I love post-apocalyptic fiction, all kinds. Examined, it’s not the healthiest obsession, but I seem to share it with a good portion of the population....moreI love post-apocalyptic fiction, all kinds. Examined, it’s not the healthiest obsession, but I seem to share it with a good portion of the population. Stories of the end of the world, the cataclysm (all kinds) and after, are everywhere. The New York Times Bestseller list, at the movies, on TV and in the hands of children. A recent browse of the YA shelf at the library showed a serious bend toward dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. Vampires still get a look in, but their uglier cousins, the zombies, are having their day.
Our fascination with the end of the world goes a long way back, so it’s hardly surprising gruesome tales of our end continue to capture the imagination, or that some of the most enduring stories continue to be reworked. One of the best known and popular tales of the apocalypse is found in the bible. Revelations. The Four Horseman and the Beast. It’s terrifying stuff! I remember being convinced as a child that the Horsemen would ride in my life time. I may have just watched The Omen when I came to this conclusion. Unfortunately for my parents, I got a hold of a bible and read Revelations to my younger sister. I wasn’t allowed to baby sit for some time after that.
Anyway, I want to share my thoughts on another retelling of the apocalypse. East of West Volume 1: The Promise gathers together the first five issues of the comic East of West. Distilled, the story follows the Four Horsemen on their quest to end the world. And that’s about all it has in common with Revelations. Oh, except the Beast. There is a Beast.
The divergence from the source material is what makes this comic graphic novel great. Volume 1 comprises 150 pages. I read it in about an hour and a half. Couldn’t put it down. Not sure what everyone else did that Saturday morning, I was utterly absorbed. (I should send it to my sister, eh?)
The first challenge facing the Horsemen is the disappearance of one of their number. They arrive somewhere in time, in a world that is not ours—it already looks wasted; a future western setting—and realise Death is missing. Death is busy. Riding a mechanical horse-cannon (it’s really, really cool), Death has business to take care of before he joins his brethren. He’s on a different mission, one that doesn’t seem to mean the end of the word, despite the rapidly increasing body count.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the seven nations (seven seals?) that rose out of the ashes of a previous apocalypse are bent on a different agenda. They follow something called The Message. It’s unclear at this point what that message is, exactly. But it also seems to be about the end of the world.
But first, they have business with Death, too.
Comic books are a very visual experience, obviously, for the artist, writer and the reader. So when reviewing them, I like to comment on the art, the colours and the manner in which the pictures represent the story.
First thing to strike me here is the art. I like it. I love the composition of the first few ‘stills’ and the colour work. The shading works well for faces, it’s almost like a watercolour bleed. The blend of the colours, the way the characters match the background, yet manage to stand out, is also really nice. I also like that the Horsemen each has their own colour. The layout is very cleanly done. East of West has a slick, professional feel. Finally, the story pauses now and again for grey and white pages that showcase the artist’s fantastic line art. The boy riding the devil bike is my favourite.
The writing is equally impressive. The characters are varied and easy to distinguish from one another. The two I’ll be keeping my eye on are Xiaolain and Chamberlain, two of the seven leaders. I’m sure as the story progresses, I’ll develop a keen interest in the others. Chamberlain, in particular, is really well-conceived. I think it’s hard to write a character who is utterly lacking in sympathy and compassion, and still comes off as human, and therefore, relatable. Xiaolian is just kick-ass. She has hands of metal or stone. She’s interesting and clever.
East of West is written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Dragotta. They first collaborated on The Fantastic Four for Marvel. Both have a long and colourful history with comics. East of West is available as a series of comics, the first five of which have been collected in the volume I just reviewed. Issue #6 is due for release on September 25. Issue #7 a month after that.
Nick Dragotta’s tumblr has a lot of images from the comics. Definitely worth a visit if you want to check out the awesome art!
Best last line, ever. I had to get that out first; it’s an important observation because the last line of this book perfectly illustrates the cyclical...moreBest last line, ever. I had to get that out first; it’s an important observation because the last line of this book perfectly illustrates the cyclical nature of the trilogy. The line serves as an explanation (even without the benefit of the epilogue), a conclusion and a beginning. The story is far from over, though the 'Dire Earth Cycle’ is definitely complete.
That is a rare thing in speculative fiction; to come upon a satisfactory conclusion. More usually, an end is simply a pause, a chance for the author and reader to take a breath before they launch into the next trilogy. No doubt, this is a pause, too. But the next chapter in this saga will be very different. James M. Hough will not return to tell the same story from a different point of view.
