Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, is a surprisingly solid debut collection from Aidan Moher, one that ably demonstrates his love for speculative fictTide of Shadows and Other Stories, is a surprisingly solid debut collection from Aidan Moher, one that ably demonstrates his love for speculative fiction, along with his intimate understanding of the genre's tropes, forms, and styles. His Preface provides a nice author's introduction, and is in itself a well-written essay on the power and the voice of the short story. Meanwhile, the Story Notes that accompany each tale provide a glimpse into his mindset as reader, acknowledging his influences, both on the page and on the screen.
A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes is a grim sort of tale, one told with multiple voices, alternating between past and present. It's deliberately confusing and unsettling, placing the reader in the midst of both battle and ambush.
The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down is Twilight Zone sort of tale, full of sadness and loss, with new surprises to be found on every page. It's a story with more questions than answers, with an ending that's beautifully ambiguous.
Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons was probably my favorite piece in the collection. It's a very clever series of twists on the traditional Knight in Shining Armor trope, including one that's so perfectly absurd, I can't imagine how else the story could have ended. It's also a story that has a lot of fun with language, demanding a second (and even third) read to catch all the wordplay.
The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended is the shortest piece in the collection, a bit of flash fiction that manages to pack a lot of story and emotion into just 700 words.
Tide of Shadows wraps things up with a story that, on the surface, seems to be an odd mix of coming-of-age space opera and hard military science fiction. The snippets of life are only the top layer of the story, however, with the motivations, last thoughts, and conflicting emotions of the crew comprising the most interesting aspect.
Offering a little something for everyone, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is a collection of tales that know precisely how to engage the reader, and exactly how to find a climax without overstaying their welcome. Whereas some authors try to put too much into a short story, or are content to sacrifice content for style (or vice versa), Moher strikes that perfect balance.
As much as I loved A Turn of Light, and as much as I was looking forward to A Play of Shadow, I didn't really see how Julie E. Czerneda could draw a sAs much as I loved A Turn of Light, and as much as I was looking forward to A Play of Shadow, I didn't really see how Julie E. Czerneda could draw a second tale out of such a small, self-contained world. The village of Marrowdell was a fantastic setting, but its magical seclusion hardly allowed for the outside world to intervene. Similarly, Jenn Nalynn was an amazing character, but her own magical essence hardly allowed for her to simply stroll outside the valley and take the story to the larger world. Yes, I wanted more of the magic, and more of Julie's subtle twists on traditional fantasy, but I was worried what kind of a shadow a less-than-stellar book might cast over the first.
As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. In continuing the story of Jenn and Bannan, A Play of Shadow not only expands upon the magic of Marrowdell and the Verge, it does successfully finds a way to take us beyond that world - all while honoring the rules and limitations of A Turn of Light. In all honestly, even though this second volume lacks the novelty factor of the first, I do think I enjoyed it more. It's broader in scope, more magical in every way, and benefits from what I think most readers will agree is a more even, more exciting pace.
The story opens on a quiet note, reacquainting us with the characters and their world. Despite what we might have expected, the romance between Jenn and Bannan has progressed slowly, so don't expect any sudden leap towards wedded bliss. No sooner are we reacquainted, however, and we're just as quickly separated. Bannan is accompanying a trade caravan out of Marrowdell, while Jenn is off to visit Wisp and Mistress Sand in the Verge. While the lovers are soon reunited, both learn new secrets and new insights into the magic of Marrowdell and the turn-born, setting up some interesting conflicts and introducing some new threats to both their worlds. When Tir makes a winter return, near-death and with Bannan's nephews in hand, the story takes off in exciting and unexpected directions.
There's so much magic and wonder to be discovered in this world, I'm hesitant about saying more. Suffice to say, the scenes within the Verge are absolutely stunning, with little touches and major flourishes that really bring that magical realm to life. The journey to Channen, a canal town of magic and magicians, is a very nice addition to the tale - it adds another traditional fantasy element to the tale, and opens it up to some deeper, darker political machinations. I will say that we do finally get to meet Lila, Bannan's sister, and her appearance on the scene is well worth waiting for. Otherwise, Wisp and Scourge get to take on some new roles, while the house toads take on a whole new significance to the tale . . . as do their turtle cousins.
