I have to admit, I'm of two minds regarding Twilight of the Dragons. Yes, it's a fun, foul-mouthed, frantic sequel to both The Dragon Engine and The WI have to admit, I'm of two minds regarding Twilight of the Dragons. Yes, it's a fun, foul-mouthed, frantic sequel to both The Dragon Engine and The White Towers, but its narrative quality is all over the place. Much of it reads like a first draft manuscript, awkward and juvenile in places, that somehow sneaked past the editor. Structurally, it feels like it's one step removed from being polished as well, jumping between storylines, with random flashback chapters interspersed, and some definite pacing issues. It made for a frustrating read, which (unfortunately) took something away from the enjoyment.
Having said all that, this is a bold, brash, bloody story in which Andy Remic returns to the world of grimdark fantasy. One story thread catches up with the survivors of the The Dragon Engine, following their war-weary, emotionally exhausted descent into the bowels of Wyrmblood. These are adventurers who suffered greatly in the last book - beatings, torture, and even rape - and it weighs heavily upon them. As depressing as it made those scenes, I admired Remic for not just shrugging off the pain and going all gung-ho with the heroics.
The other story thread catches up with the survivors of The White Towers, drawn into the story when the escaped dragons of Wyrmblood attack the town, interrupting their own bitter infighting. Not surprisingly, the Iron Wolves have some of the best scenes in the novel, although the constant bickering between Dek and Narnok wears a bit thin. Again, Remic deals with the aftermath of heroic deeds, catching our heroes at their lowest, and allowing them the chance to deal with both past and present. There's a lot of bad blood and tainted motives here, but Nanok's suicidal challenges to the dragon are probably the high point of the book.
As for the dragons, they are every bit as fearsome and horrific as you'd expect from Remic. Their attacks upon villages and towns are beautifully choreographed, with equal parts fear and awe on those unlucky enough to be torn apart, chewed in half, roasted alive, or buried beneath rubble. Both angry and clever, they're not only out for revenge, but enjoy verbally baiting their victims. We don't see as much of the dwarves this time around, but they are still mean, miserable, and malicious, with Crayline challenging Skalg for the title of most monstrous. As for Skalg, his story arc was interesting, but I didn't feel the pay off was nearly worthy of his legacy - one place where the story itself faltered for me. Similarly, I thought the Splice were wasted a bit here, especially given the new twist put on them by King Yoon, but it was immensely satisfying to see them take on a dragon.
Despite its flaws, this is still no-holds-barred epic fantasy for a mature audience, with the reappearance of the Iron Wolves definitely kicking it up a notch. There's very clearly a door left open at the end of Twilight of the Dragons, so here's hoping there's one more adventure to come.
Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is an odd sort of book, existing somewhere between the fantasy and romance genres, with just enough politics and philosoQueen's Man: Into the Inferno is an odd sort of book, existing somewhere between the fantasy and romance genres, with just enough politics and philosophy to keep it centered firmly between the two. It was not quite the book I was expecting - instead, it was something a bit stronger and a lot deeper. For a first novel, AnnaMarieAlt has certainly distinguished herself, and that bodes well for the promised Queen's Man: Beyond the Corridor.
This is the story of the island of Kriiscon, a land where the women rule, and where men are slaves. It's not a female dominated world, or even a continental matriarchy, but one small island - and that's important to the tale. Surrounded by more traditional lands, Kriiscon stubbornly clings to its gender-flipped social structure, even as they're forced to capture or purchase men from outside it in order to keep their culture thriving for the next generation. It's a very rational culture, and one that's easily justifiable in the wider global context of male aggression and female oppression - until the arrival of Aarvan calls it into question.
