A while back, I reviewed An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom: Lovers and Beloveds. And I really enjoyed it. It was a glorious mix of epic polit...moreA while back, I reviewed An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom: Lovers and Beloveds. And I really enjoyed it. It was a glorious mix of epic politics and an erotic coming of age that just made me happy all the way through. Did I have some quibbles? Sure, but they were minor, and the whole thing was just a lovely book.
Recently, MeiLin Miranda sent me book two in the series, Son in Sorrow, and I'm happy to say, I love this one. Lovers and Beloveds was a good, solid, first book, and Son in Sorrow is even better.
These books cover so much and so deeply they are hard to categorize, but I'll try. These are the stories of what it takes to go from being a boy to a man to a king.There are scads of boy-turns-into-man stories out there, and usually they just scratch the surface, as if making a few hard decisions and killing monsters is enough to do the job. It's not. And Miranda does a brilliant job showing this.
These stories deal with not just the idea of making hard decisions, but also the soft ones, the ones that look easy on the surface but ripple outward over the years. In Lovers and Beloved the joys, erotic and emotional, of love were studied. In Son in Sorrow, the pain of love lost, jealousy, and the desire for revenge are on the menu.
This is love bound by the larger world filled with political intrigue. It's not enough that Temmin, now twenty, has to sort himself out, but he must do it on a grand stage as the Heir of a mighty kingdom, in the eyes of everyone and with scores of men out to plot his downfall.
Like Lovers, Son in Sorrow is filled with first rate world building. This reads as a history of a real world, just one you've never met before. Like Lovers, the story in story technique is used to great effect as a way to help young Temmin understand what he needs to know to help grasp at least some of what is going on around him.
Unlike Lovers, Son in Sorrow spends more time with the secondary characters. Plot threads only hinted at in Lovers get picked up, taken along for a quick tantalizing visit, and then left to germinate. Characters who flitted in and out of Lovers get their own screen time, and I'm eagerly awaiting to see where they go. A few new ones pop up as well, and seeing how well Miranda has done with the first two books, I'm happily anticipating and debating where they'll come in later in the story and how.
This is an author who does her homework. The Greater History is a complex and EPIC tale, and so far, more than 600 pages into the series we're still meeting new characters, learning new history, and setting up what is going to be an absolute corker of a tale. Yet, with the fact that this is all set up for a greater story, the bits we've already gotten do not feel unimportant or rushed. There's no sense of the author biding her time, just waiting for all the characters to get into place. This planning for the grand show to come is just as important, and interesting, as what I hope will be heading our way in the future.
So, that said, out you get for a copy of Lovers and Beloveds and Son in Sorrow. Read them! Then bookmark Miss Miranda's page so that you can get in on the next one as soon as it's out. It will be well worth your time. (less)
Prophecy of Kings: The Trilogy got added to the To Be Read list after seeing a 'Please Review My Book' thread on Amazon. I read the first chapter, it...moreProphecy of Kings: The Trilogy got added to the To Be Read list after seeing a 'Please Review My Book' thread on Amazon. I read the first chapter, it looked good, and onto the list it went.
Months later (because I'm not setting any speed records for book reviewing) I picked it back up again.
I didn't finish the trilogy.
I read all the way through the first book, and it's okay. There's nothing terribly wrong with the story or the plot. But it's not great, and the characters didn't do much for me. It's a very basic, generic high fantasy: A Young Prince With A Destiny teams up with the Recovering Alcoholic Warrior. They both get roped into a dubious quest by The Dark Mage. Eventually they're befriended by The Good Elf. There's an overarching plot involving the return of Great Evil and a lesser quest plot to see about Finding The Good That Can Save Us From Great Evil. Mostly though, book one sets the scene and introduces characters.
If that plot and those character types are your idea of a good time, grab a copy of this, you'll like it.
As for me, I'm a fan of character driven plot. And I like my characters smart. They can start off innocent and trusting (stupid), but they've got to have a pretty quick learning curve. It absolutely kills me to watch characters make the same mistakes over and over and over.
Which is part of why I drug through this book, reading a page or two at a time and feeling no compelling need to keep going. Kaplyn, The Prince With A Destiny, doesn't ever seem to learn anything. Now, by the end of Legacy of the Eldrich (Book One) that slow learning curve has bitten him, badly. So my hope is that in Dragon Riders (Book Two) he's finally learning. But I wasn't hopeful enough to do more than skim the first few chapters of Dragon Riders.
