ANALYSIS: Some series have such a hold on you that you *have* to read every bit that the author writes Full review originally at Fantasy Book Critic
ANALYSIS: Some series have such a hold on you that you *have* to read every bit that the author writes about them. A few examples of such series for me are A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin, The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews, the Drenai series by David Gemmell and lastly The Demon Squad series by Tim Marquitz. With Demon Squad we were introduced to lovable rogue Frank Trigg who would leer at your girlfriend while regaling you with salacious banter. He’s the kind of character that usually gets an early gruesome death courtesy of the protagonist in most fantasy stories. In Tim Marquitz’s universe, we get to see how the world seems to be from such a person’s point of view.
Since I met Frank in Armageddon Bound, I’ve counted myself as a Frankophile and have eagerly devoured each and every story (both long and short) that featured him or was set in the world featuring him. Last time around in Beyond The Veil, certain events and a huge amount of unveiled secrets have left Frank and the reader with a lot to ponder. However with this prequel standalone novella, Tim gives us a chance to view Frank in his good old days when he was the Anti-Christ in training. Cue Frank in hell and having a good time or as much as a good time as can be expected in Lucifer’s domain.
When the story opens, Baalth is training Frank for a fight that he has no control over and after the umpteenth disappointing finish, gets tasked by his uncle to go to Earth to resolve a situation. Frank’s initial joy turns a bit sour when finds himself in London, circa 1888 and is forced to resolve the Jack the Ripper murders. He finds that Hell isn’t the only party interested in unmasking Jack as his cousin Scarlett is sent as the angelic counterpart to his investigations. Backed into a corner, Frank will have to rein his perverted thoughts and focus on finding who is behind the infamous letter which begins by saying “From hell…”
As is the case with previous books, From Hell while focusing on a dark subject, takes a rather dark comedic path as Frank narrates the story. We get his usual banter on the state of things, uncle Lucifer, Scarlett and her vivacious ways and lastly how he stumbles from the fire into the frying pan. Readers acquainted with the previous books will find a delicious mix of the same but with a tiny difference, Frank isn’t the hardened wiseass we have met in the previous Demon Squad books and that’s because he still has his powers with Lucifer’s backing. While that might save him from bigger hurdles, watching him trip over smaller stuff is still hilarious. With this novella, the author explores the demon squad universe in a different time period and I enjoyed this past romp of Frank a lot.
Beginning with the humor, as usual we get a nice stream of thoughts and one-liners that would keep you in splits but also we get a tightly paced plot that moves towards a conclusion rather strongly. There aren’t too many plot twists in this story but the main one if you don’t guess it, will liven up your read. I enjoyed Tim’s take on the Ripper’s identity and his reasoning for the stoppage of the murders. Lastly there’s even a small thread left open for Frank’s further adventures out in the old west that frankly sounds like a bunch of fun.
Drawbacks to this novella are simply that if you didn’t like the previous books then this novella might not change your stance. Also if you are easily offended by salacious humor then I would pray you never venture into the demon squad universe. Besides the afore-mentioned reasons I couldn’t find any other thing to nitpick about this story.
CONCLUSION: Frank returns in a prequel story and it is a gory yet fun one. You will want to read this novella if you have been on the fence for trying out a new, unknown series. From Hell is a great introduction to the Frank and his world. Be prepared though it’s unlike any other urban fantasy that you have read so far. Frank Trigg isn’t a Harry Dresden or Atticus Sullivan clone, he’s his own man and the rest of the world needs to find that out....more
ANALYSIS: This was a debut, which came to my attention via Liviu, he had mentioned on G Full review over at Fantasy Book Critic (with Liviu's review)
ANALYSIS: This was a debut, which came to my attention via Liviu, he had mentioned on Goodreads how much he was enjoying this classical sword & sorcery tale. Once I got hold a review copy, I dove in with high expectations and was rewarded for the most part.
The story begins with our sole narrator Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, and his two fellow greatcoats, Brasti, an expert archer, and Kest, the best blade among the Greatcoats. The tale begins when the order of the Greatcoats has been thoroughly disgraced. Forced to lay aside their arms by their King’s orders and watch his execution soon afterwards, has given the order a new name of Trattari or Tatter-Coats. The Dukes were the ones who engineered this coup but the biggest fall was taken by Falcio’s order. When we meet our three remaining Greatcoats, things seem dire as they have just witnessed murder but due to certain magical ministrations are painted as the murderers. Fleeing with their lives and martial reputations intact, our trio will have to uncover this new mystery as well solve the tasks given to each of them by their deceased king.
