Erika Johansen’s debut novel, Queen of the Tearling, is a sure-handed and accomplished start to a new series. The novel opens as a cadre of Queen’s GuErika Johansen’s debut novel, Queen of the Tearling, is a sure-handed and accomplished start to a new series. The novel opens as a cadre of Queen’s Guards arrive at a humble little cabin in the woods to retrieve Kelsea Raleigh. The young heir to Tearling throne was smuggled away as a baby and raised in secret. With the Regent’s (her uncle) assassins closing Kelsea must face what may be the shortest reign any monarch has seen. On her journey to New London she meets an enigmatic bandit known only as the Fetch and begins her true education in regards to the devil’s bargain her mother made after the invasion from Mort burned its way to the walls of the palace. Once in New London Kelsea moves to right the wrongs of her mother’s reign while doing her best to stay alive long enough to usher in true change.
Queen of the Tearling features a young, teenaged protagonist yet manages to walk a fine line between marketing towards adults and teens. Equally, appealing to either demographic some of the more mature content and adult themes might not appeal to younger teens. With a novel like this it is often the main protagonist that makes or breaks things. I am happy to report that Kelsea is a joy of a protagonist. Johansen has crafted a delightfully complicated young woman whose insecurities are rounded out by her grit and determination. Kelsea isn’t defined by her fears and despite the fantastical settings her insecurities, particularly her body image issues, are normal. Johansen takes things a step further by surrounding Kelsea with a cast of characters who accentuate her qualities and whose own personalities, while not always as well rounded as Kelsea’s, make for an interesting shift in perspective. The best-rounded secondary character is Sir Lazarus of the Mace, a Queen Guard whose steady presence and no-nonsense attitude provides a firm grounding for Kelsea as she wades into dangerous waters. Lazarus, is a bit of a mysterious character in the beginning of the novel. While his past remains in the dark his actions serve to define a man of utmost loyalty and honor with a willingness to employ scrupulous violence in service to his Queen; even when she might not necessarily want him to. I doubt that Queen of the Tearling would work nearly without the dynamic between Kelsea and Lazarus.
My biggest problem with Queen of the Tearling are the villains of the story. While Johansen manages to show, to some extent, that the Regent is a product of his upbringing less is done to flesh out the country of Mort and particularly its Queen; as the nominal “big bad” Johansen does very little to illustrate their motives. We know that Mort is more advanced when it comes to medicine and technology and that they have a great need for manpower. It’s the “why” of that manpower that is the true mystery and while the question of Mort’s need for manpower is mentioned there are very few hints as to the answer. Even the nobility of Tear are shown to be greedy, venal, and self-interested with only slight variations in how much they exhibit those traits. Arlen Thorne, master of the census, is perhaps the most fascinating villain in the novel, if only due to his cunning, but again outside of greed readers are left with very little information regarding his ultimate goal. Johansen does perhaps too good of a job in illustrating how “evil” the villains are but their lack of definition beyond their horribleness leaves them feeling a bit bland and boring.
The setting of Queen of the Tearling is also rather fascinating. The novel takes place sometime in humanity’s future where a group of humanity (perhaps all of humanity) has left what I presume to be Earth to found a new society. The rigors of the Crossing, as it is referred to in the novel, left these new settlers with some major issues not the least of which was the loss of most of the scientists who made the journey. The world takes many of its cues from pre-industrial history but knowledge regarding the technology of old still exists even if the keys to its manufacture are lost. As a result the “magic” of the novel is likely something else entirely, though a scene towards the end of the novel, makes me question even that. It’s an interesting aspect of the novel and gives readers some familiar footing as Kelsea begins to make changes to her kingdom based on our shared past.