A Play of Shadow is everything I could have hoped for in a sequel, complete with the one thing the original book lacked, and that is a villain . . . or villains. Yes, there are two core conflicts here, one involving Jenn and another Bannan, and they serve to round out the tale. Rest assured, however, that while this second volume does add to the tale, it doesn't sacrifice any of the sweetness, the magic, or the wonder of the first. Definitely recommended.
The third in her series of dark fantasy collection, Cursed Children of Naor is another strong, entertaining read from Justyna Plichta-Jendzio. As wasThe third in her series of dark fantasy collection, Cursed Children of Naor is another strong, entertaining read from Justyna Plichta-Jendzio. As was the case with the first two collections, the book is comprised of three stories connected by theme, mythology, and setting.
A Son of the Wolf Pack opens the collection on a bit of a weak note. The werewolf take is an interesting mix of horror and fantasy, but it just seems too familiar. Fortunately, the typical red herrings as to who is the werewolf are deliberately obvious, almost as if we're being challenged not to believe. What ultimately redeems it, however, is the final revelation as to who really is the werewolf, along with the deeper mythology surrounding the curse.
Shroud of the Past is a more original tale, transporting us from the frozen lands of the opening story to a more medieval pastoral setting. Here, we get an interesting look at race and gender in the world of Naor, with a very different sort of evil working behind the scenes. I quite liked what Justyna did with this one - it just felt like a magical story, and one with some interesting women at its heart.
With Dragon’s Race we change setting and story once again, moving into the dangerous deserts, and into a more heroic sort of fantasy. I hesitate to call this one a coming of age story, but it is very much centered around a young man forced to confront his destiny. This feels like the biggest and richest tale in the collection, as well as the most traditional. It takes a while to get going, but once it does it hits all the right buttons.
Justyna writes very well, with an imagination that's equal to her narrative talent. Her grasp of dialogue and mythology is what really drives her writing, with the the episodic nature of the stories keeping things fresh. I would like to see a longer novel from her at some point, simply to have time to follow a group of characters once we get to know them, but that's not a complaint, just an idle wish. If you've yet to visit Naor, then Cursed Children of Naor is a great place to start.
Although my taste generally runs more towards epic fantasy door-stoppers, with massive world-building and bloated casts of characters, Moth and SparkAlthough my taste generally runs more towards epic fantasy door-stoppers, with massive world-building and bloated casts of characters, Moth and Spark was an enjoyable diversion. I could have done with less romance and more dragons, and would have preferred to see the middle act shortened in favor of expanding the final act, but that's simply a matter of personal preference, and not a criticism of the book - which delivers on exactly what it promises.
Anne Leonard's writing style fluctuates a bit here, with the opening chapters actually coming across as stronger and more polished than the heart of the novel, but overall the entire book is solid. Corin is nicely established in the opening chapters as a capable leader, a young man with a good heart, who happens to be laboring under a compulsion. Tam is similarly established as a strong young woman, not just smart but clever, who aspires to rise above her caste. Both characters are a bit too perfect, a bit too pure, but while that might otherwise be a flaw, their romance works precisely because of it.
As for that romance, I thought it was very well played out, even if it was rushed. Their dialogue was natural - amusing at times, tender at others - and their relationship progressed very well. The fact that they complement each other so well, with Tam's newly revealed visions conveniently serving Corin's role in fulfilling the prophecy, was not surprising. What was surprising was the fact that, while the connection provided them with purpose, it was not relied on as the primary connection between them. I've seen that done before (I'm looking at you, Terry Goodkind), especially in stories where insta-love is necessary to the plot, and it always feels artificial.
The court intrigue and military drama surrounding them, however, wasn't nearly as strong or as detailed. There were glimpses here and there of a solid high-fantasy core, but Leonard always seemed to pull back just as I was getting into things. To be fair, that element clearly is not the focus here, but it did have an impact on how I read the story. As for the final act, make no mistake, there is some fantastic action and adventure in the closing pages. It approaches silliness at times, and there were a few plot/tactical holes that made me groan, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The final chapters move along at a great pace, with some genuine moments of dramatic tension, and the ultimate climax more than pays off on the promise of the opening prophecy.
