I don't know what was more intimidating, the size of Words of Radiance when I first beheld it, or the thought of having to write the review when I finished. I took me about seven days to read this giant tome, and then five more just to let everything sink in. So many emotions. So amazing. Even now, I don't know if I can completely separate my subjective feelings for this novel, simply because of the MAJOR soft spot I harbor for this particular series. See, I wasn't always a fan of epic fantasy. I was the type to take one look at the page count and run the other way! Of course, that was before The Way of Kings became one of my favorite books. I guess you could say that I credit Brandon Sanderson and that book for being my gateway into this genre, and I've always been glad for that.
To finally read Words of Radiance was like fist-pumping excitement and all my restless giddiness rolled into one. In this second volume, the world of The Stormlight Archive becomes even more incredible and captivating. My favorite thing about Sanderson's stories are his magic systems, and I know everyone always says that but I don't care! It bears saying again because it's true. Here I thought he was done laying down the ground rules for his world's magic in The Way of Kings, but clearly he was just getting started. It's actually getting so elaborate that part of me is beginning to worry this could become too confusing before long. But if you love Surgebinding, rest assured the storyline continues to build upon basic principles regarding stormlight and its uses in the various types of surges. When it comes to beefing up his magic systems, Sanderson never ceases to amaze.
I've also noticed he has a way of writing inherently good people in the roles of main protagonists. This certainly applies to the important characters here -- Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, Adolin, etc. -- all decent folks with decent intentions, natural leaders who always in the end succeed. It took tension out of the story at times, but it's also nice to feel exultant when a character gets ahead. That said, there were still plenty of twists and a couple of big surprises in this book, and of course when bad things happened, the impact of those setbacks felt all the more powerful. Sanderson knows how to pull me in and make me care, even when it comes to his more minor characters.
But what I really didn't expect was how things turned around when it came to the major ones. Kaladin pretty much made the first book for me, so I was shocked to see that his chapters in this one failed to hold my attention the same way. Kaladin himself, the ex-soldier and former bridgeman who has become a Knight Radiant, spirals into self-pity, anger, and impulsion because of his new powers and responsibilities, and I just didn't like the man he was for most of this book. On the other hand, Shallan (who didn't really impress me in The Way of Kings) comes into her own, literally becoming a new woman.
While Kaladin shrank into himself, Shallan branched out, becoming more adventurous and daring. Every time the story focused on her again, I was completely rapt, drawn into her research and personal journey to find the mythical city of Urithuru. I was also impressed by the way Sanderson handled her different relationships with other characters, especially the surprising one developing between her and Adolin. There's no question, Words of Radiance is where Shallan steals the show and gets a lot more of her background filled in, plus the illustrations of "her drawings" do add so much to the narrative (and I agree, Shallan, Adolin is totally *sigh*). I just have to cheer for a fellow artist too, you understand.
As for the story, what can I say? It's moving along, and in a big way. Everything is now converging in on the Shattered Plains, with all the main characters and their plot threads finally weaving together to become more cohesive. There's a countdown to something huge, and while this is the main source conflict in the novel, I like how the side themes continue to play a role. Factors like the infighting between the Highprinces or the social class disparities between Lighteyes and Darkeyes or humans and parshmen only add to the immersion and world building.
I have to say that with Sanderson, you don't often get "epicness for the sake of being epic". Others may disagree, of course, but all I know is with 1000+ pagers like these I always tend to forget a lot due to information overload. However, three and a half years after The Way of Kings, I still find myself remembering almost all the details of Roshar, of its peoples and cultures, lore and magic, the different creatures and spren. My memory's not the best either, so the fact I can remember even the little things means that they really stuck with me, and that simply does not happen with fluff or filler. It tells me the details in The Stormlight Archive are there for a reason, and not just to pad a book. Even the Interludes, which I don't really care for, I can still appreciate because something tells me they will be important at a later stage.
Honestly, sometimes I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that I'll probably be well into my fifth decade by the time the last book of this vast, sweeping series comes out. It's an accepted reality for epic fantasy fans I'm sure, but you can bet your spheres that I'm in this one for the long haul. Premature as it is to say, but I think things are shaping up real nicely, and if you enjoyed the first book then picking up this one will be a must as well. Needless to say, Words of Radiance gets 5 hearty stars from me. Really, was there ever any doubt?...more
Oh, how scary could this be, I asked myself. It can’t be as creepy as everyone says, I foolishly thought. Seriously, a story about a three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old witch who just appears wherever she wants around town, and all everyone does is throw a dish towel over her face or otherwise pretends she’s not there. The whole business sounded more comical than frightening, to be honest.
Well, fast forward to about a quarter way into the book, and I was no longer laughing. Things got dark quick, and I’m prepared to eat my words.
In spite of its seemingly peaceful and picturesque façade, Black Spring is probably the last place in the world I’d ever want to find myself broken down and stranded. But as an outsider, at least I could always leave. On the other hand, the town’s residents—those who were unfortunate enough to be born there, or those who unwittingly decided to move in despite all efforts to deter them—they are doomed to live in Black Spring until they die, claimed by the curse of the Black Rock Witch.
Back in the seventeenth century, when the town was just a Dutch trapper colony, there lived a woman named Katherine van Wyler who was accused of being a witch and was swiftly dealt with in much the way you would expect from your typical puritanical colony back in those days. Thing is, though? Katherine might have been the real deal. Now her soiled husk of a body, chained with eyes and mouth sewn shut, still haunts Black Spring to this day. The townsfolk have slapped on their brave faces and come to accept their curse, trying to make the best of the situation, but deep down they all know that one day those stitches will come off and then everyone will be at the mercy of Katherine’s deadly whisperings and Evil Eye. Still, the first order of business is to contain her, and generations going back centuries have been successful in quarantining Black Spring and keeping its witch a strict town secret. But as times change, so too does the area and its people. New technology has certainly made keeping track of Katherine’s random appearances easier, but internet and social media have also made the world seem like a bigger place, and some of the town’s younger residents are no longer content with being silenced and trapped in Black Spring.
What amazes me about HEX is how it diabolically draws you in by degrees, first presenting you with an all-is-well scenario to get you all settled in and comfortable so that by the time things go to hell, it’s too late to turn back (not that you’d really want to) and the only way through is forward into the nightmare. The build-up is so gradual that, little by little, a premise which initially sounded so absurd to me ultimately transformed into something frighteningly convincing and very real. Even as the situation for the characters in Black Spring gets worse and worse, I just couldn’t bring myself to tear my eyes away. This is my favorite kind of horror novel, the kind that sneaks up on you and infuses your mind with its terror without you even realizing it.
A story about a haunting by a seventeenth century witch is creepy enough if you ask me, but the decision to have it all take place in a modern day setting is also a stroke of genius. It’s so easy to look back on the witch trials of history now and blame the fear and mass-hysteria on superstition and lack of understanding; after all, these days we have science to explain strange but natural phenomena like aurora borealis or fairy rings. But the book’s themes suggest that perhaps human beings are wired the same way no matter where or when we’re from. When faced with something supernatural and unexplainable, like the Black Rock Witch and a nefarious curse that appears to drive its victims to suicide outside the borders of Black Spring, it’s hard not to imagine an entire town driven to the lengths we see in this story.
Plus, just when you think to yourself “Oh my, things can’t possibly get any worse and more disturbing, can they?” the author shows us that, yes, yes indeed they can! As the suspense builds with every page, Thomas Olde Heuvelt gleefully keeps insisting on poking this already high-pressure situation with a stick, ratcheting up the horror even more. Parts of this book actually remind me a lot of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, where paranoia, claustrophobia and the stifling fear of the unknown can drive otherwise sane and normal people to horrible extremes, even without the help of a supernatural curse. That’s the scariest part about HEX, the fact that even if you succeed in blocking out the paranormal aspects of the story, you can’t ignore the dark side of human nature. All you can do is stand by and watch as the chilling events unfold.
Finally, I have to praise the quality of the translation and the way the changes were implemented from the original Dutch version of this book for the US edition. Since I have no basis to compare the two versions, I can’t really comment on the actual changes themselves, like the one that switched the location of the setting from a small town in the Netherlands to one nestled in the Hudson Valley region in upstate New York, but I can say that they were done really well and the transposition felt practically seamless (pardon the pun). I was really impressed, and if anything, this exercise showed me that the things that terrify us and keep us up at night are pretty much universal.
So if you’re a fan of horror fiction and strong of nerve, I would definitely check this one out. Deliciously creepy and all consuming, HEX was an absolute thrill. The chills will stay with you long after the final page is turned....more
Any new Michael J. Sullivan novel automatically becomes a must-read for me, and Age of Myth was certainly no exception. It hardly mattered that this story actually takes place thousands of years before the Riyria Revelations and the Riyria Chronicles, well before the beloved characters of Hadrian and Royce even existed; I just couldn’t wait to revisit the world of Elan again.
For readers new to Sullivan’s work, this would also be an excellent starting point. Age of Myth is the first novel of new series of five books called The Legends of the First Empire, set in the same world of Riyria, but you need no prior knowledge of any of Sullivan’s books to jump right in. In fact, this world has a fresh and young vibe to it, exuding a sense new beginnings. Humans, known as Rhunes, live in tribal clans scattered across the wild landscape, primitive compared to the Fhrey, a race of long-lived beings that are more technologically advanced and capable of the Art, or magic. The vast differences between them have led humans to regard Fhrey as gods—powerful creatures that can call down lightning or control the elements, and it is a known fact that they do not age and cannot be killed.
That all changes one day, when a young human named Raithe and his father encounter a Fhrey with his slaves while hunting in a forbidden part of the forest. The ensuing dispute ends with Raithe’s father dead, and Raithe avenging him by slaying the Fhrey, thus disproving everything the Rhunes thought they knew about their “gods”—that they can be killed after all. Raithe is forced to go on the run with one of the Fhrey’s escaped slaves named Malcolm, and together they end up at Dahl Rhen, home to a chieftain’s widow named Persephone. In the wake of her husband’s recent death, Persephone has been trying to keep her clan together through the confusion of changing leadership. Already, news of a human killing a god has also reached their dahl, and fear of the Fhrey’s retaliation is making everyone feel on edge. Imagine Persephone’s surprise then, when the “God Killer” himself shows up on her doorstep, followed right behind by a Fhrey warrior contingent.
Age of Myth was a real treat. Sullivan’s novels always are. If you want fun, action-filled adventures, you really can’t go wrong with his books. While not always groundbreaking, they do frequently offer fresh twists on the old-school heroic fantasy tradition. They have this straightforward and down-to-earth feel to them, much like comfort food. And like comfort food, I also find these kinds of stories incredibly satisfying.
That said, I won’t pretend I didn’t have any reservations going into this. When I first met the characters, for instance, I couldn’t help but wonder if Raithe and Malcolm were simply about to turn into another Royce and Hadrian, or that Persephone would be another Aristia Essendon but in a new form. As much as I adore Riyria, it obviously wouldn’t do for this new series to be a rehash of some of the same ideas and people, and I had a brief moment where I worried this would be the case. Turns out, I should have trusted in Sullivan. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Age of Myth had everything it needed to stand out on its own, and the characters are all delightfully exceptional. Persephone became a quick favorite, as did the young mystic Suri and her wolf companion Minna. There’s no doubt about it; the strong and capable women of this novel helped make it great.
As well, the world-building was fantastic. New readers will love taking it all in, and for Riyria fans, I think it will feel doubly rewarding. This was an extraordinary opportunity to step back into history of one of my favorite series and relive what really happened. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Millennia before humans started building castles and forging steel, they lived in the wilderness worshiping nature spirits. They feared the Fhrey, who will one day be known and reviled as the elves, but right now they are a powerful race that regarded the Rhune as nothing more than animals. Already, the Fhrey have driven the Dherg (the precursor to dwarves) underground after literally crushing them in a great war. It’s a completely different atmosphere and way of life. But at the same time, there were elements that I immediately recognized, like the names and places that I’ve always associated with being old or in the past, but are actually considered contemporary in this book. Two examples that immediately come to mind are Nyphron and Avempartha. Even without the help of the handy glossary at the end of this book though, it was so easy to just slip into this world and become fully immersed in its beauty and magic.
From the very beginning, this book had my full attention. It follows at least three threads, moving along at a quick pace until they converge to result in an unforgettable finale. No one builds a story like Sullivan, who loves to drop plenty of clues along the way, teasing that moment when everything finally falls into place. This has become his signature touch, which can also be seen in Age of Myth. The scene of the final showdown was unquestionably the crowning glory of this marvelously entertaining novel.
If you enjoy epic fantasy, and are perhaps hungering for something with timeless appeal, then I highly recommend picking up Age of Myth. Newcomers to Michael J. Sullivan’s work will find this to be a perfect place to jump on board, and if you’re already a fan, there’s absolutely no excuse—you must read this book! It’s exciting to know that the entire series has already been written, but also vexing that I can’t get my hands on the sequel until next year. I’m just so thrilled and delighted by this promising new adventure....more
I was never a really good student of history. But my family background being Chinese, I’ve always been taught to embrace my heritage. I grew up listening and adoring the history and legendary tales of Ancient China told to me by my parents and grandparents, who have learned these things themselves when they were children. My great uncle was also fond of watching old Wuxia operas and historical dramas, and he used to record these and leave the tapes at our house for the curious and unsuspecting adolescent me to find. They were…interesting.
It might seem like I’m zipping off on a tangent here, but really, I’m trying my best to explain why I loved this book so much. I read The Grace of Kings with a strange mixture of emotions I’ve never experienced before while reading anything else in my life. It was part giddiness at the familiarity of the topic; the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the subsequent rise of the Han Dynasty being such an important and tumultuous period in China’s classical age, it was instantly recognizable that this interregnum was what Ken Liu was basing his story on. I was like, “Oh, I think I know the story or legend that inspired this scene/character/event, etc.” pretty much every few chapters.
