Cover Image: A Fool's Hope

A Fool's Hope

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Member Reviews

This series is underrated. Hugely underrated. I would talk about We Are the Dead to anyone who would listen and A Fool's Hope really maintained that calibre of story. I love the multiple POV narrative and how it's not just the "good guys" we hear from, you get an insight into the enemy too and I really enjoy how real the stories are. Nothing is sugar coated, it shows the struggle on both sides and how even if your "side" is "winning" - that elation isn't necessarily felt by all.
Can't wait to get stuck into book 3.
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A Fool's Hope is one epic ride of a book, Shackle pulls no punches and it is a torrent of amazing writing and tremendous world-building.

The introduction of Francin talking to Tian was masterful. What a great couple of pages to find out he's wearing his face. Brilliant. Interesting here we meet the man who has been absolutely pivotal in the fall of the other countries. We'd heard about them, wondered how Gundan fell, how the Tonin got in, so meeting Francis fills in the gaps and it is really quite genius. Shackle remains a master storyteller. I'm jealous of his skill.

Early on in this book, all hope is lost as we can see that Meigore has already fallen. It just doesn't know it yet. The trials the characters are put through are nothing short of horrifying, sad and some bits will stay with me forever.

What an amazing book. The last 20% was so goddammed epic in every way. I wouldn't want to comment too much on where the action came from, because that really would go into spoiler territory, and I don't want to do that. But the way Shackle lays down a plot thread early on, then picks it up and ties it to another - in the most epic way - toward the end is superb.
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I loved We Are the Dead and I loved A Fool's Hope.
This is the second installment in an exciting and well written fantasy series.
It's gritty, fast paced, action packed and highly entertaining.
The author is an excellent story teller, the world building is amazing and the characters are fascinating.
The tightly knitted plot kept me hooked and it's full of twists and turns.
I can't wait to read the next  book, this one is highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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To the uninitiated, the fantasy genre is stagnant. The same old dwarves and elves going on long journeys and then back again. Any fan of the genre knows that this is just not the case. The genre has evolved with society. The fantasy books of the 80s and 90s differ greatly from Tolkien and modern fantasy reflects our own time differently again. Mike Shackle’s We Are the Dead did this more than most with a dark tale about a crumbling society whose trust in officials was at an all-time low. Remind you of anywhere? The follow up comes at the end of 2020 and an even more challenging year. Will A Fool’s Hope be the fantasy novel of our time? 

There are some wars that cannot be won, but it seems that this one is going to end in victory for the mysterious Egril, a society built on sacrificing their enemies. Jia is all but destroyed. Any allies left alive are scattered and on the brink of starvation. The last hope comes in the form of the surviving member of the royal family, Zorique, a four-year-old Princess. Can the likes of Tinnstra, Dren and Jax do their part to ensure that Zorique comes to maturity? 

Hope is less of a sequel in the The Last War series and more of a direct continuation as the action starts moments after the first book ends. Tinnstra and Zorique are onboard a ship setting sail for allied shores, whilst the others are left in the city to rebuild and regroup. Alongside the old guard are a couple of new characters; a famous ship captain and a young Egril warrior. Both provide the opportunity to see the war from a different perspective than the Jia. Seeing inside the Egril camp is particularly interesting as the first book paints them as faceless warriors who cannot taste defeat. We soon learn that they are very human and that makes them as fallible as any of us. 

The book splits between these several characters and there are, at time, six or seven parallel storylines. They are all intertwined with one another and on occasion you will see the same instance from another character's perspective. The central character remains Tinnstra, and later her charge Zorique. There is a section of the book that alters the entire perspective of the reader and at this point Shackle concentrates on these characters to allow them to develop. The book then opens once more into ensemble. I always enjoy a multiple PoV in my fantasy books and Shackle does a great job of making all the characters interesting, although I still had my favourites. The multiple strands allow for many cliff hangers and this increases the tension in the book. 

It is this tension that will determine your enjoyment of the book, it is vicelike in places. The characters are hounded and pounded throughout. There are bleak and violent scenes as even the most powerful of the ensemble are unable to help the masses. Reading the first book in 2019 was impactful, in 2020, for some it may be a little much. However, I urge any reader becoming weary to the bombardment to continue. The book is called A Fool’s Hope for a reason as there is hope as the book progresses. It may be the hope that eventually kills us, but for now it allows the reader to have some much-needed release and even partake in a smattering of revenge. 

I believe the The Last War books will be one of the fantasy series that will lead the genre into the new decade. It may be set in a dark and alternative world. It may be violent and unrelenting, but the characters feel very human and their plight familiar. Many of the heroes are nothing such, they are just trying to get along as they are buffered left and right by decisions made by their so-called betters. A little hope goes and long way, so perhaps both 2021 and the final book in the series promises a little light at the end of the tunnel, but knowing Shackle, that light could easily be the beams of an oncoming train.
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As sequels go, this is one of the best!  Mike starts the book slowly but then drops the reader straight back in to the action, picking up pretty much where the first book ends.  As I have said before, Mike writes tremendous battle and fight scenes and manages to create real tension in pretty much every situation.  

On top of this Mike’s writing really is fantastic, he presents a fast paced story and utilises prose to great effect.  What a story you are in for, the world building is phenomenal as well and another great example of character driven fantasy is waiting for you here.  It really does play out like a movie, the way the plot moves and situations happen, be prepared to be pulled into one fantastic story and world!

Now I have said that Mike has created some of the best characters I have read recently, be prepared to meet more!  Something I admire about the characters is the way they are flawed, no one in this world is perfect but there are truly some incredible characters here.  I loved how they developed, Tinnarstra, Jax, Dren and Yas go through some amazing arcs and I truly cannot wait for book 3!  Something I really enjoyed in book 1 was the chapters from an enemy point of view (Darus in book 1) and in this book we get Mateon (an Egril Solider) and again, getting these chapters is brilliant.  It really opens the story up, shows the other side and allows the reader to see something different.  A deft tip of the hat to Mike for this.