Queen of the Tearling is a novel carried by the strength of its protagonist. Kelsea is an interesting character whose growth over the novel from the scared girl hiding in the trees on page one to the woman standing on the balcony before the adoring masses is a joy to read. While the villains often simple feel evil for evil’s sake I remain hopeful that there will be more nuance explored in further novels. The world of Queen of the Tearling is also fascinating and the mystery behind why these people came to be where they are is one I look forward to reading about. Thankfully, Invasion of the Tearling is out now so I won’t have to wait long to find out what happens next....more
Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Blue Blazes are excellent novels with vibrant worlds and complicated heroes. Needless to say that I was pretty excited tChuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Blue Blazes are excellent novels with vibrant worlds and complicated heroes. Needless to say that I was pretty excited to hear that Chuck Wendig was scheduled to be the man in the pilot’s seat for the first post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars novel in the new canon. When early samples of Aftermath were released ahead of the novel’s publication my excitement was somewhat dampened by Wendig’s chosen style. The present tense narration, coupled with the short quick sentence structure was completely off putting for me and I was immediately nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get past the narrative style. Thankfully, while Disney and Lucasfilm, have in a sense “abandoned” previous canon they have not abandoned Star Wars audiobook narrator Marc Thompson. Thompson’s skill as a narrator combined with some rather insane production quality (official sound effects and music) meant that, like with the previous Fate of the Jedi novels, I was definitely going for the Aftermath audiobook experience.
Aftermath opens in the time following the destruction of the second Death Star. While the decisive Rebel victory has prodded many systems to action, the former-Rebels now struggle to consolidate their power and transform a military-based rebellion into a full-fledged political body. Meanwhile the Empire, while grievously wounded, is still around lashing out against those who dare join the Rebels and trying to desperately to consolidate their forces in the face overwhelming support for change from much of the general public.
In the opening scenes of Aftermath readers a treated with a glimpse of some of the actions that resulted from the Rebel victory, as dissidents tear down a statue of the Emperor, as well as the Imperial reactions, as those dissidents are viciously attacked by Imperial Security. Aftermath paints a very chaotic situation for the Rebel Alliance. One of the actions of the Rebels after the victory near Endor was to send out scout units to various systems. One such scouts, fan favorite Wedge Antilles, enters the Akiva system only fall into the clutches of Imperial forces gathering there for some sort of meeting. Wedge manages to get out a distress call which catches the attention of Nora Wexley, another Rebel pilot who just happens to be on Akiva in order to reconnect with her son Temmin. Readers are also introduced to Sinjir a former Imperial Loyalty Office and perhaps my favorite new character. A dry-witted drunkard Sinjir is laying low on Akiva after having stolen the clothes off a dead Rebel’s back during the Battle of Endor. Our motely team of heroes is rounded out by Jas Emari, a lone-wolf Zabrak bounty hunter on Akiva to take out a high-level Imperial target. The tightening grip of the Empire on Akiva draws these four characters together over the course of the novel.
Aftermath has a huge job ahead of it. Not only does it have to tell an interesting and entertaining story but it also has to lay out the state of the Star Wars universe at large while simultaneously being attractive for new readers and the notoriously cantankerous entrenched fandom (who are already frustrated over the loss of their beloved canon). As such Aftermath definitely struggles a bit in trying to tell a tight, constrained story about a rag-tag group of heroes while bouncing around the universe to give readers glimpses of what is going on around the universe. The interludes which often feature familiar characters such as Han Solo, Mon Mothma, and Admiral Ackbar definitely provide fascinating insight in to the Star Wars landscape. However, as entertaining and enlightening as they are I found that they felt more like a barrier to telling the story of the events on Akiva than anything else. Aftermath desperately wants to be both epic in scope and an intimate look at the effect of the Empire on the Rebellion on individual lives and I often felt that those two goals were at cross-purposes.
While I found the novel’s narrative voice distracting in the beginning I adjusted as the novel progressed. Once the main plot of the novel kicks into high gear my problems with narrative voice faded into the background. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph above I chose to listen to the audiobook version of Aftermath and I can’t say for sure how easily I’d be able to shake my feelings regarding the narrative without the aid of Marc Thompson and the production crew at Random House Audio. It is really just a top-notch production and I highly recommend that reluctant readers give the audiobook a shot. I will note that Thompson’s Wookie sounds were a bit off, but that’s my only complete regarding his performance.
