3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from The Force Awakens. She was the creepy black-lipsticked female informant who we first saw sharing a couch with that huge Dowutin alien. This short story provides a bit of background for her, with a focus around one of her past missions. On the whole a fun and fast read, but in the end, probably one that you can take or leave. It's not vital to the overall scheme of things in any way, and if you replace the names and places it could probably even work just fine as a non-Star Wars-y story. Unless you like to speculate...in which case you can have a bit of fun with the last few lines of the book. ...more
This year, I’m resolving to do a much better job at controlling my TBR and a big part of that will involve being a lot more prudent with the books I choose to accept for review, but when I was contacted about The Rogue Retrieval, I knew there was no way I could resist giving it a try. The book’s main character is a Las Vegas stage magician who one day hopes to make it big and headline at a Strip casino! Call me cheesy, but I have a real fascination for illusionists and magic shows. Fantasy is fantasy, but watching a skilled magician at their art is always fun because if nothing else, you can suspend your disbelief and imagine—even if it’s just for a moment—that you’re experiencing something beyond the realm of possibility.
In fact, that explanation might also be analogous to why I love urban fantasy. I love imagining our real world with magic in it. The idea of the contemporary mixed with the paranormal appeals to me, and I also enjoy asking the question, “What if?”
Perhaps that is why I had so much fun with The Rogue Retrieval, because at its core, that’s what this book is—one big “What if?” story. What if a whole other world was discovered, connected to ours via a secret portal? What if everything we think of when we think “fantasy world”—like magic, sorcerers, sword-wielding warriors, etc.—is all a reality in this secret realm? And what if someone, just an average guy from our own world, was tasked to go over there to on a real-life quest?
Though, calling our protagonist “just an average guy” wouldn’t be entirely accurate, because Quinn Bradley is actually an extremely talented and ambitious illusionist. But on his big night, instead of being scouted by one of the big Vegas hotels, representatives from CASE Global, a powerful corporation, make him an offer he can’t refuse. The company has discovered a portal to another world called Alissia, a place where magic is real, and they need Quinn to be as good as the real thing so he and a team can travel there and capture a rogue scientist whose actions threaten to put all of them at risk. However, what CASE has neglected to tell Quinn is that impersonating a magician in Alissia is serious crime with fatal consequences.
What makes The Rogue Retrieval special is that it doesn’t read like your typical urban fantasy. In truth, most of the book actually takes place in Alissia, a world closer to what readers would regard as a “high fantasy” setting. But while Quinn and his companions go through the portal in disguise pretending to be native Alissians, they also carry with them advanced technology and other high-tech gadgetry to help them in their quest. So in essence, you get an interesting mix of traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, and even some science fiction thrown in.
This makes The Rogue Retrieval a very different sort of read, one that might appeal to fans of UF who are looking for something that breathes new life into the genre. At the same time though, it retains a lot of the characteristics that makes UF fun—namely the fast pacing, lots of laugh-out-loud humor, and plenty of thrilling action scenes. For better or worse, it also doesn’t take itself too seriously, forgoing much world-building so that Alissia feels like your very generic fantasy world. The book has a feeling of satire at times, reminiscent of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where a present-day person is transported to another world where he is able to fool its inhabitants into thinking he is a bona fide magician with his knowledge of modern technology. Nothing too deep here, but the story is admittedly tons of fun.
That said, there were a few puzzling issues with the plot. I was never entirely convinced why CASE specifically needed a stage magician for the mission, though a big deal was made about an aspect of Quinn’s background and the reasons for that might be revealed in the next book. But on the whole, I was hoping Quinn’s talents would’ve had more relevance to the story. There’s also the prospect of a romance that I’m not sure was really required. By the end of the book, nothing really gets resolved either, and there were a lot more loose ends than I would have liked.
Still, it’s clear we’ve only scratched the surface here, and hopefully the next installment will develop things further and give more answers. A few minor issues notwithstanding, I’m definitely interested in reading the sequel. Dan Koboldt’s new book is an entertaining urban fantasy with a fascinating angle, great if you’re in the mood for something light, fluffy and fun. I’m looking forward to see where the story will go....more
Sword of Destiny is a collection of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia, and it is actually the second book in The Witcher sequence. But because the English editions of the series’ first three full-length novels were released before this one (not to mention I was also pretty adamant about waiting for the audiobook, which wasn’t released until December 2015), I had to read it out of order.
Now that I’ve completed the book though, so much is finally falling into place! Sword of Destiny bridges the events between the end of The Last Wish (the first short story collection) and Blood of Elves (the first novel of the series), making it a must-read for fans of The Witcher. Even if you’re not a “short story person”, picking it up is absolutely essential if you want to get the full picture.
The book opens with “The Bounds of Reason”, a story about a good old-fashioned dragon hunt. Well, things begin innocently enough, anyway. Geralt and his friend Dandelion get together with a group of adventurers to investigate rumors of a rare gold dragon. They eventually come across the creature, only to be met with some pretty big surprises! Geralt is true to form, stepping up and proving himself to be someone you want to root for. Yennefer, one of the series’ major characters, also makes an appearance. This was a great story to start the collection, with lots of action and a healthy dose of humor. I also enjoyed the classic quest narrative…with a twist.
The second story is “A Shard of Ice”, which I admit I didn’t enjoy quite as much. It’s not a typical short story, with not much of a plot, instead centering its focus on the romantic relationship between Geralt and Yennefer. Still, I liked how it revealed more about both characters, how they are both flawed people with plenty of cracks and vulnerabilities in their defenses. How can two people be so right and yet so wrong for each other at the same time?
The collection continues with “Eternal Flame”. In my opinion, this is another rather ho-hum tale, though it certainly had its moments. Geralt and Dendelion are up to their shenanigans again, heading back into the city to visit a friend, only to discover that he has been replaced by a mischievous doppelganger. It was a fun story, but ultimately I didn’t find it very memorable, and overall it didn’t add to the narrative in any meaningful way.
Next up is “A Little Sacrifice”, and I have to say, this story is where the audiobook excels. There’s a good reason why I choose audio format for this series, and that’s because narrator Peter Kenny is awesome—but more on that later. In this story, we get a twisted little take on The Little Mermaid. A duke and a mermaid fall in love and Geralt is hired as a translator to negotiate the terms of their relationship. The results are as hilarious as you would expect, and funnier still, the mermaid “language” involves singing the words. Peter Kenny rises to the occasion, delivering the lines the way they were meant to be spoken—in sing-song. Major points to him for that, because I have a feeling very few other narrators would have made the effort. This story made me laugh a lot, but it isn’t all humor either; Geralt reacts unexpectedly to another woman’s affections, realizing how his relationship with Yennefer has changed and affected him.
Finally, we come to the most crucial story, “The Sword of Destiny.” Geralt is tasked to meet with the Dryads, and while traveling through their forest, major events come to pass which will forever change his life. This is perhaps the most important story to read in this collection, as it is the one that introduces Ciri, the lost princess of Cintra. She plays a huge role in the rest of the series, and Geralt’s first meeting with her is not to be missed. As watershed moments go, it was a pretty good one.
There’s one more story left, and that’s “Something More”, aptly named because it is like an addendum to the previous story, reaching back to link Geralt’s past with his present and future. It also references more of the fairy tales and myths that make this world so fascinating. Geralt sustains a grievous injury after one of his harrowing battles, and he drifts in and out of consciousness during his long recovery, flashing back to memories and regrets from the past. This last story is a very powerful and touching one, a perfect end this collection. It ties things up neatly, and the final scene is enough to bring any Witcher fan to tears.
All in all, Sword of Destiny is a fine collection of tales, though as most collections go, it is not without its ups and downs. Nevertheless, it is an essential part of The Witcher series, especially the last few stories. Now that it is out, I highly recommend reading the books in order. This one in particular covers a lot of the events before Blood of Elves. The audiobook release schedule has also now caught up to the print release schedule, which is great news because I can’t imagine experiencing these books any other way. For me, Peter Kenny has become the voice of this series, and I look forward to hearing him narrate the next novel The Swallow’s Tower....more
This was my first book by Keri Arthur, and I was completely unprepared for how good it was. I don’t even know why I was caught so flat-footed! After all, I know friends who have been fans of the author’s for years and they all absolutely adore her work, which is what convinced me to give City of Light a try in the first place. I’ve been curious about her books for a long time, and this being the first book of a new series seemed like the perfect place to start, so I went in with pretty high expectations. It ended up exceeding all of them.
Of course, I was skeptical at first, especially right after I opened the book and was almost immediately overwhelmed by a huge solid wave of info-dumps. To be fair, I understood the reasons for this, especially after I finished the book. There’s a tremendous amount of world building and a lot of amazing wonders and mysteries to discover, but the fun can’t start until after we’ve all taken the crash course, so to speak. After the story gets moving though, things really heat up.
This series opener introduces us to Tiger, a genetically hybrid soldier known as a “déchet”—a word that translates to “waste product” and speaks volumes about their makers’ attitudes towards their creations. But all that happened more than a hundred years ago, during the war between this world and the one beyond the veil. Those alive now live a precarious existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with humans and shifters alike occupying highly-secured cities lit perpetually with artificial light meant to keep all the monsters like demons, wraiths and vampires out.
Tig is the last of her kind, after the shifters eradicated all déchet at the end of the war. She lives in the remnants of a military bunker filled with the ghosts of her people, whose energies she can sense and interact with. For the past century she has been in hiding, until one day she rescues a little girl on the outskirts of Central City and learns of a disturbing string of child abductions. Wraith-like beings are snatching kids in broad daylight—which should be impossible—and after what happened to her people, Tig has sworn never to stand by and let another child be harmed again.
I admit it’s a lot to take in, and I was initially confused given the staggering amount of information I had to process about Tig’s world. I almost thought City of Light might have been a spinoff from another series, and had to double-check to make sure this wasn’t the case. The world building is simply phenomenal, with a very robust and established feel, blending sci-fi futuristic elements with magic and other aspects from the fantasy genre. Even creatures like wraiths and vampires feel very different from the kind I usually read about in urban fantasy.
