There are two basic types of long novel series: those where each book stands as its own story (Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and Jim Butcher's DresdenThere are two basic types of long novel series: those where each book stands as its own story (Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and Jim Butcher's Dresden Files come to mind), and then there are the series where the reader needs to have read all the previous books to get the full value of every episode. Gaunt's Ghosts is definitely the latter kinds of series. So if you're reading this and you've already read the 13 books that came before, it's highly probable that you're already heavily invested, and you aren't looking to be told why you should like this series.
And if you are all caught up, he only reason to even bother reading this review would be to discover if this is the book that drops the ball
You'll be happy to know that it isn't.
In fact, that now that there's an end in sight for the series (supposedly coming in 2021), Abnett seems to have shaken off the feeling of repetitiveness that was beginning to creep into the series, and while the end isn't really in sight, it's clear that we're moving in that direction.
Yes, in the dark future, there may be only war, but war alone isn't enough, and Abnett brings his usual mix of thrlling storytelling and compelling characters to the demon infested battlefield.
And if, for some reason, you're reading this and you haven't read any of the Gaunt's Ghosts series, what are you waiting for? The First and Only are waiting for you to join their ranks....more
Bill Massa writes thrilling action fiction that's every bit as compelling as anything you'll find on network television, and Occult Assassin is no excBill Massa writes thrilling action fiction that's every bit as compelling as anything you'll find on network television, and Occult Assassin is no exception. You can see his screenwriting background in every scene
Bill has done his homework, and everything in his books from the weapons down to the locations has a nice clear "ring of truth" about them. Sure, there are a few mistakes that only the locals will notice (there are no hills between downtown San Francisco, and the Mission, for example), he creates a compelling world, catching the nuances of the Bay Area tech culture and using them to build an exciting story.
Occult Assassin isn't a book that's going to change your life, but if you're looking for interesting characters, non-stop action, and an "I can't put this book down" story, this is the book for you.
It will keep you turning pages as you follow the trail of Talon as he blazes a bloody path of revenge and discovers that the demons are all too real.
I'm a native New Yorker, although I haven't a lived there since the turn of the century. There's no doubt that the city has fundamentally changed overI'm a native New Yorker, although I haven't a lived there since the turn of the century. There's no doubt that the city has fundamentally changed over the last 30 years. It was once a far dirtier and more dangerous city. New York was a place where you could have a shootout on 42nd street and no one would bat an eyelash—not even the cops.
Although this new New York is safer, not only was the pre-2000 version more genuinely interesting and artistic, it was also a far better place for the kind of hard-boiled neo-noir that Adam Sternbergh is clearly itching to tell.
To that end, he's created a future version of New York that has found its back from the current curated, "clean" city to the dangerous urban jungle of the 70s and 80s. I won't tell you how he gets it there, since those revelations about some of the most entertaining (and best written) parts of the book. Suffice it to say, that this return to a grittier world works (mostly). It's a fun, dangerous, violent reality to rattle around in, and Spademan is a character of (and for) his world.
All that, along with a general love of the kind of broken knights that populate noir fiction, made me want to love this book. Unfortunately, I found the main character "Spademan" tough to like. One of my main issues with him is that he starts out as one noir archetype, and rapidly transforms into another. Unfortunately, we never really get the chance to get to know that dead inside amoral version before his heart of gold begins to shine through. I found the transition jarring.
The other thing that held me back from really loving this book is that the plot is never really as demanding as it should be; the story advances far too often on deus ex machina and dumb luck instead of the characters careful planning, bad breaks, and determined insight.
Sternbergh often seems to chop out key rungs from the story progression just to prove that he can pull it off. If he'd occasionally lean into the tropes instead of making such a spectacle of throwing them away, I think it would have been a better book.
I've heard some people complain about the lack of quotation marks in this book, so it's worth mentioning he doesn't use them. Before I read the book I was guessing that would create a kind of cinematic hyper-immediacy, but in fact it does the opposite. This is a first person novel, and the lack of quotes make it read as is everyone is speaking with the protagonists voice—the literary equivalent of an audio book. Most of the time it works quite well, but occasionally I found myself having to put my brain into reverse in order to pull my head out from the one way street that the prose had accidentally driven me down.
The irony of this book is that it uses all its technical mastery the same way that modern Manhattan far too often uses its vast infrastructure: to create safe and predictable that has only a vague aura of genuine danger. Theme park noir, if you will.
The rides are all there, and they're executed with precision, but Sternbergh just doesn't seem ready to get down and wallow in the dirt and moral ambiguity that make the best noir so deeply thrilling.
