Jim Butcher is best known for his bestselling urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. In 2005, Butcher decided to expand his writing tool belt and released the first book of the epic fantasy Codex Alera series, Furies of Calderon.
Furies of Calderon takes place in a land known as Alera, ruled by the First Lord (emperor) and his various underlings. What makes the denizens of Alera unique is the fact that they have access to a magic known as fury-crafting, which allows them to control earth, fire, air, and water. Tavi, a sheepherder, strives to come to terms with his lack of fury-crafting. While Tavi deals with his lack of fury-crafting, a rebel army is being raised to wrestle Alera from the First Lord.
A twist on traditional magic As any long time fantasy reader knows, many authors use some form of the standard earth, fire, water, and air magic formula. Furies of Calderon uses this formula in a truly novel way. As noted earlier, Alerans use a form of magic known as fury-crafting, which means they can control various creatures, similar to Pokémon, to augment their powers. For example, one character has a fury that controls the wind, allowing her to fly.
The most fascinating part of the magic system is that each element gives the user a secondary effect: water users can feel people’s emotions, earth users can increase other people’s emotions, etc. Fury-crafting spices up every portion of the book, especially the battles. In every battle, generals have to take in a litany of information regarding various fury-crafters, and the bouts are extremely dynamic and unpredictable. This was best shown when a character uses air-crafting to fling back a few pots with flammable material. Butcher’s magic system may not be as interesting as some of Brandon Sanderson’s, but it definitely should not be ignored.
A Roman inspired world From the use of spears, armors, and helmets, it is clear the Furies of Calderon was based heavily on Roman mythos. Since this is the first book in a series, the reader is not introduced to that much, but it is enough to be sated. The most interesting bit of world building is the “barbarians”—I use that word in the loosest sense—known as the marats. The marats have some standard barbarian characteristics, such as honor based killing, but do not let that first impression fool you. The defining feature of the marats is their infectious humor that will have you chuckling a fair amount.
The furyless main character The cast of Furies of Calderon is fleshed out decently, but there is one character that stands out: Tavi. As noted earlier, Tavi is a young sheepherder who cannot use fury-crafting. His lack of fury-crafting compels people to take pity on him or call him sort of freak. Although Tavi does not have fury-crafting, he is courageous and is willing to go to great lengths to save those close to him. It is fascinating to see a clever twist on the farm boy story. Instead of being an all-powerful farm boy, Tavi just has his wit, which is a weapon in itself.
Two dimensional characters If I had to find one fault in Furies of Calderon, it would be in how good or evil the characters are. The characters on the good side are extraordinarily good to the point of nausea, while the bad characters are malignant at times. One of the only exceptions to this rule is a character known as Fidelias who has a bit of a Machiavellian flair about him. I am certain that this dearth of moral ambiguity will be fixed as the series progresses, but it was a bit grating in this book.
Why should you read this book? I have already heaped quite a bit of praise on Furies of Calderon, and what follows is a summation of this praise. If you are looking for a novel with a clever magic system, a well thought out world, and a courageous main character, you should read Furies of Calderon. I personally cannot wait to read the second entry in this series.(less)
n 2005, John Scalzi released his science fiction debut, Old Man’s War, to much critical and commercial acclaim. Now, Scalzi is one of the most beloved authors in the science fiction community.
When John Perry turned seventy-five, he decided to take to the stars and enlist with the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). Rumor has it that the CDF is able to give Perry a new life, a life free from his aging body and memories of his dead wife. Of course, life in the CDF will not be easy since many alien species want to destroy humanity. And so begins a space opera full of humor, sorrow, and all of the other intriguing facets of humanity.
A moving introduction Let me begin by saying that the first part of Old Man’s War is some of the best science fiction I have ever read. First, the characters are exquisite and believably human. I think that most science fiction misses that the people who participate in these intergalactic wars are still human and not some motley crew of princes and warlords. Complementing the wonderful cast of characters is the beautifully-spun space setting.
Since Old Man’s War is a space opera, the technology is fairly understandable because the focus is on the characters and the results of war. However, there are quite a few bits of tech that fetch attention, such as the space elevator. The technology is not enjoyable because of its complexity; it is enjoyable because of the clever ways the characters employ them.
Humor me Scalzi makes his mark on the science fiction realm with his infectious humor. There were multiple times when I was up late into the night eagerly awaiting Scalzi’s dollops of comedy, and what impressed me the most about it was how varied it is, ranging from giggle-inducing sexual innuendos to clever barbs pointed at the military establishment.
