I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more
If you haven’t read Lock In yet and have concerns about being overwhelmed by the details of Haden’s Syndrome, or if you’ve finished the book and would like to know more, I highly recommend checking out this companion novella that you can actually read online for free here.
Told in an epistolary format in the form of collected interviews, Unlocked features narratives from many different people, all in one way or another intimately involved in the history of Haden’s Syndrome and the Great Flu that precipitated it all. It’s meant to give you more information about the condition, as well some history on how the world struggled with and recovered from the epidemic only to end up trying to find a way to help the millions that experienced “lock in”.
Through the various perspectives, we get to find out what the devastating flu was like, how it was spread, as well as the response when everyone realized that the illness was unlike anything the world has ever seen. The most relevant part, of course, is what happens afterwards, when Haden’s Syndrome rears its ugly head. As someone who read Lock In first before checking this out, I knew that President Haden had a major role in galvanizing the country and uniting everyone’s efforts in finding a way to help the victims of the condition, and I was so happy that I got to have the whole story of how it happened here, in all its glory.
Just in keep in mind that this novella is meant to inform, so it wouldn’t be fair to go into this with the usual expectations for a story. There’s not a lot of plot or character development, which is okay because that’s not its goal. Nonetheless, I was completely fascinated by the way this book went through the different stages of the whole Haden’s Syndrome saga. Several of the characters also made themselves stand out with distinct “voices” as they related stories of their experience with Haden’s.
Unlocked shows just how invested John Scalzi is into the world of his book Lock In, and perhaps he rightly recognized that readers will want to know more about it. It probably doesn’t matter whether you read this before or after you read the full-length novel, but all I can say is, either way it’s worth it....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
When I finished Storm Siren, I was speechless. If I am correct about what the ending implies, I just could not believe the story had the audacity and boldness to say, “Oh YES indeedy, I am going to go there!” And honestly, it’s refreshing whenever a Young Adult novel surprises me. I like unpredictability especially when it comes to my YA, and weird as this may sound, I admit I do get a little thrill in my heart whenever I get completely blindsided.
It was, however, a journey to get to that point. One of the reasons why I think Storm Siren will be a very successful book is because it mixes the familiar with the new. Yes, we have some unexpected plot twists and bombshells, an incredible world with a rich magic system, and a heroine with a unique superpower. But balanced with this is also a novel that feels distinctly like it belongs in this genre, with archetypal characters and the usual tropes of YA. Despite this, I believe YA readers will feel comfortable with it and love it for what it is.
The book opens with our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old Elemental girl named Nym, facing her fifteenth sell as a slave. An unfortunate incident triggers her storm-summoning powers while she is on the auction block, resulting in chaos and panic. After passing out, Nym wakes up inexplicably in a luxurious bedroom in a mansion, and is informed that she has been purchased by Adora, the rich and influential noblewoman and court advisor to the king of Faelen.
Throughout this entire novel, we are told that Nym is special. This is practically thrust into our faces the entire time, from the fact that she shouldn’t even exist, since Elementals are all supposed to be only born male, to her role as the only person who can save Faelen in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Bron. But Nym isn’t the perfect savior either. She’s reluctant to use her powers even in defense of her friends due to her inability to control the storm. She has also already caused no small number of deaths in her life, albeit accidentally, and hates the idea of killing more people even if they are the enemy.
Storm Siren features a great story, encompassing a lot of political intrigue and epic battles. The story itself is definitely a winner. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t have been stronger, and perhaps it is a credit to the book and author that my only issue was that I always felt like wanting more.
I mentioned the world and the magic earlier in this review, for example. When Nym is sent to train with a tutor to hone her Elemental abilities, her classmate as it were is a boy named Colin who is a Terrene, someone from his land who can manipulate the earth and stone. Terrenes are also always born as twins, with one twin having abilities and the other not. Apparently, there are even more “brands” of magic users in this world, each with their own specific types of powers and presumably interesting facts about their backgrounds. I mean, this stuff is great! It’s world-building gold. Unfortunately, we just don’t get to learn much about them at all. This is possibly due to limitations like book length or the fact the author couldn’t work those details into the plot, but I sometimes also felt like she may have been trying to put too much into her story.
I also think more emphasis could have been placed on supporting characters. We only have a total of about five characters we really get to know, and I found Breck and Eogan interesting but a few others were quite superficial, like Adora the classic cold villain or Colin with the heart of gold and a personality of a golden retriever puppy. I thought some of the other characters of the court, like the king and a couple of visiting nobles and a princess could have been developed more as well, since relatively they weren’t given much attention but they all had pivotal roles to play by the end of the novel. It would have given the politics and the brewing war between the different kingdoms that extra oomph, and perhaps made things less confusing.
Like I said, I wanted more – but I’m also the kind of person who constantly asks questions when I’m reading, especially when it comes to a book’s world and lore. Did I need all this information to enjoy the story? No, the story itself is solid, even though I felt more world building could have enhanced it. Just when I thought for sure I had everything nailed down, just when I figured it was all going to end the same neat and tidy way that all YA books do, the last few chapters with the final showdown threw me for a loop. I learned that Mary Weber is someone who is not afraid to do things with her characters, even if it means shock and heartbreak to the reader. And I just have to admire and raise my glass to that.
The issues I mentioned notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It started out like the YA novel it’s meant to be – feels like YA, reads like YA – but then went and gave me a surprise at the end. So ultimately I got exactly what I expected, plus a bit more as a bonus! 3.5 to 4 stars from me....more
Angry Robot is making a comeback this fall with a couple of great titles, and The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is one gem that is deserving of a lot more attention. I really had no idea what I was in for going into this book, but even before the beginnings of the story was revealed to me, I found myself already captivated by the elegant writing style.
Rod Duncan brings the Gas-Lit Empire to life in this steampunkish tale of mystery and espionage, starring a female protagonist with a big secret. Elizabeth Barnabus is the single child of a “bullet-catcher”, a term used to describe stage magicians or artists known for performing large-scale or spectacular illusions, but she has used all the tricks of the trades to fool the world into thinking she has a twin brother. In the guise of her fictitious brother Edwin the private detective, Elizabeth sets out to solve the case of a missing aristocrat while dodging alchemists and shady circus folk as well as agents of the all-powerful and tyrannical International Patent Office.
Obviously, Elizabeth is a talented, capable and intelligent young woman used to solving her own problems, often in creative and ingenious ways. So forgive me for going on a mini-ramble here while I ponder on the trend of the “daughter-in-the-title” phenomenon; that is, I notice so many book titles that seem to follow this “The ________’s Daughter” formula these days, but I call it a ramble and not a rant because I think it amuses me more than it bothers me. I find it curious especially in this case, where Elizabeth is such an awesome character and being defined by her father’s profession clearly doesn’t do her enough justice! Besides being a master of disguise, she is also very adept at taking in a situation and making snappy decisions.
I’m also impressed with the way the author has created this world using very subtle means. Instead of throwing buckets of descriptive details in the readers’ faces, he instead uses the history he has crafted for the Gas-Lit Empire to great effect. By reading about the significant events that shaped the empire, such as the war that divided England or the rise of the Patent Office, I was able to piece together the culture and mood of this alternate universe. Sights and sounds can come across easily through words, but it takes a much rarer talent to convey the intangible such as the atmosphere of a setting the way Duncan does.
The mystery in this novel unfolds gradually, and though I wouldn’t call The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter a high-octane read, it does keep up a steady level of intrigue and suspense. It also has its moments, such as when Elizabeth runs afoul of a troupe of traveling circus performers and for a few chapters I was immersed in the dark side of circus life and became acquainted with many very interesting individuals.
With its unique setting and premise, this book embodies the essence of what I’ve come to expect from Angry Robot over the years. But I would still love to know more about Elizabeth as a character. Even though the story is told through her perspective in the first person, she seems to keep the reader at arm’s length. This might be an effect of the writing style, or perhaps something Rod Duncan purposely meant to do from the start, and if that’s the case, then it’s actually pretty clever. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for someone in Elizabeth’s place to maintain a detached attitude even as she is narrating her own story, given how she must protect the secret of her double-life from the rest of the world.