I really wish the characters of Aftermath were given a little bit more breathing room. Of our four heroes Nora feels the least developed though Wendig’s description of her PTSD worked quite well. Similarly, her son Temmin could have used a little more work as both characters feel to explicitly defined by their relationship to one another with little room to explore who each is absent of that part of their identity. Sinjir was definitely my favorite and his rapport with Jas was entertaining in the highest; I’d love to see adventures with just these too characters. Sinjir and Jas certainly felt like the most developed characters and their growth over the course of Aftermath felt more natural than either Temmin or Nora. I should send a shout out to Mr. Bones. I never thought a battle droid could be terrifying. But this one is.
While it’s almost inevitable I’m not sure comparisons are entirely to Heir to the Empire are entirely fair. Star Wars fans were in a completely different emotional and mental state in 1991 as compared to now. With no new Star War sequels in sight it was easy for Zahn to focus on the main characters of the Original Trilogy and it’s difficult to say how much reader’s initial emotional investment in Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, and the rest of the gang influenced their response to Heir to the Empire. To place things in further perspective between 1977 and 2014 while only 6 “main” movies were filmed there were over 300 Star Wars books published (in 2007 alone Del Rey/LucasBooks printed 1.5 million copies of Star Wars books). With the vast majority of those novels no longer official canon it’s easy to see the mountain of material that Chuck Wendig and Aftermath is essentially competing with. I’m not even sure his work would have a chance when it comes to the reader who picked up Heir the Empire in 1991 and spent the better part of a quarter century following his or her favorite characters. How can you compete against that? The easy answer is: you don’t. Aftermath has the unenvious moving Star Wars forward into a new era underneath the shadow of a veritable mountain of printed work. With such an immense burden placed upon this book and it isn’t a surprise that bows under the pressure. Aftermath is an entertaining Star Wars novel that sets up a new era of adventure in a universe that while familiar may not be exactly same one that many fans remember. I for one look forward to seeing where things go next....more
End Time isn’t Keith Korman’s first novel but it appears to be his first solo novel written in quite some time. As a fan of the apocalyptic genre I waEnd Time isn’t Keith Korman’s first novel but it appears to be his first solo novel written in quite some time. As a fan of the apocalyptic genre I was definitely intrigued by the title alone. The publisher’s description of the novel reads like a fascinating mashup of science run amok and a rising tide of supernatural occurrences. I found this to be an interesting combination and one that we don’t see too often. Unfortunately I found End Time’s combination of supernatural horror and weird science a bit too hap hazard.
The street performer glimpsed as the novel opens is the reality-warping Pie Piper. Yes, that Pied Piper. With the ability to edit reality at will his influence begins to seep across the world as his voice and visage begins to pop up everywhere along with his calling card: the image of Felix the Cat. In Los Angeles, CHiPs officer Cheryl Gibson is involved in a shooting during a routine stop where she finds the detached arms of young woman on the steering wheel of car. Meanwhile, scientist Bhakti Singh struggles over the disappearance of his daughter and her friend and sets out on a quest to find them even as the town he abandons descends into madness. Billy Howakhan, a Lakota Sioux and retired Army officer turned Head of Security from a major think tank is dispatched to find out why a project in Texas has seemingly been abandoned; the same project the employed Bhakti Singh. These characters and more (including Bhakti’s wife and sister-in-law, as well as Billy’s boss) are all tied to together in tenuous ways. Their intertwined stories drive the plot of End Time forward.