The books form a series called “The Last War”, book 1 was dark in tone, but “A Fool’s Hope” is darker still.  The characters in the story are desperate, the stakes are high and and the real grim nature of a city under siege really comes to the fore in this book.  I didn’t have a hard time imagining this, I have read a few books about famous sieges and images came and flowed.  As sequels go, this is fantastic!  I was expecting a let up of pace but was so pleasantly surprised, so surprised that this is easily turning in to one of the best I have read.  I have high hopes for book 3, it may be one the greatest trilogies ever written!  

Now I am leaving the review there, because if I start talking about anything else, it may spoil the surprises waiting for you.  Also I am aware that some people may not have read book 1 yet, here’s a link to my review of book 1 in case you are curious.  Now this has been a great read for me, it easily gets my seal of approval and ranks among the best books I have read this year. 

Be prepared for an epic story of survival, warfare and bravery!  I will happily say that this has been one of my best reads this year, Mike Shackle really is an author to watch and if you haven’t guessed then I can’t wait for book 3!  This is a book (and series) with cinematic action, brilliant writing and superb characterization and world building.  I cannot recommend it enough.
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Thank you to Will O Mullane, Gollancz and Mike Shackle for allowing me to participate in this blog tour!

A Fool’s Hope is a resounding success and tops what was created on the base foundation of We are the Dead. It surpasses We are the Dead, and I am pleasantly pleased to see more hope and less grimdark! Wars, intrigues, plots surround character arcs like a never-ending destiny of fate that spins the fates of women and men’s lives. Many characters evolve during the seeming mass of bloodshed and conflict in this novel. There is so much I’d wish to say but in a nutshell without spoiling: There is a clever use of traveling through magic. That’s the only clue I’ll give. It’ll be a wonderful surprise when you discover it later on.

That said, the quality of battles and the determination of soldiers fighting for what is right, and what is wrong, is a very good way to illustrate the brutality of war. Many things I felt sympathetic for Mateon, who I think was a boy snatched from his youth and thrust into a war that he doesn’t belong in. This was reminiscent of WWII on many sides, and then was the Children’s Crusade for example which failed. Now Mateon isn’t a child, but it reminds you that war, however noble and glorious it is depicted as always brings sadness and pain. Other cultures don’t see it that way, however. It all depends really.

Yas was a really good example of a character that does bad, can eventually morph into entirely something else. Of course, protective of Little Ro, the cute son. Ro will grow up to be a very strong man and he will defend his mother. I want Ro to spoil his mother when he’s a grown man and become wealthy. Yas’s character arc will make her, one day, the most powerful woman in all the lands of Jia. Her mother? Undecided on this character arc so much.

Poor Dren. The lad has gone through much but will face a harder journey. That’s as much as I can say. Also, the dialogue in this novel has improved to such an extent, that I felt as if I was with every character. Not just normal dialogue that’s usually in other fantasy novels of the 80s, but the scenes between Jax and a certain…character. Everything was making sense. And I loved Wex. I really want more of Wex in book 3. And Asagod? The guy that kinda did start this all and Tinnistra? Oh my, there’s going to be a big rush in this novel. Also, Zorique is a good character, but she needs more time to evolve. And Francis was horrible. I do hope the Ergil do get a nice kicking as the Jian fight against them!

Overall, impressive worldbuilding, great dialogue, heart-wrenching scenes, and more SHIP COMBAT! I wanted to see more of Captain Ralais! He was so good! There are many characters, many more scenes that will take some days. I loved every moment of it! Really awesome stuff. Can't wait for book 3!
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I received a review copy of A Fool's Hope in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Mike Shackle and Gollancz.  

A Fool's Hope picks up events about a minute after the conclusion of We Are the Dead. Tinnstra and four-year-old Queen Zorique are on the deck of a ship in the Golden Channel seeking to escape to the shores of Meigore. Having been wracked with fear, with death and destruction seeming to follow the pair, they are at last hoping to receive refuge with Zorique's uncle - the King of Meigore. Upon arrival, they are pinning their hopes on persuading the monarch to join the Jians in the war that they seem to be losing against the Egril. In A Fool's Hope, the respite for these ladies doesn't last long at all. In Shackle's well-imagined and gritty dark fantasy world, things don't go to plan very often.

In the aftermath of the intense warfare fought throughout the city of Kiyosun, we rejoin young revolutionary Dren and former Shulka commander Jax. Both were tortured brutally by the Egril in the Council House and the war has had dramatic effects on them. The duo, who previously despised each other, are still trying to play their part to aid the resistance, but the conflict really is taking its toll on them. Physically and mentally respectively. In a similar fashion, Yas has changed greatly since the Egril invaded, still cares intently for her mother and son, and is dealing with the consequences of her actions from We Are the Dead. She is trying to survive and also assist in the war effort, albeit reluctantly with the latter initially.

There are four new point of view perspectives that join the narrative in addition to those mentioned above. Two are viewpoints from the enemies, the Egril. Those of new recruit "acorn" soldier, Mateon and of Francin, a high ranking Chosen of Kage who has some very unique skills. These two new players were fine characters giving extra insight into the Egril's war effort. We see much more through these two characters' eyes about the Egril's conquests than we did through torturer Darus' in We Are the Dead. Another perspective that I enjoyed following was that of the honourable and respected Meigorian sea captain Ralasis, who may or may not have a slight crush on Tinnstra. The final point of view I won't go into much detail about, however much I'd like to, as it does approach spoiler territory. However, later in the novel when we start following them is a pleasant surprise, seems fitting, and really adds to the experience and drama of A Fool's Hope's final third.

