I have to say I did things a little bit backwards when it came to this series. It all started with The God Tattoo, Tom Lloyd's anthology of stories from the Twilight Reign that I read last year. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much. Furthermore, it made me want to explore everything else this world had to offer, so when Pyr gave me the opportunity to read and review The Stormcaller, the first book of the series that began it all, I very enthusiastically accepted.
That collection of tales had given me a taste of the Twilight Reign universe, and piqued my interest with its promise of a dark and epic fantasy. Here was the world I had been introduced to, one of white-eyes, ancient deities and terrible magic. Now I was finally able to see the wider context, getting the full depth of the story filled with gods and demons, clandestine politics and violent clashes between warring peoples. I feel like what I'd gotten from the anthology was just a nibble. And here, this was the whole cake.
Born into a life of poverty, our main protagonist Isak is a white-eye, a genetic rarity known to make those with the condition bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Feared and mistrusted by those around him, Isak had resigned to the fact that he would never be accepted, until fate intervenes and raises him to a position of power as the heir to the Lord of the Fahlan. In some ways, I feel the book comprises of several distinct parts, and this section of the story would be the first of them, focusing on Isak's transition from a simple peasant to someone with status.
Now, while it's true that a lot of fantasy stories begin this way, I thought Isak's background was a big part of what set his tale apart. For one thing, I find the lore and history behind white-eyes fascinating. Purported to be stronger, faster and more charming than normal men because they are god-touched and divinely chosen to be leaders, white-eyes are still no less shunned and despised by many. Because of this, Isak has to prove himself twice over to satisfy his detractors.
Regrettably, I also think this part of the book was the most difficult to get through. As Isak learns the ropes, this section of the story is mostly filled with descriptions of the things he learns and the people he meets, and it's the most slow-moving part of the story. Add to that, the writing style took some time for me to get used to. I thought the prose came across rather stark and ponderous, and while I wouldn't say I disliked the writing, it still felt like it was missing something -- lightness or emotion, perhaps, though to be fair, the story is meant to be quite dark and heavy. To get through this first part of the book, I did feel I had to work at it.
The action didn't come until later, but I have to say the plot picks up considerably once we follow Isak and his people into war against the elves. This section of the story is driven by several pitched battles, and here the author also starts fleshing out his world in earnest, giving it history and depth. As the layers were filled in one by one (culture, religions, politics, etc) I finally began to feel the full weight of the Twilight Reign universe.
I ended up loving the second half of this novel. It encompassed the final section of the story, in which Isak travels to Narkang with his retinue, and they meet the celebrated King Emin. I won't deny this probably had to do with having read The God Tattoo first; Emin was a character that featured prominently in a couple of the stories in the anthology, and so in a way, I felt like I already knew him and had a good grasp of the setting of Narkang. And lastly, this part of the book also featured the climax of the final battle, which was a great way to bring everything to a close.
All told, it took me a while to read The Stormcaller, partly because it's such a long book but also because I had to settle in to the writing style. Still, I enjoyed this one. I may have come to this series in a roundabout way, but further exploring a world that fascinated and intrigued me was so worth it.(less)
Finishing a series is always a little bittersweet, isn't it? I find this is absolutely the case with Mazarkis Williams' Tower and Knife trilogy. Of course, I'm thrilled to have finally reached the stunning conclusion to find out how it all ends, but I also know I'm going to miss this world and its characters.
It is also a wonderful thing to see an author's skills grow and evolve as time goes on. Though I think I'll always be a little in love with Williams' beautiful writing, I was admittedly much more taken with these last two books in the trilogy than I was with The Emperor's Knife. All three novels had their own individual strengths, but in general I found Knife Sworn and The Tower Broken to have much better flow and greater complexity than the first book.
In fact, I now find myself at a dilemma. The last two books have both been very strong, and I really can't decide which one I liked better. The Tower Broken, having a much darker plot and effectively raising the stakes, obviously appealed to me a lot. After the events of Knife Sworn, the fate of the world is teetering on the edge, threatened by a malignant force moving itself across the land and devouring everything it touches. The storm moves ever closer to the city of Cerana, and Emperor Sarmin finds he is powerless to do anything to stop its path of destruction. Things are definitely heating up in this one.
On the other hand, I LOVED the chapters about Grada, Nessaket, and Rushes from the last novel. Having the narratives of these three female characters was one of the best things about that book, but in this one they have once again faded back into the background, giving other characters the chance to step into the spotlight. Mesema and of course Sarmin both have their own chapters, but this time we also meet the fruit-seller-turned-mage Farid as well as Duke Didryk, whose point of view adds even more mystery to the already shadowy plot line.
While these new perspectives brought a heightened sense of intrigue and tension to the table, I still missed Grada, who has become the Emperor's royal assassin, and even found myself wondering after Nessaket, Sarmin's mercurial mother. But most of all, I missed following Rushes, the poor slave girl who has gone through such an ordeal in the course of these two books. I won't deny I was a little disappointed to see so little of the three of them in this novel, but fortunately I was able to get over it quickly, because Williams does such a good job making all her characters interesting. Much like the series, I felt that many of the protagonists especially Sarmin and Mesema have finally come into their own. The transformation of their relationship was the highlight for me in this one; by the end I could see where the author had wanted to go with the two of them all along.
I also think I would be remiss if I ended this review without making mention of the magic in the Tower and Knife world. The first book introduced us to the complex dynamic between mages and spirits, with the former harnessing their abilities by imprisoning the latter into their bodies, then sucking them dry of the energy required to power magic spells. We get to see a lot more of that here, as well as insight into the concept of "pattern magic" which is central to this entire trilogy. I think it's great how the last book ends with a much more detailed look into the mechanics of this system, because I'd always felt the story needed it.
So the the trilogy may be over, but I would read any future books by Mazarkis Williams in a heartbeat! Pulling off the final installment of a series is always a doozy, but it was done well here, even if everything wrapped up a little too neatly. I would still take a "complete" and satisfying ending like this over an open-ended one any day. Ultimately I think Williams made all the right calls, and at the end of the day served up an impressive conclusion. (less)
I've long been curious about Ice Forged. Though I also own The Summoner from her Chronicles of the Necromancer series, for some reason I just knew I wanted this one to be my first Gail Z. Martin book. They're both stories set in high fantasy worlds, but lands of ice and snow have always fascinated me, I don't know why. Maybe because I think these harsh settings are often fertile ground for exceptional protagonists, driven to be harder in an environment marked by extreme temperatures and scarcity. I love to read about characters becoming shaped by those experiences and overcoming those challenges.
So it was a pleasant surprise when the book began by throwing its main protagonist into a situation that was even more harrowing than I'd expected. Blaine McFadden is convicted of murder, and though his reasons for the killing were honorable, the young nobleman is sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a penal colony on Velant, an icy wasteland at the edge of the world. Six years later, Blaine (now known as "Mick") is a new man, emerging as a natural leader in the eyes of the other convicts and colonists. Still, they are kept under the thumb of an oppressive governor, and are at the mercy of the mages who are always too keen to administer their swift and often cruel discipline.
But one day, the supply ships stop coming. War has torn Blaine's former home of Dondareth apart, and the magic that civilization had always depended upon has been lost. It changes everything. Without the mage's power holding them back, the colonists of Velant take back their freedom but afterwards they too must decide their own fate. For many, this frigid land has become home, and they would like nothing more than to stay. Blaine, however, still has a far greater destiny to fulfill.
This is good old fashioned down-to-earth epic fantasy. And I use that description as a compliment. In many ways, this book reminds me of the pure delight and enjoyment I felt when I read Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria Revelations series, which I also loved; both share that same easy, straightforward writing style with story elements and character-types that won't be anything new to the avid fantasy reader, and yet I felt warm and comfortable wrapped in their familiarity.
I was also glad to see I was right about the strong characters, all of whom are wonderful and likeable in this novel. They are what drives this story, and makes the reader care about what happens in this book. When the magic went away, I found myself completely gripped by the consequences, shocked by certain deaths I never expected or kept on edge about what characters would do in response to such a big change in their world. Despite how I described the novel in the previous paragraph, scenes like these are what sets Ice Forged apart and makes it special.
I'm particularly impressed with the world which Gail Z. Martin has created, with emphasis on the background of the lore and magic. Not that the descriptions and details of the places in Velant or Dondareth weren't rendered well either, but I was much more drawn in by the histories of the land and people that she has woven. I love stories that establish a long, vivid past, because then the effects on the present and the future feel more impactful. That is the case here.
All in all, Ice Forged is a solid start to a new series. I eagerly await the next Ascendant Kingdoms novel to continue following Blaine on his quest to restore stability to his world.(less)
Here's the thing, whenever I finish a book I love, I tend to make it a mission to check out more of the author's work. This might mean pre-ordering th...moreHere's the thing, whenever I finish a book I love, I tend to make it a mission to check out more of the author's work. This might mean pre-ordering their next book if the author is new, or if they have other books already out those will immediately go on my to-read list. Anyway, ever since I discovered Django Wexler's The Thousand Names he's become one of my favorite authors, so of course I went through the same process of tracking down his other stuff. Thing is though, his two previously published books are out of print and are extremely hard to track down, but as luck would have it I was able to get copies without having to break the bank.
I am glad I started with Memories of Empire. If you've read The Thousand Names, this one actually feels almost like its spiritual predecessor. There are shared elements in the story and setting that made me feel right at home, those that are common in epic fantasy like faraway lands, exotic cultures, multiple plot threads featuring many different characters and warring nations. We have Veil, a young girl sold to slavery only to be accidentally rescued by Corvus, a passing swordsman who seeks answers to his past. We have the Khaev draek riders Kit and her Wing Leader Kei, tasked on an expedition to hunt down a rogue sorcerer. Then there are the other factions carrying on behind the scenes, not least of all the demons and spirits of this world who pull the strings and play mortals as their pawns in order to suit their own ends.
After reading this I can see how the author's writing has evolved and gotten better over the years. It's true there are some parts of this book that could have been streamlined, some characters that felt underused or whose motivations could be better explained, plot points that could have been made more clear. Still, for someone who really enjoys Wexler's smooth, flowing style and pacing I was not disappointed, and his talents for world building and character development were apparent even back then.