In short, this was a well-written novel, the story fantastically put together with elements of alternate history and steampunk, topped off with a strong, resourceful heroine. You can’t help but be drawn to Elizabeth Barnabus. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing her adventures in the sequel....more
It’s not too often I come across a unique and original concept in urban fantasy, but move over denizens of the world of the paranormal and say hello to a brand new breed of fae. The first book introduced us to John Golden, the protagonist of this clever, snappy series with an interesting mix of UF and techno-geek elements. He’s a “debugger”, an individual with special talents hired by corporate clients to go inside their computer systems in order to eliminate the gremlins, sprites and other faery creatures wreaking havoc on their networks. Needless to say, I loved this concept. It sure gives a whole new perspective on computer bugs, glitches and viruses.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, not long after I found out about John Golden, I heard author Django Wexler tease the next installment of this series. Not only was book two going to have a gamer angle, it was going to be satirizing the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. That MMORPG is, of course, World of Warcraft.
In John Golden’s universe, it becomes “Heroes of Mazaroth”. On what was supposed to be a routine debugging mission for a financial company, our protagonist somehow finds himself trapped in the game’s fantasy realm, suckered into taking the place of a Dark Lord raid boss, doomed to be farmed by a never-ending army of player-adventurers forever and ever…unless John and his sister-in-a-Dell-Inspiron Sarah can change the story and find a way out of this epic mix-up.
Simply put, these John Golden books a whole lot of fun. You can tell the author had a good time writing these books. Wexler has been in IT and is a gamer, injecting his own sense of humor and perspective of these topics into this series in a way that he can’t in his epic fantasy. John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is filled to the brim with all the right stuff which makes the urban fantasy genre such a blast to read. The pop culture jokes, and geek and gamer humor had me laughing out loud throughout.
“I’d seen some weird fairies in my time—driver-eating ogres, hydras made out of HR spreadsheets, a whole tribe of elves that worshipped the MS Word paperclip as a god…”
Sarah Golden is also delightfully hilarious, as always. She’s such a wonderful character. A distinguishing and highly entertaining feature of these books, her footnotes provide a running commentary on John’s adventures and misadventures, and let’s face it: there is no one more uniquely suited to give us insight into someone’s personality than his her own sibling, am I right? Sarah’s remarks often poke fun at John endearingly, and other times they give us more information about the world of the Wildernet and its fae. Either way, it’s great. The first book John Golden: Freelance Debugger has a bit of backstory about why she no longer has a physical body, her consciousness instead residing in a laptop, and it’s definitely not to be missed. I hope future books will continue building upon Sarah’s character, and the awesome dynamic between her and John in general.
What can I say? I just loved this book. You don’t need to be an IT person to get this book and you certainly don’t need to be an online gamer. But if you’re familiar with playing MMORPGs and World of Warcraft, there will be a lot of Easter eggs that will have you smiling. Gaming has been a long-time passion of mine, especially when it comes to MMOs, and WoW and I have a long and interesting history. I’ve played it for years and still work it into my gaming repertoire now and then despite the mountain of other MMO titles I play, so maybe I’m a little biased but I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth as soon as I learned its premise. But it really is a fantastically entertaining book.
Though Heroes of Mazaroth can absolutely be read as a standalone, I recommend reading both books in this series. John Golden is awesome and you’re going to get a lot of great background into the world. These are also quick, bite-sized adventures that can be enjoyed in a single sitting.
And now if you’ll excuse me, Warlords of Draenor is on the horizon and after this book I have a hankering to do me some LFRs....more
Age of Iron ended up surprising me in many delightful ways, but what I didn’t expect at all was how addicting it was. It simply grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s dark, brutal, violent and gritty, and yet I was completely immersed in its harsh, war-torn world.
We begin the story with an introduction to Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary on his way to join up with King Zadar’s grand army at Maidun Castle, hoping for a way to earn some steady coin. But then he is waylaid at Barton, a town that gets attacked and annihilated by the very same people Dug had wished to join. In the aftermath, he meets up with a strange young girl named Spring, and together they encounter Lowa Flynn, formerly one of Zadar’s favored fighters who now finds herself on the run and seeking revenge on the king for her murdered band of warrior women.
King Zadar is a tyrant like no other with his twisted sense of how the world should be. His betrayal of Lowa and failure to capture her has earned him a dangerous enemy, but his killing and pillaging across the country has also made him the target of a young druid named Ragnall, who too seeks to make his way to Maidun to rescue his kidnapped fiancée. Ragnall and his mentor Drustan end up joining with our trio, and together the five make up a rather motley party of unlikely adventurers, all with a common foe.
Very little is known about life in Iron Age Britain; that the book began with this fact and a “this is what really happened” kind of statement in its foreword made me wonder what I’ll be in for. Large swaths of the book filled with history lessons, perhaps? But no, while we do indeed get a torrent of rich, scintillating details about the world, all of it no doubt painstakingly researched and cross checked and checked again by the author, none of it felt blatant or overtly shoved down my throat.
In fact, Watson placed storytelling and characters first, which is what I think made the book’s pacing so successful. He gave backstories to even the more minor characters, in a way that didn’t bog down the story but instead enhanced it, as every detail seems purposely placed to provide insight into the people and life at the time. The plot is also constantly driving forward, and there aren’t many places where it loses steam. History clearly has a role in this book, but the ultimate goal here is epic adventure, and we certainly don’t sacrifice storytelling or momentum.
It also wouldn’t feel complete without a bit of magic, which brings us to the druids. I admit I was very much drawn to the mention of them in the book’s description, as I’ve always been interested in the subject. And the druids of Age of Iron are fascinating indeed. There are all kinds of druids – healers, soothsayers, magicians, some who are benevolent and others who are bloodthirsty and depraved. This latter sort of druid seems to get the most attention, in the form of Felix, the druid who serves King Zadar. As cruel and wicked Zadar is, Felix makes him look like a snuffling choir boy. Some of the druid’s deeds are hard to read about, described in all its gruesome, gory details, and Watson doesn’t spare his readers one bit in this area.
I guess here’s where I should mention that no one is safe in this book – men, women, children and animals are all subjected to some horrific, violent fates, and it can get quite graphic – disturbingly so. If you’re squeamish or turned off about that kind of stuff, here’s a caveat: you might want to stay far away.
And yet, Age of Iron isn’t all doom and gloom, and blood and guts. There is humor, and there are inherently good people in this book. However, none of them are so black-and-white as that either. Characters like Dug, Lowa, Spring, and Ragnall serve as good counterpoints to the depravity and viciousness of people like Zadar and Felix, but our so-called heroes aren’t without their weaknesses. They may endear themselves to you, make you laugh or make you root for them, but be prepared to despise them sometimes too, because in the end they are also flawed people and simply trying to survive a world trying to do them in. I was all the more impressed by the well-roundedness of these characters, and whether you love them or hate them, I thought they were all very developed and well written.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next book. Age of Iron is one hell of a novel. The polish and skill in the writing makes it hard to believe it’s his fictional debut, but you can bet Angus Watson’s got my full attention. I’ll definitely be watching for his future works as well as the progress of this series with great interest....more
The Falcon Throne introduces readers to a kingdom torn apart by a centuries-long feud between two neighboring duchies, Harcia and Clemen – all because of a conflict that happened long ago. In the distant past, two stubborn and power-hungry royal brothers fought for rule, and the resulting rift caused the land to split into the two dukedoms. Now Harcia and Clemen are on the brink of war again with the tensions threatening to boil over, fueled by the lofty ambitions of men on both sides.
Okay, so follow along with me here: in Clemen, the tyrant Duke Harald is feared and hated by his nobles, and inevitably a rebellion led by his bastard-born cousin Ederic and backed by Ederic’s foster lord Humbert swiftly puts an end to Harald’s reign of terror. Believed to be among the casualties is Harald’s infant son and heir Liam, but in fact the child was whisked away to safety by his nursemaid, who intends to raise the boy until he is old enough to take back his stolen throne. Meanwhile over in Harcia, Duke Aimery has two living sons, his hot-tempered heir Balfre as well as the younger and more level-headed Grefin. Balfre has dreams of being the supreme ruler of a reunited kingdom, which would require bringing Clemen back into Harcia’s fold by brute force if necessary. Aimery, recognizing his heir’s dangerous ambitions, would like nothing more than to have his favorite son Grefin succeed him, but you can also be sure Balfre isn’t going to let anything – not even his own father and brother – stand in his way.