Not pulling their weight Not everything is quite so rosy in the latter half of the novel, however, and a slew of problems spring up like weeds in an otherwise beautiful garden. The main issue is that Perry begins to catch too many lucky breaks, and meets too many of the right people that stretches my personal sensibilities. Also, most of the characters become interchangeable and difficult to care about. I found the latter issue to be most bothersome because of how brilliantly wrought the characters were in the initial half of the book. This is not to say that the latter half is not enjoyable, as it does have a few compelling set pieces, plot twists, and surprising revelations, but they are not enough to completely salvage the tale.
Why should you read this book? Old Man’s War is an amalgamation of what makes science fiction novels such delights to read: thought-provoking ideas, interesting technology, and infectious bits of comedy. Although the journey through Old Man’s War comes with its share of bumps and bruises, it is well worth the price of admission.(less)
It has been two years since Kameron Hurley shocked the science fiction community with her debut novel God’s War. Now, Hurley’s blood-soaked trilogy has come to an end with the novel, Rapture. Does Hurley end the trilogy with a flourish or a whimper? The answer cannot easily be heard under the rousing applause that Rapture deserves. Rapture is one of those rare beasts of a novel that marries together beautifully gritty characters, soul-stirring moral implications, and a complex world.
With a quaint ocean-side home, a doting lover, and a gaggle of kids to look after, Nyx thought she had finally found peace. But with all the blood that Nyx has spilt, she should have known that running away would not be that easy. The Bel Dames, a group of government assassins, have convinced her to come out of retirement and take on one more bounty. Nyx knows that she cannot do this bounty alone, so she hires a cadre of shifty mercenaries to help her. In the shadows of Nyx’s journey, revolutions are brewing and peace is on a knife’s edge.
The characters come full circle It has been a long and brutal journey for Nyx and her cohorts. Every friend killed and every corpse burned has taken a tremendous emotional and physical toll on the cast. Rapture is when each character must answer for both their triumphs and their follies; they cannot simply sweep their actions under the rug. The internal struggles the main characters have to go through elevate this novel above mere fiction into something we can all learn from, with the message of the past coming back to haunt you ringing true. Sometimes, when you mess up, there is not redemption waiting on your doorstop or a shoulder to cry on because you forsook it years ago.
Upheaving expectations One of the most enthralling things about Rapture—and the entire Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy—is how adroitly Hurley lays bare our own societal norms and expectations. All of the current hot-button issues are on transparent display here: same-gender relationships, female sexuality, religion, and morality. Although Hurley seems be on the liberal half of the political spectrum, she is more than willing to show both sides of the argument. Of course, this may ruffle a few readers’ literary feathers because she includes both the good and the bad. This is part of what makes Rapture such an engaging novel—it forces the reader to be uncomfortable with its fearsome honesty. It forces us to reevaluate our thoughts on various issues, regardless of which section of the sociopolitical spectrum we call home.
Those sure are a lot of viewpoints There is something to be said about being too ambitious. In this case, Rapture sports a rather large cast of point-of-view characters for a fairly slim novel. For the most part, this lengthy POV list is not bothersome when it comes to the returning cast, as they are already nicely developed from the previous novels. It becomes a hindrance instead with the new characters introduced in Rapture. Overall, the new characters are well-developed but at many times are their motivations muddled—and some characters just seem like walking plot conveniences.
Why should you read this book? Novels like Rapture only come every once in a while, piercing through readers’ corporeal forms and straight into their souls. That being said, Rapture, and the entire Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy, is not for everyone. Its brutal slant on multiple subjects may rub some readers the wrong way, its cast is not likeable in the heroic sense, nor is there much closure. But for those who want to be challenged by the novels they read, I implore you to look no further than Rapture.(less)
In 2010, Ian Tregillis took the SF/F world by storm with his stunning alternative World War II debut, Bitter Seeds. Tregillis received a large amount of attention because he was groomed under the tutelage of some of fantasy’s greats, such as George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham. If his teachers were not enough to lure you in, its arresting hardcover of a woman holding a novel and trampling over a pile of skulls just might be. Given these pieces of information, you probably concluded that Bitter Seeds is a dark romp through the corridors of war and how it changes us, for better or for worse.
