At the opening of The King’s Blood, we find ourselves back in the remains of the Dragon Empire and the world of the Thirteen Races of Humanity. Geder Palliako is suddenly an important figure in the Antean Court, with the mysterious Spider Priests at his side. Kalliam Dawson, a noble of the old order, works to maintain the tradition of the court while Cithrin bel Sacour struggles to hold on to her branch of the Medean Bank, and Captain Marcus Wester, haunted by his past, works to redeem himself through his protection of the young banker. Intrigue, magic, and blood follow in the second installment of The Dagger and The Coin series.
Like a flower, blooming The Dragon’s Path was such a success because Abraham, in his skill and knowledge of the genre, took his time in revealing his world to us. He began in medias res, and as the novel grew, so did our understanding of the world. Much like that deliberate pace and reveal, The King’s Blood continues this slow gift of information as, chapter by chapter, our understanding of this world grows. Don’t expect an answer to every mystery, but know that some light will be shed on The Dragon Empire, The Spider Goddess, and more.
Pulling no punches Personally, one of the biggest strengths I find in The Dagger and the Coin series is how Abraham is not afraid of posing big questions or challenges to his characters and therefore to his readers. He never presents an easy road for either party, and half the enjoyment of the book is in watching the characters navigate the tangle of larger-than-life questions. Is truth subjective? When is it right to go to war, if it ever is? When do you give up and when do you fight? Abraham throws these questions and more at his characters. Watching how they react will not only fascinate you, it will make you think as well.
Character is king What makes this one of the strongest secondary world fantasies being published today, though, is not the immensity of its worldbuilding or its fascination with big questions, but rather the complexity of its characters. Abraham has created wonderful, strong, incredibly flawed characters, and watching them evolve through this second book is certainly one of the highlights. He allows them to be, well, human. Even the most noble of characters, Kalliam Dawson, is not immune to spite or fear. Watching and hoping a character will make the right choice is all the more devastating when they do not. Feelings such as pain, spite, greed, and fear color the characters beyond simple shades of gray and create characters who, despite scales or wings or pelts, make for some of the most human characters out there.
Why you should read this The King’s Blood is a triumph of secondary world fantasy, continuing to reveal a complex world with amazing, three-dimensional characters. Daniel Abraham is not afraid to push his characters or his readers to the edge, and even when he rewards you, it may still be bittersweet. If you enjoyed the first book, or if you’re looking for a new fantasy series to get into, The King’s Blood and The Dagger and the Coin are well worth your time.(less)
The Grandson of the Great Khan, Temur, awakens on a field of dead men, having just survived a bloody battle in a civil war his uncles have perpetuated. Abandoned and alone with no family and no friends, Temur finds a pony and begins to ride away from the dead. After finding a lover, Edene, among the people of the plains, the wizard Al-Sephr steals her away in a storm of ghosts, and Temur vows to bring her back. And south among the mountains, the once princess Samarkar has finished her training and awaits the form her magic will take. Soon though, she is embroiled in the great war of khagans, and joins Temur to find Edene and bring peace to the continent.
Inspired by and set against the backdrop of 14th century Asia, Elizabeth Bear creates a wonderful, rich, and complex world in the first book of the Eternal Sky series.
Paint by numbers no more Elizabeth Bear has done away with the standard paint by numbers fantasy world that so often happens in the genre. She writes a vivid world of magic and politics, far removed from the usual medieval European fare. In every corner of the world, the sky changes color with the gods, shifting from purple and blue to the burning bright orange of a heartless sun, with dozens and dozens of moons in the night sky. Magic is not defined by any known science; it forms in the hole in your heart and your strength defines it. Ghosts of all manner haunt the world, and tiger warriors hide among the mountains and hills.
Powerful prose, vulnerable characters While the worldbuilding is top notch, the true heart of the novel is in the subtlety of the writing and the strength of the characters; those two cannot be separated.
Bear writes with a certain economy, always choosing to hold back a paragraph when a sentence will do, especially in regard to a character’s inner turmoil. When Temur feels the loss of his family, when Samarkar questions her strength, or when Edene fights back against her captor, the readers are able to reach across the divide of the writing and draw the conclusions for themselves. Bear never treats her readers like idiots, and it is that confidence and subtlety that make this such a great novel. Their pain is our pain, their triumphs are our triumphs, and it is all because of the confidence and trust that Bear gives the readers.
Fireside tale Any writer, or reader for that matter, can tell you how important plot is. Characters, worldbuilding, prose: none of these things matter if there is not a strong story behind them. Bear demonstrates her mastery of the craft in this novel, as she has all these elements as well as a strong, solid plot with an innate sense of pacing. Range of Ghosts is a novel that takes its time. Range of Ghosts is never slow but it does not rush, either. Bear takes her time with each character and each moment, but never lingers too long. Like a storyteller around the fire, she knows exactly where to focus and how many breathes to take between sentences.
