This highly anticipated novel is the final volume of Anthony Ryan’s epic Raven’s Shadow trilogy, so be aware this review may contain spoilers for the first two books of the series if you have not caught up yet. It would be impossible to talk about Queen of Fire without at least referencing some of the events in the previous book, and not just because it picks up directly where Tower Lord left off (and follows in the same vein). The truth is, so much of what stood out were the characters and their growth over the course of the trilogy; to praise (and critique) this book I would have to give the nod to Blood Song and Tower Lord as well.
We learn at the beginning of Queen of Fire that Queen Lyrna, who was brutally attacked and burned at the end of Tower Lord has been healed by the very same forces she used to mistrust, and now seeks to ally with them to meet the invading Volarian army head on. She is determined to fight for the independence of the Unified Realm, but to do so she must first raise an army. Meanwhile, the Tower Lord Vaelin Al Sorna, now also called Battle Lord of the Realm, is taking it upon himself to confront the mysterious Ally and an enemy who must be defeated if the Queen’s efforts are to have a chance. On the way, Vaelin rallies other factions to their side, their support invaluable now that the power of his bloodsong seems to have abandoned him.
Other prominent characters include Frentis, whose traumatizing plight in the last novel made me wonder how he would come back from the consequences of his actions, even though so many of them were not his own while his mind was being controlled. Reva also starts her climb to the top by demonstrating her strength and incredible battle prowess. And finally, an unexpected perspective comes in the form of Alucius Al Hestian who adds tension to the overall arc by having to make some very difficult decisions.
First, the good: Like I said, this is a fitting end for a lot of characters who joined in for this epic journey. Characters like Lyrna, Frentis and Reva have all seen tremendous development since they made their respective appearances, and each had their personal obstacles to overcome. It fills me with much satisfaction to see everything come together in this concluding volume.
I also liked the many new places Anthony Ryan took us in Queen of Fire, as well as the fascinating new people we get to meet. The wolf people were especially great, since I always find it a treat to read about fictional cultures inspired by shamanistic traditions. There were also some amazing moments of characters doing battle on the high seas, which wasn’t a surprise given my fondness for maritime fantasy. In addition, there was the minor element of invention and the enthusiasm of a particular character for tinkering, creating new and improved machines of war – this I loved, even if it did only make up a relatively small part of the story. This is a huge tome of a novel after all, and there is a lot packed in it, much of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
There were some stumbling blocks, however. The first is that the story is admittedly on the slow side to take off, with a significant portion of “critical” scenes happening in the second half of the novel. That means I felt that the first 300 or so pages were mostly given to establishing the basis for the finale at the end, which is a bit much (it’s such a lengthy book, after all). Fortunately, the pacing improves by leaps and bounds after the story finds its stride.
I also think that those who were disappointed with certain aspects of Tower Lord might experience the same snags in Queen of Fire. The two books are stylistically similar, both featuring multiple POVs and readers who had wanted more Vaelin in book two will probably not see a marked change here. Vaelin Al Sorna, who won me over in Blood Song, does not really feel like the main protagonist to me anymore, but I find myself okay with that because he is still an important presence. I’m actually regretting more the fact that folks like Caenis and Nortah didn’t show up as much. Clearly, the story’s scope has become much bigger (a good thing) so the result is plenty of other characters sharing the pages with him now that I’ve come to connect with.
But basically, if you were expecting Vaelin to dominate his share of screentime in this book again, I’m afraid you just won’t get that. I do understand the sentiment, though. Speaking for myself, Blood Song still remains my favorite of the trilogy, because it was such a detailed exploration into Vaelin’s character. Of course, it certainly helped that I’m such a huge fan of the warrior school trope chronicling a boy’s rise to become the greatest fighter the world has ever known, complete with a relentless training regime and harsh instructors.
But while Queen of Fire didn’t quite reach the heights that Blood Song or even Tower Lord did for me, it’s nevertheless a good book with undeniably awesome conclusion. I would recommend the series as a whole and if you’ve been following along with the trilogy as the books come out, this is an ending you probably wouldn’t want to miss....more
If ever you hear someone say women can’t write military science fiction, please do me a favor and smack them over the head with this book. First Light is the excellent, smart, and action-packed introduction to The Red series, originally indie-published but re-released again recently by a major publisher along with an audiobook – because it is JUST. THAT. GOOD.
Seriously, it doesn’t get more edge-of-your-seat than this near-future thriller, which seamlessly blends advanced technology and military action with political drama. In First Light, readers get to meet protagonist Lieutenant James Shelley in an explosive introduction. Stationed in a remote military outpost deep in the Sahel, Shelley and his team work round-the-clock to enforce the peace and gather intelligence in the area, aided by a cyber-framework that keeps them all wirelessly linked. But that was all before the devastating airstrike.
Shelley barely makes it out alive, saved by the mysterious power of precognition that he possesses, a phenomenon not even the top military scientists can explain. The attack, however, had cost him both his legs, forcing Shelley to agree to an experimental cybernetics program involving synthetic legs and a permanent monitoring “skullcap” implanted in his head. Very Robocop-ish stuff. While recovering, Shelley is hit with another whammy: all throughout his assignment in Sub-Saharan Africa, he and his team had been recorded for a reality TV show. The lines begin to blur for Shelley as tough questions come to the surface. What is real and what is artificial? Who or what is this voice in his head, and is it as benign as it wants him to think? Hidden forces are steering humanity towards an unknown agenda, and for whatever reason, Shelley is at the center of this storm.
There’s so much happening in this first volume, sometimes it gets hard to tease apart the threads. The story’s first act transports readers to its not-too-distant future, describing the soldiers and their state-of-the-art military tech which includes everything from combat armor to surveillance drones. Shelley and his team are hooked into the central intelligence network at all times, physiologically and mentally monitored and even altered by their gear. A process even kicks in for soldiers on the same squad which makes them regard each other as close as siblings, encouraging familial bonds of loyalty while at the same time removing distractions which might be caused by any sexual desire.
But the technology is also far from perfect. It is not uncommon for soldiers like Shelley to become “emo-junkies”, becoming overly dependent on the processes of the skullcaps they wear. You can never be sure whether or not the emotions you feel are really yours, or if they are being controlled or altered by the skullnet. This question of “what’s real vs. what’s not” is a recurring theme that pops up throughout the novel, in many different contexts. War is also introduced as something prevalent and inevitable, a powerful driving force behind the economy. Soldiers are treated like property in this world where reality TV shows can be made of their lives without them even knowing about it, while rich CEOs of big defense contractors play games of political chance using the world as their game board.
This is actually a major premise in the second half of the novel, broadening the scope of the story to tackle conflicts with more significant and far-reaching consequences. The sequence of events that make up the climax and the ending of this book had to be one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had with an audiobook. My heart was pounding the whole time as I listened, and you probably couldn’t have convinced me to take off my headphones even if the house was on fire.
I only have a minor gripe specific to the audiobook, and it is related to the narrator. Kevin T. Collins’ performance was good, and I love his enthusiasm. But this also means he sometimes overacts, his voice bordering on frantic. Good for when we’re in those tense scenes, but very distracting when we’re not.
Nevertheless, this book has my full recommendation, especially for fans of military science fiction. It’s certainly the best of this genre that I’ve read in a good long while. First Light is engaging, intelligent, and full of thrills. It’s been getting all kinds of attention lately, and now I understand why....more
The Price of Valor is the third book of The Shadow Campaigns, of which five books have been planned so we are officially now past the half-way point. An epic fantasy series is often at its most precarious when we get to this tricky place between the introduction and the ending, where arguably the best action and excitement is usually packed. However, it appears Django Wexler is not content to slow things down or let his story languish. Not only does he succeed in carrying through the momentum for the rest of the series, he’s also transformed this middle book into an important turning point.
So far, each installment of the series has given readers something different. Book one The Thousand Names threw us into the middle of a war and treated us to many scenes of large-scale conflict and sweeping battles. Book two The Shadow Throne reined in the scope, concentrating instead on the politics and subsequent revolution in the capital of Vordan. Now book three The Price of Valor is like an amalgamation of both, so that half the narrative remains in the city in the wake of the successful uprising, while the other half takes us back onto the bloody battlefields.
In the wake of her father’s death, Princess Raesenia is now the queen. After an attempt is made on her life, she suspects that the new leader of the Deputies-General is responsible, and goes undercover to search for evidence. Remaining behind in the capital as the representative of the army, Colonel Marcus d’Ivoire finds himself teaming up with the young queen, tasked to protect her and to help her root out those who want her dead. Little does he know though, Raesenia might have a secret or two up her sleeve which would actually make her rather hard to kill…
Meanwhile, Winter Ihernglass is back out in the east, trying to win the war for General Janus bet Vhalnich. She has been promoted and given her own regiment to command, including the new all-women company called the Girl’s Own, though ironically Winter’s own gender still remains a secret to the army, save for a few individuals who are in the know. Among those who are aware of Winter’s secret is her lover Jane, whose hatred for the contingent of Royals in the regiment is making Winter’s job very difficult. Lurking behind the scenes are also the agents of an ancient order called the Priests of the Black, whose Penitent Damned will harness the power of their demons to do whatever it takes to stop the Vordanai army and retrieve the priceless magical artifact known as The Thousand Names.
I was so pleased to see that the military action is back in full force for this sequel. Taking a break to delve into political intrigue and rebellion in book two was a nice change of pace, but I admit my interest mostly lies in the war campaign and the huge battles. Wexler doesn’t disappoint, throwing in plenty of heart-racing encounters with the enemy. Reading some of Winter’s chapters was a little like watching a session of wargames play out across a vast gameboard, with troop actions directed by a shrewd chessmaster who is aware of every piece’s location at all times. In point of fact, these qualities closely describe Janus bet Vhalnich, the military genius whose presence is actually quite limited in the first half of the novel, which made the wargames analogy that much more apt in my mind.
The general’s craftiness is not lost on Jane either, and Winter’s storyline is also made more interesting by the increasingly strained relationship between the two women. Winter’s loyalties are put to the test when she is made to choose between the two things she holds most dear, and I have to hand it to the author for not making that choice trivial. There’s a lot of development to Winter’s character in this book, and I respect her all the more for the difficult decisions she’s had to make about her lover, whom I’ve taken to calling “Insufferable Jane” due to all the problems she’s caused (and that’s already one of my more polite names for her). The road to the eventual camaraderie between the Girl’s Own and the Royals was also fun to read, and made for a good side plot to lighten up the otherwise heavy narrative focused on intense fighting and the resulting casualties.