A mainlander with no memory of his past, Aarvan is purchased by Queen Rejeena after an ancient conjurah foretells that he will break the curse upon her line and give her daughters. While she finds him physically appealing, the Queen has no interesting in making love or of being romantic - she simply needs a man to look handsome before the court, and to quickly and efficiently do his duty beneath the sheets. That is where the conflicts begin. Aarvan is agreeable to being her slave, but only if they can take pleasure in one another's company. He is so adamant, in fact, that he risks whippings and beatings to make her see there can be more than just a necessary act of procreation between them. When she ultimately gives in, Queen Rejeena finds herself challenged on a daily basis, being slowly transformed in more ways than one.
The progression from simple slavery to a deeper, more fulfilling romance is at the heart of the story, but it's the philosophical sparring between Queen and Queen's Man that give the story its intelligence - and its edge. Even as one tries to right social injustices and push for a little human dignity (if not equality), the other fights to preserve a culture that is already under threat from the world around it. It's a story that allows us to see both sides, and which presents both Rejeena and Aarvan as strong, likable characters, making the cruelties of their society that much more jarring. Even as we see Aarvan push too far, cross lines that would be inappropriate even in a more equal society, we completely understand and sympathize with him for doing so. At the same time, even as we see Rejeena take inexcusable steps to punish his lack of respect, we understand those actions in the context of her society, and we sympathize with her own internal conflict between feelings and belief.
While I had a few minor issues with the narrative (namely a tendency to switch POV mid-scene), and was a little frustrated that we didn't get more of a resolution to Aarvan's mysterious past, the final few chapters push us deeply enough into the simmering tease of civil war to bring all the threads to a tidy (if temporary) knot. If you're in the mood for an intelligent, socially relevant romantic fantasy, Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is definitely worth a read.
It's funny what the years can do to your taste in books - and I'm talking about something deeper, something more profound than those books that just dIt's funny what the years can do to your taste in books - and I'm talking about something deeper, something more profound than those books that just don't stand up to being revisited. Instead, I'm talking about those books that you appreciated back in the day, but somehow knew you weren't quite ready to enjoy. Books that linger somewhere in the back of your imagination, biding their time until you're ready to continue with the series.
Kushiel's Chosen, the second book of the Kushiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, was the first book to really open my eyes to this. I would have read Rhapsody around the same time as Kushiel's Dart, with that same 20-something mindset, and I had much the same reaction. That first book was a different sort of fantasy yet again, largely a character study of three people, with a prolonged quest through the heart of the world. It wasn't a game changer in quite the same way, but a book that stuck with me. It was a slow read, a slow journey, and a slow burn, but I never forgot the sense of wonder.
In looking for a good paperback fantasy to carry through hikes and vacations this summer, I finally decided it was time to continue with the series (prompted by a review copy of the final book). Despite the years in between, I immediately fell back into the world, with no introductions needed. At the heart of it all, this is a series about love, trust, and acceptance - not that far off, in fact, from Kushiel's Legacy. Where that had the BDSM-themed novelty to carry it forward, however, this is based on a far more traditional (fairy tale, almost) romance between Rhapsody and Ash. The difference is, a relationship that would have had me groaning in impatience back then had me nodding and smiling in appreciation now.
The emotional aspects here some of the strongest parts of this second book, and I was actually anxious to get back to the romance every time Achmed and Grunthor interrupted. That said, I found new meaning in the struggles and sacrifices of all three, and greater appreciation for Jo, the annoying coming-of-age sidekick. I refuse to age, so let's just say I matured enough to appreciate the personal conflicts driving the story across both countries and ages.
Serving as a prequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the first book of The Song of Shattered Sands, Of Sand and Malice Made is a thoroughly entertainingServing as a prequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the first book of The Song of Shattered Sands, Of Sand and Malice Made is a thoroughly entertaining story that adds another layer to the world that Bradley P. Beaulieu has created.
Consisting of three interlinked tales, this is a book that goes beyond mere setting and culture to put a true Arabian Nights spin on epic fantasy. That fact surprised me almost as much as it delighted me, for it seems rather fitting that Çeda's first chapter should have such a familiar, classic sort of feel to it. These aren't quite fables or folk tales, but all of the elements are there, right from supernatural deities to charms and curses.