All in all, things are looking dastardly and that’s where the fun comes in for the reader. Falcio as a narrator is an engaging one as he reminisces of his past life before joining the order. We witness his personal accolades as well the event that lead him to meet King Paelis and later on to the formation of the Greatcoats as well. These flashbacks are nicely ensconced within the present wherein our Greatcoat trio are traipsing through the kingdom of Cristia trying to find the murderer and absolve themselves of the murder charge.
This was an absolute delightful read, combining the charm of the Three Musketeers story along with the twists and turn found in the best of sword and sorcery. Beginning with the pace of the story, which will keep readers engaged as well as the plot twists that will keep them hooked. The author has made this story a very relatable one via his protagonist Falcio who is an everyman hero. Facing rather horrible odds, he and his friends try to stick to their honorable ideals but are occasionally forced to walk the morally gray path. The author makes sure that the heroes are very sympathetic by giving them horrible scenarios and making the villains as evil as possible. After reading a lot of grimdark as well as morally ambivalent fantasy, Traitor's Blade as a debut left me delighted as soon as I finished it.
For readers who are looking for a fun read, Traitor's Blade hit the spot nicely. Not to say that there's no gruesomeness or darkness to the tale. The author does manage to portray a very grim picture for our heroes and makes the story take a few bleak turns. However not every situation is completely explained in regards to the story such as the Ducal insurrection as well as the villains' main plan. I'm hoping further clarification will be provided in the sequel but as far as stories go, this one kept me pretty intrigued with its plot and characters.
CONCLUSION: For all those who enjoy fantasy stories with a light-hearted feel to it, this debut is something that you must take a look at. Combining action and light hearted banter in a simplistic manner; Traitor's Blade is a debut that hearkens back to days of epic fantasy when grimdark hadn't become so widespread....more
ANALYSIS: There are some books that draw you in with their blurb descriptions about their protagonists such Full review over at Fantasy Book Critic.
ANALYSIS: There are some books that draw you in with their blurb descriptions about their protagonists such as Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazzell, etc and then completely hook you in with the content matter. The Intern’s Handbook seemed to be another such book and I couldn’t wait to read it and see how it would pan out.
The story begins as a series of chapters in a handbook that details the life of John Lago, one of the best assassins that Human Resources Inc. has to offer. He’s on the verge of becoming twenty-five years old and that means that he can no longer do what he does best. That seems ironical but the way HR Inc has become so proficient at their work, is because they send out people who are below the age of twenty five as interns and who are trained to be deadly killers. John Lago was inducted into HR Inc when he was twelve years old, he along with a group of twenty-six other like-minded individuals made up the batch. Only three remain and all of them are superbly efficient. John is given one last mission and after that he can decide whether to retire or not.
His last assignment is to infiltrate New York’s most prestigious law firm; Bendini, Lambert & Locke. However the biggest drawback of the assignment is that there’s no target yet. Sure there’s someone to be terminated however he will have to ingratiate himself with all the senior members, keep his intern status and find out who the target is. Not an easy job but one John is prepared for. His biggest problem however comes in the form of Alice, who starts as part of his assignment but ends up complicating his life. This final assignment will be prove to be his nadir as he unlearns all that he gleaned so far and he still has to find out whom he has to kill, to finish it.
The Intern's Handbook is Shane Kuhn's debut and a super fun story. John’s handbook for recent recruits is a handbook as well as his biography. I couldn’t stop reading once the story began and along with the twists, the story is told with a very dark comedic tone that helps massively. Here are a few examples of the author’s humor:
“The shortest distance between truth and bullshit is six feet straight down.”
“Hip-hop, you have f***** the King’s English for life, good on you.”
“He calls himself a ‘big picture guy’, this is a Business 3.0 way of saying he doesn’t give a shit about anything but the bottom line.”
“44% of my kills came from my superior coffee-making ability. It’s simple, puts you in direct contact with the target and it can be a vector for a variety of weapons.”
Also similar to Columbus’ list of rules for survival in Zombieland, John has a set of rules that are interspersed between the chapters and which further help elucidate why he’s considered to be one of the best. The pace of the story is of the rapid kind as the twists pile on; it becomes even harder to put this down. Trust me you don’t want to start this book in the evening as that way you’ll end up reading late in the night till the story ends. Do what I did, reserve time for it and then read and chuckle along as the tale unfolds.
The main protagonist is the big draw of the story as we get a hitman who while young in age, has developed a cynical attitude that seems more proper in one who would be in the 40-plus age range. John’s observations and his rules make the book stand out completely and kudos to the author for his top-drawer characterization. While we don’t get to much about the side character cast, they aren’t the two-dimensional ones and add to the character dynamic in many more ways. And to top it all, the climax of the story is quite an unpredictable one, which goes on to add to the charm of the book. Plus after reading the very last page, readers will definitely be clamoring for a sequel.
