While Infection had its flaws, it was a solid, entertaining story, and one that delivered on its core premise. It left so much potential left unexplor...moreWhile Infection had its flaws, it was a solid, entertaining story, and one that delivered on its core premise. It left so much potential left unexplored, I knew I'd be up for a sequel, and Lyka Bloom was quick to deliver.
Inferno: Transmission picks up a few weeks after the close of the first chapter, with Julia still an unwilling captive of the dangerously seductive Lilith, and Dennis having spent his time putting together something of a vigilante team to take the monster down . . . and, if possible, rescue Julia (although nobody holds out much hope for her after all this time). The recap of the last few weeks, along with the introduction to Dennis' crew is well-done, giving the story the feel of a slasher-flick revenge tale.
"the scent of her filling his nostrils, something like he imagined grave dirt must smell after an amorous and adventurous couple consummated their love upon corpse-strewn earth"
I love that description - it captures the demonic nature of Lilith so well. We don't get any further insights into her origins (I'd love to know her origins), but we do discover what the blood-thirsty dominatrix has in store for humanity. Like most monstrous leaders, she has her sights set on nothing less than world domination - and, as we discover, she has both the smarts and the means to set her plans in motion. That plan isn't fully revealed until the closing pages, but it does make for a fantastic cliffhanger.
"Freedom from choice, from decision, from the morality that's bound you for so long. I will wrap you in glorious obedience and divine pleasure, Toy."
In between those flashbacks and the cliffhanger, we get a surprisingly effective tale of erotic horror that truly gets under your skin. Bloom deftly explores the nature of dominance and submission, with some really interesting commentary on our most dangerous dreams of being freed from the need to take responsibility for our actions. Even though she know how evil Lilith is, and have seen how her followers suffer physically, there's no denying the allure of the freedom she offers.
All-in-all, Inferno: Transmission was a great read, and more than a worthy follow-up to Infection. There's clearly bigger, darker, more dangerous thrills awaiting us, and the next chapter is guaranteed a spot on my must-read list.
I finished the last 200 pages of Words of Radiance yesterday in style, stretched out on the back deck with that massive 1100 page hardcover resting he...moreI finished the last 200 pages of Words of Radiance yesterday in style, stretched out on the back deck with that massive 1100 page hardcover resting heavily upon my chest. I don't often get to relax like that with a book, so it was nice to have the opportunity to properly enjoy the climax of Brandon Sanderson's latest. The only problem with finishing it like that (or at all) is having to somehow wrap my head around how to approach a review.
Well, let's step back for a moment and put things into context. As excited as I was by the book's pending release, and as hard as I lobbed for an advance review copy, I was a bit hesitant about diving in. I thoroughly enjoyed The Way of Kings, and am a big Brandon Sanderson fan in general, but A Memory of Light left me with some concerns. I felt that was a big, bloated book that really struggled from the effort to stretch what Jordan planned as a final novel into a trilogy. As much as I knew that was likely more of a marketing decision than a creative one, I still came away from that book tired, frustrated, and disappointed. Even knowing that Words of Radiance was a personal epic, far closer to Sanderson's heart, I still had to wonder how much of that bloat and padding might be responsible for the book's size.
I am delighted (not to mention astonished) to say that is most certainly not the case. Sandserson described Words of Radiance as "an entire trilogy of novels bound together into one volume" and that sums it up perfectly. Yes, an 1100 page novel is massive, but when you approach it as an omnibus edition of three smaller novels, you get a much better sense of just how carefully and tightly plotted the entire thing is. There's a lot going on, but very little in the way of wasted pages, and almost nothing of the narrative bloat I had feared.
With all that's going on here, I won't even try to summarize or even touch on all the elements. Instead, I'd like to talk a bit about the pair of characters who lie at the heart of the story - Kaladin and Shallan - and the ripples they cast upon the larger sea of words.