The point of view perspectives give a grand overview of the full happenings of the conflict. I enjoyed that I felt that I was getting to witness the whole picture. Some of the characters I had issues with at the beginning of the first book, I no longer have any qualms with at all. Dren's character arc is particularly impressive to say how much of a bugbear I had with him during the first sections of We Are the Dead. One of my other minor pet peeves from the previous book was the number of times a chapter or section ended with the world exploding or, ...and then everything went black. That still happens here but it didn't gripe me whilst reading. Either I've gotten mellower in the last eighteen months or, in A Fool's Hope, Shackle injects these moments less frequently and more deftly.

If Shackle was just finding his voice as an author in We Are the Dead, he has really excelled and polished his craft in the sequel. A Fool's Hope knows precisely what sort of beast it wants to be from the very beginning and it doesn't disappoint fans of The Last War who have been looking forward to this novel. The action and drama predominantly takes place in Kiyosun and Meigore, but we see brief yet important glimpses of other places in this crafted fantasy world such as Kagestan and Aisair.

If I had to describe A Fool's Hope and this series in three words they would simply be War. Action. Drama. If I had to add a bit more detail then I'd go with: A Fool's Hope is gritty, thrilling, with well-crafted and surprisingly likeable characters (for the most part), and it progresses the overall narrative in fine fashion. The endings are really well presented and have intrigued me greatly to see what will follow next. The Last War is a series that many more fans of grimdark and dark fantasy should check out and I'm glad that I've been following Shackle's work since day one. 9/10.
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For the past week or so, I have been living in Mike Shakle's apocalyptic world, and I have to say it has been a harrowing experience.

Both Fool's Hope and We Are The Dead, are a tale of War. However, this is not epic fantasy battles where everyone puffs out their chest and prepares for combat. This is war in its most brutal and basest form. And guess what, it ain't pretty!

If you have read the first book in Mike Shakle's 'The Last War' series you know what to expect, right? Wrong!

Yep, you got it folks - expect the unexpected! And that is me covering the plot elements of the book. You need to experience this book with no preconceived ideas. You need to go in totally blind and let the story take you where it's going to go. And then, when you get to the end of the book, get back to me and tell me what you thought. I guarantee, you'll be like, whaaat?

So, let's get onto the other things about the book. You know, those bits I can talk about! I have to say that when I first read ‘We are the Dead’, I was taken aback by the story. Mike Shackle writes a phenomenal war story and he mixes this in with all the elements of fantasy to make something that is absolutely amazing. 

In Fool's Hope, the story begins immediately where the last book ends. Shackle seamlessly continues with the 'what happens next'. And from page 1, the action begins and you are thrown into the story as if you never left it. As you will know with Mike's pacing, full throttle is just too damn slow and you immediately get thrown into the story and shown what it’s like to live in a world that has been torn apart by war and oppression. 

At the beginning of our journey, we start with a new character and a new perspective, and through the introduction of these new characters, Shackle introduces the world view of the oppressors, as well as the oppressed. This is the thing with Mike Shackle. All the elements of fantasy are there. There’s world building, there’s magic systems and all the other elements of fantasy that you expect to see. However, in his hands, these elements are malleable and are shaped in ways that you don’t expect or hidden in the places that you least expect to see them. Honestly, I can’t say how much I have been impressed with his books. For me, he has brought something new to the genre and surprised me. 

In both his books, Mike Shackle has a really good way of writing prose. I suppose in the old days it would have been called hard boiled, but it’s not wholly that style of writing in that he does have elements of tenderness in his books, like the relationships between Yas and little Ro, or Tinnstra an Zorique. However, when it comes to the violence of the battle or fight scenes, Shackle presents them in a tough and realistic way. He doesn’t flower up the violence. He describes it in a way that are both unglamorous and unsentimental and this style adds to the cinematic flow of his action scenes. It’s not that his fight scenes don’t have flourish and flair because they do, but let’s be honest here, battle and death are not pretty, and in Mike Shackle’s world they are not presented as such. What matters most is survival, and that is why the characters do what they do. They do not revel in the glory of battle or tell stories of the foes they have vanquished, they simply do it to survive.

In terms of the characters in Fool’s Hope, their  journeys are expanded in such an unexpected way. I never saw any of these things coming and I could never have predicted that the main characters' arcs would develop in such a way. On that note, I am going to have to stop there because to do so would invite spoilers, and we know that I am staying away from them as much as possible. What I can say is that a couple of new characters join in this book and I am sure that you will take to at least one of them like I did. Ralasis, is the swarthy sea captain that we meet at the beginning of the book. However, he gets more of a supportive role later in the story and again, Shackle does not waste a single character and he quickly becomes a major part of the story.

I really enjoy Mike’s way of writing. It’s extremely graphic and cinematic. He writes action scenes that at once remind me both of the Matrix in one aspect and then flits to Tarantino levels of brutality. I could easily imagine this as a graphic novel, and having seen representations of Tinnstra on his website (which are pretty darn good, I tell you), I would definitely be up for reading it. 

No word of a lie, I really do rate Mike Shackle books in the top ten of my favorite books of all time. They are stunning books which totally blew me away, and in a year where we have had so many good books, Mike Shackle presents us with one of the most memorable stories that I have read all year. He is now on my list of authors that whatever they write, I will be up there buying it straight away, no questions asked! 