Korman’s characters are most definitely the high point of End Time. Each character is well defined and unique in various ways but each share an undercurrent of determination that binds them together. For the novel’s three main protagonists that determination is born of tragedy and the weight of the past driving them forward. I was particularly impressed with the instant connection between Gibson and Singh. It felt to me that the two bonded that most clearly in the novel and, while they are later joined by Billy Howakhan, it is the initial bond between those two characters that formed the emotional locus of the novel’s main plot. While the novel has three “main” protagonists the cast of End Time is actually quite larger; it is littered with many other protagonist each involved with their own small thread of End Time’s confusing web of a plot. Guy Poole and his wife Lauren (Lauren is Bhakti Singh’s sister-in-law) are involved in a New England ghost story whose connections to the strange goings on in End Time is slow to be revealed and is hazy at best. “Cowboy Clem” Lattimore (the employer of both Bhakti and Billy), the owner of Lattimore Aerospace, focuses on finding out what happened to his missing scientific team and dispatches Billy to witness the retrieval of an experimental material returning from a field test in space. Lattimore further delves into his parent’s past history with the Nazi’s as well as conspiracies theories and weird science. Elsewhere in the novel the Pied Piper takes in a protégé known only as the Kid adding yet another character who takes up a significant amount of narrative page count and whose potential for redemption forms yet another important plot point.
All of these disparate threads would make interesting plots in their own right however they don’t do much but turn End Time into a cluttered mess. The initial emotional involvement, particularly with Bhakti and Cheryl, is squandered as the novel meanders across these disparate plot threads. With Guy and Lauren you have what could be an interesting haunted house story. With Billy, Bhakti, and Cheryl and the Pied Piper you have what could be an amazing story of supernatural body horror. With “Cowboy Clem” Lattimore you have what could be a great conspiracy story; add a dash of Eleanoar Singh’s narrative into the mix and you have a really great story of science run amok. Unfortunately, End Time only manages to remain interesting enough to keep one reading. There are glimpses of greatness but never anything more and novel’s conclusion remains completely unsatisfying. End Time was not the novel for me....more
I read Alive by Scott Sigler while on my honeymoon in April. I’ve enjoyed his previous work, especially the Infected series, so I’m always willing toI read Alive by Scott Sigler while on my honeymoon in April. I’ve enjoyed his previous work, especially the Infected series, so I’m always willing to read whatever he has written. The premise of the novel is fascinating:
"A young woman awakes trapped in an enclosed space. She has no idea who she is or how she got there. With only her instincts to guide her, she escapes her own confinement—and finds she’s not alone. She frees the others in the room and leads them into a corridor filled with the remains of a war long past. The farther these survivors travel, the worse are the horrors they confront. And as they slowly come to understand what this prison is, they realize that the worst and strangest possibilities they could have imagined don’t even come close to the truth."
I started Alive and didn’t stop reading until I finished. Exciting, thrilling, and eminently readable Alive is not a novel without its issues. In previous works Sigler doesn’t shy away from violence and while that is still true here it is certainly less graphic than in previous works (but can anything really top Perry’s sections in Infected?). Alive is a novel that is targeted a bit towards the teen crowd and I can’t help but think the audience limited the places that Sigler could go with his story.
Alive is a difficult novel to talk about since it relies so heavily on the surprise of its story. I love a good mystery and the ominous tone of the novel works extraordinarily well. Sigler has set up a fascinating environment and as more and more of the environment the characters have found themselves in is revealed the mystery only seems to deepen. When the big reveal does finally happen there was definitely a bit of forehead slapping on my part. While I did enjoy the exploration portion of the novel there was a point where I felt things began to drag. The balance between frenetic action scenes and confused wandering is weighted strongly towards the latter. While this makes the action, and often horror that surrounds it, feel all the more thrilling when Alive drags, particularly during its first third, it really does drag.