For those readers in the mood for a light, romantic fantasy, then Moth and Spark is a great pick. For those readers who come for the romance, but who walk away wanting more of the epic fantasy elements then it may just be the perfect gateway novel as well.
There is definitely a new trend in epic fantasy, one that I first encountered late last year with The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic. It's a trend towardsThere is definitely a new trend in epic fantasy, one that I first encountered late last year with The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic. It's a trend towards a darker, more mature sort of epic fantasy, one that reaches deep into the genre's pulp sword-and-sorcery roots, but which refuses to hold back on the sex and the violence. It certainly contains elements of grimdark, especially the trend towards anti-heroes, but it chooses to smirk rather than scowl along with the reader.
It doesn't take long for The Barrow to declare its intentions regarding that trend. If you read the cover blurb and thought "Set in the world of the Eisner-nominated Artesia comic books" meant this was going to be a Young Adult or New Adult sort of romp, then think again. I haven't read the comics, so I don't know what liberties Mark Smylie may have taken in translating his world to prose, but this is certainly closer to a Heavy Metal novelization than something from Marvel, DC, or even Dark Horse.
In terms of world-building, there is an incredible amount of detail here to be explored. The geography is varied and well-defined, with the cities, mountains, fields, trails, roads, barrows, and barren wastes all having a tale to tell. Time and time again the characters top to tell one another a story, a bit of history or mythology, about their world and how this piece or that came to be. While those stories have the potential to be read as an info-dump by some, the backstory of Artesia is fascinating, and each story adds a welcome layer to the proceedings. There are probably enough stories here to fill half a dozen books on their own, and I (for one) appreciate that kind of narrative depth.
As for the characters, I was shocked by how willing Smylie was to sacrifice them to the cause. It doesn't take long to realize the stakes here are high, and that survival beyond the page is guaranteed for nobody. Once you get over the shock of seeing so many main characters murdered, dismembered, and eaten so quickly, you begin looking at the story with a fresh eye. When no character is safe, the sense of dread and mystery becomes that much more pronounced. As for those characters, they are indeed a crew full of scoundrels, deviants, and ruffians. Stjepan Black-Heart is about as questionable a leader as you can get, a man who is open with his perversions but secretive with his thoughts, and when a brothel owner and a mad magician seem the least distasteful of the lot, you know there's no crime, passion, or sin too low. There is one character in particular who crosses a line that I'm sure will shock most readers and, given his prominence in the tale, it's one of the biggest shocks in the story. I honestly felt betrayed by the revelation of his true nature, but it turns out to be crucial to the rest of the tale.
Plot-wise, this is a story that's as deceptive as its characters. On the surface, it looks simple - rob a tomb, find a map, gather a crew, and rob another tomb. It's no nearly so simple, however, and the bulk of the tale actually takes place between the two tombs. There are curses and conspiracies, political schemes and criminal agendas, and plots and counterplots to be navigated. The scenes within Gilgwyr's brothel are a turning point, revealing the story's true depth of depravity, vulgarity, and imagination. Even if you don't like Gilgwyr's or what he's scheming, you can't help but admire the intricacies of his agenda. Having said that, it takes a long time for many of those schemes to pay off, and some readers may be turned off by the amount of seemingly unnecessary detail. Patience is rewarded, however, with the final act of the story tying everything together, and revealing just how significant and how connected those events are.
As for that ending, it pays off in every respect. Whereas many fantasy novels build up our expectations with hints, promises, and threats of monstrous violence, only to stop short, Smylie delivers on his promises. From monstrous to madness, from necromancy to necrophilia, the events of the climax goes far beyond what we might have anticipated. He allows the worst to happen . . . and then pushes the horror even farther. There are no close calls or near escapes here, just one crushing defeat after another, with a victorious twist.
If you've ever wondered what it might be like to play Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of death-row inmates, while a sadistic warden whispers depraved encouragement behind you, then you are indeed ready for The Barrow.