I was also very moved, and I struggle to find the words to explain this. In essence, seeing what the author has done here – taking these snippets of legends and tales from history that I’ve grown up with and incorporating into this novel, forming this wondrous piece of literature – at times it was too much to take. Many of the side stories in The Grace of Kings had the feel and atmosphere of the old anecdotes my elders shared with me when I was younger. At times I got so sentimental that I was nearly moved to tears. It’s also a beautiful book. Anyway, personal aside over. I don’t usually get sappy in my reviews, but I just don’t know how else to describe how much reading this novel affected me. I saw Ken Liu take a historical narrative that I know and love, and transform it into this gorgeous work of art.
While The Grace of Kings is a combination of East Asian sources with Western elements, that’s only just the beginning. It’s also a blend of storytelling traditions from various other cultures and historical eras along with elements from epic fantasy, mythology, and even a bit of steampunk action with airships and war kites and airborne duels thrown in. The novel’s themes speak to the human condition, exploring the corrupting force of absolute power and the chaos that inevitably follows great change, but the original and poignant execution by Liu gives it all a fresh and new perspective.
Indeed, the novel is different from a lot of today’s mainstream fantasy. Expressive modes of storytelling aside, a lot of the nuances can also be attributed to the writing style. It took a long time for me to read The Grace of Kings, for as fervently as I would have liked to devour this book, it just can’t be rushed. In this sense, Liu’s writing reminds me a lot of Guy Gavriel Kay, another author of historical fantasy whose work I greatly admire and respect. Like Kay again, Liu’s evocative prose feels almost like poetry, meant to be savored. In between the major perspectives like those of Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu, Liu also inserts mini-narratives from those around the main characters. A pantheon of gods stand witness to a group of people whose lives have been touched by the two leaders, and by the events surrounding the uprising against the emperor. War is never insignificant or simple; its effects are felt far and wide by everyone, from all walks of life. Each person has a tale to tell.
This collection of narratives therefore makes the widespread conflict feel more realistic, though one downside is that it puts a distance between the reader and the events of the story, making some of scenes featuring significant developments like major victories and defeats feel muted and less impactful. On the other hand, being able to follow a vast network of characters also greatly opens up the world.
That said, the up-close-and-personal relationships are important to the story too. Mata Zyndu appears to be based on the warlord Xiang Yu while Kuni Garu is loosely modeled after Liu Bang, both prominent historical figures during the insurgency in the late Qin Dynasty. Both characters have similar goals during the revolution to overthrow a brutal reign (a friend of mine has playfully compared this to Game of Thrones, calling it “Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon: The Early Years”), but then later on they come to blows. The story immediately picked up for me after the two of them meet, and it just took off from there.
Ken Liu deftly chronicles the relationship between Kuni and Mata, contrasting them and emphasizing their ideological differences from the beginning, despite their easy friendship. Things don’t slow down even after the overthrow of Erishi, Emperor Mapidéré’s weak heir. Honorable, ruthless Mata is often at odds with the fun-loving and merciful Kuni, and the conflict finally boils over in the mayhem that follows. After all, there are many ways to wage a war, with honor and guile being two sides of the same coin. Just when you think things are winding down, the true excitement begins. My favorite character doesn’t even make her first appearance until around the three-quarters mark: Gin Mazoti, who was an orphan born to a prostitute and survived a rough childhood on the streets to become the greatest military strategist the world has ever seen. Gin stormed onto the page amidst the chaos, and I fell in love with her character immediately. I could probably write a whole page about how awesome she is, but there are certain things best left to surprise.
The greatest stories are those that stir both the heart and mind, and The Grace of Kings is one of those rare novels that accomplishes this feat magnificently. Ken Liu gives readers a lot more than just a story about epic battles, friendship and betrayal, compassion and cruelty; he also inspires. After reading this book I wanted to dig deeper into the historical period that the story was based on, to give myself more context to the tales and legends I’ve always heard about. Highly recommended for epic fantasy fans looking to venture beyond traditional boundaries, and for all readers who love being immersed in incredible breathtaking worlds....more
This book had the distinction of being on both my most anticipated SFF lists for 2014 and 2015, due to the publisher’s decision to push its release date back a year in order to give N.K. Jemisin more time to work on the sequels. So it was with no small amount of excitement when an advance copy finally made it into my hands. Proof that it was really happening.
And oh boy, was it TOTALLY worth the wait.
Initially though, my feelings were mixed after the first few chapters. There was that cryptic prologue, with its smattering of information about the world (then right away saying that none of these places or people I just read about actually matter – wait, what?) as well as the curious narrative style, including one character whose chapters were written entirely in the second person. That choice eventually makes sense, by the way, but at first I really wasn’t sure what to make of the book.
But then gradually, everything started to come together. I watched as connections were made, questions were answered, and blank spaces were filled in. The final result was this unique and wholly imaginative novel that delighting me to no end. The world-building elements which so confounded me at the beginning of the book eventually became clear, and I came to recognize the sheer ingenuity behind it.
The Fifth Season takes place on a continent known as The Stillness, ironically named given the instability of its geology and tectonics. The world would have fallen to pieces many times over if not for the Orogenes, a group of people with the powers to manipulate earth energies and shape the land. In reality though, The Stillness has actually gone through multiple apocalyptic events called “Seasons”, each one characterized by its specific end-of-the-world effects. It’s the norm for this world, but Orogenes do what they can to make it better, preventing many earthquakes or volcanic eruptions by catching anomalies in time before they can cause widespread destruction.
Yet for all that they do for humanity, Orogenes are feared, shunned and subjected to hostility and violent treatment. Their powers can be as unstable and catastrophic as the disasters they try to prevent, especially if the individual cannot learn control. Orogeny is also unpredictable. There’s a genetic predisposition for it, though theoretically anyone can be born an Orogene, so children discovered with the trait are immediately taken away for harsh and rigid training. However, there are also the unfortunate ones that don’t even make it that far before they’re murdered by their scared or panicky neighbors – or even by their own parents.
Essun experienced this in the worst way possible, coming home one day to find the lifeless body of her young son, beaten to death by her husband. An Orogene in hiding, Essun realizes with grief and horror what must have caused the father to kill the boy. Now Essun fears for the life of her daughter whom her husband has kidnapped, and she is determined to go after them. This is her story, a heartbreaking and beautifully written narrative of a woman’s journey taken upon for love and revenge. Jemisin may have created a world here full of mind-blowingly fantastical elements, but she hasn’t left us wanting in the character department either, giving us an emotionally raw, very human tale.
I have to say the characters are truly wonderful. The Fifth Season follows three perspectives: Essun, a rogue Orogene whose only quest now is to get her daughter back; little Damaya, taken away by an Orogene handler called a Guardian to Yumenes where she will be trained to control her powers; and Syenite, a young woman paired with a more experienced mentor in order to learn from him and breed with him, ensuring that the next generation will have talented Orogenes to keep The Stillness safe. All three threads are so engaging and poignantly detailed, each one giving the reader a distinct reason to care about these strong yet conflicted characters. It was also wonderful to see the bigger picture they formed in the end.
Finally, I have a confession to make. While this is my first Jemisin novel, years ago I actually started to read A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms around the time it came out, but for whatever reason I put it down and didn’t get a chance to pick it up again. I have every intention of going back to the book one of these days, but for obvious reasons I didn’t count it as being “read”. I did, however, feel like I got enough to get a feel for her writing, and now reading The Fifth Season in 2015, I can see how far her skill has come since her debut. With such rich world-building, relatable characters and compelling storytelling, I just knew I had to see all that through to the end, and the conclusion was a real surprise, both marvelous and disquieting.
I’m so glad I read this. The Fifth Season is the first novel of The Broken Earth trilogy, and it’s a strong introduction to a brand new world featuring some very fascinating, very special characters. Highly recommended. It’s definitely not going to be an easy wait for the next book....more
A really odd sensation is coming over me right now. I’ve just finished The Traitor Baru Cormorant and I’m sitting down to write this review, struggling to find the right words to describe my journey with this book. It all started even before I picked up the novel, since I’d been seeing so many of my fellow readers talk about it in the weeks leading up to its release, and quite frankly, a lot of the stuff I heard scared the hell out of me.
Economic machinations? An accountant as the main protagonist? And oh will you look at that, there are even financial math metaphors in the book’s official publisher description. It was really not looking good at all. I love the idea of a geopolitical epic fantasy, but I personally have no interest in a game of ledgers and numbers. Stuff like that just doesn’t appeal to me, it just makes me want to run for the hills.
But on the other hand, there are a lot of things that sounded good too. A tragic tale of revenge. Deep, multi-faceted characters. Immersive world-building and political intrigue. A thought provoking presentation of societal themes and issues like gender and sexuality. All this was enough to overcome my reservations, so in the end I just decided to take a leap of faith and simply let myself fall into this book, fully prepared to find myself broken and bloodied on the ground when I finish.
Well, I’m done now. And the only thing broken and bleeding is my heart.
(Totally worth it, by the way.)
What can I say, I was drawn to the main character Baru from the very first page. I loved the voice Seth Dickinson gave his young protagonist, who is only a little girl at the beginning of this story, watching her country of Taranoke become conquered by the Masquerade. Real world history is full of examples of empires swallowing up entire nations using commercial trade, re-education, cultural assimilation and other methods that Baru observes as her home’s identity is gradually chipped away. Possessing a sharp intelligence and an eye for hidden designs below the surface, she grows up within the enemy’s system, outwardly embracing their ways while secretly biding her time in patience until she can exact her revenge.
Her talents have not gone unnoticed. As one of the Masquerade’s most promising young graduates, Baru is posted to a distant nation which has proven to be the ruin of anyone foolish enough to attempt to tame it. Socially, politically, economically, the land of Aurdwynn is a mess, an unruly quagmire of mercurial dukes and treacherous bureaucrats, the population teetering on the brink of rebellion. With little knowledge of the local ways or customs, Baru is nonetheless tasked to bring order to the chaos as Aurdwynn’s newest imperial accountant—another test from the almighty Masquerade.
Oh Baru, Baru, Baru. How I adored Baru. Some characters just have this way of getting under your skin. I doubt Baru and I would have gotten along in real life; she is simply too formal, too distant, and too devious for my liking. She also has this tendency to see everything in terms of pros and cons, gains and losses, and to prioritize final results above all else, which is the complete opposite of my personality. But somehow, she really worked for me as this book’s protagonist. By all rights she should have frustrated me to no end or bored me to tears, and yet I found a lot to like about her past that cold, calculating mind. So much of the story is driven by Baru; she’s what made it so fascinating. I was drawn to her strange and unique persona, and found myself enthralled with experiencing everything through the eyes of someone who’s a mystery to me, someone who I also really wanted to understand.
Still, I’m not going to lie; there were definitely moments where I struggled, especially throughout the middle part of this book. I did what I feared and became bogged down by the minutiae of economics and then became frustrated when I just couldn’t keep up. Whether she was navigating the sticky politics of Aurdwynn or helping to organize a rebellion, Baru seemed to relish in tackling everything the same way: like she’s running a business. Which I suppose is how her character’s mind works, with an eye for the bottom line, but it certainly didn’t help make reading this book any easier. Who knows though, you might find yourself really taking to the financial politics, revenue discussions, and the balancing of surpluses against deficits, but if you’re like me and find your attention flagging over some of the details, all I can say is try to persevere and try not to lose sight of the big picture. The best has yet to come.
Which brings me to Tain Hu, Aurdwynn’s rebel duchess of Vultjag. From the moment she uttered the words “My Lady, command me” I was in her spell. There are so many ways I can describe the relationship between Baru and Tain Hu and how I feel about the two of them. Exhilarating, complicated, exquisite. Touching, dangerous, heart-wrenching. And yet none of these words seem quite adequate. The beauty of their connection defies all description. There is simply nothing I can compare it to. Their story is one for the ages, and I loved every moment they were on the page together.
This is a book you can really lose yourself in. As conflicted as I was about Baru’s character, I did very much want to see her succeed. I just didn’t know the costs. I didn’t realize how deep I was in, until it was too late. Sure, The Traitor Baru Cormorant might not have been the easiest read, but I have to give it credit where it counts. As I’m sitting here with this tight, clenching feeling at the pit of my stomach, trying not to scream, I can’t help but think, well, a book that makes me feel like this has to mean something, right? I didn’t love everything about the book, but no doubt about it, I loved everything it made me feel....more
I fell in love with Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars last year, and so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that she would be penning a second book in the new canon, this time an adult novel about Princess Leia herself. And Gray certainly does not disappoint. With Star Wars: Bloodline, she has established herself as a new powerhouse author in the world of Star Wars fiction and become one of my favorite tie-in writers.
Taking place approximately five to six years before The Force Awakens, Bloodline is a novel of watershed moments, featuring our protagonist at a somewhat confusing time in her life. After decades of dealing with politics, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed princess is all but gone, replaced with a more mature and world-weary Leia. The New Republic Senate has proven itself ineffectual in the wake of Mon Mothma’s departure; without the charismatic former chancellor to guide them, endless bickering and rigid faction lines have led to paralyzing gridlock within the government. But while all that is enough to turn even the staunchest senator into a jaded cynic, it should come as no surprise that where matters of peace are concerned, Leia remains wholeheartedly committed to her cause.
New concerns arise when a burgeoning criminal organization comes to the Senate’s attention. A mysterious underworld kingpin has emerged to fill the power vacuum left by the Hutts, and apparently he has friends in high places. Struck by a sudden rush of inspiration, Leia volunteers for a mission to investigate the corruption and ends up being partnered up with another senator from the Centrist faction, rival to her own Populist party. Despite getting off to a rough start, the two eventually learn to work with one another, even earning each other’s friendship and respect, but sadly the same cannot be said for their own political factions. As the relationship between the Populists and Centrists continue to deteriorate, those who want change are calling for the election of a First Senator, a position that would grant one person a great deal of influence and power. Considering her own personal history, that idea does not sit right with Leia at all, even as her own party is pushing her to run for the job.