Having read Alive in roughly a day I will say that its nearly four hundred pages still feels all too short. I would have loved a bit more of a denouement as the novel’s cliffhanger ending left me far too unsatisfied. While towards the end of the novel the characters’ individual natures begin to feel a bit more realized the novel’s tendency to lean on the mystery of the characters’ surroundings and identities it means that the characters themselves feel sort of like blank slates. As a result the burden of deeper characterization rests on any future novels. Alive isn’t my favorite of Sigler’s novels (I think it’s still eclipsed by any of the first three Infected novels) but it is still a damned fine read the borders on summer-blockbuster levels of entertainment....more
Lauren Beukes follows her excellent The Shining Girls with another cross-genre blend of the real and the other-worldly in Broken Monsters. When boiledLauren Beukes follows her excellent The Shining Girls with another cross-genre blend of the real and the other-worldly in Broken Monsters. When boiled down to its most basic elements Broken Monsters lays somewhere near the intersection of mystery and thriller with the majority of the focus on the murder investigation involving a young boy whose remains were sowed to those of a fawn. It’s a horrific premise but one that despite forming the bedrock of the narrative isn’t really what the novel is about. The novel features a variety of perspectives including that of the divorced Detective Gabriella Versado and her daughter Layla, the journalist Jonno, Thomas Keen (TK) a homeless Detroit native, and Clayton who the less I say about the better. Each different perspective offers a different thematic thread that weaves into a novel of surprising breadth that still offers a taught, cohesive story.
At its heart it might be just to call Broken Monsters a haunted house story, or at least a nascent one. The house, in the case of this story, being Detroit itself. The Dream, a strange entity whose goals outside of existence seem unclear, is what is pushing Clayton into his violent acts and Detroit, an icon of American Industry despite its current state, seems an appropriate place to be haunted by something called The Dream. Indeed, each of the different characters in the novel can in some sense be seen as avatars or reflections of the city itself. TK, the struggling homeless man once employed by Detroit’s factories; Gabriella, the city’s stalwart defender; Jonno, the naïve and opportunistic journalist trying to capitalize on the burgeoning arts scene; and Layla, a child moving at the Information Age’s lightning pace towards adulthood as a stand-in for Detroit’s future. It is interesting to note that TK and Clayton have somewhat similar backgrounds. Both are products of Detroit but where Clayton seems to have given in to hopelessness and rage, TK has maintained a certain degree of hope and industriousness. In many ways Clayton and TK are two sides of the same coin.
Much like The Shining Girls, Beukes isn’t interested in explaining away the otherworldly elements of her novel. Like the crime elements of the story, and the slice of life sections of the story, Beukes streets the supernatural in a very matter-of-fact fashion. She doesn’t ease audiences into things so much as toss it in their faces and it’s a technique that work welled in The Shining Girls, where it was baked into the nature of the narrative, but works less well here where that most otherworldly bits come at the novel’s climax. For me, it was easy to take in stride but I could definitely see how readers lulled into a false sense of security by the more conventional nature of the early narrative could be throne the for the novel’s supernatural heavy finale.
Broken Monsters really shines when it comes to it characters. Beukes makes each character wonderfully flawed in their own way. At the very least Clayton is pushed by his own psychosis and supernatural forces and it could be argued that his cations are not his own. However Jonno is a product of his own selfishness. There doesn’t seem to be anyone he isn’t willing to use and his increasing drive for fame is almost as damaging as anything Clayton does. Layla and her friend Cassandra are children born of our information saturated age and are rife with the selfishness and carelessness of youth. Gabriella obviously loves her daughter but is almost addicted to her work. TK is perhaps the least obviously flawed character of the bunch but his tragic (if honorable) past, selfless acts, and perhaps too trusting nature make him a compelling addition to the narrative. However, if TK can be seen as a foil to Clayton than his underdevelopment when compared to the rest of the narratives (outside Clayton) is perfectly understandable.