For one, I adored Veil and ate up every page she was featured in, and still couldn't get enough. Her relationship with Corvus is something I followed with enthusiasm; there was something very sweet and endearing about the nature of it, a mixture of admiration, respect and awkward school-girl crush. That's just one example of the author's knack for conveying the complex emotions and dynamics between characters, and another is the friendship between Kit and Kei. Some of the flashbacks and memory sequences into their pasts didn't add much to the story, but they made the two women better characters even if I still didn't connect to them as much as I did Veil, who was my absolute favorite.
I can also see how Wexler's love for wargaming came through in this one. I wonder how much of it was involved in the descriptions of the fighting, but no doubt what went in made the battles in the book better because of that. The final one near the ending almost reads like a narrative for a campaign, and it's a real treat to read a book with battles in it written by someone experienced in a command role in historical wargames. If that sounds like something that interests you, definitely check out Django Wexler. The Thousand Names has all that goodness too, and unlike this book it is easy to get your hands on!(less)
Before we begin, I feel I should make it known that this book is not for the faint of heart. If you know you'll feel uncomfortable with things like brutal violence, ear-bendingly foul language, and extremely graphic sex, then you may wish to reconsider having a go at this ... especially when it comes to that last one. In general, I am not the kind to be bothered by lewd and explicit acts in books, and yet there were still certainly no shortages of eyebrow raises from me with this one! Anyway, it was enough that I feel I should say something. Fair warning!
And now with that out of the way, let's get down to the reasons why this book totally rocks. If you're the kind of person who likes the combination of a good adventure story with the dark and gritty aspects of fantasy (of course, keeping in mind the caveats mentioned above) then you'll love The Barrow! Incidentally, this is exactly the kind of mix I enjoy. The fact that it was even darker than I expected was a nice surprise, though I don't know if I would call it full-out grimdark. In an interview, Mark Smylie described the book as more of an "archetypal Dungeons & Dragons adventure as run through the filter of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" ... and well, yes, actually I suppose that description would do nicely!
Furthermore, the book also takes place in the world of Mark Smylie's Artesia graphic novels. I won't deny that an emotional attachment to the setting was a factor for me, but if you are not familiar with the comics, do not fret! This is a brand new self-contained story, no previous knowledge of the world or characters required -- which is actually great for me too, since I'd only read the first volume and it was quite a while ago. However, you can still tell that writing a story within a setting that has already been established works well in the novel's favor; the world-building is phenomenally robust and very deep, with many layers to the descriptions of the people and places.
As the reader, I felt like I was transported right there -- and that is both a wonderful and terrifying experience, considering the type of world we're thrown into, one filled with dark magics, shady politics, and disreputable characters. Scoundrels and perverts lurk at every corner, and if you're really unlucky, you might even run afoul of demonic horrors and evil gods. The main plot is actually quite simple, deceptively so perhaps; on a routine tomb-robbing operation, Stjepan Black-Heart and his crew stumble upon an ancient map which details the final resting place of a long-dead wizard, who was said to have been buried with a priceless legendary sword.
Here's where the adventure narrative comes in. To find the sword, our protagonists must first gather their allies and go forth to locate this tomb. Of course, epic quests are never so easy or straightforward. But even when a curse placed on the map kills one of the essential members of the crew and ends up transcribing itself onto the skin of a young noblewoman, you think that would stop the Black-Heart? Nope! Whether it's wealth, fame, freedom, or absolution, everyone on this journey has a reason to find this fabled Barrow, which makes this story a riveting one filled with secrets and unexpected twists.
Among these colorful personalities, some of the characters are so disturbing it will make you sick to your stomach, while others are so crazy it will make you laugh; but there's definitely no accusing any of them for being boring. Out of everyone, I think I like Erim the best. A young woman masquerading as a man, Erim is Stjepan's protege, and despite her skill with the blade, in many ways she is as sheltered as her mentor is well-traveled. It's ironic that she doesn't find herself to be very interesting, because she was my favorite with her quiet introspection and fierce loyalty. That pretty much also makes her the most honorable of the lot; we're talking about some rather grim and nasty characters here, after all.
This is a book that pulls you in immediately, starting with an explosive intro that sets the tone and mood of the story quite nicely. It also contains possibly one of the most heart-pounding prologues that has ever graced the pages of a fantasy novel, and my head is still reeling from the events at the end of that chapter. However, the pacing of the novel is a bit uneven, which is probably the only quibble I have about this book. After the introduction comes a middle that slows down considerably as the characters travel towards their destination. There are frequent stops along the way, but the good news is that something interesting happens at every one of them. These encounters often added to the depth of the lore and setting, giving me more of a sense of the world's vastness.
But while it took me several days to read the first three-quarters of this book, I think I devoured the last 150 or so pages in one exhilaratingly intense sitting. Everything that happens after they find the Barrow is pure insanity. Also, I just love twists and surprises! It's a climax and conclusion that goes beyond just being an ending, because more importantly it reveals how all the themes and undercurrents of the novel come together. It speaks much about Mark Smylie's skills as a storyteller. He marks his transition to full-length novels with this incredible debut, and I'm glad to hear we will be seeing more from him following The Barrow(less)
I have not had the pleasure of reading Andy Remic's Clockwork Vampire Chronicles yet, but hearing about how those books have earned the author the nickname "Tarantino of epic fantasy" has gotten me mighty curious. Being compared to the great QT is high praise indeed! How then could I possibly say no to The Iron Wolves?
This book has it all: bloody fight scenes and explosive battles, psychopathic villains and twisted, gritty anti-heroes. Oh, and mud-orcs. Mustn't forget the mud-orcs. Needless to say, I am happy to report that Andy Remic's title is well-deserved; we're talking no-holds-barred dark fantasy, of the faint-of-heart-need-not-apply variety. We're talking graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and a truly astounding number of decapitations within these blood-soaked pages.
If this sounds like your kind of novel, then you're in for a real treat. Andy Remic has taken the classic "gather your party and go forth on a quest of epic proportions" objective, and so generously wrapped it all up for us in a nice grim package. To stop an invading army of horrors, the great general Dalgoram sets out across the land to reunite his band of veteran warriors for one last stand. Having been estranged for years, the members of the Iron Wolves have all either fallen on hard times or have turned to lives of deviance and corruption. But together again, they find they can transform their shared curse into something so much more.
By the way, my description of "twisted, gritty anti-heroes" was in no way an exaggeration. With perhaps the exception of the old man Dalgoran, I was hard pressed to name a single admirable soul in this group of vile, despicable Iron Wolves. But that's what I signed up for so I can't complain too much, especially since Remic delivers exactly what was promised. The only downside I could see to this is finding enough to set some of these characters apart, which gets a little difficult when almost all of them are defined by broken pasts, foul mouths and violent tendencies.
Also as I've noted before, at times a novel's "epicness" can be something of a double-edged sword, as it can do a number on pacing. This story stumbles a bit due to the sheer size of the cast and their multiple points of view, especially when a couple more Iron Wolves are still being added to the mix at about two-thirds of the way through the book. As maniacal as they are, I wish we'd gotten a chance to know Zastarte and Trista a bit better, though I think this will mean a much smoother ride for the next installment now that the scene has been set and all the introductions have been made.
Speaking of which, I'm excited about book two, and if you'd seen that ending, you would be too. I have to say I felt the final showdown scene was over way too quickly, though this probably had less to do with the pacing and more to do with how much I enjoyed the climax and conclusion. Andy Remic is in his element when it comes to writing big battles and fight scenes, and he graces this book with a lot of them. It would be easy but disingenuous to brush them all off as an excuse to provide gratuitous violence, because I actually found many of the scenes of war and fighting to flow and fit exceedingly well within the context of the story.
After all, this is The Iron Wolves, folks. A great choice for readers looking for a stronger, headier kick to their heroic fantasy, just remember to steel yourselves for the unlimited energy and madness this book will unleash upon your lives!(less)
Books like Mage's Blood are extremely hard for me to review, and not least of all because the many comparisons of this to A Song of Ice and Fire are mostly appropriate; this first book of the Moontide Quartet is a sprawling epic indeed! Still, I'm of the mind that George R.R. Martin's epic series stands uniquely on its own...but then so does David Hair's. It would be impossible for me to go into every single thing I liked about this book without having to talk about why, because that would just lead to lengthy explanations into the details of the plot, and if I did that this review will end up being thirty pages long with half of it made up of spoilers. Obviously, we can't have that.
Suffice to say though, this book has it all: nations at war, clashing religions, political intrigue, mages and sorcery, multiple points of view. Yuros and Antiopia are two lands long separated by vast ocean. But every Moontide, the seas part to reveal the magnificent mage-crafted Leviathan Bridge, allowing trade and communication between the two continents. Unfortunately, the passage is also a source of much bitterness and conflict. The last two Moontides have involved crusades of conquest, thanks to the lofty ambitions of the Magi.
Now another Moontide is at hand. As the time draws nearer, the people on both sides prepare for war. Antonin Meiros, a mage of great renown (in fact, it was he who was the intellect behind the Leviathan Bridge) seeks a new wife, and travels to Lahk to wed Ramita. Ramita, however, is already betrothed to the hotheaded Kazim. In another part of the world, Elena Anborn has pledged her life to protect the royal family of Javon, fighting off the assassination attempts and conspiracies masterminded by her former lover Gurvon Gyle, who works for powerful political enemies. Meanwhile in Noros, Elena's nephew Alaron prepares for his mage finals. But during the presentation of his thesis, he unwittingly proposes a dangerous topic that could mean the end to his hopes and dreams.
Everything and everyone is connected in this massive and intricate web that David Hair has woven. The scale of both setting and story are vast. The continents involved here encompass various nations, many of which are described here with great thought and detail. Their populations, including their cultures, languages, religions, rituals and even food and styles of dress are given the same exacting care. This is a world where both magic and theology form a strong basis for society, and it is diverse.
At the same time, readers will find there is much that is familiar in this fantasy world of Urte. Most of the nations and cultures in this book bear marked resemblances to those in our reality -- even when it comes to religion and geography. The nature of this brought to mind a recent discussion I had with a friend, regarding settings in various epic fantasies and how he usually preferred fictional worlds that he can imagine as our own earth, whereas I tended to prefer the opposite. Needless to say, a book like Mage's Blood can appeal to both camps. As well, even I can admit that real-world historical and cultural influences in a fantasy setting can add a lot to a story, a prime example being Jacqueline Carey's original Kushiel's Universe trilogy which remains one of my favorite series of all time.
