Released earlier this year in the United Kingdom and then released in the United States in September, The Grim Company is Luke Scull's debut novel.
Welcome to the Trine, a world where wizards have murdered the gods. Nigh-immortal, these Magelords have taken control of a divided world, many of them ruling large cities. After hundreds of years of a despotic rule, the people of the Grey City of Dorminia are ready to rise up against the Magelord Salazar. Enter two orphans, a pair of Highlander mercenaries, and a couple of double agents in the forms of a mage and a manservant. Despite the initial tensions between the members of the group, this ragtag rebellion somehow manages to find its feet. Through setbacks and various troubles that arise, they push on until they confront the tyrannic Magelord for the fate of the Grey City.
Some interesting aspects Upon starting my read of the novel, I was pleasantly surprised by the various twists Scull made on my expectations. Given that it was a united group of wizards who threw down the gods, I was expecting there to be some uniformity in their powers and tendencies. Not so. Each Magelord has their own personality, their own strengths and weaknesses in their power. These differences and developments also extended to the cultures each Magelord ruled over. In particular, the culture and powers of Highlanders of the North caught my interest—and the Shaman Magelord of the North was definitely the most /human/ of the immortal wizards.
Most of the major players also surprised me. They weren't your typical "perfect" adventurers that so many authors try to use in their first attempts. No, each character had their own trials and tribulations, and each had a couple of different layers as to what made them tick. All in all, very decent work for a debut novel.
Hype falls short Heralded as the first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, the novel has been highly praised by many publications such as Tor.com, the Fantasy Book Critic, and the Daily Mail. The premise is rather intriguing and so, given all the hype, I was very excited to have this book arrive on my doorstep.
Upon reading, one of the first characters we are introduced to is Davarus Cole, an orphaned youth trying to fill his father's "hero" shoes. And who is, in all honesty, a cocky douchebag. And his mindsets don't change until the very last chapters of the book. He's rude, uncouth, and so caught up in his narcissistic hero worship of his image of himself that I could not bring myself to like him. Which is unfortunate, as nearly a quarter of the book is spent with the character. It took me a solid two weeks to read this book, as I had to stop after almost every chapter with him to let my brain reset.
The geography and layout of the world itself was another element I found lacking. Taking a look at the map, it's almost the typical LotR-knockoff, very similar in layout to that of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series: you have the cities on the coast and in the center of the map, an expanse to the North that's mysterious and dangerous but inhabited, little-known cities to the east across a desert, tribal mercenary lands in the tropics to the south, and a mystical, mythical land to the west across a sea.
Granted, the world makes logical sense. However, given that the map was the very first piece of the story you get, it turned me off of the novel just a bit from the get-go.
In addition, upon reflection after finishing the novel, the title struck me as rather misleading. Because of the title and the synopsis, I expected something a little more Lord of the Rings in setup, and a little more… grim, really, in nature. However, the characters listed in the synopsis were only ever completely together in one scene. Period. And the "grim," "dark," and "gritty"? Yeah, not so much. The atmosphere was more of a halfway point between being a dark fantasy and something like your typical Tolkien atmosphere.
The little things add up.
Redeeming qualities All of that being said, however, there are some bits of the book that truly shine. I loved the two Highlander mercenaries, Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf. Brodar is one of the main focus characters, and Scull does a fantastic job expressing just how weary Kayne is after all he's been through—and how he still finds the will to press on. It should stand to reason, then, that my favorite storyline in the novel was the one centering around the travels of Brodar Kayne, Jerek, Sasha, and Isaac. Their story didn't just have engaging characters—it had layers.
The antagonists of the book got their fair share of screentime during the novel, too. And these I loved almost as much as the moments with Brodar Kayne. It's very much a grey area of antagonist, no Epic Good versus Epic Evil here. In fact, the antagonists seemed more realistic than some of the protagonists at times.
Also of note are Scull's action and battle sequences. While his intrigue storylines and… well, almost every other kind of scene in the book… are a touch lackluster, his knack for creating balanced and flowing fight scenes is phenomenal for a debut author. It was the reason why I couldn't put the final fifth of the book down.
