Blade Singer tells the story of Manny Boreaux, who picks up a strange book in a bookstore and is transported to another realm--and another body. Recen...moreBlade Singer tells the story of Manny Boreaux, who picks up a strange book in a bookstore and is transported to another realm--and another body. Recently orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, Manny has been struggling in school and in life, but his previous problems seem small when compared to the ones he faces in this new, magical realm--like finding his way home, escaping the clutches of a notorious gang, and, of course, saving the kingdom.
An enjoyable romp through a vividly-imagined fantasy setting, Blade Singer has very little to criticize. Perhaps the only thing that really bothered me was the interaction between Manny and the goblin pickpocket who's body he finds himself trapped in. The mechanics of their relationship are never really explained and seem bizarrely one-sided. Other than that, however, I really have nothing bad to say about this book. It's a fun read and I would definitely recommend it.(less)
Sometimes your first impressions are wrong. I'm not talking about simply judging a book by its cover: I'm talking about reading a book, selling it bac...moreSometimes your first impressions are wrong. I'm not talking about simply judging a book by its cover: I'm talking about reading a book, selling it back to the bookstore because you feel no particular desire to read it again (let alone the next in the series), and then finding yourself so struck with remorse, so desperate to read more, that you spend several hours desperately scouring the bookshelves of Powell's because you can't remember the title or the author and you can't find it but you want it really really bad.
That was me with Bared Blade and the previous novel, Broken Blade. Although I enjoyed the first, I initially just wasn't motivated to continue reading the series. Yet I kept returning to Aral and Triss in my head, wondering what happened to them. Finally, I broke down and picked up Bared Blade.
The second in the series, while still enjoyable, is not quite on par with first. The Dyad is a really neat idea that was not executed neatly. McCullough resorted to info-dumps to explain it, and by the end I still felt it had not been explained adequately or well. There were some problems with pacing, too: most of the book is spent skulking around the city and gathering clues, and the conclusion comes suddenly and more than a little rushed--continuing a bad habit developed in the first. The flow is further hampered by the long, awkward internal (and sometimes external) soliloquys Aral delivers about the death of his goddess and the nature of justice. Finally, I'm seeing a definite pattern in McCullough's female characters. Overall they're good characters, but right now we're two-for-two with the damsel-in-distress-comes-to-the-bad-part-of-town-for-help-and-falls-in-love-with-her-rougish-rescuer trope. So far I'm reserving judgment, but if the trend continues I'm gonna get pretty annoyed.
Again, as with the first in the series, I really appreciate seeing a non-European-esq setting in fantasy, and I really enjoy the blend of gritty noir-type characters and plots with a very non-noir setting. This is also probably the only book with an assassin main character that didn't make me role my eyes and throw the book back on the shelf after reading the back cover (urban fantasy and paranormal romance, I'm looking at you). I think McCullough has created something fresh and unique, and I look forward to seeing where he takes it.(less)
When I saw Jonathan Stroud had a new book out, I added it to my to-read list without even bothering to read the description. In fact, I had no idea wh...moreWhen I saw Jonathan Stroud had a new book out, I added it to my to-read list without even bothering to read the description. In fact, I had no idea what the book was about until after I ran to my library and checked out a copy.
Since you're reading this review, I assume you're not like me and have read the summary, too. In The Screaming Staircase, Stroud has created an absolutely believable, detail-filled world in which the British Isles are beset by a "Problem." Like the excellent storyteller he is, Stroud never bogs down the reader with exposition, but reveals the nature and results of the Problem slowly and naturally. He deftly weaves together two seemingly disparate plot lines, and gives the reader lifelike and believable characters who clearly have a lot of adventures (and development) ahead of them.
As and adult reading a YA book, several things jump out at me. First of all, The Screaming Staircase is a ghost story, of sorts, and has a lot of horror elements. The matter-of-fact way in which the hauntings are handled keeps it from being truly frightening, and I don't think this book is inappropriate or too intense for kids. However, I think it would be extremely difficult to create a movie adaptation that would not be too frightening for younger readers, which says something about it (though I'm not quite sure what; maybe just that it's really good).
Secondly, there is absolutely no romance, of which I approve heartily. There's some indication that Lucy and Lockwood might start something in later books, but for now, at least, Stroud chose not to clutter up a happy and successful friendship with unnecessary romance.