First I just want to put it out there that The Falcon Throne is my first book by Karen Miller, but from what I’ve heard about her previous work, I can’t say this is what I expected. I’ve seen reviews of her other books, especially her Godspeaker Trilogy, that have intrigued me with their discussion of controversial characters and bold subject matters. Readers seemed to either love or hate those books, but at least they sounded very different and intriguing. I think I’d expected The Falcon Throne to go in a similar direction, but that didn’t quite happen. Despite the twisty plotlines involving court intrigue, lordly politics, and the unpredictable consequence of shenanigans by pathological schemers, the story and themes aren’t really groundbreaking or anything to write home about.
And yet, I really enjoyed this book in spite of myself. Looking at the fantasy genre, I’ve noticed that in recent years the classic elves and dwarves seem to have been largely replaced by squabbling noble houses and psychopathic royalty. With Game of Thrones fever taking the world by storm, I suppose it’s really not that surprising to see writers hoping to ride on the coattails of its success by emulating its style or concepts. I don’t know if this was Miller’s intent, but I definitely sensed some of those vibes while reading this. Nothing wrong with that, though! Not especially with her obvious talent for writing fully-realized characters and intense sequences.
However, as much enjoyment as I got out of this book, Miller doesn’t quite push things over to mind-blowing territory. Don’t get me wrong, the story was certainly addictive – enough to make getting through 670-ish pages of this ARC not feel like a chore at all. I am still surprised at the speed I gobbled up this book. But like any lengthy epic, it has its ups and downs. The characters are great, but I was largely unaffected by any significant events that happened to them, and even unexpected character deaths didn’t always have the desired impact. Here and there were also several patches with borderline information overload that I was tempted to skim, but I have to make it clear that for the most part, these rare hiccups in the story were made up for by the wonderfully executed dialogue between characters and action-filled fight scenes.
In case you’re still wondering about the validity of the comparisons of this book to Game of Thrones, I would say those descriptions are pretty apt. It’s certainly in the same vein. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I always hesitate to compare anything to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire…simply because nothing out there is like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Certain series like that or Harry Potter are just so big they defy comparison. But quite honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to The Falcon Throne to make that comparison either. Without a doubt, this book can stand on its own. Some of its themes might ring familiar to avid readers of epic fantasy, but I’ll be the first in line to admit I can’t resist these kinds of stories, and Karen Miller brings her own unique and elegant touch to The Falcon Throne....more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
I have a thing for heist books. That’s what Premonitions is and more, mashing up the best elements of urban fantasy, mystery-noir and dark psychological horror. Be prepared for lots of thrills along the way as things spiral rapidly out of control on a high-stakes job, leaving a rag-tag gang of professional thieves floundering in a situation none of them could have imagined in their worst nightmares.
This is the story of Karyn Ames’ crew, who thought they’d hit on the ultimate score when the notorious crime lord Enoch Sobell offers them two millions dollars to steal an ancient occult artifact – just some piece of dusty old bone. But as it turns out, that bone once belonged to something evil, vengeful, and not even of this earth. And it just so happens to be in the possession of a fanatical cult, who will stop at nothing to protect their precious treasure.
There are two main reasons why I love heist stories. One is that they are essentially a problem solving mission to acquire a quest item, with the characters using everything at their disposal to gain their goal, very often leading to some creative solutions. The second part of it is the characters themselves. After all, what’s a heist story without a diverse crew made of individuals with “special” talents? Premonitions shows us how it’s done.
First up, we have our leader, the one who heads up the crew and decides which jobs to take, and that’s Karyn Ames. But Karyn isn’t your typical mastermind who calls all the shots. She has a condition which allows her to hallucinate slices of the future – a useful power when you’re the one responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your crew, but it can also be overwhelming and debilitating when the visions get out of hand. To keep her hallucinations in check, Karyn relies on a very rare black market drug called Blind, which unfortunately is also very expensive. Without Blind, her visions can get very unsettling. It becomes difficult to tell the present from the tangled mess of near or even far future possibilities.
The author has done an incredible job here portraying Karyn’s struggle with her visions coming and going, as well as evoking powerful responses from me with the things she sees. Imagine experiencing scary moments like armed gunmen kicking your door in, not knowing if it’s really happening or if it’s something that will happen in the future (not like that’s any more comforting). Or having gruesome hallucinations of things like bullet holes spurting blood in the middle of your friends’ foreheads even as they are in front you talking like nothing is out of the ordinary. Jamie Schultz ends up capturing the disturbing nature of this very well, and I think it’s one of the best aspects of the book.
Karyn’s predicament with her condition makes her the most interesting character, but the rest of her crew are no slouches either. Anna is the second-in-command and best friend, ever competent and dependable. Then there’s Nail, who is most definitely the guy who brings the big guns. He’s the expert on ordnance and how to dish out the punishment. Finally, there’s Tommy, the eccentric and somewhat creepy practitioner of dark magic arts, probably because his line of work involves doing some pretty unsavory things. A mid-mission addition is Genevieve, liaison extraordinaire and a love interest for Anna, and pretty good at some of that sorcery herself. And of course we also have to talk about the client, the ruthless criminal overlord Enoch Sobell himself. Is he the crew’s ally or villain? Both or neither? There are so many surprises when it comes to this mercurial character, you’ll just have to read and find out more.
All told, there’s plenty of delicious twists and turns in this one, a treat for fans of the urban fantasy genre who are especially looking for a touch of something darker and more ominous, but without sacrificing the action and the fun. Premonitions ends up being a lot more than the sum of its parts, but it does stumble briefly on a couple of bewildering segments. Perhaps my only issue with the story is the jumble of factions involved in the main conflict, at times causing a few instances of confusion when it’s not clearly explained who’s going after who and which group has taken over which other group. In the end it’s not an issue that I found overwhelming, and I enjoyed the overall story in spite of it.
Ultimately, Premonitions ended up being a pretty damn good read. Considering how the book has been on my radar for a while, it didn’t disappoint. With this, the series is off to a great start and I’ll very likely pick up the next book because I think I’d like to know more about this world and its characters....more
I practically binge read this series, which is unusual for me. But truly, it is a rare pleasure indeed when subsequent books in a series just get better and better. I’ve had such a change of heart about this trilogy from the first book to the last book, that I am actually floored with amazement. I certainly don’t take back my thoughts in my review of The Magicians – I liked the book but I also had some very real issues with it and those still stand – but by God, it’s hard to believe how The Magician King and now The Magician’s Land have managed to completely revive this series for me.
We’re at the third and final book at this point, so it’s going to be hard to summarize it without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, protagonist Quentin Coldwater has been through a lot since finding out the magical world of Fillory from his beloved childhood fantasy novels is actually real. He has been its king, explored the farthest reaches of its borders, been ejected unceremoniously from the realm by its god, but through it all Quentin has always had his magic. We return to Brakebills College where he takes on a position as a junior faculty member, but when that falls through, Quentin’s going to need to find another way to make money and make it real fast, especially for the plans he has in mind.
For you see, Quentin has never truly forgotten Alice, whose fate still haunts him daily. She was my favorite character in The Magicians, and to my dismay, I thought we had heard the last of her by the end of that book. So yes, it was invigorating to discover that her story might not be over yet. When it comes to the first book, saying that Quentin had an attitude problem is a massive understatement; I believe I wrote that the only cure for his malaise was a few years of growing up and possibly a swift kick to the seat of his pants – except what happened to Alice was more like a knife through his heart. What happened to Alice defined and transformed his character, so I was also happy to see things come full circle.
The book also has two very distinct parts. In the first half, we have an exciting heist which, departing from convention, doesn’t go well at all – but everyone who knows me know how much I love a good heist story. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss how spectacularly disastrous it goes for Quentin and his partners in crime. The action and the dry humor in this book is ramped up to a whole other level, which is something readers have always loved about this series.
The second part of this novel focuses on Quentin and his old friends’ quest to save Fillory. Like all good things, it must come to an end, but not if the old Brakebills gang has anything to say about it. The Magician’s Land was at times thrilling, at others touching, but always it was full of wild magic and fantastic imagination. My only complaint? The link between the two story threads was tenuous at best and the transition between them was very abrupt (whatever happened to the others involved with the heist? “Betsy” got a throwaway mention at best towards the end of the book, and I wouldn’t have minded more Stoppard, I liked him a lot!) but despite this, I have to say the story never faltered in engaging me and holding my attention.