Honestly, when you start reading Fool's Hope, you will not put it down. It took me two days to read because I simply could not bear to leave the story for one minute, the book grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished. And if you think I am being a bit fanboy in my review, I don’t care, coz I am!.
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‘A Fool’s Hope,’ is the second book in the Last War series, which continues where ‘We Are the Dead,’ left off. We get chapters from established characters, Tinnstra whose family has been thrust into a conflict she wanted to avoid. Jax and Dren are Jia revolutionaries, once enemies now battered and tortured, they must hold strong against the shock of being conquered by the Egril invaders. We also get an insight into the Egril army. We are introduced to some new characters, Mateon, a lowly soldier who becomes overwhelmed by the horrors of war. It reminded very much of Cook’s Black Company where you get the narrative from a soldiers viewpoint. Francin a high ranking official whose insight reveals the lengths their leader will go to conquer nations. All of these characters carry their own burdens and inner conflicts, which change and help each one to grow.

A Fool’s Hope is a fast-paced story with some equally memorable characters and an unforgettable climactic ending. It is a book that just grips hold and doesn’t let go until the final page. Some plot threads are resolved in this volume and some are left open, for what I hope, will be the concluding volume.

A great book which was entertaining action-packed, emotional, nail baiting, a great read from start to finish.
Thanks to NetGalley and Gollancz for providing a free ebook. All opinions are my own.
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Good Afternoon Bookish Folk!

It is Monday, and thankfully I am not in work until tomorrow so I can write up my review of Mike Shackle’s second book to The Last War series: A Fool’s Hope!

I am absolutely thrilled to be able To read and review this book, it is a dark and sensational follow up to the first book: We Are The Dead!

Here are a few things you can expect from :

Epic battles filled with bloody desperation;
An excellently written masterpiece that doesn’t pull punches or pussy-foot around;
Fascinating, compelling and generally amazing characters; and
A great middle instalment to a sure to be exquisite trilogy!
First off I would like to thank the folks at Gollancz & NetGalley who accepted my request to read this book early! I also have to laugh because my instant response to this book was “Holy shit – this book” and that is what is quoted on Gollancz website! So, I see no other way to start my review…

On to the full review…


There, that is my review.

I joke, I joke. While accurate I think I can muster up some more words to do this book its justice.

A Fool’s Hope is an incredible story and it begins right back to where it left you, there is no irritating missing period that you always want to know about, you are straight back to it! Many say the second book is often the worst one, it is the calm before the epic climax of book three and can often be filled with a lot of filler. Well, Shackle shit’s all over that statement! This book just keeps getting better, it stands on equal footing with book one and is damned incredible.

Having read Shackle’s first book in this series, I am somewhat familiar with his writing style and yet A Fool’s Hope still managed to amaze me. Over my last few review’s I have been talking a little bit more about how coherent a book is, its dialogue and other general but crucial writing elements.

While reading A Fool’s Hope I saw nothing but a faultless piece of work! Shackle’s ability to weave a story is brilliant, no sentence is wasted, and no dialogue out of place. Everything just seemed to fit so well, and when a book is a fast paced as these books are it is often easy for it all to become a little jarring and feel all over the place. This was not the case in A Fool’s Hope despite the different locations and characters.

Shackle’s writing isn’t like anything I have read before, it is so tight-knit and compact you feel the punch of every word. His battle scenes are diverse and not repetitive and they all feel so real, because of Shackle’s incredibly world building you have more than brief explosions of imaginative action, you have a damn movie playing before your eyes! I felt the vibrations of every explosion and I felt raw from the sights that war brings, the people you cant help, the desperation. You are quite simply plunged into a world so deeply you are there for it all.

As with book one, We Are The Dead, you will be constantly driven to turn the next page, I read this book in three or four days. It is so addictive.

We Are The Dead introduced us to a good amount of the characters in this series but I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to some more in A Fool’s Hope. We continue to see these incredible and flawed characters grow, we see their relationships grow deeper and their level of progression is fantastic. No character really remains the same, war changes them irrevocably, and it was such a rush seeing them deal with the events that unfold within this book. Nothing about this book feels rushed and you will, as surely as I did, become wholly invested in the outcome of these characters journey!

A Fool’s Hope is darker in nature, the stakes are higher and it is filled with the grim realness of a country under siege. Shackle holds nothing back and is not afraid to throw everything he can at his characters but this book is also so much more than that.

I can say so much more about this book, and I really do want to, but to do so walks into the realms of the spoilers and that is no place I dare tread. All I can say is that everything you expect to happen in this book will not happen, the direction you think this book will go in…yeah, it is going to rage a battle so vicious in the complete opposite direction and it is all done with such incredible finesse it leaves you wanting!

I would definitely say to those who plan on reading this book to avoid anything even remotely spoiler’ish, avoid any review that goes into detail about the relationships and the characters who feature or well anything really! I don’t think my review falls into those categories but many I imagine will so please be careful. In my opinion, you should go into this blind beyond the first book to really experience this spectacular book!

I read A Fool’s Hope straight after We Are The Dead without sight of a single review and I enjoyed it so much more. Each event I came upon was shockingly brilliant, I had no idea which direction it would turn and what an experience it was.

On to the rating…



A Fool’s Hope unfortunately is not being published in hardback I don’t believe, though that does not change this books rating of BUY THE HARDBACK!

Instead I purchased the signed Paperback from Matt, he is a bookseller at Waterstones so definitely message him to see if he has any left!


A Fool’s Hope is due to release on 3rd December 2020
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Thank you to Netgalley, Gollancz, and to the author for letting me have an early copy of one of my most anticipated books. It didn't disappoint.

This is such a strong second book. Oftentimes, sequels fall short, but if anything, this book is more exciting than its predecessor.


Immediately Tinnstra puts to good use her character development from book one and shows us what a badass she's become, whilst still maintaining her very real, very human fears of death.

Same goes for Dren. Boy's grown, and it shows. I love the character he's become. Feels like the boy has become a man, so to speak. It's great seeing this more rational, responsible side of him.

Ralasis is a pleasant new addition to the cast. He gives me loveable rouge vibes, which are the best vibes. What a total babe.
And I loved getting Zorique's POV too this time around. She's also a badass. Like mother like daughter.