All in all, this is a fantastic YA/children's book that's a great read for adults, too. I would recommend it to pretty much anyone.(less)
An enjoyable romp through a magic-filled Regency England, following the adventures of Kim, a street thief who makes the mistake of trying to steal fro...moreAn enjoyable romp through a magic-filled Regency England, following the adventures of Kim, a street thief who makes the mistake of trying to steal from a magician. Definitely aimed for a younger, female audience, but that shouldn't deter older, non-female readers who are looking for something light. Overall, this reminds me a little of a fluffier Crown Duel; if you liked Magic, you'd probably like Duel.(less)
I read this many years ago, and just decided to re-read it. Not only was is still good, it was actually better than a remembered. Sword-Dancer is not...moreI read this many years ago, and just decided to re-read it. Not only was is still good, it was actually better than a remembered. Sword-Dancer is not a polished book; it's full of flaws and rough spots. But, at its foundation, it's a good story, and it remains an excellent read.
The pace is frenetic, with new obstacles thrown into Tiger and Del's path every page or two. Sometimes this reaches the point of absurdity, as when Tiger is jumped by some thieves for no apparent reason and must waste a week recuperating--a series of events that in no way furthers the plot or adds anything to the story, but simply fills up page space. This is especially puzzling since Sword-Dancer is such a short book, and one would think Roberson would want to save space, rather than waste it. It feels a little like Roberson generated large parts of the plot by rolling for random encounters. This means that the plot is never slow or boring, but at times does seem irrelevant.
Certain conversations are repeated, which is annoying, and sometimes information is dropped into conversation in a very heavy handed way. Also heavy handed is the way Roberson deals with gender roles and sexism. This may have been fine when in 1986, when the book was published, and the fantasy genre was far more lacking in heroines than it is now. There's still a surfeit of sword-swinging males in the genre, and it'll be a long time before addressing sexism is unnecessary, but Roberson's handling is just a little too blunt, maybe a little outdated.
But the dynamic between Tiger and Del is wonderful. The characters are real, alive, original. They pop from the page. In a genre where there are so many sword-swinging males, and relatively few strong women, Tiger is great: sexist, yes, but honest about it, and not misogynistic. A good man, but not too good--and Del is his perfect complement. (less)
A great follow-up to The Desert of Souls. At first I felt Bones wasn't quite as good as Desert--the plot is a little jerky, a little start-and-stop--b...moreA great follow-up to The Desert of Souls. At first I felt Bones wasn't quite as good as Desert--the plot is a little jerky, a little start-and-stop--but as the story progresses it improves, and pretty soon I was unable to stop turning pages. The ending was a little deus ex machina, a little rushed, and somewhat confusing, but still very satisfying. Jones is a real tease, because he leaves the reader with a tiny hint about the next book--a book I am definitely looking forward to.(less)
The Desert of Souls was recommended by Martha Wells, which for me is some damn high praise. I bumped it up to the top of my to-read list, and I'm glad...moreThe Desert of Souls was recommended by Martha Wells, which for me is some damn high praise. I bumped it up to the top of my to-read list, and I'm glad I did. Of course, since Ms. Wells recommended it, I was expecting something as knock-your-socks-off awesome as her work. While Desert is awesome, it didn't quite knock my socks off--but that's a little like complaining that you got nine million dollars when you wanted a hundred: you still got something fantastic.
Like Ms. Wells, Jones does a wonderful job of evoking a vivid sense of place. One reviewer on the back cover calls it "scimitars-and-sorcery," and that's not a bad description of the setting. It contains many of the elements familiar to fantasy fans, but is set in the medieval Middle East rather than medieval Europe. Jones makes ancient Baghdad come to life in a way almost no other fantasy author I've read has managed, even when setting their stories in the more "familiar" medieval Europe (or psuedo-Europe). He includes not just details of the geography of city and country, but also of clothing, customs, foods, and religious practices. The setting just pops from pages, so real you could touch it.
I had mixed feelings on the characters. The narrator, Asim, is not the brightest man on the planet. The female main character--who is really more like supporting cast--had a disappointingly small role. Although she's very intelligent and thinks fast on her feet, she's a far cry from the powerful, strong women you often find in fantasy novels. On the other hand, both these "flaws" add a sense of realism, particularly historical realism. In context, Sabirah is a pretty kick-ass heroine. Asim's occasionally thick skull was actually an interesting change from the usual fantasy hero, who has stunning good looks, is fantastic with a sword, and a borderline genius. Asim's flaws make him real, believable, and sympathetic, even if you sometimes want to hit him over the head with a big stick. In a way, he and Dabir remind me a little of Khat and Sagai from Wells' City of Bones; one's better at the heat-of-the-moment stuff, one's better at the make-a-cunning-plan-in-advance stuff.