With such stories, there are always points that go against it, for me the only point that didn't seem to gel was the fact that towards the latter third of the story, John Lago battles the antagonists who don't quite use all the weapons (both literally & figuratively) in their arsenal. Perhaps the author will shine a further light on this aspect in the sequels but for now, this point seemed a bit weak. In the end this was a dark, quirky assassin story that pays homages to several films and silver screen characters and takes a rather funny route towards its unpredictable climax.
CONCLUSION: The Intern’s Handbook is a rip-roaring tale of an intern cum assassin, who plans to retire young but as often as it does with best-laid plans, his journey never goes where he plans it to be. This tale is quite apt for fans of the Dexter series, The Spellman Files & the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy. Make sure you don’t miss The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn, as far as debuts go, this one hits the bullseye. ...more
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Penitent Damned is a prequel short story that was featured for free on io9 and af Review originally over at Fantasy Book Critic
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Penitent Damned is a prequel short story that was featured for free on io9 and after reading it, I would very much recommend it to readers as well with the caveat that they might enjoy it better after reading The Thousand Names.
The story is set in Vordan and basically is a heist story. The story focuses on Duke Mallus Kengire Orlanko, Royal Minister of Information and leader of the Vordanai secret police, the all-seeing, all-knowing Concordat, Andreas the Concordat assassin and Alex the thief. Alex and her mentor master Metzing have been given a job that is almost impossible to turn down. Andreas warns the duke of an impending heist and so the trap is set. It remains to be seen which side will triumph as both sides have secrets of their own and surprises to spring as well.
I read this short after I had read the book and I’m glad for that as certain things the book illuminates become very easy to understand after reading the climax of The Thousand Names. While I believe most readers will enjoy this story anyway, I think those who read The Thousand Names will be able to discern a few more facts from it and especially the last line gives out a very crucial part that possibly reveals an important clue in regards to an important plot point. Plus the story also shines a sharp light on the Vordanai magic system and that is revealed quite late in the main book. The story does have a nice twist in its climax and as far as short stories go, is quite an excellent one.
Overall The Penitent Damned is a story that I would heartily recommend to all fantasy lovers. If you haven’t discovered Django Wexler yet, then this is an excellent, free way to get started. Though my recommendation would be to read it after the author’s long form debut as that way you will enjoy it even more!...more
ANALYSIS: Davyaprithvi is the debut book from an Indian author who also happens to share my enthusiasm Full review originally at Fantasy Book Critic
ANALYSIS: Davyaprithvi is the debut book from an Indian author who also happens to share my enthusiasm for mythology and the Mahabharata. Rajdeep Paul is a friend of mine and I was very excited when he asked me to review his debut. I had warned him that I wouldn’t pull any punches and so here are my thoughts. Davyaprithvi is the first book in the Indus Valley series and promises to look at the evolution of myths. Here’s what the author writes in a preface to the story:
“Events become stories, stories become legends, and legends become myths and that’s how men are transformed into Gods and Demons through the process of telling and retelling. With every narrator enriching the same story with his or her unique experience each time the story is told and thus mythologies are formed. The Indus Valley series of novels try to trace the stories of these men and women whose feats inspired poets to weave the myths of Gods around them.”
The main story is set in the pre-historic Indian sub-continent era, before the Vedas were written (roughly five thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ). The Aryas are nomads, who are on the lookout for greener pastures after being driven out from their homes in central Asia. Their High King Varuna, who is supported by his chiefs Vayu, Agni and Surya, leads them. They however will have to contend with the Dasyus and the Gandharvas who are the current residents of the Indus Valley. The Dasyus are the native rulers of Indus Valley and a technologically advanced civilization. The Gandharvas are the third race, who are a peace-loving tribe that will be forced to choose sides in between these two warring sides.
What I loved about this story that even though it was supposedly taking place in an ancient time, there are a lot of modern ethos and geo-political concerns that are brought to the fore via this storyline. The author makes this story a multivariate one and there is a big character cast to go with it as well. The characters come in all shades; there are no classical heroes or villains but simply humans who face hardships and do extraordinary things to survive and for the benefit of their clans. In this regards, the author throws an nod to one of his heroes Joseph Campbell via his various characters. The character cast is also a diverse one and I enjoyed how the author showcased various lifestyles and philosophies through his characters.
Going on to the main plotline, the story is similar in scope to the Shiva/Neelkanth trilogy by Amish Tripathi however with many solid differences. While the former series focused on an individual and was more akin to Terry Brooks’ stories, this one focuses on many characters and nation/clans and is in the Robert Jordan-mode (this is the best analogy I can come up with for western readers). The story is spread across various characters both male and female that undergo profound changes in their social and personal lives due to the plot twists. Lastly a word about it’s pace, the book has a slightly uneven feel to it and often the tempo switches from a rapid pace to slightly sedate one and then back again.