As heroes go, Kaladin is appropriately frustrating. It's hard to call him a reluctant hero, but that is (in essence) what he is. Yes, he's an eager soldier, a passionate leader, and proud warrior, but his past is constantly gnawing at him, preventing him from revealing too much of himself. He knows he's a hero at heart, and he longs to embrace that role, but he spends most of the book holding himself back. Rather than be frustrating, however, the ways in which Sanderson explores the internal dilemmas is fascinating. Yes, he still spends a lot of time wallowing in self-pity, but we get to watch as Kaladin's shell begin to show cracks, forcing him to confront those feelings while turning him into a far more well-rounded character than we've known in the past.
Even more interesting is the way in which his loyalties are tested, with him honestly struggling between what he knows to be right, and what he wants to be right. His scenes with Shallan add some much-needed levity to his character; the ways in which is awkward sparring with Adolin evolves from mutual mistrust to almost friendship is a key element of the tale; and the finale in which he resolves his conflicted loyalties regarding Dalinar and Elhokar is nothing short of brilliant. I was a bit concerned for a while, when it appeared Sanderson was going to let him off the hook and free him from making the big decision, but when his relationship with Syl is significantly altered, it becomes clear that he is going to have to man up, own up, and suck it up in making the hard choices.
Knowing that Shallan would be a main character here had me cringing a bit, as I didn't particularly care for her role in The Way of Kings, but she really steps things up here. She is a character who grows and evolves as well, most significantly through her role as the criminal conspirator, Veil. I wondered how Sanderson would approach her courtship with Adolin, and was pleasantly surprised to see that dance bring out new facets to both characters, making them both far more likable to the reader. As we find out, Shallan clearly has a massive role to play in the fate of the world, one that goes far beyond merely being Jasnah's student. Unlike Kaladin, she's very much an eager hero, anxious to prove herself and fulfill the work that Jasnah, regardless of cost, and that sets up a crucial series of events that really drive the climax into the next volume.
Her presence changes the entire tone of the story, and helps to shift not just Dalinar's plans, but the entire plot, pushing things towards the long-simmering conflict we've been waiting to see realized. Although she comes to the plains as an outsider, she quickly immerses herself in her adopted world, insinuating herself into plots far and wide. Admittedly, I was concerned that her role Veil was just a convenient way to bring her up to speed with the politics of the camps but, as we find out towards the end, that role will have significant consequences in the next volume (and possibly beyond). As I mentioned earlier, her scenes with Kaladin are fantastic, and their flight through the chasms, chased by chasmfiend and highstorm alike, marks a turning point for all. She is also responsible for one of the grandest set-pieces in the entire saga to date, but to say much more about that would be to spoil the climax.
Aside from the characters, I think what really amazed me here as the way in which Sanderson brings all the threads of the overriding mythology together. Up to this point it's all been hints, suspicions, and contradictory assumptions. We knew about the Spren, the Voidbringers, the Knights Radiant, the Parshendi, the Stormfather, the Shardblades, and so on, but it was never clear just what exactly they were or how they were all connected. The back story to all of that was a challenge, to say the least, but we start getting some answers (and some big answers) here. Clearly, there is still more to be revealed, but what Sanderson offers here is enough 'ah-ha' and 'oh, wow' moments to really flesh out the magic of the tale, and to drive home the true 'epic' nature of the narrative.
Upon turning the final page, I was left stunned and in awe by what Brandon Sanderson accomplished with book two of The Stormlight Archive. Not only was Words of Radiance nothing like I'd feared, it was everything I hoped for . . . and far, far more. Sanderson really does take the story to the next level here, offering some satisfying resolutions to several story threads, while spawning (and twisting) new ones beyond its pages. Things happen here - events of consequence - all leading up to a climax that really does resolve the core plot line of this second volume in an incredibly satisfying manner. At the same time, we've only just skimmed the surface, and the final chapters ably demonstrate just how much more story there is to be fully revealed. At over 2100 pages into The Stormlight Archive, we have some clearly defined story arcs resolved, some stories well told, and more yet to be experienced.
There is almost nothing better than looking forward to an upcoming release from a favourite author, getting a chance to give it an early read, and fin...moreThere is almost nothing better than looking forward to an upcoming release from a favourite author, getting a chance to give it an early read, and finding out that it not only lives up to all your expectations, but completely exceeds them. The satisfaction is almost immeasurable.