With a book so massive which features a cast so big, it was perhaps no surprise that the first quarter of Mage's Blood is the most demanding of the reader. The different characters and their story lines are cleanly organized and separated by chapters, which is why this is my favorite format for epic novels. Nevertheless, it makes for a slower start, when an author has to cycle through the perspectives while introducing all the main players, and the first couple hundred pages were dedicated to this task. Patience pays off though, as the book finishes setting the scene and gradually builds up momentum in the middle chapters. This is the meat of the story, and it is amazing how David Hair manages keep all the plates spinning at once, giving each character and plot thread the attention they deserve, while also meticulously bringing them all together so that they eventually form a much bigger picture.
As Mage's Blood features an ensemble cast, obviously I had my favorites (the notable example being Ramita and her story with Antonin Meiros) while others were not as interesting to me. Each person has an important role to play though, and this was made clear by the climax and the ending, which is in a word incredible. It is a conclusion that is positively incendiary, leaving me wondering what else the author has in store. As the series name implies, Mage's Blood is only the first in what is meant to be series of four books, and as such there is much left wide open for huge things to come. However, at the same time David Hair has wrapped things up in a way that is straightforward and satisfying, without any abruptness. I think this is a far rarer skill than people realize.
I have a feeling a lot will be happening in The Scarlet Tides. Mage's Blood may have been encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up to the story, which I honestly don't think could have been avoided. I suspect, however, that we will jump right into the action with the sequel. I'm excited, and can't wait to see where things will go.(less)
Featuring exotic lands, magic and adventure and warrior knights embarking on sacred quests, Heartwood had everything I like going for it. Now that I've finished this book, I'm still amazed at the sheer scope of the story; epic doesn't even begin to describe it. Though as I soon found, "epicness" could also be something of a double-edged sword.
The book opens with a scene at the Congressus, a conference of peace talks in which representatives from all across Anguis come together in an attempt to negotiate and maintain stability between the many nations. Chonrad, Lord of Barle, joins the holy knights of Heartwood to oversee the talks in the fortified temple, where the great tree called the Arbor stands. Congressus does not go well, however, and then the gathering is ambushed by an army of warriors who seem to have materialized from the water of the river itself. In the ensuing battle many are killed, but it is the Arbor with its massive trunk split and its heart stolen away that is the worst blow of all.
Because the great tree is what binds the land and all its people, it must be saved. First, the Arbor's heart must be retrieved, but five Nodes located in five different hallowed sites across the land must also be activated in order for the tree to heal. In addition, a powerful magician called the Virimage must also be found, brought back to Heartwood so he can lend his abilities to the mending. Thus it begins; we have seven different groups, each on their own journey, each tasked with a special Quest.
Like I said, the scope of this is massive. It's what I loved best about this book, and the author Freya Robertson pulls off an impressive feat of storytelling by weaving no less than six or seven different plot threads together into a one big whole. She's also done incredible things with world building, creating this land made up of many different nations, all with their own unique population and cultures. The characters featured in this book all have ties to their own homes and histories, which also reflects in their personalities, motivations and value systems. I liked this last point a lot too, reminding me very much of the worlds in the role-playing games I like to play.
Viewed as a whole, however, the massiveness of Heartwood -- both its length and scale of the story -- can also make things a little problematic for the reader. When you have so much going on, such as half a dozen quests occurring all at once, that's a lot to take in. First, we have the introduction to the characters, of which there are many, and that shouldn't be a surprise given the intricacies of the plot. Still, I like to see momentum build in the first quarter of a book, because that's generally when I expect to be pulled in by the story as well. In Heartwood, much of the first 100-200 pages is given to establishing the characters and world, which made for a slower-paced beginning. It felt sometimes like I was encountering a new character and his or her long and detailed back-story every few pages, when what I wanted very much was for the story to move forward. Structurally, I think if some of the information could have been edited out or even just spread out more evenly, it might have improved the flow for the first part of the book.
These insertions of character history and moments of information dumping persist throughout the novel, but I think they are the heaviest in the first half. The good news is, I think the story picks up considerably in the second half, after we have the all the introductions and necessary details established. Though a little patience and determination was required of me to reach this point, I have to say it was worth it in the end. I'm still astounded by the way Freya Robertson was able to make all her quest stories come together. She manages to keep all the threads in line, never once letting any of them get away from her, and keeps up a steady level of suspense for each group throughout. With all the perspective changes and jumping around in places and time, I would have expected this book to be way more disjointed than it is, but surprisingly it wasn't, at least not for me.
I didn't get to connect to all the characters equally, since one of the downsides of this format is having to spread my attention between a whole bunch of different players. And some like Chonrad, for example, disappear for a chunk of time after Part I as the book shifts focus to the people on other quests. But over time, I did develop a few favorites. The writing is admittedly not very subtle when it comes to revealing their every thought or emotion, but regardless I came to enjoy Heartwood's female characters a lot. Their depth made them memorable, and the holy knights Procella and Beata stood out for me in particular. Both are strong leaders who are capable and competent, and yet also have their own personal battles between duty and love, what's insides their heads versus what's inside their hearts. On that note, I also want to say how much I appreciate a little romance in my epic fantasy. There's definitely an element of love here, and Freya Robertson is so good at creating passion and sexual tension between couples. I was not surprised when I found out that she has also published a number of romance novels under a different name.
Ultimately, my overall feelings towards Heartwood are positive, though it did take a little time for me to get into the flow of the story. It is, after all, an ambitious novel, and despite a few hitches in its structure and pacing, for a first book in a series I think this one does an admirable job in establishing the world and characters. The way the story unfolded and came together in the end made me curious enough to want to read more from this series and author, and I'll most likely be picking up the next book.(less)
The Tower and Knife series continues with Knife Sworn, and the second book is as full of magic, intrigue and beauty as the first -- if not even more so! One might be tempted to stop with The Emperor's Knife, its story having wrapped up so nicely at the end after all, with Sarmin coming into his own and the Pattern Master vanquished forever. But trust me, you won't want to miss this.
The events at the end of The Emperor's Blade saw Prince Sarmin free at last, taking his place on the throne after years of being locked up in a tower. Mesema, the girl sent from the horse tribes is now his wife and empress, and has just given birth to a boy. However, Sarmin's own mother the Empire Mother Nessaket has also just recently borne a son, throwing the matter of succession into question. And as the first book has shown, too many boys with royal blood at the palace has always led to bad news.
On top of this, Sarmin has been suffering from memory lapses and getting pressure from his advisers to name a new royal assassin, or a knife-sworn. He's also just received an unwanted gift of a harem of concubines, which he suspects is actually harboring a spy. There are only a few people close to Sarmin he can trust, and with the births of the princes and the arrival of a Yrkman peace convoy, they become more important to him than ever before.
First and foremost of these characters is Grada, whom we met in The Emperor's Knife and has since become one of Sarmin's closest companions and his trusted investigator. I mentioned in my review of the first book that out of all the points-of-view featured, my favorite one was Mesema's. In Knife Sworn, she takes on a less central role, but in her place Mazarkis Williams has given us the narratives of three other women, all strongly characterized and well-written. I've already mentioned Grada, whose complex past and warring emotions made her the most interesting person in the book. There's also Nessaket, who was almost a villain in my eyes in The Emperor's Knife, but in Knife Sworn I actually sympathized with her. And finally, my favorite character in this book was Rushes, the slave girl who instantly endeared me to her with her good heart.
Mazarkis Williams' writing is also in a league of its own, invoking such powerful and vivid imagery. It has been many, many months since I read The Emperor's Knife, but I still remember a certain scene involving blooming flowers in the desert, which Williams had brought to life with exquisite attention to detail. The writing was simply beautiful, and it is even more so now in Knife Sworn since the storytelling has become cleaner and more robust. It's the prime reason why I enjoyed this sequel even more than the first book; in The Emperor's Knife I sometimes found myself lost in terms of which character I was supposed to be following or trying to figure out where I was. I experienced none of that here, in the smooth flowing pace and structure of Knife Sworn.
The author has also ramped up the intrigue. If that was your favorite part of the first book, you will not be disappointed here. Conspiracies, secret agendas and betrayals abound, with twists thrown in. Almost everyone can be seen as a friend or a foe, depending on whose perspective you're following. I read this book much faster than I expected, because I wanted badly to see what certain characters would do.
The only thing I would have liked to see more of in Knife Sworn is the magic. Specifically, I wouldn't have minded a bit more about how it works; the first book introduced a very interesting system involving relationships between mages and spirits, and it was one of the coolest ideas I've ever come across in fantasy. Mages didn't play as big a role in this one, though with the emergence of a new magical threat to the empire, I hope the third book will offer a deeper and more detailed look at the magic of this world.
On that note, The Tower Broken will be coming out very soon! I wouldn't miss it for the world.(less)
The word "spy" has such heavy undertones, especially when it comes to genres in fiction. When I first picked up The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke, everything I knew about it came from its description, so I was surprised when it turned out not to be the kind book I thought it'd be. Not that I had an inkling of how a story about a cleric-intelligencer was going to play out in a fantasy setting in the first place; still, if not a gripping page-turner, I expected at least something faster paced. But at the same time, I wouldn't exactly call this book slow, though it definitely had its ups and downs.
Case in point, it took a week to read the first third of the book, but the rest only took me about a few days. and I'd actually polished off the second third in a single sitting. For me The Lascar's Dagger was the type of novel with an ending much stronger than its intro; it may take its sweet time finding its momentum, but when it does, you'd better watch out. I know I could hardly put it down once the story got going.
The novel follows Saker Rampion, a priest who also serves as a spy for the Pontifect of the Va-Faith. On a routine information gathering assignment, he unwittingly stumbles upon Ardhi, a lascar up to no good. After a brief tussle, Saker comes away with the lascar's dagger, and its magical properties are revealed when multiple attempts to discard the weapon prove unsuccessful. Even after throwing it into the harbor, the dagger always seems to make its way back to Saker Rampion's side!