On to the book, itself. ‘The Plague Forge’ is the last volume in the 'Dire Earth Cycle’ and everything is wheeling toward conclusion. The timetable is compressed, again, the window between visits from the Builders the smallest yet, and there seems more to do. Three keys are still to be found, mysteries unraveled and villains dealt with. No one pauses for breath, least of all the reader as the pages seemingly turn themselves.
The Builders and their intent have been a conundrum since the first book. ‘The Plague Forge’ presents further puzzles to solve, including the purpose of the huge ship that arrived in ‘The Exodus Towers’, the meaning of the five keys and how to extract each one without dying and deliver it to the ship before the final event.
There are complications, of course, and finally, there are answers.
Last book, I had high hopes for a few characters. I wanted to see more of Vanessa and Hough delivered. Samantha continues to own the action and Tania grows a pair. Grillo is as vicious as ever; he’s the villain you love to hate. Two surprises emerge. Blackfield will never not be an ass, but we see another side of him. Prumble proves that size doesn’t matter or does, depending on your perspective. He’s the unlikeliest of heroes and now one of my favourite characters. Skyler battles on, still carried by events. He’s the guy who does what needs to be done, yet he still feels very human. If Hough writes the next chapter in his story, I’d like to see a version of Skyler who realises his potential, takes charge and directs the action.
The 'Dire Earth Cycle’ is a great trilogy. Action-packed with good, solid characters, an interesting setting and a plot that continues to evolve. It’s an awesome accomplishment for a new author. I think the publishers made the right decision in releasing each volume only one month apart instead of making readers wait a year or more between beginning and conclusion. The story doesn’t lose momentum and the trilogy becomes a solid unit. I’d love to see more quick releases like this. I’d also love to see more from Jason M. Hough.
Overshadowed by the peaks of seven mountains called the Seven Forges, the Blasted Lands extend from the edge of the known Empire into the u...more(3.5 stars)
Overshadowed by the peaks of seven mountains called the Seven Forges, the Blasted Lands extend from the edge of the known Empire into the unknown; to the mountains, themselves, and beyond. No one knows what’s on the other side because, in living memory, no one has returned from the many expeditions dispatched across the barren wasteland.
Mercenary captain, Merros Dulver, plans to be the first. Charged by a sorcerer to map the Seven Forges, Merros leads his company, which includes three sisters who are the eyes, ears and voice of the sorcerer, across terrain rendered inhospitable by a long ago cataclysm. Great beasts of legend stir, threatening to end their two month journey, and a rider appears to save them. After communicating the fact he has apparently been waiting for Merros, he leads the company through the mountains and into the valley beyond.
The meeting of the two disparate races is one of coincidence and triumph, and seems to be an opportunity for two very different kingdoms to form an alliance. The cover of Seven Forges is tagged with the line “War is Coming”, however. So the reader knows in advance that something is going to go wrong, and it does. When the axe does fall, it hits the expected mark. But by the time the reader reaches that bloodied edge, expectations are skewed.
Mine were, anyway.
I may have been distracted by the other threads of story as Seven Forges quickly diverges into several points of view. We visit with the sorcerer, the emperor, the emperor’s cousin, and several of the Sa’ba Taalor, the principle of whom seems to be Drask Silverhand, the rider who met Merros in the Blasted Lands. We also meet and a young man named Andover. Merros’ second, Wollis, gets a look in, too, and I’m sure there are a couple of others. Some we collude with for only a small part of a chapter. The chop and change can be distracting, even if it does provide the reader with an expanded view of the slowly twisting plot. I actually got confused as characters and kingdoms suddenly winked into existence and conflicts not mentioned earlier vied for importance. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure whose head we were in, unless it was one of the more compelling points of view.
I also couldn’t tell whose story, exactly, we were meant to follow. The book begins with Merros and doggedly follows his journey. Drask Silver Hand is pictured on the cover. Andover Lashkin’s tale is fascinating and obviously a part of the whole, but frustratingly truncated. Half his experience in the latter half of the book is assumed rather than written out.
Honestly, it seemed as if the author wasn’t sure which story to tell, either, which brings me to the length of the book and the ending. Seven Forges is not a standalone novel. It’s obviously the first volume of something. To that end, none of the plot threads find a satisfying conclusion, which leaves the reader unfulfilled. It’s not a long book and it reads extremely quickly. With so many intersecting plot threads, however, the book could be longer. Perhaps then some of the relationships could be better explained and therefore carry more meaning.
All of that being said, I did enjoy the story. Several elements were well done. I read the last hundred pages in about an hour. But with so much left unsaid and the abruptness of the ending, the book felt half finished. James A. Moore is the author of over twenty novels, many of which are critically acclaimed. He got his start writing for Marvel comics and White Wolf Games. Maybe he is used to delivering tales of an episodic nature.