Still, I was wrong when I thought the best part about this book would be the military action, because what surprised me was how much I enjoyed Marcus and Raesenia’s storyline back in the city of Vordan. Raesenia really grew on me back when she was introduced in The Shadow Throne and I was happy to see her return as a POV character in this one. To see her partner up with Marcus – who has always been my favorite character in these novels – was a real treat. Together they make a great team (and dare I hope, could Wexler be planting the seeds of something more happening between them in the future?) and their investigations into the corrupt government saw their Vordan chapters culminate into one hell of an epic showdown with the Patriot Guards and the Penitent Damned.
Speaking of which, we’re definitely making some real headway into the overall story. I’ve been wondering since the end of the first book when we’ll see some major advancement into the conflict caused by the discovery of The Thousand Names, and when the Black Priests will show their hand. Looks like this book is where it all happens. I did say The Price of Valor is a turning point, and you’ll see why. Even after three books, the impact of the stories have not dulled a single bit.
Needless to say, I’m very excited for the next installment. It’s easy to get caught up in The Shadow Campaigns. Django Wexler’s riveting world of dark magic and martial action featuring strong characters – and especially strong women – is one I’ll want to visit again and again. Military fantasy at its finest....more
Yeah, if I could leave my impressively eloquent analysis of this book at just that, I would. But no. This review is going to have details (or at least as much as I can give), dammit, and I’m going to do my best to articulate my thoughts while trying to hold myself together lest I fall to pieces.
Honestly though, I’m at a complete loss as to how to review Clash of Iron. Has this every happened to you? You’re just reading a book as normal, all the while taking down mental notes on what you’re going to say about it, when all of a sudden the ending comes at you so hard that the shock and awe of it just drives every single thought out of your head?
This is me right now. I am dumbfounded. Stupefied. I still can’t believe that ending really happened.
But let’s back up a bit to talk about what the book is about. In a word, Clash of Iron is about war. Lots and lots of war. It is the second novel in Angus Watson’s Iron Age trilogy and sequel to his brilliant, epic debut Age of Iron which was one of my top reads of last year. At the end of that book, our heroes Dug and Lowa managed to capture Maidun castle and free it from the brutal grip of its tyrant king Zadar. Lowa has usurped him and taken over his reign as Queen of Maidun, but unfortunately it seems, just in time to meet a massive invading Roman army coming from Gaul! The British Isles are thrown into disarray as its disparate tribes go to battle against each other instead of forming a united front against Julius Caesar, the Roman’s military genius who has his sights set on their homeland.
First I feel the need to warn that like its predecessor, Clash of Iron is as brutal and bloody as ever. As expected, there are many violent battles, lots of split skulls and tons of dismembered limbs flying about. There are also more intimate, disturbing scenes of torture and in general characters doing very unpleasant and painful things to other characters. Watson paints a dark, cruel world in The Iron Age where it doesn’t matter who or what you are; men, women, children, animals can all expect to meet a terrible and gruesome end in this series, so be aware if you’re squeamish about such things to approach these books with discretion.
This sequel, however, does head in a new direction when it comes to other aspects. The story here feels altogether different, with more focus on war. When all the sides aren’t engaging in it, they’re preparing for it, in this new martial climate of Britain. With the threat of the Roman Empire and Caesar bearing down on the Britons, there are whole new challenges to face. In many ways, Clash of Iron is Lowa’s story while I saw Age of Iron as being more Dug’s. As queen of Maidun, she’s now the head of an army of thousands and makes all the important decisions that will decide the fate of her people. As a new ruler, she also faces many new obstacles, such as adversity from all sides – even her own. Meanwhile, Dug takes more of a backseat in this book, retiring to a small farm. Still, all the while, his feelings for Lowa are alive and well and so are hers for him, so their awkwardness around each other provides no small amount of hilarity.
Other old favorites return, though describing Ragnal as a “favorite” is a bit of a stretch, that little double crossing fair-weather weasel. Spring’s presence also diminishes somewhat, though her actual role gets a huge boost. Big things are going to happen, and I have a feeling Spring is going to be at the center of them. Chamanca, the literally bloodthirsty warrior woman who scared the living bejeezus out of me in the first book is also back, though this time I had a lot of fun following her character and actually found myself rooting for her. Then there’s new player on the field, Julius Caesar himself, a man who needs no introduction. Angus Watson’s portrayal of the general had me alternating between feeling horror at his atrocities to laughing my ass off at his quirks.
And of course, we come to the ending. Oh, that ending. There’s nothing I can say about it that won’t be a massive spoiler, so I’ll just state that as shocking and unexpected as it was, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was. You just never think an author would go there. But he does.
Any way you look at it, Clash of Iron will have you feeling exultant. You’ve just read an awesome book. Regardless of anything else, this wildly entertaining read will make you pine for the next one. Bring on Reign of Iron!...more
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Of the many fantasy sequels coming out this year, Luke Scull’s Sword of the North is high on my anticipated list. The follow-up to the hit that was The Grim Company, this second book continues with a story teeming with fantastic characters, a strong plot, and plenty of action.
In the first book we met Brodar Kayne, a hero from the cold reaches whose battle prowess and skill with a blade earned him the title Sword of the North. Together with a band of ragtag outcasts, he and his companion Jerek the Wolf were able to survive the chaos that reigned after the White Lady declared victory and succeeded the tyrant Salazar. However, their new ruler has proven not to be as benevolent as she claimed. Something feels rotten at the heart of the city as dissidents are captured or disappeared, but if the White Lady cannot be convinced of the new danger threatening Dorminia, the state of things are sure to go from bad to worse.
Our grim company is broken now, the characters scattered across the land to pursue their own personal quests. Amidst dark tidings about the Shaman and demon hordes in the High Fangs, Brodar and Jerek begin their journey back to their homeland in light of new revelations about Brodar’s family. Weakened and injured from the ordeal at the end of book one, Davarus Cole wakes up in a labor camp and immediately finds himself put to work, but deep inside he is a changed man, no longer the puffed-up blowhard he once was. Sasha grieves, believing Cole lost to her, and falls back into her drug addiction even as she travels with her slightly unhinged sister Ambryl to bring news to the White Lady. And last but certainly not least, there is Eremul the Halfmage who continues his investigation into the race of immortals known as the Fade. Who are these mysterious creatures? And what do they want?
Make no mistake, the characters are the highlight of this series. It’s difficult for me to single out any favorites, because they are all so well written, deeply developed and memorable in their own way. I don’t know how Luke Scull does it, but even when his characters are dastardly and unlikeable, they’re great. Take for example, the chapters featuring Sir Meredith and his misguided notions of honor. I found them a pleasure to read, if for no other reason because you know it’ll feel so good when the cruel “knight” finally gets what he deserves.
I also believe much of the characters’ strength comes from their all-too-human flaws, which are nonetheless balanced by admirable virtues…well, in most cases anyway. Even Jerek who is as crass as ever can be lovable in his own way, because one would think nothing can shake the old Wolf’s loyalty to his friends. It’s what makes one significant plot development late in the novel so heart-wrenching. When it comes to plot elements that cut deeply, there’s also Sasha and her hopeless cycle of abstaining from the moon dust only to fall off the wagon again and again.
Scull has this way of getting you right into the heads of his characters, and Sasha’s struggle with the drug is one instance where the storytelling really closes in at a more intimate level. It’s all about personal stories, and nothing can be more personal than the flashbacks to Brodar Kayne’s past. These chapters were excellent, giving insight into our rough and tough protagonist, especially with the way they were interspersed with his present perspective. The company may be no more, most of its members separated, but in the process we’ve actually been given some great opportunities to further explore each character.
I was also surprised that for a heavy book containing such abundant themes and trappings of grimdark, Sword of the North was a relatively smooth, breezy read. It’s helped by the strong thread of wry humor woven through the story as well as the straight forward prose and dialogue, which at times featured language that bordered on modern-sounding. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the action and brutal violence, and actually managed to pull quite a few laughs out of me too.
As for flaws, I can’t think of many at all. Sword of the North is the middle book of a planned trilogy, and there are a lot of plot threads to follow so you can expect a slight slowdown in some of them while we gear up for the finale. On the whole, I found this to be the case with Davarus Cole as well as Eremul’s chapters. That’s not to say they were boring; on the contrary, there’s a lot of development happening there. But in terms of pacing, they were no match for Brodar Kayne’s action-filled chapters. Practically every other scene featured Brodar and his companions sticking a sword in something’s face, whether they be bandits, the risen undead, or poop-flinging barbarians. There were a couple new plot elements inserted into that storyline that felt a bit awkward though, such as a certain character from the Jade Isles who joins Brodar and his party late in the book. I think Scull may be setting up some game changers for book three, but the introduction of this character still seemed quite sudden and random. I guess we’ll see if it pays off in the next installment, but something tells me the author knows what he’s doing.
CONCLUSION: All told, this book was very enjoyable. Speaking of the next installment, I absolutely cannot wait for the third and final volume of this trilogy. If the first and second books are any indication, the finale is going to be well worth it. In Sword of the North, Luke Scull delivered a truly stellar sequel....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
Every once in a while I’ll get this hankering for some military sci-fi, so Unbreakable couldn’t have come along at a better time. Teasing the prospect of large scale ship-to-ship battles and space marines in mech suits, W.C. Bauers’ debut also features a kick-ass female lead who’ll prove to be the bane of space pirates and the Republic’s enemies everywhere.
Meet Promise T. Paen (yep, that’s her real name), the novel’s protagonist who hails from an outer rim colonial planet called Montana caught between the Republic of Aligned Worlds and the Lusitanian Empire. Montana is also a hotbed for pirates, and when Promise witnesses her father killed in a raid, the young orphan decides to enlist in the RAW Marine Corps and leave her old life behind forever.
Promise is happy enough killing lots and lots of pirates in the RAW-MC, but when Montana’s capital and spaceport comes under attack by the marauders, she finds herself ordered back home to head up the counterstrike. After neutralizing the threat, Promise is promoted and, to her chagrin, showered with accolades and labeled a local hero by Montana’s vivacious president Anne Buckmeister. However, quietly watching behind the scenes are the Lusitanians, who decide to take advantage of the weakened Marine forces to launch their own attack to seize the planet.
