Neil Gaiman is one of the most talented writers of our age, well known for writing in a variety of media from novels and comic books to movies and audio theater. American Gods is one of his many critically and publically praised novels that has been awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker awards and well deserves its place on our Legacy of Fantasy list. If you have not picked this book up yet, do so right now. Don’t read my review, buy it!
Why are you still here? You don’t trust me? Well, I suppose I should explain why it’s so worthy of your investment before you take the advice of an online personality.
Shadows The story picks up as a rather young man called Shadow is on the verge of being released from prison. Serving a sentence for assault, he has kept his nose clean and only wants to be released to return home to his loving wife Laura. But tragedy strikes and just before his release from custody, his wife is involved in a fatal car wreck, leaving Shadow desolate and lost. Upon release, he hops a flight back home to Chicago, a flight that changes the course of his life. A man known only as “Mr. Wednesday” offers Shadow a job as an errand boy. Somewhat spooked, Shadow intentionally misses his connecting flight and instead rents a car to make the final part of the trip to the windy city. Stopping to rest for a quick drink, he enters a bar only to be confronted once more with the mysterious Wednesday. Shadow is quickly swept up into a menagerie of characters that vaguely resemble figures dredged up from some deep, dark memory.
Godspeed Wednesday and his allies are revealed to be none other than ancient gods of the old worlds, brought to the new world bundled up safely in the minds and belief of the original immigrants. And these gods are at war, not with one another, but with a new generation of gods that have sprung up across America. Gods of technology, media and government, facets of our culture that we have unwittingly deified in our daily lives take form and personification. Wednesday sees a confrontation approaching and seeks to unify the gods of lore to counterattack, using Shadow as a messenger and bodyguard, while these modern day gods are poised and ready to destroy the gods of ancient times.
Convoluted and Elegant It’s hard to look back on my first reading of this book without remembering being in a constant state of mild confusion. I could sense that I was missing something, one small, niggling fact passing right before my eyes, but my brain refusing to recognize it as being important. And yet, I was still able to keep my eyes on the plot and the characters before me. I could feel that slight tug to question what I was reading and what lay behind the story, but it was not so compelling as to push me to ignore the plot for trying to reveal what lay beneath. Upon reflection, that confusion was nothing more than a brilliant and masterful manipulation by a truly talented writer. Hindsight being what it is, I can see all of the connections and the underlying truth that was simply hinted at throughout the entire novel and the intricacy of it astonishes me.
Why you should read this book American Gods is at times disturbing, strange and mysterious as we follow Shadow and his employer as they travel the country, interacting with mythological and modern gods. This book examines our nation in a way few have attempted. American spirituality, obsessions and heritage are gathered together into a single novel that comments not only on the country we have become, but the nation we once were. Well worth the hours put into reading, I cannot more highly recommend a book, so I’m polishing my five stars and placing them high and proud.(less)
Kameron Hurley’s stellar debut novel follows the bloody life of Nyxnissa, commonly called Nyx, a bel dame (government-funded bounty hunter) trying to survive in a world consumed by a holy war that’s been raging for centuries. When she’s relieved of her duties for doing black work of her own to earn extra cash for herself, she has to adapt and find a new way of living.
To survive, Nyx has created a team of independent bounty-hunters that are willing to take any bounty that allows them to survive another day. Suddenly, she’s summoned into the Queen’s presence to accept a note that could retire her team from the business altogether. Charged with hunting down a missing alien who may be the key to solving the war in her country’s favor, she risks her life, as well as the lives of her team, to capture the alien. In the process Nyx and her team are entangled in a spiral of chaos and political intrigue fueled by hatred and distrust.
Strong Characters James – God’s War accomplished what very few fantasy novels are able to do—create believable and in-depth characters. Each character got his or her own story, and in each of those stories the reader is brought closer to what makes that character his or her own person. Truly, this is something that astounded me more than anything else in this novel, and it’s something that deserves a great amount of applause. In the end, there were characters that I felt closer to than others, but they all had their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s what made them such a pleasure to read.
Caitrin – The characters were definitely one of the main strengths of the novel. Nyxnissa, our heroine, is not a character that is immediately likable or relatable. Though you may finish the novel disliking her, Nyx is a real character. She is complex; she isn’t afraid to be anything but herself, she does what she wants when she wants, and she is willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish her goals. Her character arc over the course of the novel is subtle but the changes in her character are always a result of her own will, never of circumstance or other people. Nyxnissa wasn’t my favorite character but she was the most well-fleshed out character and the perfect heroine for the story.
Masterful Cultural Parallels James – I was amazed with how well Kameron Hurley incorporated cultural parallels with our own world without turning the novel into her own political statement. The problems facing the planet of Umayma are similar to our own. Homosexuality is grudgingly accepted but still culturally despised, similar to how it’s dealt with in many parts of our world. As well, Hurley’s ability to transform the war into a character of its own is phenomenal. You can feel the war’s oppressive hands clamping down on everyone in this novel, and shivers went down my spine as I realized the effects that war can have on people.
Caitrin – The political connotations weren’t as obvious for me as the religious parallels were. The history of the people who landed on Umayma has been lost in the sands of time as the different nations that populate the world were created thousands of years before the novel begins. In my mind, though, I could easily see this as a far-flung future where different followers of God escaped Earth and settled the world. The nations of Chenja and Nasheen had an Islamic feel, while Ras Tiegans and the aliens seemed to follow an evolution of Christianity. I’d love to learn more about the beliefs of Mhoria and Tirhan. Religion is hugely important to all aspects of the novel as it pervades and influences everything. I loved creating theories as I read and learned more about the cultures of the countries of Umayma.
Amazing World-Building James – The world that God’s War is set in is one vastly different from our own, yet still relatable on quite a few levels. There’s a definite Islamic feel to the world, the two sects being divided into two countries—Nasheen and Chenja—and surrounding those two cultures are previously established civilizations that have been forced to deal with the intrusion of these new people on their homeland. I felt like every single culture was fleshed out beautifully, and because of that, the world was plausible and could be sustained for generations.
Caitrin – Hurley definitely gives the impression that she knows every minute detail of Umayma and it gives the whole universe of the novel a rich and deep feel. She doesn’t pull you out of the story by explaining things that the character would already know. This is a strength but it is also a weakness. You are thrown immediately into the world without a lifeline. I found myself scrambling to understand things like: What exactly is a burnous? Was a bakkie a bug, a vehicle or some weird mixture of both? Were the sisters chasing Nyx actually related to her? Maybe a dictionary in the back would have helped me. Once you get into the swing of things though, you are fully immersed in the story and world of Umayma and it’s a fantastic read.
Not a Page Turner James – This book was not a page-turner, and that was unfortunate. The world was written beautifully, and the story was definitely interesting, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough suspense in this novel. There was no reason why I couldn’t just stop at the end of a chapter to set it down for later.
Caitrin – I agree that while the book is very well written, until the last third of the book, I could easily put it down and pick it up later. The ending for me, though, was stellar. The action and stakes ramped up and I spent three hours finishing the book because I couldn’t put it down. I never felt cheated by how things turned out. Events didn’t unfold like I thought they would and I was surprised by how emotional I became when a character died. I had to put the book down for a few seconds to fully absorb it. Nyx is never spared a bad experience because she is the heroine, and her story and the overall plot had a complete end. The story could have very well ended there, with the lives of the characters continuing on without the reader ever learning more. I was satisfied by the ending but I wanted more; I wanted to see what else happened in the lives of the characters. I was very happy to learn that two more novels are going to be published. Some of the threads of the story that weren’t wrapped up into a neat bow will get resolution! I can’t wait until December!
Why should you read this book? While this isn’t your standard fantasy novel, if you don’t mind a sci-fi twist to your reading, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t pick up this book. If you’re looking for an interesting, fresh story that marries fantasy and science-fiction in an original way, then this is the book for you. This beautifully crafted novel is truly a work of art—bloody, brutal, bug-filled art.(less)
The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review here). In the first book, we followed Yeine, a warrior princess summoned to the great city of Sky amidst a fierce political struggle. In this sequel, we learn the aftermath of that struggle as we follow Oree, an artist living in Shadow, a city teeming with godlings. Oree herself is a mortal, blind except for her ability to see the glimmering outlines of gods, godlings, and magic.
One day, while discarding her trash, Oree finds a homeless, literally down-in-the-dumps godling and decides that the humane thing to do for one in such sorrow is to take him in. As he is either mute or taciturn, she dubs him Shiny. When she finds another godling – dead, sprawled in an alleyway, missing a heart – she is not the only one confounded. And when Shiny protects Oree from overzealous interrogators, her witness status is immediately elevated to suspect.