It's been a very long time since I last read a Drizzt Do'Urden novel, much less anything set in the Forgotten Realms, so I was excited about the opporIt's been a very long time since I last read a Drizzt Do'Urden novel, much less anything set in the Forgotten Realms, so I was excited about the opportunity to reacquaint myself with R.A. Salvatore's heroic dark elf and find out how his companions fared. Sadly, I should have either saved myself the trouble, or taken the time to investigate what The Sundering is all about.
Basically, The Sundering is the story of giant reboot, designed to shoehorn existing characters and settings into a 'simplified' set of 5th edition rules, to be dubbed D&D Next. The Companions is the first book of that reboot.
I don't like reboots.
As the story begins, Drizzt's friends (all of whom are deceased), find themselves reincarnated, with all of their memories intact, and a shared purpose to meet again and resume their companionship. Um, yeah. Silliness aside, the resurrection of Wulfgar is probably the last thing I remember of Forgotten Realms, and that mistake is a large part of what caused me to drift away. So, to multiply that mistake with the likes of Regis, Cattie-brie, and Bruenor, is to ensure the series gets off to a rocky start. It felt like a Terry Goodkind-like attempt to artifically extend a series, except he does it by taking away powers and memories, whereas Salvatore does it by giving them back. As for Drizzt, he's more of a framing device and less of a character here, which is a shame because he's always been the most interesting of the lot.
So, basically, what we get here are three heroes, trapped in the bodies of children, forced to pretend they don't know or remember things that should be impossible. It's an awkward kind of coming-of-age story, and while it does have its interesting moments, it all feels very scattered - which is not surprising when you're following multiple characters across two decades. There are some snippets of battle scenes, and some other adventures that evoked memories of earlier books like The Crystal Shard, but it somehow all feels artificial. What's more, there was no doubt, no tension, and no real suspense as to whether they would all make it to their eventual rendezvous . . . not to mention a climax that just falls flat.
I could be wrong, and my reading may be colored by the end-goal of The Sundering, but it all felt like a story Salvatore was told he had to provide, not an adventure he wanted to write. It's not necessarily a bad book - die-hard readers of Forgotten Realms will likely enjoy it - but, for me, it lacked the magic and the mystery I remembered from my original adventures with Drizzt.
Knowing what I know now about The Sundering, I doubt I'll continue with the series.
Somehow, it seems I missed reviewing A Turn of Light when it first came out. I could have sworn that I did – I have a very clear memory or writing theSomehow, it seems I missed reviewing A Turn of Light when it first came out. I could have sworn that I did – I have a very clear memory or writing the review - but somehow it never got posted. With the release of A Play of Shadow on the horizon, I figured it was time to reread the first book, reacquaint myself with the magnificent world that Julie E. Czerneda has created, and finally get that review posted.
With the fantasy genre having shifted more towards darker, grimmer fantasy in recent years, with a greater focus on the heroic or militaristic elements, the Night’s Edge series really stands out as something bright and vibrant. It’s a far lighter fantasy than we've become used it, not in terms of heft or significance, but in terms of optimism and hope. On the surface, it’s a happier sort of story, filled with some exciting twists on its more traditional fantasy elements, but it’s also a series with a very deep mythology and an epic sort of world-building that’s there from the start, but which we really only begin to truly appreciate in the second half of the book.
At first glance, it’s the kind of book I’d almost be tempted to describe as a pastoral sort of fantasy. The entire story is set in a small, secluded village, comprised of little more than a few homes and farms, some beehives, a mill, a magical meadow, and forest-covered ruins of a far earlier civilization. While characters reminisce or reflect on life in the larger cities, and Jenn Nalynn dreams of seeing the larger world, we never step foot outside the valley of Marrowdell. As Czerneda reveals in her afterword, however, this is really a pioneer sort of fantasy, inspired by the efforts of those who sailed from the cities of England to settle in the wilds of Canada.