Freed of the pacing issues and narrative flashbacks that were something of a challenge in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, this is a story that all but races along as it gets the heart racing. What really excited me about it is that there is a feeling of genuine risk involved, which is hard to pull off in a prequel where you already know the fates of the main characters. In fact, there was several points where I had to glance back at my copy of the first book to confirm certain names (and fates).
Of Sand and Malice Made is a perfect little book, entirely suitable as an introduction for new readers, yet completely rewarding for fans of the series. It has all of the humor, the wonder, and the excitement you'd expect of Beaulieu, with the addition of an entirely chilling new villain. Well worth the read.
Having only read (and enjoyed) the first adventure of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, I didn’t enter into Age of Myth with the same expectationsHaving only read (and enjoyed) the first adventure of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, I didn’t enter into Age of Myth with the same expectations a long-time fan of Michael J. Sullivan might have. As such, I’d like to think I was able to read it a bit more objectively, and treat it more like a mass market debut than a long-awaited graduation from the indie shelves.
There’s no doubt that Sullivan is a decent writer, and I admire his dedication in not just plotting out by actually writing all 5 books in the series before allowing one to see print. In an era where we often wait so long between books, and where publishes drop authors mid-series, that effort provides a level of comfort to the reader. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because I swear you can feel that comfort permeating the text. While I largely enjoyed the read, I didn’t feel there was any real drama or danger to the story. It felt like a comfortable, connect-the-dots kind of read, and I never felt as if the stakes were truly high enough to justify all that effort.
The other (huge) problem for me was the characters – or, at least, half of them. The elves I quite liked, and felt were by far the most intriguing aspect of the story. They had a sense of majesty and magic about them, combined with the usual sense of arrogance that, in this case, is entirely warranted. I wanted to know more about them, their culture, and their influence on the world. For me, the book only really came alive when they strode across the page. The humans, on the other hand, I found to be rather bland and boring. I know this is a prequel, and Sullivan is building his own mythology, but there’s a certain level of civilization I find is necessary to really establish a culture. Suri was the most interesting of the lot, but even her I found hard to really like or care much about. As for Raithe and Persephone, I found them both far too weak of a character to carry the story, and far from the type of hero/ine who sucks me into a story.
Now, having said all that, the narrative itself is clean and polished, making for an easy read, if not one with a lot of flair. The world-building is intriguing, but Sullivan does far too much telling and not enough showing, making it often boring at the same time. There is some humor to the tale, although not as much as I remember from Royce and Hadrian, and the dialogue is actually quite sharp, so much so that I often wished the characters could live up to their voices. Pacing, however, is a major issue, with the story suffering from far too much walking and talking in the first 300 pages or so, followed by a frantic rush of action in the last 100. If the entire book had been as strong as those final pages, it likely would have mitigated some of the other weaknesses. As it is, we’ll just have to hold onto the promise that Sullivan can pick up where he left off in the next book.
I almost feel bad, because I really wanted to like it more than I did, but the fact that I persevered through to the end says something for the overall quality of Sullivan’s writing. While I may not be jumping at the chance to get my hands on the next book, I’m also not at all discouraged from continuing with the adventures of Royce and Hadrian.
While I picked up a paperback copy of Blood Song late last year, I hadn't yet had a chance to give it a read before landing an ARC of The Waking Fire.While I picked up a paperback copy of Blood Song late last year, I hadn't yet had a chance to give it a read before landing an ARC of The Waking Fire. Fortunately, it being a new series, I wasn't at all hesitant about making it my first literary foray into Anthony Ryan's world. Despite that, I still let the ARC linger for a couple of months, always intending for it to be my proverbial 'next' read.
