Book Review: Transcendence and Rebellion by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Transcendence and Rebellion by Michael G. Manning

Transcendence and Rebellion is the final book of The Riven Gates series, and the last

Cover image for the book was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Mageborn saga book. My review for book one of this series is here. My review for book two is here. My review for the first the last book in the previous series is here. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Mordecai’s power has grown so much that the very world is now in danger. The only hope of saving the world might be for his own children to plot his death, but Tyrion, influenced by the being who’s put everything into motion since Tyrion was a boy, might ruin any chance the youngest generation has at saving the world.

Character:  I like how everything came together in this book. I won’t say I got everything I wanted out of the end of this saga, but I feel like the characters all had a chance to shine. For a cast this massive, that’s hard to do. Mordecai shines, as does Matthew. All the characters have motivations one can empathize with. They are all charming and sympathetic. It’s very fun seeing how everything comes together in Manning’s universe.

Exposition: This is probably the weakest area, but not because there was too much. I’m not sure what I missed between book two and three of this series, but the biggest element of the plot seemed to come from nowhere to me. Since I listened to this on Audible, that might be the cause. However, I actually wanted a bit more in this regard to help me track all the plot lines and character threads.

Dialogue: As is typical in a book from Manning, there was a lot of conversations used to get plot information across.  It’s still not enough so much that the book isn’t great, but it’s obviously  there. It reminds me a lot of the feeling I got whenever Buffy and the gang were in the library. There were key points in the book where I was like, “Ok, here comes the dissertation on how we got here.” I love Buffy for the record, so it’s not that big a deal.

Description:  This time I wasn’t as blown away as I normally am, but his “weakest” work in this book is still head and shoulders beyond everyone else in the business. If you’re a young writer seeking to understand how to incorporate description into a story, you should study Manning’s work.

Overall:  I might do another post sometime down the road just to talk about the scope of this series. I don’t think this saga holds up to Wheel of Time, but I really feel like there’s something to be said for fourteen or so books that all share the same history. This is a saga you can enjoy for a long time, and I think you should. I loved this series a lot. I probably wouldn’t put it against my top three all time, but I might put it in my top ten (if not top five). There’s just too much to enjoy and too many characters to fall in love with to deny this series a place among the best in fantasy. I think there were a few books that dragged the story down for me (more than Wheel if you want to throw Crossroads of Twilight at me). However, the weakest books in the series are still not bad. I couldn’t recommend this series strongly enough. Rebellion landed at number two in my best books of 2019, and it’s worth so much more than the cover price.

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Book Review: Mordecai by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Mordecai by Michael G. Manning
This cover for Mordecai was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Mordecai is the first book of The Riven Gates series, which is the fourth series in the Mageborn saga. My review for the first the last book in the previous series is here. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Mordecai has seen the passing of the Dark Gods. He’s saved Lothion, placed kings on thrones. His children have done similar things. However, now his past, and the past of the She’Har, are coming together to put him in a position he’s never been in. Tyrion, the progenitor of human mages and Mordecai’s distant ancestor, has returned to the flesh. The ancient enemy of the She’Har has also set it’s sites on Mordecai’s home. The ensuing conflict will cost Mordecai more than ever.

Character:  Mordecai is as wonderful as ever in this story. To me, this book sort of put the series back on track. Any series this large and this old is going to have ebbs and flows. While this book wasn’t as good as some others, it was one of the better ones in my opinion, and Mordecai’s story is why. I loved seeing Tyrion again, and most of the cast get’s some good screen time. The thing that has always elevated the series to me has been its characters, and they remain the driving force behind this outstanding saga.

Exposition: Previous books gave us the background and context we needed, so now we can get right into the drama and the action. Sure, I remember some scenes that might have slowed down a bit, but I’d say this was some of the better exposition I’ve seen in the series in a while.

Dialogue: I’ll admit that this is probably Manning’s weakest area. A lot of the dialogue feels like exposition sometimes. We get told things rather than listening to other characters talk. It’s not honestly such a problem. A lot of writers (including myself) tend to lean on this. So you’ll read conversations that feel more like plot outlines here or there, but it’s still conversational and engaging.

Description:  Any Manning book feels like watching a 3D film in iMAX. This story is no different.

Overall:  This book takes everything you know about Mordecai and his world and flips it on its head. Everything that’s been building for more than ten books comes to a satisfying climax in what’s only the start to what I hope is the most amazing series yet. I’m not going to pretend this is the best book, that right is still reserved for Betrayer’s Bane. However, this book was a shot of adrenaline after a more youth-reader-centered trilogy from the younger heroes in the story. I already think this series is better than the last, and it has potential to evolve into one that rivals the first (chronologically).