That pioneer element allows for a fantasy setting that is unique, but will still be familiar to fans of the genre. It’s the magical aspects, however, that really draw the reader into the world. Marrowdell is a home for the unwanted, for those exiled from the larger world. It welcomes those who have the potential to contribute to the community, but drives others away with nightmares that banish all attempts at sleep. The valley itself lies along the Verge, a wound in the world that allows for the worlds of human and faery to bleed into one another, which allows for things that seem quite miraculous.
The three characters who drive the story are Jenn Nalynn, Wisp/Wyll, and Bannan Larmensu. Jenn is turnborn, a young woman ‘cursed’ to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, and possessed of an incredible magical power. Wisp is a wounded dragon, condemned to watch over Jenn as punishment for his role in a war between magical races, an invisible creature of wind and air whom Jenn wishes into the human form of Wyll. As for Bannan, he is a soldier just recently exiled to Marrowdell, a truthseer with the power to glimpse what lies behind outward appearances, able to see the magical creatures and environments that bleed from the Verge. As for those magical creatures, they include fanged toads that guard the homes of Marrowdell, messenger moths, demonic-looking beasts that masquerade as horses, and much, much more.
There is a love-triangle at work here, with romance in general a key element of the story, but it’s most definitely not a typical romance. It’s less about love and passion than it is about the human relationships that drive us. The characters here are well-rounded, fascinating, and endearing. They are far deeper than they originally appear, with their backstories and pasts slowly emerging over the course of the story. Czerneda uses the characters to explore the world, to ground us in the story, and to ensure we remain engaged throughout. That engagement is important, because this is a novel that’s evenly (almost leisurely) paced, with everything leading up to the resolution of the mystery that is Jenn Nalynn. It’s also a book of layers, with each revelation drawing us even deeper into the mysteries of the world. There is a definite building of tension in the final arc, with a climax upon which the fate of the world rests, but it’s done without the kind of aggressive conflict readers might expect.
Make no mistake, this is not a book that immediately wows you, or which demands that you keep turning pages late into the night. A Turn of Light is more something to be savored and enjoyed, a book that can only be described as wondrous and magical. Instead of grabbing you and dragging you into the world of Marrowdell, it invites you in, establishes a friendship, and seduces you into staying just a little longer every time you sit down to give it a read.
A welcome throwback to the days of high fantasy - complete with idealized medieval communities, kings and queens, monstrous races, dragons, and magicA welcome throwback to the days of high fantasy - complete with idealized medieval communities, kings and queens, monstrous races, dragons, and magic - Shadows of Kings is a rousing adventure that makes the most of its brevity. Coming in at just under 250 pages, Jack Whitsel's tale engages the reader early on and then manages to sustain the interest (not to mention the pace), until the very end.
This is a mature tale, one which doesn't shy away from its more adult elements. The violence is graphic (although not gratuitous), with a very real risk losing limbs, heads and lives, and the romances are pragmatic (although not explicit), with marriages of convenience warring silently with mistresses of desire. Jack doesn't necessarily glorify the excesses of men at war, but neither does he shy away from exploring the acts of necessity that often accompany such campaigns.
Similarly, the duelling magical systems employed in the tale manage to be innovative and exciting, even while maintaining a semblance of familiarity. Jack doesn't demand that the reader go through any mental gymnastics to grasp how his magic works, but neither does he rely on the reader to fill in the blanks. Whether it's the magic of necromancy or that of dragons, he allows his imagination to run free, filling the story with fantastic moments of magical extravagance. What ultimately makes it all work, however, is the characters to which the magic is attached. They are well-rounded and dynamic, drawing the reader in and forcing us to choose sides, even if we may not be entirely comfortable with the potential for betrayal.
In terms of the narrative, I will admit that the tendency to change perspectives within the same scene bothered me, but once I got used to it, I settled in fine. There are several viewpoint characters to the story, on both sides of the war, and they all get their chance to shine. Fortunately, Jack doesn't allow us to get too far inside their heads, maintaining the suspense needed to drive the central mystery that underlies the story. The twists work well when they come, presenting the reader with some genuine surprises while, in hindsight, being entirely justified.
A refreshing addition to the genre, we can only hope Shadows of Kings will be followed by the second book of the Dragon Rising soon.