Again, much like the first book, I kind of love seeing these 'true horrors of war' depictions in books. Just makes the whole thing feel more realistic.

And I love a good battle, and this one was epic. That's the only way to describe it. Epic. So many different fights happening simultaneously with so many different characters. The tension is palpable and I never felt certain who'd survive it. This is how you write a good battle.

That twist of events with Zorique though and the age stuff. Totally didn't see that coming but it worked amazingly well with the story.

The plot overall was well-paced with enough happening to keep me interested throughout. Even though I'm a slow reader and this took me a while to read, I never once bored of it. There was far too much going on for that to happen.


Something interesting I noticed this time around was the spelling of the countries. Now I'm learning Chinese, the names feel more significant.
The country Jia, for instance. 家 or Jiā in pinyin means home in Mandarin, which makes the atrocities befalling it feel all the more heartbreaking.

And the country Meigore; the name reminded me a lot of 美国 (Měiguó) which is 'America'. Probably just a coincidence, but I thought it was pretty interesting.
And it shows the author has put a lot of thought in naming the countries. By using names that resemble real pronunciation and spelling (in pinyin, at least) makes the setting feel more authentically 'Asian.'
And one can only assume that Chongore is China, 中国 (Zhōngguó).

But continuing this thought of Meigore and America, Meigore's treatment of refugees feels startlingly familiar of American's treatment of Mexicans not too long ago. Perhaps this Meigore/America cross over is a little more intentional than I thought. And pretty clever, might I add. It makes the country feel both eastern and western.
And if there's one thing I've learnt about Mike Shackle's writing, it's how seamlessly he blends cultures to create something wholly original.

Writing Style

Brilliant writing. Engaging and straight to the point. The flow of the writing is smooth and easy the read. Some books can feel suffocating in their overly flowery prose, but Mike Shackle's writing paints enough visuals to ground the readers in the scene without bogging it down being poetical. It works perfectly for the tone of the book. This is dark, this is gritty, this is a story of war. It's stories like this, written in this way, that make me realise that there are no winners in war, only devastation.

Final Impression

I can't think of any faults. It's just so good.I don't know what else I can say about it. It's so good.
I assume there will be a book three after that amazing ending. Talk about leave us wanting more.
What a great bloody series this is turning out to be.
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It’s not much of a secret that I first got interested in The Last War series by Mike Shackle, when I saw Jen’s updates while reading We Are the Dead and Shackle’s reactions to it. Then I got a copy myself thanks to Shackle’s generousness and in the end I stayed for the characters and the story. After loving We Are the Dead it was not much of a question whether I’ll read the sequel, A Fool’s Hope. The only question was when. In hindsight, reading it right after Call of the Bone Ships wasn’t the smartest idea – who the hell wants to get herself ruined TWICE in a row? Me, apparently. I’m fitting right here in this asylum, I tell you.

A Fool’s Hope starts immediately where we left the characters in We Are the Dead. Tinnstra and Zorique are on their way to Meigore, hoping for safety. Dren is back on the streets of Kiyosun, the Hanran does everything in their power to get rid of the Skulls and Yas tries to survive while providing for her family as best as she can. As with We Are the Dead, events in A Fool’s Hope happen within a chaos-filled couple of days. Apart from the familiar Jian POV characters, in this book we get a couple of Egril ones – Mateon and Francin – as well as a Meigorian one, Ralasis.

Mateon is a young Egril soldier, his head full of ideals and dreams of glory in the name of Kage. He learns soon enough that war is anything but glorious. Francin is a high ranking Chosen whose skills can help him wreak havoc from the inside. It was great to have glimpses from the other side of the conflict, to see into the workings of the Egril and their worship of Kage. Ralasis is the captain of the ship that takes Tinnstra and Zorique to relative safety and who gets in the thick of things by following his heart. A Fool’s Hope also introduces Zorique as a POV character, which is sure a nice touch.

The horrible thing about spoiler-free reviews is that I can’t talk about some of the events here even though I really, really want to. That these characters are having a really hard time is the understatement of the year. Shackle does not shy away from making them go through hell again and again, to the point where you just want to go and beg him to stop. As much as for your own sanity as for the characters’. Because there is only so much you can take. One thing’s for sure: I would not last in this world for very long.

What’s amazing though is that despite the narrow time frame and the roughly 1000 pages (combining the two books), the characters we follow from the beginning go through quite some changes, which Shackle handles very well. I remember wanting to drown Dren myself in We Are the Dead, then warming up to him by the end of the book. Only for him to become my favorite character in A Fool’s Hope. And while I liked Tinnstra, by the end of this book, she got to the bottom of my list. While she has good intentions and I really do get where she is coming from, her somewhat narrow mindedness started to grate on me. I can’t wait for what book 3 brings for us. Oh, one more thing regarding the characters: Mike Shackle, how very dare you?!

A Fool’s Hope raises the stakes as Kiyosun (and whole Jia) clings to the last threads of its freedom. Surprises are waiting behind every corner, and there was some turn of events you definitely won’t see coming. The end of chapter cliffhangers are very clever and maddeningly infuriating all at the same time, because it makes putting the book down so goddamn hard. Get your tea and cookies ready, because Shackle definitely won’t offer you any during this character-driven, action-packed, emotional roller coaster ride.

A Fool’s Hope is a most excellent follow up to We Are the Dead, and one of the best books I’ve read this year. Sekanowari is here and gods help anyone who gets caught up in the chaos and mayhem that follows in its wake. If these books were any indication, the coming events won’t be any less brutal, bloody and utterly heart-wrenching with nothing to guide us but a fool’s hope.