A page-turner The main storyline constitutes a mystery: Who is killing godlings, and why? You will not turn the pages for the sake of learning the ending; you will turn the pages because you are fully immersed in Oree’s world and care for the beings in it. Most mysteries beg to be solved, but some are part of a plan so huge that you have no choice but to watch the events unfold, as if propelled by a force of nature. You may stare like a deer in the headlights, but make no mistake, you will turn the pages and stare some more.
The bigger picture The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms introduced Itempas (the Bright Lord, the Skyfather) who killed Enefa (Mistress of Twilight and Dawn) and enslaved Nahadoth (the Nightlord, the Lord of Shadows). Despite the grandeur of the events, I experienced some difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. In The Broken Kingdoms, however, we begin to learn the motivations behind the gods’ actions, and as a result, the world becomes lucid.
Jemisin also examines the uneasy and multi-faceted nature of love and sacrifice. It’s easy to say you would die for others, but is it more easily said than done? And if you live, how do you live without that which you need the most? All this is done with more grace than I can describe.
Even better than the first The first two books in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy were released in 2010. You may have seen The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms deservingly placed on every Top Ten fantasy list last year, including The Ranting Dragon’s list. The Broken Kingdoms manages to surpass Jemisin’s debut, and for all the praise it has garnered, it nevertheless has become one of the most overlooked books of 2010. If The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Star Wars: A New Hope – a ground-breaking landmark – The Broken Kingdoms is The Empire Strikes Back – a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching chapter that brands the story further into your life. Neither book hangs you over a cliff, though both kindle the desire to experience more of Jemisin’s world. While the desire burns fervent, the satisfying end to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms may have lessened the urgency for fans to continue. Expect, however, that many more will discover this masterpiece of fantasy literature in 2011 and offer the recognition it deserves.
Connection to the other books The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms presented Yeine, a warrior princess. The Broken Kingdoms introduces Oree, a commoner. The Kingdom of Gods (expected date of release in September 2011) will acquaint us with the trickster god, Sieh. These subjects and points of view seem distinct, but the tales are intertwined, with the fate of the characters in the first book affecting the second. Invisible layers run through The Broken Kingdoms that will only reveal themselves if you’ve read the first book. Undoubtedly, consuming even one of the two released books will be fulfilling, but do not deny yourself the rich, complete experience that will be the entire Inheritance Trilogy.
Why should you read this book? By virtue of reading this review, you care about fantasy. If that is at all because this genre continually allows authors to push the boundaries of imagination, there is no greater benchmark for such a feat than The Broken Kingdoms. At once epic and intimate, The Broken Kingdoms is destined to become a fantasy classic. I predict it will even transcend the “fantasy” label and become a staple of literary fiction, as with The Lord of the Rings.(less)
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss was one of the most critically acclaimed fantasy debuts of our time. Though widely recognized as a book that would impact the future of fantasy literature, The Name of the Wind has also received some critique. The book is a character study that focuses deeply on the dilemmas the young and gifted orphan Kvothe met on his life’s journey, and thus there was no need for action and suspense to thrive on. However, many felt that a book without all that excitement didn’t suffice.
Needless to say, I am a fan of The Name of the Wind, so when its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear, the second novel in Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, came out on March 1, I had to read it. This book is everything its predecessor was. While it has new flaws as well as new greatness, those that loved The Name of the Wind will love The Wise Man’s Fear, and those that hated it will also hate this sequel.
Kvothe’s story continued The Wise Man’s Fear follows closely after the events of The Name of the Wind. For those unfamiliar with the story, we follow the life of Kvothe, whose traveling troupe is brutally murdered and who makes his own way, from a youth as a musician through years as a poor street boy, to the university of Arcane arts, where he becomes the youngest student ever admitted. There is also a story within the story, as an older Kvothe relates his life story to Chronicler, a scribe who wishes to publish it.
The Wise Man’s Fear has all the elements of its predecessor: it focuses on the dilemmas and the coming of age of a young boy in a new world, trying to make a name for himself; it has the same amazingly conceived and creative magic systems that feel more like science than magic; and there is still that poetic writing style that makes you feel Rothfuss has weighed every word he wrote and is singing us a song rather than telling us a story.
Breaking the laws of fantasy However, as Kvothe’s life progresses there are new elements introduced to the story. There are the additions of political intrigue and sexuality —those familiar with my reviews will know that I generally dislike sexual content in fantasy, but the way Rothfuss has written it is perfect. He uses it as a legitimate story element rather than just dirty details to sell his story; the sexual content of The Wise Man’s Fear is both poetic and philosophical. Most importantly, though, in addition to these changes, in The Wise Man’s Fear Rothfuss crosses the boundaries of traditional fantasy, showing us an unfamiliar world that isn’t bound to earth’s laws of physics.
Let me explain that further. While I love epic fantasy that builds new worlds, all of these worlds have one thing in common: they center around the laws we know from our own world. No matter how strange and magical any epic world is, it still turns around a sun, having day and night, earthly weather and natural laws, and the author always strives to explain any differences to us. Personally, I have been yearning for a work of fantasy that breaks with this norm, where things are truly unfamiliar, not because of explainable laws, but because their creators said it was so.
A philosophical fairy tale While the main story of The Wise Man’s Fear still takes place in one of these familiar worlds, part of it moves into new territory. We are given a world that doesn’t spin, where one doesn’t travel from north to south and east to west, but from day to night and warm to cold; a world where shadows can be picked like fruits and rays of starlight can be caught if one believes they can. This part of Rothfuss’s story, especially, reads like a philosophical fairy tale, sung to us by a master musician.
Dilemma-centered There are new flaws as well. A story built around the dilemmas of its main character is bound to change as the character changes. While not much happens story-wise, these dilemmas are designed to keep us intrigued, and that is done rather well. However, the dilemmas of a young boy struggling to make a living while his rivals try to set the world against him are much more interesting than those of a teenage boy trying to lead a gang of grumpy weathered mercenaries. I daresay these hundred pages of grumpy old men and failing Kvothe were even boring.
That stings, especially when, as opposed to these hundred pages of slow boringness, a shipwrecking, piracy and bandits on the road are all told in no more than half a page. I understand that Rothfuss needed to make choices in what parts of the story he would tell, and he has done this skillfully, but I don’t agree with all the choices he has made.
Why should you read this book? All that being said, The Wise Man’s Fear is still one of the best books I have ever read. With everything it is, and everything it isn’t, I can still not escape giving it five stars. In my judgment, it is not as good as The Name of the Wind, but I would still call it a very worthy sequel, and I look forward to reading the last volume in this trilogy.
If you are a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to read both this book and its predecessor. I truly believe these books will change the genre and have already begun to lay the foundation for a host of deeper and more philosophical literary fantasy books. Rothfuss shows us a glimpse of the future of fantasy, and I love what I see.(less)
Hounded is the spectacular first novel in The Iron Druid Chronicles by debut author Kevin Hearne. A unique urban fantasy with a Celtic bent, the Chronicles follow Atticus, the planet’s last and certainly most charming Druid. This young Irish lad – well, he looks twenty-one, but he’s actually a couple of millennia old – has plenty of enemies scattered around the globe, but he just wants to spend his days working at an occult bookshop in Arizona with his talking Irish wolfhound. Unfortunately the badass Celtic god of love is in serious need of his old magic sword, and Atticus really doesn’t want to return it…
Breezy, hilarious and totally addictive Told in first person by Atticus himself, Hounded can’t be put down. I read it in less than a day. Atticus is sassy, no-nonsense, and unremorseful in going off on his own personal rants in the middle of a conversation (the difficulty in finding a perfect fish’n’chips, anyone?). The combination of a modern world with old school Celtic mythology (and a few other pantheons, too) is brilliant, and Atticus’s voice, though definitely Irish, doesn’t veer into an unintelligible dialect. The novel’s concept is similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but it’s made original by Atticus’s light-hearted storytelling and his outsider status from every social circle (mortal, godly, witching, lupine …) he encounters. Hounded is the kind of book that you put down, wrinkle your nose and say “Gee! Why didn’t I think of that?”
If you think Atticus is great, wait ‘til you meet Oberon. The beauty of Hounded isn’t in Atticus’s narration, though. Not at all. Hounded’s charm lies entirely in the secondary characters: Oberon, the lovable Irish wolfhound; Leif, an Icelandic vampire-attorney, and his many werewolf co-workers; a hot Irish bartender possessed by a Hindu witch; Mrs. MacDonagh, a neighborly Irish widow who’s fine to let you bury a corpse in her yard, so long as the dead arse is British; and the list goes on. Hearne treads a perfect line between hilarious quirks and real depth, and even the goofiest sideshow character is easy to care for after you get to know her a little.
The plot itself: predictable, but still fun There aren’t too many surprises in Hounded. In fact, the one time I thought I’d pegged a good surprise coming up, it turned out that Hearne didn’t even take advantage of the opportunity. Instead Hounded employs your typical action-adventure formula: suspense, killing, mystery, revelation, suspense, killing … You get the idea. Some later plot elements came out of left-field – demons, for one thing (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler) – but they weren’t the real mind-blowing surprise you’ll find in some thrillers.