Seven Forges is published by Angry Robot. I do admire Angry Robot’s commitment to publishing oddball stories and plot lines, characters that are just shy of expected, and worlds that feel new and unexplored. The world of Seven Forges has a familiar feel to it, but it’s also different. The Sa’tha Taalor are very different, and Moore is definitely setting the stage for something epic. With a laudable list of previous novels printed inside the cover, I will assume he is up to the challenge of doing the story justice.
Final note: The cover art for this book is fantastic. I love it. In fact, it played a great part in inspiring me to pick up the ARC for review. The painting is done by the talented Alejandro Colucci, who has an epic portfolio of book covers.
I liked the concept of this more than I did the story or the characters. It's very out there, as are all of Elizabeth Bear's stories--the ones I have...moreI liked the concept of this more than I did the story or the characters. It's very out there, as are all of Elizabeth Bear's stories--the ones I have read, anyway. That's what I adore about her books. The different worlds and characters, the way she restructures society and relationships.
Normally her characters appeal more. Not sure why I didn't connect with these. But the imagination behind this one, the interwoven mythos, is fabulous as always.(less)
Leviathan Wakes can be described as space opera, but it’s not typical of the genre. The scope is smaller and the story does not span generations. The...moreLeviathan Wakes can be described as space opera, but it’s not typical of the genre. The scope is smaller and the story does not span generations. The reader does not require a glossary of terms or an extensive chart of characters and their relationships. A timeline is not necessary. What this means is that ‘Leviathan Wakes’ is easy to read. There is no flipping back and forth to refresh your memory or decode the language. What you see is what you get and what you get is a good mix of space opera, military Science Fiction, mystery, horror, police procedural and character drama all in one book.
The story starts with a stomach churning mystery. I mean the seriously sinister and gross kind of churn. Then we meet the main cast. James Holden is the second officer of a merchant marine type vessel, an ice hauler that carries delivers water from asteroids to the stations throughout the Belt.
This is probably where I should point out that The Belt is the one in our solar system. It’s the line that divides the inner planets from outer planets, most of which are stations built into stable moons and other convenient chunks of rock. The Belt is more a divide than a line. Those born outside, in artificial gravity, are called Belters and their bodies reflect the difference. They are tall and thin and because of the time spent in suits, they gesture differently. They speak a patois only they understand. To someone from Earth, they are foreign. Almost alien.
The outer planets rely heavily on resources from the inner planets. They are not independent and, perhaps more importantly, they are continually reminded of that fact. Understandably, tension exists between the two ‘factions’.
So, we have Holden, born on Earth, delivering water to stations beyond The Belt. His ship answers a distress call and he and his crew immediately become embroiled in the mystery of the seriously sinister and gross variety.
Detective Miller is a Belter, through and through. He works as a cop on Ceres Station. The police have been privatised and the Earth corporation that controls the purse strings seems less concerned with procedure than results. Still, Miller is a good cop or he thinks he is. He’s uncomfortable when given a kidnap job with instructions to find the daughter of a rich man and return her home.
Beaten down by his years on the force and life in general, Miller is unsurprised when war breaks out between the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) and Martian Congressional Republic Navy (MCRN). Holden’s discovery is the spark needed by the tinderbox of tension between the inner and outer planets. When Miller discovers his missing person might be involved or somehow at the centre of the war, he becomes obsessed with his case and Juliette Mao.
Holden and Miller’s stories intersect, complicating the mystery and the war. The two men are as different as they appear. Earther and Belter, pragmatic officer and tired detective. They are both good men with very different methods. Holden is almost painfully idealistic. Miller needs to get the job done, no matter the cost.
The character of these two men, their faults and vulnerabilities, is what makes the book special and different. Miller, in particular, is compelling. His story turns the pages as much as the escalating war. Holden’s naiveté is endearing.
There are a handful of other characters that contradict and compliment both men. Amos, Holden’s engineer, keeps up a steady supply of dry observations and bullish one-liners that ensure the book is not without humour, despite the dire setting.
The plot of Leviathan Wakes is fairly simple and that is another of the book’s strengths. The amount of research undertaken by the author(s)* allows for much of the history to be implied rather than written out. The world is immersive and very realistic. The conclusion allows for plenty of speculation, and quite a few sequels. There are currently three novels and two novellas in the Expanse universe. I really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes and I’m looking forward to reading the next novel, Caliban's War I just need to carve out another week somewhere that I can devote to being utterly engrossed.