A lot of potential The thing to keep in mind with The Grim Company is this: it is a debut novel. And as such, it's not going to be the most ZOMGAMAZEBALLS thing out there. However, it is a very solid first step for Scull, and there are many areas in which he has a lot of potential to realize. The first is in his pacing. The first three-quarters of the book dragged—a lot. But then Scull hit his stride in the lead-up to the climactic battle sequences, and the pace flowed and kept my interest all the way through to the end. The second is in his characters—a few of them have been developed wonderfully, but the rest definitely have some layers that can be added and explored.
The third is in his cliffhangers. Because more happened to pique my interest in the last two chapters of the novel than in most of the rest of the novel's entirety. Character developments, revelations, slight resolutions, all of these things are used by Scull to leave you wanting more.
Why should you read this book? This is not going to be a book I recommend to people who are looking for the best of the genre. Because it's not, yet. However, if Scull ups his game in Book 2 (The Sword of the North, out June 2014), this novel will be worth the read, so I am yet hopeful. With an intriguing setup, engaging characters, and an ending that will leave your curiosity piqued, Luke Scull's The Grim Company is a fairly solid debut novel that has a lot of potential with which to grow and go places....more
In this seventh installment of Seanan McGuire's bestselling urban fantasy series, October "Toby" Daye is finally getting her life in gear. She's doing her job, her squire's training is progressing, and she has a boyfriend in the local King of Cats, Tybalt. However, it's not all green fields and rosebuds in Toby's life. When the local changeling population begins to drop dead of goblin fruit overdose, Toby investigates and takes the problem to the Queen of the Mists in hopes of resolving the issue. Naturally, this backfires and Toby suddenly finds herself in exile. Backed into a corner, with problems from the past resurfacing, information comes to light that the Queen may not actually have a legitimate claim on the throne, and Toby must do the only logical thing:
Overthrow the Queen.
A vibrant, living world One of the things that sells a novel for me is a well-realized world. This is especially true when considering urban fantasy settings. Because there, not only do authors have to create their own world, they have to make it mesh with a world that is already familiar: our own. There are very few who do this as well as McGuire—not only has she created a supernatural world that has history, has weight, but she's also fit it into our reality so well that it's nigh-seamless. The Toby Daye series is one of the best examples of solid urban fantasy worldbuilding I've ever encountered.
And beyond that, McGuire's propensity to uncover new corners of the world never ceases to please. In every book, there's something new, details that come to life as they're brought into the reader's focus. The same holds true with Chimes at Midnight, though where in previous books it was predominantly locations that got the new spotlight, here it is more of Faerie's history and culture than anything else. Which is wonderful. (Side note: the mass market paperback has a kick-ass short story featuring a pair of the Firstborn, and it's totally awesome.)
A roller coaster of a plot I should elaborate. One of the things I have come to love and adore about McGuire's work is her knack for keeping the plot twists fresh with each book. With Chimes at Midnight, McGuire outdoes herself. Whereas all of her plots can fit the roller coaster analogy—starting off with a bang, sharp twists and turns, etc—this book is more akin to riding a roller coaster while blindfolded. The twists in the story? You know they're coming, but you don't know when or how until you're right there in the moment. McGuire pulls stuff out of the hat I didn't even know was in the hat to begin with.
And that's just real damn nifty.
The calm before the storm After finishing my read, Pink's "Glitter in the Air" comes to mind whenever I reflect upon this book. And I think it's for the following lyrics:
And it's only half past the point of no return The tip of the iceberg The sun before the burn […] It's only half past the point of oblivion The hourglass on the table The walk before the run The breath before the kiss And the fear before the flames
It seems to me that we have now reached a vital point in Toby's story. The closing of Chimes at Midnight leaves things in a more easygoing, lighter place than some of the endings of previous installments. Things are starting to look up for Toby.
So, like in any good series, this means it's about time for Toby's world to come crashing down around her. Book eight, The Winter Long, is gonna hurt. But I wouldn't trade my seat on this ride for the world.