Not long afterward, the Pontifect reassigns Saker on a new job to act as new spiritual adviser for the prince and princess of Ardrone. Meanwhile in another place, a young woman named Sorrel Redwing is on the run, charged with the murder of her husband. She ends up at the royal court too, after the Princess Mathilda takes Sorrel under her wing and offers her protection. At this juncture, the story is still in the process of evolving and has not reached its tipping point. However, once it becomes clear that Mathilda also has a larger role to play, the situation ramps up into a new and irreversible development.
In fact, for a spoiled princess, Mathilda had a lot to offer as a character, and was the one who stole the show for me, not least because the story might not have ever taken off if not for her actions. She also had by far the most interesting personality, even if at times she was a self-absorbed brat or even an airheaded ninny. Sorrel takes second place, impressing me with her strength and loyalty, and the fact she appears to have the patience of a saint. It's the female characters that really shine in this book, and they were the ones who drew me in despite Saker Rampion being the most prominent character. As it turned out, the fact that he was a spy didn't even play into the story all that much, at least not in the ways one would expect, and at times some of his shortcomings and naivete were positively cringe-worthy.
While I would not call this book action-filled or even an adventure, readers who love epic fantasy for the political intrigue and all that entails would find lots to like in The Lascar's Dagger. There are scandals, betrayals and plays for power, cleverly used to raise the stakes. Then there's the magic, an intriguing element that adds a sense of mystique and danger. There's not just one avenue of magical power in this world but several systems, one form of it being a "witchery" which relates to the spiritual sphere. I like that different people can be granted different kinds of abilities, as well as the idea of how a witchery power comes to a person in the first place. It's a very unique way of looking at magic, and raises plenty of questions about the evil and good forces of the world.
A while ago, I contemplated books -- especially firsts of a series -- that are slower to get started and realized that I don't mind a putting in a little investment if I think the payoff will be worth it. I have been pleasantly surprised like this before in the past, so I'm always reluctant to put aside a novel even if the introduction doesn't grab me right away. In this case, I'm glad I decided to stick with The Lascar's Dagger because the story eventually grew on me, and the ending presented a very tense situation in which the implications for the next novel are mind-boggling. I have to praise this book for its originality; there are ideas in here never seen before, and with really no way to predict what's coming next, I'm definitely on board with continuing this series.(less)
Okay, I can be pretty out of it sometimes. I picked up Luke Scull's The Grim Company on account of all the positive buzz surrounding the book, and ended up loving it. But the thing is, I didn't read many reviews or any information about it ahead of time, so it wasn't until weeks after I finished the book that I finally found out about all the comparisons made to Joe Abercrombie, an author whose work I adore as well.
In retrospect, I suppose there were a lot of parallels, but at the time I can honestly say I didn't get that vibe at all, other than the fact both authors write grimdark fantasy about gruff and tough barbarian warriors who love to swear a lot (not a distinction held by any one specific author in the industry, really). In the end I'm glad I went into this book blind, because I found that Luke Scull's writing shone through with his own style, not to mention the heavy focus on magic and other unique ideas found in his book made me consider it entirely on its own merits.
When it comes to a gritty fantasy adventure, we're definitely starting out on the right track with a story that spans far and wide in terms of locale and history, featuring settings from palace halls to the northern remote highlands. Five hundred years ago, the Magelords killed the gods and now their tyrant Salazar rules the empire of Dorminia. Meanwhile, his greatest adversary the White Lady plots his demise from across the Broken Sea and seeks to free the people. Far away from both, demonic forces plague the remote mountains in the north.
Caught in the middle of this kerfluffle is a motley crew of misfits and outcasts all linked to the events, trying to hold everything together. And on this topic, I have to say the characters in this book are just as diverse, though it would be tempting to pigeonhole each into the all too familiar fantasy archetypes. But upon first inspection, I feel their traditional roles belie their unique personalities and colorful pasts.
Take Davarus Cole, for example, the hero who knows he's the hero and won't let you or anyone else forget that for a second. He's so full of himself and deluded in his self-importance that I just couldn't help but love him and indulge in him like you would a spoiled little kitten, even as I gleefully anticipated that sweet moment the truth will blow up in his face. Then there's Jerek the Wolf, a supporting character in the shadow of the more prominent Brodar Kayne, but it was the former I took to, due in no small part to his loyalty as well as talent for cursing which would make even a longshoreman blush like a schoolgirl.
And indeed, what surprised me the most is the streak of wry humor which ran through the story, which made the book a lot less grim than I'd anticipated. This was simply a very enjoyable and entertaining read, and I don't know if there's any more I can add to that.
Because I knew so little about The Grim Company before I read it, I also didn't know anything about its publication history and the fact new indie publisher Head of Zeus first acquired the rights to the trilogy after winning a fiercely contested auction in a six-figure deal. Yes, they were that confident about it. And now I understand why.(less)
Apparently, I love "flintlock fantasy". The phrase, which according to Wikipedia has been around since the 1990s to describe a sub-genre of fantasy "set in a Regency or Napoleonic-era period", admittedly only entered my lexicon just this year. But all this time, I knew deep in my gut that there simply had to be a term out there for this incredible and distinctly unique brand of fantasy with the musket-era setting that I so adore; I just never knew the name for it until now.
There's just something so attractive to me about fantasy inspired by this period, mostly because of the fascinating historical ideas and imagery that immediately come to mind, themes like revolution and war, battles waged with gunpowder weaponry, discovering new worlds and colonialism, etc. That's what first drew me to Django Wexler's The Thousand Names. Just the first sentence in the blurb was enough to make me add this to my must-read list, and the positive reviews it received only made me bump it up to the top.
The book is mostly told through the perspectives of two soldiers, assigned to a sleepy desert colonial fort out in the fringes of the Vordanai empire. However, a recent uprising and subsequent takeover of the city of Ashe-Katarion by a local sect called the Redeemers has resulted in the outpost not being so sleepy anymore. Now the king of Vordan has sent reinforcements, and Captain Marcus d'Ivoire finds himself welcoming a whole new garrison of inexperienced recruits to join his Old Colonial troops. Then there's Winter Ihernglass, a low ranking soldier who unexpectedly earns a promotion and comes into command -- except getting more attention is the last thing Winter wants, given the fact she is actually a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to enlist and flee her past.
With the Colonials on the march to take back the city, both Marcus' and Winter's lives are in the hands of the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a military genius whose demeanor and tactics are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. But despite the confidence and aptitude Janus exudes, it soon becomes clear there is a lot more to the mysterious commander. Marcus begins to suspect that his colonel's objectives -- and ambitions -- may extend beyond simply defeating the Redeemers, encroaching into the realm of magic and the supernatural.
My experience with this book pretty much played out like a fast-paced and passionate relationship. The Thousand Names practically came out of nowhere for me; I'd probably only heard about it around a month before its release, leaving me not much time to anticipate it. Nevertheless, I went into this with higher-than-high expectations, and ultimately I have to say even those were met and exceeded. I fell in love with this book really quickly, probably within the first few chapters, especially after the two main characters were established. This might make me sound silly, but I won't deny after turning the last page I actually couldn't help but feel slightly lost and a bit melancholy, finding myself caught in a sort of "oh crap, I'm finished, what the heck do I do with myself now?" kind of fugue. I was just that addicted to this book.
Obviously, I loved the setting and the world-building. The writing had a way of putting you right there with the colonial garrison, so it wasn't hard to sympathize with the characters and the foreignness of their situation or the awkwardness of being strangers in a strange land. I was also fascinated with the idea of this ragtag colonial army that's made up of one-part green recruits and one-part jaded-and-couldn't-care-less old veterans, and all the rules of warfare go out the window. The Redeemer forces may vastly outnumber the Vordanai, but the fact that the former is made up of mostly militia and over-confident Auxiliary troops gave their clashes plenty of suspense, and the detailed battle scenes in the desert are worthy of any military fantasy.
But the highlight of this book had to be the characters. I absolutely adored Winter; she was probably my favorite character, but Marcus wasn't far behind either. What's great about these two characters is that they feel deep and real, and are immediately the kind of people you want to like and to see succeed. Beyond that, everyone in this book also has secrets and mysteries, and so you just want to keep reading to find out more.
This even applies to the supporting cast. Most of them are pretty well fleshed out too, and I think the fact that Colonel Janus is my second favorite character in this book despite him not being a point-of-view character is a testament to that. The author also focuses briefly here and there on Jaffa, a character inside the city of Ashe-Katarion, giving insights into what's happening on the side of the Redeemers. I felt this was important, as it gives us a look at the opposition, or else it's easy just to think of them as a faceless enemy army.
All told, this book was hard to put down. For its length, I finished it in really good time, and it was one of those rare gems where I knew it would go straight onto my shelf of favorites even before I had reached the quarter-way point. Easily one of the best books I've read this year so far.
This picks up right after the first book Jhereg, I believe. After pulling off a successful assassination job, Vlad finds himself rolling in money, so...moreThis picks up right after the first book Jhereg, I believe. After pulling off a successful assassination job, Vlad finds himself rolling in money, so he seeks to build his wife Cawti a castle...which sounds like a joke, but really isn't.
Anyway, recall how the second book Yendi took a break to go back in the past to the time where Vlad and Cawti first met. So though my time with this series has been quite brief so far, I've already come to feel connected and attached to these two characters. Which is probably why it was hard for me to read this book, seeing trouble brewing between Vlad and his wife.
In this world where Easterners (humans) and the servant class Teckla are treated as second-class citizens by the lordly Dragaeron houses, a grassroots resistance movement starts to grow and Vlad is shocked when he discovers Cawti is involved in it. That she kept it a secret from him becomes a wedge driven into their marriage, along with the fact she doesn't seem to care that she's putting herself in danger because of it. Vlad then decides to handle matters his own way, which makes the conflict worse. The two of them begin to drift further apart, both emotionally and physically. So much for that castle.
I like Cawti, I really do. Which is why it annoyed me to see her react so flippantly to Vlad's concerns for her safety. I can understand her passion for a good cause, but the way she reacted towards him just came off as overly insensitive. Vlad's methods aren't always the most subtle or the best, I admit, but she could at least stop thinking only of herself just a second and try to understand. I confess my opinion of her fell a couple notches after this book.