* James S.A. Corey is the combined pseudonym of Daniel Abraham (Long Price Quartet) and Ty Franck (serial collaborator). One is responsible for Miller, the other for Holden. On the GoodReads author page, there is an interview conducted by Carrie Vaughn. Definitely worth watching!(less)
This book has a really interesting premise. The dead return, sometimes decades after their passing. The story primarily deals with the reaction of the...moreThis book has a really interesting premise. The dead return, sometimes decades after their passing. The story primarily deals with the reaction of the living to the the Returned, however, and after reading page after page of a small town congregation talking hellfire and brimstone, I tossed the book. Not my thing.
What I would have preferred: an account of one of the Returned. Jacob's story, or point of view, or any of the Returned, instead of the frustratingly small snippets of experience.
I also had a hard time connecting with any of the characters. There was a lot of telling rather than showing. I felt like an observer. (less)
The Darwin Elevator by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, movable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a...moreThe Darwin Elevator by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, movable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a deadly plague. The Exodus Towers, book two of the Dire Earth Cycle, begins shortly afterward. There is no rest for the weary! It’s another race against time, the deadline shortened to a pair of years, but the questions are bigger and the puzzles more complex. Is the new space elevator a second chance for humanity, or is it a new kind of cage?
A second colony is established in Brazil, at the base of the new space elevator and, for a while, its business as usual. Every decision is processed by the slow moving machine of the provisional leadership, headed by Dr. Tania Sharma. On the ground, Skyler Luiken resumes his trade: scavenging. In Darwin, Russell Blackfield gnashes his teeth with evil intent and Samantha proves size does matter. Subhumans are still subhuman and the Builders are still inscrutable.
Hough doesn’t tell the same story twice, however. Using established elements, he immediately deepens the mystery, adding a band of Immunes and more deviously altered subhumans. He also plays with fanaticism. It’s not a proper post apocalypse without a couple of religious nutcases, after all. The leader of the new immunes dreams of a new world populated by a superior race (sound familiar?) and, back in Darwin, the leader of the Jacobites is spreading fear and fervor. The second elevator is a problem for Jacobite Grillo; there should be only one Jacob’s Ladder. The colony at the base of the second elevator is a problem for Gabriel and his gang of immunes; the humans clustered within its aura are untested.
One of these men will be dealt with, the other needs to be dealt with. Separately, they keep Skyler and Samantha busy until the Builders arrive, as scheduled.
Once again, Hough does well with descriptive language which lifts this story from a bland recount of events. It’s all action with precious few moments for recollection. (We can rest when we’re dead, right?) Again, there is a thread of urgency wound through the entire novel that tightens quickly toward the conclusion. But, this time everyone is tired and mistakes are made, the consequences of which are increasingly dire. The post-plague world is an unforgiving place.
The Exodus Towers is definitely the middle child, however. Over the span of five hundred odd pages, we build up for a tantrum that’s not loosed. The characters keep the book on track, even after Blackfield falls off the rails somewhere. Tania remains true to form and the parallels between her and Blackfield are neatly done. Karl is a great foil for both Tania and Skyler. Ana is a cute distraction. I’d like to see more Vanessa in the next book.
Skyler still seems to lack an ultimate purpose. He’s a bit like a piece of driftwood. Hopefully the conclusion to the trilogy will have him doing something other than kicking ass and taking names.
Samantha really shines in this one. I’d like to say she’s written with too much naiveté to be believable. But, after thinking about her for a while and taking into account the couple of times she mentions actively ignoring hints the size of the moon, really, she’s just burying her head in the sand, which is a very human trait.
The conclusion is an almost unforgiveable cliffhanger. The Exodus Towers is not a standalone novel, by any means. But the last line will guarantee one of two responses:
Bugger this. I don’t care what happens next.
Or (more likely):
When is the next book out? What! That’s soon enough!
Thankfully for those who choose option number two, The Plague Forge is due for release September 24. Nice to be spoiled for a change, isn’t it?
I really enjoyed Tina Seskis' first book, One Step Too Far. When invited to read A Serpentine Affair, I expected the same engrossing mix of pathos and...moreI really enjoyed Tina Seskis' first book, One Step Too Far. When invited to read A Serpentine Affair, I expected the same engrossing mix of pathos and intrigue. I have a feeling these elements are there, but they're buried beneath seven muddied points of view.
If I stuck with the novel, I might eventually separate Juliette and JoAnne. I liked Sissy, I did not like Siobhan. I did not read far enough to get a good feel for the other women, but with seven of them, there seemed to be a little too much sameness. The shifting point of view within the same chapter only added to my confusion and the prose wasn't as tight this time 'round.
I have yet to be drawn in to the story. I don't care enough about any of the characters to continue.