Beukes is an author to watch. Though I haven’t read Zoo City, both The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters are excellent novels. I can think of few, if any, other authors who manage to blend genres as seamlessly as Beukes. This is a bit of a double edged sword as it could easily alienate some readers. However, I find her seamless blend of the mundane and the unnatural elevates her fiction in fascinating ways allowing her freedom to experiment with narratives in new an interesting ways. Broken Monsters isn’t exactly an uplifting read but there is a kernel of hope at the heart of the story that will keep you through even the novel’s darkest moments....more
Before I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of SeBefore I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of Serenity Falls, Writ in Blood was a fantastic little book that marked the beginning of a trilogy detailing the horrific past and present of a small town long past its heyday. Sadly by the time I was done with graduate school the Serenity Falls series was out of print. Moore recently entered the fantasy scene with Seven Forges published by the fine folks over at Angry Robot. The novel opens with the mercenary caption Merros Dulver on an expedition into the dangerous Blasted Lands there to investigate the enigmatic Seven Forges; a range of strange mountains. Sent by the Emperor’s Sorcerous advisor, Desh Krohan, Merros is startled to discover that the Blasted Lands and the Seven Forges themselves are not as uninhabited as previously thought.
Billed by some as epic fantasy there is something very old school swords and sorcery about Seven Forges. Moore seems to be working with a milieu less reminiscent of J R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan but rather feels like something closer to the works of Robert Howard, C. L. Moore, Michael Moorcock and Frtiz Lieber. Maybe it’s for this reason, and I might be completely off base here, that I suspect that Seven Forges is in truth a novel of science fantasy. The Blasted Lands, created by some great cataclysm; a ruined city full of strange beasts; the Seven Forges themselves and some details about the S’aba Taalor learned over the course of the novel lead me to believe that we are dealing with a setting that is taking place somewhere in the far future.
The early parts of Seven Forges deal with Merros’ expedition and the discovery of the S’aba Taalor. From there, as the expedition is introduced to the people who live in and beyond the Blasted Lands, the novel deals with the repercussions of that discovery. The empire of Fellein begins to treat with this strange new people whose odd culture seems primarily founded a zealous dedication to survival and the martial arts filtered through a religion lead by the gods represented by the Seven Forges themselves. There is a constant sense that the people of the Fellein Empire are off balance and that hidden currents and knowledge held by the S’aba Taalor are driving events forward. This sets up a nice undercurrent of tension leaving readers constantly wondering about the motivations of this strange people.
Seven Forges struggles somewhat with characterization. The novel sets up an immediate connection with Merros Dulver and Moore does a wonderful job in creating a complicated character whose sense of personal honor and duty contrasts with his desire for wealth and notoriety. Other characterizations are less assured. Andover, a blacksmith’s apprentice who is drawn into events due to his crush on Desh Krohan’s apprentice, fills a more traditional fantasy role reminiscent of the farm boy hero and doesn’t move to far past that trope. Desh Krohan is another interesting case; an ancient sorcerer who has shepherded the Fellein Empire across generations is at times slightly comical as he plays upon his reputation for effect. However, Desh’s motivations are never quite clear. There a handful of the S’abor Taalor whose perspective readers are treated to however, Moore has to walk a fine line between illustrating their culture and keeping their motivations somewhat hidden. The result being that I never felt I understood what exactly the S’abor Taalor were trying to accomplish.