Right, where did I left my emotional support panda, again?
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I had been eagerly awaiting A Fool’s Hope since finishing We Are The Dead and I was NOT disappointed. It was everything I was hoping for and more. Brutal. Emotional. Nail-biting. Compelling. I couldn’t put it down. The characters were so engaging and the story kept me captivated from start to finish. Highly recommended.
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I’ll start by saying We Are the Dead, book one in the series, was one of my favourite books of the year and, in a time of pandemic and horror in the real world, gave me an escape that was much needed. What do we look for in a fantasy? For me, above all else, I want something that will pluck me from the trials and tribulations of life and immerse me in another reality, one that grips and haunts my thoughts even when I’m not reading it.

This is obviously a very high standard for a book to live up to. But some of my favourite novels, the works of Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Mark Lawrence, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb et al, manage to do this with effortless consistency. Now, having read A Fool’s Hope, I have to add The Last War series to that illustrious gallery. It is epic and horrific, wonderful and depressing, exhilarating and distressing and truly a must-read for all fans of the genre.

AFH is the continuation of the events of WATD, which saw the country of Jia, once all-powerful and unbeatable, broken and smashed by the invading Egril and their terrifying array of monsters, magic and soldiers utterly devoted to their death-loving god Kage. We follow the lives of the survivors of the invasion, the resistance in Jia, as they battle back against the Egril and try to lead some semblance of a normal life under the cruel gaze of an invading army. This is one of the key differences in book two. In WATD, we saw Jian life post-invasion, with characters just trying to survive the shock of having their country conquered. In AFH, the fightback is truly on and we see each character fighting their own personal demons and on their own personal missions in an attempt to stop the Egril.

We also hear from a couple of Egril voices, giving us an insight into the divisions in their army. After all, from the Jian perspective, the Egril are cruel, merciless monsters who pillage, destroy and conquer. However, as this book shows, they are an army and nation just like any other. Francin, a Chosen, assumes the role of Monsuta, a high-ranking Egril utterly devoted to the cause. His viewpoint gives us an insight into their leader Raaku’s all-consuming hunger for conquering the world. On the other hand, we have Mateon, a lowly soldier who truly believes in Raaku and Kage but is quickly overwhelmed by the reality and horrors of war. I confess I was a bit confused by the prominence Shackle gives Mateon in the book, but later it becomes apparent just why he is so important. That’s another reason why I really enjoyed A Fool’s Hope – everyone, no matter how seemingly insignificant can make a difference to the war.

I felt the same about Ralasis, a swashbuckling Meigorian sea captain who helped Tinnstra and Zorique flee Jia and was very involved in preparing his country for the Egril. Like Mateon, I didn’t feel an emotional connection with him, though he quickly catapulted himself up my estimations after one particularly thrilling scene involving an amorous couple. Now that was tense and exciting. I expect him to have a bigger role going forward and I really want to see a development in his relationship with Tinnstra. More than anything, however, I really hope we hear more about his past. Who doesn’t love a dashing legendary sea captain??

But, while the viewpoints of those characters were interesting, the Jian characters are the ones who we all really care about and, like in book one, all of them go through a hell of a journey in A Fool’s Hope. Whenever I think they possibly can’t suffer any more, Shackle shows us just how horrific resisting an invasion can be.

No character’s journey embodied this more than Jax, once supreme General of the elite Shulkas of Jia and now a broken, twisted shell of a man who the other characters all look at with pity and sadness. In WATD, Jax was badass, brilliant and commanding. He coordinated the resistance and was a ruthless leader who would do anything necessary to save his nation. Alas, the Jax we meet in AFH is a very different man. He constantly hears the voice of Monsuta, his Chosen torturer from book one, and the Shulka who once worshipped him now skirt around him and treat him like a deranged madman. And the saddest thing is, they’re right. Jax can’t get over the horrific ordeal he went through at Monsuta’s hands, or the losses he suffered at the end of the last book. It is gut-wrenching and hard to read but I really respect the way Shackle didn’t try and half ass Jax’s suffering. We’ve all read broken characters but Shackle is very committed to his portrayal of Jax and, at the moment, you can’t see any sign of redemption as the book comes to an end. In fact, it might get even worse.

Another beloved character from book one who finds himself struggling through AFH is Dren. The ruthless, heartless back alley bomber is a different man this time round, working in tandem with the Shulka and finally realising the bigger picture. Unfortunately for him, he spends the whole book dealing with the consequences of his murderous rage from WATD and everywhere he goes he finds enemies who want to punish him for his reckless bombings and killings in book one. I love Dren and the moments of romance and emotion he found in this book were very rewarding. We begin to see that he is redeemable, no matter what he thinks of himself and I really enjoy the relationships he has with the other characters. Dren thinks himself beyond saving but there is a palpable affection towards him from the other characters, even the ones who previously wanted to see him dead. I’m not sure what the future holds for him in book three, but I’ll put it this way. If The Last War aired on TV or in a cinema, Dren would be everyone’s favourite character.

One character who might rival him, however, is Yas, a mother tricked into helping the resistance efforts of the Shulka in book one. In A Fool’s Hope, we see her coming to terms with her actions in book one and facing the consequences of helping the resistance efforts. Her priority is her son and we see her go to extraordinary lengths to protect him and ensure his safety. We’ve heard all the stories, the sayings about a mother’s love and Yas takes this as her maxim, straying far from her comfort zone to keep Little Ro safe in a world beset with war, destruction and greed. She’s one character who’ll definitely play a big role in book three and, when the war is over, it’d be interesting to see how prominent she is in Jian society. But, like Dren and Jax before her, it’s important to remember that her actions have consequences and I’m sure we’ll see one particular action come back to haunt her. There are no heroes, after all.