In essence, The Magician’s Land achieved something that all series-enders should strive for. Not only does Grossman tie everything together, he does it in a way that makes you think back to the earlier books and it suddenly occurs to you: Oh, so THAT’S what he was setting up for. The first book The Magicians was a coming-of-age tale which felt rather aimless at times, if I’m to be honest. But somewhere between its last hundred pages and the first hundred pages of the book two, I think the series finally found its direction. From then on out the story took off, straight and steady, and as a result, this last book is marked by a certain cohesiveness that makes sense – that just feels right.
And Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. If it is possible to feel proud of a fictional character, it is the feeling I get for him after reading this book. What a far cry from when I wanted to wring his spoiled, whiny neck and throttle the life out of him in The Magicians. He grew up. He grew up a lot. He became someone I liked and admired, and as infuriatingly annoying as he was in the first book, I don’t know if I would have appreciated his growth and character development this much if he hadn’t been so unappealing to begin with. He was a shallow, self-absorbed child who ultimately became an adult worthy of his magical gifts, and it is a testament to the author’s pacing and writing style that it was a journey that didn’t feel forced or contrived.
My final thoughts: I may have stumbled a bit with the first book of this series, but the way I see it, it’s always better to read a series that gets stronger than to read one that goes downhill after book one. And so, I tentatively recommend the first book The Magicians; after all, it’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve ever read. It seemed as many readers loved it as hated it, while some others like me fell somewhere in between. But I felt a lot more positive towards the series with The Magician King, and as the last book of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land was a solid finale. My thoughts on book one aside, I think the trilogy as a whole is fantastic and absolutely worth experiencing. What an adventure it has been....more
Erin Lindsey is also E.L. Tettensor, author of the mystery-fantasy Darkwalker that I enjoyed so much last year. So needless to say, I was really excited to read her new novel The Bloodbound, a sword and sorcery adventure with a more romantic bent.
The book introduces readers to Alix Black, a soldier and scout in the king’s host. I always enjoy it when I come across fantasy stories that feature both men and women fighters, and seeing someone like Alix, who is a noblewoman of a sort, in the army is doubly refreshing. Despite being one of the Greater Houses, the power and influence of the Blacks have waned over the years, leaving only Alix and her older brother Rig. Alix has left the life of luxury behind, trading in her gowns and lavish balls for leathers and her blood blade, swearing her service to King Erik.
But what she didn’t expect was actually becoming Erik’s bodyguard. When the king is betrayed on the battlefield by his own brother Prince Tomald, Alix rescues Erik and is named his protector. Leaving her comrades in the scouts behind, Alix becomes Erik’s personal guard but also a trusted confidante as the two grow closer. Complicating matters is Alix’s relationship with her former fellow scout and more-than-just-a-friend Liam, but what is a loyal soldier to do when her sovereign ruler requires her protection and the fate of their entire kingdom rests on the outcome of a brutal war?
While The Bloodbound might not be breaking new ground, it has all the ingredients for a winning fantasy novel. It has a strong female protagonist, who is deadly capable without being a cutting, embittered warrior. No damsels in distress here; we see a gender role reversal from the norm, with Alix doing her fair share of the rescuing, saving Erik’s kingly hide time and time again. There’s also an intriguing, fast-paced plot involving a traitorous royal brother and an invading foreign army. The world building is also rich but subtle, with plenty of the magic, history and politics of the book’s world getting through to the reader without ever becoming overbearing. And then, of course, there’s the romance.
I’ll admit, I had my reservations when I first encountered the love triangle. Torn between Erik and Liam who have both expressed their true feelings to her, Alix knows that eventually she will have to choose between them. But love is not as important as duty when you’re a king, a noblewoman, or even a common soldier who may be more than he appears. Meanwhile, a usurper threatens to take the throne and an attacking enemy force has the dark magical power to do great evil, so the Alix-Liam-Erik situation is further muddled by political need.
While I knew going in that The Bloodbound would have strong emphasis on romance, the love triangle still threw me off a little. Considered a staple of the Young Adult novel, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt to see it in my adult epic fantasy. However, after pondering the matter, I realized that even though love triangles are a common trope, my problems that stem from them have nothing to do with the love triangles themselves, but actually how they are written. Erin Lindsey ends up avoiding a lot of the common pitfalls, opting to forego the angst and melodrama, sparing me a lot of frustration and eye-rolling. Without the drawn-out dramatics of your typical love triangle, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. The romance is almost in perfect balance with the rest of the novel, and doesn’t distract too much from the overall bigger story.
All in all, this makes The Bloodbound a very special book. It mixes the modern with the classic, with the result being an epic fantasy type novel that would also be very easy to get into for fans of YA romance or Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance. An engaging love story is something I feel is missing in a lot of epic fantasy, so this book worked very well for me. It gives equal weight to both the romance and the fantasy world-building elements.
All told, this is a very well-written novel that I believe has wide appeal as well as the potential to connect with many kinds of readers. It can be read as a standalone, with a satisfying story and no cliffhangers, though it does keep the door open for future possibilities. I love the author’s style: simple and elegant, which is how I like it. No matter what name she writes under, I’m a fan....more
I’ve actually not read the first book of the Brilliance Saga, but was reassured when told I could read A Better World without having to tackle Brilliance first. And that was absolutely correct. Not once did I feel lost or confused, thanks to a detailed recap of prior events in introduction chapters. As a new reader, that’s always appreciated (and I’m sure those familiar with the series might also find the reminders helpful, if it’s been a while since you read book one).
Taking place in the not-too-far future, this series is based on the premise that 1% of the population are born as “Brilliants”, individuals who possess special abilities allowing them to do some pretty amazing things. After 30 years, this has created a growing social chasm between these exceptional people and the vast majority who are “norms”. As with the case of most societies where such a divide occurs, you have dissension and a clashing of ideologies. And then you get the violence.
Fear has led the government to clamp down on brilliants, leading some of the extremist groups to fight back. A terrorist organization of brilliants called the Children of Darwin have shut down Cleveland, Tulsa, and Fresno, cutting off power and supplies to these cities. Nick Cooper, former anti-terrorism agent and a brilliant himself, has been called in by the president to help stop those responsible and to prevent a civil war.
Those who have read Brilliance would already be familiar with Cooper, though I was only meeting him for the first time. As a character, he makes a fascinating study. He’s a brilliant, but also a dedicated to hunting down abnorms involved in terrorist activity. The crimes perpetrated by the Children of Darwin go against everything he stands for, but the methods used by the government for controlling brilliants have also proven questionable, like taking Tier 1 children from their parents and placing them in “academies” which are nothing more than maximum security prison camps and brainwashing facilities. Cooper has realized that the situation isn’t black and white, and has already shifted alliances once. The questions and the indeterminate grey areas continue, and because things are never as they seem, you never know what’s going to happen next. Cooper, who has always believed in doing the right thing, is placed in one moral dilemma after another when he realizes he could be harming more people than he saves.
Even good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences, and I think it’s this theme which makes Cooper’s personality easier to take, separating him from the multitudes of do-gooder protagonists from a lot of other books. He came across initially as a rather self-righteous and naïve character, but by the end I could hardly fault him, as he goes through a rather rough time learning these difficult lessons. There were several tremendous game-changing developments I hardly saw coming, which just thickens the plot. As tensions between norms and abnorms continue to escalate, and the population in the besieged cities grow ever more desperate, I started to wonder if war really was inevitable. The ending will probably shock you as it did me.
There were only a couple issues that took away some of the impact, which I think bears mentioning. In the book, the government was able to mobilize 75,000 troops in a matter of hours to the rural plains of Wyoming, but then struggles to find enough manpower to shift and transport food to three mid-sized cities full of starving people even after a week? I don’t know if I buy that. Debating plausibility in a science fiction novel is probably a moot point, but the story still takes a hit in my eyes, mainly because the plight of Cleveland plays such a huge role. I also love the idea of brilliants, and the explanations for individual powers are pretty unique; in many of the cases, they are based on principles of science and physiology. A woman can become “invisible”, for example, moving unseen simply by being able to predict exactly when to move where no one will be looking. A man seemingly moves at super human speeds, but only because he perceives time differently than everyone else, experiencing each one second as slightly more than eleven. In contrast, I wasn’t entirely clear on the nature of Cooper’s own gift, which involves “reading intent”; perhaps it was better explained in the first book, but rather than a brilliant, he really just came across as a regular guy who was extraordinarily bright and perceptive.