That’s all right, though. Events move so quickly – and the writing, sex, and violence are all so dazzling – that you’ll hardly have the time to notice. Besides, the characters and the witty narrative are why you’ll pick up and read this book anyway.
Why should you read this book? You might not be able to tell, but I’m actually restraining myself in this review. This book is wonderful! It’s got oodles of personality, lots of action, and a hunky Irishman on the cover. What more could you want? Hearne does a surprisingly believable job of mishmashing world cultures and mythologies into one madcap, witty, intelligent adventure with a cast you’ll fall in love with. Hounded doesn’t have the meaty substance of high literature, but it’s certainly worthier fare than most of what you’ll find in the urban fantasy section of your bookstore these days.(less)
This review contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, Books 1 and 2 in A Song of Ice and Fire.
George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire did much to reinvigorate the epic fantasy genre through its first two volumes. Fans became ‘comfortable’ with its inescapable realism, moral ambiguity, and the idea that no character is safe. Apparently not satisfied with his readers merely squirming, Martin drops A Storm of Swords like a ton of bricks, forcing us to re-evaluate everything we thought we knew. A Storm of Swords is a game-changer.
The throne of King Joffrey has been temporarily secured through his victory in the Battle of the Blackwater and a new alliance between houses Lannister and Tyrell. Joffrey is compelled to cast aside Sansa Stark and marry Margaery Tyrell, but the Tyrells have planned their own moves in the game of thrones. Robb Stark, King in the North and the major remaining threat to Joffrey, has to face the consequences of a broken marriage pact and his mother’s decision to release Jaime Lannister.
On the Wall, the remnants of the Night’s Watch have retreated from an onslaught of Others and wait at Castle Black for the massed forces of Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen plans to build an army capable of taking the Iron Throne.
Brilliantly convoluted plotting With each book Martin has increased the scope of A Song of Ice and Fire, wisely introducing one additional major faction one per book. He is not afraid to tread all over reader expectations and change the game, particularly by inserting new players who had been operating behind the scenes. Having met the Tyrells in A Clash of Kings, we are introduced to the Martells, a powerful house with long memories and strong ties to the Targaryens. The number of pieces Martin has on the board and the skill of his maneuvers is a testament to his incredible talent. He patiently builds the story to an incredible climax, and the build up is as engrossing as the payoff. With one of the final scenes, Martin stomps all over our assumptions about who has been pulling the strings since A Game of Thrones. The revelations he skilfully weaves into the story are breathtaking.
So rich you can smell it The amount of information Martin fills the page with can be overwhelming, but at the same time it serves to give an immense solidity to his world. The pivotal scene in the book (you’ll know it when you read it) is a sensory assault. The atmosphere that Martin creates with his prose draws the reader in so completely that you just don’t see the knife he’s about to drive into your gut with one of the most memorable twists in modern fantasy. Lest we forget, Martin can also write scenes of heartrending beauty, such as the wonderfully serene moments when Sansa Stark, having been thoroughly abused, plays innocently in the snow of the Eyrie.
Not yet complex enough, apparently Having praised Martin’s world building so fervently, it is saying something that the characters remain the crowning glory of A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin has absolutely outdone himself in bringing to us the viewpoint of Jaime Lannister, the despised Kingslayer. Without alteration or excuse for a moment of what has come before, the reader comes to understand the difficult decisions Jaime has had to make, which paint his past actions in a very different light. By the end of A Storm of Swords, Jaime is almost a character to cheer for. It was certainly to the advantage of this transformation that Martin gave very little time to Jaime in A Clash of Kings, though his one appearance was characteristically repulsive, in keeping with the impression we get of the man from the perspective of those who hate and fear him. You can’t help but applaud Martin for the depth and complexity each of his characters possesses.
Not afraid to use a trope The human drama is still central to the narrative, but Martin continues his trend of building our exposure to the fantastic with each book. In particular, A Storm of Swords introduces a significant prophecy that seems to be known right across Westeros and has obvious implications for the outcome of the conflicts in A Song of Ice and Fire. By the time we come into contact with the denizens from across the Wall, there can be no doubt that we aren’t in Kansas anymore (you know, if the dragons didn’t give it away).
Why should you read this book? A Storm of Swords contains incredible payoffs for both the dedicated fan and the casual reader. Although A Storm of Swords is longer than the earlier volumes in the series, your perseverance will be rewarded because it is even better as well.(less)
Prince of Thorns is the spectacular debut novel of talented new British author, Mark Lawrence. The first installment in the Broken Empire trilogy, it promises to be one of the most exciting releases of 2011. Dark, captivating, relentless and haunting, this brilliant epic fantasy more than delivers in all regards.
Imagine the earth as a desolate wasteland. The dead rest uneasily and hundreds of claimants battle for various thrones across the Broken Empire. Now you’re getting close to the world portrayed in Prince of Thorns. The story revolves around Jorg Ancrath, the warped 14-year-old heir to the kingdom of Ancrath. When he was just ten he was forced to watch, held fast in a hook briar, as his beloved mother and younger brother were brutally murdered at the behest of a rival lord. When his father, the king, chose political gain over retribution, the injustice drove Jorg to abandon his place and pursue vengeance as an outlaw. Since that fateful day something inside Jorg has been broken. He watches and perpetrates acts of violence with cold indifference and lives by a simple philosophy, “Care about no one and you have no weaknesses.” Surrounded by his deadly band of Brothers, survival is merely a game to the young Prince, and one he intends to win by any means necessary.
Fast paced, exhilarating and absorbing Lawrence’s fast paced and relentless narrative wastes no time on introductions, plunging the reader headfirst into the aftermath of Jorg and his brother’s latest bloodthirsty foray. Readers will soon decide whether they can stomach the graphic violence and dark humor that define the novel, and those that can are in for an exhilarating ride. Prince of Thorns shares many qualities with the thorns for which its prince was named. By the end of the first chapter it had well and truly sunk its hooks into me and I was in for the long haul whether I liked it or not. I had more than one night of lost sleep which I blame entirely on Mark Lawrence. In addition, like the scars covering Jorg’s body, the echos of the story remained with me long after I turned the last page.
A warped yet relatable protagonist Prince of Thorns is narrated in the first person and thus we watch events unfold through the eyes of Jorg himself. This offers a unique and somewhat disturbing perspective, as Jorg sees human life as expendable and lacks empathy for those around him. He considers anyone he may grow to care about as a liability that must be removed before it can be used against him. Despite these sociopathic tendencies, and the fact that he is responsible for almost innumerable atrocities, Jorg is decidedly charming and remains unnervingly relatable. This must be considered a remarkable feat by Lawrence as he makes his audience feel sympathy for a character so morally ambiguous it verges on flat-out evil. A significant reason for this is Jorg’s very realistically wrought background. While a reader may not always relate to the choices he makes or the person he has become, the emotions that lie behind Jorg’s decisions and the events in his life can be identified with.
The secondary characters are also very well developed, from the stoic Nuban to the rather despicable Rike. All have their own distinctive flavor, perform their own roles and feel believable in the context of Lawrence’s world. Most importantly, while most of the characters of Prince of Thorns may be labeled as “bad,” they are never stereotyped. These are real people with realistic emotions who have come to where they are now through events and decisions we can all relate to.
A gritty tale for a broken world This captivating tale plays out against a haunting, vividly realized backdrop: the desiccated corpse of a once technologically advanced civilization. Lawrence excels in creating an intense and oppressive atmosphere, enveloping the readers and drawing them further into his world with each new revelation. Magic and science are interwoven, becoming almost indistinguishable in many cases, such as the origins and powers of the monstrous leucrota. This desolate landscape, coupled with the cruelty of the narrator, makes Prince of Thorns a captivating yet undeniably gritty and confronting experience. Some readers may be disturbed by the way it plunges mercilessly into the darkest corners of the mind. Others will revel in the depravity and delight in this exploration of the most sinister aspects of the human experience.
These dark elements, however, are never explored more than necessary. Rather than overloading the narrative with excessive explanation, Lawrence proves very skilled in dropping hints throughout the narrative, showing us the world through Jorg’s eyes and allowing us to piece the puzzle together ourselves. This adds a whole new dimension to Prince of Thorns, enhanced even further by seemingly effortless intermingling of familiar elements with the distinctly foreign.
Kvothe’s evil little brother While many may compare Prince of Thorns to other gritty and epic works like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire—and be quite right in that comparison as well—I’d like to compare it with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. Although Jorg doesn’t fill his autobiography with stories of how he charms the ladies or lament the fact that he has extreme superpowers he can’t use, both books are coming of age biographies of extraordinary boys far too wise for their age, and the hardships of their lives.