Anyway, this was still pretty good, but even though it's told in a very easygoing style like the last couple of books, its subject matter and themes felt a lot heavier to me. The story just wasn't as light-hearted as the previous two, and deals with some ethical matters and subjects that in a couple of dialogue sequences bordered on the philosophical. Definitely the most subdued of the three books in the series I've read so far.(less)
Thank goodness I knew beforehand that the Vlad Taltos books aren't written in order of the timeline, or else I would have been really confused. This i...moreThank goodness I knew beforehand that the Vlad Taltos books aren't written in order of the timeline, or else I would have been really confused. This is the second book in the series to be published, but actually takes place before the first book, to the time when Vlad first meets his wife Cawti.
I really liked Cawti's character in Jhereg, and I was excited to find out she was going to have a much bigger role in this novel, based on its synopsis. So I was slightly let down when a third of the book breezed by and she still hadn't shown up; I think I was waiting with bated breath the whole time for that to happen. Eventually, amidst the Jhereg war that Vlad has started with rival Laris, she does make her appearance along with her partner-in-crime Norathar.
It was the high point for me, even though from the previous book we were told Vlad met Cawti while the latter was trying to assassinate him, so I knew what to expect. Despite that, it didn't diminish the scene in any way. A quote Vlad made from Jhereg still resonates with me, about how couples typically fall in love first then get married and spend the rest of their lives trying to kill each other, while with the two of them had it the other way around. I still chuckle when I think of it.
Still, the process of the two of them falling in love was really awkward, but somehow due to the book's style I suspect it was meant to be. It happened so quickly, with hardly any build up at all -- it seemed to me Vlad and Cawti literally jumped into bed after "Hello". Readers looking for elements of romance would be sorely disappointed, but then again Vlad doesn't seem like the type to be sentimental!
The story of the Jhereg war that started all this was very entertaining, at least, though there's a lot more the mystery angle in this book than the last. The breakneck pace of these novels means that sometimes the clues and the conclusions they lead to are sometimes hard to follow, especially since there are so much history and so many names thrown around. I think Yendi would have been more suspenseful if it hadn't been a "prequel" and we didn't already know how certain events played out, but this was another good read all in all, fast and fun.(less)
Guess this is what you'd call an oldie but a goodie. I can't believe I hadn't heard of Steven Brust until a few weeks ago, but he was recommended to m...moreGuess this is what you'd call an oldie but a goodie. I can't believe I hadn't heard of Steven Brust until a few weeks ago, but he was recommended to me by a gaming friend of mine, and then another good friend jumped into the Twitter conversation to second the recommendation. So, that's two shoutouts from a couple of people whose opinions I highly value, and that's when I knew I had to get my hands on this book, posthaste!
Jhereg is the beginning of a whole bunch of books set in Brust's Dragaera world. It is the first novel to be published in the Vlad Taltos series, even though its place is actually fourth or so in its timeline. It introduces us to Vladimir Taltos, an Easterner (human) working as a killer-for-hire in the House of Jhereg in a setting where his kind are barely tolerated by a race of long-lived, statuesque sorcerers called the Dragaerans (or, as my friend told me, just think of them as "elves"!) Being a Jhereg doesn't help either, since their faction is like the mafia of the Dragaeran world.
One day, a powerful Jhereg boss offers Vlad a lucrative contract to track down and assassinate a council member who stole millions of gold from the house. It is discovered, unfortunately, that this thief has fled to Castle Black, home of the Dragonlord Morrolan who is also Vlad's good friend. Now Vlad has to try and figure out a way to fulfill his contract without royally pissing off Morrolan, whose strict rule against the killing of anyone on his premises while they are under his protection is proving to be more than just a minor inconvenience.
At just 200-something pages, this was a very quick read. Despite the volume's relative thinness, however, there is a lot information crammed in here. You'll immediately get the sense of hugeness from the world of Dragaera, and I admit I spent much of the first half of this book feeling like I was missing something, because not everything about the setting is explained right away. There will be names of people, animals, factions, cultural traditions, events in history, etc. that are alluded to, but won't mean anything to you until you get further into the book (or even the series). Even now, I wish I had more room in this review to give examples of all the strange magical spells, weapons, creatures, lore and customs that are in this book, but there's just too damn much. The good news is, everything you need know in order to understand and follow the story will be there, and it will come in time.
I also really liked the writing style, the fast pace and the lightness of it. Normally when you get high fantasy featuring a world full of magic and so much history, along with noble sorcerers and lords and ladies and such and such, you'd expect the writing style and dialogue to be somewhat serious and austere. Not so much with this book, which includes instances of modern day habits or colloquialisms, and that played a part in making Jhereg easy to get into and reading it so much fun.
It's got a great story overall, involving a plot about an assassination, but which almost reads more like story about a heist. It has elements of mystery in it too, as Vlad likes to conduct investigations and figure out the solutions from the clues he finds. He as much as admits that he prefers the process of planning an assassination to the actual assassinating, and events in the story reflect that. It just struck me as interesting especially when compared to more recent fantasy novels about assassins, which tend to be darker and more action-oriented, and Jhereg was published before I was even born.
The series is still going on today, with book 14 expected to come out later this year. So glad I discovered these books, thanks to my friends. I've got a lot of books in my to-be-read pile, but since all the Vlad novels seem to be such quick reads, there might actually be hope of me finishing up to Tiassa before Hawk comes out. Maybe.(less)
Looks like epic fantasy in 2014 is off to a running start with The Emperor's Blades, a novel by Brian Staveley featuring an intricate plot about a murdered sovereign and his trio of offspring who survive him. As debuts go, it was a great book despite a few hitches in the story that tripped me up. Still, I don't doubt for a second that Staveley will be winning himself a lot of fans with this one, and you can count me in amongst those who are looking forward to his future work.
From the very beginning, the author has my undivided attention with introductions to Emperor Sanlitun's two sons and daughter. First things first: take those images you have of pampered princesses and princelings living in luxury in a cushy decadent palace and throw them out the window, for the lives of Sanlitun's children are about as far removed from that as you can imagine.
Kaden the heir has spent the last eight years sequestered in a remote monastery in the moutains, learning the mysteries of the monks who live there. It's also where he gets beaten bloody on an almost daily basis, for not grasping his lessons quickly enough. Meanwhile, younger son Valyn trains with the Kettral (an elite group of the empire's warriors -- think of them as the emperor's special forces) but leads a life no less brutal for all the dangerous tests he is made to go through before earning his place on a Wing. Finally, back at the capital Sanlitun's only daughter Adare fights treachery, conspiracy and political unrest in order to maintain stability in the heart of the empire in the wake of her father's murder.
The scope of the story turned out to be not as vast or immense as I'd expected, maintaining a tight focus on the perspectives of these three characters for much of the novel. That's not a bad thing at all, especially if character development is as important to you as it is for me; narrowing down the interest and activity to Kaden, Velyn and Adare allowed me to get acquainted with them more closely.
If the three plot lines have a common thread, it's that nothing ever seems to go right for the siblings. Kaden can't seem get anything right in his mentor's eyes, Valyn comes off almost as incompetent in his failures during training while simultaneously trying to root out a plot against him, and Adare is mostly helpless and unable to take action. For much of the novel it's almost painful to read about how each of them are outmaneuvered, outsmarted, outgunned. But you know what they say about experiences that are upsetting, humiliating, or distressing: it builds character! That's literally the case in this book. And really, there's plenty enough action and excitement in Kaden, Valyn and Adare's lives to keep things interesting, certainly enough to keep the novel's pace up and maintain its level of epicness even when following just a handful of characters.
To be honest though, something never quite sat right with me when it came to their situations. It's one thing to send your royal children away to pick up new skills, see the world, or learn of what real life is like outside the palace, but it's quite another to expose your only (and therefore presumably precious) heirs to such terrible risk and brutality. In the book, we are told that Kaden and Valyn were victims of a kidnapping or assassination attempt when they were very young, but the perpetrators were caught and executed summarily for their troubles. However, Sanlitun is apparently happy enough to let monks and the Kettral do any more would-be assassins' jobs for them, by sending his sons to places where the punishments equate to child abuse and torture in Kaden's case, while Valyn is made to go through the type of training exercises where a single mistep could snuff his life out at any second.
I'm also a bit mystified by all the people around Kaden and Valyn who have the guts to treat the emperor's sons so poorly, knowing full well that these young men are only a heartbeat or two away from the Unhewn Throne and being the supreme ruler of your land able to order your head lopped off from your shoulders on a mere whim. Maybe it's just me, but crown princes aren't exactly people I'd want to offend, let alone bully, because payback would be a real bitch in this case. Adare also has her own troubles with garnering respect in the capital, and here I'm also a little frustrated that her character was not given as much attention. Her chapters make a few brief appearances between long stretches, but for the most part she is underrepresented in this story. It's a shame since I get the feeling she possesses just as much strength and intelligence as either of her two brothers, and that needs to come to the forefront.
The truth is, Kaden and Valyn take center stage here, and the story heats up even more when the two finally reunite for a showdown against their enemies. As endings go, the novel finishes off in style, wrapping up the major threads while leaving plenty more to tease the next installment. You can be sure I'll be picking it up and continuing this epic series, with high hopes for more action, a deeper look into the world's magic and history, as well as a larger role for Adare. Several parts of The Emperor's Blades may exhibit the type of rawness not uncommon in debut novels, but it's certainly still a hit in my eyes. (less)
3.5 stars. This is the fourth and final book of the Rain Wild Chronicles series, bringing a close to the story of the dragons a...moreFrom The BiblioSanctum.
3.5 stars. This is the fourth and final book of the Rain Wild Chronicles series, bringing a close to the story of the dragons and their keepers...for now. In the last book, we saw the characters arrive at the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra, only to find it accessible only by flight.
At the start of Blood of Dragons, many of the dragons have managed to learn to fly, with the rest well on their way to achieving it. The dragonkeepers have also been transformed, becoming beautiful Elderlings. Expeditions have been made into Kelsingra; every day more artifacts are discovered, and more memories are lifted magically from the city's stones. It'll all be for naught, however, if the one thing the dragons and their Elderlings need to stay healthy and survive cannot be found -- silver, a substance that has the power to heal and rejuvenate, among other mystical properties.
I think I've finally gotten into the flow of Robin Hobb's writing. I love her style, but what I've discovered is that her books are not so traditionally structured, which can sometimes make them feel lacking in direction. But unlike the three previous books in the series, this is the first one where I can distinctly identify a climax and a definite ending. Well, this being the last book and all, I would have certainly hoped so.