I say almost, because there is one thing that really is better - stumbling across an upcoming release from an author you've never read before, picking it up entirely on a whim, starting the read with absolutely nothing in the way of expectations, and being completely blown away. If the satisfaction is almost immeasurable, than the pleasure is completely immeasurable.
Such is the case with The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby.
Not only did I have no expectations of this one, I wasn't even sure I'd have time to give it a read. It was one of the newest electronic ARCs available to the Robot Army, so I snagged it alongside Adam Christopher's Seven Wonders, figuring I'd give it a cursory glance if I happened to get through the other before September rolled around. It just so happened that I was between books last weekend and, completely on a whim, I decided to give it a shot.
I think I was about 10 pages in before I knew I had something special on my hands.
What Battersby has concocted here is equal parts Bruce Campbell slapstick, Monty Python absurdity, and Terry Gilliam imaginative wonder, filtered through the same literary sense of the macabre as Jesse Bullington or Neil Gaiman. It's an extremely funny, extraordinarily imaginative tale, that never stops surprising the reader with where it's going next. Really, it's one of those novels where the less you know going in, the better the reading experience is likely to be.
Marius is one of the unlikeliest heroes I have encountered in a very long time. He's a greedy, self-centred, cowardly bastard . . . who just so happens to be clever, amusing, and embarrassingly likable at the same time. He's the kind of guy who will gladly stand at your side in the face of imminent danger, but only so he can pick your pocket and knock you down at the last moment to expedite his own getaway. He is a scoundrel in every sense of the word, but an entirely pragmatic one. While he does develop significantly over the course of the novel, demonstrating a tenderness of heart and soul, he remains delightfully despicable throughout.
The writing (and storytelling) here is absolutely top notch. Battersby has a very intimate, very casual way of telling a story, one that's more conversational than literary. He's entirely aware of the absurdities of his tale, and makes no apologies for them. Whereas some authors try too hard to justify, explain, or otherwise validate the comic elements of their tale, Battersby is content to let the humour work. What's more, he proves himself equally adept at elaborate set pieces of slapstick humour, quick throwaway gags, and ridiculous asides.
There's a particularly prolonged sequence of events that involves Marius walking across the bottom of the sea, attempting to scale a submerged shipwreck, and desperately trying to reason with the skeleton of a king who was already crazy before he inadvertently merged the bones of his horse with his own. It's a scene that should have fallen apart and worn out its welcome long before the hungry shark appears on scene, but Battersby makes it work so well, it's a shame to see it come to an end .
Similarly, whereas the various tangents and asides should begin to wear away at the reader's patience, you can't help but gleefully anticipate the next one. It was these half-pages that so often had me laughing out loud, or at least visibly smirking with glee.
"Discovered less than four hundred years ago by the famous Tallian adventurer “Literal” Edmund Bejeevers, the Dog Crap Archipelago lay like a giant turd across the passage between Borgho City and the Faraway isles. Early explorers found nothing there to recommend the place to anybody, and indeed, early maps show a simple ovoid outline with the words “Don’t Bother” written inside."
Even the throwaway gags, such as the "Secret passage closed due to repair works" sign, work better than any author has any right to expect. It's all about the balance between the humour and the story, and the simultaneous commitment to both, that makes it work. Battersby never allows one to suffer at the expense of the other, and never forgets to involve the reader emotionally as well as intellectually.
This was a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and will gleefully recommend, without reservation. Of course, Battersby has now placed himself within the first scenario I mentioned, so here's hoping The Marching Dead manages to exceed my expectations as well as The Corpse-Rat King managed to blow me away.
A sequel in terms of setting and history, if not character or plot, River of Stars sees Guy Gavriel Kay return to the Chinese-inspired world of Under...moreA sequel in terms of setting and history, if not character or plot, River of Stars sees Guy Gavriel Kay return to the Chinese-inspired world of Under Heaven. It's a book that can be enjoyed by new readers as a standalone volume, but one which holds added significance for readers already familiar with the first.