And then I saw that Django Wexler called it, “part Indiana Jones, part Pirates of the Caribbean, and part Mistborn." That was all I needed to know. I was hooked. I immediately put all my other reads on hold and plunged into The Waking Fire with more enthusiasm than I've been able to must for a book in months.
I am exceptionally pleased to say it was entirely worth it.
This was one of the most entertaining and exciting books I've read all year. There's a lot going on here, a lot of different styles and genres mashed together, but they all work. Epic fantasy? Got ya covered there with bad-ass dragons and blood-fueled magic. Historical fantasy? Yup, got ya covered there too, with a steampunk-driven sort of Victorian society. Spy thriller? A bit surprising, perhaps, but you've got spies and lies, as well as gadgets and guns. Pulp adventure? Consider yourself indulged, complete with lost continents, ruined civilizations, ancient treasures, and even jungle savages. Naval thriller? That too, falling somewhere between pirate skirmishes and WWII warfare, fueled by magic and threatened by dragon fire. Period drama? Yes, there's even a bit of that to be found here, complete with family squabbles, class warfare, and even a bit of social commentary.
I think what impressed me most about this book is that all 3 converging story lines were equally intriguing, and all 3 POV characters equally engaging. You've got a thief, a spy, and a solider, each telling their own story, and at no point was I anxious for any one of them to wrap things up so we could get back to the other story lines. The world building was impressive as well, both in terms of the magical and the mundane. You really get a sense of the various factions at play, the source of their human conflicts, and their motives for engaging in the pursuit of dragon blood and fabled treasure.
The characters were solid, with some significant growth for many of them, and there were a few genuine surprises in their betrayals and shifting allegiances. The pacing was absolutely perfect, almost breakneck in fact, and the action sequences are utterly brilliant. I have to admit, my eyes tend to glaze over at prolonged descriptions of epic battles, but here I was invested in every shot, whether it be dragon fire, blood magic, or bullets and bombs.
The Waking Fire may very well have been carefully calculated to hit as many pockets of geekdom as possible - really, all that it's missing is a vampire or two - but it never feels that way. Ryan weaves all the various elements into a cohesive whole that is entertaining from start-to-finish, and which has me anxious for the next book of The Draconis Memoria.
This was an interesting book, with some really outstanding aspects to it, but even more roadblocks to a good, solid read. I nearly gave up on it twiceThis was an interesting book, with some really outstanding aspects to it, but even more roadblocks to a good, solid read. I nearly gave up on it twice, but persevered to the end, although I will freely admit to skimming some chapters.
The good? I liked the concept, and I liked the characters. I was intrigue enough by the latter to want to know more, to read past those roadblocks, and entertained enough by the latter to trust in them (Narky and Bandu especially), even if I was questioning their journey.
The bad? The world building was muddled, with far too ambitious of a mythology for a single book. I read a lot of epic fantasy, and I like my stories to be well-detailed, but this was too much. Also, the plotting of the book leaves a lot to be desired. If never really felt like the storyline was moving forward, or approaching any sort of climax.
It's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since Gail Z. Martin debuted on the fantasy scene with The Summoner, the first book of her ChronicIt's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since Gail Z. Martin debuted on the fantasy scene with The Summoner, the first book of her Chronicles of the Necromancer. I can still remember spotting that brilliantly designed cover on the shelf, and being completely sucked in by the promise of dark magic and sweeping epic fantasy.
If you've read the series, then you are already well acquainted with Jonmarc Vanhanian. You know the man, and you know much of his story, but The Shadowed Path still has some surprises to go along with the 'ah-ha' moments we expect. If you are new to the world of the Chronicles, however, this collection of short stories stands alone just fine, and should serve as a perfect introduction.
The way the stories are structured here reminds me of those classic collections of Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Elric. Each story stands on its own, but they are loosely linked together, working to tell a larger life story. Yes, there are gaps between then, and sometimes you're all too aware that the developments you'd expect in the next chapter of a novel are missing from the next story in the collection, but there's a definite charm to flow of narratives.