Why should you read this book? Dazzling in its brilliance, Prince of Thorns is a must read for any fan of gritty, epic fantasy that delves into the darkest depths of humanity. I was left feeling slightly bereft and a little shell shocked when it ended. Luckily, this is only the first in the trilogy so there’s two more books to come. It may quite possibly turn out to be the debut of 2011, and Mark Lawrence is definitely a name to watch in the future. While I could easily write another few pages on how much I loved this book, I’d much prefer you go out, grab a copy, and read it for yourself. You can thank me later.(less)
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, has been a lot of things in his life: friend, enemy, apprentice, teacher, guardian, avenger, victim, and lover; not to mention shot, stabbed, bruised, and beaten. But dead? That’s a new one in his book.
When an unknown killer puts a bullet through Harry’s chest and leaves him to die in the cold waters of Lake Michigan, Harry thinks it’s all over. But even dead, he can’t seem to catch a break. Without a body, his powers, or any way to interact with anyone, Harry is sent back to the mortal world to solve his own murder. And if he fails, three of his friends will experience unbelievable agony and torment. It’s a literal race of life and death, and Harry’s not the only specter in Chicago. There are those who remember his habit for knocking off the bad guys and who are itching for some payback. It’s a game for keeps, and Harry has to pull off the ultimate trick—without magic. If he can’t… he will face eternity as just another lost soul.
Pushes the limits of Harry’s worlds Ghost Story pushes and expands the boundaries of The Dresden Files, especially in the worldbuilding. The novel takes Harry to a new place—a place where he cannot use magic to simply smash or burn his way through his problems. While not technically a new physical location, the metaphysical and magical rules have changed—for the rules of being a ghost are largely dependent upon the ghost itself. Where before the reader saw what happens to spiritual constructs when they go up against the mortal world from the mortal side of things, now they get to see the flip side: what happens when you cannot physically interact with the world without running the risk of oblivion. It’s a definite shift in the setting of the series—and it only gets more twisty and mind-blowing from there.
Plot games A longtime reader of Butcher’s, I have come to expect the labyrinth of plot twists which he throws into his books. However, even though I was expecting the idea of plot twists, the specifics of most of them proceeded to blow my mind. Butcher is one of those authors who will plant a small but crucial detail in the second book of a series, but said detail won’t become relevant until book eleven. The twists in Ghost Story definitely reflect this mindset, and even though the story is ultimately about Harry’s experiences, the overall plot of the series gets thrown for some loops, too.
Secondary characters with primary problems Due largely in part to the protagonist’s inability to affect most of the world, much of the novel revolves around the secondary characters. While the previous novel (Changes) was, in Butcher’s words, “building up the model city of Tokyo and then finally [getting] to strap on the Godzilla suit and knock it all down,”[Source] Ghost Story is the true game changer of the series. In the time between Changes and Ghost Story, secondary characters had to step up to the plate, and in Ghost Story, many of the true changes in character are revealed. Some characters have taken turns into despair while others have found their element and come into their own. Yet others have lost themselves, making deals and doing deeds they never would have contemplated before. All of these come together in the novel, with some truly awe-inspiring character development.
A gorgeously flawed protagonist Harry Dresden, until recently, has been seen as somewhat of a proverbial white knight. Sure, he has his taints of darkness, but they pale in comparison to his more idealistic traits. In Ghost Story, however, Harry has the time to spend on reflection and realizes that he may have become what he had always fought against. And yet, if given the chance to go back and redo his choices, Harry realizes that he would make the exact same decisions—and to hell with the consequences. (Incidentally, that’s sort of what happened because of his choices, but that’s neither here nor there.) This mule-headed stubbornness to stick by his own decisions—even when he knows that they were morally wrong and largely unjustifiable—makes for a beautifully flawed protagonist, something I love to see in any book.
Heart-wrenching and tear-jerking While reviews are personal reactions by their very nature, they are often more detached and objective in delivery—at least, that’s what I attempt to do in my reviews. But I wouldn’t be doing this novel justice if I didn’t throw in my personal reactions. At any rate, Ghost Story is the most emotionally wrenching novel I have read to date. The cliffhanger at the end of Changes left me a gibbering idiot for hours after I finished it, but the sheer emotional weight of Ghost Story makes Changes pale in comparison. Butcher’s writing truly made me feel for the characters, for what they were going through, and, in total, I spent probably about a third of the book in tears. Some of the twists left me gaping at the pages in stunned horror, but always turning the page to find out what happened next. The climactic sequence at the end of the novel had me crying, sitting in stunned silence, and ready to throw the book at the wall in anger, all in equal measures. The plights of the characters, these characters who I’ve grown up with since I was thirteen, truly grabbed at my heartstrings, and yanked on them a number of times. Some novels have been able to leave me staring at the page, but none of them have ever pulled so much of an emotional reaction from me. And that ability to draw such reactions from a reader is, in my opinion, the definition of truly great writing.
So, why should you read this book? For newcomers to the series: you can read this book… But, you won’t understand a lot of it. Even with the previous novel, a newcomer to the series could read it and not be totally lost. But there has been so much backstory and worldbuilding over the first twelve books in the series which comes into play in Ghost Story that a new reader would probably be overwhelmed. Butcher himself said that Ghost Story is “the LEAST stand-aloney book of the series” and that “skipping ahead to it will get [a new reader] a lot of stuff that is inexplicable.”[Source] So, as with any series, I recommend you begin with book one. In this case, Storm Front. This series has been in the works for over ten years, and Butcher’s writing style has greatly improved since he began. While there isn’t a review for Storm Front on The Ranting Dragon, I urge readers to make it to book four (Summer Knight) before deciding to continue with the series or to drop it, as things really begin to pick up speed there.
Now, for those who have read along since the beginning and made it through to the end of Changes? I’m probably preaching to the choir. Because in my mind, how can you not read Ghost Story after that cliffhanger? That being said, if you have stuck with the series but haven’t yet picked up Ghost Story, I strongly urge you to do so. The tone and setting are completely different from the rest of the series, and the worldbuilding and character developments are simply breathtaking. Harry’s world is put through its paces, and I personally cannot wait to see where book fourteen, Cold Days, leads us.(less)
Fenrir is the sequel to M. D. Lachlan’s brilliant fantasy debut, Wolfsangel, and the second installment in his unnamed Norse werewolf series. Now, many readers will have but one question regarding this book: “Is it as good as Wolfsangel?” The answer, in my opinion, is an emphatic “yes.” While the two novels are quite different in a number of ways, Fenrir lives up to the high expectations set by its predecessor, and, in many cases, exceeds them.
A struggle throughout the ages Fenrir is set approximately 100 years after the events of Wolfsangel, in an early medieval Paris set alight by the torches of Viking invaders. The hordes lay siege to the city, yet strangely their leaders demand not slaves or riches, but the Count’s sister, Aelis. They are not alone in seeking the young woman—the raven priests of Odin also hunt her, as does a mysterious wolfman lurking in the shadows. Unbeknowst to Aelis, her role in these events is due to no mere machination of politics but serves a greater, more sinister purpose. The crippled and blind living saint, Jehan, is given the task of speaking to the girl and perhaps convincing her to accept her fate. However, Aelis and Jehan are about to become pawns in a mad god’s schemes. In their future lies death, madness, dark magic, and the monstrous Fenris wolf, fated to kill Odin at Ragnarok.
A new perspective on the familiar Once again, Lachlan delivers a dark and thrilling tale incorporating Norse gods and monsters, historical detail, and sinister magic into a tragically human struggle against fate. It is these human elements that stand out in this book when compared to the last. The characters are more developed and their relationships are more complex. Some old characters reappear (e.g. Loki), and we are introduced to many new ones, as well as some that are simultaneously new and familiar—the reincarnations of those in Wolfsangel. This in and of itself is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, as we learn more about each of the major players from an entirely different perspective. We see who they have become and how they react in vastly different circumstances. For instance, Adisla is no longer a farmer’s daughter but the highborn lady Aelis, and as a result, she acts quite differently in some regards while still retaining certain characteristics from her previous incarnation. In other cases, the differences are even more pronounced, and Lachlan keeps the reader guessing who is actually who in relation to the previous novel. Often he manages to surprise in this respect.
Enhanced characterization While the characters in Wolfsangel were already believable and human, Lachlan takes his characterization to a whole new level in Fenrir. Each character develops as an individual, has their own flaws, and almost every one displays some degree of moral ambiguity. The protagonists are never completely irreproachable, while the antagonists never come across as wholly evil or without motivation for their actions. In many cases you may well find yourself sympathizing with a character you initially wrote off as irredeemable.