I’m being a bit ambiguous with the plotline as I can’t reveal much without spoiling the story, however be prepared to be engulfed in a world that will feel alien (at least to those not familiar with Indian mythology) and to help the author has also given a detailed appendix that expounds lucidly about the races, the world and the societies within. This is very helpful and often I used to refer to it for help with certain points. One thing that the book doesn’t have is a character listing and this is a major drawback as many of the names sound similar and with a vast character cast, it would have been helpful to provide a character listing. Something which could be done differently in the sequel perhaps. I didn’t have any other issues with this book and I think that while this is a rough-edged debut, there’s a lot to it that makes it a good one.
CONCLUSION: Davyaprithvi by Rajdeep Paul is an interesting debut; it manages to highlight several important points about the human condition, our minds and about geo-political warfare. It’s a smart book that encapsulates mythology with philosophy while being packaged as an epic fantasy one. All in all it’s a solid gem that will have different meaning to different readers, come discover what it might mean to you. ...more
ANALYSIS: Last year after finishing off his debut trilogy in grand style, Mark Lawrence left his readers furt Full review over at Fantasy Book Critic
ANALYSIS: Last year after finishing off his debut trilogy in grand style, Mark Lawrence left his readers further conflicted about his main character Jorg, the bleak world encapsulated within & how he capped off the story. This incredible review by Jared does manage to capture in strong essence why so many readers have been conflicted (as well as in awe of) about this series. Beware though it has major spoilers for the entire trilogy but it along with a majority of Jorg haters draws some conclusions that don't necessarily jive with what the author was aiming for.
In his last book Emperor Of Thorns, Mark Lawrence introduced a pair of characters called the Red Queen and the Silent Sister. Both of whom are too rich to be discarded to cameo appearances and thus we have the Red Queen’s War, the new trilogy set in the same world and time frame as the previous one. Of course this story focuses upon Jalan Kendrath & Snorri Ver Snagason, the former a prince and a distant grandson of the deadly Red Queen, and the latter a Viking slave who is far from his homeland but hasn’t lost any of his mettle in all matters related to blood. The story then unfolds in a haphazard manner as the author intended for our mismatched duo to find out why fate has put them together.
Here’s why I thought that this book was so much better than the Prince Of Thorns. Firstly the characterization, the author nails it with Jalan and Snorri, unlike Jorg who was a sociopath and very hard to sympathize with. In this case the author does a fantastic job as he presents two individuals who are vastly different but are both pleasantly relatable. The second aspect is that here as well, the author further explores the fascinating post-apocalyptic world that he has created. Plus we also get to meet (or glimpse) brother Jorg, and the rest of his brethren. This was a cool way to relive a couple of events from the first book, plus we get to meet characters like Chella, Katherine & her sister. These interactions do add depth to the events that we have read previously.
Now going to the pace side of things and this is another factor that made this book factor strongly against Mark’s debut title. In Prince Of Thorns, the pace was slightly uneven and with the story broken into two timelines, it caused a bit of discord for many a reader. This time around there’s no dual timeline, just a singular straightforward plot that will propel the reader rapidly. But while keeping the plot streamlined, the author hasn’t dropped any quality. The humor in his previous was dark and present whenever possible, with this title however the humor while similarly dark is present copiously and that strengthens this particular story.
The author has thrown in some sharp references to his previous work, the best one I thought was:
“Dropping into a thorn bush can lead to no end of grief!”
Another aspect that I loved was a possible nod to David Gemmell & two of his favorite creations “Snaga & Druss” via the character of Snorri Ver Snagason. Who says this about himself as an axeman:
“An axe for me. Swords trick you into thinking you can defend. With an axe, all you can do is attack. That’s what my father named me. Snorri, it means attack. Men think they can defend against me, but when I knock they open.”
I loved to read about Snorri & the revelations that were laid bare in the latter half of the story really made the book that much meatier. I loved how the author explored these two personas and the transformation they both undergo as the journey culminated into a horrific climax. Lastly the magic system showcased was also that much more clearer than the previous work in the same milieu and I can’t wait to read more about the Red Queen’s struggle against the Dead King.
Mark Lawrence really hits one out of the park with the opening salvo of the Red Queen’s War and for all those left with a sour taste while following Jorg’s odyssey. Prince Of Fools is sure to change your perception if you give it a read with an open mind. For me, I had no complaints with Prince Of Fools besides the tiny fact that I’ll have to wait for a year atleast to read what happens next.