As a fan of Kay's work, and someone who thoroughly enjoyed Shen Tai's journey through the dying days of the Tang Dynasty, I was quite curious to discover how Ren Daiyan's adventures in the Song Dynasty might compare. Aside from a shared history, the two stories couldn't be more different. While the first was a story of an empire at its height, full of luxury, decadence, and self-indulgence, as told through the eyes of a noble young man nearly overcome by his fortune, River of Stars is the story of an empire suffering through its own decline, as told through the eyes of a young outlaw struggling to find his place in the world.
Even if you aren't familiar enough with what has come before to recognize the little tidbits and snippets of news regarding characters and events from Under Heaven, there's a feeling of melancholy here - a sense of remorse for the lost days of glory - that is inescapable. Along with that comes a significant amount of foreshadowing, almost to the point of implying a kind of inescapable destiny on the part of the narrator. Whereas we never really knew what to expect should Shen Tai ever reach the Emperor, we can see all to clearly where Ren Daiyan's choices are destined to lead him. With this second tale, it's less a matter of trying to seize one's own destiny, and more a matter of trying to escape it.
The language here is, once again, beautiful in its poetic flow. It's a heavy story, and not one to be breezed through in a few sittings, but also one that's very easy to become lost in, constantly seducing you into reading just one more chapter. The style is appropriately evocative of the culture, but still retains that literary flair for which Kay is known so well. In terms of narrative, however, River of Stars is subtly different from Under Heaven. There's less immediacy to the tale, and more of an omniscient narrative voice this time around. We still get shifting POVs, often putting us in the heads of characters to whom we become attached only to never see again, but those are interspersed with an omniscient, third-person POV. Fortunately, Kay doesn't rely too heavily on that voice, keeping the story intimate and personal.
As far as the characters go, Kay actually surpasses himself here. Ren Daiyan, as unlikable as he often may be, is a fantastic protagonist. He's a flawed young man who grows and develops significantly throughout the course of the novel. He surprised me on several occasions, committing himself to courses of action that initially seemed the wildest of whims, but which justify themselves later on. Lin Shan, a young woman described at one point as "the clever one, too tall and thin, overly educated for a woman - a discredit, it is widely said, to her sex" is a sort of co-protagonist, one with her own distinct story arc that nicely intersects that of Ren Daiyan. She was one of those characters I expected to drift away from early on, and was pleasantly surprised by how much of a role she had to play in events later on.
Kai Zhen is another of those sympathetic antagonists that Kay crafts so well, a character who is selfish and cruel, but also quite vulnerable and too easily swayed by the women around him. He's an entirely distasteful gentleman that you want to hate, but that hatred is tempered with a significant amount of pity . . . and, at times, even a bit of admiration. Speaking of the women around him, Tan Ming, the concubine who so cleverly escalates herself to becoming his wife, is a richly painted woman of opportunity whose role in the story ends far too soon. Tuan Lungis is another character whom we part ways too soon, but it's interesting the ways in which he touches Ren Daiyan's life at key moments. Sun Shiwei, the assassin who makes such a brief, yet pivotal appearance, is one character I felt was used perfectly - as much as I would have liked to see more of him, the brevity of his role is entirely appropriate to his profession.
I wrote in my review of Under Heaven that I was actually reluctant to read River of Stars, since it was all but unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but Kay has done just that. It's another long story, better paced than its predecessor, and driven by a slightly stronger protagonist. If it lacks some of the subtlety of the first, it certainly eclipses it in terms of demonstrating how seemingly insignificant, very personal choices can conspired to change the course of history.
When I sit down to immerse myself in a book, the overall narrative style is important in drawing me into the author's world, but it's generally the so...moreWhen I sit down to immerse myself in a book, the overall narrative style is important in drawing me into the author's world, but it's generally the sophistication of the overall plot and the strength of the characters that makes me want to stay there. As such, I don't usually wax poetic about the lyrical language of a story, the smoothly coursing flow of words, or the layered beauty of sentences and paragraphs.
Well, this is one of those exceptionally notable exceptions.
Under Heaven is, far and away, the finest work of fiction to come from the pen of Guy Gavriel Kay. It's a book that is perfect in almost every respect, so much so that I was sorry to turn that last page and lay it down, finished. It is definitely a long book, and one best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but it could have continued on for another five or six hundred pages and I would not have voiced a word of complaint.