World War II rages on, and neither the United States nor Germany is willing to give up any ground. That is, until a brilliant German scientist cracks the genetic code and creates machines that allow humans to gain superpowers, to become the Übermenschen of Nietzsche-an fame. To combat this escalation of German power, Britain enlists the help of warlocks. In between these two powerhouses is a normal British operative who must figure out how to stop the magical Reich. The war is at its boiling point, and sacrifices will be necessary. Neither side will come out unscathed.
An old dog still has some new tricks One of the interesting things Tregillis does is take fairly old powers and make them interesting again. For example, one character can turn invisible, which is a concept that has beaten readers across the head for ages, but Tregillis uses it in a novel way. In addition, Tregillis’s no-holds-barred approach to combat allows these powers to have new life. In war, there are no moral limits and thus, the characters beautifully exploit their powers to the fullest extent. This does not mean the characters can wantonly fling their powers about, however. They are intimately aware of the limits of their power and the fact that they are still mortal.
Now that is a character arc Where the magic and technology is really intriguing, the characters are even more interesting. The British side is housed by a cadre of good-willed individuals who are trying to end the war to protect their country and loved ones. In their attempt to stop the war, the British have to make many sacrifices, drink in the proverbial abyss that war inevitably brings. The Germans do not fare much better since they are held back by the Reich’s bureaucracies and the taxing mental toll their superman status brings. All of these character changes come together to make quite an exciting read because it shows just how far a person is willing to go to win.
The authorial hand As previously mentioned, this was Tregillis’s first novel, and it shows in a number of places. On the surface level, there are pacing issues and some seemingly silly tactics employed by the main characters. The grossest grievance I can level at Bitter Seeds is that, at times, Tregillis does not let the despair of war grow naturally. I completely understand that war is gritty, but Tregrillis seems to place the characters at just the right time to have the worst possible thing to occur to them. This really stretched my suspension of disbelief. Of course, these are just small grievances that I am sure will be buffed out in the next two novels.
Why should you read this book? George R.R. Martin liked it—isn’t that enough for you? Well, of course not. You should read Bitter Seeds because of the brutal effect of this concocted mix of science, magic and grey characters. If you are looking for a new and exciting voice in fantasy and science-fiction or a voice that rings true on the tolls of war, then look no further than Ian Tregillis.(less)
If you are reading this review, you are most likely well-versed with Jim Butcher’s famous urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. After the momentous events of Summer Knight, many readers may be nervous, wondering if Jim Butcher can keep up with his frantic pace. I am here to ease your worries; Death Mask further cements Butcher as one of the best urban fantasy authors out there.
The war between the vampires and the wizards still rages on, and the death toll is rising on both sides. To stop the ever-expanding war, Duke Ortega of the Red Court challenges Harry Dresden to a duel to the death. While Harry worries about this coming duel, he is enlisted by the Catholic Church to find the recently stolen Shroud of Turin. To make matters worse, a new evil arises that is more terrifying than both the fae and the vampires.
Sacrifices Harry has been a wonderful driving force for the previous novels, but there have also been some interesting side characters that we really have yet to get to know—until now. For starters, the holy knight Michael has backup this time in the form of two other knights: Shiro and Sanya. Both of these new knights are introduced with standard humorous Butcher flair. Shiro is an ironic Japanese swordsman, and Sanya is agnostic even though he was given a holy sword by an archangel. This parody-based storytelling is classic Butcher, but like any good classic, there is always more than meets the eye.
The real power player this time around is Harry’s ex-girlfriend, Susan. Of course, when we last met Susan she had been turned into a half-vampire by Bianca of the Black Court and had run away to ensure that she did not hurt Harry. Susan was always a throwaway character, simply a walking romance object for Harry to obsess over, but all of that changes now. Due to her half-vampire state, Susan has a litany of powers, such as improved strength, so she can actually assist Harry. All of these additions make Susan more than a walking plot device because they add character depth that was sorely missing before.
Denarians In each novel, Butcher typically adds a new legion of villains to confound Harry, and Death Masks does not stray from this tradition. This time around, the villains are known as the Denarians, who have entered the fray due to the Shroud of Turin being out in the open. In Christian mythos, denarii were the thirty or so coins of Roman currency that Judas was paid to betray Jesus. In Death Masks, the Denarians are fallen angels who inhabit each of these coins. If a person is in possession of one of the coins, they will slowly be possessed by one of the demons.