CONCLUSION: Prince Of Fools is Mark Lawrence’s newest and perhaps best attempt at proving what a talented wordsmith he is. Be sure to read this one if you enjoy dark fantasy rife with superb characterization, black humour & a fast paced plot that will leave you hooked till the very end. Mark wins this round and now it's up to the rest of SFF fandom to accept his ascendancy towards fantasy pantheon’s upper echelons....more
The Wolf In Winter is the eleventh volume of the Charlie Parker series & the thirteenth book to feature Parker in it. This book leads on with certThe Wolf In Winter is the eleventh volume of the Charlie Parker series & the thirteenth book to feature Parker in it. This book leads on with certain pivotal events from The Wrath Of Angels however its main plot makes it a standalone read. We begin with Parker, Louis, & Angel hot on the track of the Collector for his murder of Jackie Garner.
ANALYSIS: When it comes to David Dalglish's books, I always set aside some extra time because I know once I s Full review over at Fantasy Book Critic
ANALYSIS: When it comes to David Dalglish's books, I always set aside some extra time because I know once I start reading, I won't be able to stop until I complete the story. His Shadowdance series has become an alltime favorite of mine with its complex story of politicking between thief guilds, squabbling cities and ultimately a battle of wills between a father and his son. When it comes to Haern, he is by far the favorite character of most David Dalglish readers. I happen to enjoy his tale too but in my opinion, the more fascinating character is Thren Felhorn, a Guildlord who is ruthless, far-sighted and a swordsman extraordinaire.
This novella traces his origins and reveals half a dozen pivotal movements in his life which have lead him to become the fearful character that we meet in A Dance Of Cloaks and the remaining books. I'll be listing each story and talking about it briefly:
1) Stealing Spoons - The first story introduces Thren as a nine year old orphan in the city of Mordeina who faces a cruel person named Muzien the Darkhand while trying to steal a pair of silver spoons. Thren and his bosom buddy Grayson are then cornered into coming to a Sun guild meeting where a strange game of "And Then There Were None" seems to be starting and Thren and Grayson will have to pit their wiles against forty hardened killers.
2) Stealing Hearts - This is the second novella and it features Thren, and Grayson when they are young men making a name for themselves. The target is one of the Trifect and a family heirloom, however they have strong competition from someone who is as tough as them and has a deft advantage as well.
3) Stealing Crowns - The third novella shows Thren and Grayson's induction into the thief guild culture in the city of Veldaren. Thren is pitted against the leader of the Spider guild as they race to see who is the better thief. This is the first story wherein we get to see Thren's ruthless streak arise and it is a chilling one.
4) Stealing Life - Stealing Life focusses on the birth of Thren's son Aaron and it is a heart-warming story. Perhaps the only light story in this entire collection and even then it has its share of darkness to it. I very much enjoyed this story as it showcased a different side to Thren.
5) Stealing Memories - The penultimate story in this collection is the cruelest one of the collection and easily the most riveting one as well. This tale looks at a covert battle between guilds namely Thren's Spider guild and Carr's Scorpion guild. After the light hearted nature of the previous story, this one is entirely gut-wrenching as it shows what happens when Thren's plans don't awry. The first cracks in mental facade are shown and even then he's cold-hearted to the extreme. This story bears a lot of importance for the events happening in the forthcoming A Dance Of Shadows ( book 4 in the Shadowdance series) and therefore is the most significant one of this collection.
6) Cloak And Spider - The titular story of this collection is a folktale which Thren narrates to his son Aaron, when asked about what is Aaron's role in the Felhorn family. This story almost reads out like a prophecy and should be interesting for readers to draw their inferences in regards to the Shadowdance series. From a narrative point, it is a smooth story that ends on a sombre note as it easily leads into the events that make up the prologue of A Dance Of Cloaks. A terrific finishing short story to round off an intriguing collection about a character who perhaps rivals Tywin Lannister in his calculative maneuvering and ruthless persona.
Cloak And Spider is a fascinating prequel novella to a series that itself is a prequel series to the author's self-published debut series. however this novella effectively stands on its own due to the tight narrative focus on Thren Felhorn and his legendary but infamous exploits. The stories are are tightly written with each one opening and ending swiftly but not before a crucial facet about Thren is revealed to the readers. These stories also reveal a lot about his orphan friend Grayson, the love of his life and the mother of his children. This collection while being a must read for all David Dalglish fans, is also a good starting point for all new readers who do not wish to invest a whole lot of time to his longer works.
CONCLUSION: To all those new readers, I would heartily recommend reading this novella collection as it elegantly illustrates all of David's writerly plus points, while also giving a compelling omniscient view in to the first half of Thren's lifestory. I can vouch that once you read this collection, most readers will ever so curious to know more about Thren and what happens next in his life in A Dance Of Cloaks and the rest of the Shadowdance series....more
John Hornor Jacobs has a lot riding on this series, this is his first foray into epic fantasy (of a sort) as well as his second effort at a big serie John Hornor Jacobs has a lot riding on this series, this is his first foray into epic fantasy (of a sort) as well as his second effort at a big series. This story is set in a world that's a facsimile of ours wherein the Roman empire has survived and guns have been invented with the help of daemons. The story begins with Fisk and Shoe who are two mercenaries guarding a boat of Rumans along with a few other mercenaries. The world described contains several elements that are common to most fantasy stories such as dwarves, elves and dragons. But they have different names and can get a bit confusing as it's not specified as to what is what.
