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

September 2013 Summary of Reviews

Standard

September and Fall

September 2013 Book Review Summary

What a wonderful month it was for books and reviews!  Most of the books I read fell into the 5 and 4 star category, a few into the  3 star and none below that.  Series predominated the ratings this time.  Most notably the series offerings from the Pulp Friction authors. There 3d-person-sit-pile-books-reading-book-26141531were new books in well established series such as Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love series as well as followup stories and new series  from such talented authors such as Kendall McKenna (The Tameness of the Wolf series) and Aleksandr Voinov (Memory of Scorpions series).

Other new series includes Poppy Dennison’s Pack Partners , Cat Grant’s Bannon’s Gym) and Harper Kingsley’s Heroes and Villains series too.  My cup (and yours) runneth over with series, all promising more great stories featuring characters we have come to love. And believe it or not, October is starting the same way!  What a fall!

So grab a pen or notebook and jot down those books and authors you may have missed the first time around.  I have linked my review to each one listed.  Happy Reading!

5 Star Rating:

Crucify (Triple Threat #4) by L.E. Harner
Defiance (Triple Threat #3) by L.E. Harner
Re-entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne (supernatural)
Retribution (Triple Threat #2) by L.E. Harner (contemporary)
Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov (fantasy)
Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Accidental Alpha (Pack Partners #1) by Poppy Dennison (4.5 stars)(supernatural)
Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1) by Cat Grant (4.5 stars)(contemporary)
Blessed Curses by Madeleine Ribbon (4 stars) (fantasy)
City Knight (City Knight #1) by T.A. Webb (4 stars out of 5)(contemporary fiction)
Heroes and Villains (Heroes and Villains #1) by Harper Kingsley (4 stars)(supernatural)
Sonata by A.F. Henley (4.5 stars out of 5)(contemporary fiction)
Summer Lovin’ Anthology (4.75 stars out of 5) (contemporary)
The Crimson Outlaw by Alex Beecroft (4 stars)(historical)
Triple Threat (Triple Threat #1) by L.E. Harner (4.5 stars)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Coliseum Square by Lynn Lorenz (3.75 stars)(historical)
Roughstock: Blind Ride, Season One by BA Tortuga (3 stars) (contemporary)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating: none

1 to 1.75 Star Rating: none

Review: Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Scorpian 2nd edition coverKendras is quite possibly the last surviving member of the only family he’s ever known—the elite fighting force known as the Scorpions. Gravely injured and left for dead during the conflict between the city states of Dalman and Fetin. Kendras has no choice but to accept the coin and offer of service to the mercenary who finds him severely wounded outside the city.  All the mercenary called Steel demands is nothing less than Kendras’ total submission and acceptance of a secret task to carry out.  With no where else to turn and no money to buy medicine, Kendras resignedly accepts.

But Kendras has his own hidden agenda, that of finding if any of his Scorpion brothers survived and bringing the elite team back together again.  It also includes finding the man who holds Kendras’ heart and soul, that of the officer who leads the Scorpions.  But first, Kendras must heal.  His shattered foot and other wounds need time.  Complications arise when Steel becomes possessive of Kendras, wanting more than just his body.  But Steel’s too late, Kendras’ love and loyalty lie elsewhere.  When that becomes apparent, what will Steel do when he realizes Kendras will never be his?

Kendras faces layers of political intrigue, and tests that will strain his loyalties and test his physical prowess as a warrior.But nothing will stand in the way of Kendras achieving his goals, not even the Empire itself.

Scorpion is such a powerful book.  Brutal, grimly realistic in its portrait of a warrior’s life, depicting the violence to body and soul that is the by product of such a life.  It is also equally honest in its scenes of casual everyday brutality that is a way of life for those less fortunate and lacking in status or wealth.  Rape, humiliation, slavery and death lie in wait for all but the most noble or well connected. And even then assassination and mutilation are possibilities for those who would rule.  Aleksandr Voinov has created a universe of exceptional cruelty, where casual viciousness and political maneuvering are daily occurances. Yet it is also a world where love and loyalty cannot be bought and the possibility of  redemption and love is a treasure to be fought for.