What makes the Denarians so compelling can be seen in their leader, Nicodemus. Nicodemus is cool, collected, and is without a doubt a long term planner. Although the other factions, such as the fairies and the vampires, are evil they are nothing like the Denarians. The Denarians’ one and only goal is to create chaos in the world—nothing more, nothing less—and they are fanatical about achieving this goal. This adds an interesting situation in which the Denarians will use more twisted and subversive means to create chaos because they care more for ideas than material things.
Harry is strong, but… Yes, Harry is strong but his triumphs over the impossible are beginning to break immersion. In each of The Dresden Files novels, the readers do not see any discernible differences in Harry’s power or spell routines, but the enemies keep getting exponentially stronger. This leads to a situation in which it appears that Butcher has to use more twisted logic to get Harry out of a spat. To fix this issue of immersion, Butcher could have some sort of training arc or power boost which would put Harry on equal footing with the villains. As it stands, it is getting more difficult to think that Harry can take on fallen angels and the like, even as a powerful wizard. Of course, this perceived flaw is not enough to ruin the flow and pacing of the entire novel. It is but a small blemish on an otherwise perfect portrait.
Why should you read this book? Since you have made it this far into the series, why would you not read Death Masks? Of course, the previous sentence is made in jest. You should read Death Masks because of the improved characterization of the side characters, the riveting pacing, and the hints of more underneath the surface. As previously mentioned, Butcher will have to either tone down the power level of his villains or make Harry stronger lest the readers’ immersion is broken. Overall, Death Masks is another beautiful thread of the growing tapestry of The Dresden Files.(less)
Summer Knight is the fourth entry in Jim Butcher’s bestselling urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. Summer Knight holds a special place in most fans’ hearts because it greatly expands the scope of the world. Prior to Summer Knight, the scope of the events was reserved, but this does not hold anymore. Every action that the protagonists now take has far-reaching consequences.
Harry Dresden has dealt with an assortment of Chicago’s darker elements, but he has yet to take on a case of such cosmic importance. The Summer Knight has been murdered, and his death has thrown the fairy world into disarray. Mab, queen of the Winter Court, is seen as the likely murder suspect since the Summer Knight’s death gives her court a competitive edge. To absolve herself of the crimes, Mab enlists Harry to track down the killer. To make matters worse, Harry has the White Council, the court of wizards, breathing down his neck for starting a war with the vampires. In the midst of all the murder and politicking, a ghost from Harry’s past shows up and he cannot figure out why.
Wizards have political gridlock, too Harry is summoned to the White Council to explain his role in starting the war with the vampires. This run-in with the White Council serves as a perfect time for Butcher to allow the readers to see the inner workers of the Council, and he does not disappoint. The first thing that will catch the reader’s eye is that the White Council meetings do not take place in some sort of ancient castle, but rather in a symposium in Downtown Chicago. The second (and arguably the more interesting) thing to note is the strife between the common (I know, ironic) wizards and the senior council. The majority of the wizards are amicable to Harry’s reasoning for beginning the war with the vampires, but the top wizards seem less compliant with Harry’s plea. This creates an interesting paradox in which Harry has use to quite a bit of intelligence to wiggle out of the political quagmire he is in. I will not drone on about the White Council, but it is truly a breath of fresh air to have a conflict ruled by wit rather than physical confrontations. Who would have thought that Harry could do the political jig?
The party crashers Although most of the war is fought between the White Council and the Vampire Courts, it is important to remember the third party, the fairies. It is sometimes easy to forget how powerful the fairies are when they are scarfing up pizza, but first impressions rarely give a full picture. Butcher sowed hints of how powerful the fairies actually are by their ability to move throughout the Nevernever. And who could forget Harry’s fairy godmother, Leanansidhe, whose power sent shivers down Harry’s spine? Summer Knight lifts the floodgates and lets the reader peer into what lays behind, and it is quite a stirring peek. Yes, Leanansidhe is powerful, but nowhere as powerful as the leaders of the Winter Court and the Summer Court.
A world in ruin The scope of The Dresden Files has been pretty limited until now. Most of the cases that Harry had to deal with only involved Chicago, and did not have widespread consequences. This gripe can be buried now, because in Summer Knight, Harry’s actions will determine the fate of the world. At first, this enlarged scope seems antithetical to the urban fantasy genre and its standard snack-like portions, but I can assure you that it is not. The reader still gets the closeness of being with Harry while he cruises around Chicago, but now with the added benefit of knowing that his actions could impact millions of lives. This in turn makes the reader care for Harry more than before because of the enormous burden he must carry. The only issue with the expanded scope is that some of the plot threads get resolved a bit too quickly, but we cannot win them all. Overall, it is a brilliant decision for Butcher to expand Harry’s world.