The world building is okay. Not great, not terrible. It's a pretty standard medieval-esque world filled with standard fantasy critters. The magical system was slightly off the beaten track, with the Dark Mage (technically a sorcerer) gaining his power by working with demons. The Elves (Alvalah) are all albinos, but besides that, they're the standard forest-dwelling, nature-loving, vegetarians. There's a tiny bit of politics, but it's forgotten about nineteen sentences after it gets brought up.
The formatting and proofing is okay. It's not great. In my copy random squares pop up in the text. Why? I have no idea. It doesn't look like some sort of bad translation of a non-standard character. They're between words, not in the middle of them. It's not every page, or even every chapter, but it is often enough to make an impression. The proofing needed help, too. Mostly punctuation issues, the sort of thing that if you're into the story you don't notice, but if you're already dragging through it, sticks out big time.
The writing is (Are you sensing a theme, yet?) okay. It's competent. I'll forgive a lot for gloriously sparkling snark infested dialog, and that just wasn't there. And I'm always happy to see beautiful word choice, and that wasn't there, either. Once again, it's not bad, there's nothing terribly wrong with any of this. But there was nothing about the writing that made me want to keep turning pages, either.
On a story edit side, I'd say the Quest For Good to Save Us plot line could have used some more urgency. We're told the Great Evil will be showing up in sixty years. Which isn't precisely the sort of timeline that makes readers want to go ripping through the pages to see if the good guys save the day in the nick of time. We get some more urgency toward the end, which helps.
There's a nice almost twist at the end. Alert readers probably know it's coming from about the 80% mark, but the characters are genuinely surprised. Actually the end is the best bit of the book, but slogging through 200 pages to get to the decent twenty pages didn't thrill me. And I'll admit that I'm still a bit fuzzy on what precisely happened in the end. Not that I can't tell you what happened in a blow by blow sort of way. I'm fuzzy on what precisely one of the characters thought he was doing at the end and why.
So, all in all, it's okay. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. I know fantasy readers come in many, many flavors, and this is a story that will appeal to some of them. Just not me.(less)
**spoiler alert** I really, really wanted to like Blood of Requiem. Really. I respect Daniel Arenson and sort of know him through different online ind...more**spoiler alert** I really, really wanted to like Blood of Requiem. Really. I respect Daniel Arenson and sort of know him through different online indie writer communities. His books have gorgeous cover art, and from his comments, I know he's a consummate professional.
Burt, beyond that, Blood of Requiem has weredragons. Seriously, how cool is that?
So, I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, it really wasn't my cup of tea. I prefer character driven novels with a certain realism to them. That wasn't Blood of Requiem.
There's a lot of action in Blood of Requiem. I got about sixty percent of the way through it, and I'm going to guess seventy percent of that is a battle, a chase, or the lead bad guy remembering raping/torturing or actually raping/torturing someone. Character and plot development are rather thin on the ground.
The lead bad guy, Dies Irae, is EVIL! And in case we didn't get the idea when we found out he's personally responsible for the almost eradication of an entire species, he's also a serial raping sadist. And we get to spend some time in his head, enjoying the rape and torture of innocents. They are distinctly uncomfortable scenes. Very well written scenes, evocative of pure evil, but not exactly comfortable reading. Not to say that they are especially graphic, this isn't The Human Centipede, but it's still a lot more rape than I want to deal with in my fiction.
I like my bad guys at least vaguely realistic. In the case of evil overlords, that means the evil overlord has to provide some level of value to his people, or else he doesn't get to be the evil overlord for very long. Absolute psychopaths can only rule by fear alone for so long (history seems to indicate this is about three years) before someone kills them. Dies Irae has been ruling for ten years, and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon.
Put more plainly: if you want to maintain control, you've got to keep the nobles happy. Keeping them so afraid that they won't look you in the eye for fear of being eaten alive by baby griffins (No, that's not hyperbole; that scene is in the book.) is unlikely to produce happy nobles. What it's likely to produce is poison in your cup, a troop of 'loyal' soldiers who put blades in your back, and if that doesn't work, outright insurrection.
Irae came to power through a civil war, which begs another question: how bad were things before? The 'good guys' were the previous rulers. They, for obvious reasons, have a very romantic view of their past life, but still, part of running a successful coup involves making sure that your nobles are better off now than they were before. With constant rape, indiscriminate torture, and years of bloody war, unless things were really bad before, I'm not seeing the nobles going along with this.