Otherwise, I thought this was very enjoyable. While jumping on board mid-series might work with this book, it may not be possible for the next. A Better World does end on a pretty serious cliffhanger, and author Marcus Sakey sets us up for big things in book three. I can’t wait to see how things will resolve after that climactic ending....more
Few subsequent installments in a Young Adult series have lived up to the bar set by their first books, so color me impressed by the way Heir of Fire has managed to do this while at the same time helping me get over the bad taste that Crown of Midnight left in my mouth.
This is going to be a difficult review to write without stomping all over spoiler territory for the previous books, but I’ll do my best not to divulge anything beyond what’s already in the book’s description. So much has happened in the series since the beginning. We last left Celaena on a ship bound for Wendlyn, sent there by her former lover and captain of the King’s Guard Chaol Westfall. Significant events as of late have also marked Wendlyn as her destination for answers to her past, and a way to thwart the King of Adarlan’s nefarious plans.
Not only has Heir of Fire sparked my enthusiasm to follow Celaena on her adventures again, it’s also now my favorite book of this series. I noted as well that this third book was remarkably light on relationship drama and all that bullshit. Coincidence? Probably not. The incessant shoving of an unimaginative, hackneyed romantic side-plot down my throat in Crown of Midnight was what almost made me lose my patience with that last book. It’s a welcome change to be somewhat free of that stuff this time around, and I’m glad Heir of Fire switched gears to focus on more action and rigorous story-development.
Of course, there were a few close calls with Rowan Whitethorn, introduced here as the warrior tasked by the Fae-Queen Maeve to train and guide Celaena to control her magic, but Celaena thankfully manages to remember that the remains of her poor and battered broken heart still technically belongs to someone else. I honestly thought Rowan would be yet another blip in the long line of male-mentors-to-YA-female-protagonists, but rescued from being labeled as yet another possible love interest (boring!), he actually ends up becoming a formidable mentor, ally, and friend to Celaena (much more interesting!) Getting to that point was also quite the journey, their interactions punctuated by ups and downs, but then some of the strongest and most loyal partnerships are forged in this manner.
Back in Adarlan we also have a couple storylines threaded with mystery and intrigue, as Chaol does some sleuthing and uncovers several important revelations about Aedion, the newly arrived general at the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian struggles with his own secret, one that could cost him his life if his father the king ever found out about it. He strikes up a friendship and later a romance with a palace healer who tries to help him. It would cheapen the experience to give way any more detail than that, but suffice to say, both Chaol and Dorian’s storylines ended up converging in a shocking, gut wrenching climax that seriously knocked me for a loop. Looks like things in this series has started moving away from the predictable throwaway elements, and is instead focusing on working in bolder and weightier developments that might actually cause major ripples further down the road.
It also wouldn’t be right to talk about this book without mentioning the Manon Blackbeak, another character who makes her first appearance in Heir of Fire. The King of Adarlan’s latest plans for domination involve Manon and her people, the wyvern-riding witches. Vicious, bloodthirsty and completely determined to prove herself as the most capable Wing Leader, Manon became an instant favorite, despite her role thus far as an accessory to a tyrant. I loved the side story in here of how she ended up with her wyvern – kind of like How to Train Your Dragon, except considerably less heartwarming and with 500% more brutality. But the bond between rider and mount is well-written and convincing, and the circumstances behind how Manon actually ended up with her wyvern made for an amazing sequence, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.
This one’s much longer book than its two predecessors, but almost everything in the story was important, with hardly any dithering around. It’s a step up from both Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, dealing with heavier and more developed themes. We also go deeper into each character, with the new players like Rowan, Aedion and Manon getting the introductions they deserve, and even familiar characters like Celaena, Chaol and Dorian getting much love and attention from the author when it comes to building up their stories and personalities. So whaddya know, looks like a series can indeed mature with time and subsequent novels, and Heir of Fire is exemplary....more
I accepted The Vampires of Manhattan for review before I found out the book was actually the first of a sequel series to Melissa de la Cruz’s Young Adult Blue Bloods; fortunately, not having read those books did not seem to have a negative impact on my experience. Of course, there were a few moments where I sensed gaping holes in my knowledge of the background of the world, but on the whole my enjoyment of the storyline was unaffected. So if you’re unfamiliar with Blue Bloods and are uncertain as to whether or not you should check out this book, fear not! It’s perfectly fine to jump right in.
This might have something to do with the amount of time that has passed since the Blue Bloods series. Apparently, ten years have gone by, and the teenage protagonists are now all grown up, and while Blue Bloods may have been intended audience, The Vampires of Manhattan definitely feels more geared towards adults. Many of the characters have brand new lives, including Araminta Scott (formerly “Minty” but now known as “Ara”) who is now a Venator, an enforcer of sorts, specializing in paranormal activities and crimes. Mimi and Kingsley Martin, a married couple whose history is fraught with intense emotions have returned to New York following a particularly heated fight, after seven years of living in the Underworld. Oliver Hazard-Perry is now a vampire and has risen quickly in the Coven, preparing to take his place as its leader. With the help of his lover and human conduit Finn, they’re making sure the upcoming Four Hundred Ball will go off without a hitch.
But then pentagrams start appearing all over the place, and the discovery of a dead teenage girl who appears to have been murdered by a vampire leads to unease in the community, putting the Blue Bloods and Venators on alert.
The Vampires of Manhattan is touted as “hipster horror” right there in the description, though after reading it I think it’s more accurate to call it “yuppie mystery” on account of the ultra-sophisticated, extremely wealthy lifestyles that some of the characters flaunt. The Four Hundred Ball is the lavish, no-expense-spared affair that is at the center of this novel, the point where all the plot threads will culminate in a startling, dramatic climax. However, the story is also balanced with an investigation into a murder, with Ara and her new wolfish partner Edon Marrok hard at work to find the killer.
Told through many points-of-view, the novel will capture your attention no matter who you are, though if you have an inclination towards mystery like I do, then Ara’s perspective will probably interest you the most. I liked it best when she and Edon were following up on clues, especially when the investigation leads them to the hoity-toity prep schools of the city. Oliver’s perspective provides us with a glimpse into the life of a high-powered elite. And those who enjoy the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous romance will eat up Mimi and Kingsley’s chapters.
The plot itself is not terribly complicated, but that probably works in the novel’s favor. Being a follow-up series that will likely serve as a jumping-on point for a lot of new readers, a twisty, heavy and convoluted story would not have gone over too well with me, personally. I thought the book was pretty perfect in its simplicity, and at the same time I also grew to connect with many of the characters who I had previously no knowledge about, which is a rather impressive feat for an author. I imagine those who have read Blue Bloods will be even more thrilled to catch up with these characters.
I’m glad I discovered this urban fantasy, which was a fast read and thoroughly entertaining for the genre. Despite not knowing a lot of the background behind the vampires, it worked for me – and feeling lost when it comes to a book’s world usually drives me nuts. It’s my first book by Melissa de la Cruz, and this has actually made me very interested in going back to check out Blue Bloods, or her other YA work. I would expect that readers who are already fans of Blue Bloods to enjoy this, but I was certainly a bit surprised — but in a good way — that I did too....more
Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.
Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.
I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.
The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.
The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.
All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me....more
I’ve never actually read Robert Jackson Bennett before City of Stairs, despite owning several books by him (and I can see there’s my copies of The Troupe and American Elsewhere on my shelf right now, glaring down at me balefully as if to ask, “Why haven’t you read me yet?”) So though the name of the author is familiar to me, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that this book’s description was tantalizing in its promise of an atmospheric, immersive fantasy world, with a touch of the otherworldly and bizarre. As it turns out, City of Stairs is all that and more, being a sophisticated and cerebral cocktail of a multitude of different genre elements, including magic, mystery, and philosophy.
Years ago, magic was lost in the central city of Bulikov, then known as the Seat of the World, when its Divinities were killed by a Saypuri hero known as the Kaj. Throwing off the yoke of the Continentals, the Kaj led the rebellion to victory, conquering their conquerors and passing the Worldly Regulations which outlawed the possession and use of divine objects and miracles, even the worshipping of the old gods. With the passing generations, Bulikov went from being a shining capital to just another colonial outpost of world’s new authority
The story begins with the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the visiting Saypuri scholar who stationed himself in Bulikov to study and document the city’s history to the outrage of the locals who are prohibited from doing so themselves. Enter Shara Komayd, officially there as a lowly ambassador to smooth over matters, but she is not without her own secrets. A direct descendent of the great Kaj, Shara is really one of Saypur’s most accomplished spies, and she is determined to discover the truth behind the murder of the historian, who was also a very close personal friend.