Why should you read this book? The strength of the worldbuilding, the subtlety of the characters, the economy of the prose, and the pitch perfect pacing all make this book one of the best released in 2012. If you are tired of your standard, paint by numbers fantasy, then take Range of Ghosts for a spin and fall in love with its world.(less)
With The Crippled God, the Malazan Book of the Fallen series comes to an end in iron and blood, fire and triumph, magic and heartbreak. Steven Erikson manages to not only craft one of the best books I have read this year, but to finish what I believe to be one of the finest fantasy series I have ever read.
The Malazan we love Here in the heart of Kolanse begins the final gambit as the greatest of all convergences begin. Here gods, men, dragons, Tiste Andii, Elder gods, Elder races, and more all swerve and journey onward to the Heart of the Crippled God. Some hope to free it, others wish to exploit it, while still others seek to destroy the alien thing. But none of that will matter if none survive to tell the tale.
Written twelve years after his first book in the Malazan series, Gardens of the Moon, Erikson’s tenth Book of the Fallen ends the tale of Adjunct Tavore, the Bonehunters, Ganoes Paran, Fiddler, Dead Hedge, Hood, Quick Ben, Kalam, the Bridgeburners, the titular Crippled God, and many more. Erikson brings strong characterization and endless humanity not only to these beloved characters whom we’ve known since the beginning, but also to the faceless, nameless soldiers of the Bonehunters, those whom the series is all about: the fallen. In Erikson’s writing, it is always worth speaking for the fallen, and there is always time to kneel by the soldier next to you, to hear their story.
A breathtaking finale Having read breathlessly through the previous nine volumes, I can look at The Crippled God and say that Erikson knew what he was doing all along. This book and its culmination have been foreshadowed across the width and breadth of the series, going back even to the beginning. Threads, concepts, characters, and arcs from books ago spring back to life, weaving together and connecting in this final tale; the ending took my breath away with how seamlessly it all played out.
Erikson pulls out all the stops in his finale, bringing to life every aspect of the immense world he and his friend Ian Esslemont have built, showcasing the breathtaking world building that these two have spent decades on. Always an exercise in imagination and pure reasoning, Erikson does not disappoint as he uses the final book to delve even deeper into the wonderful world he has built.
Humane Ultimately, where this book—and series as a whole—succeeds is in its representation of the human condition. Erikson digs down and digs deep into the human mind, heart and soul, mining his characters for their views on love, life, war, retribution, pain, sorrow, fate, life, death, posterity and all the eternal themes that worry the minds of humanity. In his hands, Erikson makes of every character a poet, a historian, a scholar, but always, always keeps them human. In their hearts, the series is elevated beyond the title of epic fantasy: it becomes a treatise on the human condition.
Why should you read this book? Breathtakingly complex, overwhelmingly heartbreaking, fantastically humorous, and epic on every scale imaginable, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, and particularly The Crippled God, is the work of a true master, not just in writing, but in a study of storytelling and humanity, as well. While it is not without its difficulties and not every question is answered, I can say with full confidence that this series is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I urge you to read it for yourself.
While the Malazan world still lives and there are still stories to tell, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is officially closed. Thank you, Steven Erikson, for all your worlds, all your passion, and, especially, this wonderful story. Well done.(less)
Back on the continent of Genabackis, the Bridgeburners—now led by Captain Ganoes Paran—have joined forces with the army of Dujek One-Arm. Split from the Empire that created them, they now fight a war with a terrifying opponent known as the Pannion Seer, and his cannibalistic force, the Tenescowri. Meanwhile, an immortal race gain a new leader, the Deck of Dragons gain a Master, and somewhere in a nether realm, a god, once chained and crippled, breathes again and begins to shuffle out of the darkness. Steven Erikson does it again, crafting a novel of action, violence, pathos, humor and magic, in the third installment of the Malazan Book of the Fallen epic, Memories of Ice.
Welcome back, Bridgeburners While Deadhouse Gates introduced us to the continent of Seven Cities and the rebellion there, Memories of Ice brings us back to the world of Genabackis, where all our old Bridgeburner friends await us. Whiskeyjack and Fiddler, Quick Ben and Ganoes Paran, and Kruppe and Anomander Rake are all back, this time to take on the dreaded Pannion Seer and his force of cannibals as they sweep over Genabackis. Everyone’s voice is pitch perfect, and many continue to grow and change. Not only do we have the Bridgeburners, but Erikson introduces us to a host of sometimes humorous, most times tragic characters. Gruntle and Stoney, Bauchalain and Korbal Broach, and Silverfox and Itkovian are just the beginning of the new and interesting characters Erikson creates for the world of the Malzan Empire.
The Elder times One of the more interesting parts of this book is the time and care that Erikson puts into exploring the timelines and lives of the known Elder Races. Those who walked the earth before humans, and still persist even in the present time—the ice wielding Jaghut, the fire born T’lan Imass, and the deadly K’Chain Che’Malle—are brought to the fore in this novel. Erikson begins to peel back the layers on their cultures and their tragic histories. In doing so, he illustrates how far back this epic series really goes, and begins to place pieces that will impact the series many books down the road.