In terms of plotting, it's an odd tale, and one that requires a unique sort of patience on behalf of the reader. The story at the forefront of the tale initially seems a little light, given the length of the book, but the story behind that is so deep, so heavily layered, that you don't quite realize precisely how much is going on until Kay shakes us out of our complacency and thrusts us into the final part of the book. Most of the book revolves around Shen Tai, second son to a celebrated general of the imperial army, who has spent the last two years burying bones and laying souls to rest around a mountain lake to honour his father's passing. In honour of his efforts, he finds himself granted a gift of impossible value - 250 Sardian horses - that makes him a major player in the political upheaval that threatens to bring about and end to a dynasty.
Along his journey to the capital in answer to a summons from the Emperor, Tai is targeted by assassins, wooed by rebels, betrayed by his elder brother, loved by his protector, befriended by the generation's greatest poet, and drawn into a game of politics that he's never wanted to play. He is forced to rise above his station, to demand the respect accorded to his honours, and to play a shocking role in the transition of an empire. He is a remarkable character, an admirable young man to whom the reader can almost relate - if only he weren't so spectacularly worthy of the highest esteem.
What makes the story so exquisite is the fact that the characters surrounding Tai are so well developed, they they're worthy of being main characters in their own right. In fact, his sister's magical journey is a story all on its own, escalating a young woman to royalty and shipping her off to a barbarous marriage, only to see her rescued by a man more wolf than man. Wei Song, Kanlin warrior and protector to Tai, is another strong woman, one who is largely responsible for seeing him to his destiny, while Wen Jian, Precious Consort of the Emperor, is a woman as dangerous as she is beautiful, and almost dizzying in her grasp of the game of politics.
Like I said, it's a long story, told at a leisurely pace, and narrated almost exclusively in the present tense. It makes for an unusual read, almost too literate for the genre, but the reader's patience is more than amply rewarded. The subtlety of the telling is exceeded only by the intricacy of the schemes and plots, with a myriad of small events commingling to change the course of history. It's a read that leaves me almost reluctant to read River of Stars, since it's almost unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but if anybody can do it, it's Kay.
Sometimes you want to sit down and savour a literary meal, to indulge yourself in a four-course door-stopper of a novel that leaves you feeling comfor...moreSometimes you want to sit down and savour a literary meal, to indulge yourself in a four-course door-stopper of a novel that leaves you feeling comfortably bloated at satiated at the end. Then again, sometimes you just want to grab a narrative snack, to guiltily devour the sugary goodness of a candy-coated novella, preferably one that leaves you feeling just a little bit sick as you force down that last bite.
The Cannibals of Candyland is that perfect candy-coated treat.
Here we have an entire race of cannibalistic beings who have evolved from candy, in a land made of candy, surrounded by homes made of candy. It's a world where taste and smell trump physical appearance every time, where mates are taken for life, and where your original candy coating provides proof of virginity. There's no flesh in Candyland, just an infinite number of variations upon candy cotton hair, gumdrop eyes, marshmallow breasts, licorice limbs, and rock-candy teeth. Actually, there is a tiny bit of flesh in Candyland - all of it belonging to children stolen from the human world. After all, even people made of candy know that you can't live on candy alone.
Before we get to Candyland, though, we need to backtrack a bit. The story opens with a rather peculiar gentleman by the name of Franklin Pierce. He's a man with two wives (one of whom is his mother), both of whom revel in the opportunity to publicly cuckold him. He's a man with a flawed cybernetic brain, guaranteed to breakdown and drive him insane within the next few years. He's also a man who devoted his entire life to proving the existence of the candy people, ever since he watched them eat his siblings years ago.
I won't spoil the story by going into too much detail, but this is very much an Alice in Wonderland type story, except that Franklin goes through the candy dish instead of the looking glass. There is falls victim to a kind of Stockholm syndrome that sees him partially eaten, reconstructed with candy, and forcefully mated by the very same candy woman who ate his siblings. It's a rather twisted tale of the extent to which one man will go to ensure his revenge, but also a surprisingly sweet tale of the love to be found in the oddest flavours.
A quick read, filled with just enough sugary gore to delight even the most perverse of readers, it's a book that more than delivers on the promise of its concept.