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Book Review: The Final Redemption by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Final Redemption by Michael G. Manning
Image taken from the Amazon buy page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

This is book five of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.  My review for book two can be found here. My review of book three can be found here. The review for book four is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Final Redemption, Mordecai is in quite an awkward position because of what happened in book four (remember, I said no spoilers). He’s gained some horrific, destructive powers, and those powers have isolated him. The last dark god has set his sites on bringing the world to its knees, and Mort has to use his newfound power to take on someone many times more powerful than even himself. He has to do all of this without friends or family.

Character:  Mort took center stage here. By taking everything from him, we were able to see him in a different light. His changes did a lot to set up not just the climax of this book, but the next era in the Mageborn universe. That said, all of our favorites are back for this final showdown with the big bad of the series.

Exposition: Manning was back at full strength here. I’m more certain that the heavy exposition I mentioned in book four was more because of the huge gap between books than anything else. Here, we get what we need when we need it. Sure, there’s some dialogue loosely hiding some exposition, but at least in that manner, we don’t feel force fed information.

Dialogue:  I love the interaction between Mort and the dragon (whose name escapes me at the moment). Some of the other conversations are great. James has a bit of time in the limelight as does his daughter, who steals a bit of the show. Their dialogue was crips and fun to read.

Description:  This book doesn’t rely on description nearly as much, which is a relief to me as I’m not a big fan of it. It does a good job of highlighting what matters (and BOY does some of it matter). It helps create the visual tone and mood of the story. It’s visceral without bogging the story down.

Overall:  There was one particular scene during which I wanted to cry. I HAVE cried while reading some books, but I didn’t cry during this scene. It was sad, and it was painful. I’m just trying to create a range so you know my emotional spectrum. This is a satisfying end to a great era in an even better universe. I still feel Tyrion’s era was the most satisfying so far, but I’m still a big fan of the story as a whole. This book puts a reader through a strong range of emotions. It puts a nice bow around all the plot points and teases the universe going forward. I think fans of epic fantasy will enjoy this series.

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Book Review: The Archmage Unbound by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Archmage Unbound by Michael G. Manning

Unbound is book three of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.  My review for book two can be found here.

This image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Archmage Unbound, Mordecai has become a powerful figure in politics as well as a powerful mage. That power makes him a threat to those who should appreciate him. When his position and status is pit against his love for his friends and family, Mort has to do something that will change the face of his nation forever.

Character:  This is where the characters stole the show for me. I’d said in other reviews that the driving force behind reading this saga was to see bits of how Embers of Illeniel connects.  While Mort and Penny were engaging characters, this is where I truly felt a connection to them. Rose and Dorian are equally lovable. Their struggles and their journey drag the reader through a powerful book.

Exposition: This was seamless. Other books in this series can get a little weighty in the data dump category, but this book had the perfect mix of explanation and action.

5215279Worldbuilding:  This isn’t the book where we see the direct connection to Illeniel, but it’s a fine book all by itself. We learn more about archmages and the shining gods. We get introduced to, two pretty cool new characters. We get a sense for what Mort is capable of, and that has some wonderful foreshadowing elements.

Dialogue:  In his previous book, I said Manning found his rhythm, and he only continued to get better. The exchanges in this novel are powerful, snappy, and fun (well, maybe not all at once, but still good.)

Description:  I like the fight scenes the best. I’m a sucker for a good action-packed novel, and this book gives me the detail in a fight that I enjoy. It also provides a nice benchmark where I see what I  must, and my imagination is allowed to do the rest.

Overall:  I know I said the last book was my favorite, but I was wrong. Looking back at my notes and reading what I even posted on GoodreadsI can say with certainty (I promise) this is my favorite. Book 2 was fun and powerful. The last book had a scene or two that made me tear up, but this book is the winner in my opinion. I couldn’t put it down, and it seemed like  every page had something that was just plain cool.

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Book Review: The Line of Illeniel by Michael Manning

Book Review: The Line of Illeniel by Michael Manning

Line is book two of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.

Image taken from for review purpose under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Line of Illeniel, Mordecai is coming to terns with his status as a lord. But the history of wizards in the world has more catches than he was aware. Forced by his king to take a bond that limits his ability and could get the woman he loves killed,  Mort is struggling to find the truth. Is this bond the only think keeping him sane? Are the voices he hears those of a madman’s fraying mental state? Things come to a head when a neighboring kingdom invades. Their insurgency point? Mordecais’ newly retaken family land.

Character:  Mort is good, and Penny really came into her own. Dorian is still my favorite character by far (and he remains so). This book really helps readers connect with these characters. They’re human, but honorable. Smart, but have weaknesses. This book, to me, does the best job of setting the tone for not just the characters, but how they grown through the rest of the saga.