Seven Forges is a fast, entertaining read with a rich setting. Moore adeptly handles scenic descriptions, particular during the novel’s opening chapters, and shows a real knack for describing frenetic scenes of battle and violence. Moore is adept at conveying tone both through description and action; a skill that I’d like to attribute to his experience as a horror writer. The closing chapters of Seven Forges really ramp up the action but offer surprisingly little resolution of the many mysteries introduced over the course of the novel. While the ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger it does leave me eager to start the next book in the series The Blasted Lands....more
Impulse by Dave Bara is very much an old-school space opera. The novel’s hero Lieutenant Cochrane is also a member of a landed gentry class and in linImpulse by Dave Bara is very much an old-school space opera. The novel’s hero Lieutenant Cochrane is also a member of a landed gentry class and in line for the throne; competent and capable Cochrane is thrust into the unexpected when an attack on a lightship kills his girlfriend along with many of his friends. Taken from his expected duty and assigned to the titular Impulse, the very same ship that was attacked, Cochrane sets off to investigate who that mysterious attacker might have been. Bara tosses a bit of romance into the mix as Cochrane meets the Impulse’s stern and attractive Executive Officer and complicates things further when he later meets an insanely competent and attractive “alien” (isolated human) Princess. There are shades of Asimov’s Foundation as the technology employed by the Unified Space Navy is doled out (on an as needed basis) by enigmatic Historians from Earth. The world building is light and the novel manages to engender both the feel of old-school nautical adventure and old-school science fiction adventure at the same time. This isn’t by any means a perfect read, I often found some of the history hinted at in the novel more interesting than the main thrust of the narrative and the novel leans heavy on the opera in space opera but it is at the least a highly entertaining read. If you’re looking for a novel of high adventure and high emotion than Impulse by Dave Bara might be worth a shot....more
When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner is the author’s debut novel. This is a big swords and sorcery epic that seems to channel a touch of Steven EriksonWhen the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner is the author’s debut novel. This is a big swords and sorcery epic that seems to channel a touch of Steven Erikson. The story is catapulted into action by the theft of a magical book that is filled to the brim with magic; the Book of Lost Souls. As the mage who stole the book begins to explore its power over the dead it begins to drawn the attention of gods and men into an epic convergence of power. The story follows several characters from different corners of the world as each is drawn ever towards the book’s power; each for a different reason. Luker, a magic wield swordsman called a Guardian, seeks to find his master who was also on the trail of the book; Romany, a priestess of the Spider is an agent of her Goddess’ machinations; Ebon, a Prince whose home lies close to the site of the convergence seeks to end the book’s effects on his people (mainly in the form of an army of undead); and Parolla a mysterious necromancer whose motivation I don’t want to spoil.
Turner manages to split the novel’s leads equally between genders and surrounds each character with a strong supporting cast. Turner’s female characters are all strong, competent women who stand on their own. Jenna, an assassin and acquaintance of Luker’s is easily pegged as the character’s love interest however Turner does a fantastic job at creating a rich history between the two characters such that their obvious attraction to one another doesn’t feel forced. Further, Luker’s attraction to Jenna is strongly predicated on her competence in her work. Parolla, struggles against hidden currents within herself both with regards to her power and due to the struggles she has faced in her past. Romany is the character who grated the most; at least a first. Vain, and self-centered Romany just rubbed me the wrong way. Romany acts as an agent of the Spider carefully manipulating the various players who converge upon the Book of Lost Souls. However, Turner has a keen hand when it comes to character development and Romany’s growth as the novel progresses is fascinating watch. Ebon and Luker actually felt the most traditional. Luker’s motivation, primarily out of loyalty to the man who trained, cast him as honest and driven. He chooses personal loyalty out any sense of obligation to a government or organization. He is a likeable character who in early chapters feels a bit adrift but who feels like a more complete individual once he has a concrete goal ahead of him. Ebon is that character who could have easily been the most boring of the bunch. However, Turner does an admirable job making Ebon a character who is drawn in a variety of different directions by his sense of loyalty, honor, and responsibility. At one time haunted by the spirits of the dead Ebon is partly motivated by a sense of redemption as he not only seeks to prove himself free of the spirits” influence but also make up for the terrible loss of life that resulted from his rash actions. He is further saddled by his love for a woman below his station. This plot point is one that gets loss in the shuffle and Ebon’s quest in the latter part of the novel doesn’t really draw on this in any meaningful way. Furthermore, as the novel comes to a conclusion and various plot threads are wrapped up Turner never returns to Ebon’s lady love. Ebon’s chapters do introduce my favorite secondary character in the air mage Mottle. The “crazy” wizard character isn’t anything new but Mottle, despite the cliché, manages to walk that fine line between hyper-competence and wackiness with aplomb.