As a series conclusion, I was pretty satisfied. Still, maybe it's just me, but so much of it felt driven by pure relationship drama. Of course, there's a positive side to this; I was extremely looking forward to see how this book will end up dealing with Hest Finbok, for one. Despite being jilted by Alise, he's still a despicable human being and needed to get his due. There were also the usual conflicts, but the love triangle between Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal seemed to dominate a lot of it. Even the dragons were are getting into the action with their mating quarrels.
And on the topic of the dragons, even after four books I have to say I still haven't managed to find much sympathy for the arrogant, belligerent creatures (with only a couple exceptions). Take the least flattering stereotypes about cats, and dragons are like that but about a hundred times worse. Is it horrible of me, that I actually wanted to see doom come to Tintaglia when she was caught in the trouble with the human hunters? I definitely wouldn't fault this against the book though; it's to Hobb's credit that she was able to give her dragons such severe qualities and evoke these reactions from me.
My main issue, however, was probably with the subject of the silver wells. I don't remember them being an important factor in this series at all until this book. All of a sudden, there's this need for silver, and why is this matter just coming up now? Wouldn't something like this have been helpful for everyone to know earlier in the expedition? Seems weird that it only came up once the characters are actually in Kelsingra. It's possible I'm missing something because I haven't read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings, but the problem with the search for silver still feels like it came out of nowhere, thrown in as a conflict at the last minute.
Speaking of which, I probably should read the other books. I definitely have the interest and the desire to after reading this series, plus I should really try and finish off the Farseer Trilogy since the second book has been in my to-read list for almost two years. However, Liveship Traders probably interests me more at this point.(less)
4.5 stars. After finishing a reread of all three books of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, I finally felt ready to tackle this book. Sure, I was aware th...more4.5 stars. After finishing a reread of all three books of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, I finally felt ready to tackle this book. Sure, I was aware that The Alloy of Law could technically be read as a standalone, given that it's set 300 years after the events of The Hero of Ages and stars completely new characters. Nonetheless, I wanted to refresh my memory on the background of the world and especially Allomancy lore.
Good thing I did too, because even though centuries have passed and characters like Vin, Elend, Sazed and the rest of the gang are long gone, their lives and stories have become immortalized in this world's history and even religious canon. They are respected figures, with cities and landmarks named for them, and being able to recognize references such as these makes the reading experience that much better. The magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy are also still around, and in fact are made even more interesting by all the resulting possible combinations of metal powers that people can possess.
The protagonist of The Alloy of Law, for instance, is known as a "Twinborn", someone who has access to both an Allomantic power and a Feruchemic power. Waxillium Ladrian's set of abilities allows him to push on metals as well as change his mass at will -- a useful and powerful combination which serves him well as a crime-fighter out in the lawless frontier called the Roughs. But then his uncle dies, and Wax is recalled to the city and his noble roots. He reluctantly turns away from his lawman past and prepares to take on the role and duties more befitting a lord of his stature -- until a gang of bandits called the Vanishers surfaces, robbing trains and kidnapping hostages, and Wax realizes he can no longer stand idly by while decent people get hurt.
I'm not surprised at how much I enjoyed this. If there's one thing I can count on, it's that Brandon Sanderson gets better with each book he writes. Even though his Mistborn trilogy featured more characters and a more epic and elaborate story, I think I might have liked The Alloy of Law better than all three of those books put together. Despite its simplicity, I loved the western-like setting as well as the mild hints of steampunk I caught from passing descriptions of the new and extraordinary technology. It's always amazing to me whenever we get to see a fantasy world evolve like this.
It was also nice to see the humor between the two characters Waxillium and his friend Wayne. I don't think the book is meant to be a lighthearted read exactly, but I like it when Sanderson writes funny scenes like this with clever and witty banter. Reading this book made me laugh quite a few times, a fact I don't take for granted, especially since I make it no secret that I was not particularly happy with how things ended in The Hero of Ages. I don't deny that it might have even soured me on the whole trilogy, so to follow it up with something like The Alloy of Law definitely had the effect of lifting my spirits somewhat. The ending of the book sets things up nicely for the next installment, and I'm already looking forward to it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Promise of Blood from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. So, here's the bare tru...moreIn the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Promise of Blood from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. So, here's the bare truth of it: I think I only got about a chapter and a half in before I felt the need to go out and buy a copy of my very own. From the intro alone, I just knew I had to own this book and add it to my personal fantasy library, and even now that I'm done, I do not regret that decision one bit! While it is true that the novel is not without its flaws, it is nonetheless an amazingly solid debut. Mark my words, I have a feeling that Brian McClellan is going to be a new author to watch.
About the book:
You have to understand, I love stories that begin by thrusting you into the thick of things, which was why I was completely smitten with Promise of Blood right from the start. The book is aptly named, because it begins with blood, and lots of it. The kingdom of Adro has been badly run for years, and the king has decided to settle its debts by practically selling his people's freedom to the neighboring nation of Kez. Furious with the decision, Field Marshal Tamas leads a coup to take the throne, rounding up the king and all the influential nobles of the land for the guillotine. The mass executions that follow last for days.
But no revolution happens without serious repercussions. During his takeover, Tamas also wipes out the king's entire royal cabal of Privileged, a group of sorcerers who are loyal to the monarchy. They are also bitter rivals of the Marked, also known as the powder mages, the order to which Tamas himself belongs. To a one, the words on the dying lips of every Privileged was the same: "You can't break Kresmir's Promise." Invoking Kresimir, the name of the one god of the Nine Nations, is an ill omen perhaps, but it could mean something more. Though not a superstitious or overly religious man, Tamas nonetheless hires the services of retired police inspector Adamat to investigate these mysterious last words.
His troubles do not end here. An assassination attempt not long after the coup makes Tamas realize that one of his co-conspirators has betrayed him. Furthermore, relations with King Ipille of Kez are still shaky. Tamas' estranged son Taniel, also a powerful powder mage in his own right, is disturbed when he discovers Ipille's army at their door, preparing for war. The question is, is the Kez simply taking advantage of the political turmoil in Adro to invade? Or is this a sign of something bigger, more sinister, and much, much worse?
As you can see, Promise of Blood encompasses an epic scope of events, including war, politics, and religion amongst other things. It is a complex, well-constructed and thought-out world, with every aspect of life considered, which really helped to immerse me into the story. The setting is reminiscent of late 18th-century France, thanks to the image of the uniform on the cover as well as the book's theme of revolution and the symbol of the guillotine. The industrial age is in full swing, with talk of steam-powered printing presses (when they're not exploding for our hapless characters) and other technologies associated with the era. This setting and its ambiance alone sets the book apart for me, makes it special and something else.
At the same time, I felt really comfortable reading this. There are a lot of original ideas in the book, but also a familiarity to them that made me feel right at home. In a way, it was like reading an amalgamation of some of my favorite epic fantasies: a magic system that's as creative as anything by Brandon Sanderson, backstabbing and political scheming that reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire, and a complex religion with a pantheon of gods that bring to mind Jacqueline Carey and her Kushiel books. All of these can potentially be built upon and filled out a little more, of course, which I'm sure will occur throughout the course of the Powder Mage trilogy, but I'm also intrigued and quite happy with what's been established for now.
The magic system could definitely do with a little more praise from me, though. Here, Sanderson's influence is really apparent, which is not surprising given how Brian McClellan is a former student of his. The world of Promise of Blood is home to many types of magic users, not the least are the Marked, powder mages who ingest or snort black powder into their system to reach a state called "powder trance", giving them greater strength, sharper senses, and enabling them to do things like ignite nearby sources of powder or guide bullets to their targets. Then there are the Privileged, who are more your traditional type of mages, manipulating the elements to hurl fireballs and create shields, etc. Then there are the Knacked, who are only in possession of a single "talent", but are able to do that one thing really, REALLY well.
Characters who are Marked, Privileged, and Knacked alike are central to the book's story, since so often their abilities are the main driving force. I find that powder mage sorcery is explained pretty well, but wish there were more details provided for the other classes of magic users too. What's up with those white gloves with the red and gold runes the Privileged wear, for example, and why exactly do they have to wear them in order to do magic? Knacked magic is also somewhat unclear, as despite their having only one talent, what I read makes it seem like anything might be possible with them.
I feel a similar way about the character development. Some, like Tamas, are written really well. He's a completely fleshed-out and multilayered person, at various times making it difficult for me to make up my mind about him. Some of his decisions, like the coup, are motivated by his well-intentioned desires to do right by the Adran people, but I also have to question how much of him is driven by raw emotion and pure hatred for the Kez, especially at the beginning. In the aftermath of all the executions, I admit I did wonder for a brief moment if the author is setting Tamas up to become a misguided villain. Getting to know his character was one helluva ride.
However, my favorite character had to be Adamat. His role in the book provided a bit of mystery to the story, and I always looked forward to returning to his sections. I thought his character and others were given varying degrees of attention when it comes to development, though. I felt more connected to many of them towards the beginning of the novel, only to find myself questioning more and more their perspectives as I progressed. For example, one blackmailed character went on with his work seemingly clearheaded enough, even when presented with the severed finger of his son, while I imagine a family man like him would probably be freaking out like any parent, or at least be feeling a bit more distracted.
Also, the female presence in this book could have been more efficiently presented. A story not having enough of a female perspective isn't actually something I mind, quite honestly not something that would normally occur to me at all, and I probably wouldn't even have noticed here if not for Nila, the royalist laundress who gets caught up in the consequences of the coup. Nila's character is introduced early on in the beginning, but her sections come up sporadically, and once she disappeared for so long that it took me a while to remember who she was. I'm hoping I'll get to see more of her in the second book. Same goes for other female characters like Vlora and Ko-poel, both of whom I found very interesting but underutilized and deserving of more focus.
I want to point that out that none of these weaker points were major enough to take away from my overall enjoyment, though. As with a lot of debut novels, there's a certain raw quality to the writing and storytelling, which becomes slightly more noticeable in the later stages of the book, but it didn't really bother me at all -- mainly because I was so enraptured by the magic and the plot. A lot of great fantasy books have been written over the years, and despite being new on the scene, Brian McClellan has definitely written a novel that can stand on the shelf next to any of them.(less)
This is the third book of Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles series and unfortunately also my least favorite installment so far. That's not to say I di...moreThis is the third book of Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles series and unfortunately also my least favorite installment so far. That's not to say I didn't like it, but I'm also sensing a definite slowdown compared to the first couple of novels.