I also like it when the characters don't heal up like Wile E. Coyote. With all the action in this book, obviously people get hurt: often and badly. But, within a matter of minutes (occasionally hours) they're back up and fighting. And while I can understand that once or twice in extreme circumstances, this happens over and over. Maybe, at some point in the book after I stopped reading, we learn that there's a horde of clerics casting healing spells, but as of the point where I stopped, I had to assume that everyone involved had Wolverine-level healing powers, but no one mentions it as out of the ordinary. The main characters are all Vir Requis (weredragons) so maybe the super healing speed is part of that, but since all but these six Vir Requis were slaughtered in combat, apparently super speedy healing is not a race trait.
So, Blood of Requiem didn't do it for me. It's well written in a visual sense. If you want to know what everything looks like, this is a great book. If you love action-packed books with absolutely despicable villains, this one might be for you. But by half-way in, I had to give up. I didn't want to spend anymore time in Dies Irae's head. It's too dark, too painful a place. I didn't want to go on another chase. I'd already been on more than I could count. I didn't want to watch another rape. One would have been more than enough, and I was way past one by sixty percent in. I skimmed ahead to the end, reading bits and pieces, and saw that the book wasn't going to change. It wasn't suddenly going to become character driven or realistic. So, I put it aside. (less)
Let me start this review by getting something out in the open. I know David Twiddy. We're Facebook friends. He graduated college the year before I got...moreLet me start this review by getting something out in the open. I know David Twiddy. We're Facebook friends. He graduated college the year before I got there, and we have several friends in common. So, although I've never met David in person, I like him. I have a feeling that, had I gotten to college a year sooner or had he stuck around a year later, we probably would have been friends. I should probably also add that he did not ask me to review his book.
So, I may not be perfectly objective in this review. But I will be honest.
And honestly, I really enjoyed The Society of Pirates.
The Society of Pirates is somewhere between a swashbuckling yarn and historical fiction. It pays more attention to the realities of life among the pirates and the attitudes of the times than the traditional swashbuckling tale, and is a little lighter on the details of geography and culture than a traditional historical fiction. The plot is a somewhat basic pirate story: head off in search of buried treasure and deal with the black-hatted (or in this case lipped) nemesis before he deals with you. The details: a hull full of Jesuits, a safe haven with a natural philosopher and his trained monkeys, and Spanish-nobleman pirate hunters, are all new.
In relation to the plot the story is a bit loose. In a tight story each aspect of the story moves the plot forward. Bits of Society fill in character, give us depth of world, but don't necessarily move the storyline forward. Though I don't think a sequel is in the offing, it does read quite a bit like the first story in a series. Basically, there's a lot of good world and character building here, probably a bit more than was strictly necessary for the first book, but it's a good foundation for series of tales.
I'm often frustrated by the division between YA and adult fiction. Usually the dividing line is the age of the main character; an adult main character means a book isn't YA fiction. All of the characters in The Society of Pirates are adults. Yet with a snappy storyline, fun characters, minimal adult language, minimal explicit violence, and no sex, I'd be more than comfortable giving this book to any ten-year-old who likes pirates and wants to stretch his reading skills.
The history hit a sweet spot for me. Dave explored on the rift between the Catholics and Protestants, Spain and England, and the freebooting multi-culture of the pirate world. One of the things modern Americans often forget is that once upon a time 'white' was meaningless in regards to race and Christian meant very little in terms of religious harmony. I'm always happy to see a realistic treatment of race and religion, especially in stories where it's not vitally important to the plot. It shows the author was paying attention and doing a good job of setting the scene.
Dialog. I've said it before. I'm sure I'll say it again. I'm a sucker for a great dialog. And not only is the dialog tight and witty, it's in dialect and well done. Well done dialect is one of the most difficult skills for a writer to develop. Most of us have a hard enough time just getting distinct voices for our characters, let alone trying to capture the phonetic spellings of the different speech patterns of our characters. Dave didn't just write dialect. He didn't just do it well. He did four distinct dialects. Pirate English, Scots, Spanish, and the traditional American English of the narrator. My mind boggles at the work involved in pulling that off. I know I couldn't do it, and I've seen very, very few other writers do it well.
So, all in all, I'm very pleased with The Society of Pirates. Go give it a read, or get a copy for the pirate-loving-ten-year-old in your life, and spend a little while in the company of pirates. (less)
**spoiler alert** There's a perfectly good word that doesn't get used all that much these days: prig. The freedictionary.com defines it as: A person w...more**spoiler alert** There's a perfectly good word that doesn't get used all that much these days: prig. The freedictionary.com defines it as: A person who demonstrates an exaggerated conformity or propriety, especially in an irritatingly arrogant or smug manner.