Another noteworthy improvement regards the female protagonist Aelis/Adisla, who takes on a much greater role than she did in Wolfsangel. She evolves from being possibly the least developed of the protagonists to one of the most well characterized. In addition, she displays greater agency and is much more proactive character instead of being a hapless victim dragged into a struggle not of her own making. Personally, I found this made her much easier to relate to and a much more well-rounded character than she was previously. There is also a much greater focus on the feelings and internal struggles of the characters in this book, as they come to understand much of what is happening to them, and endeavor to fight against their fates. Can they really rebel against the inevitable and defy a god? There’s only one way to find out…
Evocative prose and an immersive atmosphere Lachlan’s writing, already proficient in Wolfsangel, is further perfected in Fenrir, fully immersing the reader in this strange world of gods and monsters. There were moments when I could almost hear the dripping of moisture in a dark cave or see the light streaming down through the canopy of a forest. Lachlan excels at creating atmosphere and pays great attention to historical detail, effortlessly evoking a bygone age. Although lyrical and flowing, the writing never distracts from the story and the historical aspects are incorporated seamlessly into the plot. For instance, we are not told about the differences and conflicts between Christian and Norse religion, but come to understand them through Jehan’s interactions with his companions. In fact, some of the more amusing moments in what is otherwise quite a dark novel involve the Vikings pragmatism in response to Jehan’s attempts to convert them (they’ll believe in his god if his god brings them a shelter or makes them fiercer warriors) or misinterpretation of each others customs.
A dark and brutal tale Fenrir is even darker and more intense than its predecessor, and includes a few somewhat disturbing and rather graphic scenes that I would not recommend to anyone with a weak stomach. Nevertheless, these scenes are used in context with the rest of the story and often play important roles in the progression of the narrative. Though many of the events depicted throughout the novel are undeniably violent and often horrific, they are never depicted in an overly gratuitous manner or included purely for shock value with no relation to the plot. The novel is set in a brutal age and Lachlan does not try to sugarcoat this, provide an idealized version of history, or glorify bloodshed. Often, I felt this added to the authenticity of the story and made the fantastical elements more believable. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the more tender human moments with the gory or violent scenes increased the impact of the story as a whole.
A more linear, character driven plot Fenrir is a longer book (by around 200 pages) than Wolfsangel, and the plot unfolds in a primarily linear fashion, without as many jumps between time-frames . Some readers have mentioned the pacing of Fenrir is also marginally slower; however, I see this an inevitable by-product of the greater focus on character development. Personally, I felt getting to know the characters better—and, as a result, caring more about what happens to them—more than compensated for a slower pace. All things considered, the plot is still thrilling, the world still fascinating, and the pace quite fast compared to many other novels.
When reading Fenrir, one must keep in mind that this is but the second book in a longer series (the exact number of installments is not yet finalized), and as such may not offer the reader the closure they may desire. Those hoping for a decisive conclusion to the overall storyline are setting themselves up for disappointment. Personally, I am thrilled that there are to be more books after Fenrir and was quite satisfied with the ending. It provides a conclusion to this chapter in an ongoing struggle and hints at how circumstances may change in the books that follow.
Why should you read this book? If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly suggest you read Wolfsangel before picking up Fenrir. In fact, if you haven’t read Wolfsangel, why are you wasting time reading this review? Stop immediately, go get your hands on a copy, and read that instead. If you read and loved the first book like I did, I would definitely recommend you read this one as well, as, in my opinion, it is even better. While Fenrir is an engrossing and well-written story in its own right, it is an excellent second book in what is shaping up to be a brilliant multi-volume series. Honestly, the worst thing about this novel is the fact I now have to wait for the next one.(less)
Many fantasy fans loved N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms. Yet, a lot of these readers were put off by The Broken Kingdoms being set a decade later with an entirely new protagonist. Indeed, The Broken Kingdoms almost seemed like a stand-alone novel set in the same world. Fortunately, it wasn’t so. The story in The Broken Kingdoms was spun forth from the events of The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms, and while offering a new perspective, it couldn’t exist without the first.
Much the same can be said about Jemisin’s latest novel, The Kingdom of Gods. This intriguing ending to The Inheritance Trilogy is set some hundred years after The Broken Kingdoms, but unites both stories in spectacular fashion. The viewpoint is that of Sieh, the trickster child godling who appeared in both previous books. After successfully writing the viewpoint of a magical blind woman, Jemisin now proves that she can also pull off a convincing first person perspective of a god.
Divine perspective Jemisin’s trilogy seems to be shaped after Greek epics—with seemingly separate stories telling one big, epic, overall arc—and Jemisin’s gods seem to share their nature with those from Greek mythology. There are a great many of them, all related in one way or another. They hate each other and they love each other. They wage war on each other and work together when it suits them. From the perspective of Sieh, we get a deeper insight into these divine relationships. These gods aren’t human. Humans were created in their image, definitely, but there is something very different about the gods, each with their own aspects from which they derive their power. For Sieh, this is the nature of a child and trickster, and he grows powerful as he does childish things but weakens as he is forced to deal with maturity—an interesting dynamic that receives all the attention it deserves.
With the skill of an artist, Jemisin relays these aspects, turning The Kingdom of Gods into an exploration of the divine. It is an almost reflective, philosophical journey into the many elements of the immortal and mortal realms alike. For gods, time does not pass the way it does for us, and this shows in The Kingdom of Gods, making years pass in the blink of an eye while mere moments last minutes or even hours when enough happens. This is no shallow story, but an introspection of the way us humans deal with war, stress, love, and treason; thus I felt like I could relate more to the narration of Sieh than that of Oree or Yeine before him.
An evolution of sorts Of course, The Kingdom of Gods again utilizes those elements that made its prequels such wonderful reads. Honestly, I’m a slow reader. An average novel usually takes me a couple weeks to read. When I finished The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms in under four days, I was surprised. It was only after reading the last page that I realized what a page turner it truly was. Though The Kingdom of Gods is a much larger novel—at 575 pages, it is Jemisin’s longest story to date—I again read it in mere days. These books aren’t page turners because of their extreme suspense, though there definitely is some of that. Instead, it is the easygoing focus on characters combined with the marvelous, almost poetic prose that make these such easy, engrossing reads.
The Kingdom of Gods is an evolution of its predecessors in other ways as well. As already mentioned, there are the deep and multifaceted characters, both human and divine. The atmosphere and setting in this third volume are equally as brilliant and colorful as those in The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms. Lovers of magic, too, can rejoice, for while the previous books introduced us to an interesting and creative magic system, The Kingdom of Gods finally truly explores this magic in all its forms and glory.
Genre-bending fantasy Don’t expect a story as well-paced as The Broken Kingdoms, however. The Kingdom of Gods is much like Jemisin’s debut, a story of a character thrust into an unlikely situation against his—or her, in the case of The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms—will, where he is faced with dilemma, mystery and deathly secrets, the outcome remaining uncertain until the very end of the novel. No worries, though; near the end, the pacing truly picks up when a series of exciting events lead to a thrilling conclusion. With that knowledge, I would say The Kingdom of Gods is better than Jemisin’s debut, and almost as good as The Broken Kingdoms. It is definitely a masterpiece that exceeds the fantasy genre and enters literary fiction with genre-bending and artistic creativity. I often got the impression that every word Jemisin writes serves a higher purpose, and all events throughout her story have meaning. The only exception, perhaps, is the exorbitant foreshadowing toward a certain revelation.
Why should you read this book? The Kingdom of Gods corroborates what those who read its predecessors already surmised: N. K. Jemisin is a true superstar of fantasy literature. The Inheritance Trilogy may well be the single most intriguing fantasy series I have ever read, and I cannot wait to see what Jemisin has in store for us in her future novels. If you were let down by the change in viewpoints between books, I urge you to give The Broken Kingdoms a chance anyway. If you haven’t read The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms yet, you should probably run off to the bookstore or library right now. And if you have read these books, The Kingdom of Gods will simply be all that you expect it to be: an amazing reading experience that will leave you yearning for more. Oh, and don’t forget to check the glossary at the back when you’re done. It is hilarious!(less)
This review contains minor spoilers for The Steel Remains.
The Cold Commands is the much anticipated sequel to The Steel Remains, the 2008 fantasy debut of now-acclaimed science fiction author Richard Morgan. After a three year hiatus, the second installment of A Land Fit for Heroes has finally arrived—and it will not disappoint. No holds are barred in this fast-paced genre shake-up, its pages veritably bursting with passion, action, intelligence, and pathos.
Set approximately one year after the events of The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands reunites us with forgotten war heroes Ringil, Archeth, and Egar, albeit in somewhat altered circumstances. Exiled from his homeland and endowed with strange abilities from his time in the Grey Places, Ringil has taken to what he refers to as ‘abolishing slavery.’ However, as the slave trade is legal in Trelayne, his actions have marked him as an outlaw with a rather hefty bounty on his head. Hunted from every direction and with nowhere else to go, his last hope may be to seek asylum in Yhelteth with the Kiriath half-breed royal adviser, Archeth Indamaninarmal.