The plot is solid and keeps the pages turning. It's a pretty simple plot--you won't find any surprises or big twists--and occasionally it feels a little rushed; but you won't put this book down once you've picked it up. The only time the story left me cold was (without spoiling anything) when the wyrm showed up; although it was necessary plot point, it felt jarring and out of place within the larger setting.
In short, this is a great book. It's a wonderful change from the typical sword and sorcery style because of the vivid and atypical setting and the complex, believable characters. If "wonderful change" makes you think, "But I like sword-and-sorcery just fine," don't worry: you'll like this, too.(less)
I picked this book up based on its cover. I do that sometimes, even though I know I'm not supposed to, and sometimes I regret it. Not this time, thoug...moreI picked this book up based on its cover. I do that sometimes, even though I know I'm not supposed to, and sometimes I regret it. Not this time, though: The Alchemist of Souls is a fantastic read.
When I'm writing reviews, I like to look at the four aspects of a story (plot, characters, setting, and prose) and pick which was the best and which was the worst. Alchemist has no worst, and picking the best is difficult.
The story follows three characters: Mal Catlyn, the down-at-the-heels swordsman of the cover; Ned Faulkner, a scrivener with close ties to the theater and perhaps Catlyn's only friend; and Coby, a tireman with a theater company who is not actually the boy she seems to be. All three are drawn into the politics and conspiracies surrounding the new skrayling ambassador. It is not an especially fast-paced story, but it is an entrancing one; I just couldn't stop turning pages. I was frustrated by the quick point-of-view changes and felt that Mal's history with the skraylings was never explained with enough clarity, but those were the only flaws I found.
Prose and setting go hand in hand to create a vivid image of a unique not-London. I'm a bit of a history buff, from a family of history buffs, and I was constantly delighted with the many small details Lyle added to create a sense of realism--and if she ever got any details wrong, I never caught her. The dialogue is especially good, using just enough period phrasing to give a feel for the time without making reading uncomfortable for readers. The setting just pops from the page, as real and vivid as modern London.
The characters are usually what make me like a book. I will put up with a bad plot for good characters, but not vice versa. In Alchemist bad plot's not a problem, but the characters are still wonderful. I really enjoyed Mal's practical stoicism, and Coby's practical romanticism, and even Ned's doubtful integrity made him more complex and real.
This is easily the best book I've read in a while, and I cannot recommend it enough. I've already marked the release date for the next in the series down on my calendar.(less)
Blood of the Demon makes no improvements on its predecessor, Mark of the Demon something both unusual and disappointing for a debut series. I have lit...moreBlood of the Demon makes no improvements on its predecessor, Mark of the Demon something both unusual and disappointing for a debut series. I have little to say about this second book that I didn't say about the first: the characters are lacking, the mystery "plot" is thin, bordering on pathetic, and Rowland misses many, many opportunities to make her story actually good. About the only part I found interesting was Kara's sex with Rhyzkahl, not for the sex itself--it's a poorly-written sex scene by anyone's standards, including fanfiction--but for Kara's motivations, which seemed very real and powerful to me. This was one of the few times when I actually enjoyed Kara as character. Again, I intend to read the next in the series, but I'll be borrowing it, not buying it.(less)
I read a lot of books, but I don't buy many of them. Mostly, I check them out from the library, and if the library doesn't have a copy, I buy my own o...moreI read a lot of books, but I don't buy many of them. Mostly, I check them out from the library, and if the library doesn't have a copy, I buy my own or do without. It was with some hesitation that I bought Broken Blade. The summary sounded intersting, but the sample chapter on Amazon didn't make my hand reach for my wallet. Nonetheless, I bought it. Was I disappointed? Maybe a little. See, this book had the potential to be knock-your-socks off awesome--and didn't quite make it. Here's the breakdown:
Solid but not outstanding. Certainly not a liability, but not a great asset, either. The action--plus a little touch of intrigue--kept the pages turning and I never got bored. I have no idea what went wrong at the end, though. Maybe McCullough had a word count-cap or something, but the last chapter or two was so rushed, so hurried, it was a little painful to read, especially when those last few chapters were the ones that needed the most meat on their bones (more on that later).
It's not your typical fantasy setting, and that was a nice change. There's a subtle hint of Oriental influence, just enough to shake things up: rice wine, the Emperor being the "Son of Heaven", little things like that. Sometimes these clashed with the more typical Western elements. The magic fit in well, and I liked how McCullough handled the "restless dead." On the flip side, there were some aspect that were very jarring, like every time someone use a modern swearword, and her political system and its geopolitical setting never really felt convincing to me. I especially struggled with the idea of rulership based on duels that could happen at the drop of a hat.