In Voinov’s world, a devastating war in the empire of Shara has left the former dynasty broken into three city kingdoms.  In the three hundred years since the sundering of the empire of Shara, the three cities have maintained a delicate balance of autonomy between them.  The author reveals the political tactics within each city and the wars that the failed policies and negotiations have brought to the kingdoms themselves. Kendras and his fellow Scorpions are the latest casualties of a war between Dalman and Fetin, two of the city kingdoms.  From the start, the author brings us into the conflict at the bottom level.  The consequences of the war is everywhere, from the dead to the dying and mutilated.  The mercenaries, needed to fight are just as quickly discarded by those who hired them.  It is a rough, cruel life and Voinov depicts it honestly with gritty descriptions that are almost to vivid to bear.

Equal to Voinov’s world building is his characterizations.  Every character found within this novel is meticulously created from Kendras to Steel to Widowmaker, the assassin whose loyalties are hidden beneath layers of guile.  These are  also not men for the fainthearted.  They take what they want regardless of the frailties and consent of others. In fact, kindness and passivity is looked down on, it will get a person killed or enslaved on this world. Loyalty and brotherhood are to be treasured and love is so rare that it is not easily identifiable.

At the heart of this story is Kendras, an orphan discarded on the streets of Fetin to fend for himself at an early age.  An oddity because of his black skin and blue eyes that mark him as a pureblooded Jaishani (a noble race), Kendras has no idea as to his lineage or history.  A petty thief and sometime killer, Kendras’ life was changed on the day he was set to die, saved by the officer who would train him to be a  Scorpion.  I loved Kendras.  He is such a remarkable character, he perseveres, he is loyal, and amidst his pragmatism, there is an unquenchable desire to love and be loved in return.  Equal in complexity is the officer (his name is revealed later on in the story).  Who and what he is slowly comes to the surface over the course of the story.  While the novel unfolds through the eyes of Kendras, the officer becomes a man who both Kendras and the reader commit to emotionally and intellectually.  But every character Voinov has created has multiple layers, from Selvin a Scorpion who chooses to remain a sexual slave to Steel and Widowmaker, mercenaries with pasts as complex as their characters.   Every one of these damaged people enrich the story with their realism and singular personalities.

I found no quibbles with this incredible story but I must make an admission.  The opening pages are as brutal as any you will find throughout Scorpion.  Initially, I had a hard time with them, especially the non con elements involved.   But they also ring with a terrible authenticity and you will understand why the author not only included them but started off in such a manner as you delve further into the book and Kendras’ life.  It is cruel and sets the tone for the reality of the life Kendras lives and the events that will occur down the line.  Kendras does what he has to in order to stay alive.  It’s a pragmatic outlook and it certainly is one that belongs to a war hardened mercenary.

The narrative of Scorpion was smooth and thrilling.  I couldn’t put it down. The ending of the story was satisfying while leaving the way open for the next book in the series.  Its with anticipation and a little fear that I await the next installment.  Don’t pass this  story up..

Cover art by Reese Dante is gorgeous in the 2nd edition.  The model is perfect for Kendras and the design works in tone and graphics.  Great job.

Book Details:

2nd edition from Riptide Publishing
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62649-013-0

eBook release: May 27, 2013

eBook Formats: pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 978-1-62649-014-7
Print release: May 27, 2013
Word count: 71,000
Page count: 274
Type: Part of a Series
Cover by: Reese Dante
This title is #1 of the Memory of Scorpions series.
– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/scorpion-memory-scorpions-1#sthash.UsSFLbL9.dpuf
Rewritten, enlarged and redited
First edition 242 pages from Dreamspinner Press 2011