The Dancer's Spell is the story of Wim Brink, a prig. He's a man adrift in a world changing around him in ways he'd prefer it didn't change.
It's 1905, the Mata Hari is dancing her way through Paris, morals are loosening, automobiles are starting to be seen on the roads, weapons like the machine gun are radically redefining the cost of warfare, and all in all the world is a twitter with change. And Wim would have been significantly happier in 1885.
This is a character driven novel. In many ways, this reads significantly more like a memoir than a novel.
So, I'm reading the memoir of a fictional man who is adrift in the moral climate of 1905. But, for as much as I think Wim would have been unbearable to live with, I did find reading his story, and how he tries to cope with the world around him, compelling.
As things begin, he's spending a night in Paris with his brother-in-law, who is something of a wastrel. Max, said brother-in-law, takes him to see the Mata Hari dance. Wim is utterly horrified just at the idea of a woman taking her clothing off in public, and then, to make matters worse, he thinks he knows her.
He thinks she's the girl he was sweet on back as a young teen.
For those of you, like me, who grew up in the '80s this is basically the plot for the J. Giles Band's song, Centerfold. And while the unnamed narrator of the song deals with it by assuming this means he can now go sleep with his Angel, Wim, a 19th century mind stuck in the early 20th century handles it by having something of a midlife crisis, and desperately trying to find out how his sweetie could have gone so wrong.
One of the things I admire about this story is how perfectly in tune Wim is with the 19th/early 20th century mind. There is no hint of the sexual revolution, feminism, free love, or anything post 1920s about him. He is utterly horrified to see the Mata Hari and on several levels that you just wouldn't expect in a modern man. There's the fact that she is doing something so scandalous. There's a feeling of revulsion that he knew and loved someone who could have done something like this. There's fear that somehow he's tainted by her acts. That just by having known her, decades before she began dancing, that he, too, is sullied by her sins. There's a frantic searching of his own mind and her history, trying to find what catastrophe could lead her on the path of sin, and how to avoid it for his own daughter.
For most modern people, the only time you'd see a reaction like this is if you turned out to be the best friend of the serial killer who just got caught with twenty-three different eyeballs in his freezer. But that's because as members of the 21st century, we don't care all that much about sex. But for Wim, clinging to the 19th century, sex is a big deal.
When it comes to sex, Wim is the model Victorian. The problem is, it's 1905, Queen Victoria's been dead for four years, and that level of sexual repression isn't coming back. This is a man who loves his wife, finds her beautiful, and is still horrified when she tries to seduce him on their wedding anniversary. This is a man who sees sex as something dark, ugly, done only to produce babies, but the world around him is starting to change about that.
So, while the world celebrates the Mata Hari, writes articles about her, and puts her on postcards, he fixates on his cousin, a peasant girl he sees as the epitome of pureness and perfection, untouched by the sullying hand of sex. He starts to create a mental fantasy of Ingrid (the cousin) helping him raise his daughter, helping him mold her into an upright and pure woman, shielding her from bad influences (like his wife, who is not horrified by the Mata Hari in specific or sex in general).
The entire conflict of this story is Wim dealing with Wim's fear/revulsion of sex, and how the world at large, and his family in specific doesn't seem to agree with his mindset.
For depth of character and getting historical attitudes right, this story gets five stars.
The problem lies in the plot and climax. For the plot, there's just not all that much of it, and what plot there is tends to meander about, hovering on episodes and experiences that for all the story is about Wim's internal conflict with Wim, just don't matter. I found myself skimming on at least three occasions, and jumping forward to see how many more pages of (whatever) I'd have to get through before the next section started twice.
Then there's the climax. Given the conflict set up of man v. himself, I was expecting some sort of resolution of the deeper conflict (Wim V. Sex). But Wim doesn't really change. He gets a bit more comfortable with who he is. He realizes, on the verge of doing something very drastic, that he's being a twit, but there's no hint that the underlying issue (sex is bad) is ever resolved. So, by the end of the main thrust of the story, he's doing a better job of managing the symptoms of the problem, but the problem itself remains untouched.
Then there's the... I'll call it an epilogue, since it takes place ten years after the rest of the story. Wim watching the Mata Hari's execution. (In World War I the Mata Hari was tried and executed by the French as a German Spy. Though some historians think she was being used by the French to mask their inept battle plans, in the '70s the Germans released papers showing that she was indeed one of their agents.) I had been hoping for a clear emotional response, after all the man goes well out of his way to see her die, but there's no real sense of conclusion, no clear sense of this is how it ended and this is how Wim feel about it. Maybe that's accurate for the character, maybe he doesn't really know, but it does make for a somewhat unsatisfying ending.