I like reading tie-ins because of the opportunities they offer, a chance to explore the wider spheres of a universe or meet new characters. Still, it’s also tremendously satisfying now and again to return to the central figures and read about events that are directly related to the Star Wars movies. The Force Awakens was a rollicking adventure and action-driven—but it was also utterly devoid of much political or historical context. Good news, though; if you were one of the many fan who left the theater with questions, then Bloodline just might be the book you’re looking for. This novel manages to fill in quite a few blanks, giving us a glimpse into the political atmosphere in the time between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. See how the first seeds of dissent were sown, which later gave rise to the First Order. Learn all about the dramatic events which ultimately led to the formation of the Resistance, Leia Organa’s answer to tyranny.
However, that’s just the dressings. There’s no doubt that the relationship dynamics between Leia and her fellow senator from across the aisle, Ransolm Casterfo, is what constitutes the real meat of the story here. In her previous Star Wars novel Lost Stars, Claudia Gray gave readers an epic love story between an Imperial officer and a Rebel pilot, two kindred spirits who had to deal with being on opposites sides during the war. In Bloodline, she pulls off something very similar, though this time we’re talking political ideology instead of romance, a Populist versus a Centrist rather than the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance. And yet, the parallels are there. Gray has an incredible talent for giving a balanced portrayal of each side of a conflict, with her Star Wars characters showing that nothing is ever black and white, that friendships can indeed bloom across faction lines, and just because someone is your “enemy” doesn’t mean that you both can’t fight for a common goal. In Bloodline, Leia and Casterfo share one of the deepest, most complex relationships I’ve ever read about in any Star Wars novel.
I also want to take a moment to just geek out over the cover. Stylistically, it’s beautiful and I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it, but after reading this novel, I have to say my appreciation for it has only grown. Without delving too far into spoiler territory, the figure of Leia standing in the “shadow” of her father is one of the most powerful and significant pieces of imagery I’ve ever seen, and it’s simply perfect for this particular story. Leia’s not-so-secret origins have been known to readers for years, belying her deep struggle to come to terms with where she came from, her bloodline. What happens in this books will have far-reaching repercussions for the galaxy and for her family.
What more can I say, other than brava, Claudia Gray! Between her and Christie Golden though, the two of them may have just ruined me forever with Star Wars novels, because I doubt I’ll ever be able to read one again without measuring it up against Lost Stars, Bloodline or Dark Disciple. This was another brilliant book in the new canon, and the last line gave me so many feels. Recommended for all Star Wars fans....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
A departure from his Raven’s Shadow trilogy, Anthony Ryan’s latest novel The Waking Fire is the start of a new series featuring a compelling blend of fantasy, adventure, and intrigue. And if there was one thing I learned from reading Queen of Fire, it’s that Ryan has a talent for writing amazing scenes of battle on the high seas—which are also plentiful in this new book. Then, there are the dragons. Oh, we mustn’t forget the dragons.
In this fascinating new world of The Draconis Memoria, no other commodity is prized above what the people call “product”, a deceptively innocuous term for something in fact truly magical and amazing: Dragon’s blood. By itself, product is unremarkable—volatile and dangerous, even—save for the powers it bestows to a very small slice of the population known as the blood-blessed, those rare men and women who are literally one in a thousand. Their abilities that manifest are so advantageous and formidable, that entire industries have been dedicated to the harvesting of dragon blood, either from hunting the creatures or taking it from those kept in captivity. Unfortunately though, over-exploitation has depleted their numbers in the wild, and those in the Ironship Syndicate who have noticed this weakening have real fears that the ensuing shortage of product will lead to war with their neighbors in the Corvantine Empire.
However, a group in the Syndicate has been clandestinely following up on the whispers of a rare breed of drake. Ancient texts tell of the White, a dragon that is supposed to be far more powerful than the commonplace Reds, Greens, Blacks and Blues. By all accounts, the white dragon is a myth—but there are those who believe with all their hearts that it exists and would do whatever it takes to get their hands on its blood, a treasure worth beyond anything imagined.
The Waking Fire tells a story of how three disparate characters find themselves on a quest to seek this elusive creature of legend. First there’s Claydon Torcreek, who is not just your run-of-the-mill slippery thief. That’s because Clay is also a blood-blessed, albeit unregistered, using his powers to give himself an advantage over his fellow criminals and scoundrels. Then one day, he gets arrested and pressed into his Uncle Braddon’s service. As it happens, Braddon is about to embark on a journey which would require someone of Clay’s talents. Next up is Corrick Hilemore, an officer newly assigned to an ironship, whose captain is in the early stages of testing out a faster, more powerful engine. As a character, Hilemore didn’t really stand out for me, and it was also a while before we saw his sections relate to the overall story. Still, I have to say his chapters were undoubtedly some of the most exciting (see earlier comment about amazing ship battles!) filled with encounters with pirates and with Corvantine enemy forces. But by far my favorite character was probably Lizanne Lethridge, a spy and assassin tasked by her superior to gather intelligence which would help in the hunt for the white drake. Lizanne embodies everything I love about female spy characters—disciplined and efficient, but also smart and independent enough to not blindly follow orders when her gut instinct tells her something isn’t right.
I also enjoyed Anthony Ryan’s dragons, even though they are more incidental than anything, for it is their blood that is the focus on this story. The power that a blood-blessed can summon upon consuming product will depend on the type of dragon the blood came from. A useful maxim to remember is “Blue for the mind, Green for the body, Red for the fire, Black for the push.” The idea of a “gifted” section of the populace being able to gain a variety of physical and mental enhancements or abilities from chugging certain kinds of substances is definitely not new (for instance, Brandon Sanderson’s magic system in Mistborn immediately comes to mind) but I liked how Ryan incorporated the dragon mythos, and he made it conceivable that uncanny powers can be derived from the essence of these magical creatures.
The plot pacing is a bit uneven, but to be fair that’s not something uncommon for a lot of these big epic fantasy novels. I liked that the book hooked me in straight away, the first ten or so pages of the prologue introducing a riddle which sets the tone for the rest of the story. The three character perspectives are well-balanced and explores multiple facets of the story in depth as well as a great deal of what’s happening around the world. If you enjoy fantasy quest narratives and all that comes along with them, then you should also have a great time following Clay, Lizanne and Hilemore on their individual trials and challenges. As with any long journey, the three of them will experience exciting adventures but also plenty of downtime to regroup and recuperate. Always though, the plot presses forward with its intrigues and character development. By the time the book ended, I was practically screaming at that cliffhanger.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I was left with a couple thoughts when I finished. First of all, Anthony Ryan has seriously upped his game. The Waking Fire is proof that his debut trilogy Raven’s Shadow was just a taste of more to come from that brilliant mind of his. And the second thought on my mind of course was: WHEN WILL WE GET THE SEQUEL? I’m definitely on board with this new series!...more
I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.
The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.
However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.
A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.
Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.
Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book....more
Children of Time was my first novel by this author, and wow, what a way to start my initiation into the Adrian Tchaikovsky fan club! I have never read anything quite like this book before, and I have to say the praise it’s gotten has been well deserved. I just loved this.
First of all we have this incredible story, which has everything in place for a space opera of the grandest proportions. Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. Kern herself was forced to be transformed, reduced to an AI mind and a body preserved in stasis. However, her nanovirus, the one intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys, did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders.
Years and years go by. Earth is no more. Desperate humans take to the stars in generation ships like the Gilgamesh to find these terraformed planets their ancestors supposedly prepared for them, but instead of a welcoming home, they find Kern’s World and the repercussions of her genetically engineered virus. For generations, the planet’s inhabitants have been evolving as well, the uplifted spiders developing their own cultures, civilizations and knowledge. It is their world now, and they don’t take kindly to the assumptions of these strange looking humans who think they can just take over and live on their planet.
As a huge life sciences geek, I loved the ideas behind books like Children of Time or what some other science fiction fans call “biopunk”. The chapters aboard the Gilgamesh were compelling with their human drama and fight for survival, but in my opinion, it was the sections about the spiders which were the most fascinating. They were also what made this novel stand out from all the sci-fi I’ve read so far this year. Tchaikovsky details generations of evolution in the spiders’ biology as well as their culture, following compelling characters like the many iterations of Portia as her species develops language, religion, warfare, and other facets of civilization which they pass down to their descendants via a form of genetic memory. As such, they eventually become something akin to spiders but not as we understand them, having been altered by the virus but also by factors specific to their unique physiology. The author deserves extra bonus points too because it takes a real talent to write genuine, relatable and sympathetic non-human characters, and even more when they are effectively overgrown, freaky arachnids. Don’t think you can ever bring yourself to root for a giant spider? There’s a really good chance this book will change your mind.
I was also impressed by the way Tchaikovsky managed to tell this monumental saga—which takes place over thousands of years—without once being sidetracked or losing the story’s main thread. When it dawned on me what the author was trying to do, I didn’t think it was going to work, but oh, it does. In alternating sections, he explores the changes happening on Kern’s World as well as the various side plots unfolding on the Gilgamesh. Most of humanity’s last remnants are frozen in time, traveling in the cargo bay of the ark ship, but we do get to meet and stay with several of the key players like Holsten Mason and Isa Lain who survive the centuries by going in and out of stasis. Culture is evolving in its own way too on the Gilgamesh, and every time Holsten wakes he is hit with another shock of how perspectives and attitudes on the ship have changed since the last time he emerged. It just goes to show, adaptation isn’t something that’s happening only on the surface of Kern’s World, with both the spider and human storylines mirroring and complementing each other in the coolest way possible.
Basically, you have got to read this book. It’s gotten such high ratings for a reason. Children of Time is one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read in years and now I can’t wait to read more by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Audiobook Comments: I loved Mel Hudson’s narration. Having a female reader really highlighted the spider chapters, and Hudson’s voice and accent exuded the perfect amount of acuity and class to bring characters like Portia to life. I don’t think I would have enjoyed myself as much if I had read the novel in print, so needless to say, I highly recommend this audiobook....more
For fans of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, I don’t think there’s any other book coming out this year as highly anticipated as his second novel Armada. The new book is again a novel with pop culture references galore, but whereas Ready Player One was like a love letter to the 80s set in not-too-distant future, Armada takes place in present day with a shift in focus to all things sci-fi and gaming.
Needless to say, as an avid gamer with particular penchant towards massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, I must shamelessly confess to having a natural inclination to stories of this type; more than once, reading Armada made me wish that Eve Online and Dust 514 played like the games described in the book, or that Star Citizen was released already. And I think if you enjoyed Ready Player One, you might enjoy this one too. In many ways the two books are different, but in many ways they are similar as well — both are stories about average young men in the position to save the world, thanks to their super awesome Powers of the Geek!
We begin the story with an introduction to our protagonist Zack Lightman, worrying that he might be losing his mind. Staring outside the window during one his boring senior math classes, Zack spies a flying saucer in the sky, and not just any kind of flying saucer. The spaceship looks exactly like an enemy Glaive fighter in Armada, his favorite first-person space combat flight sim MMO. In the game, players from all over take the role of drone pilots, controlling Earth Defense Alliance ships to do battle with alien invaders. Zack’s been playing the game so much, he’s starting to think he’s hallucinating it in his real life as well.
Turns out, the good news is that Zack’s not crazy. The enemy fighter he glimpsed was as real as it could be. The bad news is, so is the Earth Defense Alliance and the war against the aliens. Governments around the world have known about this imminent attack for decades, and all the science fiction films and video games since the 70s have been preparing humanity for this very moment. Since their inception, online games like Armada and its companion ground-based first-person shooter Terra Firma have been training and honing the skills of potential recruits for the coming battle, right under everyone’s noses. As one of the highest ranked players in Armada, Zack is enlisted with other skilled gamers into the EDA’s forces.
It should have been a dream come true. In fact, the entire book reads like a wish fulfillment fantasy for any gamer who has ever wanted their favorite video game to be real, and to be the big damn hero of their own epic adventure. But still, Zack can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong. For example, if this real, why then are the aliens acting exactly like the way they would in his games and in all the science-fiction movies he grew up with? Zach realizes that life is imitating art when it really shouldn’t be – and it’s this concept that erodes the idea that Armada is just another version of The Last Starfighter but Ernest Cline style. Yes, the author has adapted that theme for his book, but at the same time he’s also subverted it, so that certain sections almost read like a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at what audiences today expect to see out of an alien invasion story.
The story of Armada is thus actually quite clever, despite it being undeniably cheesy. We reach a saturation point with many of its ideas – some of which border on the totally ridiculous – that frequently call for a good deal of suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part (and not least because entrusting the fate of the entire human race to a bunch of regular civilian gamers is a dubious idea; if you even spend three minutes exposed to the general chat of any popular MMO, you can kind of infer why). And yet, the book is also undeniably fun. Simply put, the cheese works. It worked the same way it worked for a film like Galaxy Quest which parodied a lot of well-known Star Trek and sci-fi tropes, but somehow in the end still managed to function incredibly well as its own action-adventure stand alone. The result is that it’s still possible for someone not familiar with gamer culture or references to sci-fi movies like Star Wars (of which there are many) to enjoy Armada. However, writing as an addict to online gaming and all things Star Wars, I think that in many ways Armada can also be seen as lovely tribute to fans.
It does seem, though, that Ernest Cline has chosen his target audience and defined his niche, pressing the same hot buttons that brought him success with Ready Player One. He employs similar gimmicks in Armada, appealing to the reader’s sense of nostalgia while loading the book with lots of movie quotes and injecting a similar style of humor. A lot would depend on the individual reader, of course, but whether audiences will embrace this shtick again or demand something different, I think only time will tell. We’re also focusing less on general 80s this time around, so I think the appeal will also be much narrower, and it’s possible that those who really liked Ready Player One might not find the same enjoyment in Armada.