If there's a common theme to these stories, it's one of loss . . . of heartbreak . . . and of suffering. Cursed from the moment he first picked up a sword, Jonmarc watches as friends, families, lovers, and comrades are stolen from this life. Time and time again he moves on, rises above the tragedy, and reestablishes himself in a new life . . . only to lose it all again. Even if we already knew the facts of his life, watching him suffer through each challenge adds a whole new facet of sympathy and understanding to an already well-developed character.
As for the stories, they are all fantastic, full of action, adventure, and some real tension. Even though we know Jonmarc must survive them all, it's clear early on that nobody else is safe, and that sense of legitimate peril is something that sets these aside from most prequel tales. Caves of the Dead, Blood’s Cost, Bad Places, and Dark Passage were my favorites in the collection, and if those titles suggest a little something about my dark tastes in fantasy . . . well, it's not entirely wrong. All in all, whether you're a fan or a new reader, The Shadowed Path is well work kicking back with for some summer reading.
I had the great pleasure of being a beta reader for Red Tide, the third book of The Chronicles of the Exile, and I can honestly say it is Marc Turner'I had the great pleasure of being a beta reader for Red Tide, the third book of The Chronicles of the Exile, and I can honestly say it is Marc Turner's best book yet.
Taking place almost immediately on the heels of Dragon Hunters, this is a story that reaches back to connect with some of the characters and stories of When the Heavens Fall. It's the book in the series where everything begins to come together, and where we begin to see hints of the bigger picture into which all the pieces will eventually fit.
My first impression of Red Tide was that it's a more human tale, less about gods and monsters than first two books, which fits with the conflict at the heart of the story. I went into it being most excited by Romany's return, but I ended up looking forward to the stories of Amerel Duquy and Galantas Galair the most. For me, they were the heart of the book. As for Karmel and Caval, if you thought they had personal issues between them in the last book, those conflicts really come to a head here, both in terms of faith and family. Initially, I didn't like them as much here, finding their scenes a bit dry and impersonal, but looking back I can see how that was just me getting caught up in their tensions.
Commander Eremo, leader of the Augeran expeditionary force, really intrigued me. Here is a man who puts an interesting face on 'the enemy' for the reader, humanizing them, even as he reveals the depths of Augeran viciousness. As for Hex, he may be the most chilling, most amusing, most consistently entertaining secondary character I've come across in quite some time. I just smiled every time he stepped onto the page. His confrontations are incredibly intense, with so much drama and so much danger wrapped up in his dream magic. If I had one character complaint, it's that we don't get to see enough of Mazana this time around, but what we do see really makes me want more.
The use of magic here was absolutely stunning, both in terms of dream magic and Will. More importantly, it isn't just cool, flashy bits to dazzle a reader - it has substance, is integral to the plot, and serves to both support and move the story along. Some of the best magic in the series comes in the ship-to-ship battles with the stone skins, revealing magic to be a legitimate weapon as well as a useful tool. Without giving anything away, the attempt to jump Liar's passage was fantastic, while the shattering of a simple the waterglobe has spectacular consequences.
Pacing wise, this was a pretty even book. The first chapters are a bit slow, but there are a lot of characters to bring together, and several story lines (both new and existing) to connect. Once the story hits the half-way mark, with an underwater flight through the Dragon Boneyard, it just barrels along, carrying the reader with it. In terms of narrative, it's a smoother book as well, with cleaner transitions between scenes and points-of-view that just flow better, giving the story a truly seamless feel.
Finally, while readers know that death is rarely what it seems in the genre, and isn't always as final as it appears, I like that there were consequences to the story. There are stories and character arcs that seem to come to an end in Red Tide, and I'm entirely satisfied with how they were resolved, even if I'm hoping one or two aren't quite done. For a series that has just gotten stronger and more entertaining with each installment, Turner has set the bar high for a fourth novel . . . and I cannot wait to see what it brings.