The bigger picture In Memories of Ice, Erikson begins to finally show hints as to what this series is all going to be about. Secret histories of the Malazan Empire are starting to be told, and the lives of the Elder Races are starting to tie into the main narrative. But mostly the actions of Ascendants and Gods alike are highlighted, as the mistakes they’ve made come back to haunt them in the form of the Crippled God. While much of history is yet to come, his poisonous presence and malignant touch begin to seep through the pages of Memories of Ice, and you’re given a glimpse at how big a role he will come to play in the books to come.
Book of the Fallen Erikson spells it all out in the main title that this is a series celebrating the heroes who fall in battle, those who give all, and still, they fall. In the previous two books, there was tragedy and there was heartbreak aplenty. But in Memories of Ice, Erikson steps it up a notch and truly gives us some heart-wrenching moments. The action is vicious, the prose is sharp, and the twist of the knife is unseen as some of our favorite heroes fall in the line of duty. Erikson takes the themes of grief, duty, love, friendship, and war, and puts them on display in the hearts and lives of every soldier he writes.
Why should you read this book? If you’ve read Erikson’s first two Malazan titles, then I don’t need to convince you to keep reading. If you’re new to the series, then read Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates first to catch up. Many claim this book to be one of the best in the series and there is little reason to doubt them. Erikson’s writing is razor sharp, the narrative moves forward by leaps and bounds, questions are answered, more are raised, and the heartbreak is enormously sad but ultimately worth it. Because this is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and as much as it grieves me to see certain characters go, it is as they are remembered that we’ll find the beauty of their lives.(less)
It is 8th century Baghdad and, before he is killed, a stranger pleads with the Vizier to protect a strange and mysterious tablet. Dabir, the Vizier’s scholar, discovers that the tablet may lead to the lost city of Ubar, whose hidden gates house treasures beyond imagination. However, when the tablet is stolen by an evil Magi, it is up to Dabir and his loyal friend, Captain Asim of the Vizier’s household guard, to retrieve the tablet before it can be used to unleash a terrible fate upon all of Baghdad. Fresh, riveting and an absolute thrill, Howard Andrew Jones’ debut novel The Desert of Souls is nothing short of amazing.
Something for everyone It’s been a while since I’ve seen any novels openly marketed as “sword and sorcery”. I may get in trouble for breaking down the genre any more than it is, but I feel there has been a significant decrease in them since the days of Conan and the like. However, if there were more sword and sorcery books like The Desert of Souls, I’d be all over them. Jones writes a tight, lean story with a little bit everything. Action, adventure, mystery, magic, romance, humor, mythology; this book has it all, and in just the right amount.
Best buddy cop movie ever I found one of the greatest things about this book to be the relationship between Asim and Dabir. You have the grizzled warrior and the clever scholar, brains and brawn, coming together to get the job done and save their friends. While this could easily have had them always at odds, the two are actually good friends and work together instead of always bickering. Asim and Dabir belong in a buddy cop film from the eighties and I mean that in the best way possible: their friendship is pure, and no matter what happens, they always stick together. I really hope Jones has more of their adventures to write, because it’d be a shame not to explore their friendship further.
A tight narrative Having just finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven, which I was less than thrilled with, it was a pleasure to trade in his meandering, drawn-out style for Jones’ lean, tight plot in The Desert of Souls. Weighing in at just over 300 pages, The Desert of Souls is a fast-paced novel from start to finish. Many of us are used to the 800 page epics in the speculative fiction industry, and as much as I enjoy the longer books, those authors could learn a thing or two from Jones. No page is wasted, and everything moves at a quick clip. Even moments of quiet still move along at a great pace.
So why should you read this book? If you’re tired of authors who waste time with too much exposition or too many tangents, or if you’re looking for a book full of wonderful characters, great relationships and a rip-roaring adventure, then The Desert of Souls is for you. A quick read, but I was hooked from start to finish. Here’s hoping Jones has more stories of Dabir and Asim coming; I’ll be waiting for them patiently.(less)
Lenk and his merry albeit sociopathic band of adventurers are back in Black Halo, the second book in The Aeons’ Gate series. Having recovered the Tome of the Undergates and stopped a giant fish demon from escaping Hell, Lenk and his crew are now stranded at sea, waiting for rescue from the mainland. However, as you would expect, all does not go according to plan, and soon the group is separated and washed up on island reeking of death. What follows next? Deadly Librarians, fiery urine, giant lizardmen and much more, as Sykes makes a grand return in his second book and does what he does best, crafting a compelling story with humor, pathos and just a little bit of insanity.
Spot-on writing By this point, fans of Sykes should know that he can write, and he can write pretty damn well. Tome of the Undergates had plenty of humor, a tight plot, great characterization, and a surprising amount of pathos. Black Halo continues this trend and in better form. Sykes steps his game up in this book, and you really get the sense that he’s coming into his own. The dialogue is crisper, the scenes crackle with tension and description flares to life with beautiful prose. Black Halo does have its fair share of obscene humor and moments of questionable sanity, but they always serve the story and they are always well written.