First, let’s talk about the world-building, which is in a word: phenomenal. Admittedly, I wasn’t really convinced I was going to like this book from its first 50 pages or so. The story was slow to take off, but in truth, this had a lot to do with the author’s meticulous efforts to plunge the reader into the intricacies of his setting. Bennett has created many layers of context for this world and has left no stone unturned when it comes to achieving the effect of a living, breathing, working society with the kind of history that Bulikov’s people have endured. Everything from politics to religion has been touched upon, giving us a clear idea of the mood of the city.
The plot didn’t gain momentum until around after the first third of the book, but I can’t say I ever lost interest in reading, being completely captivated by the complexity of the world. Before the Kaj, the six Divinities of the Continentals each had their own worshippers, living by the rules and ideologies of the god they followed. After the Divinities were killed, Bulikov was also devastated by an event known as the Blink, causing chunks of the city to disappear or warp and resulting in a section filled with giant staircases that went nowhere, but which gave the book its title. There’s a lot of history here, not to mention the magic and the miracles described in this novel, which are just so creative and unique.
I also adored the characters. I have a feeling Shara’s companion, the unforgettable and indomitable Sigrud will be a clear fan favorite for many after reading this novel. However, I have to say the soft spot in my heart must go to Turyin Mulaghesh, the soldier turned governor who after years of dealing with the problems and instabilities and Bulikov just wants to be transferred to a quiet little coastal outpost where she can settle down and spend her days lying on the beach – ambitions be damned. But don’t let that fool you, for she is a force to be reckoned with. I love how this novel features two strong, spirited and over 30 women at the forefront, and they are just two of the many great characters in this refreshingly diverse cast.
It was hard to stop, once the story got going. The initial murder mystery deepens into shady political dealings and conspiracy, which ultimately leads to an incredible climax and final showdown that unfortunately was over far too quickly and neatly. But what an experience it was. And yet, City of Stairs is also about so much more than just the thrills and suspense. Bennett dives into some heavy topics here, exploring the significance of religion, attitudes regarding sexuality, and the ramifications of persecution and oppression.
Like I said, this was my first taste of Robert Jackson Bennett’s writing, and I am impressed. This really is an excellent novel, and it deserves to be a hit this year. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to hear there will be a sequel, since this book is the sort that would open doors to many great and interesting possibilities, and its world simply begs to be further explored. Highly recommended. This is an enjoyable fantasy that also makes you think....more
The Godless caught me off guard a bit, as it ended up not being the kind of book I was expecting at all. Mainly, it doesn’t read like it was meant to have a traditional story plot, and I don’t doubt that could be the reason for the many reviews I’ve seen describing it as confusing or difficult to summarize. Books like these are generally not my cup of tea, but The Godless did manage to hold me rapt with its epic world and fascinating mythology.
Thousands of years ago, the gods warred. After their conflict, the dead or dying ended up scattered across the world, becoming part of the forests, mountains, and other features of the land. Since then, men and women have awakened with strange and spectacular powers that are derived from the fallen gods’ bodies. The Godless takes place mostly in Mirea, a city built by a massive stone wall that spans a mountain range which houses the body of one of these gods, Ger.
The book follows the lives of several characters: Ayae, the young apprentice of a cartographer who discovers she is “cursed” after emerging completely unharmed from the flames that devoured her shop; Bueralan, an exiled baron who leads a team of mercenaries hired by Mirea to sabotage Leera, a neighboring enemy kingdom; and Zaifyr, a mysterious, centuries-old mystic who teaches and advises Ayae after the emergence of her powers.
The Godless is indeed a bit difficult to describe, as I found it overall heavy on ideas and history while coming in on the lighter side when it came to plot and character development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though books like this aren’t typically my taste, they are chockfull of potential if written well. To its credit, The Godless did keep me interested, but it didn’t have the momentum I desired. While the concepts of the gods and the individuals with special powers are nothing short of extraordinary, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the story, a lack of a unifying thread tying it all together which would have made this one a truly engaging read.
The characters themselves are well-formed with very complete backstories, but their personalities seemed muted somehow. I felt no particular affinity towards any of them, and despite the time spent with each character, I regarded them from an emotional distance. The Godless also isn’t something I would call fast-paced or a page-turner, though it does have its moments at the beginning and towards the end. There’s a lot of detail to take in in between, meant to be absorbed and savored, so I wasn’t surprised this one ended up being a slower read.
I think I went into this expecting something akin to a heroic fantasy, but that wasn’t how it played out, and it was through no fault of the book or the author. By design, the narrative seemed more interested in emphasizing the complex philosophy and theological ideas, the political history between Miera and Leera, as well as the lore and mythology behind the gods’ war and the Cursed.
It’s a compelling read, and there’s no denying that. This first book is a great introduction to a series with a boatload of potential. Still, while I enjoyed reading about the world of The Godless with its diverse peoples and cultures, its rich history and politics, my own priority would be characters and story. But obviously, we all have different tastes. If the sort of world building I described in the above paragraph is something you enjoy, then this book would be perfect for you....more
It’s been a while since I’ve read a satisfying maritime fantasy. “I wish you luck, love, and adventure,” says a character to the protagonist in the beginning of this novel, and incidentally that’s exactly what we get. Starring a princess masquerading as a young man, along with pirates, magic, a secret map and untold treasures, perhaps the “adventure” part is what we get the most of all in this story that takes place mostly on the high seas.
Princess Clarice is the daughter of the Duke of Swansgaarde, the eldest of twelve girls (I know…YIKES!) and one boy. While the arrival of a son and heir apparent was a much celebrated event, this left the family with a dilemma – they cannot possibly secure the futures of Clarice and her eleven sisters, as that many royal dowries would surely bankrupt the already small and modest Duchy. The girls, therefore, were raised from an early age to be able and independent, preparing for the day they would be expected to make their way into the world and find their own fortunes.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that a book really wants you to get into the action right away. These books tend not to weave the world’s history into the story and instead the authors push everything you need to know right up front. Readers of House of the Four Winds might find its prologue and the first couple of chapters to be exposition-heavy, outlining the Duchy of Swansgaarde’s circumstances and thus also explaining Clarice’s fighting prowess and motivations for traveling on her own to see the world. Granted, it’s not the most subtle way relaying the information, but it’s efficient and fast, and looking back, the introduction gave the book an almost fairy tale-like “Once upon a time…” quality, which was actually quite nice.
Then we get to the meat of the story, an action-adventure tale with a bit of romance thrown in. As the first princess to seek her fortune, Clarice has decided to play to her strengths as a sword fighter, and intends to hone her skills in the New World across the ocean. Disguising herself as a young nobleman named Clarence Swann, she is charmed by the charismatic and handsome navigator Dominick Moryet and books passage on his ship the Asesino, sailing under Captain Samuel Sprunt who is said to be extraordinarily lucky. There might have been more to Sprunt’s “luck”, however, as the unfortunate crew come to discover when tensions mount and an uprising becomes inevitable.
If your fancies run towards the nautical, then you’ll be in for a treat. Your journey will start with the down-and-dirty details of everyday ship living, as well as meeting the various crew members and officers, all of this seen through Clarice/Clarence’s eyes so it is all very natural and relevant to the young princess’ learning. The authors make it a fascinating experience and the story only gets better as the events unfold, leading to a mutiny and the discovery of a hidden island controlled by pirates and an evil enchantress. Pirates, of course, are always a fan favorite. The plot is also kept fun and lighthearted with the protagonist’s efforts to keep her disguise a secret, even as she begins to fall for the winsome Dominick. Mistrust between the factions aboard the ship keep the story interesting, not to mention the possibility of the crew of Asesino turning privateer themselves.
My only issue with this book involves certain aspects of the writing, especially when we are reading about significant events that I feel should hold more weight and suspense. In my opinion, these scenes weren’t very well executed. Deaths of important characters were glossed over unceremoniously. Fight scenes were cut-and-dried without much sense of urgency. And of course, the prime example was the critical and inevitable moment when Clarice’s identity is revealed to Dominick, and the result was a fizzle at best. There was no outrage and no shock of betrayal, and even if Dominick were the most understanding person in the world, I would not have expected his response to be “OMG I LOVE YOU TOO!” Things tied up just a little bit too neatly. Considering how Clarice kept the truth of her identity from the whole crew for pretty much the whole book, with everyone believing she was a man this whole time, I would have expected a more realistic reaction.