Why should you read this book? If you're a newcomer to the series and you read this book, you'll be able to follow along pretty easily. Not everything will make complete sense, but it's doable. You should, of course, begin with book one (Rosemary and Rue). If you've read the first book or three but are on the fence about continuing? Don't. Stop. Because this book is an epitome of everything that makes the Toby Daye novels one of the best urban fantasy series on the market, right up there with Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: tight and believable characters, a gorgeously realized universe, and so many unexpected twists it's almost like they're going out of style. Chimes at Midnight is definitely my most favorite Toby book to date.
Garrett received an ARC of Chimes at Midnight courtesy of DAW Books.
Carpet noodle: Just one of the many intriguing things about Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, the first installment in his new Miriam Black series.
Conceited? Why, yes, yes it is The main premise of this novel is captivating as all Hell. Capital H. The main character, Miriam Black, has visions of people's deaths in vivid, excruciatingly gruesome detail, down to the date, time, and cause of dying. And Miriam is always right. She should know. She's tried to screw with fate—and failed miserably.
This idea that things are set in stone and immutable puts an entirely different focus on some of the novel. In a usual novel, the end is what we look forward to, the surprise, the climax of emotion one has while reading. But what happens when the ending is given away in critical detail within the first forty pages of the novel?
The answer: lots of interesting things.
I started focusing on the actual journey of the character more than I normally would (which is saying something, for me), because knowing the outcome makes a difference. I'm usually trying to puzzle out where the plot is going based on the action up to the point where I've read at any given moment, but with Blackbirds, I was focusing more on the detailed steps in between—what path will character A take to point XYZ? It really just puts a different lens on things—something not better or worse, really, but just… different. And it works for Wendig, and works well.
Watch your step in the dark Blackbirds is easily one of the darkest urban fantasies I've ever had the pleasure of reading. In fact, it's right up there with Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces novels in scope, but on a different spectrum. However, where the Twenty Palaces novels aren't completely pitch-dark, Blackbirds has an all-around dark atmosphere—an atmosphere filled with guilt, regrets, depression, and a distinct lack of morals. Oh, and profanity. Oh, the profanity. The profanity abounds in this novel; this is not for persons of weak mental constitutions. In fact, some of the profanity gets so creative that I would call it gorgeous. The gorgeous, gorgeous profanity.
The majority of the characters are also a reflection of the atmosphere. Miriam herself is one of the more complex protagonists I've seen in the first book of a new series. She is a completely human character with numerous flaws, guilts, fears, emotions she tries to squash, consequences for her actions, and the ability to make me frustrated with her every other chapter for one thing or another. It's like, "Really, girl? WHY—I—dammit, already!" But beyond all of that, she is a completely unique protagonist within the urban fantasy genre—there is not a single other protagonist I've read about or heard of that goes to such levels of obscenity and, well, barbarism. This is such a Big Thing™ that I suspect it will either make or break the novel for a reader.
However, if Miriam's character is dark on par with dark chocolate—say, 60-70% cocoa—the primary antagonists are running 92-96% cocoa. These people are just downright nasty, cruel, and all sorts of screwed-up. "Psycho" is a term that fits them like a glove. They aren't without their entertaining moments (albeit few of those), but I definitely found myself a little overwhelmed with their oozing nastiness; Wendig pushed their stereotypes just a bit too hard, too often.
Looks like a regular novel, feels like a regular novel… …but open up its guts, and you get something you don't see everyday. The internal structure of this novel is quite different from your straightforward story-goes-from-point-A-to-point-Z setup. Interspersed every few chapters of story are interview chapters of an interview between Miriam and a college student. These interview sequences are used by Wendig to fill in a lot of Miriam's history as well as the influences in her life. It was an interesting way to approach things, and one that resonated well with me, as the interview chapters didn't come too close together or too far apart, but rather broke the narrative up just enough to continually pique my curiosity and hold it hostage.