The world is bigger than you know Tome of the Undergates took place on a ship for the majority of the book. We heard names of cities, cultures, religions, and so on through the characters, but the reader never got the chance to experience them except through memories. This time, however, Sykes makes a wise move and begins to pull back the curtain, showing what the rest of the world is like and who occupies it. Several new characters are introduced; my favorite is Bralston the Librarian, but every reader will find their own. The world is growing under Sykes’ steady hand, and by the end of the book, you’ll have a better appreciation for the magic you see, the cultures you come to know and the demons that you come to fear.
Double edged sword Ah, the plot, the double edged sword, so to say. On one hand, I’m really happy with the plot of the book, because not only is it well written, it continues the wonderful characterization of our main characters while showing us a living, breathing world. However, by the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel that this book was just used to get certain players into place for the third book.
Don’t get me wrong; what Black Halo lacks in advancing the threat, it more than makes up for in its characters and their discoveries. We understand more about where everyone comes from, and their relationships together grow in strange and interesting ways (I’m looking at you, Lenk and Kataria!). In a way though, it seems that was the main purpose of Black Halo: to continue exploring the inner conflicts and desires of the Adventurers. Lenk’s sanity, Kataria’s identity crisis, Denaos’ guilt, Dreadaleon’s complex, Asper’s condition, and Gariath’s search for life are all written very well and are as compelling as they’ve ever been. My only problem was that I felt these explorations of character did not balance well with moving the plot of the demons forward; that only reappears towards the last third of the book.
So why should you read this? If you enjoyed the insanity that was Tome of the Undergates, then you are going to love Black Halo. Not only does Sykes continue his streak of intense characterization, larger than life monsters and hilarious moments, he does it all better than before. Even though the plot sometimes takes a backseat to the exploration of character, it is not something that holds the book back from being a wild ride from start to finish. I have a feeling book three, The Skybound Sea, will deliver.(less)
Daniel Abraham is best known for his undervalued Long Price Quartet (we reviewed the first book in the quartet, A Shadow in Summer). However, he has also written under two different pseudonyms: the urban fantasy Black Sun’s Daughter series as M.L.N. Hanover, and the science fiction series Expanse as James S. A. Corey. His newest novel, published under his own name, is The Dragon’s Path, and it’s the first installment in a promising new series titled The Dagger and the Coin.
Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities. Marcus Wester is a mercenary captain tasked with guarding a caravan out of Vanai, hoping to avoid any wars, big or small. A young girl, Cithrin, has been tasked by the Medean Bank to transport all the bank’s holdings in Vanai before war claims it. Meanwhile, Geder, the son of a minor lord, strives to be taken seriously by his fellow soldiers, but is more often ridiculed for his love of speculative essays and philosophy. And there is Lord Dawson Kalliam, whose actions in the Undying City he does for his king, but which may end up driving his kingdom onto the path of war.
The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham is the beginning of something immense and wondrous. It is a storm coming to life, fueled by the quiet insecurity and sorrow that only humanity is capable of. Once again, Daniel Abraham’s subtle narrative captures exactly what makes one human, and just as painfully, captures what can turn him or her down a road of darkness.
Almost Shakespearean One of the more interesting things about The Dragon’s Path is how often I began comparing it to Shakespeare. Not so much in the prose but in how each character seems influenced by a particular play or character of Shakespeare’s. In Cithrin, I saw Viola, a shy young girl given an impossible task; Marcus Wester reminded me a bit of Prospero, a weary, sorrowful leader; in Geder I saw Macbeth, an embittered noble forced to reckless action: in another time, they may have been portrayed on stage. Abraham paints them with equal doses of tragedy and comedy, though, and gives them enough heart and darkness so they don’t ever become caricatures.
Beautiful Prose One thing Abraham brings with him from Long Price Quartet, is his succinct, descriptive prose. While the language used in The Dragon’s Path is not as graceful or poetic as that used in Long Price Quartet, it is economical without losing its beautifully narrative quality. At times, Abraham paints the scene with broad strokes and lets the reader fill in the gaps; at others, he’ll sketch furiously on specifics for the reader, and let their imagination fill in the background. But never does Abraham’s writing become something mechanical and soulless—while economical, it was a pleasure to read. The only thing that threw me off at times were the names of different houses and locations tossed around. Those names were sometimes difficult to follow, but that may be because of how new the world and its contents are.
A World Unlike Most Others The Dragon’s Path is a breath of fresh air for those who enjoy world-building. If you’re fed up with your cookie-cutter orcs, elves, and trolls, this is the book for you. Abraham has created not one but thirteen races of people. Created by the dragons, these races now constitute what is known as humanity. From the tusked, heavy-set Yemmu, to the bronze-scaled Jasuru, Abraham let his imagination go wild in exploring the different ways humanity could have been shaped. Not only that, but there are hints at larger things within the world and its past: hidden sects, the fate of the dragons, and subtle magic that is making a resurgence.
A warning, though: if you want everything spelled out for you in the first book, it’s not going to happen. Abraham is building something complex but is keeping some of his cards to his vest; he’ll reveal it with time, but for now, what he does let on is engaging and exciting.