Stephen Barnard's Mordenhof is a short but effective trio of stories, each of them putting a subtly horrific twist upon the fantasy genre. The world oStephen Barnard's Mordenhof is a short but effective trio of stories, each of them putting a subtly horrific twist upon the fantasy genre. The world of Mordenhof is one of dark magic, darker monsters, and darkest deceptions.
In Sigdom’s Idol, a cursed dagger turns already uneasy allies against one another, eroding what little desperate trust exists between them, and putting them at the heart of a battle that extends deep into the spiritual world.
In Dead Meat, a group of condemned men are offered a chance at survival, if they can just make it through the night and across the haunted ruins of Mordenbald. It's a tragic tale, one where hope seems to triumph against all odds, but where a cruel twists adds a note of finality.
In Uraboh’s Curse, nothing and nobody are quite what they appear to be, with the rescue of a young boy proving to have unintended - and potentially world-shattering - consequences.
At just over 40 pages, the three stories can (and probably should) be read in a single sitting, as the shared world, themes, and atmosphere links them nicely together. Although definitely dark, the inclusion of a little morbid humour manages to keep the collection from being depressingly grim, giving it a guilty-pleasure kind of edge instead. Here's hoping Barnard has another volume to offer up soon.
Picking up where she left off in The Uncrowned King, Rowena Cory Daniells brings her King Rolen's King trilogy to a close (if not an altogether tidy cPicking up where she left off in The Uncrowned King, Rowena Cory Daniells brings her King Rolen's King trilogy to a close (if not an altogether tidy conclusion) with The Usurper.
This final instalment begins much as we would expect, with King Byren quietly raising a rebellion under the nose of his cousin, Lord Cobalt. Although largely consisting of young boys, maimed men, and resourceful old women, the fate of his arm slowly begins to turn with the emergence of the last living warrior monks. Together, they sneak over hidden passes, led by Orrie and Florin, to recruit the support of the same warlords who swore fealty to his father just months before.
Meanwhile, Piro and Fyn find themselves on the other side of the world, prisoners of tyrants and pirates. It is here that the novel really shines, with the development of some intricate political manoeuvring, backstabbing, conspiracies, and secrets. The friendship between Piro and Isolt is an intriguing development, bridging the warring factions, of you will, and offering a glimmer of hope for a peaceful future. Fyn, meanwhile, is forced to confront his fears, to sacrifice his future, and to take a role in the conflict that his status as a monk would have once forbid.
As the three becoming entangled with Tyro, agent of the mysterious Mage, the story takes an interesting and dramatic turn. Espionage and hidden agendas come to the forefront, with allies turning up in the most unexpected places, and treachery looming in ever shadow. The climactic battle of Rolencia that we had been expecting never comes to pass, with the story centring instead around a more intimate battle of wills. Palatyne and Byren do get their final confrontation, but within the distant halls of Merofynia. Even then, the outcome is not what we've come to expect, but there is a sort of poetic justice in how it all works out. Like I said earlier, it doesn't completely resolve the story line (there's still a traitorous cousin in charge across the sea), robbing us of possibly the most anticipated showdown in the series, but it does offer us hope for a successful resolution.
Should this turn out to be the end of the series, I would have to admit to a little disappointment. There are too many questions left unanswered, too many relationships left in limbo, and too much violence left off the page. The story really does demand one more volume but, should that come to pass, it wouldn't take much to transform that disappointment into satisfaction.
In this first book of his Morlock Ambrosius origin story, James Enge provides us with a 'classic' epic fantasy tale, centered around the clash betweenIn this first book of his Morlock Ambrosius origin story, James Enge provides us with a 'classic' epic fantasy tale, centered around the clash between dwarves and dragons, augmented with a little alternative history, a story of parallel worlds, and a really interesting take on the Arthurian legends. It's an odd mix of storytelling elements, but A Guile of Dragons works quite well, despite a few awkward passages.
The opening chapters certainly felt a bit rushed, as if Enge were impatient to have Ambrosius grow up, without getting into the whole coming-of-age storytelling mess. Don't get me wrong, there are some authors who have done the coming-of-age thing well (Tad Williams immediately comes to mind), but all too often it feels like padding, so I'm not disappointed that Enge passed it by.