Happily, despite being filled to the brim with plenty of detailed and sometimes very graphic battle scenes, Unbreakable isn’t all just violent action and no substance. There’s depth to Bauer’s world and characters, achieved through occasional breathers in the narrative. Some of these little breaks ended up being lulls in the story that I had to struggle to push through, but for the most part there are far more ups than downs.
Sci-fi tech and weapon enthusiasts for one will no doubt geek out over descriptions of the RAW-MC’s impressive arsenal. Some of these sections can be lengthy, and yet I didn’t see them as overly obtrusive. The ins-and-outs of pulse guns and armor suits are as much a part of Promise’s life as everything else, not to mention it’s the little details like that which serve to bring a level of authenticity to this futuristic version of the Corps. There’s also room for levity in the form of social gatherings with Montana’s colonists, outlining the quirks of this backwater planet’s culture. And on the other side of the coin, there are the quiet and heart-wrenching moments of grief as Promise and her company honor their fallen. I honestly thought I’d be getting nothing but gung-ho soldiers and their nifty military toys, but there’s actually a lot more feeling here than I was expecting.
When it comes to characters we don’t get too much insight into anyone else in the story, but that’s because Promise takes center stage and she’s also the most developed. I wasn’t initially all that impressed by her, but what eventually won me over was the fantastic dialogue, which ended up being my favorite aspect of Unbreakable. I learned a lot about Promise and those around her — especially her comrades and President Buckmeister — through their passionate and snappy conversations.
Perhaps the only major criticism I have is the matter pertaining to the main character’s mother, who now and then appears in front of Promise as a specter that only she can see, or speaks to her as a voice in her head. Whether Sandra Paen is a true ghost or just a hallucination of her daughter’s, that’s never really explained or made clear. The publisher’s description in the novel’s synopsis of Promise being “persistently haunted” makes this particular plot point sound more mysterious and significant than it really is, and I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t explored further.
Still, Unbreakable was a book that intrigued and entertained me. All told, I believe this is a rousing military sci-fi debut that will make fans of the genre quite happy....more
Tales of courtly politics, noble house squabbles and the machinations of psychopathic lords and ladies have taken the epic fantasy genre by storm in recent years, and it looks like author Pierce Brown has been busy taking notes, adopting these elements for book two of his own futuristic sci-fi dystopian series.
As ever, when the ruling nobility go to war it is the common people who suffer, and it’s really not so different in Brown’s Golden Son. Elite Gold houses embroil themselves in a power struggle with very little thought for the low colors, and at the bottom of the hierarchy are the Reds, miners and laborers literally being kept in the dark below the surface of Mars as they toil away for the glory of the Sovereign. But a new hope has arrived in the form of Darrow, a Red who has overcome much in order to don the guise of the enemy and ultimately arise as the Golden Child. Last we saw him, Darrow had bested the competition in the deadly games at command school, and now he has been taken under the wing of his arch nemesis Nero of House Augustus – just as the rebel Sons of Ares have planned.
Needless to say, the story has exploded beyond the small confines of the Institute. The bloody battles that Darrow faced against his fellow Golds in the war games in book one? Child’s play, compare to all that he has to deal with in this crazy follow-up. But while he may be wholly embedded in Gold society now, Darrow still has games to play. As the rising star of a powerful house, he has also made no shortage of enemies. Saddled with certain expectations, Darrow must do all he can to maintain his cover if he’s to bring down the Society from within its rotten core.
While the first book Red Rising had certain elements in it that made me classify it as Young Adult, Golden Son takes a turn for the much darker, ramping up the violence and mature themes, blurring the lines between YA and Adult and yet managing to transcend both categories at the same time. Once again, Pierce Brown manages to utterly blow me away with his exquisite writing. Subtle and even at times poetic, he can describe something as ugly as war and still make it beautiful, if perturbingly so:
“Roses of a thousand shades fall from the trees as Golds fight beneath them. They’re all red in the end.”
The story takes on a life of its own in this sequel, barreling through one stunning plot development after another. There is seriously very little time to catch your breath. Trust no one, believe nothing. Darrow walks this fine line between deciding to keep his companions at arm’s length versus drawing them close into his inner circle. Perhaps my only real complaint is the inconsistency in his character. For most of the book he is a cunning strategist whose only tool is cold logic, a military genius who seems to read his enemies like an open book. I would question how he gained all this knowledge growing up as a simple laborer in the mines of Mars and would even go as far as to call him a “Gary Stu” if not for the odd inexplicable moments where he just goes and does something downright stupid and unjustified. These decisions often come from his heart, but nonetheless I find it hard to swallow that one moment Darrow can blank out his feelings for the sake of war planning, and the next he can insist on making an emotional decision that he knows may jeopardize years of planning, not to mention snuff out all hope for millions of oppressed.
Still, I enjoy the way his character has grown in the two years since his stint at the Institute. In that time, Darrow has learned that not everything in the world is black and white – or Gold and Red, as it were. Some of the worst and most degenerate people he knows are Golds, but then so are many of his loyal followers as well as the woman he loves. Even if he can succeed in breaking their chains, the low colors might not even accept him as one of their own, not when his own family would probably fail to recognize him. Darrow is in the midst of an identity crisis, knowing that every day he spends as a Gold takes him further away from his life as a Red. It is gut-wrenching to read, knowing all that he has given up and how much more he still has ahead of him.
And of course, speaking of gut-wrenching, there’s that ending. Why must middle books of a series always end with everyone getting the shaft? My poor battered heart can only take so much! Golden Son concludes with a bombshell of a cliffhanger that is blatantly written in a way to drive you nuts, and yet I can’t think of anything else I want to say while I’m down here melting in a puddle of emotions except “Please, Mr. Brown my good man, can you stab me in the heart some more?” I just can’t help it! This book left me more exhausted and stricken than Red Rising, which I can’t claim is an entirely pleasant feeling. But even as it crushes and mangles you, twisting you up like a grungy old mop in a wringer, the story is just so powerful and addicting. Need the third book. Now....more
You can always tell when I really like a book by how fast I devour it. I gave myself plenty of time to read Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, anticipating it would take me at least a week or more to finish this huge honking tome of a novel, but it turned out I made short work of it, chomping through 600+ pages of this in a little more than three days.
I just loved this book, couldn’t put it down. This incredible sequel to The Emperor’s Blades was everything I hoped for – bigger and better in every way. In fact, I went back to my review of the first book and practically everything I had an issue with there was amended in this second installment. As a reader, you just can’t ask for more than that.
The Providence of Fire picks up where The Emperor’s Blades left off, following the diverging paths of the slain Emperor Sanlitun’s three surviving children. After spending many years training with the empire’s elite Kettral forces, youngest brother Valyn is in the position to safeguard his older brother Kaden’s succession to the Unhewn Throne – though now he and his wing members are labeled renegades and traitors. Kaden himself has his own destiny to follow. He has spent the last eight years sequestered in a remote monastery in the mountains, learning the mysteries of the monks who live there. With the help of his mentor Tan, Kaden is now ready to use all that knowledge to uncover the truth of those behind Sanlitun’s murder, but being his father’s rightful heir makes him the target of those who want to overthrow the Malkeenian line.
However, oldest sister Adare, whom as you may recall spent most of the last book languishing in the capital being manipulated and treated with disdain by palace flunkies, is probably the one to see the greatest change to her character and storyline out of all of them. Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare formulates a plan to escape the city in the hopes of removing herself from the enemy’s grasp. Not knowing what has become of her brothers, she is also determined to find allies to secure the throne and keep Sanlitun’s killer from ever taking it.
Adare was my absolute favorite in this book, and I enjoyed her chapters the most. This young woman who has spent her whole life within the walls of the Dawn Palace is not as helpless as you would think she’d be. She may be ignorant of much of the world, but her quick thinking allows her to get quite far in her quest, and I always love to see a female character with brains and ambition. I also have to say, she has the most entertaining companions – just wait until you meet Lehav, Oshi, and the indomitable Nira. In this sequel, Adare is a far cry from who she was back in The Emperor’s Blades, and as one of my biggest criticism in that book was the underrepresentation of her character, I am happy and amazed at how far she has come now. I like Adare’s character very much, not only because I think she’s the strongest and most level-headed of Sanlitun’s children, but also because I had a feeling deep down that Staveley would have great things in store for her. I’m thrilled to see she’s finally getting her moment in the spotlight.
The other gripe I had about the first book was that for an epic fantasy, the story just didn’t feel quite big enough. Kaden’s everyday life seemed to revolve being beaten silly by the monks, and for Valyn it was being beaten silly by his trainers and other rival wings. Adare hardly appeared at all. Well, no problems with any of that here. Whereas in The Emperor’s Blades our settings were mostly restricted to the mountain monastery for Kaden, the Kettral training island for Valyn, and the Dawn Palace for Adare, The Providence of Fire opens the world right up as all three royal siblings travel far and wide on their quests. And rather than dealing with their immediate personal problems, the conflicts they face in this novel are far more urgent and significant as well, with far-reaching consequences for the whole empire and not just our three main protagonists.
With a major war against a new threat is on the horizon, the siblings’ roles in it make for a much more dynamic, fast-paced and action-filled plot. It is also worth noting that Staveley adds another point-of-view character partway through the novel, giving us insight into the motivations and actions of Gwenna, the demolitions specialist in Valyn’s wing. With the boys sent off on a wild goose chase and Valyn losing control of his team, it is up to the female Kettrals (and a Skullsworn assassin who is practically an honorary member) to take care of things. Though Gwenna’s chapters came in later in the second half of the novel, they were one of the highlights of this book for me and there were some very memorable scenes in them.
I’m now more intrigued than ever about where this series will go. I admit the plot became more addicting when Adare, Kaden and Valyn were all unaware of the fates of the others, so each sibling had to act on their own using what information they had available. As a result, Adare, Kaden and Valyn now each have their own individual goals. None of them are all that noble or perfect when it comes to making the tough decisions; I found myself dismayed as often as I was proud of some of their choices, but that is to be expected given the circumstances. I’m actually glad that they each have their strengths and shortcomings.