All in all, an intriguing story with a difficult main character. If you love characters you love to hate, Wim might be worth your time. If you love stories where the author stays true to the times and doesn't try to pretty them up for modern eyes, then you'll love Dancer's Spell. If you want a detailed psychological drama, this one will fit the bill. (less)
I'm about to make a pretty bold statement here. Layton Green's The Egyptian is the strongest, best written indie book I've ever read. Now, it's not my...moreI'm about to make a pretty bold statement here. Layton Green's The Egyptian is the strongest, best written indie book I've ever read. Now, it's not my favorite indie book, I prefer a bit more humor in a book, but the basis of pure technical writing skill, on the ability to craft a story and have it hang together, The Egyptian is the best one I've seen so far.
What makes the Egyptian so great?
Let's start with the characters. Dominic Grey, the leading man, is back from The Summoner, older, and a bit wiser, and ready to start on something new. He's working for Viktor now as a full time investigator of situations where religion/cults and the real world mix in unfortunate ways. And, while Dominic isn't stupid by any stretch of the imagination, he is, in this partnership with Viktor, the muscle man. He does the legwork, the investigation that involves going to scary places and dealing with creepy people, and occasionally showing us that Jason Stratham has nothing on him when it comes to martial arts. Which brings us to Viktor, who is still my favorite of the crew, who is for lack of a better term, the brains. Viktor is the Religious Phenomenologist, the guy who actually knows what they're looking for. Dominic finds the pieces, Viktor puts them together. New to The Egyptian we get to meet Veronica, who is basically a Bond Girl. If you've ever read/seen a James Bond story, you will understand her role in the book. (Look good, move the plot along, have sex with the hero). Lastly, Jax, also new to the cast, adds an extra layer of brightness to the story with his jaded character and devil may care attitude. (He put me in mind of a mercenary version of Han Solo.) These four very different characters are expertly balanced throughout the story to keep the plot running, the tension high, and the reader caring about what happens next. Getting to spend time with them is a joy.
From there we go to the plot. The Egyptian is solid. Each aspect of the book makes sense, each scene flows into the next, there are no moments of wishing someone with a delete button had gotten a hold of certain bits, and no sudden wondering what happened in a given scene. I had a small complaint with The Summoner, where on occasion it was a little too obvious that the characters were doing things because Green needed them to to keep the plot going. That never happens in the Egyptian. All the action, all the motivation, it all flows naturally. You never see the hand of the author in this story. The groundwork is properly laid, the middle adds new interests and possibilities, the climax takes care of business, and then we wrap up with a tidy ending.
Wait, you actually want to know what that plot is? Okay. On the surface level, it's about returning some stolen property. Deeper in, that stolen property is a vial of the water of life, a serum that stops people from aging. Who are the thieves? An anti-aging biotech firm. Who lost the vial? An Egyptian eternal-life cult complete with mummies, who also happens to be an anti-aging biotech firm. And they're willing to do anything to get it back. Who are the bad guys? That's one of the great twists in this story. And this story has twists, it has turns, and mummies, and a hunchback, and... I mentioned James Bond earlier. Well, if James Bond and the X-Files had a love child, this book would be it.
The romance is once again a guy's romance. But it's a guy's romance with a bit more introspection than I've usually seen in guy oriented books. I like the fact that Grey is still dealing with the emotional fall out of The Summoner, but willing to move on to new things as well. It's realistic in a very good way. (It's also realistic in a way that some women might find exasperating, but that has more to do with how they deal with men, than anything about the book.)
Dialog is well done, competent, but not outstanding. Call it a B+. And honestly that just might be a matter of my own taste in the matter. There's a sort of balance between wit, snark, and stoic (think NCIS) I'm especially fond of, and this book didn't have that. But what it did have is dialog that works for each character. There's never a second spent thinking, 'Huh? Why did he say that?' There's not a single phrase in the entire book that drags you out of character. And with characters as different as these four, plus the villains, that's a marvelous job.
Like The Summoner, this is a serious book with some dark topics, and Jax was a much needed glimmer of light. In my previous review I equated The Summoner with 90% cocoa chocolate, very dark, very bitter. And sometimes you want dark and bitter. But you can't make it your entire diet. The Egyptian, were it dark chocolate, would probably come in around 60%. And for me, at least, this is a welcome change. I can only deal with so much terrible darkness in a series before it gets too depressing to continue on. The Egyptian not only gives the characters a break, but it gives the reader one as well.