Why should you read this book? I am sure that many readers have been waiting for the Dresden Files to be more than just fun and wanton violence. Well, readers, the time is here, and the Summer Knight awaits your purchase. Butcher daftly breathes new life into The Dresden Files by greatly expanding the scope and adding a few bricks to Harry’s world. Those who have read the series so far will be in for a special treat, while newcomers will have a great novel to look forward to once they catch up. Although The Dresden Files is not epic fantasy, Summer Knight takes a few lines from that genre, and that is a good thing.(less)
Grave Peril is the third book in the bestselling urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. The Dresden Files is currently composed of thirteen main “case file” novels and numerous short stories, some of which are collected in an exclusive anthology (Side Jobs).
Harry Dresden has fought an evil sorcerer and a gaggle of werewolves, but now he must face ghosts that are running amok in Chicago. While dealing with this uprising of ghosts, Harry is brought into conflict with the powerful vampire court. To make matters worse, one of the vampire courts is headed by someone who wants him dead. While dealing with all of these supernatural occurrences, Harry also has to juggle his love life.
An ever expanding world Grave Peril is typically known as the turning point of The Dresden Files, and for good reason. The reader is introduced to an expanded cast composed of a paladin, a fairy temptress, and a semi-good vampire. The reader also gets a glimpse of the political aspects of Harry’s world. Most of the politicking involves the White Council (the court for wizards), and the various Vampire Courts. For centuries, the White Council has been much stronger than the vampire courts, but the vampires have learned a few new tricks so that they can gain the advantage. The tenuous relationship between the White Council and the Vampire Courts will excite those who love deception, and politics.
A sympathetic hero Grave Peril’s plot is riveting, but the thing that will keep you up at night is the protagonist, Harry Dresden. Harry is a self-described chauvinist, a wise-cracking wizard, and most importantly, a good person. Underneath Harry’s self-deprecating humor lies a man who is willing to go to hell and back for the people close to him. This is important to note because, unlike the first two books, Harry has quite a few people he has to protect. There are many times throughout the novel when Harry must decide if he should save himself or face an unfathomable number of enemies to save his friends. Harry’s personality is not composed only of sunshine; we get see a bit about his past and some of his darker actions. If you are tired of the perfect Mary Sue protagonist, you need to read the Grave Peril. Harry is a good person, but incredibility flawed.
The importance of magic At first glance, the magic in Grave Peril is extremely generic. We see an assortment of magical swords, staves, and wind spells, but don’t let this fool you. What sets Gravel Peril’s magic apart from other novels is how closely the characters are connected to their magic. Most fantasy novels treat magic as a tool which the characters use for various purposes. The characters are typically separate from their magic, like a police officer is separate from his gun. The characters of Grave Peril, however, see magic as an extension of themselves. When a character is depressed, their magic ebbs, but it grows stronger as the character is enraged. You can feel the emotional toll with every spell cast by the characters, and how important magic is to them, especially to Harry.
Why should you read this book? If you are looking for the voice of urban fantasy, I highly recommend Grave Peril. This voice is composed of a beautifully crafted world, a brilliant lead, and an emotionally charged magic system. If you have not read the first 2 novels in The Dresden Files, you should hurry so you can read this one—it is truly a gem.(less)
As noted in my review of the first The Dresden Files novel, Storm Front, I was surprised by how compelling it was. Storm Front had a breakneck pace and one of the most compelling main characters I have read in a long time. With these qualities etched into my mind, I eagerly picked up a copy of Fool Moon to see if Jim Butcher could maintain the greatness he introduced in Storm Front.
Fool Moon begins with a person brutally murdered during a full moon, the murder so gruesome that the FBI is brought in to investigate. The FBI cannot figure out what could have killed the victim, so Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard, Harry Dresden, is brought in to investigate. Harry believes this murder is the result of a werewolf gone awry. It is up to Harry to track down the culprit while dealing with the FBI intruding at every step. Harry’s case eventually puts him in line with a gang of werewolves and a gaggle of pubescent werewolf wannabes. It appears that Harry can never catch a break.