However, not all is well in the southern capital. In addition to dealing with the increasingly fanatic Citadel and serving the whims of her decadent monarch, Archeth is receiving strange warnings of approaching darkness from the Helmsmen. Furthermore, her house-guest Egar the Dragonbane, former steppe nomad, feels stifled by Yhelteth society and grows ever more reckless in his boredom. Tensions reach breaking point, old enemies plot, dark forces stir. And with an insidious plot penetrating Yhelteth society to its very core, never has the danger lurked so close to home.
Anyone for some edgy ‘retro dystopic sci-fi/fantasy noir?’ All in all, The Cold Commands takes everything that made The Steel Remains great and amps it up to the next level. It’s darker, faster, grittier, and more violent than its predecessor while providing the same generous servings of black humor, snappy dialogue, and cynical, razor-sharp wit. The fascinating alien technologies, strange powerful races, and science fiction elements introduced in the previous novel also receive enhanced focus. For instance, the self-aware mechanical constructs, the Helmsmen, play a much greater role throughout The Cold Commands, and we learn more about their abilities and purpose. The origins of their creators—the ebony-skinned, technologically advanced Kiriath—are also explored in further detail, as are those of their enemy, the reality-shifting Dwenda. The strange gods of the Dark Court also play a hand in events, and we see more and learn more of the significance of the Grey Places: the realm between realities full of unrealized possibilities and unchosen paths.
However, there’s more to The Cold Commands than strange creatures and sword fights. Morgan resumes his edgy socio-political satire and re-embarks on his poignant exploration of human nature. Themes of corruption, fanaticism, and bigotry are all addressed throughout the novel, and readers are forced to question their beliefs regarding concepts such as revenge, justice, love and camaraderie. Nevertheless, it’s not all darkness and despair. The Cold Commands also contains more tender, hopeful scenes to offset the bloodshed, providing a peculiar sense of warmth in a world more accustomed to the cold clash of steel. These stand as small reminders that perhaps there is still something worth fighting for in Morgan’s otherwise bleak version of reality.
Hard-hitting characterization Undeniably, Morgan’s main strength lies in his characters, specifically his ability to make the reader care about them even when their actions verge on the reprehensible and their motivations are morally suspect. Throughout The Cold Commands, we learn more about the damaged, imperfect misfits we first met in The Steel Remains. Ringil, Archeth, and Egar are undeniably and recognizably human and face greater challenges than ever before in the events that unfold both around them and within themselves. They are not infallible and frequently make mistakes or allow their passions to cloud their judgement. Even if we don’t agree with a character’s actions in a given situation at least we can understand them.
Once again, there is no black-and-white morality in this series; everything and everyone is a shade of grey. For instance, we are reminded that Archeth—despite appearing superficially to be the least morally ambiguous of the protagonists—is instrumental in preserving the empire of a rather cruel and self-indulgent Emperor. As a near-immortal, she is able to take ‘the long view’ and overlook immediate corruption if it serves a greater purpose. Yet the answers to various questions are never clear cut. It may be corrupt and imperfect, but if not the Empire, what else? The fanatical Citadel? In some cases, one must be willing to choose the lesser of two evils. Additionally, like the reader, the characters are frequently forced to face that age old question: does the end justify the means? And what do you do if it doesn’t?
A conclusion that will leave you gasping for breath While still relatively self-contained, The Cold Commands encompasses a much larger scope than its predecessor and is more obviously part of a trilogy. It lays down the foundations for the third and final novel while carefully avoiding the dreaded ‘second book slump’ that has some writers sacrificing the middle book as mere filler before the final installment. Although the plot slows down slightly around the middle to encompass some enhanced character development, all the pieces fall into place soon enough and the story continues on its path to a truly epic and relentless climax. For the last quarter of the novel, I found myself glued to the book, frantically turning pages and unable to look away. Morgan is not averse to killing characters and I must admit this was one of the rare instances in which I had literally no idea whether my favorite characters would even survive the next few pages. To top it off, the conclusion is absolutely stunning and left me feeling shell-shocked and hungry for the next installment.
You haven’t read gritty until you’ve read this Those who have already read The Steel Remains probably know what to expect; however, any new readers should consider themselves forewarned. Those who pick up The Cold Commands expecting mindless escapism will be in for a rather nasty surprise. Morgan does not shy away from the depiction of graphic sex and violence, drug use or coarse language and although all are used within context, anyone adverse to gritty realism may want to look elsewhere. Some may also detect a rather cynical portrayal of organized religion. While this may alienate certain readers, I personally interpreted it as more disparaging towards blind religious fanaticism in general than an attack on any particular real-world faith. Additionally, those put-off by the homosexual aspects of The Steel Remains will find no respite here, as Morgan brings them back with renewed vigor. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone likely to be scared off by such content will have managed to make it this far into the trilogy.
Why should you read this book? Richard Morgan is an accomplished author at the top of his game and The Cold Commands stands as a testament to this fact. While new readers should probably start with The Steel Remains in order to experience the books to their fullest, this work surpasses its predecessor on almost every front. While it may not be for everyone, A Land Fit for Heroes will undoubtedly appeal to anyone tired of the old fantasy tropes or just looking for something a little bit different. Sharp, fast, furious, and well written, The Cold Commands is a must read for anyone who likes gritty, edgy fantasy that is unafraid to explore complex or difficult issues. Lastly, it is the second book in what is shaping up to be an absolutely unforgettable trilogy and sets the scene for what should be a truly mind blowing conclusion in the third book. All I can say is this—bring it on!(less)
Every Sanderson novel has all you ever need from a fantasy story. They have perfect, feel-good stories with characters to love and identify with. They offer mysteries to be solved and lots of subtle hints and foreshadowing to involve the readers. They have creative magic systems and intriguing worlds. And they have healthy doses of action and suspense with hints of romance.
A new story, three hundred years later The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel is no exception to this. The fourth book set on Scadrial, the world previously seen in the bestselling Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law is set several hundred years after the climactic events of The Hero of Ages, in a reborn world where the original cast have become almost mythological and their deeds legendary. In a way, they have become something akin to caricatures of what they once were, time decaying their memory into stories. Names like Ironeyes, Ascendant Warrior, Last Emperor, Survivor, and Harmony have become titles both reverent and religious to many.
Waxilium Ladrian, affectionately known as Wax, is a rare Twinborn—someone who wields both a Feruchemical and Allomantic power—and he can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After spending twenty years as a lawkeeper in the Roughs, the Scadrial equivalent of the Wild West, Wax is called back to the metropolis of Elendel to take his deceased uncle’s place as head of House Ladrian. Though Waxillium is trying to put away his guns and lead a respectable life, a group of criminals is robbing Elendel’s elite and kidnapping noble women, and the reluctant Wax, helped by his friend Wayne and the young Lady Marasi, seems to be the only one who can stop them.
A cleverly reinvented world There is one thing that The Alloy of Law lacks that all of Sanderson’s other works have, and in my opinion, this very lack makes this one of Sanderson’s best novels. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sanderson’s worldbuilding and his creative ways of introducing readers to a world, but with The Alloy of Law taking place in an already existing world, with the magic system previously established, there is a lot less worldbuilding in this story. Yet, I believe readers who haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy will still be able to thoroughly enjoy The Alloy of Law. Sanderson gives just the right amount of background needed for the story and doesn’t bother explaining the rest of the world in detail. Instead, this is a fairly straightforward novel with more attention for the story and the character dynamic.
Brandon Sanderson did something rather remarkable with Alloy of Law. He took the strict social and magical rules that governed the old series and let them mingle. This has allowed many of the mechanics to change both subtly and violently, allowing enormous new possibilities for his writing. The world has changed, and so has the way people perceive the magic of Scadrial. Technology has mingled with the magic, leading to amazing magical gunfights and other extraordinary feats.
Magic in all its forms Sanderson handles the Twinborn perfectly; he creatively harnesses the dual abilities to turn them into something unique for each character. The main character, Wax, manipulates his powers to handle situations in ways unexpected for the reader, adding a lot of fun to The Alloy of Law. Bendalloy is used frequently in this book, adding temporal elements to many scenes. Sanderson shows his true creative powers in designing magical combinations and possibilities that a reader can’t even predict. This was a definite strong point for The Alloy of Law, letting it feel like a Mistborn novel, yet bestowing on it a sense of individuality and vibrancy.
A bold and enigmatic set of characters While Sanderson’s characters have always been likable, their flatness and flawlessness have often been a weakness in his writing. With The Way of Kings, he already proved he was getting better, and with The Alloy of Law, Sanderson continues to demonstrate improvement. The characters of The Alloy of Law are each bold and enigmatic and very memorable. In most books, there are major characters that just fail to evoke a lasting image, but Sanderson has crafted each of these characters brilliantly. Wayne is an obvious standout, with all of his quirks and accents; he develops as a character that brings a new perspective to the term “multifaceted.” Wax, the primary protagonist, is almost like a superhero when viewed externally, but becomes grounded and relatable when observed from within his mind.