All told, my own stance is simple: if you’re just looking for a fun read, you’ll get it in spades. While the plot and characters in Armada aren’t particularly deep, the book certainly isn’t aiming to be a literary masterpiece. Instead, it goes for broke, not caring how far it goes in its quest to provide the maximum entertainment value for your time. As a result, Armada ends up being pure, unadulterated escapism. I loved the book, devouring it as soon as I got my hands on it and I sure don’t regret doing so at all. I can think of no other science fiction novel coming out this summer that would make a better beach read....more
I was a bit nervous diving into this book. It seemed to me that in spite of the great number of rave reviews praising Nevernight to high heaven, there are just as many savagely tearing it to pieces. After finishing this book myself though, I could understand a little better why this might be the case. There were times I couldn’t help but wonder what audience this book was intended for, exactly. Maybe the reason why the reviews are all over the place is because the story itself is kind of all over the place—though to be fair, that in itself doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
Nevernight is so titled because it introduces us to a world where its three suns almost never set. Our main character is Mia Corvere, a young woman whose father was a famed military leader until he led a failed rebellion and was consequently executed along with the rest of his followers. Mia was seized along with her mother and little brother, but she managed to escape, surviving alone for the next few years in the cold, merciless shadows of the city.
Well, not entirely alone. Mia knows there’s something very different about her, but she doesn’t really understand it. She has powers to cloak herself in darkness, which helps her hide from those hunting her. She is also always accompanied by a shadowy presence, a cat-shaped familiar she has come to call Mister Kindly because the not-cat has come to her assistance more times than she can count. As well, Mia has the help of her mentor, a shady man named Mercurio. Driven by the desire for vengeance on her father’s enemies, Mia ends up following her teacher’s instructions to a secret academy for assassins because she knows that in order to get at her targets, she’ll have to be the very best.
Along the way, she meets an enigmatic boy who simply calls himself “Tric”. It soon becomes clear to Mia that both of them are seeking the same thing—the Red Church, where the Republic’s most ruthless killers are made. However, to be inducted among their ranks is an honor only few attain. Not only is the competition fierce, the trials that the students must go through are also difficult and often deadly. To have her revenge, Mia will need to first pass all the Church’s tests to gain status as a full-fledged Blade—if she can even survive that long to do it, that is.
This isn’t my first experience with Jay Kristoff’s work; in fact, I really enjoyed his Lotus War trilogy, which is why I was pretty excited to start Nevernight. One of the first things I noticed while reading is that the author has made steps to move past his flowery prose—though admittedly, not by much. Kristoff is still very fond of over-embellishing his writing and peppering it with his long, sometimes head-scratchingly complicated metaphors. It clunks up the flow of the story somewhat, but I personally didn’t find it to be a huge problem. Of higher concern, perhaps, are the footnotes that have the potential to be way more distracting if you weren’t expecting them. I can’t even say it’s okay to skip them, because of how much background information they provide in fleshing out the world-building, and often they can be pretty funny. So, the pesky footnotes are just one of those things you have to grin and bear, I’m afraid.
In spite of our teenage protagonist, Nevernight is also most decidedly not a Young Adult novel. It features mature themes and content, including several graphic sex scenes (some of which were pretty awkward…I kind of feel bad for singling that out, but they were just not the best or the sexiest). With regards to my expectations for this book, this is where I stumbled a little. For one thing, this story contains an excessive amount of teen drama for a supposedly adult novel. Also, while I generally love “fantasy school” stories, in Mia’s case, her time at the Red Church felt sort of like one long stopover on her journey for vengeance. Maybe if you’re a YA reader looking for a more mature flavor in your reading, or an adult fantasy reader who wouldn’t mind a bit of high school cafeteria-type shenanigans in your stories, this would be the kind of crossover novel you’re looking for. Personally, it helped me to put myself in that frame of mind.
With all that said, I know I probably sound more negative than positive in this review, but the truth is I really enjoyed Nevernight. It’s not perfect, but it’s also far from being a bad book. I loved the world-building; a lot of effort was clearly put into it. And the plot is wildly entertaining, with plenty of twists and turns, even if they were predictable at times. On the whole, I have to say the book is really quite well-constructed, story-wise. It surely knew how to hold my attention because I could barely tear my eyes away.
Final verdict? Nevernight is not without its flaws, but in spite of them, at the end of the day if I ask myself whether or not I had a good time, the answer is an emphatic yes. Sometimes, that’s all that matters. I’ll definitely continue reading the next installment in the chronicle....more
Speaking as someone who loves to read, I just can’t help but get these warm fuzzy feelings for books about libraries. After all, what could be better for an avid bookworm, than being immersed in a story about a place filled with books, books, and more books?
Well, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library does one even better.
Oh, this book has libraries, all right—interdimensional libraries, established across multiple worlds, all interconnected and run by a secret society of librarian spies! Collectively, this network is known as the Invisible Library, and their members are tasked with the utmost important mission: to procure and archive important works of fiction from all of the different realities, for the purposes of preservation and research.
Our protagonist is Irene, a junior librarian agent. When the book opens, Irene is just returning home to the Library, having completed her latest assignment in the field and looking forward to some time off. However, no sooner had she reported in than she is given a new mission. This time, her superiors are sending her off to an alternate London where magic and steampunkish technologies dominate. Furthermore, Irene is given a new assistant, a mysterious young man named Kai. Together, they are to retrieve a rare book of fairy tales and bring it back to the Library before it can fall into the wrong hands.
Yet by the time Irene and Kai arrive at their destination, they find that the book has already been stolen. Tangled in a mystery involving vampires and fae, killer automatons and dashing detectives, it soon becomes clear they are on no ordinary mission.
As soon as I heard the premise, I just knew I had to check it out! This novel ended up being an incredibly fun book which uses the idea of parallel worlds to great effect, allowing the reader to ponder its infinite possibilities. This particular story takes us to an alternate London with magic and paranormal creatures, but then who knows what might come next? The potential here is simply staggering. And of course, the Library itself is also fascinating concept, with librarians who can work magic by using a secret Language. Their order’s primary purpose raises some important questions—questions that I was glad to see are ultimately addressed by the main character. For instance, what responsibilities, if any, does the Library have? What good is keeping a vast store of knowledge after all, if you don’t ever apply the information you learn? Is it even ethical what Irene and her peers are doing, plundering alternate realities for important books with no thought to what will happen to the worlds and their people? The argument is that a love for books should be good enough, but is it really?
That Irene is willing to consider these questions shows that she is different from a lot of her fellow librarians. Despite being born to life in the Library, she’s also not one to follow its rules blindly, making her a flexible agent who can think quickly on her feet. Still, her loyalty is beyond reproach. Even when faced with a competitor trying to steal credit for her work, Irene will never let pride or anything else get in the way of her mission, thinking instead of the greater goal. When the stakes are this high, it’s nice to have such a smart, efficient and good protagonist at the helm.
Still, in spite of the interesting ideas and thoughtful themes, the plot of The Invisible Library is relatively simple. It’s also a light read that has the distinct feel of being the first book a series, with room to grow in terms of character development and world-building. I for one would love to see more of the Library itself, and to learn more about its inner workings. Several of the secondary characters could use some fleshing out as well, including Vale, who is currently shaping up to be a romantic interest for Irene. For all that she is attracted to his Sherlock Holmes-like persona, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Vale’s character grow a bit further past the “great detective” archetype. Similarly, the villain feels too lightly sketched at the moment, and needs to become more than just a bogeyman-type character for me to feel like he is a true threat, though by the end of the book I think we’re taking a step in the right direction.
While there’s no denying The Invisible Library is a book more about action than substance, I can hardly complain about that! The story is loads of fun, the characters are great, and the concept holds lots of promise. Any weaknesses I felt were very minor, and I have a feeling subsequent novels in this series will have everything covered. I had an amazing time with this book, which I would heartily recommend to all bibliophiles and lovers of “books about books”. Looking forward to the sequel! ...more
Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Years ago when I was still mostly reading fantasy and wanted to get into science fiction, I’d made the initial mistake of starting my journey with a couple of “classic” titles that nonetheless made me feel like I was in way over my head. It wasn’t until the moment I picked up the first Old Man’s War book that I realized the element I’d been missing: FUN. Turned out, Scalzi’s storytelling was exactly what I needed at the time—the riveting drama of interplanetary politics combined with the violent thrills and action in space, presented alongside a sense of casual, easy humor. His writing was completely accessible, yet there was still enough “hard science” in the story to make a newcomer like me feel like I was immersed in a bonafide space opera. I guess you could even say it was one of my gateway book into genre, since it helped open my eyes to many more possibilities and directly resulted in me trying more sci-fi.
So why am I telling you all this, you say? Well, it’s because Scalzi has done it again. The Collapsing Empire marks his strong return to space opera with a fresh start in this series opener, introducing readers to a new universe, new characters, and a whole new set of rules. At first, I was a little apprehensive about whether I would take to it as fondly as the books in the Old Man’s War sequence, but all my skepticism went out the window as soon as I finished the book and found myself once more filled with that familiar sense of marvel and excitement.
To understand what The Collapsing Empire is about, one must also have to understand one of the key concepts behind the book’s universe, that of The Flow. For almost as long as the space opera genre has existed, science fiction authors have been coming up with creative and practical ways for their characters to travel the vast distances between stars. In this book though, the catch is that the universe is still bound by the rules of physics, so no faster-than-light travel is possible. However, humanity has also discovered an extra-dimensional network of pathways that can be accessed at certain spatial-temporal points, drastically decreasing the travel time between star systems that are connected. This is what is known as The Flow. While its nature limits the options in terms of which systems can be colonized, humanity has nonetheless built a vast empire using this network called the Interdependency, so named because the first emperox decreed that all human settlements connected by The Flow need each other to flourish and survive.
But just like a river, The Flow is dynamic, always moving and changing course. It might happen over hundreds or thousands of years, but sooner or later The Flow is bound to shift, potentially cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. It has already happened to Earth, a long time go in the past. More recently, a few hundred years ago, it also happened to a world belonging to the Interdependency. But now, the empire is about to discover that—again, like a river—The Flow also has the potential to dry up completely. Already, parts of The Flow are starting to destabilize, and Flow physicists are estimating that a complete collapse will happen within ten years, which would inevitably lead to the destruction of the entire Interdependency.
True to form, Scalzi knows how exactly how to hook the reader. By introducing the concept of The Flow and its impending collapse, he has killed two birds with one stone—first by setting up an extremely cool premise, and next establishing an intense and nail-bitingly riveting scenario. As you would imagine, this story has a love of moving parts. Like any empire, there are many dukedoms in the Interdependency, and among them the usual alliances and secret backstabbing. A certain House is seeing this instability as a power grab opportunity, while others are more concerned with preparing for the eventual collapse and saving lives. Because of the distance between the colonies, up-to-date information also takes a long time to communicate, resulting in widespread misinformation, rumors, and star systems only getting bits and pieces of the whole picture. And if that wasn’t enough, the old emperox has just died, passing on his rule to an untrained and inexperienced daughter. Yep, queue the utter chaos.
That said, it would be a mistake to sell the new emperox short. Cardenia Wu-Patrick is a wonderful new protagonist, and while she may lack the raw strength and power of a character like Jane Sagan from the Old Man’s War series, her admirable traits lie more in compassion for her people and her willingness to learn. As unprepared as she is to lead the Ascendency (especially in the confusion and mayhem of its final days), she still manages to handle the politics of it rather well. Certainly she stood out more to me than the rather undistinguished Marce or the brash Lady Kiva Lagos—the latter of whom was only remarkable for her talent to throw the word “fuck” into every other sentence, but otherwise I thought she was pretty bland. Admittedly, character development is not an area I would say the author is strongest, but it is my hope still that the main players will grow in depth as the series continues.
As I’ve alluded to before though, what I believe Scalzi excels in is the writing of massively entertaining and addictive stories—and The Collapsing Empire is no exception. There’s nothing elegant about the writing, but it is so easy to get into thanks to Scalzi’s minimalist and in-your-face style, which is often tinged with a healthy dose of snark. I also read his books for the cool ideas—and “cool” most definitely describes the concept of The Flow. Apart from that, I also really liked the idea of the Memory Room where an emperox can seek advice directly from their predecessors by accessing their stored memories and personality patterns.
All this simply drives home the fact that we’re now in brand new territory. And I’m loving what I see. I never really expect a series to knock me off my feet right out of the gate, and in truth, The Collapsing Empire does have the feel of a “book one” whose main job is to set the stage for bigger things to come in the sequel or beyond, but I am not displeased in any way. Far from it, in fact—I am practically ecstatic with the potential I’ve seen, and I can hardly wait to see what will happen next....more
Wow! What a long way these characters have come since The Emperor’s Blades, and also what great strides Brian Staveley has made as a writer and storyteller. Epic does not even begin to describe this dramatic third and final installment in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, which brings everyone back together for one explosive finale.
Things sure weren’t looking too good for the three imperial siblings, last we left them at the end of The Providence of Fire. (Warning! Possible spoilers ahead for the first two books if you haven’t read them yet!) Kaden, the heir who was set to inherit the throne after the assassination of his father Emperor Sanlitun, has decided instead to dissolve his rule, creating a republic instead. The problem? None of his counselors can set their ambitions and differences aside to work together. Meanwhile, the empire is crumbling at the edges and hordes of invaders are marching their way towards the capital. Adare has no choice but to rely on her former-lover-turned-nemesis General Ran il Tornja to hold off the Urghul, who are now being led by a powerful and cruel leach. And finally, there’s Valyn, who probably has it worst of all. Betrayed, blinded, and thrown from a tower, he was left for dead to fend for himself in the Urghul-infested wilderness.
I was also happy to see Gwenna return with her own POV chapters. She was one of the best surprises in the previous book, and she’s back now to show the Malkeenians how to get shit done. If you love what you see on this book’s insanely gorgeous cover, then you most definitely will not be disappointed. There is plenty of Kettral action in here, and with Valyn lost to the wing, things have gotten even more intense now that Gwenna has assumed the leadership. She more than proves her strength and capability in this novel, taking back the order and rebuilding its ranks with only a group of washouts and rejects at her command.