I am extremely pleased that Layton Green asked me to review The Egyptian. I look forward to seeing his further works.(less)
**spoiler alert** Anyone who read the review I did of Death Has A Name knows that I'm a Brodie Wade fan. He's that perfectly adorable combination of v...more**spoiler alert** Anyone who read the review I did of Death Has A Name knows that I'm a Brodie Wade fan. He's that perfectly adorable combination of vulnerable, unstable, wounded, and sweet that just makes you want to take him home, clean him up, and make sure he's safe and protected forever. Basically, if you've got even the tiniest bit of Florence Nightingale in you, you're going to love Brodie.
So, I was immensely pleased to see him come back for Thaloc Has A Body. In Thaloc Brodie's got a whole new set of mysteries to figure out. Phil Dawson, his friend the police detective, is stumped. People are getting killed. Heaping piles of evidence point to the murderers, but it just doesn't feel right. Those people are acting innocent and have no motives. Then the final straw, one of the killers is a dead man. Phil calls in Brodie, and the two of them start chasing down a killer who can look like anyone, leave hair, fingerprint, and clothing evidence, and is on a killing streak. Meanwhile, The Truth, Brodie's link to the paranormal, has been pretty well behaved in the wake of Death Has A Body, but well behaved isn't the same thing as silent. It's telling Brodie his wife and death, who are one in the same, are approaching.
There were some issues I had with Death, lack of back story, rushed ending, slightly flat secondary characters, all of which I was hoping to see improve in the next book. And in most of these issues Hanel delivered. Thaloc takes care of the back story issues. How did Brodie and Phil get together? Why are they friends? What kind of guy is Phil? All answered beautifully. Jamie Stanton, who was briefly introduced in Death comes back as well, and she's also nicely rounded out in this one. Brodie, as always, is a glittering diamond of a character. And, because the Truth is backing off a bit, we're getting to see what a functional Brodie, a man who's just starting to trust that maybe the world isn't going to explode around him in the next five minutes, looks like. I like functional Brodie just as much as messed up Brodie.
Pacing is still pretty quick. Hanel has taken the mantra "Do Not Bore The Reader" to heart. There is no wasted time in this plot. If something is happening in the story, it's important. Pacing is also fast in the sense of how quickly characters developed. Personally, I'd like to see the character development slow down a little. But, I'm guessing the target audience for this book will be fine with things fast.
Once again, the ending seems a bit rushed. Hanel writes a big climax and then sort of skimps on denouement. There are two major bombs thrown at us at the end of the story and a little time to see Brodie deal with them would be nice.
We get some romance in this installment which I enjoyed. I like seeing Brodie happy. And for most people happy involves more in the way of companionship than a cat. Granted, I would have expected him to be a bit more shut off, but the romance wasn't totally out of left field. It is (as I eluded to before) fast. But not ridiculously fast, no one is declaring undying love on day two of the romance. And, I'd like to give Jerry some serious points for this, from everything we can tell Brodie is a virgin, which fits his character perfectly. There is nothing I find more off-putting than running into a socially awkward, emotionally wounded character who as soon as he gets into the bedroom turns into Mr. All-The-Right-Moves-Sex-God!
There was one note in this story that rang false to me. Phil is the sort of character who's had a very, very bad time with religion in the past and it's left him hostile to the idea of God. And he's so deeply uncomfortable with the idea of God that it threatens to wedge a rift between him and Brodie. But he has a sort of no-atheists-in-foxholes moment toward the end of the book. Now, I know some pretty hardcore atheists, some of whom have been in foxholes, and they tend to get annoyed at the portrayal of when the chips are down they start praying just like everyone else. Given Phil's back story, and the way he reacted to Brodie and Jamie talking about God, his sudden prayer struck me as more Jerry making a point, than something Phil would genuinely do.
But as quibbles go, that's a pretty minor one. Once again I fully enjoyed spending time with Brodie. Once again I can't wait to see what's coming next for him. The end of Thaloc left a lot of interesting possibilities for our leading man, and I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes. (less)
I like historical fiction. I like military history. I like Scotland. So I was pretty sure I'd like Freedom's Sword, and as I turned off my kindle afte...moreI like historical fiction. I like military history. I like Scotland. So I was pretty sure I'd like Freedom's Sword, and as I turned off my kindle after reading the last word, I sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed my visit to the first Scottish War of Independence.