A Serpentine Affair hasn't put me off entirely. Most of the other reviews I have read are full of praise for the expected twists and turns. This is more a case of not being my cup of tea. (less)
Don't be afraid to read this book. It's truly amazing. The subject is heartbreaking and there are moments where Jack's narrative shows a glimpse of so...moreDon't be afraid to read this book. It's truly amazing. The subject is heartbreaking and there are moments where Jack's narrative shows a glimpse of something the reader would rather not see. But Room is Jack's story and it's really kind of beautiful. His point of view illustrates the wonder of childhood, even when it's not wonderful, and the absolute strength and resilience buried inside us all.
Relic by Renee Collins has an awesome setting. The world has been blighted by a long forgotten catastrophe that buried mythical creatures and the magi...moreRelic by Renee Collins has an awesome setting. The world has been blighted by a long forgotten catastrophe that buried mythical creatures and the magic they possessed beneath desert. The bones of the extinct creatures, the dragons, unicorns and sirens, are revered for their residual magic. A piece of any is known as a relic and with it, a talented practitioner can perform magic.
Someone is using a powerful relic to scour the land with unnatural fire and the local Apache are being blamed. It’s well-known that they object to the mining of relics. They see the extraction of the bones as disturbing the Sacred Ones.
Maggie, who loses her family to one of these fires, has an affinity for relic magic. Properly trained, she might be able to figure out who is using the relics for evil purposes. Before she can realise any such goal, however, she has to settle herself and her sister into a new town, find reputable work and figure out what to do about a very attentive cowboy.
Relic is an odd combination of western, romance and fantasy. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. The magic system is different and intriguing. I love the concept of the relics, the bones of mythical creatures and the residual magic. I also like how Collins tied the magic to the type of bone. Unicorn horns heal and siren bones are used for water magic and beguilement.
What did not appeal so much was the western flavour. It was well done; the setting felt authentic. Just wasn’t my thing. I do think Relic has a lot going for it, however. It’s different. In a market where books for teens are plugging one dystopian setting after another, the western setting and definite parallels to the conflicts between pioneers and American Indians makes a refreshing change.
I have a lot of patience, as evidenced by the fact I got nearly four hundred pages into 2312 before putting it aside, somewhat regretfully. Between th...moreI have a lot of patience, as evidenced by the fact I got nearly four hundred pages into 2312 before putting it aside, somewhat regretfully. Between the boring bits, it was really interesting. But when I found myself flipping past more pages than I actually read, looking for the threads of story that still interested me, I realised I was missing half the novel. And then I just didn't care any more.
Not going to write a review. Instead, I'll provide links to Liviu and C.E. Murphy who both detail a lot of the issues I had with the book.
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough has style and substance. The characters are vivid and compelli...moreEasily one of the best books I’ve read this year, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough has style and substance. The characters are vivid and compelling and the plot features more than just another zombie apocalypse. I was hooked by the end of the first page.
It’s the twenty-third century and Darwin is the last viable city on Earth. Thirty years before, aliens known only as The Builders visited the planet and installed a space elevator on the remote peninsula of northern Australia. As scientists and opportunists flocked to the southern continent, the city grew. Then came the plague: SUBS. Those who did not die a quick and painful death devolved, became sub-human with one key emotion heightened, most usually aggression.
The elevator offers protection from the plague, an aura nine miles in circumference, which is not a lot of room for the remnant population. Darwin is overcrowded, food is a commodity. The population is split into two distinct classes; the refugees penned in by the aura and the Orbitals, residents of a series of stations anchored to the space elevator. The Orbitals rely on Darwin for water and air and Darwin relies on the food from the agricultural platforms. Both rely on scavengers: the few, the brave, the foolhardy. Scavengers venture outside the aura in search of parts, batteries, ammunition and, occasionally, the fate of a loved one.
This is where Skyler Luiken and his crew enter the story. They are a crew of scavengers who are bound together by one factor: they are all immune to SUBS. They represent a fraction of a percent of the remaining population. Uniquely equipped to spend days outside the protective aura, they are given many of the more lucrative scavenging contacts. Skyler and his team have to fight the same roving bands of sub-humans at nearly every drop point. Immune or not, they need the protection of the aura as much as anyone else.
But the aura is failing. The power to the elevator is fluctuating, which interferes with the trade of food, air and water and people within the nine mile radius are developing symptoms. The sub-humans are banding together in larger, more ferocious packs, spurring rumours the disease is mutating.
Amidst the chaos, Skyler and his crew are contracted for a very specific mission. Together with brilliant scientist, Tania Sharma, he looks for the information that might stave off the ultimate catastrophe: the collapse of the elevator and the aura. The locations of the data cubes are shrouded in a mystery of a very different sort, however, and as these secrets unravel, so does the delicate balance between the Orbital Council and the militaristic dictator running affairs in Darwin.