And for some reason, I went into City of Light expecting it to be a full-blown paranormal romance, probably since most of Keri Arthur’s other books have that tag. I was wrong, but I was also far from being disappointed. With Tig being a déchet created specifically for espionage and seduction, I admit was prepared for nothing but romance and sexual tension, but in the end the heavier emphasis was on the mystery of the abducted children rather than Tig’s relationships. On the whole, this book read more like a well-crafted UF with some PNR elements and a couple of smoking hot sex scenes thrown in, and it was a balance that struck the perfect note.
I also loved Tig as a protagonist. Her kind was created by humans to be a mix of animal, shifter, and vampire—the ultimate weapon. But after the war, the déchet were completely killed off, and even after all these years, Tig still remembers the day when the military bunker she was in was gassed with poisons. Everyone else inside was killed, including the young déchet in the nursery. Tig herself barely managed to survive thanks to her genetically modified DNA, but two of the children, Bear and Cat, died horribly in her arms. Today, their ghosts are her loyal companions, playfully following Tig wherever she goes, but the story of their tragic deaths haunted me and shattered my heart to pieces. It made me see why Tig is so protective of her little ones, and why she would go so far to help the kidnapped shifter children. I also gained a deeper appreciation for her strength and resolve, knowing the terrible things she witnessed back during the war. And finally, being able to connect with Tig made the ending more poignant, because it underscored the sacrifice behind Tig’s decision. Ultimately, nothing can ever come between her and her responsibility to those she has sworn to protect.
All told, City of Light is exciting and well-written, its story containing a remarkable mix of intrigue and action punctuated with sizzling melt-your-mind love scenes. The book’s main character is a sympathetic and lion-hearted (or rather should I say, tiger-hearted?) heroine you just can’t help but root for. Now I am waiting on pins and needles for the sequel to see what she’ll do next! I simply couldn’t have been more pleased at how this experience with my first Keri Arthur novel turned out. If I loved it, I have no doubt her fans will as well....more
2015 was a great year for YA fiction, with lots of new ideas and debut authors breaking onto the scene. When S. Harrison’s Infinity Lost popped up on my radar late in the fall, I thought it sounded like an interesting book to check out.
The story takes place in the near future, following the life of a girl named Infinity “Finn” Blackstone. Her father, CEO of Blackstone Technologies, is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, but while his company’s world-changing services and products are nearly ubiquitous, Richard Blackstone himself remains a highly reclusive figure. Not even Finn has ever met him. Raised by her father’s staff, all she knows about the man is what others have told her and what she sees on the news.
Finn is seventeen when she and her classmates from boarding school are taken on a field trip to visit the Blackstone headquarters. Elated, Finn believes this could finally be her chance to meet her father and confront him with all her questions. Lately, she has been having strange dreams, even though a part of her knows they are more than that. The visions feel like memories, but how can that be when she cannot remember actually experiencing them herself? Finn is determined to find some answers, and she believes Richard Blackstone is the key.
Beyond that, I really can’t say more; suffice to say, the plot takes a surprising number of turns and ends up in a place I never saw coming, and if I give away anything else I would be hovering dangerously close to spoiler territory. What I can say is that Infinity Lost was a really quick read due to its relatively modest page count, which along with being jam-packed with action and tight storytelling made this one a really fast-pace and entertaining read. I also thoroughly enjoyed the future setting which featured some innovative tech, some of which were pretty farfetched but nonetheless very cool. The book also stood out to me because of its departure from certain YA norms, such as downplaying any romance (at least in this first book) though quite honestly, the plot moves along so quickly that there’s hardly any room for unnecessary drama.
That said, while a lot of things in Infinity Lost worked for me, there were a few issues that tripped me up as well. First, you should know that technically, the “real story” doesn’t start until late in the novel, because the first half contains almost nothing but random and sometimes confusing flashbacks. Finn has these dream-memories, and the time jumps can get very jarring and tiresome after a while. Second, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the wider world, though this is mainly due to the limitations of looking through Finn’s eyes in the first-person. She’s being kept in the dark, and so by extension, we are as well.
Third—though this is not a problem for me personally, I still figured I should mention it—reading this book was a little like watching a movie that starts off PG-13, but then ends with a full-blown R rating. The final chapters are a veritable bloodbath, with heads popping off, bodies being blown into red mist, etc. all brutally described in vivid and graphic detail. I’ve read a lot worse of course, but I was still shocked at the lack of warning; the beginning held absolutely no clue that this book would end in such over-the-top, indiscriminate violence. If that kind of content turns you off, I would approach this with caution.
But my biggest issue was the cliffhanger. In this day and age of seemingly nothing but YA trilogies and series, I grudgingly accept the need for them, but at the very least I think each book should still contain the resolution to its main conflict. I don’t like it when a book ends abruptly in the middle of a scene; it’s clumsy and awkward and I end up with more questions than answers, which is not a good feeling. Unfortunately, this was the case here. There were too many loose ends, and the book did not in any way feel complete.
Even in the face of all these issues though, I liked the book well enough that I would be open to continuing the series, if nothing else to find out what happens to Finn. Infinity Lost felt very much like a long intro, and I feel confident that the meat of the story will be in the sequel Infinity Rises, out January 5, 2016....more
Nature is scary. Books that remind us of this fact are always enlightening, and that’s what I loved about Invasive Species. When your story involves science and ecological elements—and especially when your focus is on nasty, icky bugs—even a novel in the Suspense/Thriller category can easily read like a Horror.
From the book’s description alone though, it was hard to tell what it would be about. All we know is that an unknown breed of predator has emerged, and humans are its favorite prey. This new enemy is faster, stronger, and far deadlier than anything we’ve seen before. Right away, my brain started working on constructing this hypothetical creature, and I couldn’t help it—films like Predator, Alien, and other movies featuring science fiction’s most terrifying killing machines immediately sprang to mind. After all, we’ve seen these types of plots so many times before; it’s difficult to imagine that a threat of this nature could be anything other than a malevolent, extraterrestrial monster.
Turns out, I was totally wrong. The “monsters” in Invasive Species turn out to be wasps. Sure, they may be wasps on steroids, having evolved to be become larger, smarter, and more poisonous than the norm. But still…just wasps. Does it make this book any less scary, though? Nope. Actually, it just made me feel even more creeped out and unsettled. If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp, you know what I’m talking about. Wasps are pure evil.
Certainly, if you’re an entomophobe, you’re going to have a really tough time with this book. While it’s a science fiction story that also gets a bit far-fetched here and there, the premise has just enough science in it to make you squirm. Our protagonist Trey Gilliard is a modern explorer of sorts, literally taking the road less traveled. His life’s work is all about heading into the least known regions of the planet. There are still areas on earth relatively untouched by humanity, and some of these are in the deep jungles of Africa. You don’t have to suspend reality too much to believe that a new species could evolve separate in such a place, unknown to the rest of the world. It’s here where Trey first encounters his first “thief”, a new kind of parasitoid wasp. The locals call them that because of the way they steal your mind, your body, and your life. They’re also referred to as “slavemakers” because of the way adult wasps can attach their stingers to hosts and take over their bodies.
The thieves are deadlier than regular wasps for many reasons, but first and foremost it is because they have developed an intricate hive mind, allowing them to communicate long distances and also to recognize and “remember” those who have done them harm. Primates are also their preferred host, including human beings. They breed by injecting their larvae into the abdomens of their unsuspecting prey, and neurotoxins in their venom also scramble and befuddle their victims’ minds, making them unaware that they are pregnant with a baby wasp until it is too late. That’s some messed up, creepy stuff.
The thieves are also great at survival. Deforestation and hunting practices have diminished their natural habitat and available hosts, but instead of dying out, they’ve become even more opportunistic, hitching rides on cars, boats, and planes in order to spread to the rest of the world. In the United States where it’s an election year, their presence eventually sparks a political storm.
Remember my review earlier this year of Bat out of Hell, a so-called “eco-thriller”? That one didn’t work out so well for me. And well, after reading Invasive Species, I realized this is how I wished that book had turned out! Invasive Species is a far better book because author Joseph Wallace did the right thing and focused on the disaster at multiple levels. He focused on the individual victims. He also focused on the threat of the thieves themselves. He emphasized the way these insect invaders fueled the fear and panic, ratcheting up the suspense to a fever pitch. The book is also a frightening reminder of just how fragile we are when science and technology fails us, and how quickly a civilization can come apart at the seams without the proper infrastructure and resources to maintain it.
I won’t spoil the ending, because you’ll just have to read this for yourself to see how the conflict resolves. However, I will say Invasive Species finishes on a bittersweet, melancholy note. After the roller coaster ride this story gave me, I thought it was ominously appropriate. For a book I knew next to nothing about when I first started it, I ended up really enjoying myself. Gripping, suspenseful, and delightfully chilling, this is a novel that will really get under your skin! A fine blend of drama and action for fans of sci-fi thrillers and horror. The follow-up titled Slavemakers is actually on the horizon, due out later this winter, and I’m looking forward to picking it up now more than ever....more
Drake is a darkly humorous urban fantasy about the unfortunate misadventures of a hieromancer hitman named Don Drake, though I must say, labeling him a “hitman” is greatly simplifying the kind of work he does. With the help of a nine-inch tall animated idol representing the earthly form of a bound archdemon—which he calls “The Burned Man”—Drake is able to summon forth demonic creatures from hell to sic on his victims, killing them without having to dirty his own physical hands. Be that as it may, Drake is still consumed with grief and guilt when his latest job goes awry, resulting in the tragic death of an innocent child who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Traumatized and remorseful, Drake makes the decision to leave his line of work behind.
However, word of his horrible deed has gotten out, and now Drake has a trio of vengeful Furies on his tail. To make matters worse, his former employer Wormwood turns out to be an archdemon himself, and he most assuredly does not accept Drake’s resignation, pulling our hapless protagonist back into the hitman game. Drake’s only hope now lies with Trixie, an angel with a questionable history who has come to aid him in his time of need, but can she be trusted?
This is seriously a great story, full of hairpin twists and turns. While the plot could have used a bit of tightening up, the speed at which it moved was a thrill and a delight. What’s even better is that despite the modern atmosphere, certain elements in Drake reminded me of the old-style classic noir mysteries, complete with femme fatales and over-the-top diabolical villains. The dialogue is also frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious, loaded up with profanity and British slang to great effect. I’m sure I’ll have to thank my dad, who spent his college years drinking and partying studying in London, for being able to understand most of the Britishisms.