The dark side of the moon Clearly, the major plot theme of this novel is werewolves. Of course, werewolves are a staple of the urban fantasy genre, and there really is not much new to the formula here, though there is a bit of novelty regarding the various wolf forms and such. Even though the werewolves are not particularly new, the battles between them and Harry can be quite ferocious and visceral. Due to the fact that werewolves are inherently vicious, Harry has to fight in a more explosive manner than in Storm Front. This adds a certain weight and tension to the battles because you never know if Harry will emerge unscathed.
Side characters In Storm Front, it was clear that Butcher wanted to place a laser focus on Harry since he would be the primary voice carrying the following novels. In Fool Moon, we gain a little bit more knowledge of the surrounding characters, such as Lieutenant Murphy and Harry’s love interest, Susan. Although we are given a bigger taste of the supporting cast, it is more of an appetizer than a full meal. We do get a glimpse of the pack of werewolves known as the alphas. The alphas are quite a delight because they are a pack of youngsters who obtain wolf powers and are trying to ensure Chicago is safe.
Redundant If Storm Front is a refreshing summer night breeze, Fool Moon is more akin to recycled air with a whiff of foulness. I do not mean to say that Fool Moon is a bad novel; the issue is that it treads on much the same ground as Storm Front, but to a lesser extent. Fool Moon uses a lot of the original characters, but it does not add much oomph or pizazz to their characterization. To avoid spoilers, it is a bit hard to elaborate on this portion, but you will find yourself pining for something new. If Fool Moon is read as a standalone title, this redundancy is not an issue, but if read after Storm Front, it can induce a bit of a déjà vu experience.
Why so serious? I will apologize in advance for some of the venom in the following sentences, but here is where I will present most of my gripes. Storm Front was serious enough, but had quite a bit of deliberate tongue in cheek humor to it. Fool Moon suffers from its attempt to be serious and present a mature tale when it simply cannot. An apt example of this is the romantic element: the romance reminded me acutely of young adult romantic relations. The sex scene was poorly written and simply was not believable. This novel also suffers very much from the fact that it acts as though this is the final novel in the series. Final novels tend to have an emotional impact because the readers have been with the characters for a long time and have an attachment to them. However, in Fool Moon, we have only been with Harry and pals for one novel, so the emotional impact falls flat.
Why should you read this book? Fool Moon does suffer from a fair amount of issues ranging from redundancy to poor characterization, but this does mean that it is all bad. If you are looking for a fun and entertaining weekend read, you honestly cannot do much better. Just be warned that if you have also read Storm Front, you might experience a bit of déjà vu.(less)
Storm Front is the first novel of Jim Butcher’s best-selling urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. As with many urban fantasy novels, Storm Front takes the reader through one case while revealing bits and pieces about the overarching world.
Two people have been murdered, and the most gruesome aspect of it is that their hearts have been ripped out. Chicago’s police force is stumped by these strings of murders, but Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard, knows that supernatural things are afoot. Harry has seen some strange things in his days, but this case riles him more than usual. This case puts Harry in the firing line of seductive vampires, gruesome toad-creatures, and some of the darker aspects of magic.
Teaching an old dog new tricks One of the complaints that is often leveled against fantasy literature is that it recycles the same types of mythical creatures in banal ways (e.g. dwarves living in mines). Luckily, Storm Front deftly avoids this trap by adding a certain oomph or spark to the standard formula. For example, fairies are standard fantasy fare, but in Storm Front, they serve as dimwitted informants who are easily cajoled with pizza. This satirical humor is sprinkled throughout every crevice of Storm Front. You may not learn a lot about the inner workings of The Dresden Files world, but you will have fun learning about the parts you get to see.
Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard One of the most important aspects of a first person narrative is to have a compelling lead. Thankfully, I could not have asked for a finer example of this than Harry Dresden. What makes Harry such a compelling lead is not his combat ability, though he has plenty of that, but his ability to laugh when faced with danger. Harry is pushed to the brink of death many times, but he does not lose his wits. When presented with danger, Harry always responds with some sort of clever one-liner that livens up the otherwise darker tones of the case. This healthy dose of humor does not mean that Harry is immune to the darker nature of magic; there are times when he seems to embrace the darkness and chaos that surround him.
Side Characters If I had to lodge one complaint about Storm Front (and I do), it is the lack of attention paid to the side characters. Most of the side characters seem to be walking plot devices for Harry to either flirt with or fight with. Of course, this is most likely a symptom of being a first novel, and I am certain this issue will be alleviated in future novels. Sadly, the one dimensional side characters mar an otherwise beautiful book.