All The Small Things One of Abraham’s greatest strengths as a writer is examining the people around him, and seeing how even the smallest trait or feeling can blossom into something wonderful, or wilt and transform into something awful. It’s one of the most fragile things about being human, and Abraham uses every character to examine that condition.
It’s masterful how Abraham gets to the core of most every character. These characters become dynamic, conflicted, and real under his guiding hand. Some of the men and women in this book do awful things, and at times it can become very raw. But while it is raw, it is also real, because Abraham doesn’t skip a beat in showing you how they come to make such heartbreaking decisions.
So Why Should You Read This Book? The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham is the beginning of something truly epic. As accessible as it is engrossing, Abraham has created a fantasy adventure with real characters, an interesting and complex world, and beautiful writing. This is a page-turner that will have you coming back for more.(less)
In Guy Gavriel Kay’s stand-alone novel Under Heaven, Shen Tai takes it upon himself to bury the dead at Kuala Nor, the site of a horrendous battle between Tai’s country Kitai and a rival nation, in honor of his recently deceased father. At the end of two years, he is still unfinished.
Then the Empress of Tagur sends him a royal gift in the form of two hundred and fifty Sardian, or Heavenly Horses: enough to make Tai wealthy beyond imagination, and enough to mark him for death. Tai’s world is completely overturned. Once word gets out about his gift of Heavenly Horses, Tai finds himself being dragged back into a world of politics, intrigue, and danger in which he must face old loves and new enemies.
Beautiful writing The greatest thing about this book was its musicality. Poetry plays such an important role in the story, and it was clear from the very beginning that it influences Kay’s writing as well. The passages are rich, tasty morsels. It is as if Kay has found a way to turn the English language into a meal, serving it up like a five-star restaurant. Whether it is the description of a city, a heartbreaking moment, or even a line of wisdom, the words emerge beautiful and enticing.
Rich, vivid world This type of language helps build the fantastic world Kay brings to the reader. Known for his historic fantasy, Kay takes the readers to a land reminiscent of eighth-century China with Under Heaven. He slowly builds the complex society, the rich cast of characters, and the sweeping landscapes with timeliness and aplomb. This is a world filled with decadence at times and humility at others, and Kay treats both with a sense of dignity and wonder.
Dreadfully slow pace My main problem with Under Heaven was that it had a very slow pace. I hate saying this, but it even felt boring at times. This is my first time reading a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, and I had heard many great things about him. I don’t know whether or not this is his usual style but it was not doing anything for me. While the prose is beautiful and the characters well written, the plot developments did nothing to grab my attention. If you are already a fan of Kay, you are most likely used to his style and will enjoy this book, but for newcomers, this might not make the best introduction to his work.
No sense of reward Another thing that I noticed was that while we followed the characters and discovered their world, I always felt that I was on the outside looking in. It’s a hard thing to quantify, but I felt distanced as a reader from the characters at certain points in the novel. At these points, I wanted to dig deeper, get to know them better, and really see what they were feeling. Sometimes I was able to do so and it was wonderful, but these moments weren’t frequent enough to develop a connection with any one character. Kay does his work, and by the end you understand them well enough, but I wish Kay had dug deeper beneath the surface for more than just those few brief moments.
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy Kay’s other works, you’ll most likely enjoy this one, but newcomers may want to start with an earlier work of Kay’s to get used to his style of pace and plot.
That is not to say that I am not turned away from his works forever. There were parts of the book I absolutely enjoyed and lines of prose I’m still giddy about. I hope to look into some of his other works in the future. For now, though, if you enjoy historic fantasy with delicious prose and can appreciate a novel that takes time to enjoy, then Under Heaven may be the book for you.(less)
“When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.
Not, you know, my self self. I shoot my future self. He steps out of a time machine, introduces himself as Charles Yu. What else am I supposed to do? I kill him. I kill my own future.”
So begins Charles Yu’s strange and fascinating novel about a time machine technician, also named Charles Yu, who wanders Minor Universe 31, helping stranded time travelers with their pasts but trying to avoid the present.
His mother is in the present, stuck in a one-hour loop of time, reliving her past. His father, who invented time travel and disappeared, is missing from the present. And Charles Yu from the future comes to the present, delivering a book called How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe. It may hold the key to finding his father and starting his life again.
Quirky In A Good Way If the above description didn’t sum it up, then how about this: this book is quirky with a capital Q. To go along with his dysfunctional family, Charles has two faithful companions: a dog named Ed who doesn’t know that he doesn’t exist and a computer program named TAMMY who has crippling self-esteem issues, but whom Charles loves anyway.
In addition, this book is filled with high scientific concepts such as time travel, paradoxes, and artificial story-based universes, all of which are presented in fast blips of nonsensical techno jargon. At times it can be rather overwhelming, trying to figure out exactly what the science is saying and how it relates to the story. But in the end what is important is not so much what the words say as what they represent.
Because beneath all the techno-babble is a book that celebrates the classics of science fiction. Not everything is going to be explained, but this book acts as a love letter to the high concepts and out-of-this-world ideas that original science fiction embodied.