The world is powered by Daemonic technology that supposedly damns the souls of its proponents. The new world is populated by Vaettir, fourteen foot tall Elves who live for centuries and hate humans. There are a few other races mentioned of which Shoe is a half dwargen, half human hybrid. The story is set in the western lands of the new continent, which is a frontier land and is a western tale within a fantasy genre.
The story takes a while to start as the author sets up the plot and introduces the characters. The actual plot begins when there's a kidnapping (of sorts) and Fisk alongwith SHoe are forced to mount a rescue mission. More to come in full FBC review......more
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: When it comes to sequels, it’s hard for the authors to write them, as often they have to do so within a strict time limit as well as take into consideration reader expectations. Now imagine if your debut was a successful one, Terry Brooks took 5 years between his debut Sword of Shannara and the follow-up Elfstones of Shannara. Supposedly he had written a different book but his editor had him scrap it, and aren't we all glad for it.
If Terry Brooks had such a hard time writing the sequel in a day and age without the internet, imagine what authors must go through in this age. Luke Scull had previously mentioned how he’s had to overcome many difficulties while writing this book and it’s being released nearly 2 years after its predecessor. As far as wait times go, that’s a tiny one in epic fantasy scale. For me The Grim Company was a standout debut and also the best debut in my 2013 year-end lists. The sequel was a highly anticipated one and of course this volume promised a lot more of Brodar Kayne & his highly taciturn comrade Jerek the wolf.
How did it figure? That’s a complicated answer and I’ll try my best to give a proper reply. Here’s what the novel is about. Broday Kayne and Jerek after the events of The Grim Company when they took part in upsetting Salazar’s reign aren't really feeling the love. So after three weeks they decide to go back to the north. However, their luck runs awry when bandits beset them. This book also dwells deeply on its titular character Kayne as we get to see how Brodar gained the title of the Sword Of The North beginning with events nearly thirty-six years ago.
Returning back from the last book are Davarus, Sasha and Yllandris. Davarus returns and finds that fate has crueler plans for him. He finds himself a prisoner in a concentration camp (of sorts) with a sadistic overseer. Sasha found her family in Ambryl but she finds that the sister she remembers is long gone. They are both conscripted by Eremul to find out more about the White Lady in Thelessa while delivering his message. Yllandris is in a rough situation as well, her paramour is now a tortured prisoner and she is beholden to a crazy sociopath who is known as the Butcher King. Lastly there’s Eremul who is now recognized as the half-mage who slew Salazar and is now trying his best to find out more about the Fade. There’s also a new POV character called Sir Meredith who is a knight sworn to the Butcher king and he’s a doozy.
That is the cast of POV characters and with this book, Luke Scull plunges the reader back into the crazy world that is the Age of Ruin. The characters whom we love are back however the author is not done with them. Readers should be warned that while this is a middle book of the trilogy, it doesn't quite suffer from the middle book syndrome. There’s a plan at work here, which deals with the events that were showcased in the prologue of its predecessor. This book does build up on a lot of things for Dead Man’s Steel, the final volume of the trilogy.
Here’s what I enjoyed about this book, once again the characterization is the author’s forte. Beginning with Brodar Kayne who shines mightily throughout, there’s also the focus on Davarus, Yllandris, Sasha and Sir Meredith. All these characters undergo a lot and not all of them make it throughout the book. I want to particularly highlight Sir Meredith who is as despicable as they come but thanks to the author we get to see a peek at the madness that lies within him. It’s a fascinating sort of look that while we hate the character and his actions, the author brilliantly illustrates what make him tick. This brilliant characterization is also showcased with Davarus and Sasha who have to undergo a lot of trials and they are made stronger for it.
If you thought Davarus was pompous in the previous chapter, this book showcases how far he falls. The horror he endures makes the stuff Harry Dresden faces seem like a walk in the park. In this regard, Luke Scull shows himself to be a crueler manipulator than Jim Butcher with regards to his characters. We also get a significant look into Brodar’s past and how his friendship with Jerek came to be. That bond is significantly focused upon in this volume and we are shown what truly makes Jerek tick. The author also shows a lot of ruthlessness with character deaths and there are some surprising ones in this volume. I enjoyed how the author made the read an even keel, as I wasn't sure who would survive for the next volume.