Fortunately, once we get outside the city and meet back up with Earno, the man responsible for Merlin's exile, the story really begins to pick up. There's a subtle antagonism between the two men that you can feel, and enough conflicted loyalties on both sides to really add some tension to the tale. Neither are particularly likable as protagonists, which does present a bit of a challenge - especially when the dwarves so often steal the show - but they're interesting, and admirable in their own way.
It's with the first appearance of the dragons, however, that Enge completely won me over.
The dragons broke through the clouds in groups of three, casting distorted shadows behind them by their own light. There were perhaps a dozen groups. Most of them soared steeply out of the range of sight, but three dragons flew directly to the windows of the High Hall of the East. One roosted directly before the windows (the mountain shook beneath them) and peered within: smoke and fire trailing from his jaws, his bright scales shedding red light at their edges, his slotted eyes as red and gold as molten metal.
It seems as if dragons have become somewhat passé in recent years, as gritty realism and militaristic tales have come to dominate much of the market, so it was refreshing to encounter real dragons again - intelligent, greedy, treasure-seeking, malevolent creatures, full of magic and fire. Add to that the idea of a guile, of a collared dragon claiming mastery over a group of its kin, herding them and marshaling them into a sort of army, and you've got one hell of a great story.
The writing is crisp, and flows well; the battle scenes are played out beautifully; and the characters are both complex and engaging. A Guile of Dragons isn't a particularly deep fantasy tale, although I can sense a great story waiting to be told. Perhaps readers already familiar with the character will find more nuances to the tale than I, but it's still more than adequate as an introduction to Ambrosius' world, and strong enough to make me want to read Wrath-Bearing Tree, the second book of A Tournament of Shadows.
As I mentioned last time around, Rowena Cory Daniells is an author I've had my eye on for a while now, ever since Besieged (the first book in her OutcAs I mentioned last time around, Rowena Cory Daniells is an author I've had my eye on for a while now, ever since Besieged (the first book in her Outcast Chronicles) made my Waiting on Wednesday list back in May. So, when she reached out to me last month to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing both trilogies, I jumped at the chance.
The Uncrowned King is the second instalment of her King Rolen's Kin trilogy, traditionally the weakest part of any trilogy. With the story already established, and the conclusion yet to come, the middle volume could be forgiven if it didn't really move the story forward. Fortunately, there's enough going on here to make it just as compelling a read as the first. What's more, since we already have an attachment to the characters, their perils and triumphs have more of an emotional impact. There were at least two occasions where excitement nearly had me jumping out of my seat, and one notable occasion where I found myself seething over a betrayal.
At its essence, this is the story of a ruling family being torn apart, forced to struggle their way back from exile and ruin to rescue their kingdom. Byren, by far, faces the toughest challenge, despite the fact that his journey seems like it should be so easy. Betrayed, wounded, and touched by the power of Affinity, he is a man we watch losing all hope, yet still struggling forward. Fyn, as I suspected (indeed, hoped) comes into his own as a hero who can stand proudly beside his brother. His journey is the most wondrous of the three, full of surprises for both him and the reader. As for Piro, even though she's largely left to hide, flee, and disguise herself against her enemies, she is clearly set up to have a large role to play in the final volume.
We do get to see much more of the villains in this instalment, with Cobalt revealing his true colours, but I will say no more on that subject for fear of spoilers.
This volume doesn't add much to the world-building begun in The King's Bastard, but it does smartly develop what's already been established. We learn more about the Affinity-touched beasts roaming the countryside, and get a deeper glimpse into the mythology and religious structure of the kingdom. We don't actually get to see Merofynia (not yet, at least), but we do see more of its dark side - one full of slavery, renegade power workers, and assassins.
Fast-paced, just as engaging, and (much to my relief) absent the convenient delays and lapses of memory that bothered me about the first volume, this is another good, solid, page-turning read that's sure to satisfy fans of traditional fantasy. Bring on The Usurper and let's see how (or, perhaps, if) justice can prevail!