Aaaaand here's what really drove me up the wall: the character development and the philosophical themes carried with it. In this department, Blade had the potential to be just as good as the Harry Dresden series, and if you knew how much I love the Harry Dresden series you would know how high a complement that is. There is so much power in the way Aral Kingslayer drowned himself in a bottle after the death of his goddess, and how Aral the Jack is a new man, a different man. There is so much power in the way Aral the Jack struggles with his conscious, and having to make his own decisions about what is right and what is wrong, when before he only had to follow his goddess's orders. There is so much power in his desire to let Maylein be his new goddess, to surrender that moral burden to her, if only a for a little while. Even the lesser characters, Devin and Maylein, have their complexities.
But the end! Just at then end, when the conflicting worldviews of Devin and Aral are put to the test--! Well, I can't say too much, because that would spoil things, but let's just say that it's the most powerful moment in the whole book, or it would have been if McCullough hadn't rushed over it like a hurried driver flattening a squirrel. I think I actually gave an exclamation of dismay when I read that passage--and it was given no more than a few lines--because it painful to read such a profound moment handled with such sloppy disintrest.
I enjoyed this book until the end, because that end was so frustratingly bungled it made me angry at the whole novel, nevermind that it had been fine up until that point. Yes, I bought this book, and I'll probably buy the next one (if my library doesn't order a copy), but I'll also probably sell them both back to the bookstore.(less)
I really, really love the original Dark Jewels trilogy, though I freely admit those first books are pretty strange and have their problems. I also enj...moreI really, really love the original Dark Jewels trilogy, though I freely admit those first books are pretty strange and have their problems. I also enjoyed The Invisible Ring, but after that... I don't know what happened, but the books just went downhill. The last Dark Jewels story I enjoyed enough to bother re-reading it (let alone buying it!) was "The Prince of Ebon Rih" out of Dreams Made Flesh. Like Dreams, Twilight's Dawn is a collection of short stories set after Jaenelle's purge. Lacking a strong, urgent plot or complex characterization, these stories feel like soap operas over-filled with drama (leaning towards the high school kind). Not a great addition to the series.(less)
Wells' greatest strength is the realism she brings to her writing. The worlds she creates are so vivid, so detailed, so lifelike, they're impossible not to believe. Her characters are no different. The plot of Cloud is, at it's heart, a simple one, but all the better, because it doesn't detract from the beauty of her world and the strength of the people who populate it. I cannot wait to read the next in the series.(less)
Yet another beautiful book by Martha Wells that delivers complex characters and a vividly detailed world. Not quite as knock-you-socks-off, take-your-...moreYet another beautiful book by Martha Wells that delivers complex characters and a vividly detailed world. Not quite as knock-you-socks-off, take-your-breath-away good as Wheel of the Infinite or The Cloud Roads, but still pretty damn good.(less)
Martha Wells has described Nicholas Valiarde, the book's hero (using the term "hero" with caution), as the man who might have become the Moriarty of I...moreMartha Wells has described Nicholas Valiarde, the book's hero (using the term "hero" with caution), as the man who might have become the Moriarty of Ile-Rien. Instead, he was rescued from a life of poverty and crime by the eccentric Eduourd Viller, who adopted him as his son. But Edourd Viller, though not a sorcerer himself, was researching a method for anyone, regardless of sorcerous ability, to use magic. This strayed dangerously close to necromancy--a capital crime for which Viller was framed and then executed.
Since his foster-father's execution, Nicholas has dedicated his life to getting revenge on the man who framed Viller, the Count Montesq. To do this, he has created the persona of Donatien, the greatest thief in Ile-Rien and the bane of the brilliant Inspector Ronsarde. Yet just as Nicholas is about to set his complex plan, years in the making, into motion, something goes terribly wrong. The mysterious Dr. Octave, who somehow knows Donatien's true identity, begins to interfere, and Nicholas becomes caught up in a strange and dangerous plot that may involve an ancient necromancer--and possibly the fate of the entire kingdom.
Martha Wells is my all-time favorite author, and The Death of the Necromancer may be her best book. Her worldbuilding is always superb--think gaslight France with magic--and her characters never fail to satisfy. Nicholas is an especially complex and conflicted character; as his two lives come into contact for the first time, he is faced with the question: who is he, really? The scholar and art importer Nicholas Valiarde, who loves the actress Madeline? Or the shadowy and dangerous Donatien, who loves only revenge? His love-hate relationship with Inspector Ronsarde (a little like Ile-Rien's Sherlock Holmes) is handled superbly.
