in your feelings towards all the characters here.  Some you thought trustworthy prove otherwise, and some show sides of themselves that will surprise you with their resourcefulness as well as their loyalties.  I loved the character of Lord/Lady Amrash as well as that of Runner.  Not surprisingly, I fear for their future in the next story, A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon.

I quickly became addicted to this series with Scorpion, and this story only saw that addiction deepen.  I am fascinated by the author’s ability to get under the reader’s skin with his  believable characters, imaginative plot and ever widening world building.  If you are a lover of warriors, of ancient kingdoms, of lust and loyalty and so much more, then this intense magnificent saga is for you.  Lying with Scorpions ends with a bit of a cliffhanger so I am desperately waiting for the next story to arrive.  I don’t expect any quick or neat resolutions nor do I want them.  It’s not Voinov’s style nor would it work for this character and series.  I will be content to let the anticipation build.

If you are new to the series, start with the first book, Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #1).  There are two versions.  Make sure you  have the recently revised and redited one to start with.  The cover is the quickest indication you have the correct one.  Then more on to Lying with Scorpions.  It will take your breath away.  One of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014.

Cover by Reese Dante.  At first I thought the subject of the cover was Kendras and the lack of blue eyes confused me. But the author informs me that the person on the cover is Adrastes,  who is half-caste,  being the son from a sacred marriage between the Jaishani Besh and Ashangul who is white.  He was chosen for the cover because the story is mostly about his rise to power.  He has brown eyes per the description in the first story in the series.

Books in the series in the order they should be read to fully understand the characters and complex plot are:

Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1)
Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2)
A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon

Book Details:

ebook, 317 pages
Published January 20th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 18th 2014)
ISBN139781626491106
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/lying-with-scorpions
series: Memory of Scorpions