How's you? How has your reading going? 

Well, here at Nerd Central I have been having a bit of a Mark Stayathon and read a couple of his books that I haven't read (and watching Robot Overlords again!)

So, today I am doing a double bill of reviews. One for the End of Magic and then I was back in Woodville with The Holly King and the inimitable Faye Bright. 

Sander Bree is a royal mage. Steeped in privilege, he lives a cushy life advising the king on matters of court and politics, yet still complains that he's stuck in a rut.

Rosheen Katell is a freelance mage and, with Anzu her griffin, she’s worked hard to build a reputation as a trustworthy truth seer. She never lies, never kills.

The source of their power is the Lapis Moon in orbit above. Very soon, that magic will be gone, changing their lives and their world forever. Sander must keep a promise that would have been difficult enough with magic, but is a suicide mission without it. Rosheen is forced to side with a murderous warlord, and her once-solid principles are tested and found wanting. Both will be set against one another in a war unlike anything the world has seen before, in this sweeping fantasy of magic’s ending.

I have a confession to make! I am officially a Mark Stay fanboy, not just his writing, but also his films, Robot Overlords and Unwelcome. Yep, I cannot get enough of his stuff, and this is the first of two books that I have been reading this week of his.

Right so let’s get on with this first one, The End of Magic.

Since reading The Crow Folk some years ago, I have been meaning to delve into Mr Stay’s back catalogue.

This book the End of Magic was originally published by Unbound, a kind of crowd funding way of publishing so that writers can write and tell the stores that they want to tell. On the roster for the crowd funding, there are some recognisable names such as RJ Barker, SC Gowland, GM White and quite a few others.

The story revolves around three main characters: Rosheen Katell, a freelance mage and her griffin Anzu. Sander Bree, the pampered mage who is an advisor to Bhatair, and finally Oskar, Rosheen’ brother who is described as a ‘Moon Boy’, which means that his cognitive abilities are not very good.

We begin the story with Rosheen who is freelancing and helps to stop an invasion by the villain of the piece, Haldor Frang. A warlord who has seen a vision of the future in which the Lapis Moon (the source of magic for all mages) is about to be destroyed thus changing their world forever, and he wants a piece of the action. He subsequently strongarms Rosheen into working with him (by killing her mother and father and holding her brother hostage, However, it is just business!).

He subsequently sets a plan in motion to poison the king’s daughter, thus engineering himself into a position to bring himself to the table in the whole scheme of things.

This results in bringing Sander Bree into the story. Sander is tasked with finding an antidote to the poison. However, in the midst of this, no one (except Haldor Frang) is prepared for the catastrophic events that are to come and the ways in which this will change the world as a whole.

As I have come to expect from Mark Stay’s books, this is excellent. Obviously, it is different from his fantastic Witches of Woodville series and is primarily in the epic fantasy vein. However, it does share some similarities with the Witches of Woodville series in that it is populated with characters that you cannot help but love (even though they are significantly flawed).

Sander Bree is utterly selfish and self-centred and is only concerned with his own well-being and over inflated ego. Rosheen is a woman who is pushed to the edge and in light of this makes continual bad choices and as we learn more about Oskar, we see that the years of bullying and abuse at the hands of others has shaped him into someone who is unable to deal with the changes that the events thrust upon him.

In addition to this, you cannot help but like the main antagonist of the story, Haldor Frang, who is quite pragmatic in his psychopathy.

The story is excellent, especially when the catastrophe that is on the front of the book occurs, the story takes a much darker tone. But this is one of Mark Stay’s strengths, he can mix the humorous with the grim and he can change the tone on a sixpence. One minute you are laughing at something, and the next, you are grimacing at the bloodshed on the page, and this one does have quite a lot of bloodletting running through its pages.

The story itself moves ahead at a breakneck pace as it twists and turns towards its ending and final culmination.

I can’t recommend this book enough to people and I am surprised that there are not more reviews on Goodreads shouting from the rooftops at how good this book is. In addition to this, there is a sequel to this story coming in 2024 which I cannot wait for. 

And here we are for the 2nd one!

The Holly King is coming, and you’re on his list . . .

It's December 1940, and Christmas has come to Woodville. Faye Bright is looking forward to a good old knees-up after a year of supernatural mayhem and Luftwaffe air raids, but it seems glad tidings are in short supply.

Already contending with food rationing and sky-high beer prices, the village is upended by the arrival of the Holly King, an ancient power bent on reclaiming his woodland domain. No mortal magic can stand in his way.

As the winter solstice draws in and the villagers fall under the Holly King’s spell, Faye, Bertie and the witches race to prevent his sinister Feast of Fools from reaching its deadly conclusion. But when terrible truths threaten to tear them apart, can they confront the mistakes of the past to save the village from destruction?

Or has Woodville seen its last Christmas?

Okay, this is the second book of Mark Stay’s books that I have read this week. This time it’s a return to the village of Woodville, the magical village in Kent.

Yep, here we are joining our favourite witches, Charlotte Southill, Mrs Teach and the inimitable witch in training Faye right.

I love this series and cannot believe that we are up to the fourth book already!

In The Holly King, Faye and the village of Woodville have to fight a figure from Christmas past. The Holly King, who has returned to this world after being banished, along with his brother, The Oak King, to the mists of the ether.
You know the old thing about Father Christmas and him knowing whether you have been naughty or nice, well it seems that the Holly King revels in knowing these secrets and used to turn up every Yule (the beginning marked by the winter solstice) to signify the coming of the light on this the longest night. 

Not only that, some deep dark secrets from the Bright (nee Winter) family come back from the dead as Faye learns more about her mother, and where her dad Terence got his war wound from originally.

Did I mention that I love this series? I did? Well, I don’t care! I have been reading a lot of Mark Stay’s books lately and as I said in my review of The End of Magic, I am a definite fanboy of Mark Stay’s work and think that I have demolished most his books now and have recently been going through the short stories that he has wrote about Charlotte Southill (who is definitely my fave character).

The Holly King returns more to the realms of the first book, The Crow Folk and has that air of seventies folk horror that permeated that story. However, whilst there is that air of horror, Mark Stay peppers the story with plenty of heartfelt humour. He has definitely got this off to a fine art and I think that this is what makes his books so bloody good and feels like chocolate for the eyes and ears.

As usual all the characters are so bloody good, and it is like been surrounded by family every time I open the pages of a Witches of Woodville book.

I have to say that I listened this one on audio again because Candida Gubbins is the voice of Woodville, she is such a talented voice artist and is able to put a distinctive personality into each character, male or female. 
Right, can I just say – everyone needs to read these books. Even Miss Araminta Cranberry says so!

Now the only problem that I have is that I have to wait for the next one. Buggeration!


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