Spiderlight was a fun tale, a vintage sword and sorcery story that hits on all the old tropes.
I have to admit to some trouble with the first half, howSpiderlight was a fun tale, a vintage sword and sorcery story that hits on all the old tropes.
I have to admit to some trouble with the first half, however, plagued as I was by doubts as to the intentions behind it. Was it a bad parody of old school fantasy, or was it a wink-and-nod homage to the same?
Seriously, it felt as if Adrian Tchaikovsky pulled out his old roleplaying books, rolled himself a few characters, pulled up a few monsters, and then let his inner dungeon master run free with the mayhem. These aren't just characters, they're character classes - wizard, cleric, warrior, rogue - with spells cast and weapons wielded according to the rules of the game. There were so many echoes of Weis and Hickman, Salvatore, Greenwood, Nile, and Knaak that it actually became distracting.
Where I finally got past that, and was able to settle in and enjoy the tale, was through the character of Nth. Here we have one of those vintage monsters, a giant spider, whom the party wizard arrogantly transforms into something vaguely human. He opens so many moral and ethical dilemmas, making us question our stock assumptions of good versus evil, that you don't realize how cleverly you've been duped until the story's almost over. Suddenly, in those last few chapters, it all comes together, and the truth behind those intentions I doubted at the start are revealed.
Yes, it's horribly cliched in its construction, incredibly awkward in its humor, and almost painful in some of its dialogue - but all deliberately so. It takes some patience, and requires some trust that there is indeed a method to Tchaikovsky's madness, but it all pays off in the end.
As epic fantasies go, Reawakening is one of the more original (and enjoyable) tales I've come across in some time. Alternately dark and light, violentAs epic fantasies go, Reawakening is one of the more original (and enjoyable) tales I've come across in some time. Alternately dark and light, violent and erotic, Amy Rae Durreson manages to cram a lot into its pages, and all without having the story feel bloated or rushed.
It's been a thousand years since dragons last roamed the land, a millennium in which their heroic defeat of the Shadow has become a thing of myth and legend. As the first dragon to awaken from his long slumber, Tarnamell is devastated to find his hoard cold and empty, absent of the love and laughter that once filled its halls. When his curious search of this new age reveals an upstart desert spirit where once there was an ocean, he decides to return in human form and claim the spirit and his desert for his new hoard. Along the way he joins a caravan of 'sparkly' traders, adding them to his hoard as well, and journeying with them in search of Alagard.
For an epic fantasy complete with dragons, upstart empires, dark forces, and hordes of the undead, love is the predominant theme here. A dragon's hoard is not an assembly of trinkets and trophies gathered out of greed, but of the emotions and memories attached to them. Tarn doesn't seek out Gard to dominate or control him, but to love him, protect him, and add the people he protects to his hoard. Love is a predominant theme among the caravan as well, despite (or perhaps because of) their 'sparkly' romances being of the same-sex variety. On that note, Durreson certainly doesn't hold back on exploring those relationships, with some rather explicit passages scattered throughout, but they do serve to further develop the characters while propelling the story forward.
The pacing here is a bit uneven, with an extended lull for character building at the heart of it, but that's really my only complaint. The world building is very well done, and the mythology (or, from Tarn's perspective, history) nicely layered. There are numerous races and cultures at play here, and if our exploration of politics is a bit weak, it does seem to be more of a focus in the sequel, Resistance. The Shadow itself is a fearsome force, wisely kept shadowy and vague. The armies of undead he throws at the caravan are legitimately terrifying, and his control of the sands is a serious threat. Fortunately, the caravan has a dragon on its side, who isn't shy about shifting back to his true form and taking them under his wing (literally) as he burns down their foes.