Why should you read this book? I cannot heap enough praise on this novel. If you are looking for a witty and refreshing take on the urban fantasy genre, you need not look further than Storm Front. I personally cannot put this series down and will be rapidly consuming the following books.(less)
Brandon Sanderson has had a meteoric and well-deserved rise in the fantasy genre within the last decade. He has published more than a dozen novels, was chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series—and did that well!—and hosts the Hugo Award-winning podcast Writing Excuses. Sanderson’s trademark innovative magic systems, strong characters, and unique plot twists have gained him legions of fans. Though a novella, The Emperor’s Soul still has all of these aspects. It is a brief ode to unique magic packaged as an intriguing character-driven tale.
Shai is caught stealing an ancient artifact from the Emperor’s palace. She expects execution, but instead she is conscripted because of her unique magic. Emperor Ashravan’s soul has been damaged in an assassination attempt, and Shai may be the only one who can save him. To do this, she needs to use her magic to write him a new soul, something she’s never done before, which should probably take years—but Shai only has a hundred days until people will start suspecting something is wrong with the emperor. A hundred days in which she not only needs to write him a new soul, but devise a plan to escape the empire as well.
Flawless forgery It is impossible to discuss this novella without exploring Sanderson’s newest brilliant magic system, called Forging. We all know Brandon Sanderson is a genius when it comes to devising original magic systems, but in The Emperor’s Soul, he went overboard—in a good way. Essentially, this novella is a study of magic. No other author can manage to fill three quarters of a book with information and world building and do it well. Through the eyes of Shai, we slowly learn about her magic. Being educated as a reader is half the fun of The Emperor’s Soul. As Shai’s work progresses, we become masters of Forging ourselves, and the only question we want answered—which forms the other half of the reading pleasure—is, “Will she succeed?”
Of course, a significant portion of Sanderson’s success lies in the artistically innovate magic systems he creates. With such wonderful magic, why would we not want to spend a whole novella being educated? The diehard fans of his work are especially in for a treat: this novella takes place in the world of Elantris, and it’s interesting to see the connections between Forging in this book and the magic in his debut novel. More than that, though, The Emperor’s Soul is a study of good epic fantasy writing. It is marvelous to notice all the inventive ways in which Sanderson feeds his reader info dumps throughout the narrative, without writing a dull story. He is truly a master of resourceful world building—perhaps the master.
Strong women… and men Another of Sanderson’s skills has always been writing strong female characters, and he continues this tradition in The Emperor’s Soul. These women aren’t necessarily physically strong, but they are pleasantly and realistically characterized. Yes, Shai is female, but Sanderson does not focus on femininity the way other authors so often do. The other characters in The Emperor’s Soul treat Shai for what she is: an accomplished Forger and thus a threat. This is a breath of fresh air in a genre that often characterizes women as walking romantic—or sexual—plot points, or absurd stereotypes. Sanderson strikes a nearly flawless balance between these two extremes.
The other character The Emperor’s Soul focuses on is Gaotona, the emperor’s councilor and former best friend. While this is a short book and thus focuses mostly on Shai, it is intriguing to see Sanderson manage to flesh him out quite adequately. Gaotona is a realistic character, complete with flaws—he’s overbearing at times, for example—and strengths. His genuine inquisitiveness and abundance of honor despite his high governmental position make him disarmingly likeable.
The religious tapestry Although it is not mentioned much, even by his fans, Sanderson does a superb job of handling religion in his novels, and especially in The Emperor’s Soul. For example, most people in the novella find Forging repulsive but will resort to using it for the greater good or to maintain their political power. This near-philosophical strive to balance the ends justifying the means gives this novella weight and meaning. Another moral question is raised by considering the actual soul of the emperor. If someone were to gain a new soul, would they still be the person they once were? Sanderson injects such religious questions into his writing without beating the reader over the head with it. Whether you are religious or not, seeing these moral and philosophical questions play a role in such a short novel is intriguing and adds substance to The Emperor’s Soul.
Nights and days The only minor criticism I have for this amazing novella concerns Sanderson’s noted refusal to swear, while authors like Scott Lynch and George R.R. Martin bathe in profanities. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his choice not to curse, and usually even like it. In his other works, part of Sanderson’s world building is establishing fictional cultures and religions—and creating alternative curses that are part of that, complementing the epicness of his works. After all, why would a completely fictional culture use our curses? In The Emperor’s Soul, however, Sanderson has not taken the time to define these cultures—and rightly so, considering the size of this story. He uses words like “Nights!” and “Days!” as profanities, but these words lack cultural context. Such invented expletives can unfortunately serve to break some readers’ immersion. Other readers may find the tantalizing hints of more depth in these characters and cultures to hold significant promise for future novels in the world of Elantris.