Indeed, without Gwenna, this book would have been darker and even more despairing. “Broken” is the theme for The Last Mortal Bond, with the three royal children floundering in their own respective ocean of problems. Talk about your dysfunctional family. Ever since the first book, I’ve been intrigued by the dynamics between Adare, Kaden and Valyn, and even though Emperor Sanlitun is dead and barely appears in this series except in memories and flashbacks, it’s still stunning to see how his choices for his children have had such profound effects on their lives and on their relationships with each other. With each of them heading in their own direction—and with barely a shred of trust between them—anything could happen at all. And while things did not go the way I expected, the siblings’ long awaited reunion in this final novel is surely not to be missed.
It’s also very interesting when I reflect upon how my feelings for these characters have changed over the course of the trilogy. Brian Staveley has pushed them all to their limits, forcing them into difficult situations where they have to make some tough decisions, and not all of them lead to positive results. Adare really stepped up in the last book, and I was glad to see her carry her role into the events of this one. However, a sheltered lifetime within the palace walls has certainly put her at a disadvantage, and it shows. At times, she frustrated me with her naiveté, but I also felt a deeper sympathy for her when it came to the matter of her infant son. Being a new mother is terrifying enough, but she also had to do it in the middle of a war with a target on her back.
At the very least though, I found Adare’s chapters to be a lot more compelling than her brothers’. As a character, Kaden has always felt distant to me because of his tendency to push aside all emotion, but this book saw him slipping even further away. Meanwhile, Valyn had retreated into the darkness to wallow in his self-pity, yet somehow still managed to emerge as a kind of tortured hero. Clearly, Sanlitun’s children have not benefited too much from the paths he has chosen for them. Hands down, the indisputable winner here was Gwenna, who ended up stealing the show with her brilliant side plot and incredible character growth. Please, Mr. Staveley, if you ever decide to revisit this world, a series or even a one-off tale about Gwenna and the Kettral would make my dream come true!
As for the story itself, we all know what a tricky thing it is to wrap up an epic fantasy series, but Staveley takes to it so naturally that it’s hard to believe this is his debut trilogy. He never once loses sight of his goals and is always in control, driving the plot forward so that the pacing never falters even through the frequent perspective changes. Amazingly, each character arc has its own rising action and climax, and yet all four POVs end up come together for a seamless, spectacular conclusion in the final pages.
For readers of epic fantasy and fans of complex worlds and characters, I highly recommend checking out this series. Reading these books and discovering Brian Staveley’s talent has been an immense pleasure and delight; I am only sad that the trilogy is over now....more
I fucking loved this book. The Grey Bastards went down like a shot of good top-shelf tequila: warm and smooth, but with one hell of a spicy kick. If SPFBO has taught me any lessons, it’s that you never know what you’re going to get when you pick up a self-published novel, but many stars aligned to make this one work immensely well for me. It happened to perfectly fit my tastes, for one. With a title and cover like that, you can be sure this dark epic fantasy will have plenty of grit and violence. Throw in some breakneck pacing and a dash of that crude and vulgar brand of humor, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good time.
The story follows a half-orc named Jackal who is sworn to the The Grey Bastards hoof, one of the eight brotherhoods of former slaves that now live on the land known as the Lots. Shunned by humans but also hostile to the orcs, the mongrel bands are all that’s left standing between the city of Hispartha and the forces that want to see it fall.
Life among the hoofs has its own trials, however. Long has Jackal wanted to challenge their warchief Claymaster for leadership of The Grey Bastards, but because a failed bid can mean his own death, our protagonist is prepared to wait until he has more support beyond that of his good friends, Oats and Fetch.
Still, that was before their so-called allies started turning against them, or before the Claymaster started sparing their orc enemies instead of swiftly dispatching them, and certainly before before a wily wizard named Crafty managed to weasel his way into the warchief’s good graces. More and more, Jackal is noticing erratic behavior in their gnarled and plague-ridden leader, reaffirming his beliefs that the old half-orc should be deposed. The final straw finally comes in the form of an elf girl named Starling, whom Jackal rescues from a terrible fate. Vehemently disagreeing with the Claymaster on their next course of action, Jackal feels he has no choice but to throw down his ax—thus declaring his challenge and sealing his fate for the inevitable course of turmoil to come.
So yeah, I liked this book. I liked it a lot. And thing is, there isn’t any one aspect of the story that I can single out and claim that I liked the most, since it was the culmination of all of its parts—and all at once—that made The Grey Bastards such a memorable and spectacularly good read. I enjoyed how the plot started small before snowballing to become something much bigger, and at no point did it take a step back or even pause for a breather; there was only aggressive forward motion, constantly driving forward.
I’ll also admit a love for reading dark fantasy featuring raw, gritty, foul-mouthed and violence-seeking characters—call me old softie, but I reserve a special place in my heart for these kinds of anti-heroes. However, an author can wind up with a whole cast of virtually indistinguishable characters if they’re not careful, which is a common pitfall for books in this genre. Fortunately though, French manages to avoid this problem in The Grey Bastards, giving all his half-orc characters their own unique and individual personalities. Jackal is our main protagonist, with his lofty ambitions which can sometimes blind him to other perspectives around him. In part, this book is the story of how he finally opens his eyes to see the big picture, but the journey to get there is a tough one indeed. Lucky for Jackal, he has his friends to back him up. Oats is a thrice (so called because they are three-quarters orc, making them physically larger than their half-orc brethren) who is as loyal as they come, and rounding out the inseparable trio is Fetch, the only female in the Grey Bastards who had to fight tooth and nail for her position in the hoof. Like all friendships, the three of them have their ups and downs, but the well-developed relationships between them made these dynamics very convincing.
In terms of story, The Grey Bastards was a book that pulled me in straight away. It’s fun and exciting, full of unexpected twists and turns, though I feel I have to warn prospective readers that this is not one for the faint of heart. If you are easily turned off by brutal graphic violence or crude and offensive language, then this is probably not for you. French pulls no punches in this vicious and no-holds-barred world full of orcs, humans, elves, halflings, and even centaurs all fighting one and another, with scenes of skirmishing and great battles punctuating the narrative every few chapters. This sets a very fast and readable pace with rich world-building that is not so much inserted as it is integrated into the story, often done in a seamless way that is in context with the events playing out on the page. This has got to be one of the most interesting and fleshed-out fantasy worlds I have ever read, and the author made it all seem so effortless.
In case you couldn’t tell, I am beyond impressed with The Grey Bastards. In reading it I got to experience a strikingly vivid world come to life before my eyes, populated by characters who are at once wild and wonderful. Jonathan French is a fantastic writer and talented storyteller who has created a very special gem here, and the story even ends with potential for our characters to engage in more future adventures. Here’s hoping Jackal and his fellow Bastards will get a sequel soon, because you can bet I’ll be all over that....more
Damn it, Sebastien de Castell, keep this up and you’ll end up giving all your readers heart attacks, because this book simply DOES NOT STOP. Practically every page is filled to the brim with swashbuckling action, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and laugh-out-loud hijinks from our magnetic hero Falcio val Mond and his loyal band of companions. In other words, this was exactly the kind of sequel I wanted! Saint’s Blood pulls out all the stops in this newest installment of the Greatcoats series, bringing all our favorite characters back for another round of epic excitement and adventure.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse for Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, the situation in Tristia plunges further into disaster. The country was already on the verge of tearing itself apart, with its people close to revolt and the dukes still looking for ways to depose their young queen, and nothing the Greatcoats have been doing for the last six months seems to have made any difference. Now a new threat has emerged, and whoever their shadowy enemy is, they’re targeting the Saints of Tristia. To Falcio’s horror, the first victim they find is none other than Birgid the Saint of Mercy. Weakened and dying, all her powers seem to have been negated by a cruel iron mask locked around her face to prevent her from fighting back against her attackers.
On top of the murdered Saints, rumors are also spreading through the countryside that the Gods themselves are displeased with the way things are going in Tristia, further undermining Aline’s claim to the throne. Churches and religious sanctuaries are being desecrated everywhere and thousands of pilgrims are pouring into the capital campaigning for their faith, leading to the return of the Inquisitors, a holy order of warriors charged to enforce the Gods’ Laws. Unfortunately, the Greatcoats and the Inquisitors don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of matters. Whoever is orchestrating all these events—which are too well-timed to be coincidental—seems bent on bringing back the conditions to turn the country back into a theocracy, which would undo everything the late King Paelis had worked so hard to accomplish.
Well, you can bet Falcio’s not about to let that happen. And while his quest to bring the King’s Laws back to Tristia may seem more hopeless now than ever before, he’s got his old friends to count on to help him out, not to mention a new ally or two to keep things fresh (five words: I love you, Quentis Maren!) As always, I adore the usual suspects, starting with the down-to-earth Kest and the hilarious Brasti, Falcio’s two best friends. Our terrific trio maintains the heart of this series, fueling the novel’s energy and running jokes. Then there’s the fantastic cast of female characters. Though Aline, Valiana, and Darriana all have smaller roles in this book, Ethalia gets to step up and become a force to be reckoned with. I even enjoyed witnessing the transformation of those we used to think of as villains, such as the mercurial Duke Jillard.
As you can see, the characters in these books are always growing, their relationship dynamics constantly in flux. As a character-oriented reader, I can never get enough of seeing them adapt and form new bonds. Falcio is a man who draws people into his orbit and changes them without him or any of them even noticing it, but he also has a major blind spot when it comes to those closest to him. His powerful need to protect the important people in his life—especially the women, who most of the time don’t even want or require his stepping in—is something I find to be an ongoing conflict in spite of the other evolving aspects of his personality, and I hope it will resolve in time as he realizes that he need not save the world all by himself, and that his friends are definitely stronger than he thinks they are.
Story-wise, Saint’s Blood follows in much the same vein as the previous novel, but for me, there was a key difference. Looking back, I didn’t rate Knight’s Shadow as highly as the first book Traitor’s Blade because I felt the plot meandered somewhat, and perhaps didn’t flow as naturally as it could have. However, Saint’s Blood takes things back on track, hitting the ground running and never once does it stray from its course.
Moreover, the book is playing to its strengths, focusing on the type of in-your-face action and humor that first drew me to Traitor’s Blade. Granted, no one said that this series would be all sunshine and lollipops, and in fact, Falcio’s dogged tenacity in the face of dark times and overwhelming odds is what makes these novels so addictive and fun to read. But Knight’s Shadow took the darkness and hopelessness to extremes, with chapters devoted to scenes of torture and suffering, and I won’t deny that it put a major damper on things. It’s probably no surprise then, that what I appreciated most about Saint’s Blood is the fact it brings back the balance, presenting another nigh impossible challenge for the Greatcoats while still keeping the atmosphere lighthearted and adventurous. I laughed more than I did for either of the previous books, and all the funny moments and rousing fist-pumping scenes reminded me all over again why I fell in love with this series.
Needless to say, this was an incredible sequel on all levels, echoing the exciting fast-paced structure of Knight’s Shadow while bringing back the themes and vibes that made Traitor’s Blade so successful. Wildly entertaining and thoroughly intense, Saint’s Blood is the kind of book that makes you wish all epic heroic fantasy can be this awesome. This is the genre at its finest and Sebastien de Castell is to be congratulated for bringing us another fantastic installment to the Greatcoats saga. Honestly, I’m not sure how I will survive the wait for book four....more
I’ve never actually read Robert Jackson Bennett before City of Stairs, despite owning several books by him (and I can see there’s my copies of The Troupe and American Elsewhere on my shelf right now, glaring down at me balefully as if to ask, “Why haven’t you read me yet?”) So though the name of the author is familiar to me, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that this book’s description was tantalizing in its promise of an atmospheric, immersive fantasy world, with a touch of the otherworldly and bizarre. As it turns out, City of Stairs is all that and more, being a sophisticated and cerebral cocktail of a multitude of different genre elements, including magic, mystery, and philosophy.
Years ago, magic was lost in the central city of Bulikov, then known as the Seat of the World, when its Divinities were killed by a Saypuri hero known as the Kaj. Throwing off the yoke of the Continentals, the Kaj led the rebellion to victory, conquering their conquerors and passing the Worldly Regulations which outlawed the possession and use of divine objects and miracles, even the worshipping of the old gods. With the passing generations, Bulikov went from being a shining capital to just another colonial outpost of world’s new authority
The story begins with the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the visiting Saypuri scholar who stationed himself in Bulikov to study and document the city’s history to the outrage of the locals who are prohibited from doing so themselves. Enter Shara Komayd, officially there as a lowly ambassador to smooth over matters, but she is not without her own secrets. A direct descendent of the great Kaj, Shara is really one of Saypur’s most accomplished spies, and she is determined to discover the truth behind the murder of the historian, who was also a very close personal friend.
First, let’s talk about the world-building, which is in a word: phenomenal. Admittedly, I wasn’t really convinced I was going to like this book from its first 50 pages or so. The story was slow to take off, but in truth, this had a lot to do with the author’s meticulous efforts to plunge the reader into the intricacies of his setting. Bennett has created many layers of context for this world and has left no stone unturned when it comes to achieving the effect of a living, breathing, working society with the kind of history that Bulikov’s people have endured. Everything from politics to religion has been touched upon, giving us a clear idea of the mood of the city.
The plot didn’t gain momentum until around after the first third of the book, but I can’t say I ever lost interest in reading, being completely captivated by the complexity of the world. Before the Kaj, the six Divinities of the Continentals each had their own worshippers, living by the rules and ideologies of the god they followed. After the Divinities were killed, Bulikov was also devastated by an event known as the Blink, causing chunks of the city to disappear or warp and resulting in a section filled with giant staircases that went nowhere, but which gave the book its title. There’s a lot of history here, not to mention the magic and the miracles described in this novel, which are just so creative and unique.