The females of The Alloy of Law are intriguing, handling the pressures of society and social stigma in differing ways. They are never just a flat part of the plot, like so many female fictional characters have been written throughout the course of fantasy as a genre. One of the most interesting pieces of feminism in The Alloy of Law was the academic course on the Ascendant Warrior as a powerful woman at the University of Elendel.
Core themes that shift slightly While the story mostly takes place in the city of Elendel, there are scenes outside the great city, adding contrast and a layer of socioeconomic and judicial philosophy to the story, themes that the original Mistborn series centered around. The protagonists are all lawkeepers or have a direct relationship to such a career and it shapes their view of the world, with subtly different shadings between each point of view. For the first time, Sanderson has truly mastered the morally ambiguous antagonist: a bad guy who believes he is doing the right thing and has believable motivations to do what he does.
Why should you read this novel? The Alloy of Law is a short novel, but never flagging. It starts slowly, but quickly becomes intense and detailed as the action picks up and the story fully grabs you. Despite some predictable twists, there are still moments where it takes you places you didn’t expect. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson is a riveting, action-packed story that reinvents the world of Mistborn with a bold new set of characters, witty dialogue and a revolutionized setting. This is a novel any fantasy fan should read. Whether you are a fan of the epic, the urban, or steampunk, The Alloy of Law has it all. Please give us a sequel, Mr. Sanderson!(less)
Our favorite debut of last year was unquestionably Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, a dark, brutally captivating tale of epic fantasy—or low; opinions on that were divided. This August will bring us King of Thorns, the second volume in The Broken Empire and sequel to Prince of Thorns. What he started in his debut, Lawrence expands in King of Thorns. Again, this is a breathtaking, captivating, and violent venture into a wonderful world filled with morally ambiguous characters and compelling world-building.
Little Jorg, all grown up Four years after the events in Prince of Thorns, Jorg is all grown up. He’s no longer a prince, but the king of the Renar Highlands. With an invading army at his doorstep, the King of Thorns is about to marry the daughter of an ally. King Jorg is a new person, smarter and more tranquil, yet still his old, cruel self. Lawrence did an amazing job bridging four years and bringing us a new character that still retains so much of who he was before. Of course, the way this story is told provides aid in reconciling the old and new Jorg. It is again from the viewpoint of Jorg, but with shifting timelines—facilitated by flashbacks to the four years between then and now and by pages from the diary of his love interest.
No man is born evil This is no fairy tale filled with cheesy fantasy tropes; it is instead a dark type of realism. A character isn’t just evil, but evil for a reason. That element was present in Prince of Thorns, but with a dash of sympathy, it is perfected in King of Thorns. Where Prince Jorg was mostly just a morally ambiguous, cold-blooded murderer, King Jorg is growing up and his brutality has become more reflective. In King of Thorns, we get acquainted with Jorg’s backstory, which is no longer limited to the repulsive kind of violence we saw in Prince of Thorns, but instead the kind that makes you want to shout out and end the injustice done to the young prince. All of a sudden, it becomes very clear that Jorg wasn’t simply born the warped boy he was in Prince of Thorns, but he became who he is today by his own poor choices and the evil acts of others.
An example of this is a flashback scene at the beginning of the book, where young Jorg’s father, the king, has noticed the boy loves his dog—ironically named Justice. Jorg is forced to harm the animal or watch it die at the hands of his father. When Jorg chooses the first, it isn’t enough for his father, who then murders the helpless dog in front of Jorg. The injustice done to Justice is heartbreaking and the prose in this scene is both compelling and repellent. Scenes like these will haunt you long after finishing King of Thorns, proving once more why Mark Lawrence was last year’s best debuting author.
Darn it, Lawrence, I don’t want to love this guy! Somewhere through all that, in the story of a boy that lost everything he ever cared for—the dog he once loved, his family murdered before his eyes, friends lost, the woman he loves hating him—I began to identify with Jorg Ancrath.
Actually, in an unnerving way, Jorg was always relatable. Throughout King of Thorns however, I didn’t just relate to him; I began to care for him as well. He is still the horribly evil boy he was in Prince of Thorns, the focus of so many concerned reviews. Yet, this time, there is another side to him. He is a human being who’s been through worse things than any man deserves. I both pity and admire him. More than that, I admire Lawrence for writing a character both so awful and lovable whom I wish to hate with all my heart but have come to love instead. This sympathetic angle is a brave step away from the successful formula of Prince of Thorns, but Lawrence pulls it off brilliantly.
Science fiction-esque fantasy Another step onward from his debut is Lawrence’s world-building. In Prince of Thorns, he started dropping hints about the origin of his world. The attentive reader could soon come to realize that the fictional world of Prince of Thorns was rooted in our own. King of Thorns goes above and beyond mere hints. If it were debatable whether Prince of Thorns was low or epic fantasy, I don’t think anyone will disagree that King of Thorns is most definitely epic fantasy of the very best kind. The world, unfamiliar last time, is fully fleshed out now. The Broken Empire is a post-apocalyptic version of earth, where science has breached the veil between magic and reality and a nuclear holocaust has brought us back to the dark middle ages. Somewhere underneath the soot and dirt of this fantasy is an entire world of science fiction, and King of Thorns shows us the tip of the iceberg. Somehow, Lawrence gives me the impression that the backstory isn’t just intriguing—I really hope he will write it someday—but has a lot to do with where the story is now, and where it is headed.
This science fiction-esque approach to fantasy world-building gives King of Thorns a unique flavor. Magic—of which we see a lot more than in the first book—isn’t what it seems. Somehow, there is a scientific foundation to it, hidden behind the lack of understanding by the characters. Tools left behind by The Builders—the more developed former civilization on earth—twist and spin this story around. With such elements at Lawrence’s disposal, the obvious trap would be to use them as a deus ex machina, but proper foreshadowing serves us explosive battles in a surprising yet inevitable style. There is just one exception, a key element of the story’s shifting timelines—a magical box in which Jorg’s most horrible memories are locked away—that feels like a cheap narrative resource to add suspense. However, while I feel Lawrence could have handled this better, it never subtracted from the reading experience.
Why should you read this book? King of Thorns reads like a landslide rolling down a cliff. Undiscriminating, it carries everything in its path along a trail of destruction, taking the lives of innocent bystanders and reducing whole villages to rubble. There is no stopping this landslide. All you can do is follow it on its set course until the spectacular ending and the silent void that follows. Like that landslide, this savage, vicious, and dark story rushes onward with a pace that takes a reader’s breath away. If you haven’t read Prince of Thorns, I suggest you do so soon, because this sequel comes out this summer, and it’s even better than the first part! After the horribly amazing ending that changed everything, I am left stunned, panting, begging Lawrence for more.(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)
After some much-needed time off, Harry Dresden is now back in town. However, he is no longer just the only guy in the Chicago phonebook under the heading “Wizards.” Oh, no. He is now the Winter Knight and beholden to Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Unseelie Court of the Sidhe. Mab’s word is now Harry Dresden’s command, no matter where she wants him to go, no matter what she wants him to do, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which one she wants first?
After months of intensive job training, Mab has given Harry his first assignment. And, of course, it won’t be a mundane assassination. Nope, Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No biggie, right?
If that wasn’t bad enough, Harry uncovers a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that will land him in a kind of trouble that makes death look like a holiday. And to top it all off, Harry can feel his newfound powers eating away at him, slowly forcing changes upon his being. So not only is it a race to save the world (again), but this time, Harry is playing for the one thing he has left to call his own: his soul.
Playing in the big leagues It becomes readily apparent within the first quarter of Cold Days that this novel is going to be setting the stage for the next phase of the series. Harry has reached that point now where other supernatural entities are starting to take notice—without him mouthing off to them first. For not only is he on the Summer Court’s hit list, he’s also on Winter’s—because, in Mab’s philosophy, what good is a Knight who can’t defend himself and win?
And because Harry is Harry, he does begin mouthing off to the big fish in this new pond he’s found himself in. And some of the things he has the audacity to mouth off to? Not very nice.
“You’ve taken your fist step into a larger world.” With the change into the big leagues, so to comes a shift in the world around Harry. Because of this, Butcher is able to flesh out some of the details about the big pieces on the board, both character-wise and story-wise. It is finally revealed why exactly Bob lives in a skull and is terrified of Mab. While it is fantastic to finally know the answer to that question, Butcher’s craft has developed to the point where he’ll answer one question but leave you wanting the answers to four more. That’s how I felt after reading Bob’s big reveal.
Also, remember that teaser about Demonreach from the end of Turn Coat? Oh, maaaaaan. That comes back in a big way. Big as in “going to go boom in about one day unless Harry can find a way to prevent it”—which only leads to more questions about the island: the who, the how, and, most importantly, the why. It’s a fantastic amount of history of this world that Butcher has created, and really starts to put things in perspective—the world is an even crazier, awe-inspiring place than we’ve yet realized.