A little background: Scotland was once upon a time a completely free and independent entity from England. But back in the 1200's a squabble between potential claimants to the throne ended up with Edward I deciding he was in charge. This sparked the first Scottish War of Independence. Most Americans are vaguely familiar with this because we've seen Braveheart. Unlike Freedom's Sword, Braveheart played pretty fast and loose with the facts to make a romantic, compelling story. Tomlin thought the truth was compelling enough, and from what I can tell stuck pretty closely to it. Personally, I agree with her.
So, as the tale opens we meet Andrew Moray, brand new knight about to go off on his first battle. It goes horribly, he's taken captive, and after months of torment in an English dungeon and a breath-taking escape, he returns to Scotland with a burning desire to reconquer his homeland. From there we follow him as he rounds up a force of like minded men and retakes northern Scotland from the English.
It's a good story. And I read most of it over the Forth of July weekend, so a tale of booting out the English seemed especially resonant. Battle scenes are vibrant without being overblown. Details of place are in enough depth to give an image of what is happening, but not so dense that you need to hack through them with a machete to find the plot. Most of the secondary characters are well enough defined that you won't confuse them with each other. The history is well researched and alive. It's what moves the story along as opposed to being scenery.
If I wanted anything from Freedom's Sword, it was actually more history on what exactly was happening and why. I'm well versed on medieval history, weaponry, and tactics, so I was following along pretty well, but a bit more on how Edward I ended up in charge, why they were rebelling against him in the first place, how things were different under Toom Tabard, why Robert the Bruce was a natural claimant to the throne, and how the Scottish political system worked would have been useful. With Tomlin's obvious love of the subject and deft writing, I would have been well pleased by another fifty pages of background.
There was one jarring aspect of Freedom's Sword. For some reason it suddenly shifts point of view (POV) to Caitrina, Andrew's Lady. And while I thought more or less everything involving Andrew was interesting, I rapidly lost interest when the story shifted to Caitrina. (Fortunately it didn't happen too often.) It's not that her story was badly written, nor was it boring per se; it just didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the plot. There's nothing that happens from Caitrina's POV that couldn't be dealt with in a few lines of dialog with her talking to Andrew. There's nothing added by hopping to her head. She's so tangentially related to the plot that at one point twenty-seven chapters go by without a mention of her. It almost feels like there was a plan to do a secondary story line of life on the home front, but somehow it didn't make it into the final story. Personally I would have liked to have seen that sort of a storyline. I think Tomlin could have done many fine things with it, but that will have to remain in the wish stage.
Beyond that my only other complaint was the lack of idea of when thing happen. We get one date stamp in the beginning of the tale and another at the very end. Some in between would have made it easier to keep track of what was going on.
All in all I enjoyed Freedom's Sword quiet a bit, and look forward to seeing what else Tomlin will come up with. (less)
**spoiler alert** Deadwood Violet is back in Optical Delusions, and she's brought along all the things I loved about Nearly Departed. Witty writing, k...more**spoiler alert** Deadwood Violet is back in Optical Delusions, and she's brought along all the things I loved about Nearly Departed. Witty writing, killer dialog, red-hot sex scenes, a corker of a mystery, and a tinge of paranormal that leaves the reader wondering if the supernatural is really happening or not have all come back for Ann Charles' sophomore offering.
In the wake of the action in Nearly Departed, Violet's developed something of a reputation as the local spook finder. All the more ironic because Violet still doesn't really believe in ghosties and ghoulies. But, setting fire to the "haunted" residence of the local psychopathic killer will get you that sort of reputation. Newly minted reputation in hand, Violet gets approached by a small, mousy woman in need of a realtor. In a matter of minutes, Violet knows why she was picked, the house, in addition to having a reputation for being haunted, was also the location of a murder-suicide a few months earlier.
On the good news front, the house is perfect. On the better news front, the Sturgis Harley Davidson convention is on, and Deadwood is packed with out-of-towners, some of whom are looking for real estate. On the downside, something just isn't right about the owners, and that triggers Violet's need to get down to the bottom of what is going on. She's thinking it's a simple matter of a not-all-there mother being taken advantage by her daughter and almost daughter-in-law. But of course, it's so much more than that. Next thing Violet knows she's got witches, demons, and spooks in her life again, and she'd really prefer they weren't.