Why should you read this book? The Emperor’s Soul has everything that Sanderson is known for: brilliant magic system, moral issues, strong characters, and an action-packed conclusion. It’s fairly short and easy to pick up, yet it is mind-blowing to see how much Sanderson manages to cram into it. What have you got to lose? If you have been afraid to start reading Sanderson’s works because most of his books are large or part of a series, this slim novella is perfect for you. The Sanderson legion eagerly awaits your membership.(less)
A few spoilers from the previous novel, Magician: Apprentice, are scattered throughout this review
Magician: Master is the second novel in Raymond Feist’s best-selling Riftwar Saga. In my previous review, I gave Magician: Apprentice quite a hard time for staying so close to the standard Tolkien-esque tropes (dwarves, elves, etc.). I was not particularly eager to read Magician: Master; I already had a copy on my bookshelf, though, so I dove in. Luckily, Magician: Master ended up being an extraordinary novel, and it is the best follow up novel I have read in years.
When we last saw Pug, he was being held captive by the rift warriors known as the Tsurani. While captive, Pug’s magic is discovered, and the mysterious Tsurani mages take him captive. It is with these magi that Pug obtains a new name and truly unleashes his hidden power. Let us not forget Pug’s best friend, Thomas, who continues to hear whispers from the golden armor he found in the previous novel, nor Prince Arutha who is valiantly trying to gain reinforcements by sneaking into the famed city of Krondor. Of course, many other characters also enlist to stave off the Tsurani threat. While the two sides war with each other, a greater threat lies quietly in wait.
Culture clash Feist does a brilliant thing in Magician: Master: he allows us to see the Tsurani home world through the eyes of Pug. It is fascinating to see the divide between the Midkemians and the Tsurani. We saw a bit of this culture clash in the first novel when the Tsurani were deathly afraid of horses. The difference between the two cultures is especially apparent when Pug sees that the Tsurani revel in arena combat, which is unheard of in Pug’s culture. It is these small details that really lend the book a sense of grandeur and importance. Cross-cultural studies have never been this interesting in the real world.
A bit of a side note: the most interesting aspect of this culture clash comes from each culture’s attitude toward wizards. As shown many times in Magician: Apprentice, wizards are not held in high regard by the majority of the Midkemians. This could not be further from the truth for the Tsuranis, who seem to afford the wizards a sort of deity-like reverence. It is always refreshing to see how one’s culture can color their views on all things mystical.
A fleshed out cast I did not expect that Feist would develop the cast of Magician: Master as much as he did. The most drastic change, of course, is evident in Pug, mainly due to his time with the Tsurani wizards. Gone is the naïve boy from the first novel, and in his place comes a man of great wisdom and honor. Arutha, a personal favorite of mine, gets a bigger role. Throughout the novel, Arutha shows his bravery time and time again, but what is most interesting is his new lease on life and his carefree attitude. Many other characters are more fleshed out, as well; Carline, for instance, is far wiser, and Thomas seems to have developed a case of battle lust. If you enjoy good characters in a classical fantasy setting, I implore you to read this book.
A bit abrupt My main complaint involves some of the ending scenes, though I will not go into great detail in order to avoid spoilers. Although the ending does wrap up this volume, it is unfortunately wrapped in a mangy bow. Many of the plot threads are resolved, but too quickly, and some of the moments that should have been emotionally taxing left a hollow thud because of their brevity. This abruptness appears to stem from the fact that Feist simply did not have enough pages to flesh everything out. The ending is not all doom and gloom, but it still left a sour taste after the delicious bits while I was reading it.
Why should you read this book? I still hold the opinion that Magician: Apprentice was a bit too cliché, but Magician: Master exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The culture clash between the Tsurani and Midkemians presents a sense of anthropological delight that is lacking in my university classes. Almost the entire cast has been greatly fleshed out and improved upon. As noted, my only issue with the book is how abruptly some of the plot lines ended or began, but it does not detract from the novel much. Magician: Master is easily one of the best entries in classical fantasy. You must pick up this gem. Well, of course, after you finish reading Magician: Apprentice.(less)