There is no rest for the weary. The Darwin Elevator is non-stop action from beginning to end. The plot twists are just convoluted enough to change the game without losing the reader and the conclusion to this chapter of the greater story, that of the Builders and the future of Earth, is well worth the several hours this novel holds the reader hostage.
Darwin is well chosen and well represented. Jason Hough has a good feel for writing the rough and ready Australian point of view. The differences between life in orbit and life in the slums of Darwin are realistically rendered without falling too far into cliché. As a debut, The Darwin Elevator is outstanding and the quick release of the second two novels in ‘The Dire Earth Cycle’ will ensure the story doesn’t lose momentum.
The Darwin Elevator is being released almost simultaneously in the UK and the US. The covers are very different and I think they illustrate very well what the respective international audiences look for in a book.
The UK cover is ALL SF and this is a Science Fiction novel through and through. It’s another post-apocalyptic setting, but in a future that can easily sustain the technology required to take advantage of the elevator. There are gadgets and conventions that could only work two hundred years from now. The future is not so far-fetched we cannot relate to it, however.
The US cover is ALL soldier and this is a soldier of fortune novel, definitely. A man on the fringe, obviously talented and uniquely equipped to deal with this situation. Skyler Luiken is the perfect reluctant hero and his nemesis, the military dictator Russell Blackfield, is appropriately dark.
As I remarked earlier, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story grabbed me, definitely. More, the competency of the writing and the keen editing elevated this novel above the rest. It was a joy to read. I look forward to diving into the sequels.
Three is a bounty hunter. He is well equipped for his chosen career, dark hood and attitude. He’s the typical loner, bristling with enough weaponry an...moreThree is a bounty hunter. He is well equipped for his chosen career, dark hood and attitude. He’s the typical loner, bristling with enough weaponry and broodery to discourage casual approach. A woman, Cass, and son, Wren, approach him anyway and ask for his help. Even as he offers a substantial stack of local currency, Three seems to know money won’t solve the woman’s problems. So, against better judgment, he follows her and becomes immediately entangled in a plot that involves more than one woman and boy.
Dodging chemically enhanced predators, brain hackers and the zombie-like Weir, Three, Cass, and Wren cross a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of shelter and answers. In order to protect her son, Cass is running from her old crew. Three questions his motives at every turn. The chase begins to wear away his edge and gruffness and the world he has trained himself to navigate is changing.
‘Three’ is more than just another novel of the apocalypse. It’s a tale of adventure and intrigue. It is unclear how long ago the collapse occurred, but it is very clear the world is not ours. Not our present, anyway. The remnant population is confined to armoured cities which are separated by Weir-infested wasteland. The Weir might be zombies. They’re mindless, hunt at night and have terrible claws, but they emit electronic screams and their eyes glow in the dark. The people of this world are permanently wired. They can ping satellites, read data flashed across their retinas and communicate with one another using only their minds. Many have genetic enhancements and chemical processors.
The story is fast-paced. I found it hard to put the novel aside. Still, the central characters are fully formed. Three is particularly compelling. He is obviously different. Questions surround his past and his actual purpose, a few of which are answered as events begin to dull those sharp edges. Cass is heart-breakingly human in her faults and need to protect her son. The villains vary. Some are just nasty, some have a secret heart.
‘Three’ is an impressive debut. The plot and setting are different enough to stand out from the post-apocalyptic and dystopian crowd, while still appealing to the same readers. I look forward to reading the more ‘Legends Of The Dustwalker’.
The Garden At The Roof Of The World by W.B.J. Williams is an ambitious debut. Presented as a found manuscript, the epic tale of three young women swee...moreThe Garden At The Roof Of The World by W.B.J. Williams is an ambitious debut. Presented as a found manuscript, the epic tale of three young women sweeps continents, stirring up myth and legend.
Gwenaella, Adelie and ‘Elise join on a quest to save the oldest unicorn. They must journey to the garden at the roof of the world to find a particular fruit. No one knows where the garden is, however, or if it still exists. So begins a classic quest beset with trials and challenges, many of which are personal. Gwenaella accepts the quest in payment for the life of her brother. Adelie dreams of journeying with a unicorn and ‘Elise seeks to prove her virtue. They are joined along the road by several other characters, each with their own purpose. They fight mythical beasts, possession by demons, capture, the machinations of men and themselves. The three women also take a personal journey, where they each attempt to define their own fate.