As such, the relationship between the three siblings also fascinates me. Sanlitun was no doubt a great emperor and a wise leader, setting his children off on very different paths for them to experience new things and widen their worldview. But doing so also left huge gaps in their knowledge. Adare knows very little about the outside world but understands politics and the ways of the palace, and yet she was never meant to sit upon Unhewn Throne. Kaden’s eight years in isolation with the monks taught him the specialized mystical abilities that every emperor needs to know, but that also left him woefully ignorant of the ways of his future empire, including the laws of the land and cultures of his people – that and he has no idea at all how to fight and protect himself. In contrast, Valyn’s time with the Kettral taught him how to fight, survive, and form battle strategies, but unfortunately not much else. When it comes to what makes a great leader, it seems that each sibling has only a piece of the whole. But their years spent away from each other doing their different things also made them drift apart, leading to mistrust and suspicion. Whether they will end up working together or be divided remains to be seen, and that’s one of the main things I’m looking forward to finding out in the future of this series.
While The Emperor’s Blades was a pretty good book, like I said, everything about The Providence of Fire just feels even bigger, deeper and more improved. It’s almost like Brian Staveley took the doors to the series and flung them wide open, vastly expanding upon the world, the story and all the characters. In my review of the first book, I summed it up by saying that it was a promising start and in the sequel I would like a deeper look into the history and magic of the Annurian Empire, as well as a larger role for Adare. Well, you can bet I got everything I wanted and more in The Providence of Fire. The fate of the empire hangs in the balance, not to mention the futures of Adare, Kaden, and especially Valyn. Once again, the author ties everything up while teasing a lot more to come in the next installment, except now I’m even more excited for the next book....more
It is worth noting that I listened to the audiobook version of this, whereas I read the print or ebook copy of the previous two books in the trilogy. I mention this because it probably affected my rating. For some books the reading versus listening experience can vary greatly, and this is one of those cases. But more on that later.
First, I want to start off by saying that Endsinger is a great conclusion to the series. After all that buildup in Kinslayer, I was skeptical that author Jay Kristoff could wrap it all up in one more book because there’s so much ground to cover, but he pulls it off magnificently. There’s a lot going on here. Without revealing any spoilers, this is just a taste of what we’re dealing with – 1) the Shima Imperium is in chaos, practically tearing itself apart in a civil war, 2) in the last book it was revealed that the Lotus Guild is poised to take over the empire with a secret weapon at their disposal, namely a colossal steampunk giant machine called Earthcrusher, 3) the Kage rebellion is now in shambles and it’s up to Yukiko and her storm tiger Buruu to rally and unite them, 4) somewhere out there, we know there are more of these storm tigers but getting their help would be difficult as they all seem to hate Buruu due to something awful he did in the past, so there’s that mystery to consider, 5) there’s the whole ongoing “gaijin war” happening outside of Shima, and the captured prisoners who are enslaved and subjected to the most horrific fates, 6) and finally, the biggie – Yukiko will have to deal with a major bombshell that was dropped on us in book two. Not going to say anything more than that, except what she learned about herself is a life changing event which would stay with her both emotionally and physically forever.
Then of course there are all the little side plots involving the secondary characters, like Kin and Hana and Yoshi. Everyone is focused on working towards the goal of toppling Shima’s tyrannical reign as well as the evil, blood-soaked lotus industry that drives it. I won’t lie; there’s so much to wrap up here that I was half expecting the news along the way that this series would end up being a quadrilogy. And yet somehow, impressively, Kristoff manages to tie all of this together without leaving loose threads. That in itself is pretty amazing.
There’s a lot to like in this volume. For one, we have the return of some fantastic characters, and as always the relationship dynamics make this one a great read. The story itself is enhanced by the drama of friendships and animosities between characters, the most obvious example being Yukiko’s bond with Buruu, which is one of the highlights of this series. Seriously, it’s a partnership to rival all the classic tales of interspecies friendships through the ages. And obviously, no epic saga is complete without secrets and devastating betrayals – as well as redemption. Plus, there’s also love. We mustn’t forget romance and passion, even in war. This book has all that and more.
The story, however, has a few hitches. I was poised to write about the awesome twists and turns in this novel, until I stopped to really think about that. Sure, there were several hugely significant events that happened in this novel, but could I honestly say I didn’t expect any of them? Not so much. Unlike the last book, a lot of the “surprises” in this one were actually quite predictable, even when it came to some of the major character sacrifices or deaths. I also found the pacing of the storytelling frustratingly uneven. The beginning held me rapt, to the point not even a looming bedtime could have stopped me from listening, and indeed there were several nights where I stayed up late just to get an hour or two farther in the audiobook to find out what happened. Around the middle of the book though, I lost that enthusiasm. The story here started dragging its feet, and it’s a real shame, because unfortunately I never got the momentum back after that.
Now is probably a good time to talk about why I think listening to this in audiobook format affected my experience. I believe it had nothing to do with the narration (which was brilliant) and everything to do with the writing itself. While I think that in general Jay Kristoff is a good writer and an engaging story teller, he does have a tendency to sometimes go overboard with very flowery and ornate descriptions. This has been my experience with the last two books in this series, and in some ways that has prepared me well for going into Endsinger, knowing to expect some of these rough patches and passages. In spite of this, what I didn’t anticipate was how jarring and distracting it is when this kind of purple prose was read to me through an audiobook. As beautiful and detailed as some of Kristoff’s descriptions are, sometimes they go on for far too long, breaking the flow of the story.
I don’t think the effects were so noticeable when reading the actual print books, because my eye may have naturally skimmed over these big paragraphs and walls of text without me even being aware it was happening. This is not possible to do with an audiobook; instead, the audience has no choice but to be swept up into the entire text.
A talented voice actor or actress can make a book come to life (and narrator Jennifer Ikeda certainly delivered an incredible performance in this case), but hearing the writing read aloud can also sometimes clue a reader in to parts where the author is rambling, focused too much on the irrelevant, or losing his or her grasp on the scene. It happened more times than I would have liked here. It was doubly frustrating to have to constantly skip back a minute or two every time I realized my mind had wandered while listening to a particularly long section devoted to overly embellished descriptions.
Still, this trilogy is excellent as a whole, and I have no qualms recommending it to young adults and adults alike (though make that older young adults, as even though the first book started off as more YA, I felt the series grew progressively darker and more mature with each installment). Was the conclusion absolutely epic and completely worth it, though? Yes and absolutely yes!...more
Open up The Scarlet Tides and the first things you’ll see are several gorgeously illustrated maps depicting the world of the Moontide Quartet. Needless to say, the maps became indispensable to me while I was reading. I’ve never come across a fantasy series with such a comprehensive and detailed approach to world-building. David Hair goes well beyond simply describing the different peoples and places — what he’s created here actually feels like a living, breathing system. These books take place across two huge continents following about half a dozen characters of different creeds and cultures, with the alliances and conflicts that arise between nations forming the basis for multiple threads of the story and driving the plot forward.
Middle books of a series can also be mighty tricky; I’ve had enough disappointing experiences with sequels myself, which makes me understand why some readers would be nervous when approaching them. However, I jumped into The Scarlet Tides with no reservations whatsoever. This series has grown on me, as I stated in my review of the preceding volume, Mage’s Blood. The first book may have been slightly encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up as Hair established the players and set the stage, but it all culminated into one explosive climax and conclusion. And I knew we were going to be heading right into the action with book two.
In this sequel, the Moontide is at hand and the mighty Leviathan Bridge now stands open, creating a corridor between the two continents Yuros and Antiopia, which are normally separated by a vast ocean. The last two Moontides have involved lofty ambitions and crusades of conquest, and this one is no different. Rondion legions and the Inquisition’s windships waste no time storming their way across Antiopia, but very few know of a troubling secret eating at the heart of their empire. A very powerful and valuable artifact called the Scytale of Corineus has slipped through Emperor Constant’s fingers, and he has tasked his inquisitors to scour the world searching for the ones who have absconded with it.
Enter Alaron Mercer, a failed mage who had the Scytale in his hands, then lost it to the girl of his dreams who stole the artifact along with his heart. Cymbellea, who believes she knows the best use for the Scytale, has taken it with the intention of delivering it to Antonin Meiros, the most powerful mage in the world. Little does she know, Meiros is dead, leaving his pregnant widow Ramita on the run from his killers. Several more story arcs run in tandem, including the one which follows Ramita’s former lover Kazim, who ends up with the mercenary Elena Anborn after a botched attack on Emperor Constant’s pureblood mages. Polar opposites in political sides and backgrounds, both nevertheless come to realize they may have a common enemy in Gurvon Gyle, the empire’s spymaster. Some comic relief is also provided by Alaron’s former classmate Ramon, whose storyline involves him running a pyramid scheme, all while his legion marches towards battle. Amusing as this is, Ramon’s point of view also gives readers a boots-on-the-ground view of looming war.
Everything and everyone is connected, the vast distances between the some of the characters and the spheres of conflict notwithstanding. And yet, despite of the sheer scale of it, David Hair manages to make his characters and their stories feel deeply intimate and personal. It’s another reason why this world feels so alive, with all its elements working in tune with one another. Nations and their diverse populations are woven into an intricate web of magic and religion, which are two sides of the same coin. Both play a huge part in nearly all the societies, and as more factions emerge from the shadows we see how much more complex the situation can get.
As things heat up, the net tightens and gradually we are starting to see events converge, bringing the various players closer together. We have betrayals, shifting loyalties, unlikely friendships, and even love. With a dramatis personae so large, it’s inevitable some characters will emerge as my favorites. In Mage’s Blood, the top spot went to Ramita, whose touching yet complicated relationship with Antonin Meiros made me enjoy reading her perspective the most. In this book, however, I came to relish the chapters that follow Kazim and Elena. It’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite storyline yet again involves two people from disparate backgrounds who begin at odds with each other, with the hostility turning to understanding, understanding turning to respect, and the respect eventually turning into love. David Hair has an incredible talent for writing these types of dynamic relationships, making them engaging to read without resorting to clichés and cloying platitudes.
He also does a good job giving each perspective character the attention they deserve. Every one of them has an important role to play, and nobody feels left behind or “parked” while something more exciting happens elsewhere. I learned more about the world from each person, whether it be through meeting Ramon’s new friends from faraway lands, or from Alaron’s encounter with a new race of sentient beings with an astounding origin. And before I could fret myself over how everything will come together, the climax converges most of these storylines, serving up a conclusion and epilogue that tie things up quite nicely.