Time and Time Again For all its quirkiness, there’s a large heart to this story that Yu explores with depth: If having a time machine means you can’t change the past, why do people try? If you could live away from reality, from time itself, would you? If you could view but not change your past regrets, would you ever be able to stop watching and move on?
Yu asks these questions and often helps answer them, but leaves a lot of it up to the reader. You see through Charles’s eyes the regrets of his past, the frozen nature of his present life, and the hopes, if any, he has for the future. He has to decide if it’s worth it to become a part of time again, and what that will mean for him.
Ultimately this book is about acceptance, inevitability, and learning that, at the end, maybe all you can do is move forward despite your past.
So Why Should You Read This Book? How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe is a hilarious, poignant look into the life of a man who has stepped out of time and what happens when he decides to jump back in to find his father. It’s full of a love for science fiction and its quirkiness is only outshone by its wonderful characters. It’s one of the most fun, most bizarre books I’ve read this year, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.(less)
Tome of the Undergates, the first book in The Aeons’ Gate, is the impressive debut novel of Sam Sykes, an energetic young author who was recently selected as The Ranting Dragon’s number one author to follow. The sequel to Tome of the Undergates, titled Black Halo, comes out on March 22, 2011.
In Tome of the Undergates, Lenk is an Adventurer, a profession which most believe is filled only with the scum of the earth. And with Adventurers such as the elf-like Schict, a dragonman, a petulant young wizard, an overly religious healer, and a cowardly rogue who all hate each other, most people aren’t wrong. Bad enough that Lenk has to work with them; he has also got to make sure they all don’t murder each other. But when the Tome of the Undergates is stolen from under their noses, Lenk and his crew have to go and get it back, lest a giant underwater demon end their bickering once and for all. Cue frogmen, loquacious sea pirates, purple skinned female furies and a whole bunch of hell breaking loose.
Truthful humor Mixing humor and fantasy can be like a high school science experiment: most times it will end up exploding in your face, taking your eyebrows in the process, and sometimes it will look amazing for a moment before it coughs and dies and you’re left with a soupy substance that smells and looks vaguely of cheese. But sometimes, the two work in harmony to create something that is fresh, exciting, and ultimately engaging in a way you’ve never experienced before.
Sam Sykes has crafted a novel with a great balance between humor and plot. One does not take away from the other. In fact, one thing I applaud about the humor’s effectiveness is that the characters are the ones saying it. Most times it’s ridiculously simple to find the author in the jokes; they don’t invest the humor in their character, they write it because they want a cheap laugh. Sykes lets his characters speak, and for a bunch of murderous, scummy adventurers, they’re a hilarious lot.
And you know what? It works. I was laughing along with the characters just as much as I was scared with them when things looked bleak. Sykes’s humor works because he lets the characters make the jokes, just as he has them make the hard decisions.
I said Pathos earlier… For a hilarious book, it’s not all fun and games. One thing I’ve gleaned from Sykes’s writing is that above all, it is the characters he’s invested in. Most readers won’t care if the Dark Lord of Dark Darkness is stopped if they don’t care about the characters involved in stopping him. Likewise, if Sykes hadn’t written such wonderful, heartbreaking characters, I wouldn’t have cared about the giant fish-preachers or slimy frogmen.
“Wait, heartbreaking? I thought you said this book was funny!”
It is, theoretical reader, but the wonderful thing about it is that every character has a past they are trying to run away from. They have questions no one can answer, and they have desires no one can sate. They have sorrow and rage and confusion battling within them, and it is a wonderful thing to watch as they lash out because they refuse to confront it.
Some reviews I’ve read hate how each adventurer disdains the other. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. The book works because they’re all kindred spirits whether they know it or not. Despite all the belittling and the constant death-threats, they come together, and it is fascinating to witness.
Slogging through the sea If there is anything negative to say about Tome of the Undergates, it is that it takes a little while for things to get going. The first two hundred pages take place over the course of two hours and a giant battle, but the plot doesn’t really start moving until that has passed. From there, it picks right up but it takes a bit of time.
Some folks might also be a little perturbed about a lack of answers in this book. Most mysteries are set up and while we get snippets along the way, nothing is truly given a definitive answer. But calm yourself; it’s the first book in a series and he’s got plenty of time to answer questions. Oh, and what do you know? The second book, Black Halo, comes out March 22, 2011!
So why should you read this book? Tome of the Undergates is a hilarious and poignant look into the lives of six dysfunctional, some would say sociopathic, compatriots as they quest to prevent a giant fish demon from being released and destroying their world. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. A fun and destructive romp on the high seas, delivered by one of the newest voices in fantasy, Tome of the Undergates is definitely a book worth reading.
It is, as I told Sam Sykes himself, a “blasphemously delicious” book. If you are looking for a fresh voice in fantasy full of adventure, comedy, and pathos, then you need to hop on the Sam Sykes bandwagon and grab a copy of Tome of the Undergates!(less)
Mark Charan Newton’s debut novel, Nights of Villjamur, is the first in his The Legends of the Red Sun series. The Legends of the Red Sun will consist of four volumes, with the second volume released in 2010 and the third slated for a 2011 release.