Lastly this book also gives us a more than clearer look at the events that lead to the Age of Ruin, the reason for the Fade’s disappearance and hatred for humanity. The author has sown some seeds within the first volume that will become clearer only after reading this book. I absolutely can’t wait to see how it all unfolds in the third volume wherein there’s a titanic struggle to for the remaining characters.
As intriguing as this book was, there were some middling points to it. Namely that the pace flounders a bit in the middle of the book wherein the author is setting up things for the climax. Another thing that was disappointing for me was the reduced role that Eremul had in this book. As a main character in the preceding volume, I was looking to more from him but sadly that wasn't the case. However I’m hoping he features more prominently in the sequel though.
CONCLUSION: Sword Of The North is a strong sequel to The Grim Company and as far as books go, it’s a fascinating read. I had high expectations and it managed to meet them strongly. It did have some missteps but then what book doesn't. Overall it neatly sidestepped the middle book syndrome and sets up the final volume superbly. Sword Of The North gets a solid thumbs-up and I can’t wait to read Dead Man’s Steel now....more
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After reading the immensely entertaining Generation V, I was impr Full review over at Fantasy Book Critic
Overall rating= 4.5 stars
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After reading the immensely entertaining Generation V, I was impressed by M. L. Brennan and the direction, which she was taking her series. Iron Night is a book from which I had high expectations as also I rated Generation V quite high in my year-end debut lists. In spite of all my high anticipation, Iron Night managed to overcome all of it and gave me a bunch of surprises along the way.
At the end of Generation V, Fortitude had accepted what he was and what he wasn’t. He strengthened his familial bonds and is further along the path on transitioning into a full-fledged vampire. His love life might not be working but he has moved on from his vicious ex-girlfriend Beth. His new roommate, Gage is a good human being who does his best to be on time with the rent as well. Basically Fort’s star is on the rise and relations with his family and Suzume are going on smoothly as well. Things soon take a rather stark horrible turn as Gage is found murdered, and it falls upon to Fortitude and Suzume to figure who or what killed Gage. Along the way they discover more about who resides in Madeline Scot’s territory and what can also kill a vampire.
I happened to enjoy this book a lot and here’s why. Firstly this is an excellent sequel that actually builds up on its predecessor and manages to outshine it in almost every department. Kudos to the author for developing the story in this way and also furthering the characters via their inter-personal relationships. The author also does her best to twist reader perceptions and then surprises them in myriad ways. The author not only develops Fortitude but all the other characters such as Suzume, Chivalry, Prudence, Madeline and Matt as well. With Fortitude we get to see a quite different person than we have met before. He’s more confident and learning more about his innate skills, which are tested as well. The author also shines a strong light on the supernatural aspect of the world, and we get to see and hear a lot about who and what else reside in the Northeastern part of the US besides the vampire and kitsune clans.
What I also enjoyed was the fact that there are major revelations about vampire genealogy, plus Fortitude’s birth and the reason for his difference. I was absolutely thrilled to see the author give out these secrets and set up plot points that most UF authors would take 2-3 more books to set up. This move was what made this book a standout one and basically made me love this series even more. Another plus point of the story was the author’s strange and savage twist on one of fantasy's most beloved non-human races. If you are like me then you will love how effortlessly M. L. Brennan manages to entwine horror and urban fantasy strands smoothly. The author also utilizes an excellent murder mystery plot and then further weaves plot threads about family and lineage around it.
The biggest mystery about Fortitude's parents is revealed and it makes several obscure things clear. I loved how the author is cleverly re-inventing vampire mythology and at the same time further deepening the supernatural mythos of her world. The creatures in this book aren’t the simple fantasy kind and they do add to the horror quotient of the story. Also not to be left out are the Kitsunes and we get another interesting tidbit about Suzume and her family, this I believe will have major ramifications in the future stories. Lastly the author revealed certain juicy tidbits in an interview and based on the events of this book and what was hinted, I certainly can’t wait to read Tainted Blood (which in itself is a fantastic clue about the plot).
CONCLUSION: All in all, this is an exciting volume to a series that mixes horror, mythology and UF tropes to charm the readers and beguile them to wait for the next installment. If you are one of those readers who look down upon urban Fantasy, give this series a shot and see for yourself why I believe M.L. Brennan to be the next best proponent of the UF-Horror genres behind the King household....more
This is Jon's first book after his debut trilogy. I found it to be an exciting one simply because of the things that the author has tried to accomplisThis is Jon's first book after his debut trilogy. I found it to be an exciting one simply because of the things that the author has tried to accomplish with it. It's a different book than his debut effort as with the Shadow's Son, Jon went for a very tight narrative focus. With this book, we get a much bigger canvas and a much wider POV character cast. I enjoyed the pseudo-Egyptian flavor of the storyline but it's a very faint resemblance. The author's storyline reminds me a lot of James Clavell's Shogun with the main protagonist being shipwrecked, however that's where the comparison ends. The rest of the story is an epic one as we get POVs from a spy, a shipwrecked person, a gladiator, an arrogant queen and many more.