Overall, an excellent follow up to the first novel, continuing the tradition of vivid, dynamic characters and terrific world building. The intriguing storylines kept me glued to the pages. I honestly found it hard to put down, which was how I ended up reading all 700 pages of this in a little more than three days. Readers of epic fantasy should definitely check out this series....more
Age of Iron ended up surprising me in many delightful ways, but what I didn’t expect at all was how addicting it was. It simply grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s dark, brutal, violent and gritty, and yet I was completely immersed in its harsh, war-torn world.
We begin the story with an introduction to Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary on his way to join up with King Zadar’s grand army at Maidun Castle, hoping for a way to earn some steady coin. But then he is waylaid at Barton, a town that gets attacked and annihilated by the very same people Dug had wished to join. In the aftermath, he meets up with a strange young girl named Spring, and together they encounter Lowa Flynn, formerly one of Zadar’s favored fighters who now finds herself on the run and seeking revenge on the king for her murdered band of warrior women.
King Zadar is a tyrant like no other with his twisted sense of how the world should be. His betrayal of Lowa and failure to capture her has earned him a dangerous enemy, but his killing and pillaging across the country has also made him the target of a young druid named Ragnall, who too seeks to make his way to Maidun to rescue his kidnapped fiancée. Ragnall and his mentor Drustan end up joining with our trio, and together the five make up a rather motley party of unlikely adventurers, all with a common foe.
Very little is known about life in Iron Age Britain; that the book began with this fact and a “this is what really happened” kind of statement in its foreword made me wonder what I’ll be in for. Large swaths of the book filled with history lessons, perhaps? But no, while we do indeed get a torrent of rich, scintillating details about the world, all of it no doubt painstakingly researched and cross checked and checked again by the author, none of it felt blatant or overtly shoved down my throat.
In fact, Watson placed storytelling and characters first, which is what I think made the book’s pacing so successful. He gave backstories to even the more minor characters, in a way that didn’t bog down the story but instead enhanced it, as every detail seems purposely placed to provide insight into the people and life at the time. The plot is also constantly driving forward, and there aren’t many places where it loses steam. History clearly has a role in this book, but the ultimate goal here is epic adventure, and we certainly don’t sacrifice storytelling or momentum.
It also wouldn’t feel complete without a bit of magic, which brings us to the druids. I admit I was very much drawn to the mention of them in the book’s description, as I’ve always been interested in the subject. And the druids of Age of Iron are fascinating indeed. There are all kinds of druids – healers, soothsayers, magicians, some who are benevolent and others who are bloodthirsty and depraved. This latter sort of druid seems to get the most attention, in the form of Felix, the druid who serves King Zadar. As cruel and wicked Zadar is, Felix makes him look like a snuffling choir boy. Some of the druid’s deeds are hard to read about, described in all its gruesome, gory details, and Watson doesn’t spare his readers one bit in this area.
I guess here’s where I should mention that no one is safe in this book – men, women, children and animals are all subjected to some horrific, violent fates, and it can get quite graphic – disturbingly so. If you’re squeamish or turned off about that kind of stuff, here’s a caveat: you might want to stay far away.
And yet, Age of Iron isn’t all doom and gloom, and blood and guts. There is humor, and there are inherently good people in this book. However, none of them are so black-and-white as that either. Characters like Dug, Lowa, Spring, and Ragnall serve as good counterpoints to the depravity and viciousness of people like Zadar and Felix, but our so-called heroes aren’t without their weaknesses. They may endear themselves to you, make you laugh or make you root for them, but be prepared to despise them sometimes too, because in the end they are also flawed people and simply trying to survive a world trying to do them in. I was all the more impressed by the well-roundedness of these characters, and whether you love them or hate them, I thought they were all very developed and well written.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next book. Age of Iron is one hell of a novel. The polish and skill in the writing makes it hard to believe it’s his fictional debut, but you can bet Angus Watson’s got my full attention. I’ll definitely be watching for his future works as well as the progress of this series with great interest....more
Erin Lindsey is also E.L. Tettensor, author of the mystery-fantasy Darkwalker that I enjoyed so much last year. So needless to say, I was really excited to read her new novel The Bloodbound, a sword and sorcery adventure with a more romantic bent.
The book introduces readers to Alix Black, a soldier and scout in the king’s host. I always enjoy it when I come across fantasy stories that feature both men and women fighters, and seeing someone like Alix, who is a noblewoman of a sort, in the army is doubly refreshing. Despite being one of the Greater Houses, the power and influence of the Blacks have waned over the years, leaving only Alix and her older brother Rig. Alix has left the life of luxury behind, trading in her gowns and lavish balls for leathers and her blood blade, swearing her service to King Erik.
But what she didn’t expect was actually becoming Erik’s bodyguard. When the king is betrayed on the battlefield by his own brother Prince Tomald, Alix rescues Erik and is named his protector. Leaving her comrades in the scouts behind, Alix becomes Erik’s personal guard but also a trusted confidante as the two grow closer. Complicating matters is Alix’s relationship with her former fellow scout and more-than-just-a-friend Liam, but what is a loyal soldier to do when her sovereign ruler requires her protection and the fate of their entire kingdom rests on the outcome of a brutal war?
While The Bloodbound might not be breaking new ground, it has all the ingredients for a winning fantasy novel. It has a strong female protagonist, who is deadly capable without being a cutting, embittered warrior. No damsels in distress here; we see a gender role reversal from the norm, with Alix doing her fair share of the rescuing, saving Erik’s kingly hide time and time again. There’s also an intriguing, fast-paced plot involving a traitorous royal brother and an invading foreign army. The world building is also rich but subtle, with plenty of the magic, history and politics of the book’s world getting through to the reader without ever becoming overbearing. And then, of course, there’s the romance.
I’ll admit, I had my reservations when I first encountered the love triangle. Torn between Erik and Liam who have both expressed their true feelings to her, Alix knows that eventually she will have to choose between them. But love is not as important as duty when you’re a king, a noblewoman, or even a common soldier who may be more than he appears. Meanwhile, a usurper threatens to take the throne and an attacking enemy force has the dark magical power to do great evil, so the Alix-Liam-Erik situation is further muddled by political need.
While I knew going in that The Bloodbound would have strong emphasis on romance, the love triangle still threw me off a little. Considered a staple of the Young Adult novel, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt to see it in my adult epic fantasy. However, after pondering the matter, I realized that even though love triangles are a common trope, my problems that stem from them have nothing to do with the love triangles themselves, but actually how they are written. Erin Lindsey ends up avoiding a lot of the common pitfalls, opting to forego the angst and melodrama, sparing me a lot of frustration and eye-rolling. Without the drawn-out dramatics of your typical love triangle, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. The romance is almost in perfect balance with the rest of the novel, and doesn’t distract too much from the overall bigger story.
All in all, this makes The Bloodbound a very special book. It mixes the modern with the classic, with the result being an epic fantasy type novel that would also be very easy to get into for fans of YA romance or Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance. An engaging love story is something I feel is missing in a lot of epic fantasy, so this book worked very well for me. It gives equal weight to both the romance and the fantasy world-building elements.
All told, this is a very well-written novel that I believe has wide appeal as well as the potential to connect with many kinds of readers. It can be read as a standalone, with a satisfying story and no cliffhangers, though it does keep the door open for future possibilities. I love the author’s style: simple and elegant, which is how I like it. No matter what name she writes under, I’m a fan....more
The Godless caught me off guard a bit, as it ended up not being the kind of book I was expecting at all. Mainly, it doesn’t read like it was meant to have a traditional story plot, and I don’t doubt that could be the reason for the many reviews I’ve seen describing it as confusing or difficult to summarize. Books like these are generally not my cup of tea, but The Godless did manage to hold me rapt with its epic world and fascinating mythology.
Thousands of years ago, the gods warred. After their conflict, the dead or dying ended up scattered across the world, becoming part of the forests, mountains, and other features of the land. Since then, men and women have awakened with strange and spectacular powers that are derived from the fallen gods’ bodies. The Godless takes place mostly in Mirea, a city built by a massive stone wall that spans a mountain range which houses the body of one of these gods, Ger.
The book follows the lives of several characters: Ayae, the young apprentice of a cartographer who discovers she is “cursed” after emerging completely unharmed from the flames that devoured her shop; Bueralan, an exiled baron who leads a team of mercenaries hired by Mirea to sabotage Leera, a neighboring enemy kingdom; and Zaifyr, a mysterious, centuries-old mystic who teaches and advises Ayae after the emergence of her powers.
The Godless is indeed a bit difficult to describe, as I found it overall heavy on ideas and history while coming in on the lighter side when it came to plot and character development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though books like this aren’t typically my taste, they are chockfull of potential if written well. To its credit, The Godless did keep me interested, but it didn’t have the momentum I desired. While the concepts of the gods and the individuals with special powers are nothing short of extraordinary, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the story, a lack of a unifying thread tying it all together which would have made this one a truly engaging read.
The characters themselves are well-formed with very complete backstories, but their personalities seemed muted somehow. I felt no particular affinity towards any of them, and despite the time spent with each character, I regarded them from an emotional distance. The Godless also isn’t something I would call fast-paced or a page-turner, though it does have its moments at the beginning and towards the end. There’s a lot of detail to take in in between, meant to be absorbed and savored, so I wasn’t surprised this one ended up being a slower read.
I think I went into this expecting something akin to a heroic fantasy, but that wasn’t how it played out, and it was through no fault of the book or the author. By design, the narrative seemed more interested in emphasizing the complex philosophy and theological ideas, the political history between Miera and Leera, as well as the lore and mythology behind the gods’ war and the Cursed.
It’s a compelling read, and there’s no denying that. This first book is a great introduction to a series with a boatload of potential. Still, while I enjoyed reading about the world of The Godless with its diverse peoples and cultures, its rich history and politics, my own priority would be characters and story. But obviously, we all have different tastes. If the sort of world building I described in the above paragraph is something you enjoy, then this book would be perfect for you....more
Needless to say, putting this review together was quite difficult for me, on account of how very different it is from the one I thought I would be writing. I made it no secret I had high hopes for this one, not only because of the buzz the book has gotten since the ramp up to its release or all the glowing reviews it has garnered, but also I was personally very excited to finally read my first Kameron Hurley novel. Truly, I wanted to love this book and was set and prepared to add my praise to the chorus, but as a reviewer I also have to be honest with others and with myself when a book does not meet expectations.