I also adored the characters. I have a feeling Shara’s companion, the unforgettable and indomitable Sigrud will be a clear fan favorite for many after reading this novel. However, I have to say the soft spot in my heart must go to Turyin Mulaghesh, the soldier turned governor who after years of dealing with the problems and instabilities and Bulikov just wants to be transferred to a quiet little coastal outpost where she can settle down and spend her days lying on the beach – ambitions be damned. But don’t let that fool you, for she is a force to be reckoned with. I love how this novel features two strong, spirited and over 30 women at the forefront, and they are just two of the many great characters in this refreshingly diverse cast.
It was hard to stop, once the story got going. The initial murder mystery deepens into shady political dealings and conspiracy, which ultimately leads to an incredible climax and final showdown that unfortunately was over far too quickly and neatly. But what an experience it was. And yet, City of Stairs is also about so much more than just the thrills and suspense. Bennett dives into some heavy topics here, exploring the significance of religion, attitudes regarding sexuality, and the ramifications of persecution and oppression.
Like I said, this was my first taste of Robert Jackson Bennett’s writing, and I am impressed. This really is an excellent novel, and it deserves to be a hit this year. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to hear there will be a sequel, since this book is the sort that would open doors to many great and interesting possibilities, and its world simply begs to be further explored. Highly recommended. This is an enjoyable fantasy that also makes you think....more
The year is 1926. In our real world, America would have been in the throes of the “Prohibition era”, a time in the twenties to early-thirties marked by a nationwide ban on the sale, production and importation of alcohol. But in the world of A Criminal Magic, it is sorcery and its related activities and products that are ruled illegal by the passing of the 18th Amendment.
However, the attempt to clamp down on the “evils” of magic only resulted in creating new types of crime—and lots more of it. Activity in the criminal underworld has exploded, with smugglers transporting magical contraband into the country from overseas. Gang bosses have also set up secret dens in the cities where customers can indulge in clandestine magic shows while guzzling the “shine”, an ensorcelled beverage with euphoric but highly addictive effects. In the middle of this are two young people who come from very different beginnings, but both end up walking the path that leads them to working for the notorious Washington D.C. criminal organization known as the Shaw Gang.
Speaking of which, their story brings to mind that old adage about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Both Joan Kendrick and Alex Danfrey are on this journey for similar reasons, hoping to atone for past sins—except the former is in it to do right by her family, while the latter is seeking redemption and revenge. To keep her cousin and little sister fed and sheltered, Joan agrees to work as an entertainer in the Shaws’ finest club, the Red Den. Alex’s history on the other hand is much more complicated, being the son of a businessman who was convicted for racketeering for the mob. A trainee in the Federal Prohibition Unit, Alex was well on his way to becoming just another apathetic and dirty cop when he is suddenly offered the opportunity to turn his life around by acting as a mole to infiltrate the Shaws.
A Criminal Magic offers genuine entertainment. The atmosphere, the suspense and the gorgeous magic is all there, and for the most part it was a smashing hit with me. I am always crazy for alternate history because it is such a thrill seeing what authors can do with the time period, and I just love having new experiences in general. In that sense, this book was everything I wanted and definitely took me on a wild ride. So many of the ideas here electrified me, from the sorcerer’s shine to magical teamwork! It’s an ambitious novel to be sure, but while a thousand and one things could have gone wrong, Kelly pulled it all together beautifully. It was an absolute joy to read her elegant prose and storytelling.
Was the book perfect? No, though I have to say it was damned nearly so. I was most disappointed that the Roaring Twenties didn’t come through as fully as it could have, falling just short of being convincing or immersive. Aside from the occasional mention of men in fedoras and awkward insertions of “dame” in the dialogue, this novel could have taken place anywhere and anytime else. I was able to also foresee most of the story because of its rather shallow plot involving the same old power struggles and betrayals, a timeworn scenario considering how predictably it features in every other gangster movie ever made. If mob films happen to be your thing, you might find portions of the novel overly simplistic and not particularly original (like Alex’s recruitment before graduation and his subsequent stint in prison to increase his credibility, for example, which was plot point a straight out of The Departed.)
Character development also felt a little thin for supporting characters, though Joan and Alex were written very well. Still, they were hard to embrace wholeheartedly because I found both to be so naïve and, in Joan’s case, so self-absorbed. It’s interesting how my feelings for them at the end of the book were a complete turnaround from how I felt about them at the beginning. I loathed Alex with every fiber of my being when he was first introduced, but by the final chapters he had become a favorite. Meanwhile, my opinion of Joan started high but fell with every wrong move and weak excuse she made. Their romance didn’t feel right to me either, almost like forces outside the fourth wall were pushing them into the relationship instead of letting it occur naturally.
Of course, these are all minor issues. None of them are even close to deal breaking, and the book’s magic and stunning climax and conclusion also made up for a lot of them.
A Criminal Magic is an example of great storytelling, with an extraordinarily unique vision. While it didn’t quite meet all my expectations, it’s still a solid novel that I would recommend to others without hesitation. My first book by Lee Kelly was a great experience, and now it’s got me eyeing my copy of her debut City of Savages with hungry curiosity!...more
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. ...more
It’s official; The Liar’s Key is probably my favorite work by Mark Lawrence to date, surpassing even my love for the entire Broken Empire trilogy. It’s also stronger than its predecessor Prince of Fools, which I rated highly as well, but I was never able to shake the feeling that the first book of Prince Jalan’s adventures was still missing a little something – it didn’t read as fluidly as it could have, perhaps. However, The Liar’s Key charges out the gate at full speed and never once does it falter. Chalk it up to the story finding its stride in the second book, but I found this one went a lot more smoothly.
The story picks up again in the port town of Trond, where Jalan and the two Vikings Snorri and Tuttugu have spent the winter after their harrowing journey to the Black Fort. But as the ice retreats, Snorri grows restless to be on the move again, driven by his personal mission to bring his slain wife and children back to the world of the living. He holds Loki’s Key, a magical key said to have the power to open any lock – even the one on death’s door.
But such a powerful item attracts its fair share of attention. Others seek Loki’s Key, including the Dead King, agent of the Lady Blue who has sent her assassins, necromancers and armies of undead to dog Jalan and his companions every step of the way in her war against the Red Queen, Jalan’s indomitable grandmother. In this field full of power players, Jalan and Snorri suspect that the two of them are merely lowly pawns on a game board, yet they do what they must, even if it means heading knowingly into danger.
Consequently, I watched as the story barreled forth with both the inevitability and heart-stopping rush of a runaway tank. I could not peel my eyes away. As our adventurers travel south towards their goal, they pick up two more companions – a witch named Kara and an orphan boy named Hennan – to complete their party and join the quest. Their motivations range from ambition to loyalty, with the exception of Jalan, who was unwillingly bound to Snorri’s fate since the very beginning (even as he keeps telling himself he’s only along for the ride to escape massive gambling debts and the legions of angry brothers, fathers, and husbands of the women he’s bedded back home).
Many reviewers have contrasted Jalan to Jorg Ancrath, the protagonist of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, stating that the two of them are completely different. That’s because they really are, but in this book, I began to see some similarities, not least of all is that fact they are actually both quite disgusting and despicable human beings, just in different ways. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Jalan’s character though, embracing him in a way that I never managed with Jorg. Prince of Fools was an aptly named first novel because Jal is a fool indeed, albeit a very charming, lovable one. He’s the best kind of protagonist; for all his unsportsmanlike behaviors, Jalan’s internal dialogue provides an endless amount of entertainment. This series maintains its much lighter, more humorous tone because of it.
At first, I was convinced that Jal wasn’t going to change, that he would remain the kind of rakish, dandy self-serving cad who would throw a woman into the path of an angry horde or use a child as a human shield (both of which he considered doing in the course of this story. Seriously, I never want to find myself in a position where I’d have to depend on someone like him to have my back). But Lawrence is a master of characterization. We do get to see growth in Jalan, a gradual and thoughtful journey that sees him maturing and growing more courageous (well, to a point, of course – this is Jal we’re talking about). We witness a change in Snorri at the same time as well, though he’s lost a bit of his fire in his case, burdened by what happened to his family and the knowledge of what he must do. I found a great irony in this, since the Viking is the light-sworn one where Jalan is the dark, and yet we see the prince become enlightened while the Viking retreats into his gloom. Regardless of how I took to these changes, I was amazed to see how incredibly well these two characters evolved, and yet they still continue to play off each other very well. Bringing Tuttugu, Kara and Hennan into the fold did nothing to throw off the momentum, and instead added a boatload of new and exciting dynamics.
The Liar’s Key is the kind of sequel every reader dreams about. The story is riveting and superbly well-constructed, just one reason why Mark Lawrence’s writing is such a force to be reckoned with. A pure blend of dark magic and adventure, this book launches Jalan’s saga to a whole new level. It unlocks a whole slew of secrets from his past, raising the stakes for everyone involved. Perhaps my only quibble is the ending and how fast we blew through it, but that’s not even really a true quibble because even now I suspect I only felt this way because I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want it to be over. I have to say I felt that cruel cliffhanger like a punch in the gut, but now I simply cannot wait until the third book comes out....more
There’s so much to say about The Red Queen’s War series, even more so now that I’ve finished this third and final installment and realized to my joy and horror that yes, my time with the remarkable Prince Jalan and his crew has indeed come to an end. Taken as a whole, this trilogy may be Mark Lawrence’s finest work ever, and this stunning conclusion that is The Wheel of Osheim has left me with my mind completely blown.
After we were left with that cruel cliffhanger at the end of The Liar’s Key, I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. And indeed, The Wheel of Osheim is a book that will ultimately reveal all—though admittedly in its own time and in its own way. It’s a story that guards its secrets jealously, opening with a bizarre sequence that sets the beginning of this novel in stark contrast to the terrors experienced by the characters on the journey to get where they are. In fact, if there was ever an award given for “Most Hilarious Escape from Hell”, I have a feeling Jalan will remain the undisputed champion for years to come.
His goals to ditch Loki’s key and return to his old life of drinking, gambling, and womanizing don’t go as planned either, as he returns home to Vermillion to find everything changed. The end of the world is said to be coming, caused by a large construct in the north called the Wheel of Osheim. All of reality will unravel as the Wheel turns faster, unless someone is willing to go into the heart of it to shut it down. In the middle of this looming threat, an old enemy also makes its move, taking advantage of the confusion to make a bold strike at Jalan in the capital of Red March. Our poor, luckless protagonist has never wanted to be a hero, but unfortunately even a coward has to step up sometime.
Yep, this one’s all on Jalan, and don’t you doubt it for a second. Though his friends Snorri, Kara, and Hennan are also along for this crazy ride, most of this book is driven by our main character, who has all but shed his former persona by replacing the insouciance with actual initiative and responsibility. The impending destruction of the world isn’t the only reason why he can’t go back to his old life; it’s because he’s also not the old Jalan. That said, this change is not something that occurs overnight. We’ve actually been seeing this shift in Jalan’s personality since the last book, and only now are we seeing the results of that transformation. Thankfully though, Jalan still retains a lot of what made him the “Prince of Fools” we fell in love with when this series first started. While his experiences in the past year have hardened his soft edges and impressed upon him a sense of honor, he’s still far from the picture of gallantry—and I’m perfectly fine with that.
With Jalan coming into his own though, it did mean seeing a bit less of the supporting characters. Not even Snorri presents himself in the flesh until later in the book, but we do get to witness snippets of his and Jal’s time in Hell together, woven into the early parts of the story. Compared to the books that came before, The Wheel of Osheim has a more distinct “ethereal” vibe, due in part to the structure of the narrative as well as the strange, otherworldly nature of the main conflict.
I also found the story to be darker, a lot twistier. The tensions between the Red Queen and the Blue Lady have been building up for a while now, and their war finally comes to a head in this book. More puzzle pieces also fall into place as Jalan encounters Jorg once more, further linking the events of The Red Queen’s War to those of The Broken Empire. How surreal it was to watch these two very different young men get drunk together and give each other life advice. And finally, we get a lot more background into the mysterious Builders. The revelations here confirm that Lawrence is still the undefeated master at turning this genre on its head; with six novels by him under my belt, you’d think I would be used to the surprises by now, but somehow he still manages to amaze me every single time.
Still, when it comes down to what makes this novel truly special—and why I loved this entire trilogy, really—my reasons are actually quite straightforward. Very simply, this book made me laugh. There’s horror and darkness in this series, but also genuine humor. Few books in this genre can claim to be funny in the traditional sense, but then, most books in this genre don’t have a protagonist like Prince Jalan. He was a coward, a cheat, and a liar (and still a bit of all those things, I admit) but it didn’t matter; because of the fantastic way he was written, I loved him from the start. Jalan is, I’m convinced, an honest-to-goodness once in a lifetime character, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Now that the trilogy is over, I’m going to miss him very much.
What else is there left to say, really? The Wheel of Osheim is a masterpiece. You need to read The Red Queen’s War trilogy. The end. Full stop....more
First thing I did after finishing this book was go to YouTube and pump my fists to the main theme of Star Trek Enterprise. I know that opening sequence has long been divisive among Trek fans, but personally? I love it. The feelings that song stirs–that glowing hope and belief in humanity’s ability to venture forth into the great unknown through their own tenacity and sheer determination–is perfectly suited to the show’s themes and, as it happens, this book as well. Arkwright is the story of how one man’s dream became a reality, a truly inspirational saga spanning generations amidst familial crises, political roadblocks, technological limitations and many other seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Throughout it all, one family’s conviction endures, its members steadfastly facing down every single kind of challenge in the course of the many centuries it takes to achieve their goal. It’s been a long road getting from there to here indeed.
Interestingly, Arkwright opens with its eponymous character dying. Considered along with Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke to be one of the twentieth century’s most seminal science fiction authors, Nathan Arkwright passes away quietly in his New England home where he’d spent most of the last two decades living as a relative recluse. His death, however, is just the beginning. His granddaughter Kate, who’d never gotten the chance to know her famous grandfather when he was alive, decides to attend the funeral and pay her respects. This is how she ends up meeting three of Nathan’s oldest friends and finding out all about her grandfather’s secret project: The Arkwright Foundation.