Exposition: Manning balanced this well. In fact, a lot of the scenes that feel like exposition dumps become valuable later in the saga. The aforementioned info dumps are few and far between. Limiting the exposition (despite the amount necessary when writing in first person) makes this feel like a fast-paced story.

5215279Worldbuilding:  While not quite the book I was waiting for, what this book does is start connecting Mageborn with Embers of Illeniel. Manning lets the deep history of his saga trickling into the story gently rather than beating the reader to death with a history lesson. He also lets the world take shape in a lot of ways. What impresses me most about this story is how gently interwoven the magic system and scope of the world are not the plot and dialogue of the story.

Dialogue:  I’m comfortable saying this is Manning’s best, most natural dialogue in the series. It’s witty, without being forced, and engaging, without being overly dramatic. In fact, one of the more dramatic scenes is undercut Ala Joss Whedon by an endearingly funny  moment. Manning’s dialogue isn’t bad, but I think this story is Manning near his best. (Embers is his best work by far in my opinion.)

Description:  This, and his work with character, is Manning’s strength. It takes skill to weave visceral imagery into a plot. Most writers are blocky with their description, making the act of reading a scene feel like a workout before the reward of a plot. Manning doesn’t do that. He gives the details of the story when they’re relevant, and the information is most appropriate.

Overall:  I think this is arguably my favorite book in the Mageborn series. The last book in the series has an argument, but this was the book that made me fall in love with these characters. While The Blacksmith’s Son wasn’t bad, I think this is the book that truly starts the series. The conflict and plots in this story are truly compelling. It kept me reading when I should have been working or sleeping, which is a great compliment for any book.

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Book Review: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning
Images taken from the Amazon buy page for review purposes. Featured Image pulled from

Spoiler Free Summary:  The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning takes place 2,000 years after Betrayer’s Banewhich was December Book Cover of the Month, which I reviewed and you can find here. I started this series up right away via Audible because I loved Embers so much. Mordecai was raised as a humble son of a blacksmith with some rather affluent friends. Just as he learns the truth of his birth, he also discovers his magical ability and makes a powerful enemy. When everything in his life should start looking up, it all takes a turn, and Mort must figure it all out before the secrets that led to his unusual upbringing come back to haunt the kingdom of Lothion.

Character:  Mordecai is a fun character. He’s clever and proactive. Some may think he’s too good at too many things, but I like a skilled character. He’s not a Mary Sue by any stretch of the imagination, but some might argue how quickly he learns. What I like about him is his emotions. He’s a passionate person (meaning he cares deeply).  A lot of his conflict starts with how he reacts to certain people or events. That emotion (I’ve actually finished the whole series and will post reviews in time) is what draws me to him and helps me connect to him. Dorian is someone I want to highlight. I like him. He’s my favorite character in the series. He’s a solid, stand-up, white-hat kind of guy. He’s honest, fair, and truthful to a fault. These traits make him a charming character to meet.

5215279Exposition: Manning breaks the fourth wall quite freely here, and that reduces the impact of any exposition. Told (mostly) in first person, the story does have a touch or two moments of exposition, but Manning does something here that I don’t see often. He switches perspective. Most of the story is told by Mort, but the story switches to third-person omniscient and back. It’s actually a bit jarring for a reader the first few times it happens.  That said, the technique allows Manning to get around some of the info dumps first person usually forces. There are also excerpts from an in-world book that are pretty heavy. They serve to tease the chapter, but also tend to slow things down just a touch.

Worldbuilding: For me, the big reward of the book (and this series) was seeing the world evolve from Betrayer’s Bane. This book feels sort of more like a prequel than an actual first book. It’s a ton of setup, which bogs this first book down. Most of this book either tells us how things got to this point or set us up for the overall conflict. It doesn’t make it a boring story by any stretch, but I won’t lie. I found myself wanting to get into it. It may be unfair though coming right off of Embers.  Seeing the world as it’s progressed since then was one of the major reasons I kept with it. Mageborn is a great series, but this book is more of a warmup to a great saga.

51ynOSd1JtL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_Dialogue:  A lot of the exposition for this story comes through dialogue (but most authors (including me) do that). It’s noticed here because Mort is either conversing with another character about what he means to do, what’s going on with his friends, or what happened in his past. The best conversations are those between him and Penny (which are charming). His conversations with Rose (who’s honestly more like a Mary Sue than any other of these characters) are also endearing.

Description:  This was pretty natural for Manning. The scenes were visceral without being overly detailed. This is the highest compliment I could offer any book.

Overall: With a charming cast and a ridiculously compelling prequel trilogy, The Blacksmith’s Son sets the stage for a new saga in Manning’s world. While not remotely Manning’s strongest book, it teases at great stories to come while it also provides clever intrigue and deep world building. Fans of large worlds and complex magic systems would enjoy this story.

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