Another unusual aspect of Blackbirds is its seeming lack of a magic or supernatural system. However, that isn't the case; Wendig is subtlety introducing us to the underpinnings of the system. In addition to Miriam's ability to see people's deaths, psychics are confirmed to be legit—some of them, anyway. These various little things help prep Wendig's audience for more to come in the sequel, due out in September—more, as he promised in a review at the end of Blackbirds.
Why should you read this book? Miriam Black's story is a captivating story, one I found difficult to put down. Not only that, but it is largely original in scope, from premise to internal structure. If you're looking for an author who isn't afraid to go balls-to-the-wall with their story, look no further. With near-surgical, intoxicant-fueled precision, Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds cuts directly to where it hurts the very most and yet keeps you coming back for more, a stellar example of what truly dark and personal urban fantasy should be....more
The sixth installment of New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye series, Ashes of Honor, returns us to San Francisco and the world of changeling October Daye.
It's been a year since the events of the previous novel, One Salt Sea, and Toby still hasn't fully recovered from the personal losses she sustained during that time. She's been trying to keep her focus on her responsibilities as Sylvester's knight and putting in hours training her squire, Quentin—not to mention trying to pay the bills—but it's not been working so well. Things have gotten to the point where even her most supportive allies are beginning to worry at her increasingly reckless behaviors.
And to top matters off, she's just been hired to find yet another missing child—except, this time, it's the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne. Her name is Chelsea, and, like her father, she is a teleporter, able to open portals between the various realms of Faerie and the mortal plane. She is also the kind of changeling from legend—one with all of the power and none of the control—and is opening doors that have been sealed for centuries, releasing dangers never meant to be seen again. Oh, and there's the fact that she could destroy the entirety of Faerie if she isn't found.
Toby must find Chelsea before the world ends, facing unknown deadlines and unknown worlds in her attempts to avert complete disaster. And to further complicate matters, things are stirring in the local Court of Cats, and Tybalt needs Toby's help with the greatest challenge he's ever faced.
The worlds next door One of my favorite things about this series is the sheer diversity of the various areas of Faerie that McGuire introduces us to. In each novel, she branches out a bit further, filling in a section here, revealing a bit there. It's almost like seeing a tree from a distance and then coming closer to focus on an area of leaves and see all of the details. It's very smooth, the way McGuire incorporates the worldbuilding of the otherworldly realms of Faerie into our own, familiar world. Some have said that urban fantasy isn't as "good" as epic fantasy because the world is already built. I would direct those of that mindset to McGuire's work, because not only does she create entirely new worlds, she melds them seamlessly with our world and all of its own history and character.
A more straightforward plot than usual One of the things I really started noticing about halfway through the novel is that the overall plot of Ashes of Honor isn't all that complex compared to the last couple of installments in the series. Sure, it has its surprises—this is Seanan McGuire we're talking about, after all—but all in all, it's one of the most straightforward of the series. There's no discovery of multiple plots going on at once, decisions having to be made to save one thing or the other, etc., etc., et al. Rather, the initial problem is just escalated—repeatedly. The more Toby finds out about her case, the more she realizes just how much danger they (and the world) are actually in.
However, this straightforward plot isn't a bad thing. Because of it, Ashes of Honor turns into much more of an internal journey for Toby. Many of the events that occur over the course of the novel force Toby to step back and reevaluate what she knows, how she behaves, and how she feels. As she hunts after Chelsea, so does Toby begin to establish and realize who she is as opposed to who she was. It's a refreshing change of pace and it feels like the logical next step in Toby's story, and I believe McGuire executed it exceptionally well.
Beautifully crafted characters and relationships While Toby's internal, personal journey is more than enough on its own to make Ashes of Honor stand apart from the rest of the series, the level of character work McGuire throws into the mix makes the book shine. As previously stated, Toby undergoes a deeply personal journey, and has to rediscover who she is. This includes her relationships with everyone around her: May, Etienne, the Ludaieg, and especially Tybalt, to name a few. We garner more insights to the workings of Faerie and the various courts and territories (such as Tamed Lightning) because of these evolving relationships. Some new faces are met, and the amount of life and utter believability McGuire manages to give them in a short time is nothing less than breathtaking. Etienne is quite thoroughly fleshed out as a character, and we get to see how Quentin has matured over the last year. Oh, and Tybalt does some decidedly badass things. Again.