If that was all the plot this story had, it'd be a great read. But it's not all the plot, the Deadwood mysteries are romances as well as who/what-done-its. I'll admit to being a bit disappointed in the romance for Optical Delusions. When we left Nearly Departed, Doc and Violet were heading toward happily ever after. There were some big obstacles in the way, and I wanted to see how they would deal with them. Two weeks later we begin Optical Delusions and apparently during the intervening time Doc's character got a personality transplant and went skittering into hiding because he's oh-so-scared of a real relationship. So, for all practical purposes Doc and Violet go back to square one and start over again in Optical Delusions.
Now, the actual romance plot line of: guy acts like jerk, guy decides he can't live without woman, guy does valiant things to get back into woman's good graces, forgiveness, and happy time is just fine. It holds together well and works. Charles handles it with grace and wit. But I was hoping to see the romance actually move forward, as opposed to end up in precisely the same place it was when we got done with Nearly Departed. None of the major issues facing Doc and Violet as a couple are any closer to resolved. He's still a psychic. She's still not sure she believes such things are real. Her best friend is still in love with Doc and she's not sure how to handle that.
And, while I wouldn't call that a minor issue with the book, it is one of personal taste. Optical Delusions is extremely well written. The characters are vibrant and spending time with them is a genuine joy. The mystery has twists, turns, red-herrings, and fully satisfying ending. Charles' ability to balance paranormal creepiness with the real world and leave the reader on the fence as to what is actually going on is reminiscent of the best episodes of the X-Files. Plot threads that were sprinkled into both Optical Delusions and Nearly Departed look like they'll get picked up in the third book. This is another carefully written, carefully plotted book. I want to know what happens next. I just hope it doesn't involve Doc and Violet heading back to square one again.(less)
**spoiler alert** I'd like you to imagine for a moment Macbeth blended with an Old Testament, henotheistic, my God-is-better-than-yours battle. Cool,...more**spoiler alert** I'd like you to imagine for a moment Macbeth blended with an Old Testament, henotheistic, my God-is-better-than-yours battle. Cool, yes? I thought so. And that's precisely what The Wars of Gods and Men delivers.
The Wars of Gods and Men follows three main characters, Eboric, Ayren, and Kolrig, through the creation of, destruction of, and re-creation of an empire, that mirrors a meta battle between warring Gods. If micro-scale political fantasy is your idea of "Oh yes! Give me more!" this is the book for you. If humans flailing about, unsure of their place in the winds of destiny makes you happy, pick this book up.
If you're familiar with Macbeth, you'll recognize one of the major plot threads, betrayal, destruction, and tragic endings for the traitors. But that's not all that's going on in here. The War of Men is but a micro version of the War of Gods, which we get hints and glimpses of, but never see in full. The tantalizing glimpses of what is going on beyond the human characters are well-rounded enough to keep the readers happy, but mysterious enough to maintain a nice tension to the tale.
Now, many of us are familiar with Christian fantasy, where the writer draws a made-up world with a Messianic figure and a message that looks awfully familiar to just about everyone raised in the West. The Wars of Gods and Men is a sort of twist on this. I'd call it Jewish fantasy, because the war of the Gods aspect looks a whole lot like the Old Testament. A Prophet foresees destruction of those who do not follow his God. He and those who believe with him are persecuted for their faith. Miracles abound as the Prophet puts those other godlings and their worshipers in their places. There's even a mist that kills everyone who happens to be outside of their tent when it creeps into camp. Cenred, the Prophet, might not be an exact match to any specific OT Prophet, but the parallels (down to his bald head) are certainly there.
I'll admit I was very pleased to see that. Pretty much, if there are five great influences on Western literature, the Bible and Shakespeare are, if not the top two, then definitely on the list. So, put them together, execute it with grace and dignity, and wrap it up with a spin on nation building, and well, I was a happy reader.
Speaking of grace and dignity, this was a tidy little book. Characters are rounded and three dimensional, their motivations clear, voices distinct, and actions true to their personalities. (I might have wanted just a tad more depth on Kolrig, but the somewhat brief moments of his inner life fit the character's lack of introspection nicely.) Though this is the first book in a series, it stands alone without any problems. The story arc is complete in and of itself, while still leaving room for continuing adventures. Description might be a little minimalist for some readers, but I'm not much of a visual processor, so the lack of intricately wrought description didn't bother me at all. I had a pretty good idea of what everything looked like, and I didn't need page upon page of description.
So, all in all, I was quite pleased with The Wars of Gods and Men. I'll happily recommend it to anyone who is looking for a twist on a familiar tale. (less)