Book 2 of the Song of the Ancestors, The Human Condition, is another strong effort from John Grover that doesn't quite live up to the promise of Web oBook 2 of the Song of the Ancestors, The Human Condition, is another strong effort from John Grover that doesn't quite live up to the promise of Web of the Spider Queen, but still manages to be a solid read.
With the war against the aforementioned Spider Queen behind them, the races of Orum are slowly recovering, taking time to enjoy the rebirth of the world around them. Unfortunately, where the promise of romance should be building bridges between the races, old prejudices and hatreds put the fragile peace at risk. It's this slow, sweet opening to the story that I found to be the weakest part of the story, with the romantic dialogue a little too weak and cliched for my tastes. Fortunately for the reader (if not for the characters), tensions spill over and secrets are betrayed, leading to a civil war between the races.
As as the case with the first story, Grover excels at describing conflict, especially with the frantic scene changes and shifts in perspective. It all begins with the Amazons fighting among themselves, followed by the Faeries making war upon them, all over the fate of the single Human rescued from the Spider Queen's lair. It's a bitter war than sees allies turning upon one another, with a significant emotional component that escalates the conflict a notch above the original war. The battle scenes are as inventive as they are bloody, with some welcome new twists.
Where the book really comes into its own, though, is in the final stages of the story, with the descent into the world of frost fae, but to say much more about that would be to get into spoiler territory. To be honest, I wasn't sure where this second volume could go with the war against the Spider Queen already over, but I quite like the direction that Grover is taking, and look forward to seeing where it goes next.
As much as I've enjoyed the Mistborn saga, The Way of Kings, and his work on the final Wheel of Time novels, Elantris is one of the few works by BrandAs much as I've enjoyed the Mistborn saga, The Way of Kings, and his work on the final Wheel of Time novels, Elantris is one of the few works by Brandon Sanderson that I have yet to read (along with Warbreaker).
Fortunately, while The Emperor's Soul is set in the same world as Elantris, it is a completely separate story, and doesn't require any advance knowledge of the world Sanderson has created.
Clocking in at under 200 pages, this lacks the intense world-building of his other work, but still manages to cram in a significant amount of detail regarding his magic system. A bit more philosophical in nature, the magic of forging, involving the use of soulstamps and essence marks, is absolutely fascinating to explore. Sanderson does a masterful job of taking something simple, yet impossible, and making it a wondrously imaginative act of creation. Here, the system of magic is revealed not through narrative exposition, but through conversations between Shai, the Forger, and Gaotona, her captor. It means a slow unveiling of what she does and how she does it, but the means of that unveiling is an integral part of the tale.
Shai herself is an interesting character, more admirable than heroic. She is a character with whom we can sympathise, but one who does not prey on our sympathies. Less a victim than an opportunistic captive, she forges the means of her escape long before the end, but cannot bring herself to flee without satisfying her curiosity as to whether her greatest forgery will work. After all, it's one thing to forge great pieces of art, or to temporarily alter one's self . . . it's another thing entirely to forge a complete stranger's soul.
It's a shame that this is such a short work, told almost exclusively from Shai's point of view, because I would have liked to see the character of Gaotona better explored. He is intriguing, a man transparent in his emotions, but rather reserved in his motivations, and one who work as both a foil and a friend to Shai. Given the restrictions of the story, he is never really developed beyond the stern, compassionate, grandfatherly character we so often encounter in fantasy, but he is given a chance to shine in the final chapters . . . one that makes us want to know more about him.
Like a great play, the world here is largely relegated to a single room, and the characters are limited to a handful of key players. The drama all takes place on the stage, in plain view, relying on our connection to the characters, as well as our own curiosity, to keep us in our seats. In essence, just as we come to sympathise with Shai, we also come to share her curiosity about this impossible abomination which which she has been tasked.
While there is some significant action towards the end, with those magically-augmented battles that Sanderson writes so well, this is largely a story of ideas. It flows along at a leisurely pace, but has more than enough wit and wonder to keep the reader engaged. All-in-all a fine read for Sanderson fans new and old, and one that has put Elantris back near the top of my to-read pile.