Turner has a rich and interesting world in When the Heavens Fall but provides very little by way of exposition as readers journey through it. He establishes a keen sense of history both recent and ancient over the course of the novel and uses both primarily as a means to drive the action forward. Turner lays out the current status of the Guardians as a once independent organization now under the thumb of an Emperor and now a shadow of their former selves. It is this fact that serves as a driving force of tension in Luker. However, at the same time I never felt particularly confident I knew what the Guardians were precisely. Over the course of the novel readers are introduced to a handful of gods. Shroud, lord of the dead plays a significant role in the novel as does the Spider but both deific figures remain largely inscrutable. It is in this world building that Turner’s Steven Erikson really comes to the fore. Shroud, in name and power, called to mind Erikson’s lord of the dead, Hood. The Spider, while less capricious, reminded me of Erikson’s Shadowthrone. Similarly the complex history of Turner’s world particularly the mysterious ancient empires, and beings with ancient enmity called to mind elements of the Malazan Book of the Fallen I was particularly reminded of the rivalry between the T’lan Imass and Jaghut.
When the Heavens Fall is an excellent start to a new series. While the novel wears its inspirations quite visibly on its shoulder it is never enough to take away from Turner’s strong characterization and masterful juggling of plot and action. Turner has a tendency to stick with show over tell and When the Heavens Fall is one of those novels where I actually wish there was a touch more tell. I am hoping that in further novels Turner works towards further originality and find a voice that is more clearly his own. Regardless, fans of swords and sorcery and epic fantasy will definitely find a lot to life here....more
You should know first that I am fan of Cinema Sins. Jeremy is half the writing team behind Cinema Sins and the narrator so when I saw on their YoutubeYou should know first that I am fan of Cinema Sins. Jeremy is half the writing team behind Cinema Sins and the narrator so when I saw on their Youtube channel that Jeremy had written a book I figured that I should check it out. It didn’t hurt that John Dies at the End author David Wong has a nice little quote up over on the book’s website. I jumped when I saw that Netgalley had it up. The Ables is about a secret society of superpowered peoples living around us. We don’t see them but they are there protecting us from both regular criminals and from super-powered individuals who do not have out best interests at heart. So when Phillip Sallinger learns that he has inherited superpowers he absolutely ecstatic; even if his telekinesis is difficult to use due to his blindness.
Phillip is placed in a special education class at his new superhero school along with other youths whose special abilities are impaired by physical or mental disabilities. Phillip is dead set on not letting his disability affect his ability to be a Custodian. Things really kick-off with the introduction of the SuperSim; an event where super-powered adults create a town wide Danger Room like situation where teams of super-powered kids can try their hand at super-heroics without the risk of the real-world. Overcoming some adversity Phillip and his other classmates take their first steps towards being superheroes only fail pretty spectacularly. However, it’s this failure that spurs them onward toward exploring their abilities in new and deeper ways in order to find a way to overcome their physical limitations.
The Ables would be an entertaining book if it was just watching these kids experiment with their abilities. Scott comes up with some creative and fun ways for these kids to use their abilities and it’s an absolutely joy to experience each little triumph along the way. However, there are darker doings going on in the background of The Ables’ world as full-fledged Custodians are disappearing and a mysterious figure keeps taunting Phillip and his friends. Scott doesn’t flinch from putting his hero through the wringer and he does an excellent job at describing the emotional aftermath of the handful of traumatic events Phillip faces throughout the novel.
While I found The Ables conclusion to be initially entertaining, Scott really stacks the odds against the heroes, some last minute twists and revelations felt a little too contrived for comfort. The novel’s final heroic reveal was telegraphed a bit too neatly for my tasted. Then again, Scott’s target audience is not a 33-year old somewhat jaded fan of genre fiction so the book’s final revelation might come as more of a surprise. The Ables is an entertaining and exciting read whose vibrant characters leap off the page. I definitely anyone looking for an excellent bit of middle-grade fiction give Jeremey Scott’s The Ables. For avid Cinema Sins fans I feel it worth also noting that Scott himself reads the audiobook version. Both the print and audiobook versions of The Ables are available now....more