I won’t lie though, I think I would have liked this more if it weren’t for the protagonist. I’m not one who usually has trouble accepting or even embracing unpleasant characters, anti-heroes, flawed souls, or any of those morally contentious types. But when I found myself yelling “NO NO NO DON’T DO IT!” at the audiobook every five minutes (pretty much every time Drake does or says something stupid) I had to admit to myself that maybe, just maybe, the main character and I have some issues to work out.
Thing is, Drake really isn’t a bad man, but he does have this tendency to make some earth-shatteringly dumb decisions and—to my great chagrin—not learn from his mistakes. I can tolerate the occasional lapse in judgement, but I can’t abide a fool. There’s a scene in the book where the Burned Man is mercilessly laying into Drake for being a pathetic, pitiful bastard as well as a sorry excuse for a human being, and all I could think in my head in response was “Yeeeeah…I kind of agree.” Drake is for the most part a cowardly, unambitious and weak-willed magician who even admits as much, being under no illusions when it comes to his powers–he knows he is nothing without the Burned Man. Drake has good intentions, making him slightly loveable, but unfortunately he rarely sees his plans through, preferring to always take the easy way out, which was the root of most of my frustrations with his character.
I have to say though, the audiobook production of Drake is fabulous, with narrator Mark Meadows nailing the voice and attitude of our protagonist. I mentioned the excellent dialogue, which is written the way it’s meant to be spoken, and that might explain why it comes across so perfectly in the audio format. Meadows’ accents and inflections are great, so that all the characters come to life and become very real to me when he speaks their lines.
All in all, I had a good time with this book, and given the promising way it ended, I might just be willing to give Don Drake another shot in a sequel. I love edgy and gritty urban fantasy, and with so much potential in Drake, it would be a damn shame to let my feelings for the character get in the way of enjoying more, especially after this outrageously entertaining first installment....more
I know this is quite a departure from my usual reads, but for this book I clearly had to make an exception. Even though I hardly get the chance to read nonfiction anymore these days, when it comes to anything even remotely Star Wars related, I can’t help it, I just have to check it out.
Interestingly, and perhaps appropriate to my situation, Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind seeks to examine the phenomenon that is Star Wars and explore what it is about this beloved franchise that appeals to millions of rabidly obsessed fans everywhere—by looking at it from a psychological perspective. We’ve all heard how George Lucas was influenced heavily by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his concept of the monomyth, or “The Hero’s Journey”, which shaped early drafts of the first Star Wars movie. Using frequent references to classical motifs and archetypes drawn from Jungian analytical psychology, this collection of essays offers insights into why and how the Star Wars saga has managed to touch us all on a deeper level.
Written by a team of doctors, experts, and mega fans, Star Wars Psychology dissects the themes and topics of the movies while relating them back to scientific and social concepts. Many of the articles also use Star Wars to illustrate examples of psychological and sociological theory. This book is sure to appeal to people who love Star Wars and/or psychology buffs. While some of the theses proposed by some of these essays are those I’ve heard before or are obvious, others might make you see Star Wars in a whole new light.
From the dichotomy of good versus evil (the light side/Jedi Code versus the dark side/Sith Code) to discussions on what makes good people do bad things (Lando Calrissian and his fateful decision to betray Han Solo and the gang), Star Wars Psychology explores how elements in Star Wars relate to mental health, as well as how human beings think and feel. There is even an enthralling piece on the phenomenon of phantom limbs and speculation what multiple amputations at the end of Episode III would have done to Darth Vader’s brain.
Personally though, I was most fascinated by the chapters dealing with the “social side” of Star Wars, such as gender psychology or exploring the characters as role models. And even though this is nonfiction, some of the essay topics also relate back to speculative fiction, acknowledging that we create and enjoy fantasy worlds and stories as a way to ask probing questions about our own existence. Take the matter of droids, for example. Do C-3PO and R2-D2 have feelings? If so, to what extent? The matter is complicated by the fact we still don’t know enough about cognitive processes and human emotions to answer these questions once and for all. Think of all the sci-fi books you’ve read dealing with AIs and personhood, and how much psychology ends up being discussed in those stories.
I’m also impressed that we don’t look at just the movies. Many of the contributors reach into other media to make their points, citing Star Wars games, TV shows, books of the old Expanded Universe, and even in one case the soundtrack score featuring the inspiring music of John Williams. There are lots of other informational tidbits shown in textboxes, embedded in the chapters all throughout this book; here you might find little known details (my favorite was the little factoid about the Mark of Altruism from the now defunct Star Wars Galaxies MMO – how I miss that game) or more specific explanations into the theories and concepts within the field of Psychology.
Most would probably look at this book and categorize it as “pop psych”, a well-researched and professionally written book of essays intended to be devoured by the legions of Star Wars geeks everywhere, especially as the world prepares for the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December. Nonetheless, it is an absorbing read, examining the ideas and core values of why we love Star Wars, encouraging us think about the movies and characters in new and unpredictable ways. There’s something for everyone in this fun and fascinating volume, a good addition to any Star Wars fan’s bookshelf....more
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is definitely an audiobook you should avoid listening to in public, lest you want the people around you to think you’ve completely lost your mind. Folks generally don’t react well to someone bursting into spontaneous maniacal laugher, I find.
And to think, I almost let this gem pass me by! A book like this doesn’t technically fall under the Sci-fi and Fantasy purview, which is what I mostly read and review, but I could not resist checking this one out after learning about the MMORPG angle. From Ready Player One to Reamde, video games and gaming have been the inspiration for many works of speculative fiction, but of course not all gaming-related books are SFF. That doesn't mean I can't still geek out about them, though.
And geek out I did. If Nancy Drew were a millennial and grew up to become a gigantic mega super geek, you would probably get Dahlia Moss, the titular main character of this delightfully witty book. Thing is though, I can also see Dahlia being popular with more than just the geeky crowd; fans of underdog stories and readers who love rooting for the long-shot protagonist will be sure to love this book as well. Unemployed, flat out broke, and living off the largesse of her kooky roommate, Dahlia could not believe it when she was suddenly offered a job by some rich kid hiring her to track down a stolen object. Her only qualifications for the job appear to be 1) the one time she temped at a PI agency and 2) the fact that she has played Zoth, the massively multiplayer online game in which the theft itself actually took place.
That’s because the stolen object in question isn’t even a real object, but a bunch of pixels—more specifically, an ultra-rare spear that’s one of its kind in-game. It should be an easy enough job, Dahlia figures. All she has to do is to find out which of her employer’s guildies made off with the highly coveted weapon and call it a day. But then, that’s when things start to get weird. Jonah, the client who hired her, ends up dead the next day, skewered through by a very real, very sharp full-scale replica of the pixelated spear that was stolen from his Zoth account, right down to the very last gem stone.
Dahlia’s hunt for a thief soon becomes one for a murderer in this quirky little whodunit. Sure, our protagonist is not exactly the most savvy of detectives, but that’s all part of her charm, along with her propensity to leap into situations without thinking them through (this book isn’t titled The Competent and Well-thought Out Decisions of Dahlia Moss for good reason). She also has this bad habit of digressing a lot, but those runaway trains of thought often lead to hilarious asides about geeky pop culture and gaming references, so I let a lot of that slide seeing how Dahlia is a woman after my own heart. I also pardoned the character of her roommate, who is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, as well as the many times this story grew too silly to the point of absurdity. Still, I couldn’t believe how often I literally laughed out loud at Dahlia’s exploits. With me, that happens to go a long way.
Also, books about MMORPGs really get to me. Especially books about friendships in MMORPGs. Even if you don’t consider yourself this book’s audience, I think you’ll be touched by some of these relationships. I’ve known some of the people I play MMOs with for years and there’s definitely a unique culture among online gamers; tight guilds often have their own code and customs, which is even more pronounced on RP servers. Though you’ll likely never meet most of your online gaming friends face-to-face, you definitely connect with them on a whole other level (no pun intended). I love how this book taps into all that, and I totally found myself relating to a lot of the characters.
A final shout-out has to go to Lauren Fortgang, the narrator. I’ve listened to her work in the past (most recently in the audio production of Six of Crows) and it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. She has so much more energy as the voice of Dahlia Moss. Audiobooks are always so much more enjoyable to listen to when you can tell the narrator is really getting into the performance (this is why I loved The Martian audiobook so much) and this is most certainly the case with this book and Ms. Fortgang. All her sardonic inflections and snarky deliveries were spot on. Just a brilliant, brilliant performance.
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss was just an all-around fun book. You can bet I’ll be telling all my gamer friends about it, though I am also highly recommending this book to both geeks and non-geeks. Simply put, it’s awesome!...more
Oh, Adele and Gareth. I just want to wrap them both up in a nice warm hug. How apropos it is that my favorite fictional power couple of steampunk is back this fall in a new adventure written by my favorite real-life literary power couple of fantasy fiction. Three years after the end of the original trilogy, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith return to the world of Vampire Empire with The Geomancer, the first book of a new spinoff series.
This book is the beginning of a new chapter in every way. The vampire clans in the north have been decimated, their hold on Britain shattered. Empress Adele of Equatoria and her consort the vampire prince Gareth are looking to the future, trying to work together to bring back order. Humans are starting to feel safe on the streets of London again. The war here with the vampires is over.
Or is it? Barely half a year has passed since Adele brought death and destruction to the enemy by using her powers of geomancy, but already there are rumors spreading that vampires are making their return. An investigation into a string of bloody murders in London confirm their worst fears—somehow vampires have found a way to resist the killing powers of geomancy. At the same time, news comes of a mysterious human known as the Witchfinder who has thrown in with the new vampire regime, with plans to help them kill humans on a massive scale. There’s no doubt that the two events are connected, and the path to stopping this new threat will lead our characters on an epic quest across the globe, from the warm heart of Equatoria in Alexandria to the cold, icy mountains of Tibet.