Concerned about humanity’s future in the event of any extinction-level threats to the world, Nathan had decided many years ago that building a starship for long-distance space travel and colonization is the only hope our species has for survival. Not trusting to the bureaucracy of government agencies to make this happen, he had established his own non-profit organization to do the research and work required, and left the foundation his entire fortune plus all future royalties earned from his books. Now that he is gone, it is up to his family and friends to carry on his vision.
One might find it a little strange, that the death of your most crucial character happens in the book’s very first scene. But in truth, it makes perfect sense. Nathan may be the father of the Arkwright Foundation, but his idea is much bigger than any one person. He never expected to live to see his dream come true, and in fact, not even his granddaughter Kate or Kate’s own grandchildren would see it come to fruition. This is a project generations in the making, and Allen Steele brings us back to the past and forward to the future to show how all the characters in Nathan’s family line are united in this one goal through time and distance. The narrative explores Nathan’s own youth and then moves forward through the decades as each generation grows up, gets married, has children. With so many changes in perspective, no sooner had I gotten to know one set of characters than we were jumping forward to time again to follow another. I should have found this format frustrating, but to my surprise, I didn’t. Once I saw Nathan Arkwright’s legacy as a “character” in its own right, I started to understand why Steele decided to write the story this way.
I was also surprised at what an uplifting book this ended up being. Let’s face it; generation ship stories are seldom happy stories, a fact that’s even pointed out by one of the book’s characters. But Arkwright is a very different kind of generation ship story, and one can even argue it’s not even a generation ship story at all, since so much of it takes place on earth following the work of Nathan’s descendants. Oh sure, the scientists and researchers of the Arkwright Foundation end up coming up with solutions to some of the technological challenges posed by long-distance space travel, but at its heart, Arkwright is also a story about the personal lives of the individual characters. In every section, we see how each person is affected by the weight of Nathan’s legacy, making this one a very heartfelt human story.
While I reviewed the audiobook, I can see Arkwright working well in both print and audio formats. Because this is a generations-spanning story featuring multiple characters with their own sections though, I was surprised they went with only one narrator. It just felt like such a missed opportunity, since having a couple more readers on board might have made this even a fuller experience. Nonetheless, narrator Stephen Bel Davies held his own, bringing a diverse cast of characters to life. This audiobook ended up being a very fast listen because I was just so addicted to the story.
All told, I was so glad I decided to give Arkwright a try. The cover and description didn’t initially grab me, and I almost gave it a pass until some of the fascinating reviews convinced me to give it a shot after all. And now, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being on my list of favorite books for 2016. The ending even left me a bit teary-eyed. What a total gem of a sci-fi novel, an incredibly touching and inspirational story about humankind’s journey to reach for the stars....more
The concept behind Sleeping Giants is amazing. I also love epistolary novels. But all the same, I wavered for days after finishing this book, pondering how I should phrase my review. On the one hand, I had a fantastic time reading it, a fact made even more obvious by the fact that I devoured all 300-ish pages in a little more than a day. Still, for all its wonderful themes and ideas, the novel is inherently flawed in several ways, and as much as I admired the format, I also thought it greatly limited the story in what it wanted to accomplish.
To call its premise awesome and unique though, is a huge understatement. Say what you will about Sleeping Giants, but you can’t deny the insane amount of thought and imagination that went into it. The mystery presented by its opening chapter is irresistible by itself, beginning with something as innocuous as a young girl riding her new bike near the woods in her home town of Deadwood, South Dakota. One moment, Rose Franklin is having a great time pedaling through the forest, and the next, she’s falling into a large square hole in the ground that wasn’t there before. When the rescuers come to get her out, they peer down to see an incredible sight: little Rose, lying cupped in the palm of a giant hand made of a strange metal shot with glowing turquoise light.
Scientists and researchers are baffled by the discovery, which is dated to be thousands of years old—far older than it should be. Despite efforts to unlock its secrets, not much progress is made, and the hand is stored away, its mysteries shelved for the next seventeen years.
But now, interest is stirring again. Dr. Rose Franklin, the very same girl who “found” the hand all those years ago, has grown up and become a brilliant physicist. In a strange twist of fate, she is assigned as the lead scientist to direct a top secret team to try and once more study the giant artifact, with much greater resources and technology at her disposal. Overseeing this entire project is a nameless benefactor with seemingly bottomless pockets and friends in high places. Almost the entire story is told through interviews with this mysterious man as he collects progress reports from Dr. Franklin and her colleagues, even though it’s clear he already knows a lot more than he’s letting on.
For those who go into Sleeping Giants without knowing about the format, the experience can be decidedly jarring. It was distracting even for me, and I knew full well beforehand that the entire book was going to be made up of interview transcripts, journal entries, and other documents. Part of this is due to my high expectations for this type of novel; I’ve read a lot of them in the last few years and I realize it’s a format that’s hard to pull off, but when it works, it can really enhance the atmosphere and impact of a story. There are many challenges of course, and out of all the epistolary-style books I’ve read, only a few have come close to overcoming them. Mainly, I think this format creates a huge distancing effect between the reader and the people in the story. Because you can only hear what they say and not know their thoughts and feelings, you sacrifice a lot of the intimacy and personal connection with the main characters. In Sleeping Giants, I found this to be the main issue, because I simply did not feel emotionally invested enough in our mystery interrogator, Dr. Rose Franklin, Kara, Ryan, Vincent, or any of the other major players to care all that much about their ultimate fates.
The second issue relates to how much information a story needs to convey. The interview format is not very well suited to this, especially when a lot of description (and scientific detail) is involved. You end up with characters going on huge monologues loaded with scientific jargon, making the book’s conversations feel forced and unnatural, which to me is kind of defeating the point of the interview structure in the first place. The info dumping is even more awkward when it’s in the form of an oral report or diary entry, so what you have essentially is a character going, “I’m doing this, now I’m doing that, and okay, now I’m going to shoot these three bad guys in the face…oh, how I wish you could see all this!” Despite attempts to make the dialogue sound more organic, some of the action sequences read more like a farce, killing any kind of mood intended.
Still, I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy this novel, because I did. I loved the story, despite my skepticism that this format was the best way to tell it. The main plotline is engaging and addictive, and the term “unputdownable” comes to mind. The first half of the book, with its mysteries and puzzles, was the hook that sucked me in. The second half, where we start to get into the meat of the story, is a lot more complex and suspenseful, exploring the ramifications of Dr. Franklin’s discovery as well as its impact on global politics and humanity’s place in the universe. Just think of the significant ways something like this can change our world and affect everything else we do in the future. Pardon the pun, but…this is big.
So, should you read Sleeping Giants? Well, if its premise sounds awesome to you, then yes, for all that is good and holy, yes, yes, YES. If unconventional styles of storytelling aren’t your bag though, you might want to be approach this one with caution. I personally find the interview/oral diary format restricting for THIS particular story, though I also admit to being a reader with finicky tastes when it comes to epistolary novels. If you love a great tale though, and don’t care what shape or form it takes, then I would recommend this one heartily. Sylvain Neuvel’s imaginative debut has captured my full attention, and I’m excited to see what the sequel will bring....more
Oh my, this one was SO MUCH FUN. Unexpectedly so. Even when the earliest descriptions came trickling in calling this book a bold, dashing adventure and pure, swashbuckling entertainment, I had no idea! I figured those were just buzzwords, right? Ah, no. In this case, Traitor's Blade really does deliver the great time that all those descriptions promise.
There are so many things I love about this book, but most of all I love how it doesn't take itself too seriously. It was lighter in tone than I expected, which was a huge plus because I always appreciate a bit of humor with my fantasy! The only thing sharper than main protagonist Falcio val Mond's rapier is his own clever wit, and if you don't believe me, all you have to do is read the prologue. (Edit: Actually, TOR has an excerpt here! http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/02/tr...) It had me hooked, not to mention earning a few chuckles from me by page 3.
What strikes me about this book is how well it presents itself. To me, it reads like a medieval fantasy told in the tone of an urban fantasy, mainly due to the narrative style and the of the snappy pace of storytelling. Falcio and his companions Kest and Brasti are the last remnants of late King Paelis' mighty force of Greatcoats, quite possibly the only ones still dedicated to upholding the laws of the land despite their order being labeled as traitors. Before the Dukes took the kingdom and killed the king, however, Falcio was given one last mission. And trying to fulfill it is probably going to get him killed, if his silver tongue doesn't manage to do it first.
A natural born smooth talker (the other characters in the novel even poke fun at this), Falcio's narrative is as delightful as they come. He will endear himself to you with his fierce loyalty and moral compass, but also keep you on your toes with his unpredictability. Here is a protagonist who would just as soon vanquish his foes using his words and cunning, despite his strength and skill with a sword. As Falcio is quick to remind everyone, above all the Greatcoats value justice, not honor, and therefore he shows no qualms about certain unsportsmanlike behaviors such as, er, kicking a lady between the legs (trust me though, that character totally deserved it -- justice, remember!) There is also a darkness within Falcio, and I thought one of the more interesting aspects about him is his goodness warring with that inner pain.
So brace yourself, this is a very fast-paced book filled with non-stop action and tons of obstacles thrown at the characters, one right after another. The humor throughout keeps things nice and light, making this the perfect choice for readers looking for a story with traditional fantasy elements -- like heroes, magic, and epic quests -- but also with the added flair of dash and panache. In other books that have a lot of fight scenes, I'm always tempted to skim, but not so with this one. First of all, as a former fight choreographer, the author knows what great action looks like! And like I said, with Falcio's devil-may-care ways and the unpredictability of his fighting style, you really don't want to miss a thing!
As we all know, very few books are perfect but some stories have a way of bringing you to a point where you're just having too much fun to care. That's the place Traitor's Blade took me. I thought the ending and the revelations therein were a bit predictable, but honestly, that was my only quibble and it is a teensy tiny one at that, considering how much overall enjoyment I got from this book and how much I adored these characters. I cannot wait for the sequel.
In short, I loved loved loved Traitor's Blade. I would recommend it to everyone, and I think fencing and sword fighting types will especially get a kick out of it. Seriously, this is one excellent and remarkably entertaining book! Read it....more
Huge Brandon Sanderson fan that I am, I try to read everything he writes, but especially the works that take place in his fictional universe of the Cosmere. But while I have read all the novels, somehow many of the novellas seem to have slipped through the cracks. When a lot of the stories have only appeared online or in other anthologies, it can make tracking down every single one a challenge.
Enter Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. It feels like I have been waiting my whole life for this. Collecting eight previously published short stories and novellas plus one new never-before-seen tale that takes place in the world of The Stormlight Archive, this anthology is a must-have for every Cosmere geek.
The Emperor’s Soul
The Emperor’s Soul is the only story I’ve read previously before coming into Arcanum Unbounded. It remains one of my favorites of all time, the only novella I’ve ever rated a full five stars and I was ecstatic to see that it was the first story in this collection. Taking place in the world of Elantris, it follows a thief and forger named Shai who is captured by agents in a foreign land and made to craft a new soul for their emperor. Re-reading this story reminded me all over again why I loved it the first time; clocking in at just over one hundred pages, it manages to encompass everything I would expect from a full-length novel—intricate world-building and incredible character development, with a unique magic system to boot. Few authors can manage a feat like this, but Sanderson captures my imagination whether he’s penning short fiction or thousand-page epic fantasy tomes. Certainly The Emperor’s Soul shows he is not only a writer but an artist, or at least someone who understands how making art feels, based on his excellent characterization of Shai. This is a brilliant novella with a touching and powerful message.
The Hope of Elantris
This short and sweet tale was meant to fill a gap in the plot of Elantris, giving readers some backstory into the book as well as a brief look at what happened after its climax. It would have very little impact and meaning if you have not read Elantris yet, and the author’s note even recommends not reading this until you have finished the novel in case of spoilers. As it was not meant to be any more than just a quick filler story, I was not surprised to find it somewhat lacking in substance. For the purpose it was meant to serve, however, it succeeded marvelously, and I also liked it more once I read the nice postscript that explained how the idea for The Hope of Elantris came about.
The Eleventh Metal
This was a story written specifically for the Mistborn tabletop RPG, so it was no surprise that it read very much like an introductory primer to the world, magic, and characters of the series. It also takes us back to a much younger Kelsier, so those who are interested in his past will likely enjoy this look at his training days with his mentor Gemmel. Fans of the original Mistborn books will probably like this more than readers unfamiliar with the trilogy, despite it being very short and containing more exposition than your typical short story.
Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30
If you’ve ever read his Alcatraz series, then you know that Brandon Sanderson has an interesting sense of humor. It definitely comes out again here in this second short story written for the Mistborn RPG, except this one takes a much different tack. Chronicling the adventures of Allomancer Jak with helpful (and hilarious) footnotes provided by his faithful Terris steward Handerwym, this story is Sanderson’s tribute to the classic pulp tradition. Jak reads like an over-the-top, satirical version of Wax from the later Mistborn novels, which was apparently the author’s intent. A delightful and entertaining read complete with a dash of unique humor, giving this one considerably more “personality” than The Eleventh Metal.
Mistborn: Secret History
This was perhaps my most highly anticipated story of this collection, and it did not disappoint. Intended to be a companion novella to the original Mistborn trilogy, this shouldn’t be read until you complete those first three books or else you will be utterly confused, not to mention the presence of major spoilers. Also, you won’t be able to fully appreciate what a touching, emotional tale this is. Secret History tells the story of what happened to Kelsier after his death at the hands of the Lord Ruler, and as such, it features strong mystical themes dealing with fate and the afterlife. I’ve never made it a secret how I feel about The Hero of Ages and how it ended (it was a punch in the gut) which has always soured me somewhat on the entire trilogy. I have to admit though, this novella changes things. The void I have felt inside of me for so long has been filled in a bit, and my appreciation and understanding of the series has increased. No question about it, Secret History is a must-read for Mistborn fans.