The book picks up from where we last left our group of dragons, their keepers and their crew. After overcoming the dangers of the Rain Wild River, the expedition has finally found the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. And yet, due to the eruptions and bad flooding, the city can only be reached by flying -- a problem, as despite growing bigger and stronger since the start of their journey, many of the dragons' wings are still stunted, deformed and non-functioning. So close and yet so far!
And so, we watch as the characters spend much of their time in the book doing...not much of anything. About a quarter of the book blows by before I felt the story picking up, like something interesting was actually happening. It was definitely a slow start, lots of setting up and reintroductions to characters and past events to get the reader up to speed.
I'm notoriously forgetful of things that happened in previous books in a series (especially if it's been a while) so normally I would appreciate it when the author throws in the casual reminder here or there. But that left the remainder three-quarters of this book to blow me away, and honestly, it just didn't. I still enjoyed it, nonetheless...but the truth is I would have enjoyed it even more if it didn't feel so much like a "transition book", i.e. filler.
There were some high points, of course. I liked that we finally got to see more of Hest and his perspective, despite the fact that he's a scumbag of a human being, but it was a nice change from our constant focus on the river and the dragons. And let's face it, sometimes it's the scumbags' perspectives that are the most interesting to read about! There were also large sections featuring Reyn and Malta who are starting to get more attention in this series, though I think I would have been more excited about that if I'd read some of the previous books in Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings universe in which they also appear.
There continues to be interesting and dynamic developments in the relationships between the characters. Couples are pairing off, people are sleeping around, jealousy abounds, etc. etc. etc. More secrets are uncovered about Elderlings and Kelsingra. The dragons and their keepers are all growing and moving forward as characters go. All that's great, because it means there's still a point to this novel. But still, I can't help but feel that the book lacks a certain direction.
And the ending! I'm not sure what to make of that. Let me go on the record to say that I think Robin Hobb is a great writer and that I love her style, but there really doesn't seem to be much logic when it comes to where and how she ends her books. This one was abrupt, but not not exactly a cliffhanger. It makes me wonder if this book and the fourth and final book in the series were meant to be read as one, but then split into two for whatever reason. That could also explain its relatively short length. In any case, I did not expect the book to end this way, limply dangling in the breeze like that.
Regardless, I have one more book to go in this Rain Wild Chronicles series and I'm looking forward to see how it all ends.(less)
The story of The Rain Wild Chronicles continues with this sequel to Dragon Keeper. Maybe the plot's simply picking up...moreAlso posted at The BiblioSanctum.
The story of The Rain Wild Chronicles continues with this sequel to Dragon Keeper. Maybe the plot's simply picking up, or perhaps it has to do with the characters finally starting to grow on me, but somewhere between the pages of this book, I realized I've actually become quite smitten with this series.
As I recall, the end of the first book came rather abruptly, so it's not a surprise that this one picked right up from where it left off. The dragons and their group of keepers and supporters continue to travel along the river in the hopes of finding the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra, and we return to familiar characters such as Thymara, Alise, Sedric, Leftrin and the blue dragon Sintara. The book follows the narrative of these characters, chronicling their incredible journey of adventure and peril -- complete with the inevitable pitfalls, unexpected romances and bitter betrayals.
Since the background and all the introductions were covered in the first book, I feel like we're finally able to get into the meatier parts of the story. I also mentioned before that I wasn't too impressed with any of the characters when I first started this series, but while most of them were kind bland on their own, the dynamics are getting more interesting now that they're all starting to interact with each other.
The dragon keepers, mostly made up of heavily marked Rain Wilders who were born disfigured with features like scales and claws, were considered outcasts back where they came from. A few of them have their own ideas of whether or not the status quo should change or remain the same once they reach Kelsingra and establish their own society, which not surprisingly leads to a fair bit of conflict. Also, separate a group of people from civilization and force them to eat, sleep, hunt and survive together for months at a time, and sooner or later you get the kind of relationship drama worthy of prime time reality TV.
I still have issues with some of the pacing, though. For the most part, I love Robin Hobbs' writing, but once in the while, I notice she'll have the tendency to fill the pages with swaths of lengthy exposition, going over events and plot developments that the reader is already fully aware of. This is occasionally the case with character speech and internal dialogue too. There was one particularly harrowing scene involving Sedric, Jess, a copper dragon and a killer flood where I had to wonder how anyone could waste so much time just standing around monologuing.
I also noticed the way a situation would be deliberately dragged out, by making certain characters like Alise and Sedric uncharacteristically clueless and obtuse. It was established in Dragon Keeper that Alise's husband, Hest, is actually secretly Sedric's lover. By the end of that book, it seemed like everyone has figured it out except for Alise, who would normally be such an astute, observant woman. Likewise, Sedric seems oblivious to the fact that his sexual orientation is known to one of the hunters in the crew, is also oblivious to the fact that the hunter prefers men and is attracted to him as well. It's the sort of plot device I would expect from a cornball romance novel, but I do have to give my kudos to Hobbs for her meaningful way of handling the topic of hidden homosexuality.
Definitely looking forward to the next book, as this series is turning out to be a rather exciting tale of adventure-fantasy. (less)
If there's one thing I can be certain of about my taste in books, it is that I can never resist a tale of dark fantasy -- especially one involving mag...moreIf there's one thing I can be certain of about my taste in books, it is that I can never resist a tale of dark fantasy -- especially one involving magic, assassins, and court politics. That Mazarkis Williams does it all in such a unique way is an extra added bonus.
It's going to be a little tough to describe this book without revealing too much, but here are the basics: across the Cerani Empire, a disease is spreading throughout the populace, manifesting as geometric forms and lines that spread across the skin. The afflicted quickly worsen and lose control, becoming part of an overall "pattern" and losing themselves to will of the "Pattern Master". All those marked are believed doomed and put to death, so you can imagine the resulting freak-out when it is rumored that Emperor Beyon himself has begun exhibiting the tell-tale marks.
Only a few people at court know the truth about Beyon being marked by the pattern, amongst them the Emperor Mother Nessaket, the crafty vizier Tuvaini, and the royal assassin Eyul. Of course, the question is, are these Beyon's loyal subjects there to help him, or might they actually be harboring their own ideas on just who should take the throne?
Also, one would definitely not want to be a younger male child in this particular royal family. Following tradition, Beyon's brothers were all killed the day their father died and he took the throne; that is, all except Prince Sarmin, who was kept locked up in a tower as a secret backup -- just in case. One of the many schemes set in motion in this book involves the arranged marriage of the secret lost prince to a daughter of a Felt chieftain, a young Windreader seer named Mesema. Thus this intricate tale of court intrigue is woven together through the eyes of all these characters.
And out of all of those characters, I think I have to say I enjoyed Mesema's narrative the best. On the surface, a story about a young girl being packed off to a foreign land to marry a total stranger is nothing new, but while many other reviewers have found her characterization to be on the weaker side, I actually felt most connected to her. It was a curious development, considering the male-dominated cast, but quite honestly, a very clear personality profile of Mesema emerged for me in her dialogue and interactions, whereas I felt all the other characters felt bland in comparison, almost like they were missing something.
A similar sensation arose when I though about my feelings about the book overall. The Emperor's Knife features some gorgeous writing and superb storytelling, but once again, a part of me just wanted a little more. More action, perhaps? More excitement, more emotion, more "edge"? I know I hit upon several dry spots in the book which lost me briefly, and part of the reason for this is the frequent jumping around of points-of-view and scene changes. Rather than keeping me on my toes, my focus was instead hindered by the confusion of always trying to figure out where I was and who I was following. I'm happy to say the book finally finds its groove in its last quarter, though; from then on, the momentum was like one of an unstoppable freight train gloriously hurtling me all the way to the end.
The book's world, too, is something I want to talk about. I already mentioned that the writing was gorgeous, and this is immediately clear from the way the author can bring beauty to what is otherwise a barren desert setting. There is one particular scene involving flowers in bloom and their sweet perfume amongst the sandy dunes that I know I will always remember. The skill with which the descriptions are handled are such that I have no problems envisioning it all in my mind.
As it also turns out, one of the most impressive things about this book are its magic systems, something I did not expect at all when I first picked this up. Recently, fantasy authors have been coming up with all kinds of incredible stuff, and the "pattern concept" in The Emperor's Knife is probably one of the more unique ones I've read about in the last few years. First of all, the pattern disease itself has a sort of magical basis behind it, but there are also these mages in this book that harness their powers by sucking that energy from elemental spirits that they "imprison" within them. And it is most definitely not a symbiotic relationship, I can tell you that.
Over all, despite some issues with pacing, this was a wonderful fantasy debut from Mazarkis Williams.
My reread of this series is finally complete. And it's weird, I remember liking this book a lot more when I first read it.
Maybe it's because I knew w...moreMy reread of this series is finally complete. And it's weird, I remember liking this book a lot more when I first read it.
Maybe it's because I knew what to expect this time around, and only now did I realize how much of the book is a recap or explanation of what every character has been up in the year since the events of the second book. Things don't actually pick up and get more exciting until well halfway through the book.
It's strange how a second reading can be so different than the first, isn't it? I hardly ever do rereads, so the feeling still baffles me somewhat. Still, at least the last half of the book was as awesome as I remember it.
But, ugh! The ending! Now I remember why I was pissed off, and this time around I'm even more pissed off. Don't get me wrong, the conclusion in itself was a well-executed one, tied up nicely with all the shocking revelations. But it didn't leave me with a good feeling at all. Not even the hint of hope or happier times to come helped in that. It's just so hard to take when you've come to know the characters over the course of three books, and to have things end that way is just a punch in the gut. (less)
Love how this book started -- right away, the reader is informed through a "special notice" that the great ship has vanished at sea, along wi...moreThe Good:
Love how this book started -- right away, the reader is informed through a "special notice" that the great ship has vanished at sea, along with the 800 souls she was carrying. (Souls...the choice of that word in the report had a chilling effect on me). Immediately, you're drawn into this mystery and you're flipping to the first page of the first chapter, eager to start the story which would tell you what happened.