The Geomancer is exciting, action-packed, emotional, and I’m delighted to report that there’s plenty to love here for fans new and old. Readers who began the journey from the beginning with the original series will be happy to be reunited with these wonderful characters, while first-timers will be able to jump right in. The narrative is taking the next step towards resolving the conflict between humans and vampires, and we’re swept along for the ride. There are new dangers to face, new foes to fight, new challenges to overcome, and in this novel Adele and Gareth are perhaps facing the toughest question yet: Can their two species ever learn to co-exist?
For all the good Gareth has done for humans in the guise of the hero Greyfriar, his secret identity remains closely guarded. The world is not ready for the truth, nor is it ready to accept Adele and Gareth’s romantic relationship. One day that time will come, and until then the two of them will just have to do what they can to change people’s minds, one tiny step at a time. But before that can happen, both of them are going to have to deal with his or her own personal demons.
For Gareth, who spends a lot of time struggling with his pride and dealing with a lot of self-doubt in this book, this can be quite a harrowing and emotional journey. Adele herself fears that the awesome power of geomancy might be doing more harm than good, especially since it is a force no one truly understands. But through it all, you can be sure the two of them are going to be there for each other, because if there’s one thing the Griffiths have always done right in this series, it’s the romance. The authors have done an outstanding job with these characters, further developing their relationship. Things are still interesting even after four books, and I just love how Gareth and Adele are closer now than ever before.
It’s also great to be back in this world, which I’ve always admired for its uniqueness. The setting is a great mix of alternate history, paranormal, and steampunk, and the vampires here are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Kudos to the Griffiths for putting a fresh twist on an old trope. I also enjoyed how this book brought us to new places, like the hidden monastery in Tibet where I found a couple of new favorite characters among its intriguing residents. The vampire queen Caterina’s chapters also gave us a closer look at the treacherous power-plays as well as a burgeoning vampire rebellion in the overgrown ruins of Paris.
So if you’re curious about this series, this is a fantastic point to jump on board. I believe fans of the original trilogy will also be very happy with this new beginning, especially since familiarity with the people and places will make the experience all the more rewarding. Either way, prepare for love, action, adventure, and an explosive ending that promises even more to come....more
This has been an amazing year for YA fiction, and to be honest my bar has been raised so high I’m surprised anything can still blow me away at this late stage in 2015. Still, I knew I had a good feeling about Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, an alternate history novel set in a world where the Axis powers rule the world. Enter the Resistance’s only hope, a teenage girl who needs to win a motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo in order to assassinate Hitler.
At the risk of sounding frivolous in light of the novel’s dark themes, I still remember the first time I heard about this book. For a few astonished minutes, I sat and stared at the publisher’s description thinking, Are you kidding me? This sounds like the most awesome premise ever.
It is 1956, eleven years after Yael first escaped from the Nazi death camp where she was subjected to horrific human experimentation. Side effects from those experiments left her with an uncanny ability to skinshift—with just one thought, she can take on the appearance of someone else. This has made her central to the Resistance’s plans. Yael’s mission: to win the Axis Tour, the annual intercontinental motorcycle race, by impersonating Adele Wolfe, the only female to have ever entered. As last year’s winner, Adele was granted an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. But this year when she wins and dances with Hitler again, it will be Yael behind Adele’s face instead, ready with a blade to sink between his ribs.
That’s if everything goes as planned, of course. Yael has spent the last year training, learning how to race motorcycles, and studying all the footage and files on Adele Wolfe that the Resistance can get their hands on. But then the unexpected happens. Felix Wolfe, Adele’s twin brother, joins the race last minute, putting the whole plan at risk. Then there’s Luka, another past victor who is determined to win his second Axis Tour. Apparently, Luka and Adele had a romantic history, but it was in none of the files Yael studied and she knows nothing about the relationship. The race is hard enough with the cutthroat competition and more than twenty thousand kilometers of harsh road to the finish line, but now Yael will have to carry out her deception in the presence of the two people who knew Adele best. The odds are long, but Yael has to win—the world is depending on her success so that the Resistance can launch the next phase of their operation.
As intrigued as I was by the story, at first I had my doubts that Ryan Graudin could pull it off, since a good book is more than just a great premise. However, I needn’t have worried. The blurb pitches Wolf by Wolf as Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds, but I’d say throw in a little bit of Survivor and The Amazing Race too. We get the gist of the plot in the first fifty pages, but the rest of the book—the race itself—is the masterpiece, checkpoint after checkpoint of dangerous adventure and exciting alliances and rivalries. I’m so impressed with how much action is packed into what could have been pages of tedium over the course of this long journey, but the story turned out to be as twisty as the road to Tokyo, full of unexpected surprises and memorable experiences.
This book would have been a quick read had real life not gotten so busy lately, and believe you me I had a difficult time putting it down when all I wanted to do was to curl up with it for a few undisturbed hours, learning all of Yael’s secrets. She’s such a complex character, having survived so much horror. Flashbacks from her past are woven into the narrative of the race, revealing how she and her mother were sent to the concentration camp, how Yael eventually escaped, and how she ended up with the Resistance. We learn how Yael was shaped by the important people in her life. After all the years and all the identities, Yael has forgotten her real face, but she will never forget her loved ones and how their lives made a difference in hers.
Also, while we don’t get to see much of the real Adele Wolfe, the girl Yael is tasked to impersonate is an intriguing question mark in her own way. There are many gaps in Yael’s knowledge about the other girl, a fact made painfully obvious whenever Felix or Luka bring up past events that she has no knowledge of. We’re piecing things together along with Yael, trying to pick out clues from snatches of conversation. Wolf by Wolf is full of action, but it’s also one giant intriguing puzzle, and I loved how the adventurous and suspenseful elements came together.
I was really surprised to discover halfway through reading Wolf by Wolf that there will be a sequel (which clued me in to a not-so-tidy ending) but after finishing the book you can bet I’ll be reading the next one too. Ryan Graudin created something phenomenally unique and amazing here; so many things could have worked out poorly but the end result turned out to be almost flawless. I can’t wait to see what other surprises the author has in store....more
While my own personal experience with Stephen R. Donaldson is admittedly limited, his name is definitely no stranger in our household. My husband is a big fan of his Thomas Covenant books, which is probably the series Donaldson is best known for. Myself, I’ve only read the first book Lord Foul’s Bane as well as a couple books in his Gap series, so it’s safe to say that I’m still relatively new to his work.
Still, I was interested to read more. And what I’ve seen is enough for me to get a sense of his style and the tone of his stories—namely, frequently dark and brutal—so I had a good idea of what to expect going into The King’s Justice, Donaldson’s latest book which collects two new and original novellas. This a fantastic format if you are curious to give a new author a try or if you simply want to read more without having to commit to a longer series, especially since many of Donaldson’s are very heavy and can take quite an emotional toll.
The King’s Justice
This title story tells of a mysterious black-clad stranger arriving in the village of Settle’s Crossways to investigate a string of terrible murders. Known only as “Black”, he claims to be in the king’s service and proceeds to question the denizens of the town, using his powers of interrogation to make them reveal what they know to him. A new evil has made its home in this place, and Black will follow its trail to the ends of the earth even if it kills him—and it damn well might. But the king’s justice needs to be served and Black will not stop until his job is done.
This story is close to what comes to mind when I think of Stephen R. Donaldson. It’s a bleak and savage tale, delving into the darker side of human nature while also juxtaposing that with the esteem of one man’s hunt for justice. This is the shorter story of the two in this novel, and the events go by quickly. If you want to know more, you’ll find yourself out of luck because the plot is so streamlined and lean, but the result is a simple and elegant tale that gets straight to the point. Also not for the faint of heart, but readers familiar with Donaldson’s probably know that already.
The Augur’s Gambit
This second tale is much longer, almost twice as long as The King’s Justice and therefore may appeal more to readers looking for more character and story development. It follows the protagonist Mayhew Gordian, a Hieronomer to the Queen of Indemnie. His position requires him to read her majesty’s fate in the entrails of animals (and in one case, a stillborn baby) and every single time he sees the same message: Indemnie is doomed. Fiercely loyal to the crown, Gordian decides to launch his own investigations into who might be plotting against his queen and her daughter, the alluring Princess Excrucia (lovely name, isn’t it?)
The Augur’s Gambit may be longer, but it is also takes its time getting off the ground. The protagonist Gordian is not exactly an energetic character either, which hinders the pacing some more, though the narrative is not without some hints of humor, of the dark and ironic sort. The women are by far the more interesting characters here, with Queen Inimica’s confounding plot of proposing marriage to every single one of her barons as a means to uncover treachery, and of course Excrucia and the seductive hold she seems to have on our narrator. I didn’t find myself as drawn to this tale as I’d hoped, but it was nonetheless an interesting and complex tale of intrigue, complete with a couple unexpected surprises.
The short fiction format doesn’t always work for me, but I had a good time with these stories. All told, from what I’ve read of his work, The King’s Justice feels distinctively Stephen R. Donaldson. If you’re a fan, I would highly recommend grabbing this book to complete your collection, and for new readers curious about his writing, these two novellas would be an excellent place to start....more
Lately, most of my audio listens have been on the darker and heavier side, so when I was given the opportunity to review the audiobook of The Weight of Feathers, it didn’t take much convincing to give this lighter, more romantic title a try. Magical realism can be hit or miss with me, but even though I hesitated over some of the mixed reviews I’ve seen for this book, ultimately the theme of forbidden love won me over.
With shades of Romeo and Juliet, this novel tells a tale of two feuding families of traveling performers, the Palomas and the Corbeaus. The Paloma family’s claim to fame has always been their underwater attraction, with their women dressing up like mermaids to swim in elaborate dance routines, while the Corbeaus strap feathered wings to their bodies and put on tightrope acts and other feats of acrobatics high up in the treetops. Their competing exhibitions have always made them rivals, but twenty years ago, something happened between them to turn them into full-blown enemies. Since then, children of both families have been brought up to believe the worst of the other, adding superstition and lies to the flames of mutual hatred.