Gimme an R (R!) O (O!) C (C!) K (K!) Whatcha got? (Rock!) And whatcha gonna do? (Rock you!)
If that snippet of lyrics doesn't have you breaking out the...moreGimme an R (R!) O (O!) C (C!) K (K!) Whatcha got? (Rock!) And whatcha gonna do? (Rock you!)
If that snippet of lyrics doesn't have you breaking out the air guitar and already banging your head, then this book ain't for you. On the other hand, if it has you grinning like a maniac and longing for the days of long hair and leather, then you owe it to yourself to read Metal on Ice. Subtitled Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes, this is a nostalgic look back at the history of hard rock and heavy metal in the great white north.
Sean Kelly has done an admirable job of tracing the evolution of rock north of the 49th parallel, and just why it was so hard to translate homegrown success south of the border. Interspersed with comments and stories from the bands themselves, Kelly weaves a story that's as enjoyable as it is easy to read. There's a lot of humor here, often at our own expense (good naturedly, of course), but also some tales of record company politics and human tragedy that will leave you shaking your head. Really, given the distances they had to travel, the climate they had to navigate, and the limitations of a world without YouTube or even Napster, it's amazing any of these bands managed to find success they did.
Kelly takes us on a journey from playing cover tunes in small town bars and clubs, to headlining cultural shrines like Maple Leaf Gardens and the Molson Forum. He takes us from video breakthroughs on the small screen of Much Music's Power Hour, to the big time success found in the glossy pages of Hit Parader and Circus Magazine. Inevitably, he also takes us through the era of Grunge that so quickly ended so many careers, and into today's nostalgic resurgence of 80s rock. In between, he establishes a close-knit family of musicians that almost begs its own musical version of six degrees of separation. Not surprisingly, he also reveals just how much of the 'image' we remember was so carefully cultivated by music company executives, sometimes right down to the name of the bands.
One thing you won't find here is larger-than-life tales of rock star excess . . . of ridiculous orgies, hotel vandalism, rampant drug abuse, and antagonistic violence. He does address the smattering of urban legends that cropped up around bands like Sven Gali, but is just as quick to dismiss them and get to the roots of the matter. Stereotypical Canadian politeness aside, there just wasn't time for that kind of hedonism, not when you were living out of an old van and driving day and night across the country to get to your next gig.
Perhaps the greatest part of reading Metal on Ice is remembering bands we forgot. Sure, Brighton Rock, Helix, Honeymoon Suite, and Killer Dwarfs are part of my regular playlist, but Kelly has sent me searching for classic tracks that I hadn't head in years . . . decades even. Suddenly, bands like Coney Hatch, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, and Sven Gali are back on my radar, and I'm constantly driving my wife crazy with declarations of "I remember this song!" even as I'm cranking the stereo up another notch.
Whether you care anything about the music industry or not, give this a read. It's as much a story of rags-to-riches success as it is anything else. More than just a nostalgic journey, it's also a reminder that sometimes loving what you do is its own reward. The music industry may have a New Girl Now, but we can still Stand Tall and remember the days when we were Young, Wild, and Free, trading mix-tapes on the Monkey Bars, and having a Helluvatime dreaming of Canada's own Metal Queen.
Next to perhaps River of Stars and The Marching Dead, both of which I went into with high expectations, I don't think I've enjoyed a book this year as...moreNext to perhaps River of Stars and The Marching Dead, both of which I went into with high expectations, I don't think I've enjoyed a book this year as much as I did Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. From the concept to the characters, I enjoyed every aspect of it and came away wanting more . . . much more.
David Barnett's novel has been called "the ultimate Victoriana / steampunk mash-up" but that doesn't begin to describe it. It's also an old-fashioned horror story, a penny dreadful romp around the world, and an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. Barnett takes us from the streets of London to the sands of Egypt, and from the dizzying heights of battling dirigibles to the claustrophobic depths of ancient pyramids, all with vampires, mummies, devil dogs, and monstrous frogs along for the ride.