Most importantly, Durreson knows how to spin a tale, with a narrative style that flows naturally, and dialogue that is sharp and witty. Her characters come alive, allowing us to easily become wrapped up in their fates. Reawakening is definitely for mature readers, but it still retains that wondrous feel of a classic fantasy.
Just couldn't get into this one. The writing was overdone, there were too many POVs, and the level of detail both dragged down the pacing and made theJust couldn't get into this one. The writing was overdone, there were too many POVs, and the level of detail both dragged down the pacing and made the action indecipherable. Most importantly, though, I couldn't connect enough with any of the characters to want to persevere through the narrative issues....more
Equal parts historical fiction, epic fantasy, and philosophical discourse, The Shards of Heaven is an altogether fascinating read. Opening with the asEqual parts historical fiction, epic fantasy, and philosophical discourse, The Shards of Heaven is an altogether fascinating read. Opening with the assassination of Julius Caesar, the story details the war that took place between his heirs and allies, with Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Caesarion (Caesar's son) on the side of Egypt, and Octavian (Caesar's great-nephew) and Juba (Caesar's adopted son) on the side of Rome.
It's with the role of Juba, however, that fiction begins to deviate from fact. Michael Livingston portrays Juba as a vengeful son, secretly plotting revenge against the world for his real father's defeat at the hands of Caesar. Further deviating from fact into fantasy, Juba has discovered the mythological trident of Poseidon, which also happens to be the equally mythological staff of Moses.
That, right there, is where the story really pulled me in. Anybody who has studied mythology knows that there are themes and stories that are common to faiths across the world. Livingston looks at the various mythologies of the ancient world - most notably those of Greek, Roman, and Jewish origin - and asks whether it is "possible that all the deities of the world were reflections of the same, single, united god?" Furthermore, in questioning why such a god allows bad things to happen, he suggests that god may actually be dead - an event that allowed The Shards of Heaven to fall to Earth, where they were harvested as magical talismans.
If that sounds a bit too cerebral, just wait until you see Poseidon's trident being used to raise up the seas and smash a ship to pieces with a massive watery fist. The power of the trident/staff terrifies Juba, and exhausts him in his attempts to control it, but it provides Octavian with the power to change the world. As terrifying as it is, however, the shard that became the Ark of the Covenant are speculated to be ever more incredible, with the power to destroy world. So, what we end up with here is a dual fantasy. On the one had we have a rather traditional bit of historical fiction that acknowledges the true powers of the ancient world, but which allows a cast of minor characters - historical footnotes, if you will - to drive the narrative forward. On the other hand, you have an epic fantasy that takes the seeds of faith and creates its own mythology. Everybody wants a shard of their own, as much for the mythological significance as the magical powers they contain, leading to a dual race against time as historians search and armies clash.
Definitely one of the most original fantasies I've read this year, The Shards of Heaven really does work on multiple levels. It's the mythology of the shards that intrigued me the most, and Juba who made me a fan of the story, but those looking for a solid historical tale of Egypt versus Rome will be equally satisfied.
With a promise of fantasy con artists, a desert oasis, an exiled commodore, a murderous doppel, and a stolen airship, I knew I had to give Steal the SWith a promise of fantasy con artists, a desert oasis, an exiled commodore, a murderous doppel, and a stolen airship, I knew I had to give Steal the Sky a read. It sounded like a lot of fun, and that was exactly what I wanted to kick off the new year. I am pleased to say that Megan E. O'Keefe delivers on that fun, and does so with a great degree of characterization and world building than I expected.
The city of Asana, it is one of the more imaginative places I've come across in fantasy. Here is a port town situated in the middle of an inhospitable, inaccessible desert oasis. Cut off from the rest of the world by the sands of the Scorched Earth, it's also separated from the selium mines by the volcanic glass of the Black Wash. It's a place ripe for intrigue, and its role in the politics of the world is almost diametrically opposed to its role in the economy. What's more, O'Keefe makes smart use of it, especially in exploring how people wrest luxury from barren despair.