While the two families travel all across the country, every year they cross paths in Almendro, taking advantage of the large crowds drawn there by the annual Blackberry Festival. So it is there where Lace Paloma first meets Cluck, youngest son of the Corbeau matriarch. When disaster strikes the small town, Cluck rescues Lace from certain death, mistaking her for a local. Horrified that she now owes her life to the enemy, and cast out by her own relatives for being “cursed” by the Corbeaus’ black magic, Lace tracks down Cluck and inadvertently gets caught up in his family’s business. Not surprisingly, our two young protagonists end up falling in love, but the beginning of their relationship also sparks a mission to unravel the truth of what really caused the rift between their families all those years ago.
All told, I think I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Before I start singing its praises, I want to get the negatives out of the way first: for one thing, I had a seriously rough start with the first few chapters. Anna-Marie McLemore appears to trip up on the same hurdle that traps so many other talented but inexperienced authors, weighing down her writing with an overkill of flowery words and phrases. The thing about purple prose is that it is a lot more obvious in audio. The spoken words gave the impression of the writer trying too hard, with absolutely no subtlety or attempt to dial back at all.
But just as I was starting to regret my audiobook choice, the story started to grow on me. At first, I worried that the magical realism would hinder my enjoyment, since those aspects can sometimes get in the way of meaningful character development. Instead, I found the opposite. There’s no doubt that the romance between Lace and Cluck is the central focus, with magic being more of a background element and even downplayed. In truth, The Weight of Feathers is rather light on fantasy, with the exception of the ending and little smatterings of details here and there—like the fact members of the Paloma family bear birthmarks on their skin that look like fish scales, while those in the Corbeau clan grow feathers near their hairline. Even so, to me this is more about symbolism than magic. This book is filled with all sorts of opposing themes and imagery, contrasting the Corbeaus and Palomas: crows vs. doves, black vs. white, birds vs. fish, sea vs. sky, etc.
Strip that all away though, and the plot itself is actually very straightforward. It’s a love story, pure and simple, with a bit of family drama thrown in. I’ve seen people compare The Weight of Feathers to The Night Circus, but I really don’t see it. This one is much better in terms of featuring a more passionate and developed romance with a pair of lovers with whom you can feel more fully connected and engaged, relative to my lukewarm experience with Erin Morgenstern’s novel. I also highly recommend the audiobook, with Kirby Heyborne and Cynthia Farrell narrating Cluck’s and Lace’s chapters respectively. The two of them did a great job bringing the characters to life.
Ultimately, once I learned to look past the affectations in the prose, it was the simplicity and elegance of The Weight of Feathers that appealed to me. The plot and pacing was nice and tight with just the right amount of twisty familial relationships to keep me interested, and once I got caught up in the story, it was damn near impossible to break free from its spell. A quick and very enjoyable listen!...more
2016 is another big year for Brandon Sanderson with a whole slew of new book releases and re-issues coming out, and he’s kicking it all off in late January with The Bands of Mourning. This is the sixth Mistborn novel and third volume of Waxillium Ladrian’s saga following on the heels of Shadows of Self, and according to Sanderson one is an intentional counterpoint to the other, which explains why there were only a few months to wait between the books. For readers like myself, that decision to publish them so close together was much appreciated, since I don’t think I could have waited until the end of the year to find out what happens, especially after that shocking ending in Shadows of Self.
Things come to a head in The Bands of Mourning, continuing the adventures of Waxillium and his companions. It has been six months since the events of Shadows of Self and our heroes are still recovering from the ordeal. Wax himself is still trying to come to terms with what happened but is also determined to move on with his life, and one of the first orders of business is his forthcoming marriage to Steris. But before the couple can tie the knot, a kandra brings tidings of a possible new discovery in the mountains.
Legends say that the Lord Ruler created a pair of metalminds called the Bands of Mourning that are so powerful that anyone who wears them will have all the Allomantic abilities at their command. Most believe that they are a thing of myth, but now a kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with drawings that look suspiciously like the Bands. Unable to resist the call of adventure, Wax agrees to travel south with the kandra MeLaan to investigate, bringing along Steris as well as his friends Marasi and Wayne. However, Wax was wholly unprepared to stumble across news of his lost sister along the way, and the quest for the Bands unexpectedly takes a dangerous turn as it puts him on the trail of Edwarn Ladrian, Wax’s unscrupulous uncle who is also involved with the shadowy organization known as The Set.
After so many books in the Mistborn series, I didn’t think I could be surprised anymore, but I was wrong. Most of the story in The Bands of Mourning does not take place in the Roughs nor does it take place in the city of Elendel, instead taking us out into the outskirts of the Basin. We’ve been with Wax for so long, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole wide world out there beyond the frontier regions or the urban areas, and the first stop is beautiful New Seran. Sanderson may be best known for his magic systems, but he is also a master at creating new places and bringing them to life. With its luscious fields of fruit and majestic waterfalls, the awe-inspiring vistas of New Seran make me think this could be Sanderson’s version of Rivendell or Naboo. Next up are the cold icy mountain ranges bordering the Basin, where the final chapters of the book take place. There’s also a farther, more mysterious place that I can’t really speak of for fear of spoilers, but regardless, out of all the novels in this series I think it’s safe to say this one expands the world the most, at least geographically.
The story does not disappoint either. It’s an action-filled romp through a fantasy world on the cusp of an industrial revolution, and the Western vibes are still strong with this book, which even includes scenes from a spectacular train robbery. Also, despite The Bands of Mourning taking place half a year after Shadows of Self and featuring a whole new adventure, the two books do indeed tie together when you look at it from the perspective of Wax’s personal growth. It is an emotional journey that brings resolution to the many questions our protagonist has been struggling with since the last book, and it also marks an end to one chapter while opening another. New possibilities are on the horizon, including the potential for new worlds, new relationships, and perhaps even a new villain. You might be able to get away with reading this on its own, but I do highly recommend picking up Shadows of Self first, or better yet, start Wax’s story from the beginning with The Alloy of Law (which is still my favorite of the new Wax and Wayne Mistborn novels).
Another thing I loved about this book? The supporting characters! The story is once again carried by POVs from our three usual suspects—Wax, Wayne and Marasi—but my favorite characters in this book were actually Steris and MeLaan. As usual, there was plenty of humor especially in the dialogue, and the best of that came in the form of interactions between Wayne and MeLaan, a brilliant pairing. But perhaps the greatest surprise of the novel was Steris. She always struck me as rather austere and aloof in previous books, but we finally get to see a lot more of her true self here. And maybe I’m biased, because I recognize a lot of myself in her uptight planning and obsessive list-making behavior, but out of all the characters, I felt she was the most sympathetic. I’m really excited to see what might be in store for her and Wax, because Sanderson really did a great job developing their relationship.
Overall, The Bands of Mourning is another fantastic installment in the Mistborn sequence. Brandon Sanderson fans will be sure to love this one, especially if you’ve been following the books and keeping up with Wax and the gang. You definitely won’t want to miss this rusting good read....more
Tor.com kicks off the year with another irresistible lineup of novellas in early 2016, and leading the charge is Emily Foster’s debut release The Drowning Eyes. In this slim little volume, a lone survivor sets off on an adventure in a wind-swept coastal fantasy to retrieve what was stolen from her and her people. With the Windspeakers’ island enclave pillaged and destroyed by the Dragon Ships, villages along the coastline are left unprotected and open to attacks. Now it’s up to Shina, a young apprentice, to reclaim the weather-shaping magic of the Windspeakers in order to save the villagers and drive back the raiders.
Determined and resourceful, Shina manages to find a captain desperate for funds and bargains for passage on her ship. Tazir and her crew are unhappy at the prospect of transporting their new guest at first, but they soon come around when everyone realizes the importance of Shina’s quest.
I know I can be a harsh judge of novellas, often with my main complaint being a wish for them to be longer or feel more complete. I’m afraid this is once again the case with The Drowning Eyes, which feels a lot like a too large idea trying to fit into too small a package. This admittedly weakens the story somewhat. But be that as it may, I want to underscore a few things I thought this novella did amazingly well and other areas that might have been limited by the short fiction format but shone through nonetheless.
First, the characters. I might not have spent enough time with them to call them truly memorable, but they were delightful to get to know. I have a soft spot for roguish sailor types, and the crew endeared themselves to me for the brief time I got to read about them. Their personalities were all wonderfully unique, and I enjoyed the interplay between them and the way they gradually accepted Shina into the fold and decided to throw their support behind her.
Second, the magic. Before you go thinking that this sounds like your typical feel-good quest narrative-type adventure story, you should get a load of the Windspeaker’s powers. Weather magic, the kind that is central to the plot in The Drowning Eyes, is a strictly guarded medium. Apprentices are brought to the enclave at a young age, and when they are deemed ready to don the mantle of a full Windspeaker, their eyes are gouged from their sockets and replaced by stones. It’s true that I may not remember the names of all the characters in this novella a year, three years, or five years from now, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll remember this gruesome little detail about Windspeaker tradition for the rest of my life. Also, seeing as this is the third book I’ve read in as many weeks about ships and characters with weather-based magic that can control winds, it’s refreshing to see a new twist on a familiar idea, even if it is kind of disturbing.
Lastly, the world-building. I certainly liked what I saw, even if this story merely gave me a limited view through a tiny window. The rich descriptions paint a very lively picture of coastlines and the cultures of their inhabitants. The place feels very much alive, and even a small setting like life aboard a ship seems to have its own atmosphere.
And it was all over way too soon. I wish I could have held off the ending, but it came upon me like one of the story’s magical storms, and after a whirlwind of confused and sudden events, the book was finished. This is rather unfortunate, because a satisfying ending might have left me liking this book even more, but as it is, I felt the conclusion felt too incomplete—jarringly so.