An ice age is coming as the sun grows old and red. The people of Villjamur, the mighty fortress city of the Jamur Empire, say the ice could last for fifty years, but there are greater worries than just the coming Freeze. When a powerful politician is murdered, the event sets off a plot that threatens not just the citizens of Villjamur, but also the future of the Jamur Empire itself. Death, magic and war trigger a chilling atmosphere that sets the tone for Newton’s first book of The Legends of the Red Sun series.
The Living City
Characters, magic, and world building are the lynchpins of fantasy novels. While Nights of Villjamur delivers all of these elements, it is the powerful atmosphere of Villjamur itself that kept me hooked. One of the strongest parts of this novel is the vibrant personality Newton has given to the city. He has imbued in it a sense of history and tragedy usually reserved for characters. This attention to the city, its architecture, mood, color and vitality, are what made Nights of Villjamur such a compelling read. The city and people of Villjamur become a living, breathing world under Newton’s confident voice.
A World Reinforced Some fantasy writers will take time out of their narrative to explore the world they’ve created. However, Newton’s narration style is very focused. He provides enough information to further the plot, but without giving away too much about his world or concepts.
This style of narration reinforces the world he has built for the reader. By accepting the strangeness of the world as reality without explanation, you bring yourself further into the world of the story. Don’t worry, you’ll come to understand the magic, the creatures and the histories, but you’re going to have to be patient.
From All Walks of Life Take an albino commander of the prestigious Night Guard, an aging city inspector, and a rogue with a heart of gold (or perhaps a baser metal), then mix in magic users, an artistic seductress, and a reluctant empress, and you have an idea of the cast of characters who inhabit Villjamur.
While some of their storylines took longer to develop then others, each had their own charm that set them apart from the clichés they could have become. As strange as the world these characters inhabit is, they are still relatable. From love to betrayal, from murder to justice, I understood each character’s motive, even if I didn’t like their reasons why.
Frost In The Gears The novel is not without its faults, however. The plot takes a while to get going, and it’s a slow burn until things start coming together. There were also moments when I felt the prose spun its wheels, just waiting for the next plot twist to happen. And this may just be the fantasy geek in me, but I do wish that Newton had indulged a bit and explored some of his more fascinating concepts, like the banshees or the Dawnir, further.
I also felt some characters were introduced and shuffled off rather quickly. I understood them and their goals; I just wish I could have gotten to know them a bit better as well. However, what was explored was absorbing and it’s obvious there are more depths to be plumbed in the upcoming installment, City of Ruin.
Why Should You Read This Book? Nights of Villjamur is a very well written first novel by a newcomer to the fantasy genre. Brimming with atmosphere, philosophical thought, exciting characters, and intense action, Newton has created a wonderful novel and an exciting new world. You’d be remiss not to check it out. I’m glad I did.(less)
Across the sea from Genabackis lies the continent of Seven Cities, occupied by the Malazan Empire. But within the heart of the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the Whirlwind, a prophesied uprising that will come out the desert, raze Seven Cities, and eliminate the Malazan occupation.
With some old favorites returning and plenty of new characters introduced, Erikson once again succeeds in crafting an amazing novel that explores and dissects the horrors of war, the strength of humanity, and the dark and wonderful world that is the second book of The Malazan Book of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates.
Whole new world Probably the most interesting and jarring aspect of this novel is that it takes place on an entirely different continent than the last novel. Yes, I said continent. As this book opens, the reader truly starts to understand the kind of scope Erikson is going for in this series.
Seven Cities is an entirely new beast, replacing Genabackis’s plains and mountains with dead, dry wastes and deadly, scorching deserts. Not only is the reader introduced to an entirely different landscape, but also to dozens of new cultures. New sects of priests, gods, soldiers, mercenary groups, foods, cities, magic, and characters are but one large aspect of this novel to digest. It’s thrilling to jump into Seven Cities with the knowledge of Gardens of the Moon because that knowledge makes everything more vivid and engrossing.
Deeper, smoother story In Deadhouse Gates, Erikson treats the reader differently. Erikson knows that if the reader has made it to Deadhouse Gates, then they’ll be used to his style. He can trust the reader to follow the story, confusing as it may sometimes become. As such, the story seems a lot smoother; Erikson keeps the story lean and the prose beautifully succinct. The reader is rewarded with a tighter story that treats them as equals.
But that’s not to say Erikson gives any hand-outs. Gardens of the Moon was a rich, interesting story that raised plenty of questions. Most of those questions are never actually answered until Deadhouse Gates; and as expected, there are even more questions raised at the end of that, questions which won’t be answered until Memories of Ice, the third book. It can be frustrating at times, but only because it’s such a compelling read: you want to know the answers right away. But Erikson is pulling back the curtain slowly, and you need to savor it. Patience is a virtue that Erikson teaches well.
New and old characters One of Erikson’s greatest strengths is in his characters. He develops a story, a mind, a real soul behind the characters he writes, whether it’s an undead soldier thousands of years old or a sixteen-year-old female assassin. And, as is usually the case with Erikson, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to constructing amazing, defined, and tragic people.