And yet, if two characters can be described as heroes, more than anyone else, it’s Tinnstra and Zorique. I saved them to the end of the review on purpose as it’s very difficult to talk about them without giving away spoilers. They fled Jia at the end of the last book and though they are removed from the main story – for a very long time – the entire outcome of the series is dependent on them and their growth. And they definitely grow. More than anyone else, in fact. But you’ll have to read the book to understand exactly what I mean.

Zorique is the Queen of Jia but she is just four years old while Tinnstra is a former coward whose role as the Queen’s protector, her mother to all intents and purposes, gives her a spine and a purpose in life. In AFH, they build on these roles, Tinnstra growing in strength and power with every passing chapter, while Zorique matures and grows into the role she is destined to perform. A significant middle portion of the book is dedicated to Zorique’s – and Tinnstra’s – training and one of my favourite elements is the feeling of the noose slowly closing around them. The executioner’s blade hanging just above their heads. The Egril moments away from killing them both. The tension is palpable and the feeling that they are running out of time is brilliantly written. The payoff is also immensely satisfying and the fightback, after a thousand or so pages of being put to the sword, is thrilling.

However, I must say I did struggle with the portion dedicated to their training. As previously mentioned, the payoff was very satisfying and I’m excited to read about the fruits of their labour and how it affects the big picture in the war against the Egril. But, I found it a little jarring when Shackle wrote several chapters in Tinnstra’s voice after constantly cycling through viewpoints previously. Also, and maybe I simply missed the hints that were dropped in book one, I was a bit taken aback with the way in which Tinnstra and Zorique grew. This is a minor quibble, however, and it definitely does not affect the book as that tension, that feeling of the Egril being moments away, was present throughout. Overall, no matter how they got there, I am very glad to see that Jia now has a way to fight back.

A Fool’s Hope is probably my favourite book of the year, with it’s only realistic opposition We Are the Dead, which I’m sure Shackle will appreciate! We see growth in several characters in AFH and the narrative feels very strong and well-directed. I cannot wait to read book three and I think it’s very interesting that we are yet to get answers to a few key questions.

But, at the end of the day, no matter how good a story is, for me the characters are the most important part and this is where AFH shines. Shackle does a tremendous job of hammering home the emotions of his characters, each one a complicated and contradicting mix of feelings. He explores the world through the eyes of several narrators, and through this manages to portray a range of actions and journeys that impact the overall picture.

Five stars. Easily.
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A full review will follow. Will just briefly say that this book is amazing. I was very excited to read it after the first instalment and I wasn’t disappointed. It improved on the first book in every way and I truly believe that you have something special on your hands with this trilogy.
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ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

A Fool’s Hope wonderfully surprised me; it is one of the finest middle installment I’ve ever read.

Alright, it is frankly unbelievable and ridiculous that many fantasy readers haven’t started reading this trilogy yet. I finished reading We Are the Dead earlier this year, and I was amazed by it already. A Fool’s Hope, the second book in The Last War trilogy by Mike Shackle, somehow managed to exceeded over its predecessor in every possible way.

    “That’s the point. The problem when you think you’re an invincible fighting force is that you stop learning, evolving. It makes you predictable. Then the Egril showed us that we were only too beatable. We stopped being afraid of anyone. We stopped growing as warriors.” 

The story in A Fool’s Hope starts immediately from where the first book ended, and it revolves around the Jia’s continuous war and revolution against the Egril. I’m genuinely impressed by Shackle’s storytelling capability in keeping a tight focus on the plot, action scenes, pacing, and characterizations. In the first quarter of the book, I thought I had an inkling of where the story was going; I was proven wrong, and the book became much better for it. Similar to the first book, this series has a way to keep me keep on turning the pages. No chapters were wasted; something important always happens in every chapter, and almost all of them ended in a cliffhanger. The page-turning strength of the book was so strong that it made me missed my meals, my gastric pain was triggered, and instead of eating real food, I continue to devour this story. Although A Fool’s Hope is essentially a bloody vicious war and survival story, there’s still a huge concentration on the emotional themes of leadership, responsibilities, duties, and family that enhanced the intense reading experience.

    “I’m not a leader. No one’ll listen to me.”
    “I don’t know anyone who’s been in command who hasn’t thought that. It’s normal. In fact, it’s the ones who think they should be in charge that you’ve got to worry about.” 

The progression of the characters was astounding. War changes everything, and just within two books, so many pivotal events have happened to the characters. The best spoiler-free examples for this would be Tinnstra and Dren. If you’ve read my review of We Are the Dead, then you’ll know that I’ve mentioned that both Tinnstra and Dren were, for the first half of the novel, infuriating to the max. In this book, they constantly developed in a very organic way into becoming a relatively better individual who’s willing to stand up for what’s right. This, of course, didn’t happen exclusively to Tinnstra and Dren; Zorique and Yas also went through their own spectacular character development. I honestly can’t even decide which POV I liked most reading this time; they were all so equally compelling.

    “People needed strength to follow, someone who could make hard choices when the time came, a leader they could believe would keep them alive. Ralasis was none of those things, but he could pretend with the best of them.” 

Tinnstra’s relationship with Zorique continues to be a glowing spark of hope in the darkness, and I loved reading their brief training montage and moments of relative peace. Despite all of their personal flaws, I’m incredibly invested in these character’s stories; their feelings—positive or negative—were palpable. Shackle shows that ordinary people, when forced by dire and dangerous circumstances, will and can hone their untapped leadership and unleash their necessary brutality to protect what matters most to them. To make things even better, in this more or less eight POV-characters narrative, Shackle also includes characters from Egril’s side. We have seen Darius Monsuta’s cruelty in the first book. This time Shackle adds Mateon, and the addition of his POV displays the humane side of Egril’s individuals; maybe the differences between good and evil, in the end, can simply be defined by where their belief/loyalty lies.