But you shouldn't think this is some kind of fantasy retelling of Sherlock Holmes. Although there are hints of Moriarty in Nicholas and of Sherlock and Watson in Ronsarde and his companion Halle, these are unique and original characters caught up in a unique and original plot. I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough, and I was extremely excited to see it re-released in ebook format. It's been out of print for so long that hard copies can be hard to come by, but at $2.99 there's really no reason for you to not buy this book right now. Some references are made to The Element of Fire, which precedes it, but Necromancer really is a standalone book and reading Fire is unnecessary. If you like Necromancer, your next step is to grab The Wizard Hunters, which picks up several decades later and starts off a trilogy.(less)
I had a love/hate relationship with the first two Nobel Dead novels; book three tips the balance a little toward hate. In Dhampir and Thief of Lives,...moreI had a love/hate relationship with the first two Nobel Dead novels; book three tips the balance a little toward hate. In Dhampir and Thief of Lives, the rough beginnings gave way to fast-paced climaxes that kept me turning pages, and the interaction between Magiere and Leesil made up for the sometimes weak characterization and the often weak worldbuilding. Unfortunately, Sister of the Dead just isn't as good as its predecessors.
Magiere's and Leesil's relationship felt flat, and while Wynn has great potential as a character she isn't able to improve the party dynamics enough to make up for that. Sister of the Dead spends far more time developing the villians--Chane and Welstiel--then the heroes. Chane is an interesting character, and I really look forward to see how his star-crossed love for Wynn will play out. His partnership with Welstiel grows, and we see Welstiel become genuinely fond of Chane. Welstiel, however, is not nearly as interesting a character as his travelling companion. To me, Welstiel is more annoying than menacing. He is somewhat flat and improbably unemotional, and spending time in his head is annoying; I had to resist the urge to skim over every section from his point of view.
I felt that the plot and pacing of Sister of the Dead wasn't up to snuff; it took me weeks to force myself to finish it, while I read the first two in a matter of days. In general, this book feels like it is just a means to an end--a way to give the reader a lot of information that will be needed later on, but not really important in itself. The reader does learn a great deal about Magiere's past, plus some tantalizing hints about Welstiel's mysterious snake-like patron, but I would have preferred to receive that information from within a strong plot.
Overall, I didn't really like this book, and if it had been the first in the series I might not have continued. I hope that the next one is better.(less)
This is a book I've been looking forward to reading pretty much since the moment I heard of it. It has a lot of potential, but gets too bogged down in...moreThis is a book I've been looking forward to reading pretty much since the moment I heard of it. It has a lot of potential, but gets too bogged down in genre cliches to live up to that potential. While I enjoyed reading it and will definitely be picking up the next in the series, it was disappointed to see all the opportunities for improvement the authors missed.
Right from the beginning, you feel like you're in a D&D campaign rather than reading a novel. I mean, "studded-leather armor"? A falchion? Really? That's straight from the Player's Handbook. When you read about Magiere entering the village in the beginning of the book, you can practically hear the DM's narrating voice. The settings are poorly developed: Stravina is an improbable, wanna-be Transylvania, and the town of Miiska is alternately described as a fishing village with only one blacksmith and sea port with enough population that no one bats an eye when a few disappear and an inn posh enough for any capital city.
Despite these and many other problems, the book's issues are mainly superficial, and the combination of plot and characters are compelling enough to make you stay up late to finish it. The two main characters have a pleasing chemistry that will no doubt develop further and better in later books, and the two main villains are surprisingly complex. Don't let the hackneyed beginning stop you; keep going until you reach the good stuff.(less)
And I thought the first one was mediocre. Arrow's Flight goes past mediocre into the realm of boring and downright bad. Probably 80% of the novel is s...moreAnd I thought the first one was mediocre. Arrow's Flight goes past mediocre into the realm of boring and downright bad. Probably 80% of the novel is spent with the two main characters--who weren't very exciting in the first place--trapped in a remote cabin by a snowstorm, doing nothing but shoveling snow and angsting. The heroine--if you can call her that--is an inconsistent and uninteresting character who experiences what is essentially a magical nervous breakdown and becomes borderline suicidal over a small and deeply unimportant rumor. What her Gift is, what it can do, how it can be (and is) used by her, and the ethical dilemmas attached to it are handled horribly. The hero--if you can call him that--has almost no personality. The only piece of plot in the entire book is a heavy-handed prophecy handed out by a crazy woman, which apparently is just setting the scene for the next book, since nothing happens with it in this one. All in all, this book has lousy characters, a lousy plot, and lousy worldbuilding. You could probably go straight from Arrows of the Queen to Arrow's Fall without reading this one at all. In fact, I recommend you do so--assuming the last book in the trilogy isn't just as bad.(less)