In the end, I think The Mirror Empire is one of those cases in which I can recognize its literary merits and applaud the author’s designs to challenge the conventions of epic fantasy fiction, but the story itself failed to connect with me on any deeper level and I found myself strangely dissatisfied when I completed it.
First, a bit about the book: The world is about to be shaken up by a cataclysm, and as the dark star rises to herald this event, you have an orphan girl named Lilia who would anything to fulfill a promise to her mother, even if it means putting herself in danger and having to face down unspeakable threats. In another place, a new Kai ascends to power after the suspicious death of his sister and fights to keep his place and his land together even as legitimacy of his rule is called into question. Meanwhile, a young boy said to be destined for great things undertakes a journey to discover himself and his loyalties, for one day he ultimately must choose between sides. And on the battlefield, an able but brutal general faces a similar predicament, caught between her heritage and her oaths to the Empress.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of perspectives involved, and many more characters besides. That should have been my first warning sign. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a big cast of characters (when you’re into epic fantasy, I think that sort of comes with the territory). However, that also means a greater onus on the author to strike a balance when it comes to giving every one of her players enough time to resonate with the reader, and to pace their sections accordingly. Hurley falters in this area by trying to introduce too many characters, both main and supporting, without sufficiently developing them – especially in the beginning. Not only do the odd-sounding names make it harder to remember who’s who, but ironically they also make it all the more obvious when new major to semi-major characters are still being introduced even past the halfway point of the novel. It makes it that much hard to sit back and just enjoy the story when so much effort is going towards trying to keep all the characters straight.
However, to be fair, you should know that I am a “Characters First” kind of reader. Arguably, I place an inordinate amount of emphasis on characters and how effectively I can engage with them. They absolutely don’t have to be admirable or even likeable, but I have to care. Characters are like the foundation of a story – everything else tumbles like a house of cards if I can’t care about them. Naturally, anything they do or anything that happens to them isn’t going to impact me in any meaningful way. The biggest issue I had with this book is the lack of any strong characters, in the sense that none of them were very memorable. Hurley doesn’t develop any of them nearly enough, and her pacing is haphazard and disorganized, so that many long chapters could go by before returning to a perspective character, and then I find myself asking, “Who are you again?” That shouldn’t be happening.
The only one – ONE out of a half dozen or so main characters and at least four times as many supporting characters – that I found myself interested in was Lilia, and that’s likely just because she was the first to be introduced in the prologue. Zezili, Captain General of the Empress, was a close second, and probably because Hurley went to great lengths to make her memorable but did so by taking the easy way, presenting the general as archetypically evil, the cruel mass murderer and an unfeeling lover. Everyone else faded into the background, which unfortunately made me feel very indifferent towards any events of significance, including plot twists or unexpected character deaths.
But look, I’ve gone on for long enough about the negatives, and I don’t want to make it sound like I downright disliked this book, because I didn’t; so I think it’s time to talk about the positives. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, not least of all was the world building. So much praise has been heaped onto this facet of the novel and I have to agree 100% with everything that has been said about originality, spirit and vividness of the universe and cultures of The Mirror Empire.
My favorite thing about this book is that it is bold, it is epic, and it is refreshingly different. I love the idea of two realms clashing together in a catastrophic world-shattering event, and also the more minute details like the sentient flora and giant carnivorous plants. Hurley is a great writer with an incredible imagination, and she’s at her best and in her element when she’s actually not trying so hard to turn things on their head or to be over-the-top. I can’t stress how important it is for both authors and readers to examine and confront the status quo and current state of fantasy, but doing something for the sake of doing it is also rarely interesting. Admittedly, Hurley is not at all subtle when it comes to her attempt at subversion in this novel, but at the same time I still respect her immensely for her steadfast interrogation of the genre.
These days, one can probably find some degree of social commentary in many works of speculative fiction; however, my favorite ones tend to be those that arrive at their messages organically, part and parcel with compelling storytelling, starting with well-developed characters. Since it’s the characters that fell flat for me in this case, I just couldn’t immerse myself in the story. It certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying, but as I’ve explained, I’m also aware I have some rather nitpicky and particular tastes. Despite my tepid feelings for this novel, I believe the accolades are well-deserved. Sure, I didn’t love it, but then I’m glad so many others did....more
There are a number of sequels coming out this year with big shoes to fill, and not the least of them is Tower Lord which is the follow up to the sensation that was Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song. While this second installment might not pack the kind of punch its predecessor did, I nonetheless enjoyed the book immensely. It’s a very different novel than the first book, with a shift in style, focus, and character perspectives, and yet it still has all the elements that we epic fantasy fans live for.
In book one, we met Vaelin Al Sorna, a brother of the Sixth Order and one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known. Coming home from a bloody war, he has sworn to fight no more, instead focusing his efforts on seeking any of his relatives that still might live. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by the new monarch, Vaelin has the noble yet perhaps naïve dream of living out his life in peace and quiet, for news of his exploits (and his crimes) have spread far and wide and those who know of his mysterious gift that guides him will not let him rest.
Anthony Ryan also adds several more point-of-view characters to the mix in Tower Lord, which I was glad to have been prepared for, as Vaelin no longer takes center stage. Instead, he shares the book with mainly three others: Reva, a young woman who begins this journey with hate for Vaelin in her heart and an unquenchable thirst for revenge; Princess Lyrna, sister to the new king and who possesses more strength and resolve than her brother ever would; and finally, Frentis, a familiar face from Blood Song, though he has been changed from his years of being held captive by the Untesh and being forced to fight in the slave pits.
Having been aware of this new format, with the chapters cycling through the character viewpoints, I had expected and prepared myself for the slower start. Indeed, with more characters to follow this time around, the author takes much more time to set the stage for the events in this book. And I have to confess it didn’t quite grab my attention right away. It was a pleasant journey through the first half of the novel to meet new faces or to catch up with old friends, but on the whole Tower Lord lacked a certain quality that made Blood Song the dangerously addictive and immersive read it was right off the bat.
However, I don’t think this makes Tower Lord a weak sequel. On the contrary, in fact. This second book is stronger than book one in many ways, not only because it expands the scope of the series by giving us multiple character perspectives and opening up the wider world, but it also showcases Ryan’s talents as a storyteller. He’s proven himself as an author who can write a very diverse and convincing cast of characters while maintaining a steady level of suspense and interest in all spheres of action, building intensity as he moves all the pieces into place for when things really start rolling.
Quite simply, Tower Lord is a totally different beast. And it’s just hard not to compare a sequel to what came before. It comes down to personal taste, and admittedly, Blood Song and I hit it off much faster. I had myself this experience with a couple other sequels this year; they were all excellent novels, but thematically they just worked slightly less for me. In this case, it’s hardly a surprise. Blood Song began with Vaelin Al Sorna as a young boy, entering the Sixth Order and a huge chunk of the book was dedicated to his training, the relationships he forged with his brothers, and his eventual rise to greatness. It was my favorite part of the novel. And come on, we all know how tough it is beat a good coming-of-age story.
The first book was absolutely a tough act to follow, I know. But all things considered, Tower Lord is a wonderful follow-up that might even appeal more to other readers, especially those who preferred the parts with “grown-up” Vaelin from the first book. I mentioned one of the things I liked about the “young” Vaelin’s chapters was his relationship with his fellow Sixth Order brothers, and it’s incredibly fascinating to see how those dynamics have changed over time. Brother Frentis was a huge surprise for me in this one. Thinking about all the terrible things that has been through and how they’ve affected him, it almost makes his story more interesting to me than Vaelin’s. I’m also impressed by Ryan’s female characters, and the energy and conviction he was able to put behind Reva and Lyrna, two women who are not afraid of setbacks and will fight for what they believe in.
In the end, it’s definitely the characters who made this such a great read. I absolutely adore the new additions. The characters make things happen, set things in motion, and while the first half of this book might have lagged a little, the same cannot be said about the second half, and the final quarter was pure action bliss. Does it take a bit of investment to get to this point? Yes. But totally worth it. Love the intricate magical elements and political entanglements that made the finale such an edge-of-your-seat ride. Anthony Ryan really tied things together and delivered.
I hope when we next meet Vaelin and whoever Ryan decides to let us be acquainted with next time (assuming he once again chooses this multiple POV character format) in the third book Queen of Fire, we’ll be able to jump right into the action. The slower build-up at the beginning held this book back a little, in my opinion, so I can’t say I enjoyed this book more or even as much as Blood Song, but the difference is very close. And I’m not disappointed at all. If you enjoyed the first book, there’s absolutely no reason at all not to pick this up and continue the epic journey....more
I’m what you would call a book juggler, meaning at any given time you’ll find me with multiple books in my currently-reading list. From the moment I started Veil of the Deserters though, I ignored everything else on my plate, reading nothing but this book until I finished all 500ish pages of it in two and a half days. It was the only thing I wanted to read.
As a sequel, this was everything I wanted and more. If Scourge of the Betrayer was the delicious appetizer, then Veil of the Deserters is most definitely the main course. It’s always great to read an amazing book only to discover the second one is even better, because while the first book was the perfect tease, piquing my interest and whetting my appetite for more, here’s where we really get into the meat of it.
In my review of the first book, I talked about an air of mystery surrounding the direction of the plot. The main protagonist and narrator is a bookish scribe named Arkamondos, hired by the formidable Captain Killcoin to accompany his band of Syldoon warriors on their journey to complete a mission. We have very little idea of what the Syldoon are up to, since Arki himself is not made privy to the details of their quest. Why these rough and tough soldiers require a scribe or in what capacity Arki would be employed is also unknown. But in Veil of the Deserters, we get our answers. We get them in spades.
Not only that, the world building is much more substantial. The author fleshes out the world and the characters in this second installment, providing a lot more background information and history. Arki’s hunger for knowledge and his natural curiosity as a scribe is a great means to facilitate this; as he grows more comfortable around his traveling companions, they tell their stories and reveal their lives to him. We find out that the old veteran Hewspear is a grandfather, estranged from his daughter-in-law after the death of his son. We also learn that Killcoin has a sister, the Memoridon witch Soffjian who makes her first appearance in this novel. The relationship between the siblings is complicated, and we’re also in a position to find out why. This book humanizes the Syldoon, showing the reader another side to these men, letting us see that they are more than just brutal warriors.