    “War’s orchestra played its merry tune in the distance explosions, screams, steel beating steel and the Gods only knew what else. Yas barely noticed it. Death and destruction had become as commonplace as birdsong.” 

I could go on and on about the character’s development, but it would require me to spoil some details from the book, and I don’t want that; all the anticipations plus the twists and turns here should be experienced by each respective readers themselves. However, before I close this review, allow me to once again highlight that the easy-to-imagine quality of Shackle’s action sequences is, in my opinion, highly reminiscent of Abercrombie’s writing style. This isn’t a hopeful book; bad things and destructions happened frequently. Most of the battles in the first book utilize close-quarter combat with no magic involved; A Fool’s Hope featured a lot more magical power usage, and it was awesome. Shackle’s violent battle scenes always felt vivid and cinematic in my imagination; every scene was immersive. I was able to see the devastation inflicted, I was able to hear the sound of explosions, and it felt like I was in a constant state of battle/caution mode together with the characters when I read the book. It was THAT immersive.

    “Solving a problem or winning a battle always amounted to the same thing: concentrating on what was in front of you. Deal with that first. Worry about the rest later.” 

I don’t have anything else to say. Believe me, I have purposely left out most of the best elements contained within the pages of this magnificent book. The story was unpredictable, the pacing was relentlessly gripping, the battles were blood-stained pulse-pounding, and the character’s internal and external emotions were palpable. A Fool’s Hope is one of the best fantasy novels of the year. Shackle has outdone himself by crafting such a heart-hammering sequel, and I’ll go as far as saying that it’s one of the best middle-book installment I’ve ever read. Personally, I don’t think it’s a fool’s hope to think that the third book would finalize The Last War as one of my favorite trilogy of all time. This is a sequel done right, and I can’t wait to find out the upcoming onslaught to come in the final book of the trilogy. The Last War is indeed coming, and I won’t miss participating in it.

Official release date: 3rd December 2020

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
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A Fool’s Hope is the second instalment in The Last War series by Mike Shakle.

Many People say that the second book is often the weakest and the hardest to write book in a trilogy. I completely disagree with that statement. Some of my most favorite books of trilogies are the second tomes. My two most favorite examples are The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers and the Nevernight Chronicles, Darkdawn. And like those two I have to admit I enjoyed reading A Fool’s Hope even more than its predecessor We Are the Dead. Synopsis:

From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give everything she has left to keep Zorique safe.

It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – now must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.

For the enemy intends to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back. And if Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do.

                                                                                                            text to be found in advertisement for the book
A Fool’s Hope picks up straight where We Are the Dead left off. As in the previous book we meet our main protagonists again: Tinnstra, Zorique, Jax, Was, Dren and Hasan. The chapters are told by an omniscient narrator from their point of view. But we also met new characters like for example Ralasis, a famous sea captain of Meigore. Not only the Jians and Meigorans get their own chapters but also two Egril: Mateon and Francis.  Mateon is a young boy who just became an Egril Skull-soldier. I honestly enjoyed his chapters as he shows the reader that most Egril are simply mislead humans who are religious fanatics but if confronted with the reality of war, they suffer as much as everyone else and not all of them are evil monsters: „Just stay alive, kid, and maybe one day we walk away from all this shit. Maybe pretend it never happened.“

The other Egril whose perspective we get to know is Francis, a chosen, being at the court of Meigore. He might not be as mad as Monsuta from book one but he is not better in anyway. 

Not only do we get new Egril and Meigore perspectives but also Zorique gets her own chapters. To not spoil too much I will keep quiet about her, just let it be said that she is amazing! 👑 

We also get chapters of our well loved protagonists and some manage to fulfil their character arcs with Tinnstra leading the way. There is not much left of the little scared girl she used to be but she turns fiercer and fiercer. „Whatever happened to the girl who was afraid to fight?“ ⚔️ 

All of them have to carry their burden from the first 📚   book. But they’ve all also grown so much in book one already. 

Like „We Are the Dead“ A Fool’s Hope is very fast paced with its velocity reaching a climax towards the end. It is never easy for me to find time to read with two kids but towards the end (around 2 hours till the ending) I simply could not put the book down and got less sleep than normally. 

There are some processes that come to an end in this second instalment but many are left open and will -hopefully – be concluded in the next book. On the last page we already catch a glimpse about what is to come and I anticipate and dread it at the same time. 

As in his debut the world building in this book is superb and it offers many different tropes. Mike Shackle once said on twitter that there is even a love story to be found. Well, after reading that I did expect a bit more in that field but he did not lie. There is love, hate, violence, time travel, magic, blood, darkness and throughout the book the reoccurring fool’s hope.

So I assume this book will be found in the grim dark fantasy section.

But is it really grim dark?

Of course there is violence, blood, murder and mayhem but in contrast to other books, which are not considered grim dark, e.g. J.R.R.Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, there are certain lines that are not crossed. One incident had me dreading what was to come immensely. At some point in the book Yas – who turned into one of my favorite characters – is separated from her boy Ro. I kind of expected to get torture, rape and abuse as with for example Theon and Ramsay in J.R.R. Martin’s aforementioned book. Lucky for me it did not get as bad as I apprehended it.

„They thought her weak because she had a child, because she cared about people, about her city.“

I am not saying that this book is not dark but there are grimmer books that do not carry the title grim dark. 

It still is no book for the too soft hearted but I am not the toughest person there is on this planet and I immensely enjoyed reading this book. 

So far -and I expect it to stay this way- this is my most favourite book 📖  I have read in 2020. And this series is on the best way to turn into one of my absolute favourites. That is also why I hope that it will get translated to German at some point so I can pester my friends to get it or give it to them as a present. 🎁 

I reviewed the ebook copy of the book kindly given to me by Netgalley. The book itself will be published on 12th November 2020 by Gollancz. 

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