All that said, it's a well-executed book, and if it weren't for some surprisingly weak "twists" in the plot, along with some far too safe character choices, this would easily be a four star novel. As it is, if you're curious, it's worth the read, and I'm looking forward to what other dark worlds Adam Sternbergh will bring us to....more
Back in 2007 someone handed me a copy of the first of the Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy books. I expected very little from a war-game tie in (as much asBack in 2007 someone handed me a copy of the first of the Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy books. I expected very little from a war-game tie in (as much as I loved the setting). Instead, I was transported to another world through a fantastic story written by a top-tier author named Dan Abnett. I went on to devour everything he'd written in that universe, and after reading his Eisenhorn trilogy, it was clear to me that Abnett's most impressive skill was taking a one-note (albeit gorgeous) dark universe where "there is only war", and using it as a backdrop for deep and elegant stories that could take readers to places far beyond the battlefield.
I mention it because Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy clearly has a solid dose of Abnett's Warhammer universe in its DNA, but rather it's free from those limitations, having been built from the ground up for drama and speed. It also adds elements from the The Hunger Games, and epic roman history (like Spartacus, Rome, 300, and I, Claudius) to create something truly compelling and unique.
The first book (Red Rising) was a tremendous read, and if it had any major flaws it was that the plot was hampered a bit by it's Hunger Games style conceit. Still, Brown extracted every bit of value out of it he could. Now, as the hero enters into the wider world of this engrossing universe that we can begin to see the real complexities and compromises that Darrow must make for the sake of a revolution.
It becomes story that's full of amazing combat and engrossing political subterfuge, as Darrow must balance his position as a Gold against and the secret truth of his origin as a Red. There's also some solid emotional punches that had me tearing up while reading a book for the first time in as long as I can remember. ("Dear publisher: I believe your book may be broken as some of the pages became blurry as I read them.")
Along with all of that the plotting is fabulous. There are elegant revelations, surprising twists, and even a few "obvious" moments that still pay off because of Brown's truly fantastic command of character.
Golden Son isn't for everyone: it's got graphic violence and hardcore military sci-fi battles that I'm guessing will be too much for many folks. It also has a strong revolutionary point of view that will probably rankle anyone who's looking to get their belief system stroked. (Personally, I enjoy debating my beliefs with a good protagonist.)
All that said, there's a rare few books that I can give my whole-hearted 5-star recommendation, especially when the series isn't yet complete, but Golden Son is definitely worth all 5 stars in my book. I can't wait for the big finish next year....more
Back in April of this year (2014) I was at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon watching one short film after short film, when the meta-ploBack in April of this year (2014) I was at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon watching one short film after short film, when the meta-plot of a "Lovecraft" style story was revealed to me in a flash like a glimpse of a page in the Necronomicon. Like all revealed wisdom, at first it came with a rush of power, then a sense of foreboding as I quickly realized the price I would pay: no longer would I be able to enjoy these tales of cosmic horror with the same innocence and amusement that I have since childhood.
It's pretty clear that Jeff VanderMeer has had at least some the same insights, since Authority follows those points very clearly.
Adhering to the Lovecraftian meta-plot to the degree this book does make it, in parts at least, fairly predictable. But there's also something fascinating about watching an author working entirely inside a well-defined box. Instead of struggling to escape, VanderMeer seems to be attempting to prove that there is still a modern tale worth telling inside of that rigid structure, even if you already know (mostly) how it's going to turn out.
As the middle book in the series, it does suffer from some of the usual issues that middle books do: a lot of the work seems to be in service of creating an ending that will drive the reader toward the final book in the trilogy. But there's some lovely turns in terms of character and narrative that make the book worth the time and effort it takes to get there.
The characters remain the same compelling cast of broken toys that usually populate VanderMeer's books. Their inevitable breakdown reminds me of the ways that electronic gadgets do: a slow degradation of the wiring that lets them slip gracefully, terrifyingly, and sometimes amusingly, from useful tool to fascinating anomaly as they struggle to fulfill the original task they were designed for, and fail more often than not. By the time we meet these damaged heroes most of them are already too broken to be able to complete the work they were created for, and we join them in the horror of discovering just how wrong they've gone.
VenderMeer's books always have an emotional distance to them, and no one really seems that concerned with anyone's fate but their own. That can get a bit wearying at times, and occasionally it pulls me out of the story, making me feel like I'm in a Stoppard play.
But if you can take the occasional shiver in the scenery as the story bumps into the fourth wall from time to time, you'll find Authority and exciting and compelling read....more