ANALYSIS: Steven Montano has made me a fan of his with eclectic genre mixed storyline that is his de Full review originally over at Fantasy Book Critic
ANALYSIS: Steven Montano has made me a fan of his with eclectic genre mixed storyline that is his debut series, the Bloodskies volumes. I’ve read all of his previous books with various degrees of enjoyment however one thing is clear; Steven Montano is a man with a plan when it comes to his plots. When he announced his new series The Skullborn trilogy, I was very excited for the books after I read all about the series setting as well as the characters and the magic system. Steven was very kind to send over a review copy and so with high expectations I dove into this dark, war & magic ravaged world.
The story opens in the prologue with a group of warriors making a slog through a wasteland to launch an attack on the Blood Queen’s forces. Things though never go as expected but surprisingly the events that follow change the course of the war and affect all parties and sides involved. Next the actual story begins with Azander Dane, a former Dawn knight who is now a mercenary and ekes out an existence that slowly erodes his self worth and conscience. He arrives in Ebonmark looking for a new job and finds himself in cahoots with Vellexa a bloodspeaker and a lackey to the Iron Count. His job as assigned by the Iron Count is to locate Ijanna Taivorkan. Ijanna is a bloodspeaker, a practioner of a rare form of veil magic and central to the plans of almost all factions. She’s driven by events beyond her control but she wants to be the driver of her destiny even though her destiny portends to many big calamitous events.
Colonel Aaric Blackhall is the head of the White Dragon army sent to do his empress’ bidding and locate a vital artifact in Ebonmark. He not only has to contend with the general populace’s animosity but also has to factor in the rivalrly between the Phage and Guild, two rival crime cartels seeking to establish their total supremacy in Ebonmark. Lastly there’s Kruge, a Vossian prince who is hated by all humans for who he is and is held as a slave by a particularly odious crime boss. There are many more characters and angles to main plot but that’s for the reader to RAFO. This story is basically about multiple events happening as various factions and individuals plot and act to further their own plans. The readers will have to keep track of the character list so they can remember who’s who and related to whom.
What I loved about this story was how the author showcased a gritty world, which is still reeling after a war that has ravaged the continent. Imagine Europe after World War II and how all the empires and countries were shaken up. A similar situation is present here and the various cities that were previously under the yoke of the two dominant empires have now become their own rulers via the form of city-states. The theater of action for this opening volume is Ebonmark, the titular city and it is one that is ruled by crime cartels and ganglords who are all jockeying for power and further weakening the city. The world-building is truly massive as the author immerses the reader in an alien world with different types of races and magic however tying it to human sensibilities conveniently so as to make it seem inviting. With this volume, the author barely scratches the magic system and history of the world and so for worldbuilding geeks, this series should definitely be on your shelves for its ingenuity. There’s also the wide character cast, which is interesting to follow as each of them have their own lives and plans to destroy others. There’s a very strong LOTR vibe going on in this book as characters are introduced and we get an idea about the journey they might be taking in the sequel volumes.
Then there’s the characterization and as readers of Steven Montano books will know that he can be trusted to write compelling characters. A similar case presides over here and with the change of genre; he particularly excels in providing several terrific ones and with the caveat of all of them being grey. That’s the juicy part of the story as all of the POV characters are mostly grey or black with degrees of good nestled within. All of them are tortured souls due to their own actions or those of the world. I think the author drives home the point that war affects everyone and I mean *everyone*! Lastly there’s the plot itself, which is twisted and completely unpredictable. I was left bewildered as most of my plot predictions went awry and kudos to the author for making the plot complex and multi-layered. It was heartening to see the author paint this grey crumbling world in complex shades wherein any action could have several interpretations depending on whose perspective you look from. There are no heroes only survivors and as the blurb states only the cunning & cruel can survive in the end.
This book while being quite good has some drawbacks to it. Firstly in certain sections the book’s pace drops down to a slightly languid level and that can be a turnoff. Also this book while a big, complex one also feels like a lengthy prologue to the events that are to come. There are also a lot of events and characters that are referred to but no further clarification is given. As a reader I felt intrigued by this book’s twists and turns but also a bit irritated by all that is hinted at and never revealed entirely.
CONCLUSION: City Of Scars is the beginning of the Skullborn trilogy and is also an epic start to what promises to be a dark, fantastic story. I happen to be a fan of Steven Montano and yet was blown away with his dark, epic fantasy genre debut. Don’t take my word for it though, grab a copy and start reading to see why Steven is considered as a gem of an author who will go to further heights and brighter accolades. ...more