However, as you can see from the many positives I talked about, The Drowning Eyes was still a book I really enjoyed. I think this would have made an excellent full-length novel with a more fleshed out plot and developed characters, but if given the chance to read more stories set in this world, I certainly wouldn’t say no. An impressive debut novella....more
And to think, I almost gave this one a pass when I was compiling a list of books I wanted to read from the new Star Wars canon. What a mistake that would have been. Yes, this is categorized as Young Adult, but to be sure, this is not the kind of Star Wars YA from the old EU when the stories tended to lean more towards middle-grade audiences and few children’s series stood out strongly enough to make an impression. Lost Stars, in a word, was awesome. I have been reading Star Was novels for years and have read many of them during that time, but this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book tells the tale of two childhood friends who became lovers before ending up on opposite sides of the galactic war. Ciena and Thane grew up on the same planet just after annexation by the Imperials, but one was born in the more rural valley while the other came from an affluent second-waver family. However, the two met and bonded over a shared love for piloting and a dream to one day fly for the Empire. They entered the Imperial academy together, excited to be with each other as they made that dream come true. But as the war waged on, their fates diverged as one grew disillusioned with the Empire and joined the Rebel Alliance, while the other remained in Imperial service and rose through its ranks to become a high-ranking officer.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity. At the heart of it is a love story, so you might not enjoy it as much if YA Romance isn’t your cup of tea. At the same time though, it is surprisingly free of the tropes that usually clog up this genre, and I didn’t feel as if the plot was made more complicated by any needless drama. Instead, all the good stuff comes through, themes like: honor versus duty, love and grief, opportunities lost and things left unsaid. Ciena and Thane are the loves of each other’s lives, but they were raised in very different homes, with very different values. Because of that, there will always be a part in each of them that can and never will be reconciled.
And you know what else is great? How deeply and intimately Lost Stars is tied to the original trilogy. You get to relive the major events of each movie from a whole different perspective. No doubt about it, while reading this book I felt like I was 100% in the Star Wars universe. And yet, the story also retains its own uniqueness. You ever think to yourself, surely, the Empire can’t be one homogenous body working in unison towards the same goal? Of course there had to be different factions, as well as good people in the Imperial forces who couldn’t stand by and do nothing while their side committed all sorts of atrocities. This book does a really good job showing this, and in a way it humanizes the Empire by portraying the protagonists as average everyday people.
Like anyone, both Ciena and Thane have close family and friends. They each have their own personal hopes and dreams. They experience desire and longing. My heart ached for the two of them and I wanted so badly for things to work out for them in the end. Move over Anakin and Padme and Episode II, because this is romance done right. Heck, this is “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” done right.
“Look through my eyes…look through my eyes.” *Happy sigh*...more
Sunset Mantle is my first venture into Tor.com’s impressive line-up of novellas from their brand spanking new publishing arm. It wasn’t originally on my to-read list, but after hearing it described as a pocket-sized epic fantasy, I decided I had to take a look after all. The idea of a story like that, packed into just over 190 print copy pages really intrigued me.
The book’s protagonist is Cete, a former hero now in exile. Dismissed from his command both in honor and disgrace, he wanders the Reaches in search for a new place to call home. His travels lead him to Reach Antach, a settlement doomed to fall in the coming storm of infighting among several factions. But before Cete can turn on his heels and leave, a chance meeting with a blind woman in her shop changes everything.
Hanging there on display is the sunset mantle, beauty and light embroidered in cloth. The fine craftsmanship touches Cete in a way he cannot understand; all he knows is that he must have it, and if he can’t, he would want to commission a garment for himself from the shopkeeper and weaver, Marelle. To afford the commission and to stay in Reach Antach, Cete would have to find employment, and to find employment, Cete was going to have to go back to doing what he knows best. Once a fighting man, always a fighting man. However, being in the army also means being embroiled in the politics and schemes of the various clans trying to destroy Reach Antach, and even as his relationship with Marelle deepens, Cete’s fight eventually becomes more than just the mantle and even more than love.
This story left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am beyond impressed with author Alter S. Reiss’s marvelous success at laying out Cete’s journey from outcast to legendary warrior, all within this very slim volume. Sunset Mantle is not a “true” epic fantasy per se, with no magical element, and nor does it span a gazillion kingdoms or have enough points-of-view to populate a small village. There is, however, enough political intrigue to fill two fantasy worlds. This degree of complexity is not something I would have expected from a novella, and it also makes the scope of the story feel much, much bigger than the thin slice of what we get to see. Reiss gets a lot more accomplished in under two hundred pages than it takes some other authors to do the same thing in novels three to four times as thick. It does have a way of making you stop and wonder just how much gratuitous or unnecessary flourish goes into some of these doorstoppers.
I also really liked Cete as a protagonist as well as the nature of his relationship with Marelle, which goes much deeper than a romantic union. The trust and honesty between them is a rare thing to find indeed, even between two lovers. Cete sees Marelle as his equal, taking her guidance and respecting her need to do what she believes is right, even if it means letting her put herself in harm’s way. Cete also treats his own soldiers with that same practical respect. He is a man of honor and duty, as evidenced by the loyalty he shows Reach Antach, even though he came to them as a stranger and outcast. Other highlights include the battle scenes, which are quick but powerful, making the most out of the restrictive page count.
That said, the book wastes no words in establishing the situation surrounding Reach Antach and the city clans. Blink, and you could potentially miss something important. Ironically, it made Sunset Mantle a slower read, and it doesn’t give you much time to chew on the plot or characters. In fact, most of my questions came later, after I had finished the book and had some time to mull over what I just read. It made me realize a lack of background information made the story a little harder to understand, and sometimes that uncertainty or need to re-read a passage or two distracted from my enjoyment and prevented me from being fully engaged. Simply put, the overall style of the narrative begs to be savored, but the format is not that well suited for it.
Still, there’s something to be said about something as special as Sunset Mantle. It’s true I would have preferred a bit more breathing room, but that is not an uncommon complaint from me when it comes to novellas and short fiction. I’m usually very picky about this format, which is probably why I don’t read as much of it as I should. All things considered, I was actually quite pleased with this novella, which for me is saying a lot....more
While I enjoy time travel books as much as the next reader, I still recall my doubts when I was first pitched this book: What if I don’t know that much about World War I? How much history do I need to know in order to follow the plot? Will I still be able to enjoy this story?
Looking back at those questions now, I have to laugh. Really, I needn’t have worried about a thing. Even though history is at the center of this plot and WWI is the inciting incident that sparks the fuse, Time and Time Again turned out to be about so much more. With shades of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, this novel is a suspenseful and heartfelt adventure through time and alternate realities. In truth, it focuses more on the repercussions of changing history and what it means for the main character—as well as for the whole world and the generations after him.
In a not too distant future from now, Hugh Stanton is an ex-soldier and a washed up celebrity who has lost everything. The army wants nothing to do with him, and his once popular survival webcast had to be shut down after ratings fell. His wife and children are dead, killed in a hit-and-run accident in which they never found the culprits. With nothing left to lose, he agrees to take on an insane mission from a group of Cambridge scholars who call themselves the Order of Chronos.
If you had one chance to change history and make the world right, when and where would you go and what would you do? This was the question posed to Stanton by his old history professor Sally McClusky, the Master of Trinity College herself. For all of them, the answer was simple—June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand thus removing the catalyst for World War I.
The reasoning behind their choice is both surprising and not surprising, but you’ll have to read this book for yourself to find out why. Suffice to say though, it made for a good premise. It’s no wonder that there are all sorts of “What If?” speculations surrounding this date, considering the string of extraordinary coincidences that led directly to the Archduke’s death (if you haven’t heard the story about the sandwich that changed the world, definitely look that one up!) If just one thing had changed that day, could the Great War have been averted? And how might the world look like afterwards?
And here, Ben Elton had my full attention. As I said before, I enjoy stories about time travel, and my favorite books are always those that make me see things in a whole new light. Time and Time Again definitely deserves a place in this category. I love time travel theories that pull together history and science fiction, and Elton achieves this in style, postulating that Sir Isaac Newton had found a way to travel back in time and even tied this event to the great mathematician’s nervous breakdown during the period of 1692-1693. However, the best thing about this book is all the twists and turns, especially when it comes to a couple of big revelations near the end. Obviously I can’t go into them in any detail, but what I can say is that with so many poignant and unforgettable moments, Time and Time Again is one truly special book.
Ben Elton also knows how to keep a reader’s attention. I went into this book thinking it would be similar to a historical drama, but I was surprised to find an exciting mix of mystery, suspense, and even some romance and light humor. This isn’t a story that relies on a single element or one aspect of its premise to make its point, and again, this was what made me think of King’s 11/22/63. If you enjoy multi-faceted time travel stories, Time and Time Again is worth checking out—even if you aren’t particularly well-versed in the history of World War I. I myself have never been too interested in the topic, yet I found myself unable to resist the author’s vivid descriptions of early 20th century Europe, and it was doubly interesting to experience this world through the eyes of a character as fascinating as Hugh Stanton.
But above all, I loved how this book made me think. Going back to the original question Sally McClusky posed to Hugh Stanton: If you could make one change in history to make the world better, what would it be? Perhaps our protagonist should have answered the question with another one: Would you even want to? Not that the idea itself isn’t tempting, but who makes history anyway? Can a single person really make a difference, or are we all just like particles in Brownian motion, creating history with each and every random collision? Maybe it’s naïve to believe we can change the future by altering the past, deciding who lives and who dies. Maybe it is hubris and lack of understanding that ultimately causes Stanton to make all his mistakes, leading him to his own little quandary.
In case it’s not obvious by now, I had a great time with this book. This is the first time I’ve ever read Ben Elton, and I’m very impressed with his extensive knowledge of the time period as well as the brilliant way he structured and paced this story. I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to time travel plots, and never have I been so glad to be proven wrong. Time and Time Again swept me up in its richness and intrigue, taking me to places I never expected. I know this one is going to stay with me for a long time. Definitely one of the most captivating time travel novels I’ve ever read....more
The Witch Hunter is probably one of this summer’s more buzzworthy Young Adult titles, if the amount of coverage I’ve seen for it is any indication. Most of my friends who have read it also enjoyed it, while others were not so keen. If nothing else though, the book did succeed in getting my attention, and I was grateful to receive the audiobook for review, which is actually my preferred format when it comes to reading YA.
The story starts off by introducing us to its protagonist, Elizabeth Grey. She’s sixteen years old and already an accomplished witch hunter, part of the king’s elite group of agents trained to track down and capture sorcerers. But when a nighttime rendezvous goes awry, Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself and is taken to the dungeons to await burning at the stake.