And speaking of Tybalt, Ashes of Honor also gives large glimpses into the workings of the Court of Cats, as well into a good chunk of Tybalt's past. For Toby isn't the only one going through an internal journey. For both their sakes, Tybalt has to come clean about some rather important things, putting it all out there—something that doesn't come easily to him. It's a wondrous thing, to see how these two characters who were once on opposite sides have grown to depend upon each other.
Why should you read this book? Seanan McGuire has done it again. I always think that the most recent Toby novel will be my favorite, and every time, McGuire ups the ante and puts out a better one. Ashes of Honor finds the balance between being introspective and being action-oriented, and holds that balance exceptionally well. The worldbuilding is natural, flowing, and organic. The characters are real, dynamic, and their relationships are completely believable. With Ashes of Honor, McGuire has crafted a deeply personal and intense story that will keep you on the edge, hoping to be pushed over. In my opinion, it is, hands down, the best Toby to date....more
Three and a half millennia before Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and the rise of Palpatine's Galactic Empire, the Republic finds itself on the brink of war with another threat: the Sith Empire. However, when a third party comes forward with a proposition neither side can refuse, things begin to heat up. Centering around a Jedi Padawan, a Sith apprentice, a disgraced commando, and an undercover operative ultimately looking out for number one, Fatal Alliance sets the stage for Star Wars: The Old Republic, the upcoming MMORPG from BioWare and LucasArts.
A fresh new plot Before I actually began reading this novel, I was interested in discovering how it would be different from other novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In the past, novels centering on the search for an unknown object usually contained the same motifs: multiple parties are interested, multiple parties fight over the object, and one party walks away with the prize. Obviously, this is highly generalized, but it serves to exemplify my slight apprehension at the initial premise of Fatal Alliance.
However, I was very pleasantly surprised in the direction this novel went. Sure, it began with the multiple parties coming together because of an interesting unknown object, but it deviates from there. In Fatal Alliance, the object of interest becomes the primary threat—to all involved parties, not just a single one. And not only was there that twist within the novel, but the threat becomes so great that it causes Jedi and Sith, Republic and Empire, to join forces in order to have even a hope of a chance at survival.
Seemed over-simplified at times The one thing which detracted from this novel, for me, was the author's style of writing. Maybe it is due to the fact that I haven't read a Star Wars novel in a while, or that I'm used to Timothy Zahn's writing with the Star Wars universe. Whatever the reason, Williams' writing style seemed... simplistic to me. It's not that it was bad writing, because it wasn't. The best way to describe my impression of his style is as a less-than-adult reading level style of writing. As I said, his writing isn't bad; it's just simple.
Character depth is a go—dive, dive, dive The thing that made Fatal Alliance a truly good read, though, was Williams' characters. For characters who are essentially one-shot characters for these novels, Williams brought an astonishing level of depth and complexity to them. Of special note is the inner turmoil the Jedi Padawan and the Sith apprentice go through while interacting with their respective sworn enemies. It's not often that fans of the Star Wars universe get to see old-school Jedi and Sith working together, and I don't think fans will be disappointed with how things develop in regard to the alliance.
In addition to the Jedi and Sith extremes, I enjoyed the character development of the undercover operative, despite my dislike of the character (I'm a Force-user fanboy at heart). As the alliance forms, it is very interesting to see how the operative's focus and goals shift from one political spectrum to another—and from there to sheer survival. Throw in a possible romantic relationship, and this character development shakes, stirs, and serves, and does it very well.
Why should you read this book? Despite my misgivings about the author's writing style, Fatal Alliance is really a very well-rounded novel. The characters are enjoyable and fresh, and the development they undergo is a sight to behold. However, you should read this novel for the story. This is a new and original plot line for the Star Wars universe and it does a marvelous job in setting the mood for the upcoming video game from BioWare and LucasArts....more