These tiny quibbles aside, The House of the Four Winds is a fine tale of swashbuckling adventure. The story is to be taken lightly and enjoyed at face value, and the book is the boisterous seafaring romp it was meant to be. As another bonus, it wraps up nicely with satisfying ending. This conclusion along with the series name of One Dozen Daughters leads me to wonder if future books will focus on Clarice’s sisters’ individual journeys instead, rather than continue with Clarice herself. If that turns out to be the case, then there’s no telling the places this series can go; the possibilities are exciting and endless. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more....more
This book is an interesting look into our not too distant future, perhaps one that is more plausible than we think. Mobile devices have already led to wearables, miniature electronic devices that act as an extension of our minds and bodies. Implants, therefore, are just the next logical step. Called “boosts”, these implants are processors that integrate with the “wet brains” in our heads, allowing us to do incredible things such as record memories for posterity, visit a virtual ballgame while your physical body is lounging in your living room, or even fire up an app to improve the taste of the food you’re eating.
But what happens when so much of the human experience is controlled by a computer, which in turn could be controlled by another person, a corporation, or even a government? In this downright Orwellian scenario envisioned by Stephen Baker, China has become the world leader in this boost technology, though Chinese implants are not subject to the same strict privacy laws as the chips negotiated for use in America. Yet, just days before a national upgrade, US software developer Ralf Alvare notices something troubling in the incoming update – an open gate which would render American chips as vulnerable to surveillance and invasive manipulation as the Chinese chips.
I found myself enjoying the premise of the novel, especially since the issue relating to the regulation of personal information is a pretty hot topic right now, as it pertains to laws regarding the collection, storage or use by governments and other organizations. The themes become even more relevant, considering our society’s love for new and shiny gadgets, and technological advances don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The Boost can be viewed as a cautionary tale, perhaps – a warning of what might come to be if we let ourselves relinquish control to our obsession with new tech.
Baker does a good job making his scenario fascinating and believable. In a world where most people are “boosted”, things like telephones, newspapers and even street signs have become relics of bygone era. Even more interesting to note is the attitude towards those who have opted against the implant. Known as “wild”, these people who solely rely on their wet brains to do their thinking and experiencing aren’t looked upon with disdain so much as pity. But really, who should be pitying whom? That was the question I kept asking. In almost all the cases where a boosted character has lost their access to their chip, they become lost, despondent and miserable. Having depended on their implants for so long, they cannot even do simple math in their heads or remember the most basic information. While I don’t recommend being a Luddite, it’s hard to miss the message about the dangers of relying too much on technology. You never know when you’ll be without it, or if it’ll be compromised.
Admittedly, I went into this novel expecting a high-octane techno-thriller, but I was wrong about that. It was probably never meant to be one, though I think I would have liked it more if it had been written in that style. Instead, I found the book lacking a bit in suspense and dramatic intensity, and the pacing also faltered in places due in part to constant insertions of back stories and exposition. In the end, I think I found the novel’s concepts to be way more exciting than the actual plot.
Still, The Boost was an entertaining read. The energy levels were just a couple notches shy of where I would have liked them to be, but otherwise I enjoyed this book. It could change the way you look at technology, and if at first the idea of a boost in your head sounds like a good idea, you might want to think again. ...more
It always pains me to write a negative review, especially for a book I had high hopes for and had looked forward to so immensely. As mythical or legendary creatures go, harpies don’t get near enough attention in fantasy, and I was very excited to see a novel feature them with such prominence and with a background that sounded so incredibly fascinating and unique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this book. I try to look at the big picture when reviewing, taking into account both story and writing, and there were too many issues with both that prevented me from getting into it.
The first thing I noticed was the very awkward and clipped writing style. A lot of telling and very little showing, laying out the character’s every single thought and action. There’s a clear message of environmentalism, but it’s delivered with the elegance and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sometimes I would come across phrasing or word choice that is just plain odd, especially in dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall a piece of writing advice I once read, suggesting that writers should read their dialogue out loud to see how it comes across. Does it sound natural? Is it something you can picture a real person saying? A lot of the conversations in this book don’t pass this test, sounding very forced and scripted.
I was also distracted by too many discrepancies and questions that nagged at the back of my mind about the story. The book takes place on the planet Dora, following a young woman named Kari whose life was saved by a golden male harpy when she was a child. Ever since that day, Kari has been obsessed with harpies, particularly with her special golden named Shail, whose coloring is an extremely rare form of the half-bird, half-mortal species. Her father sends her to earth for ten years out of concern for her, hoping she would forget the harpy, but of course she doesn’t. Kari returns to Dora feeling bitter and angry, and more in love with Shail than ever.
I’ll be honest. When they were finally reunited, I was more confused than happy. Was I supposed to see Shail as an animal or a person? Kari treated him like a pet more than anything, giving him pats on the head and even calling him “Good boy”. I was at a complete loss as to what to make of their relationship, because calling it a romance felt horribly wrong on so many levels. The writing didn’t help this, describing their lovemaking as more animalistic (not in the good way), biological and Darwinian, completely devoid of emotion or passion. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether or not Kari truly fell in love with Shail, or indeed he had cast his “harpy spell” on her; if the latter, clearly there are disturbing implications, especially since he makes his first sexual advance on her out of instinctual desperation and while she was half “caught” in his magic. To be fair, a lot of this was semi-explained later on in the novel, but it still made me very uncomfortable and the relationship didn’t sit right with me at all.
Also, about two thirds of the way through the book are not one but two very graphic and violent rape scenes. Major trigger warnings should come with this novel. It’s an adult book with many adult themes, and while I don’t shock easily, I was a bit unprepared and blindsided. The mature and graphic content caused my brain to struggle with the dissonance caused by the relatively simplistic style of storytelling, and nothing in the description indicated that the book could take such dark, violent turns. Readers be forewarned, these are some very distressing scenes.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest factors preventing my enjoyment of this book was Kari herself, who plays a disappointingly passive role in what is supposed to be her story. She’s a self-proclaimed recluse and standoffish, and a self-absorbed snob to boot, which by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she also wasn’t so weak of character. In the last half of the book, her involvement in resolving the conflict was practically nil, shrinking in on herself and relying on others to take charge and solve the problem. The concept of harpies in this book is underdeveloped and not very convincing, but (and minor spoiler here) what rankled me most about them is the idea that female harpies lose their minds out of grief if their mates die, and they either die themselves soon afterwards from despair or committing suicide. As someone who prefers strong, proactive female characters in my fantasy, both this aspect of harpies and Kari’s helplessness and utter lack of drive really bothered me.
I ended up finishing this book, and I don’t regret that, but I really wish I had liked it better. Ultimately, there were too many issues with the story and writing, and even a trivial detail like the fact I couldn’t stop picturing Shail as Brad Pitt (the author dedicated the book to the actor for providing the inspiration for Shail, and her bio on her website actually states all of her protagonists resemble a young Brad Pitt) compounded to make me rate the book the way I did. I wanted badly to like this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me....more
Many will probably read Sword of the Bright Lady and think what a peculiar world our protagonist Christopher Sinclair has landed in, with all these funny magical rules and strange way of doing things. On the other hand, if you’re a gamer, then you just might see things a bit differently, and a lot of the elements will have that persistent, familiar ring.
As already pointed out by many reviewers, the world of this book feels reminiscent of a video game. For example, gaining ranks and becoming more powerful by defeating your enemies, then plundering their bodies for loot is like the foundation of any role-playing game. Fortifying your base, allocating your resources, and delegating responsibilities to your minions while arming your fighters and supplying your crafters to make sure they churn out raw materials and products for the war effort also happens to be essential for strategy games. And the golden rule of battles and duels in Sword of the Bright Lady – that is, fight and deplete your opponent’s tael before they deplete yours – sounds extraordinary like the tongue-in-cheek “advice” I used to tell my raid group back when I was leading 25-mans in World of Warcraft: “Let’s all try and get the boss’ hit points to zero before he gets our hit points to zero, please.”