And this is just the beginning. Some of the major differences between the Winter and Summer Courts of the Sidhe are fleshed out. We get to see what Molly has done with her life since Ghost Story. Toot-toot and the Za Lord’s Guard make a reappearance. The Wild Hunt. The Gatekeeper. And that’s just to name a very slight few.
The “Holy @%!” factor This book has it. This book has it in freaking spades. The only other book that has come anywhere close in this is Changes, and Cold Days blows it out of the water. This is a combination of the realization that Harry’s now playing in the big leagues and the world building mentioned above. Some of the things that occurred took me completely by surprise, yet, in retrospect, I could see exactly where and how they had been set up in the previous novels. Especially some moments in the final battle sequence. Man, the feels.
In addition, it seems that every couple of chapters or so, Harry is discovering something new, something big, something drastic that could ruin his day in eighteen different ways and still have time for dessert. Now, in most other scenarios, something like that would likely get stale and lose its effect after a while. Not with Jim Butcher, however. And that’s going into the novel with no expectations other than “He’s going to blow your mind in multiple ways; brace yourself.” I’ve been reading Jim’s stuff for years, building theories, analyzing the bejeebus out of it, and Cold Days still proceeded to blow my mind, repeatedly and without mercy. And it was awesome.
Intensely personal It’s difficult to find a working balance between external conflict and internal introspection in a novel like Cold Days. It’s even more difficult to find a balance of the two that feels absolutely natural and doesn’t leave one side lacking. However, that is exactly what Jim Butcher has done with this novel. Harry has kept up with some of his introspection from the last novel, and makes for a very engaging read (all the while, y’know, furthering the plots). If I had to pin down a singular theme that Harry is dwelling on, it would be the old adage: “Power corrupts.” Now the Winter Knight, Harry has access to the full power of Winter, and from the get-go, he can feel it trying to subvert who he is.
Along with that, Harry’s seen what the power did to the last guy who held it. He also knows that he’s done some terrible things in the past. And knowing what he knows now, Harry also knows that he would do those things again without hesitation. What Harry has a difficult time coping with is the idea that he himself might be becoming what he has always fought against: a monster.
On top of that, now that Harry is back in town, he has to come to terms with the people he had left behind. It’s been a while; he’s changed, they’ve changed, and everyone is wary. Some people, such as Molly and Thomas, take to his return better than others. Things get…interesting between Karrin Murphy and Harry, and it’ll be a trip to watch and see where things progress from here. However, there is one person of whom he is afraid of interacting with more than anything: Maggie. The conversations centering around her are some of the most heart-rending scenes I’ve read this year.
All of this serve to create a character who is inherently flawed, who is inherently human. And it’s something that has made the last three installments of The Dresden Files my favorite books in the series. Because, prior to this point, we haven’t really seen Harry deal with serious corruption of power. Neither have we seen him have to deal with those who he cares deeply about after they don’t really trust him anymore.
It’s gut-wrenching and horrible to read. And yet, it is the little things like those interactions that truly sell this novel as something that could happen in our world.
The stage is set Cold Days, more than anything, is the setting of the stage for the next phase of Harry Dresden’s story. It feels at once both an ending and a beginning. It is the end of the transitory period that began with Changes and continued with Ghost Story. At the same time, it is also the beginning of the next stretch of Harry’s life. He is no longer simply a wizard private eye or a Warden of the White Council. He is something greater that holds a far more terrible potential now. And that’s just the personal touches.
Butcher is also setting the stage for some of the conflicts to come at points down the line. There’s an epic level of foreshadowing in Cold Days. And, ironically enough, a good chunk of said foreshadowing comes from tying together loose threads left over from earlier novels. Things come to Harry’s attentions, things that are unnatural with both the mundane and supernatural worlds. In addition, there some really chilling and disturbing things introduced that will definitely be coming back later in the series. Things like the Outer Gates and baddies that make the naagloshii skinwalker look like a two-bit punk kid sorcerer. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Christian scripture, there is a reference to something from the Book of Revelation. And that one scared the freaking crap out of me.
Why should you read this book? Because if you don’t, you’re crazy. As always, if you’ve not yet picked up the series, I highly recommend starting at the beginning with Storm Front. While Cold Days can function better as a standalone than Ghost Story, it is still building off of a lot of what happened in the last two books.
But, really. Why should you read Cold Days? It’s a fantastic entry into The Dresden Files, and is one of my favorite books to date. It has action, it has snark, it has one of the most trippy and twisted plots I’ve ever seen, and it has fantastic world building out the wazoo. It is an epic entry to a series that continues to improve upon itself, and it proceeds to set the stage for the novels to come. With Cold Days, Jim Butcher has crafted a story that will make you laugh your butt off, that will leave your mind reeling with all of the possibilities, and that cuts straight to the core of the reader’s humanity with surgical precision and refuses to let up on the pressure and suspense until the very end.(less)
River of Stars is the twelfth novel by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay and is based loosely on twelfth century China during the Song Dynasty. Like many of his works, Kay weaves historical names, places and events into a fictional tapestry that still retains the feel of historical work, while engaging the reader in the intensely character-driven style that makes his works so engrossing.
Nothing happens, and everything happens It's been my experience with fantasy lately that more and more things are becoming plot and action driven. Battles, conflicts, direct interactions seem to be the name of the game. Read any book that takes place during or around a war or invasion, and you'll find a solid percentage of the text dedicated to the action scenes: sword fights, army maneuvers, deaths, escapes. Such makes for a very attention-grabbing read, trying to keep you involved by constantly throwing something intense in your face.
In River of Stars, the opposite is true. This is the story of an invasion, of a general rising up to bring his armies to victory against a foe that seems overwhelmingly strong. And there's almost no action at all. Instead, Kay does an absolutely stunning job communicating the state of the action through implication and suggestion, concentrating instead on the characters. He shows you what these people are like, makes you come to know them, to understand them. And through this understanding, we need only see a few lines of dialogue or a short paragraph describing the action around the characters. Our knowledge of who they are fills in the rest.
It struck me about halfway through the book that more time had been spent discussing poetry than warfare, and that not only did this not detract from the work in any way, I found myself more deeply invested in what was going on than I would have been if this had been an action-oriented war novel. My connection to the characters made me care so much more about what they thought about the events happening off in the distance than I did about the events themselves.
Small stones make large ripples Another common element to most modern fantasy is that the heroic protagonist and their group makes many sweeping changes to the world around them. They are larger than life, and nobody can doubt the influence their actions (and generally only their actions) have on the world around them. Kay instead presents a world where the actions of every character, even ones of obvious societal importance—generals, emperors, ministers—really feel... not so much small. What I mean to say is that each character feels like they are just living their lives, in their world, making the decisions that they would make, guided by their beliefs and the realities of their situation.
There are no obvious moments you can point to and say "This is when the hero's destiny is revealed" or "This is when the defining moment of this character's life happened." Everything just happens. And it feels so smooth and natural and realistic that it pulls you in and keeps you there. Not a single solitary thing in this entire novel broke immersion, reeked of deus ex machina, or fell afoul of any tropes of lazy storytelling.
Historical fantasy's Daniel Day-Lewis I've always maintained, and will likely continue to maintain, that Daniel Day-Lewis is among the greatest actors of all time. While he doesn't always pick roles that have a wide-ranging mass appeal, he only picks roles that meet his incredibly high standards. His dedication to research and to method acting, completely burying himself in a role in a way that few people can even really understand, is what has led to him being the only person to win three Best Actor academy awards. His rate of appearances in movies is low, only twelve films in twenty-four years, but I've yet to see a performance that didn't utterly blow me away.
I include the above to really communicate what I am saying when I compare Guy Gavriel Kay to Daniel Day-Lewis. He is similarly non-prolific, with twelve novels in thirty years, and similarly dedicated to his craft in a way that few people seem to be. Each of his books contains an afterword which talks about the research conducted, works referenced, and experts consulted, and it just flabbergasts me. I've read his entire bibliography and not only was I not disappointed, I was hard pressed to find a single thing to complain about.
Why should you read this book? The only reason I can think of why you shouldn't read this book is if you just finished reading another book by Kay. These novels need some digestion time, to really sit down and think about what you just read. I've read several of his novels multiple times each, and the idea of reading two in a row just seems like too much. You need to relax and unwind a little with something a little lighter before you dive back into the immersive worlds Kay creates. You should read this book if you have an appreciation for expertly crafted, character-driven fantasy of the highest order; if you want to really get to know characters, to get a deep sense of them, and their place in their society and their role therein; if you want to close a book's back cover, take a deep breath, set it down, and not even consider picking up another book until you've had time to just appreciate the raw artistry you've just witnessed. That is why you should read this book.(less)