On the eve of her execution, a strange man pays a visit to her cell. Believing her to be a witch, he helps break her out of prison. As it turns out, her mysterious rescuer is none other than Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom as well as leader of a group of young rebel witches and wizards who are unhappy with being persecuted by the king’s laws. By helping her escape though, Nicholas has also turned Elizabeth into public enemy number one, forcing her to accept his terms or be left on her own to deal with the authorities. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas break a deadly curse that has been laid upon him, and the group also takes her in as one of their own.
But of course, Elizabeth knows that it’s all a lie. Not only is she not a witch, she is one of the hunters whom they hate and fear, and there is no telling what Nicholas and his group might do when they find out the truth about her.
Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel I can better understand the different reactions I saw across the board. My own feeling lie somewhere in between. The Witch Hunter is a story peppered with tropes and familiar clichés, making it a very typical middle-of-the-road YA fantasy. As a protagonist, Elizabeth was not exceptional, nor did she really strike me as particularly sharp. Are you really telling me, that in all the years of witnessing countless examples of her mentor using magic as a tool in their witch hunter training sessions, Elizabeth never once suspected he was a magician? The logic is not strong with this one. It was also one of the bigger plot holes I tripped upon. The story itself is rather simplistic too, with the obvious message of “magic itself not being inherently evil, it just depends on how you use it” being presented as the crux of the conflict. Not exactly profound.
For all its flaws though, The Witch Hunter also has plenty of redeeming factors. The novel’s strength is in its light and adventurous tone, which had me chuckling at a couple places in response to some clever lines of dialogue. I especially loved the conversations between Elizabeth and Fifer, the only other female in their group. When Fifer’s character was introduced, I despaired thinking she would be yet another typical “girl rival” whose only purpose in the story is to make the heroine look good. Suffice to say, I was glad to be wrong. I also enjoyed the lack of a full-blown love triangle, and I felt the romance arc was stronger for it.
Most of the time I also prefer to listen to YA novels in audiobook format. I’m less likely to get hung up on world-building (or the lack of it) when I’m experiencing a book in this format, and characters feel richer to me when a narrator gives them a voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber; in fact it was just a few weeks ago that I listened to her on another title so her performance was still fresh on my mind. I find myself very impressed with her versatility. For The Witch Hunter, Barber sounded younger, giving the protagonist the bubbly, energetic personality which her character called for, and her deftly delivered curses of “Damnation!” made me think, yep, that’s Elizabeth right there.
Simply put, this book was a lot of fun. I may have called the story simple, but that in itself is not necessarily a weakness. In fact, if you enjoy tightly woven plots and are tired of the ostentation and gimmicky shticks cropping up all over the genre these days, this one might very well work for you. It’s mainstream and not looking to break new ground, but it definitely knows what it has to offer....more
Let me start my review of The Flux the same way I started my review of the first book Flex. There was some of this:
And then some of this:
As well as this:
By the way, if you haven’t read Flex yet, I highly recommend picking it up first because you’ll definitely want the complete ‘Mancer experience. If nothing else, getting the full rundown of the magic system will be worth it, because this series features some of the most intricate and unique concepts I’ve ever seen.
Imagine a world where magic is based around obsession. Love something hard enough—whether it be cats, cooking, or donuts—and it might just actually become your special power, giving you the ability to shape reality to your vision. As you can imagine, the possibilities are virtually limitless. For instance, protagonist Paul Tsabo (he loves paperwork, God help him) is a bureacromancer, and his friend and partner in crime Valentine is a videogamemancer (three guesses what her favorite hobby is?)
In The Flux, a third ‘mancer character also rises to prominence—Paul’s own daughter Aliyah Tsabo-Dawson. The events at the end of Flex might have turned her into the world’s most dangerous eight-year-old, but to Paul she’ll always be his little girl. It’s now up to him to hide Aliyah’s secret and protect her from those who will want to use her or do her harm. But Paul is living a double life himself, hunting rogue ‘mancers for the government by day and brewing magical drugs by night. To make matters worse, there’s now a new power-player in town called “The King of New York” and he’s got Paul and Valentine in his sights.
Like its predecessor, The Flux was pure geek escapism. In general I still think Flex was the better book, though I liked certain aspects of this sequel more. For one thing, Valentine plays a much bigger role. I remember being so excited when I realized that was her on the cover. She’s my favorite character in this series, and not just because she has great taste in video games. I am totally in love her offbeat personality, and her confidence also makes her a force to be reckoned with. Because of her, the plot is also heavier on videogamemancy. Needless to say, I was right where I wanted to be. We’re talking loads more gaming references, which to me was one of the best things about Flex. Gamers will no doubt experience multiple nerdgasms while reading this series, though in truth, I think anyone can appreciate the humor and action in these books.
Speaking of which, The Flux also introduces Valentine’s new friend Tyler Durden, whom I hope we’ll be seeing again soon in some way, shape or form. Yes, I said Tyler Durden. Didn’t I say the possibilities were limitless?
Okay, so maybe this book went just a tad overboard with the pop culture references. Which is why I’m thankful for the story’s focus on family again, especially the father-daughter bond between Paul and Aliyah. In this book, Paul faces the challenges of raising an angry and traumatized little girl, while Aliyah realizes that her father doesn’t have all the answers. If it weren’t for the emotional hurdles, ‘Mancer might have been just another entertaining yet hollow urban fantasy series, but the emphasis on relationship dynamics gives both the characters and story much needed depth.
Final thoughts on the audiobook: I started the series in this format, so I decided to continue in this format, and I am quite happy with my decision. Peter Brooke is fantastic with voices (especially with his New Yorker accent) and in my opinion the only character he faltered with was Aliyah. Granted, this probably has something to do with her written dialogue itself, which I didn’t find convincing. Still, there’s a very good chance I’ll do the third book in audio too. All in all, well worth the listen!...more
Last year I read a wonderful novel called The Golden City, the first of a fantasy trilogy set in an alternate early 1900s Portugal featuring sirens and selkies. This was how I first came to discover the work of J. Kathleen Cheney. As you can imagine, I got pretty excited when I found out she was writing a new book! And this time, she’s transporting readers to a whole new world full of magic and amazing things to discover.
Indeed, Dreaming Death is a novel of ideas, and it is absolutely delightful. Imagine, if you will, a place rich with history and culture, and in the population, a subset of individuals called “sensitives” are gifted with augmented psychic senses that would allow them to feel others’ emotions. But for some, that gift is more of a curse. Shironne Anjir is a sensitive whose talents are even more responsive than most, and when she first came to her full power in her early teens, the constant barrage of emotions and sensations overwhelmed her and left her blind. However, her ability to pull information out of the objects or people she touches has made her an invaluable asset to the army, who frequently retains her as a consultant to help them solve crimes. For example, a recent string of brutal murders possibly connected to blood magic have left investigators baffled, and Shironne has been called in to see what she can glean from contact with the bodies.
Meanwhile, royal guard Mikael Lee has been affected by the killings in a whole different way. A powerful sensitive himself, Mikael is also “dreamer” whose ability causes him to dream the deaths of others. Lately, the suspected blood magic victims have made his dreams even more traumatic and intense, and Mikael lives with the constant fear that the next time he goes to sleep, he may not wake up again. But unknown to both Shironne and Mikael, who don’t even know each other, their strange powers might be linked, and that connection could be the key to solving the mystery before the murderer strikes again.
It’s no exaggeration when I say I could probably go on forever about the background of this book, because it is just that deep and rich. It did give Dreaming Death a rather slow start, because the first hundred pages are full of all the knowledge you have to absorb to get a sense of the setting and story. Within the first handful of chapters, I encountered the names of no less than three to four different factions/cultures and close to two dozen names of characters, both major and minor. I reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book which did not contain any maps or dramatis personae detailing characters and their relationships, but I have to say both would be immensely helpful if they were to be included in the finished edition.
After finishing the book though, I was amazed. Once the story gathers steam, it becomes intensely addictive and hard to put down. Dreaming Death is by far the most impressive work from the author yet. She has crafted here a uniquely original world with an exciting blend of fantasy and mystery, complete with a light touch of political intrigue. The setting is truly breathtaking, and Cheney goes all out in providing the exquisite details readers need to bring this place to life in their minds.
The characters also deserve praise. While the two main protagonists are both written extremely well, I have to say the portrayal of Shironne is where the narrative especially shines, painting her as a capable heroine even though she can’t see. She may be aware of her limitations but at the same time she also recognizes her own worth, acknowledging that what she can do is more important than what she cannot. Taking in the world through Shironne’s perspective was also an interesting experience, since her chapters mostly use the senses of smell, touch, and sound to describe her surroundings. Because of her status as a sensitive, there’s also the cool twist of her power to read others’ emotions. Strong impressions of feelings are usually the first things that hit Shironne whenever someone enters her sensing range, thus it’s often the way she “meets” others.
Things get even better when Shironne and Mikael are introduced to each other for the first time. I simply love the relationship between these two. I also enjoyed the special way they communicate, as well as their playful banter. Though the plot might be hinting towards a possible romance, it is not a significant element in this story, but regardless, there’s no denying the powerful attraction they have for each other. Plus, the notable characters don’t stop at Shironne and Mikael either, and in fact the novel is made even better by the presence of a strong supporting cast.
Lastly, though Dreaming Death features a self-contained plot on its own, Cheney leaves a multiple dimensions to explore in future installments of the Palace of Dreams series. Personally, I would very much like to see more world-building in the sequel, because even though we get plenty of minute details about our immediate surroundings in this novel, I was given only a vague sense of how these linked puzzle pieces fit in the bigger picture. Things I wouldn’t mind learning more about include societal structure (who are these Elders who determine so much of life for the Families?) or how the magic works (like why are Mikael’s dreams of death particularly attuned to these murders but not any of the other violent or accidental deaths that must occur on a regular basis in a big city?) Generally, I would also like the next book cover more history, because while this one hints at a world with a long and storied past, I get the feeling we’ve only scratched the surface. Clearly, I’m looking forward to what else this series has in store!