There are many more examples like this, and as the author had confirmed in a comment on another blogger’s review that he had intended to write a book exploring what it would feel like to be an actual person in the games we play, I had a lot of fun spotting the similarities and wondering what aspects might actually be subtle references to gaming. The concept itself is REALLY cool. The book begins with Christopher waking up in a strange, new world with no memory of how he got there. How many game narrative start off just like that? He gets drafted into an eternal war (as an online gamer, a war that goes on forever was one of those “AHA!” moments for me, because we all know in an MMO you can never truly “win”) by serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, joining the ranks of her followers who can heal wounds by using their magic and, for the right price, resurrect the dead (another “AHA!”) But then, drawn by the opportunity to return home to his own world, Christopher goes and pledges himself to the god of war, which sets off a series of unpredictable and violent events.
By all rights, I should have fallen in love with Sword of the Bright Lady. After all, I usually find myself drawn to any story with a gaming angle, no matter how tenuous the link. However, in the end “love” might be too powerful a word to describe how I felt about the book, though I did have fun and enjoyed reading it quite a bit. There were just a few things that added up to keep me from embracing this one completely.
Firstly, something about Christopher just doesn’t sit right with me. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on how a person would react when waking up to an unfamiliar world surrounded by strangers, still, Christopher’s behavior and many of his decisions and actions just didn’t seem realistic or normal to me. And while he clearly didn’t know about all the ways of this new place, he did seem to know quite a lot – perhaps too much to be believable. And though I was aware of the nature of this fantasy world, the people took to Christopher’s new ideas and projects much too easily, with not much fuss or resistance at all, which also didn’t feel very believable to me.
This segues perfectly into my second point, which is that the whole premise of this novel feeling like it’s hovering in this awkward place between trying to convey the realism and authenticity of this world but at the same time negating a lot of that by throwing in some pretty outlandish situations that make the story feel almost satirical. The book feels like it wants it both ways, which is a difficult balance to strike. I’m not sure I liked this “in between” feeling, and in fact if Christopher’s experience is meant to be a parody of sorts of what it might feel like to be a person in a video game – which is quite an ingenious and unique idea – I’d actually have liked to see the author carry that premise even further.
To sum it all up, I think there are a couple of missed opportunities to make this book stand out more, which for me is the only factor holding it back from being a truly excellent read. But I can’t deny there are some fascinating ideas in here, and overall it’s a very strong novel from author M.C. Planck....more
I am glad we’ve not heard the last of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire, even if Jorg’s chapter of the saga has concluded. As far as endings go, that was a necessary and felicitous curtain call, even though I couldn’t be happier with the way things played out. But of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve had enough of this brilliant dark world.
Regarding his latest novel, Mark Lawrence has stated that what did not want to do was give us Jorg Ancrath again but in new clothes. Well, Mr. Lawrence, you can rest easy about that. I don’t think anyone can mistake that wicked, tortured young psychopath we first met in Prince of Thorns with his new protagonist in Prince of Fools.
Courage is overrated, as a character like the glib but glorious Prince Jalan can attest. A self-confessed liar, coward and cheat, our main character is also a bit of a rakish playboy, with an easy charm to him that makes him instantly endearing, for all his foibles. See? Nothing like Jorg. But the two of them are contemporaries, if you are wondering where The Red Queen’s War fits in relation to the original trilogy. As such, I don’t think fans of The Broken Empire will find much of a problem settling in. We even get to meet Jorg and his Brothers, albeit very briefly, in an unforgettable scene. Despite the mostly new faces though, Mark Lawrence has no trouble convincing me I am back in the haunted, post-apocalyptic milieu with which I first fell in love. As strange as it sounds, given the kind of place we're talking about, it was a bit like coming back home.
But while the writing style and setting may be instantly recognizable, we have a story here that is altogether very different. And yet, even the slippery Prince Jal can’t avoid running afoul of the dark sorcery that is rife in the Broken Empire. Finding his fate magically bound to that of an escaped slave named Snorri ver Snaggason, the two strike up a partnership in order to try to break the spell. We had an inkling of the Broken Empire’s vastness back in Jorg’s story arc, and here we are given the chance to explore even further as Jal and the Norseman’s journey takes them to the frigid and icebound north, towards Snorri’s homeland.
The two encounter many dangers along the way, including necromancy and other unseen malevolent forces. There is no escaping the Dead King, whose plans run far deeper than anyone can expect. Nightmarish beings called the Unborn are raised and fed by the stolen potential of lost infants, sent to carry out his bidding. Gruesome, disturbing elements such as these serve to push Prince of Fools into Horror territory.
And yet there is also a glimmer of optimism, a thread of light that I can easily pick out amidst the doom and gloom, making me feel that this book is actually “less grimdark” than the original trilogy. Prince Jalan, who assures us he has little ambition – beyond getting drunk, winning bets and seducing women – is really more of a hero than he gives himself credit for. I see a young man who wants to be more than just “that prince who is tenth in line for the throne”, even if he doesn’t care to admit that to himself.
The idea of the unlikely hero is not a new one, certainly, but the difference is Mark Lawrence actually makes me believe that Jalan has it in him. Jal’s growing friendship with Snorri also brings to light a hidden side of him, and vice versa; I think the two of them play off each other perfectly. The story displays the classic quest narrative, one that is very character driven. Forced to work together, the relationship dynamics between this pair of disparate and conflicting personalities is what makes this dark adventure shine.
There is no doubt this is a Mark Lawrence novel – pick it up and you will immediately see the hallmarks of his storytelling and writing style which made The Broken Empire trilogy such a incredibly addictive read, replete with his darkly droll humor and very quotable dialogue. Fans won’t be disappointed. But rest assured Prince of Fools is also a one-of-a-kind tale featuring a very different protagonist. Jal has immense potential, and if this is what Lawrence can achieve with his character in just one book, I can’t wait to see what’s next....more
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. ...more
Cyberpunk is another one of those science fiction subgenres that have been more miss than hit with me in the past, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving more of it a try, hoping to find something that’s more my liking. So even after my inability to get into William Gibson’s Neuromancer – a book considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk field – I still decided to check out Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which has been described as leading in the next wave following in the footsteps of Gibson.
Indeed, in the classic cyberpunk tradition, the book has its setting in a near-future dystopian with elements of hard-boiled detective film noir and overall a very bleak worldview. The city of Pittsburgh is a pile of rubble and ash after its destruction by terrorists in a nuclear blast. Ten years later, survivor John Dominic Blaxton still mourns his wife and unborn child while most of the world has moved on. Our protagonist is a marginalized loner, addicted to drugs as much as he is addicted to his memories of his lost life by immersing himself in the Archive where he can relive moments with his wife in a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh.
Dominic’s work also involves investigating deaths recorded in the Archive for insurance companies. One day, while pursuing a claim, he becomes obsessed with the apparent murder of a young woman when he discovers that her records have been tampered with, evidence that someone is trying to cover up the circumstances of her death. His digging around doesn’t go unnoticed. Like many cyberpunk protagonists, John finds himself manipulated by higher forces and trapped into a situation where he has little control.
Thomas Sweterlitsch has created a future where technology runs rampant. Everyone has an adware implant in their head and access to information is near ubiquitous. People have become wholly dependent on the computer chips in their brains, and the result is a dehumanized society with a strong sense of disenchantment and nihilism. Feeds run continuously in an endless stream, with up-to-the-second news updates. Grisly details of accidents or crime scenes are made public at the speed of an eye blink, along with the darker secrets of the victims’ lives. The society eats up their sex tapes as voraciously as they revel in the graphic violence.
It’s this brutal, emotionally numbing aspect of cyberpunk that makes it so hard for me to click with this genre. Strangely enough, I can handle most kinds of gritty, dark fantasy without issue, but these near-futures and the negative effect of technology on human society have a way of cutting too close for comfort. All everyone seems to care about anymore is pornography and violence, and it is so off-putting not to mention mentally draining. The themes of grief and loss are also at the forefront of this novel, which makes reading it a real struggle if you’re not feeling in the mood for something so despairing. It’s hard to watch Dominic go through life relying so heavily on the Archive; instead of helping, the technology has pretty much halted his healing all together, and he hangs on to his grief like his wife died yesterday instead of a decade ago.
This wasn’t a bad novel, however. I thought the world-building was fantastic and the mystery, hardboiled noir and crime thriller elements were done very well. This is a story about a man destroyed by tragedy and the events that ultimately pulled him out of his funk and allowed him to move on, but it is for the most part a very stark, very depressing and sometimes disturbing book. I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend this to cyberpunk fans, but consider holding off if you’re in the mood for something lighter....more