At the core of the story is a mysterious element known as selium, around which the entire novel revolves. It's an ambitious MacGuffin, and I worried at times that O'Keefe was spreading it too thin, but it works. Dangerously volatile, magical, and lighter-than-air, selium is mined from the volcanic caves and caverns around the desert oasis of Aransa. It's the commerce around which the city runs; it fuels the steampunk airships; it drives the scandalous life of Detan Honding; and it forms the basis of magic (with doppels using it to reshape their faces and cast illusions).
Unfortunately, as cool as that magic is, it's also the weakest part of the plot. I liked Pelkaia, and appreciated the way her revenge schemes wove themselves into the story, but there was no real suspense to her illusions. Time and time again a character would step into a scene, do something completely against their nature, and instead of making you wonder what was going on, I just shrugged it off as another of her impersonations. There was potential there, to be sure, but it felt like O'Keefe wasn't quite sure how to play her.
That issue aside, the other characters are fantastic. Detan and Tibs are a fun pair of crooks to follow, more good-natured scoundrels than villains. In fact, it is Detan's sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek narration that makes the story to entertaining. Watch Captain Ripka Leshe was a more than worthy foil (and reluctant accomplice) to their schemes, ex-Commodore Thratia Ganal is the kind of villain who just seems to get a little darker and a little more violent with each new revelation. Even the secondary characters are memorable, so much so that you start looking forward to how and where they'll slip back into the tale.
If you're a fan of old-school sword-and-sorcery, enjoy rooting for the Han Solos and Malcolm Reynolds of the world, and appreciate the mix of witty dialogue and slow-burning adventure, Steal the Sky is well worth a read.
Stephen R. Donaldson is an author who (for better or worse, depending on how you feel about its deliberately unlikable protagonist) is largely identifStephen R. Donaldson is an author who (for better or worse, depending on how you feel about its deliberately unlikable protagonist) is largely identified by his three Thomas Covenant trilogies. It’s such a massive epic, and such a defining force in the fantasy genre, that it’s easy to forget he’s also written a pair of lighter portal fantasies (Mordant’s Need), an even darker science fiction saga (The Gap Cycle), a contemporary mystery series (The Man Who), and multiple short stories and novellas.
The King’s Justice is his latest collection, pairing two wildly different novellas in a surprisingly slender volume. Together, they make for an interesting read, showcasing two sides of his narrative talent.
First up we have the title story, The King’s Justice, which actually has something of an Old West feel to its flavor of traditional fantasy. Here we encounter a mysterious figure in black, known only as Black, who arrives in the village of Settle’s Crossways on the trail of murder. This was a dark, violent sort of tale, complete with magical compulsions and abhorrent sacrifices, that walks the sword’s edge between justice and vengeance. For such a short novella, there’s actually a lot of history and mythology hinted at in its pages, making it feel bigger than its page count. The narrative here is simple, without unnecessary flairs or flourishes, but it fits the rather sad and angry events that drive it.
The Augur’s Gambit, meanwhile, is an almost gothic fantasy tale of politics and prophecies. Mayhew Gordian is hieronomer to the Queen, reading her fate in the bloody entrails of beasts and (in one dark case) stillborn babes. Queen Inimica, meanwhile, is a woman desperately seeking to preserve her doomed kingdom through a complex (and somewhat comic) plot of marriages. In between them is the Queen’s plain-faced daughter, who serves to breathe some life into the rather dour, sterile narrative of Mayhew. It’s an interesting story, but slowly paced, and held back by the weakness of its narrator. While I wouldn’t mind revisiting the lush world of Indemnie, it would have to be with a more engaging guide, and there would have to be more going on to move the story forward.
While not nearly as bleak as the Thomas Covenant stories, these are still dark tales with a lot of edge. Fortunately, they’re also imaginative and well-crafted, making them solid additions to Donaldson’s shelf.