There are plenty of new characters in this, from the Empire’s Historian Duiker to the tragic couple Icarium and Mappo. However, just because we’re on a new continent doesn’t mean we don’t follow our former companions, too. Expect a return of a few choice Bridgeburners and some of our favorite Ascendants, Shadowthrone and Cotillion. One of the great things about The Malazan Book of the Fallen is that everyone always comes out with a favorite character. Believe me, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
The horrors of war In Gardens of the Moon, Erikson introduced a very complicated, very amazing world. To me, it acted as a vehicle for both very human stories as well as large, earth-shattering epics. Gardens of the Moon ended on a somewhat optimistic tone, and although it was a book about war, it still never dove into overwhelming violence.
But in Deadhouse Gates, Erikson doesn’t pull his punches. He goes for the gut.
Opening with the cull of nobility with men, women, and children awaiting execution or exile, Deadhouse Gates told me right away that Erikson wouldn’t hold back. This book is a brutal look at the horrors of war: how dangerous and cunning cornered men become; how people try fight through pain to find purpose; and how friendship can empower, or in other cases, poison.
This is not to say that it is all doom and gloom. Erikson finds moments of grim levity and sometimes good intentions triumph. It is a brutal journey, and not everyone makes it. But every smile you crack at reading this, every tear you shed, every time you jump up in your seat, is earned and worth it.
So why should you read this? This book represents Erikson’s real test. Gardens of the Moon was complicated but engrossing, and, ultimately, rewarding. Deadhouse Gates is his true test for the reader: Can you follow what he’s hoping to accomplish? Can you stay with him as he mucks through all the horror and grief of war?
I cannot answer these questions for you. But I will say this: If you can stay with him, what you will find at the end is a wonderful novel full of amazing characters, deep history, and an enticing story that will have you coming back for more. After this novel, there’s no way I’m not going to finish The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I’m hooked.(less)
Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon is Book One in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The Malazan Empire, ruled by the ruthless Empress Laseen, holds the continent of Genabackis by the throat. The latest maneuver in her campaign of rule, Laseen needs only to conquer the last Free City, Darujhistan, before Genabackis is hers. Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners, weary of war, have no choice but to obey and continue the cycle of destruction. Meanwhile, a mage named Tattersail and a soldier named Paran become aware of forces that have begun playing their own hand. These are forces well beyond mortal understanding—these are the gods themselves.
Gardens of the Moon is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Steven Erikson’s masterpiece. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a fantasy series that takes place across multiple continents, follows hundreds of characters, with millennia worth of history. Erikson has created a massive work that redefines epic fantasy.
An enormous world Fantasy writers always strive to create new worlds for their readers. Governments, countries, histories, flora, fauna and the like are meticulously thought over and brought to life for the story. However, I have never experienced world-building to the degree that Erikson accomplishes.
Erikson creates a vivid, living, complicated world, full of magic, monsters, agendas, history and sorrow. Each character has a long and mysterious past that haunts them and shapes their path. Every city has a memory of glory, and even the monsters are not safe from their share of tragedy. Erikson works in both the now and the distant past. Gardens of the Moon marks the beginning of something huge, and while daunting at first, soon you will barely notice when someone is 300,000 years old.
Rich characters Erikson’s strengths don’t just end at creating wonderful worlds—he crafts characters that simply shine. There is something so real about every one of them, even the gods. He is able to bring them down to our level and help us relate to them. Every one of them is unique; there are no cookie cutter characters littering this novel. Every one of them has their own agenda and views on things, and every one has a past they bring with them. You will come to treasure every little morsel Erikson gives you about his characters. Their histories are long and varied, and you’re not going to learn everything about them right away. But when you do, it makes it all the more satisfying.
Huge learning curve One of the great, and yet somewhat distressing, things about this series is that it comes with such a steep learning curve. Erikson does not hold your hand and walk you through his world, explaining all the wonderful things he’s made. He drops you into the ocean and you need to swim. This is an amazing world. It is complex, and in that complexity lies the challenge.
Erikson does not waste his time catching you up; there’s too much story to tell. You will figure things out, and you will fall in love with the book, but you need to focus and pay attention. The steep learning curve has been one of the complaints of the series and it is what originally kept me from reading it. A year ago I gave up after the first thirty pages, but I was young and weak. I came back to the world, I read it meticulously, and I began putting things together myself. After that I was hooked. It requires patience and focus, but it is worth the effort.
Everything is important Everything Erikson writes has some degree of importance. Erikson can convey a great amount of detail in a very little amount of words, a skill honed from his background in writing short stories. So as you read, remember: everything means something.
So why should you read this? If you are tired of fantasy novels that set you on a rail-guided car and deliver the plot to you in three easy meals, this book is for you. If you are tired of going on the same journey, meeting the same characters, and glimpsing the same mundane magic, this book is for you.
If you want to challenge yourself to an amazingly beautiful and complicated world, filled with people just as complex and intriguing, working your mind in the process—then Gardens of the Moon is what you need to read. It is the beginning of a long series, and the answers will not come quick. But I promise you, they will come eventually, and you’ll enjoy every step along the way.(less)