I continue to enjoy these characters. They fascinated me in the first book, and here they are even more developed. What amazes me is Salyard’s talent for making each and every one of them unique. Not every author can do this. I love reading dark fantasy featuring raw, gritty badass characters – but sometimes a book can end up with a whole bunch of characters with practically indistinguishable personalities on account of how raw, how gritty, how very badass they all equally are. Thankfully, the Bloodsounder’s Arc novels avoid this pitfall. I liked each of the Syldoon for different reasons. Every one of them can stand on their own, displaying their individual quirks and qualities which can even extend to their behaviors and the way they speak, from Killcoin’s emphatic “yes?” to Mulldoos’ penchant for coming up with hilariously obscene insults. Now's also probably a good time to mention just how fantastic I think the dialogue is, well-written and sometimes injected with dark humor.
Arki himself is a delight to have as a narrator. He's come a long way since the beginning of the first book, evolving with every minute he spends with the Syldoon, every violent battle he witnesses. He gradually learns to shed his old life to adapt to the new one with Captain Killcoin and his men, and it’s interesting to see how the emotions war within him even as he grows more loyal to the Syldoon and makes friends among them. He's a stronger person in this book, both in the way he is written and in the manner he carries himself.
Seriously, why aren’t more people reading Jeff Salyards?! He's outdone himself with this one. The book all but throws open the doors to the world of the Bloodsounder’s Arc, giving us better insight into its history, politics, religion and magic. The sights and sounds get more magnificent. The battles are bigger and better. The story is far deeper now that all the cards are on the table, and Salyards isn’t holding back anymore. All around, this is an excellent book, exceeding all my expectations for a sequel....more
I used to think military fantasy wasn’t my thing, but ever since I started reading a lot again for book blogging, it’s become even more apparent that what I like or what I don’t like isn’t so much about the genre or sub-category, but is in the way it’s written. I saw that last year when I read Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, an epic military flintlock fantasy that invariably clicked with me. In fact, I would say it did more than that; it ended up being one of my top reads for 2013.
In the end, a novel’s genre or topic doesn’t matter; it’s characters first and foremost, and that’s the way it has always been. I think this is why I find so many of Wexler’s books enjoyable to read; whether it’s his epic fantasy, urban fantasy, or even middle-grade fantasy, his talents for writing great characters are exceptional. I first fell in love with Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass, his two main protagonists in The Thousand Names, but eventually grew to appreciate many of the supporting characters as well.
I guess that’s why I was initially nervous when I first picked up The Shadow Throne, the sequel that I’d been so impatiently waiting for, and saw that we mostly had a new batch of characters, a new setting, and a whole different kind of war to fight. Sure, I was glad to see that Marcus and Winter were back, but then again, all those wonderful personalities I met in the first book – Fitz, The Preacher, Give-Em-Hell, Graff, Bobby, and pretty much the whole of the Vordanai Old Colonial army – were also largely absent from this one. But thank goodness we still got plenty of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, because I honestly don’t know what I would have done without my favorite military genius.
The Shadow Throne picks up directly from where things left off in The Thousand Names – the war in Khandar is won, and Janus, Marcus and Winter return in haste to the capital as heroes – but even so, there were times I felt the sequel read like a whole different story. Nothing terribly wrong with that, though. There’s still plenty of open conflict, but instead of the broad, sweeping battles in the desert, most of it takes place within the city walls of Ohnlei. It’s a very unstable time with the King of Vordan on his deathbed, and men like the dangerous and power-hungry Duke Orlanko are circling like vultures around the young, delicate princess and heir, waiting to manipulate her and seize control.
However, the princess Raesenia is more than she appears. Like, a LOT more. There’s a huge secret about her that gets revealed early on in what might be one of the best and most surprising scenes of the novel. My earlier disappointment about not seeing more of the characters from the first book ended up being rather short-lived, because Raesinia as a new point-of-view character pretty much made up for it single-handedly. Her perspective added a whole new layer to this story, and it’s great to see another strong female character in this series who’s not afraid to buck expectations and take control of her own life. In fact, it’s the women who steal the show in The Shadow Throne. While Marcus continues to hold his own, I have to say Winter and Raesinia’s chapters were the highlight for me in this one. And let’s not forget the deadly assassin Sothe or the girls of the Leatherbacks gang led by their bold leader (whose identity is yet another surprise).
Admittedly, the story was slower to start off and took some time to gain momentum, seeing as it had to introduce new characters and also to set up the political climate in this new environment. I also feel The Thousand Names was a stronger novel, but probably because the themes of it suited me more, whereas The Shadow Throne felt very different in overall tone. It’s more of tale of revolution, with a heavier focus on political intrigue and differences in ideology between Borelgai supporters and those who want to see Vordan free from the clutches of Duke Orlanko’s influence. A lot of the conflict has shifted to another front, with bloody battles in the city streets but also fierce verbal clashes in the shadows of palace chambers, university classrooms, common taprooms and other places where dissidents gather.
The action therefore felt a little more subdued and on a smaller scale in this one, and a couple of action scenes also had to happen “off-screen” due to limitations imposed by only having a handful of POV characters. But this in no way diminished my enjoyment. There’s a grand siege near the middle of the story that had me biting my nails, and I loved me some subterfuge and the bigger role that espionage played in the book. The author made sure that the quieter, more discreet action sequences that took place in the shadows were just as engaging to read as the all-out battles.
So with a novella and two full length novels officially under its belt, can I finally say The Shadow Campaigns is one of my favorite fantasy series out right now? Certainly my favorite military fantasy. I knew from the very start that The Thousand Names would be a tough act to follow and that book two would have big shoes to fill, but The Shadow Throne was no slouch; it delivered exactly what I wanted to see in the sequel – raised stakes, impactful decisions that furthered the plot, and of course, more of Wexler’s outstanding characters....more
Last year, I read an incredibly moving book called Love Minus Eighty. As I closed the cover on the last page and settled back with a roiling mind and warmed heart, I knew right there and then that any future novels written by Will McIntosh will be going straight onto my to-read list. Someone who can write such a magnificent story (not to mention give me all these feels) certainly belongs on my list of favorite authors. And so that is how I came to review Defenders, and I don't have to tell you how excited I was.
On the surface, the two books I've read by Will McIntosh could not be any more different. Love Minus Eighty explores love in a future caught up in a tangled web of digital information and social media. Defenders, on the other hand, is about war and an alien invasion. Taking place over a period of twenty years, the book is divided into three parts. First, it details humanity’s losing battle against the Luyten, a race of giant, starfish-like aliens whose greatest advantage over us is their species’ telepathic ability. How do you fight an enemy who can read your every thought and know your actions even before you do?
Enter the defenders, humanity’s answer to that question. Tactically-minded and highly intelligent, they are a new race of warriors genetically engineered to be immune to Luyten mind-reading. Needless to say, they summarily wiped the floor with the dastardly starfish. But what happens after the war is won? What on earth do you do with millions of seventeen-foot tall, three-legged extraordinary warriors now that there are no more aliens to fight? They were our saviors, our own beloved creations, and yet they might as well be as foreign to us as the Luyten. The rest of the book covers the tumultuous two decades that follow, exploring the idea of sharing the world with the defenders.
Like I said, superficially there appears to be very little in common between Love Minus Eighty and Defenders. But dig a little deeper, and a couple similarities come to light.
For one thing, thematically different as they are, both novels pack a powerful punch. Will McIntosh has a remarkable ability to write stories that reach deep into your mind and heart, raising questions about ourselves both individually and as a society. I enjoy his tightly woven plots and multiple narratives, but it’s the messages in them that transcend the content and that's what ultimately makes reading his work so rewarding.
When you read Defenders, look for the forest, not the trees. Just as you weren’t supposed to pick apart the minutiae of cryogenics in Love Minus Eighty, I realized very early on that I shouldn’t get too hung up on the logistics of an alien invasion or the ins-and-outs of bio-engineering a whole new warrior race. This science fiction novel isn’t so much about the “science” than it is a thought-provoking social fiction piece exploring how humanity might approach an “us vs. them” situation. Needless to say, if you enjoy “what if” stories, this would be the ideal book for you. But even in the face of implausible circumstances, Defenders was an enthralling and sometimes terrifying read, given how the speculation always remained grounded in human nature. Humanity has essentially created an army of living, breathing killing machines with only a swift and decisive victory against the Luyten in mind, and now they must live with the consequences of their actions.
What makes someone a friend or foe? Who can put a price on the cost of freedom? As ever, the scenarios in McIntosh’s stories are enhanced by his characters; they are the ones who help expand our understanding of the dire things happening in the world, very important in books such as these. And in Defenders, that’s no exception. Through the narratives of only a handful of characters – Oliver, Kai, Lila and Dominque – we are able to get a well-rounded sense of the culture and climate of the situation. It’s interesting to watch their relationships evolve over the years, and to see how the events of the war has influenced their individual beliefs and perspectives.
Of the two novels from McIntosh I have read now, I think Love Minus Eighty still remains closer to my heart, but Defenders isn’t far behind. Both are eye-opening works, and are simply excellent books. I’ve said this many times before, but this author deserves A LOT more attention!...more
The first time I heard about author Aidan Harte was last year when his novel Irenicon was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar award for best debut. Talk about an impressive series starter. The book's historical overtones set in a fantasy world, along with a subtle touch of magic put me in mind strongly of the works by Guy Gavriel Kay, and if Harte's prose lacks Kay's poetic quality then he more than makes up for it with its boldness and intensity.
I also learned the meaning behind a new word: Irenicon, from the Oxford Dictionary "a proposal made as a means of achieving peace." The book's title is a reference to the river which cuts through the middle of the city of Rasenna, ironically named for so many reasons, least of all its brutal history. Blasted into existence by the Concordian Empire using Wave technology developed by their brilliant engineers, the new river effectively divided Rasenna both geographically and socially, sparking wars between powerful families and ensuring that the city will never be able to rise up against Concord. But the Wave also brought other unexpected consequences -- such as the river becoming sentient. And it doesn't seem to like humanity very much.
Central to the conflict is Sofia Scaligeri, future Contessa of Rasenna, brought up and trained by her mentor the Doctor Bardini. Her life changes forever with the arrival of Giovanni, the engineer from Concord tasked to build a bridge across Irenicon as a display of the empire's strength. Their meeting results in discord among all parties, and as the feuding between the different factions in Rasenna have always been at a fever pitch, the presence of a Concordian in their midst have not helped matters. But while the friction and dissension may be at the forefront of this narrative, what I also saw in it was a very twisty and poignant love story. Maybe I'm just a romantic at heart.