The Garden At The Roof Of The World is delightfully easy to read. The story has a fairy tale quality, but quickly disabuses the reader of any notion the happy ever after will be easily won. It is not a children’s book. The torments of the demons are very adult in nature. Many of the battles and trials are bloody. Not everyone survives.
The format, that of found manuscript, allows the author to add footnotes and commentary, much of which was interesting and useful. Some felt a little unnecessary, but the passion and dedication of this fictitious translator can be forgiven as the story must have seemed remarkable. The book echoes much of our own history and legend, making the inclusion of myth almost plausible. An Appendix at the end offers another translation, that of myth into story — how some men might be viewed as giants and creatures such as unicorns and griffins were found in medieval bestiaries. It’s an interesting premise.
While I found the interwoven stories fascinating, the book did wear me out at times. So much happens and often in such a short period of time. There are too many references and too many points of view. Some of the ‘voices’ started to take on a sameness as each character agonised over similar quandaries. I would have been just as happy to follow the original three women on a lesser journey. Gwenaella in particular suffers neglect after the first half of the novel. So much time is spent engaging the reader in her story at the beginning, I felt she should have remained central to the novel.
The constant reminder of the women’s need to be seen as chaste also irked. These women travelled half the world and fought gruesome battles. In their situation, chastity would have been the least of my worries. But, I live in a different world, one where unicorns and griffins live only in books.
Recommended for fans of fairy tales and mythology and anyone who enjoys an epic quest with all the inherent twists and turns.
The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore, is the first book in a new series from Forgotten Realms called The Sundering. Each book is penned by a different au...moreThe Companions, by R.A. Salvatore, is the first book in a new series from Forgotten Realms called The Sundering. Each book is penned by a different author and will explore the events of the Sundering from various points of view. Salvatore’s entry continues the story of Drizzt Do’Urden and the title is a call to hearts, or to be slightly more (or less) dramatic, an answer to prayers.
The book opens with a glimpse of Drizzt, whose fate at the end of The Last Threshold (Book XXIII, Neverwinter Saga, Book IV) was uncertain. He is at Bruenor’s Climb, a lone mountain in the middle of Icewind Dale that is meaningful to the Companions. The peak has marked many beginnings. We continue to hear from Drizzt throughout the novel, in the usual series of thought-provoking journal entries. I’ve come to think of them as letters to the reader, and those included in The Companions are amongst the most stirring. He reflects on his life and the choices he has made, his friends and companions, the meaning of love, honour and loyalty. There is a sense Drizzt is preparing himself for the inevitable and that urgency underscores the journeys of the Companions as they embark on a quest unlike any other.
Yes, I said the Companions.
R.A. Salvatore and Wizards of the Coast have been tight-lipped when it comes revealing the actual plot of The Companions. Considering the title, it’s not hard to understand why.
Bruenor, Catti-brie, Regis, Wulfgar and Drizzt are known as the Companions of the Hall. Firm friends, the dwarf king and his adopted daughter, the halfling and the barbarian, the dark elf and his astral panther, Guenhwyvar, adventured together (for over twenty books) until fate teased them apart, one by one. Wulfgar fell away first, but not forever. He returned a changed man and his journey for peace rivaled Drizzt’s own. Catti-brie and Regis were victims of the Spellplague and Bruenor fell sealing the Great Primordial in Gauntlgrym. The long-lived dark elf, Drizzt, was left to mourn his companions, and to make sense of the world they departed.
While Drizzt, one of the most enduring fictional characters of our time, is compelling on his own, it is (or was) his companionship with Bruenor, Catti-brie, Regis and Wulfgar that gave each adventure such emotional depth. Representatives of different races, philosophies and fighting styles, these five formed a bond that was tested and tested again. Together, they proved that friendship, honour, loyalty and love could win out over all. Sounds trite, doesn’t it? It’s not. Such values are the core of any novel about companions who defeat the odds and Salvatore writes them very, very well.
I’m not going to give away much about the plot. I think the book deserves as little preparation from the reader as possible, even if the title is full of promise. Briefly, the Companions meet again, in Iruldoon, a ‘heaven’ created just for them by Meilikki, and they are given a quest. Drizzt needs them and they can choose to help him. Such is Meilikki’s gift to the drow she favours.
The Companions is utterly absorbing, surprising and wonderful. I have never read anything like it, and I’ve been reading R.A. Salvatore’s books for years. There are stories within the story, threads of past and future. The book can be taken as both a beginning and an ending. It’s an ode to Drizzt and the bond of friendship, honour and loyalty. It’s about choices and interpretation.
I loved this book, really loved it. I had a difficult time putting it aside to deal with life. I shed a tear at the dedication and more than a few toward the end. The Companions is everything a fan of Salvatore and the Legend of Drizzt could hope for, and more.