More than anything, however, this is a tale of heroes. It's a story about heroes lost and found, made and unmade. It's a story about what makes a hero, why we worship them, and why the world needs them. It's also a story about how heroes can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Gideon Smith starts the novel as a shy young man in search of a hero to delve into the mystery hidden below the cliffs; a mystery that he is certain claimed the life of his father's crew. It's a search that brings him into contact with the likes of Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Bathory, as well as the mechanical girl who captures his heart. Ultimately, it's also a journey that brings him to the realization of his own innocent brand of heroism.
As for the mechanical girl who makes up the other half of the title, Maria is a fascinating creation who doesn't get nearly the page time she deserves. She's a fully fledged character, as likable as she is sympathetic, but she's more of a catalyst than a character. It's a search for answers and a desire for vengeance that takes Gideon Smith through the first half of the novel, and a love for Maria that carries him through to the end. She does have a pivotal role to play in the story, both as a peril and a power in the climactic showdown. I won't spoil the adventure with details, but it's safe to say a mechanical girl pales in comparison to what rises from the depths of the pyramid at the end.
In the end, there's not just room for a sequel here, but a cliffhanger that demands it. That's not to say Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl isn't a complete story on its own, because it is, but like the best of the penny dreadfuls it leaves us with us with the start of a whole other adventure. Exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told, filled with equal parts amusement and astonishment, this is sure to be a fixture of best-of lists come the end of the year.
Before I get to my review, I want to offer a friendly public service message to those who are fortunate enough to be reading and voting on the various...moreBefore I get to my review, I want to offer a friendly public service message to those who are fortunate enough to be reading and voting on the various genre awards. Go ahead and pencil in Fearsome Journeys as this year's winner for best anthology, and Jonathan Strahan as winner for best editor. That's right, find your nomination form, jot the title down, put a huge asterisk beside it as the likely winner, and focus your reading efforts on those categories yet be decided.
Okay, so maybe I am being a bit facetious, but it really is that good!
Short story collections are problematic for me. On the one hand, I like being able to sample authors in small doses, and to get a feel for their work, or to simply pay a brief visit with old favorites, no strings (or subsequent volumes) attached. On the other hand, I find them wildly uneven in terms of content and quality, with the weakest entries unfairly dragging down my overall impression of the collection as a whole.
Much to my delight, Fearsome Journeys has proven to be the rare exception to that rule. There were a few stories here that didn't completely wow me, but I can honestly say I still enjoyed them all. While those few suffer by comparison against their companions here, they likely would have come across as some of the better entries in a different collection. There are several authors here who have just shot to the top of my TBR pile, based on the strength of their contributions, and a few others who've absolutely demanded I immediately rectify their absence from that same pile.
The Effigy Engine: A Tale of the Red Hats by Scott Lynch was a great choice to lead off the collection. It's fantastic in every sense of the world, with a world and characters I would gladly revisit.
Amethyst, Shadow, and Light by Saladin Ahmed was another great story, reminiscent (to me) of the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, with a surprise ending that left me with a satisfied smile.
Camp Follower by Trudi Canavan was a really interesting story, with several twists that worked exceptionally well, and an ending that satisfied immensely.
The Dragonslayer of Merebarton by K J Parker was, for me, probably the weakest entry in the collection. I simply didn't care for the telling, finding it too casual and removed, with no sense of urgency, but the story itself was decent.
Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine by Kate Elliott more than redeemed that small literary stumble with a great tale, exceptionally well-told, some nice mythology, and characters I really want to read more about.
Spirits of Salt: A Tale of the Coral Heart by Jeffrey Ford is one of the few I had issues with. As well-told as it was, I didn't care for the main character at all. The clever twist ending redeemed it somewhat, but not enough to rise above its peers.
Forever People by Robert V S Redick is a story that I quite liked, finding myself very invested in seeing how it all developed, but I find myself feeling a little . . . well, ambiguous about the ambiguity of the ending. I didn't originally care for it, but found it better on a second read, although I find myself wavering again this morning.
Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl by Ellen Klages is an oddly comic tale that almost felt out of place here, but had some really nice elements to it, and won me over with just how thoroughly the tables were turned by the end.
Shaggy Dog Bridge: A Black Company Story by Glen Cook was a serviceable enough story, with some great moments of action and drama, but I found the narrative a bit flat, as if it assumed too much of the reader in terms of Black Company knowledge. Having said that, I can see why Cook is so often mentioned in the same breath as Steven Erikson.