Dreaming Death is a book of mystery, magic and overwhelming potential, and promises more good things to come from J. Kathleen Cheney. If she’s not on your radar yet, it’s time to remedy that! Now begins the countdown for the sequel, and I can scarcely wait to return to this strange and wonderful world and its charming characters....more
Today, legions of Whovians are welcoming the Doctor back for another new season of BBC’s science fiction television program Doctor Who. And then there’s yours truly, probably one of the last three people on this earth who hasn’t watched the show yet. I won’t even be able to speak on the matter of how well the books capture the spirit of the series, because I just don’t know. As such, you might be wondering why I’m reading them. To that, I point you to my love of science fiction and fondness for media tie-ins of all kinds.
This is a category of fiction that has come a long way. Media tie-ins and novelizations of movies or television shows have long gotten a bad rap for hardly ever being able to live up to the original source material, but in the last few years I have noticed a definite rise in the quality of stories and writing in this area. Tie-ins aren’t strictly for hardcore fans anymore; many of the books now can stand on their own with lots to offer in terms of plot and characters, providing general audiences with a good reading experience or the perfect jumping-on point for those curious about a media property – folks just like me. I’m definitely interested in the Doctor Who series; a lot of my friends adore this show and I want to find out more. And of course I would never say no to checking out a book.
After much internal deliberation and conflict, I decided to start with Doctor Who: Royal Blood, a story about a falling kingdom, invading armies, and let’s face it, any mention of a “Grail Quest” and you can pretty much guarantee I’m on board. This book begins with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara arriving on an unnamed planet, where they are quickly ushered into the city-state of Varuz to meet its Duke Aurelian and his wife, Lady Guena. All is not well in their kingdom. Their palace is crumbling, the nobles have wondrous electric gadgets but they barely have the power or knowledge (“What, shoot death rays? I shouldn’t think so!”) to work them, and a rival Duke on the other side of the mountains is even now preparing to launch an attack.
Taking him for a holy man, Aurelian asks The Doctor for his blessing in the coming war and refuses to surrender. Meanwhile, everyone else wants to avoid conflict, seizing upon an opportunity to negotiate with the mysterious stranger who shows up at the castle, presumably the ambassador of Conrad, the rival Duke. Aurelian does not take this well when he finds out, throwing poor Clara and the ambassador out of his city which leaves the Doctor behind to hold the fort, so to speak, along with Guena and Bernhardt, Varuz’s most trusted knight. But even that may not be enough though, when a company of thirty warriors shows up, led by a captain claiming to be the great Sir Lancelot. He also claims that he is from Ravenna, and on behalf of his King Arthur, they are on a mission to seek out the most holy of treasures.
For such a slim volume – presumably to appeal to all Doctor Who fans, young and old – I was actually very impressed with the richness of the writing and story. A quick look at Una McCormack’s author page shows that she’s written many other Doctor Who books as well as a few Star Trek titles. She’s clearly no stranger to writing a good tie-in and it shows in her smart pacing of the plot. The story’s construction is solid, has great flow, and is easy to read. I had a moment of confusion early on when I encountered a point-of-view change, where the narrative inexplicably switched from being first-person to third-person (told in Bernhardt and then Clara’s POV, respectively) and it continues on in this fashion for the rest of the novel. It’s a very bizarre decision, one that I wasn’t sure about initially, but it ended up working surprisingly well. It’s worth noting too that even though the Doctor is the series and book’s titular character, his role in this feels more like a supporting character rather than the main protagonist. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it’s also quite intriguing.
On that note, while we are speaking of bucking expectations I most certainly also found Royal Blood to go against the trend of tie-in books being poorly cobbled together or coming across very “bare-bones.” This book reads like a sci-fi adventure for young adults, with an ambitious plot written into a small package, but is no less enjoyable because of it. I had my doubts before picking it up but I actually ended up liking it a lot. If it was fun for me, I imagine it would be even better for fans of the show, though going in blind likely benefited in some ways as well, since I had no preconceived notions of how a Doctor Who novel should “feel” like. Still, based on the things I’ve heard, I imagine the tone of style of it to be similar to an episode of the show – fast-paced and adventurous, with a good dose of humor.
In the end, it was probably a good thing that I started with Royal Blood. Released on the same day along with Deep Time by Trevor Baxendale and Big Bang Generation by Gary Russel, it seems Royal Blood is the introductory volume of the three books that make up a series called The Glamour Chronicles, following the Doctor on his adventures across time and space in search for The Glamour, “the most desirable—and dangerous—artifact in the universe.” Whovian or not, the trilogy could be worth a look if that sounds interesting to you. This was my first Doctor Who novel but it most likely won’t be my last, especially if the other two books in the series prove just as easy–and fun–to get into.
Over the last two months, I’ve been working my way through all the available Witcher Saga novels in audiobook format. The series is surprisingly addictive, so much so that it feels like I was just listening to the first book Blood of Elves yesterday. And now that I’ve come to the end of book three, I find myself a bit lost and drifting. After all, the print version of the next book (The Swallow’s Tower) hasn’t even been translated in English yet, with the release date planned for 2016. So yep, unless I learn Polish in the next year (highly unlikely!), it’s going to be a looooong wait.
The fact that Baptism of Fire was perhaps my favorite book in the series so far isn’t helping my patience either. At first, I wasn’t sure that I liked where the story was going. This installment feels different from the others, shifting to a more traditional quest narrative while downplaying the political intrigue. We start the book off with an introduction to a new character, an expert archer and hunter named Milva. She meets Geralt in the forest, finding him badly injured from the events of the Thanedd coup. However, the Witcher only has his mind on recovering so that he can continue on to Nilfgaard to find Ciri, the young princess-turned-sorceress whom unbeknownst to everyone has settled into a life with a gang of rebels.
Despite his misgivings, Geralt gives in to Milva’s request to tag along. They are accompanied by Dandelion, the poet. And on their way, they also meet a dwarf named Zoltan. Further along their journey, they join up with a Nilggaardian named Cahir. Eventually, the party even gets a vampire named Regis. Far from the monster the group expected him to be, Regis actually proves quite invaluable thanks to his medical knowledge and skills.
I know what you’re thinking. Geralt and his fellow adventurers sound like they stepped straight out of a role-playing game. You even have your different races and classes. Not that I don’t enjoy this particular classic trope, but for a series that has thus far been all about the complexity and plot depth, I was surprised because this seemed like a step back. And indeed, I felt that the story in Baptism of Fire was much simpler when compared to the other books, and not a lot happened at the beginning while Sapkowski worked to introduce all the new faces and names. I also noticed a lot less of characters like Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss Merigold, given that most of the attention was on Geralt and his group. Don’t get me wrong; I always want more Geralt, but I can’t deny I was expecting more Ciri, especially in light of her prominent role in The Time of Contempt.
Around the halfway through the book though, something happened. Maybe the story finds its stride at this point, or maybe I finally got to appreciate the personalities of all the different characters, but I started really enjoying myself. Our adventurers make their way east, eventually running afoul of trouble caused by the ongoing war. Battling enemies and working together towards a singular goal – that’s my favorite part of these kinds of stories, after all. The dynamics between everyone in the group started to get a lot more interesting too, with Regis emerging as one of my favorites. Dandelion was a riot as always, and I got such a kick out of his conversations with the old vampire. Near the end, there was also a very good example of how far the characters have come as a group, when everyone got together to discuss what to do about a situation that would affect one of their members. A ragtag bunch of strangers become a family of sorts, which is what I love to see.
Something else to keep in mind: the original Baptism of Fire was published in 1996. And for a story that’s almost twenty years old, I think it has aged exceedingly well. Classic quest narrative or not, it still feels fresh, probably a testament to Sapkowski’s storytelling as well as the skills of the translator.
And don’t dismiss the audiobook and what it brings to the table. I maintain this is the best format to experience The Witcher Saga. Peter Kenny once again proves what a versatile narrator he is, delivering a superb performance as always. In fact, I feel this is probably his best work on this series so far. Kenny really knocked it out of the park, bringing the whole gang to life in this one, giving each group member a unique voice. He was absolutely fantastic.
So now I settle in for the wait. Heck, it may be even longer for the audio version. But it doesn’t matter; something tells me it will be worth it....more
I have to say, so far I’ve been very impressed with the variety of Tor.com novellas. Just as I’ve gotten myself settled in with a couple stories that are rather sober, more serious-like endeavors, along comes Envy of Angels barging into this black tie dinner party like your favorite uncle, the one who gets loud when he’s had too many but is always ready to entertain the crowd with a funny yarn.
I had such a great time with this book. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen meets Dresden Files, marinated in a flavorful blend of action and thrills, seasoned generously with humor. When I first glimpsed the conspicuously short publisher description for this novella, I had my suspicions about what this meant and now they have been confirmed: The less you know about this story going in, the better.
Fortunately, I can give the general gist of it without spoiling anything. Envy of Angels is about Lena and Darren, two ordinary down-on-their-luck New York chefs who suddenly find themselves landing the gig of lifetime at Sin du Jour, an exclusive catering company owned by one of the city’s hottest celebrity chefs. However, it soon becomes clear that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company. For one thing, their clients are demons.
When asked to serve a morally questionable item on the menu at their next event (and we’re not talking about veal), Sin du Jour owner and executive chef Byron “Bronko” Luck gathers his staff and puts it to a vote. Should they do what they’re told and go through with the whole thing? Or should they take the dangerous, near-impossible option and attempt to pull the wool over their devilish clientele’s eyes by preparing a substitute main course and praying they won’t notice? By the way, these types of hellish customers, when they don’t get what they order, aren’t just going to be sending it back. But guess what our characters decide to go ahead and do anyway.
The result is an extraordinary amount of story packed into this novella. Envy of Angels features plenty of action both in the kitchen and out in the field, and even includes a thrilling heist sequence starring Ritter, Cindy, Hara and Moon, the unforgettable foursome who make up Sin du Jour’s Stocking and Receiving Department.
The plot is also very addictive, especially when it gets more and more bizarre. Between getting completely sucked into the story and the sheer morbid curiosity to see what other crazy things might be happening next, I kept turning the pages and finished this book in no time at all. It was fantastically good fun. I really don’t want to give much more away, though in truth, there are moments so absurdly hilarious, so out-of-this-world-insane that I would be hard-pressed to describe them, anyway. Seriously. There are moments in here that you simply must experience for yourself.
One thing is certain though. I’ll never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again....more