An eighteen-page excerpt of the White Sand graphic novel is included with this collection, followed by the written draft which formed the basis of the comic adaptation. It follows Kenton, the youngest son of a Sand Master but shows weak affinity for the magic himself. This is an older story, and as such you can some of the roughness around the edges, and the magic system is a lot more straightforward relative to Sanderson’s later work. However, I did like that we got to read about a character who had little magic power; much fun was had watching Kenton come up with creative ways to overcome challenges and defy the masters. This was also a highly action-oriented tale.
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell
Originally published in the Dangerous Women anthology, this story features an innkeeper named Silence who shelters travelers passing through the gloomy, haunted forest. Revenge is the name of the game as we follow our protagonist and her daughter into the wild to track down and kill bad folk. There’s also a strong sense of frontier lawlessness to the setting, which is crawling with bounty hunters, corrupt enforcers, and vengeful ghosts. This was admittedly not my favorite of Sanderson’s novellas, but it does show a darker side to his storytelling that we don’t get to see often.
Sixth of the Dusk
Again, I did not find this novella to be among Sanderson’s best, but many of the ideas in here are very interesting. It follows a Tracker whose main trade are magical birds found only on the sacred islands of the Archipelago, with his life being increasingly disrupted by the gradual encroachment of society and technology. I love the setting established in this story as well as the mysteries surrounding the Aviar, though I wish there had been more time spent on the birds’ special link with their owners. I didn’t feel like I had enough time to get to know the characters either; all told, this story could have afforded to be a little longer but I enjoyed it for what it is.
Of the entire collection, Edgedancer is the story Cosmere fans will be mostly likely talking about. For starters, it’s completely new, and it’s also from the world of the Stormlight Archive. Sanderson shines the spotlight on Lift, the scrappy young urchin with a special gift who first appeared in Words of Radiance. We plunge headfirst into adventure with Lift and her spren Wyndle in this sort-of origin story, though she’s also not the only familiar face to turn up within these pages. We’re given a closer look into her life and personality, and you can tell she’s definitely being built up for a larger role in the main series. I also really enjoyed getting a more detailed picture of Tashikk and its culture. This final story will make you smile, and if Lift hadn’t made an impression on you before, well then she sure will win your heart here.
Closing Thoughts: Arcanum Unbounded is a must-read for every Brandon Sanderon fan, though for best results it is recommended that you have already completed Elantris, the Mistborn series, and the Stormlight Archive series in order to enjoy the full impact of this anthology. But even if you are a reader who simply enjoys spending time in Sanderson’s worlds without being all that concerned with how they fit together, you will be amazed by the all-encompassing and in-depth quality of this collection. The stories themselves are fantastic of course, but you are also guaranteed to walk away from this with a better understanding of the immense and epic macrocosm that is the Cosmere. Arcanum Unbounded is now one of the most treasured books on my bookshelf....more
Any time Guy Gavriel Kay releases a new novel is a cause for celebration. Even with the understanding of how much work and time must go into each and every one of them, the waiting never gets easier! Known for his talent for recreating famous historical periods using fantasy, Kay’s books are all gorgeously written and painstakingly researched works of art, often infused with powerful messages and themes. I’d been looking forward to Children of Earth and Sky ever since it was announced and was beyond excited to finally get my hands on it.
Like many of his stories that feature fictional analogs of real places in history, this novel is said to be inspired by the conflicts and intrigues of Renaissance Europe. It is apparently set in the same “universe” as Lions of Al-Rassan, if I recall the names of the religions and the world’s twin moons correctly, though readers who know their history will probably recognize elements from the fifteenth to sixteenth century eras right away. For instance, the Ottoman Empire has been reimagined as the Osmanli Empire, and the most Serene Republic of Venice or la Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia has become the Republic of Seressa. Using this vibrant setting as a backdrop, Kay chronicles the lives of a disparate group of characters whose fates are all interwoven and connected like the threads of a tapestry.
There are about half a dozen key players in this epic drama. First, there’s Danica Gradek, a young woman from Senjan who joins a group of raiders to harry Seressa ships that trade with the Ashar. The Asharites destroyed her village when she was a child, killing most of her family and stealing away her younger brother. However, unbeknownst to her at the beginning of this novel, Danica’s brother was actually taken to be trained as a djanni, an elite soldier for the Osmanli Empire. Formerly known as Neven Gradek, he is now Damaz, brought up in the Asharite ways and ready to be deployed on his first mission with the army. There’s also Pero Villani, an impoverished painter who manages to score a huge commission to paint the portrait of the Grand Khalif of Asharias—but in truth his real purpose there is to spy for Seressa’s Council of Twelve. Pero is also not the only spy the Council has procured; another is Leonora Valeri, a noblewoman cast out by her family for becoming pregnant by a man from a lesser house. After her father had her lover killed and the baby taken away, Leonora agrees to be a spy in order to escape her family’s clutches and leave her old life behind. Passage has been arranged for her and Pero on a ship captained by the brave Drago Ostaja and owned by the family of Marin Djivo. As the son of a prominent merchant from Dubrava, Marin is no stranger to the dangers on the high seas, but his life is forever changed when his ship is boarded by a band of pirates. Among them is the Senjan archer Danica, and thus, our web of characters is complete.
A prevalent theme in many of Kay’s books is how history and people—their actions, their decisions, their fates—are all related. A single individual can shape the life of another a world away, based on how the ripples caused by events both large and small will flow through time. Children of Earth and Sky illustrates these patterns by following its characters “in the moment”, but the narrative will also frequently take a step back to look at the full picture. The author did something very similar in his last book, River of Stars, in which he explored a person’s life from multiple angles, going backwards and forwards in time to show how even the smallest gesture can have significant repercussions throughout history and affect multiple generations to come. If you’re not familiar with his work, brace yourself for a lot of point-of-view changes, present-to-past tense switching, and skips all over the timeline.
This makes it pretty much impossible to rush through any book by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve said this before, but his work is meant to be savored slowly, though sometimes that is by necessity and not by choice. Personally, it took me three days just to read the first one hundred pages, but only three more to finish the rest of this novel. I find that’s usually par for the course when it comes to Kay’s books, since the incredible amount of detail in his world-building often requires a rather long adjustment period. Still, there were a few issues that made Children of Earth and Sky a little more difficult to get into. First are the many distracting instances of info-dumping, which I admit I was surprised to find, since Kay is usually a lot more discreet when it comes to filling in the political or historical background. Second, there were some pacing problems playing havoc with the flow, especially when it came to character POV imbalance. It bothered me how some characters would feature prominently for a while and then just disappear for a long time, until all of a sudden they would come back, pushing aside others to fade into the background, and then the cycle will begin again. Because of the format, at times you also had to read about the same event two or three times as multiple characters would describe it from their perspectives.
As I’m fond of saying, some authors are simply incapable of writing a bad book, just that some of them may be better than others. Guy Gavriel Kay is one of these authors, and it’s not that I disliked Children of Earth and Sky, but I also don’t think it was his best. Still, despite the rough start, I ended up really enjoying this book. Plus, it’s hard to be disappointed, given the beautiful way the author writes. If there’s a lack of poetry or subtlety in this compared to some of his other works, then he more than makes up for it with the heightened tensions in this fantastical world of war and intrigue....more
If nothing else, this novel gets high marks from me because of how unbelievably addictive it was. On a week night, with an early wake up time the next day, I was still reading with my heart pounding in my chest at 2am refusing to quit this puppy until I was finished. Even though I’ve known about the author’s Wayward Pines series years now, I’ve never read it nor have I watched the TV show based on it. But if those books are anything like Dark Matter, I just might have to go check them out now because Mr. Crouch has a new fan.
But first, how to describe Dark Matter? This is definitely one of those “the less you know going in, the better” kind of novels. It’s enough to say that I was hooked from the first page, and the story’s premise was both intriguing and a punch in the gut. Imagine yourself in protagonist Jason Dessen’s shoes. It’s family night. Jason’s heading out to see a friend, then to pick up some ice cream from the store for his wife and son. All of a sudden, a masked man comes out of nowhere, brandishing a gun and threatening to kill Jason unless he does exactly as he’s told. The abductor makes him take them to an isolated area, then knocks him out by injecting him with some kind of drug. The next thing Jason knows he’s waking up strapped to a gurney, in a sterile room, surrounded by people he’s never met. And it’s the weirdest thing, but all these strangers seem to have been expecting him.
Then Jason returns to his house and discovers everything about it is different. He was never married to his wife. They never had a son. He’s not a college professor, but an award winning physicist responsible for the biggest scientific breakthrough the world has ever known. Years ago, before he met his wife and became a dad, this was the life Jason always dreamed of, but now, alone in a world he doesn’t recognize, all he wants is his family back.
This story was both thrilling and terrifying. Its premise reminded me so much of a recurring nightmare I still have sometimes, in which find myself waking up in the crappy old apartment I had in college and learn that the last six or seven years never happened. The thought that my husband, my kids, my whole life since getting married could be all a dream is the most devastating feeling I could ever imagine, and I’m always filled with a breathless kind of relief when I wake up for real and get all my senses back. It’s probably no surprise then, that I felt an immediate connection to the main protagonist Jason Dessen. The opening scenario in this book really struck a chord with my deepest fears, and I found myself unable to tear my eyes away, wondering what might have happened to Jason, and hoping against hope that he will find the answers he seeks.
Of course, we eventually find out the truth. But since it’ll be difficult to discuss this book further without spoiling, I’m just going to describe my experience with the rest of the story in the broadest of terms. The pacing was great, and other than just a slight slowdown in the middle, Dark Matter was pretty much perfect in its execution. Even in his darkest moments, Jason was a protagonist I found I could root for, because Crouch made it easy for me to sympathize with the character’s desperation and anguish. The best part of the book was probably the last section, with its incredible mind-bending twist. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to call a book “unputdownable”, but in this case, I really can’t think of a better way to describe the ending. Not even the late hour or the unpleasant prospect of spending the next day as a sleep-deprived zombie could stop me from devouring the last few chapters.
It’s been a long time since a book has filled me so much excitement, or that amazing feeling of “Just one more page, just one more I swear…” This was simply fantastic. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exhilarating read for the summer, look no further than Dark Matter, a flawless blend of science fiction, mystery, and thrilling suspense....more
Humor can be a tricky beast, as I often say. What works for one reader might not work for another, and what works one day might not work the next. Picking up something labeled “fantasy humor” is therefore always something of a crapshoot because I never know how it’s going to play out, and unfortunately the last couple of years have seen more misses than hits. When I started Kings of the Wyld though, I had a feeling it was going to be special, and I’m glad that my instincts didn’t steer me wrong.
This book has it all: gritty anti-heroes and twisted villains, epic battles and heart-stopping fight scenes, exotic locales and all manner of fantastical creatures. If this sounds like your kind of story, then you’re in for a treat. Nicholas Eames has reworked the classic quest narrative and presented it to us in a fun and refreshing package. You might even find yourself laughing out loud along the way.
Kings of the Wyld follows a motley crew of aging yet charming mercenaries as they reunite to rescue a bandmate’s daughter trapped behind the walls of a city under siege. After years of questing and brawling, Clay Cooper is ready put his past behind him. He’s married now with a young child, and he’s looking forward to retiring to a life of quiet and leisure. Fate, however, has different plans. One day, his old bandmate Gabe shows up with a desperate request for help. It seems Gabe’s daughter Rose has run off and gotten herself into trouble again, only this time it’s a matter of life and death.
At first, Clay is reluctant to get involved. He has his own fledgling family to think of now; no longer can he drop everything to traipse across the world on dangerous missions. But seeing Gabe’s distress, and recalling all the good times he’s had with his friend, he finally relents. Leaving the comfort of home behind, Clay joins Gabe to round up the members of Saga, their old band. This includes Matrick, their resident rogue who is now a drunken cuckolded king; Arcandius Moog, a wizard who has turned to a life of research trying to find a cure for a deadly disease; Ganelon, who has spent the last nineteen years trapped in his own private prison; and along the way, they even meet a Daeva named Larkspur who is in fact more foe than ally.
What follows is an entertaining, brilliantly crafted adventure that takes us across the Wyld by land and by air. If you’re a fan of video games or tabletop RPGs, you’ll feel right at home in this world with these characters who feel like they’ve stepped right out of a D&D campaign. Kings of the Wyld reads like a loving tribute to these types of classic narratives, while giving it heart—which I feel is the secret ingredient that sets this one apart. Somehow, Eames made it possible and even easy for me to relate to this band of mostly drunk, fat and jaded old men by turning their faults into endearing traits. These are genuine characters who have very real hopes and dreams, as well as values and principles that are important to them. After all, the entire premise of this story is driven by Gabe’s love for his daughter, and also by Clay’s loyalty to his old friend. You’ll fall in love with the members of Saga and want to cheer them on every step of the way.
And of course, humor is another huge selling point. Kings of the Wyld is a fantasy novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are elements in it that are unabashedly tongue-in-cheek. The author might have taken a gamble on the style, but in the end I think it paid off. Still, one of the more common criticisms I’ve seen when it comes to fantasy comedy is the use of modern language, slang, or pop culture references. Personally, it doesn’t bother me when it’s second world fantasy, but if such anachronisms aren’t your cup of tea, then you might find it problematic. For me though, what matters more is the tone of humor; I prefer my comedy on the subtler side (as opposed to more overt styles, like slapstick) and this is where Eames struck the perfect balance. Without going overboard, he kept the story light and entertaining while still adhering to epic fantasy traditions.
From the first page to the last, Kings of the Wyld is a rollicking fast-paced novel with just the right amount of grit and wit. Nicholas Eames is definitely on to something here with his impressive debut. Bottom line, read this book if you’re a fan of good old-fashioned quest adventure narratives, epecially if you think you might enjoy one as seen through a modern humorous lens. I’ve tried a lot of books that match this description in recent years, and I have to say this is the best. Already I find myself craving the sequel....more