‘The Best Of Connie Willis’ is a collection of award-winning short stories by Connie Willis. The hefty volume also includes an introduction by the aut...more‘The Best Of Connie Willis’ is a collection of award-winning short stories by Connie Willis. The hefty volume also includes an introduction by the author and three of her speeches. Both the introduction and the speeches are as entertaining as the stories.
In the introduction, Willis explains why it’s hard to talk about her own stories or the process by which they journey from idea to completion. She explains that the stories often change, conceptually, as she is writing them. She says, ‘While you’re writing one story, your subconscious is busily writing another.’
I’ve had this happen! Nice to know such wandering is not the product of a disorganised mind, but more a creative side step.
Willis also talks about her introduction to and enthusiasm for the speculative fiction genres. I remembered reading the same stories and thinking the same thoughts when I fell headfirst down the rabbit hole some thirty-five years ago.
Each story in the anthology is followed by an afterword where Willis does guide the reader from seed to story. These journeys of thought are fascinating and contain a lot of interesting biographical information, making this volume essential for Connie Willis fans.
On to the stories. There are ten of them and they are, as the title of the anthology suggests, her best.
The one I enjoyed the most was ‘Even The Queen’. The premise is simple: sometime in the future, women are freed from the monthly chore of menstruation. There is a pill and a procedure, both reversible when they decide to have kids. In the story, Perdita, one of the younger women, declares her intent to join the Cyclists. It’s not a bicycle group, it’s a cult who menstruate. The older women in her family stage an intervention, but Perdita doesn’t show. Her ‘docent’ turns up to lunch instead, armed with pink leaflets explaining the joys of menstruation. She also has a spiel:
‘They Cyclists are dedicated to freedom,’ she said. ‘Freedom from artificiality, freedom from body-controlling drugs and hormones, freedom from the male patriarchy that attempts to impose them on us.’
The Cyclists wear a red scarf around their arm as a badge of freedom and femaleness. Yep. After the older women reminisce on what life was like before they submitted to the male patriarchy, the docent leaves in a huff. The one male guest does well not to pass out and the youngest woman in the group is understandably horrified.
While this story is especially relevant to women, I think men will find it equally amusing and the afterword is just as entertaining.
The other story that really, really captured me was ‘The Winds Of Marble Arch’. Tom and Cath are in London for a conference. They’ve visited before. In fact, they’ve been just about everywhere and in each city, Tom chooses to use public transport rather than take taxis. Cath prefers not to enter the underground tunnels. It’s an argument that pops up throughout the story. Tom’s enthusiasm for the Underground is as apparent as Cath’s disdain.
His first morning in the Underground, Tom is buffeted by a strange wind. It’s something more than the air pushed through the tunnel by an oncoming train. It’s not the vacuum effect that chases after one, neither. It’s more an explosion of air, with a sense of sound and terror. Though shaken, he manages to attribute the incident to an overactive imagination, until it happens again.
As Tom becomes obsessed with the winds, all but ignoring his conference to research the phenomena, the people close to him — his wife, Cath, their close friends and colleagues — seem to be going through a process of displacement and decline. No one wants to go near the Underground. They all have various reasons for avoiding the subterranean system and it’s clear their aversion has something to do with getting older. Tom’s thoughts run inversely to those of his friends. It isn’t until he realises they are all aware of the disturbing winds that he actually understands what the winds really are.
There is a point near the end where this story (or the reader) begins to feel compressed by a sense of impending doom and then something happens and it’s wonderful. It’s hard to describe without going into greater depth on the themes and giving away the ending. Suffice to say, ‘The Winds Of Marble Arch’ is now one of my favourites.
I could ramble on about all the stories in this anthology. Award-winning as they are (some of them have won more than one), they’re all noteworthy. I had read ‘Inside Job’ before and enjoyed it. It’s about a skeptic who sets out to expose a channeller as a fraud, only to find she is channelling famed skeptic H.L. Mencken and doing a pretty convincing job of it.
‘At The Rialto’ sets quantum theory against Hollywood to amusing effect. There is often a thread of horror in Willis’ stories, like the world could end on the next page. ‘A Letter From The Clearys’, ‘The Last Of The Winnebagos’ and ‘Death On The Nile’ tug that thread hard. ‘All Seated On The Ground’ is an altogether different take on an alien invasion that had me chuckling.
‘The Best Of Connie Willis’ is a great collection. The stories are diverse, but each is clearly the work of Connie Willis. Her interests and sense of humour are evident throughout. With the Introduction and Afterwords, the anthology is a must for fans and a great introduction to those unfamiliar with her work.