The Ghost Makers by Elizabeth Bear was an absolutely stellar tale, well-told, with a pair of intriguing protagonists, and a nice weaving of magic and mythology. It took me a while to warm up to it, but my appreciation continued to grow as each layer was revealed.
One Last, Great Adventure by Ellen Kushner and Ysabeau S. Wilce was a story where I found the present-tense narrative a bit jarring at first, but eventually settled in to enjoy a decent tale.
The High King Dreaming by Daniel Abraham is a deep, dark, introspective, tale told in snippets and scenes. While it may not have offered the strongest story in terms of plot, it was compelling from a narrative standpoint.
For those of you who are curious, it's Lynch, Elliott, and Bear who are the three authors who've made the most significant climbs in my TBR pile, and Ahmed and Canavan who have won themselves a place. Overall, however, this just a great collection of tales, well-selected and well put together by a man who has an obvious feel for the genre. I cannot recommend Fearsome Journeys highly enough.
For this third book in The Dominic Grey Series and his first with the Thomas & Mercer imprint, Layton Green kicks things up a notch and delivers a...moreFor this third book in The Dominic Grey Series and his first with the Thomas & Mercer imprint, Layton Green kicks things up a notch and delivers a novel that should, if there's any justice to be found upon the shelves, make him a household name. The Diabolist is a dark, intelligent, spellbinding novel that is destined to appeal to readers of Preston & Child, David Gibbins, and Dan Brown . . . as well as the likes of Peter Straub, John Saul, and James Herbert.
This is a novel about two things - the nature of belief, and the dichotomy of good versus evil. Yes, it's a rip-roaring, pulse-pounding adventure, but it's also an intelligent, deeply philosophical look at the concept of evil, and how it's defined (or justified) within the bounds of faith and belief. It all begins with the mysterious deaths of two prominent religious figures, one of the House of Lucifer and the other of the Church of the Beast, both condemned as heretics. I won't attempt to summarize the details that Layton provides in the course of the novel, but it turns out the public perception of a 'Satanist' is just as troubled and diverse as that of a 'Christian' faith.
At the same time, a charismatic leader by the name of Simon Azar has begun making a name for himself, amassing over a million followers for his Order of New Enlightenment. It's a very attractive, very seductive sort of humanist religion, one that celebrates the natural enjoyment of life in all its forms, all without guilt or shame. It's an intelligent form of belief, and one that's easy to see the appeal of, but there's something suspicious at its heart.
Enter our heroes, Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, working on behalf of Interpol to solve the murders and prevent the death of more . . . including the Pope.
Readers who are already familiar with the series will appreciate the opportunity to delve into Viktor's surprisingly dark past, to learn what made him into the expert on cults and religious phenomenologist he is today. There's a very good reason he so often loses himself to the oblivion of Absinthe, and an equally good reason he is so good at what he does. New readers need not fear, for Dominic's past is recapped nicely in bits and pieces throughout the book, providing them with enough of an introduction to enjoy the story.
The incredible action sequences of the first two books, with Dominic's unique brand of hand-to-hand combat have been perfected here, providing more than a few heart-stopping moments of action and drama. The blood and the gore are here again as well in all their lurid detail, but necessary to the plot, and never used for mere effect. The drama and the suspense are at an all-time high for the series as well, particularly once Viktor receives one of the mysterious letters promising his own death.
Like the first two books of the series, Green deftly balances faith, belief, science, and reason throughout the tale. The question of the supernatural is just that - a question - one that is wisely left somewhat opened ended, with just enough room for readers to believe there's more to life than Viktor and Dominic can explain. It's not a cop-out or a soft ending by any stretch of the imagination. This is an intelligent read that rewards, rather than dismisses, our intelligence in tying up the loose ends. It's just that Green is smart enough to leave a few unanswered questions, a few events that we are free to either believe haven't been explained yet, or simply cannot be explained.
I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If you're new to the series, dive in and enjoy a read that will stimulate all your senses. You'll feel smarter for having read it, I guarantee, but you'll also enjoy every moment.