I was also impressed with just how much is in this book. There's so much magic and different races and different creatures in this book. Everyone seems to have an element of fantasy surrounding them, like Pazel the tarboy who has been blessed/burdened with a gift/curse that allows him learn and understand any language after only being exposed to them for a short time. But this power, however, also frequently gives him debilitating fits that interferes with his job aboard the decks.
Then there are the Ixchel, a race of tiny people that sailors often consider nothing more than pests because their tendency to stow away aboard ships. There are also the Flikkermen, Murths (like mermaids), and a race of gigantic, enormously strong humanoids called the Augrong, among others. Not to mention the presence of special animals that are "awakened" with self-awareness and the power of intellectual thought and speech. The book is a trove of new and interesting ideas for people who love fantasy fiction.
There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The plus of having so much going on in this book can also be seen as a minus. There are a lot of ambitious ideas in this ambitious story set in an ambitious fantasy world, and sometimes it can all get just a little too overwhelming.
The first few chapters were done really well, telling a sequence of events through the eyes of several characters, with each point-of-view picking things up right after where the last one left off. Unfortunately, it also made me feel so disoriented that I had to go back and read through them again just to make sure I didn't miss anything. At this point, there were still a lot of things I didn't understand, but I just made do with telling myself to trust the author, that hopefully there will come a time when everything will be made clear.
Ultimately, everything was explained, which was good, but I still thought it was a lot in the intro to heap upon your reader so quickly.
This is more of a personal preference, really, but I just don't think "maritime fantasy" is for me. Reading about great ships and pirates and the ocean and sailing and all that puts me more in mind of historical fiction, and so I had a really hard time bringing myself back to the fact I'm actually reading a fantasy. It's just really weird. No matter how long I'd been reading this, there was always a moment of discombobulation and confusion when I picked up the book again to continue where I left off.
Unfortunately, it really kept me from being immersed in this book and enjoying it fully. That said, those who love maritime settings and stories about ships would probably really love this. But even though that aspect wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I do have to say I was completely enchanted by the book's fantasy elements.(less)
The Riyria Revelations series may have wrapped up, but when it comes to this fantasy world and its characters, clearly there are still many stories to...moreThe Riyria Revelations series may have wrapped up, but when it comes to this fantasy world and its characters, clearly there are still many stories to be told. Michael J. Sullivan fills in the details of the past first with The Crown Tower, and now with The Rose and the Thorn. Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley, I was able to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
While the first book told the origin story of the partnership between Royce and Hadrian, I thought this second one focused more on the birth of Riyria and the concept itself. Returning to Medford after a year of being on the road, the two thieves find that trouble has come upon Gwen Delancy, the woman who saved their lives after the harrowing events at the Crown Tower. The whole city is looking for one of Gwen's girls, a young prostitute who may have unwittingly stumbled upon a conspiracy to kill the king of Melengar and his family.
To be honest, I think the fact I was going to enjoy this book was already a foregone conclusion; to me, the romance between Royce and Gwen is one of those fantasy fiction love stories for the ages, and I was giddy with the fact that we got a glimpse into how their relationship first sparked and blossomed. This book also served to provide back-stories for some of the supporting characters in The Riyria Revelations, and we got to see appearances from familiar faces such as Reuben Hilfred and Viscount Albert Winslow.
That said, while I thought the The Crown Tower could be read as a standalone without having much knowledge of the six books of The Riyria Revelations, The Rose and the Thorn on the other hand might not be so easy to get into for newcomers to the world of Riyria, mostly due to the large number of characters and lore it introduces in the opening chapters. Still, it's not such a big avalanche of information that it would be overwhelming; I still have no doubt that the book would be enjoyable to people who haven't read the original series, but it'll just be more to take in.
In general, though, readers who already know the names and the political climate in this period of the books involving the Church of Nyphron will probably have more reasons to find this book exciting. I for one loved it. From the description I thought I would be getting a lot more about Royce and Gwen, but even then I was not disappointed when I discovered their story was just a part of an overall bigger picture. So many past events that I'd been aware of from The Riyria Revelations have now been given a new life and significance.
In sum, this book basically gave me more than I bargained for, and in a good way. I generally love to read these kinds of "world-building" novels that add to an existing story or series, so really, both these The Riyria Chronicles books were right up my alley. I hope Michael J. Sullivan will be open to writing more in the future, even if they aren't necessarily about Hadrian and Royce. As he's shown with this book, even the supporting characters from his world of Riyria have interesting stories to tell.
Wasn't the grand finale that I was hoping for, but I liked it. Very often, I find myself smitten with the first book of a series only to find that the...moreWasn't the grand finale that I was hoping for, but I liked it. Very often, I find myself smitten with the first book of a series only to find that the rest of the books that follow don't live up to it. It's especially true with trilogies, and this one was no exception.
Still, it did a good job of tying up all the loose ends and bringing everything together, even though there were a few story lines I felt went nowhere and on the bigger scheme of things served as nothing more than filler.
Also, there's something I noticed about Brent Week's writing that constantly jolts me out of my reading groove and seriously interrupts any flow the book has going. I mentioned in my review of the last book in this series that he seems to have this tendency to make his characters say or crack jokes at the most random and inappropriate times. Perhaps this might have a lot to do with it, but I also noticed that sometimes the language he uses feels "off". I notice it's usually Weeks' use of modern or juvenile vernacular that does it. Just off the top of my head, nothing kills immersion faster for me than seeing multiple characters use the word "butt" repeatedly, like "staring at her butt", "it was a nice butt", etc. Just a personal pet peeve of mine, when I'm reading fantasy.
I still enjoyed reading this though, and I would recommend the trilogy as a whole to fans of darker fantasy, especially if you like stories about assassins and magic.(less)
There are many different kinds of fantasy: epic fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc. It's hard to label the Riyria Revelvati...moreThere are many different kinds of fantasy: epic fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc. It's hard to label the Riyria Revelvations series as any of these, though. If I had to, I think I would coin my own term -- down-to-earth fantasy, a compliment I don't often get a chance to bestow. The author set out to tell a great story with great characters; there is no pretension, and what you see is what you get. That in itself really makes this series stand out for me. While dark fantasy is all the rage these days, and as much as I enjoy a good gritty tale myself once in a while, it's still refreshing to be able to read something like this -- an uncomplicated and no-nonsense adventure fantasy.
That isn't to say it is not without its surprises. In fact, Heir of Novron is probably the best out of the three omnibuses precisely because it ties together all the threads in the previous books, and more than a few revelations come to light. It's clear the author had the events of all six books mapped out before he even started writing them, and everything that happens is part of an overarching grand plan. So of you're the kind of fantasy reader who prefers tackling series only when they are completed, then this is definitely for you. Likewise, it is doubly recommended if you are sick of long, dragged out multi-volume series that make you question whether or not the author even has a clue where to go with the story.
But back to why I think Heir of Novron is so great: it is actually a collection comprising two books, Wintertide (book 5) and Percepliquis (book 6). Wintertide was as I expected, a "bridge" book that was relatively short, but does its job filling in some of the story and setting up for the grand finale. It is a good book, but like I said, shorter and more to-the-point when it comes to the plot.
Percepliquis, on the other hand...WOW. A classic quest tale of a group of adventurers setting off on a long, harrowing journey, this is also the book that ties everything together and finishes things off with a bang. And here's the thing I've noticed with a lot of fantasy -- the last book doesn't always live up to the rest of the series. But I'm happy to say this was absolutely NOT the case here. In fact, Percepliquis was probably my favorite, the best of all the books. I already mentioned how I liked that everything came together and that there were no loose ends. It is for the most part a happily-ever-after series, perfect if you prefer unambiguous and lighthearted endings. Still, not everything ends up perfectly for all the characters; there were a few setbacks for our protagonists Hadrian and Royce, and a few deaths that I did not see coming at all, a couple of which really upset me, but that only goes to show the depth of the connections I have developed for the characters. And sometimes, bittersweet is best.
And finally, I think my love for this series increased tenfold the moment I came to realize that so many hints had been dropped, so many seeds had planted during the course of the series, finally to come to bloom in the last book. I can't really talk about any of them here, of course, as that would just spoil things, but it was definitely one of those "The Sixth Sense" moments. My mind was just completely blown. I must have asked myself "How the heck could I have missed THAT?!" more than a dozen times. While I don't usually reread books I've finished, a reread may be in order for this series in particular, just because I want to know what else I might have missed the first time around. Now that I have finished the last book and know how everything ends, I have a feeling I may see everything in a different light.(less)
Just skimming some of the other reviews for Shadow's Edge it seems most people liked this more than the first book, but I felt the opposite. This sequ...moreJust skimming some of the other reviews for Shadow's Edge it seems most people liked this more than the first book, but I felt the opposite. This sequel just wasn't as compelling to me for several reasons.
Firstly, I didn't find reading about Kylar's attempts to fight his own nature and settle down to domestic bliss very interesting. So much of the book was spent following him as he tries to live a normal life, when -- to use one of Mr. Weeks' own metaphors -- we all know Kylar's a wolf, not a lapdog. Elene becomes annoying and moody and so many times I just wanted to tell her to snap out of it and get her head out of the clouds. Kylar makes dumb choices you wouldn't expect from an experienced assassin. The mood in this section where they try to settle down and be a real family didn't seem to mesh with the rest of the series.
The book gets better after this, but I still had mixed feelings about the plot. The author milks a tired old trope in order to get everything set up, then in about two seconds, previously clueless characters manage to finally figure out everything in their heads in order to push the story along. It just felt so forced.
Another thing I've started to notice about Brent Weeks is his occasional habit of sabotaging perfectly good dialogue by inserting inappropriate comments from various characters at an attempt to be witty. This was so distracting in The Black Prism, and was thankfully not as noticeable in The Way of Shadows, but it seems to happen a lot in Shadow's Edge. The most damning example I can think of is the scene towards the end of the book when Kylar finally confronts Garoth Ursuul. It arguably should have been one of the most intense scenes in the book. And it was...until the Godking actually does the whole KYLAR, I AM YOUR FATHER! schtick and -- no joke -- follows up with "Haha, just kidding."
Still, Shadow's Edge was by no means bad. I just wanted to explain why I gave this book a lower rating than The Way of Shadows, but there were definitely things in this book that were better than in the first. The ending for one was shocking and awesome. Looking forward to pick up the next and final book of this trilogy.(less)