Sophia is a great protagonist. At first, I hadn't expected a teenage girl to be at the heart of this story; it just didn't seem to be that kind of novel. But I guess I should have taken a better look at the cover -- which is gorgeous and very dramatic, by the way -- which features a young female warrior at the head of a mounted army. I bring attention to it because it's a very accurate depiction of the character's personality -- strong, and a little stubborn perhaps, but also very skilled, having been groomed to become the leader of a city on the verge of tearing itself apart. But despite her age, this is still a very adult novel, full of complexity and deeper themes. I also wouldn't exactly call it fast-paced, taking a rather measured approach to setting the stage, but in so doing we get really well-rounded portrayals of all the characters involved.
I think the unique setting also bears mentioning. Very early on, we find out about book's world and its version of Christianity, where baby Jesus never escaped the clutches of Herod's forces and thus never grew to adulthood to spread his word. While the universe of Irenicon is home to magic and all sorts of uncanny technologies, there is a very powerful alternate history vibe. Take the names of the people and places, for example, which gave me a strong impression of Italy circa the medieval period. It's fascinating, and if anything I wish the setting could have been expanded further. There were several instances of characters contemplating religion, but those moments never extended very far, and I also wouldn't have minded even more world-building.
Nevertheless, the author did an incredible job providing a vivid backdrop for all the action and the emotion, deftly filling in the spaces with historical and cultural context. Harte has a very interesting biography, and no doubt his experiences in writing, art, and the media have given him a unique perspective with which to approach this trilogy. This first book is full of unexpected surprises, and how cruel is the last line, leaving me speculating! Distinctive and a little unconventional, this debut is a little tough to pin down, but I can also understand all the praise for it. I look forward to seeing how the writing evolves, along with how things will play out in the next book....more
If you want to see a cool way to tackle dark fantasy, look no further than this novel. It'd been sitting on my shelf for a while, and earlier this month I finally picked it up. It didn't take more than a few pages for me to realize I was looking at a very special book.
Jeff Salyards' approach to storytelling gave me a very unique experience. For one thing, I thought I had a pretty good bead on what I like in my fantasy -- you know, the things I enjoy and don't enjoy about the genre, etc. Well, that was before this book came along and turned everything upside down, making me rethink my own preferences.
Example the first: I'd always thought I preferred answers to any mysteries, but Scourge of the Betrayer was a book that provided scant detail about its story right from the start, leaving many questions open even once we were well past the midway point. But guess what? I found myself totally okay with this. More on this in a sec.
Example the second: Precious little words were wasted in the telling of this story, which didn't come as a surprise to me after taking in account the relatively modest page count. I usually assume this means the author won't be going into too much detail about the world or its characters. Of course, I was wrong with this one. What struck me was the fact that even though Jeff Salyards ever only gave just enough information for the reader to follow along, the world-building never suffered.
There was a good balance, plain and simple. What should have been a frustrating experience instead had me completely riveted. Not unexpectedly, the characters had a lot to do with drawing me in; after all, dark tales such as these tend to feature gritty, nasty personalities that nonetheless exude a certain charm. We have Arkamondos, a young scribe hired on to chronicle the exploits of a rough band of Syldoon warriors led by the formidable Captain Braylar Killcoin. Why Arki is there among this crew, or what the Syldoon are up to in the first place are questions that remain a mystery for quite a while, but the winning characters and the promise that I was going to get better acquainted with this crazy lot were reasons enough to stick around to find out more.
In a way, the players are more important than the plot. The story works well told from Arki's perspective in the first person, especially since Salyards doesn't hold anything back with his bold and unflinching style. We are privy to his protagonist's every thought and emotion, riding along in Arki's head as he experiences everything from his most awkwardly humiliating moments to the terror and disgust he feels towards the brutal violence of his Syldoon companions. The more ugliness this meek and bookish scribe gets exposed to, the more compelling his character becomes. Arki's personal growth takes center stage, and his relationships with Braylar and the inscrutible scout woman Lloi go a long way in also enhancing that journey.
The author took a huge gamble when he chose to approach the story this way, but it certainly paid off. The book is a refreshing change from the usual dark fantasy; it's fast-paced and energetic without sacrificing world building or character development. A lot of reviewers have compared it to The Black Company, and in truth I'd do the same except I honestly felt that Scourge of the Betrayer was a much better book. I liked Glen Cook's series, but didn't get into his characters or take to his writing the same way I took to Jeff Salyards'. Scourge hooked me right away, and even though the ending was somewhat abrupt, my overall feelings for the book are extremely positive. I'm glad the release of book two is just around the corner, because I can't wait to continue Arki's story....more
Moth and Spark was one of my top anticipated novels of 2014. My gut instinct told me it was going to be a good one, and while my gut might not be the best guide for a lot of things, it has hardly ever steered me wrong when it comes to books. And I was pleased to see to that it was right once again. If anything, Moth and Spark gave me even more than I bargained for.
To understand why I liked it so much, you also have to understand that I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. While I was reading Moth and Spark, a Goodreads friend of mine commented on one of my status updates with: "Fantasy with a romance sub-plot is rare." Indeed it is! Everyone who knows me knows I enjoy a good love story. And I would be reading a lot more romance, except I prefer it combined with other elements, especially from speculative fiction.
What I've always wanted to read was a meaningful and actively engaging romance in a high fantasy, but typically, most of the adult fantasy novels I enjoy merely scratch at the surface of romantic relationships. It's pretty much made me resign myself to the fact that I can only have one without the other. That is until this book came along and filled that void.
Moth and Spark is also different from a lot of romances. Yes, the love between the two main characters features heavily in this book, but at the same time it never lets you forget that both Corin and Tam are organically part of a much bigger story unfolding around them. Their relationship, as suddenly and swiftly as it occurred, is not merely the central focus with just the fantasy setting tacked on; it is part and parcel of the overall plot which involves a rich tapestry of courtly intrigue, back alley conspiracies and impending war, all culminating into a nation hanging in the balance. Together, the crown prince of Caithen and the commoner daughter of a renowned doctor must work together to save their homeland, combining their powers to free the dragons from their bondage to a mad emperor.
That's right, there are dragons. Just when you think things can't get any better, eh?
I think most of all, I loved this book for the wonderful characters that Anne Leonard has created. Call me a softie, but I like it when I see strong and inherently good, decent people find each other and fall in love. I like it when I see lovers like Tam and Corin sacrifice for each other, care for each other, and respect one another. I like that their romance is a partnership, where the chemistry is natural and mutual.
The author is also very adept at world building. She has a way of inserting very detailed information about the environment without encumbering the prose. For instance, I only noticed afterwards that there is actually a good amount of description in the text, but I hardly felt overwhelmed by them at all as I was reading. Anne Leonard accomplishes this by not laying out the background of the world all at once; instead, we gradually get to learn about things like the Empire's history or magical lore as the story progresses.
I could go on and on about a lot of the other aspects that I enjoyed, such as the magic, the dragons and their riders, the king's wizard-assassins (I really liked Joce, who was probably my favorite character after Tam and Corin), the court politics, the formal dances and elegant fashions, the sword fighting scenes and so on, but I should leave some of the more enchanting parts for people to discover for themselves. I will reveal though, that the ending involves quite a gripping scene of a duel on dragonback. Oh yes, this book gets my heart pounding in more ways than one!
Suffice to say I was very impressed with Moth and Spark, which is a debut for Anne Leonard. The novel's story of love and adventure struck the right chord with me, and it's going straight onto my shelf of favorites. I'll definitely be watching this author in the future for more....more
V-S Day is a bit of a departure from my usual reads, but I've made made a resolution this year to tackle more books that are outside my comfort zone. And while I may not be a World War II buff, I do love novels of alternate history and have seen authors come up with some terrific ideas when it comes to this era and genre.
To tell the truth, I almost balked and ran after the first chapter. It wasn't WWII history that made me hesitate, but in fact it was the rocket science that intimidated me. To be fair, it doesnt take much to make me feel out of my depth; a few mentions of things like insulated hoses, radar arrays, and liquid oxygen and nitrogen tank pressurization and you'll find me starting to sweat. I can't help it, I just start to feel my attention waning whenever descriptions get the least bit technical.
But then, things turned around completely. The book may have opened on the scene of a hectic space-plane launch in 1943, but suddenly with the next chapter we are looking in on a gathering of family and friends in the present day. As it turns out, this is a reunion party for a group of pretty important people, made up of the brilliant scientists who thwarted a Nazi plot to attack New York City in the war during the 1940s. Of course, due to its highly classified nature, no one had any idea about it.
But now, journalist Douglas Walker is here to find the truth, interviewing the men about their time with Robert Goddard, inventor of the liquid-fuel rocket, and their project that changed the world. To counter the Nazi's development of a manned orbital spacecraft capable of traversing long distances to drop a bomb on the United States, Goddard and his team had to figure out a way to build their own spacecraft to take down the enemy's rocket. Thus, a race between two secret military projects was born.
But before I go further into what I thought about this book, I have to say it was the espionage angle that finally got me on board. When rocket science fails to hook me, I can always count on the plot elements that have to do with spies and intelligence gathering to get me excited. And once that got me into the story, I just ate it right up and blew through the pages.
In the end, I actually came to follow the progress of the American program with much enjoyment, and in a way the rocket ship project itself became a central character, and -- believe it or not -- my fascination with it eventually overshadowed my interest in the human players. This was a rather new experience for me, where the scientists became almost the supporting cast, while the research and development of the spacecraft Lucky Linda actually took center stage. For someone who typically places a lot of emphasis on characters in a novel, I was surprisingly okay with this.
It also wasn't until later when I read the author's afterword that I found out, at one point, the story of V-S Day existed in the form of a screenplay. That actually made a lot of sense. Reading this book did make me feel uncannily like I was watching it in a movie or a series on TV, thanks in part to the flashback style and the way the events were told through the eyes of multiple major and minor characters. If anything though, I thought the chapters that gave us a glimpse into von Braun's program in Germany were the weakest, though I saw the need for them, since the reader has to know the progress of each side to get a sense of the urgency and what's at risk.
At its heart, V-S Day is a book about a very different space race in a time where rockets only existed in science fiction magazines or in the minds of those who dared to dream. I ended up enjoying this book quite a bit, and was glad I didn't let myself put this one down. The final revelation at the end was a nice touch. However, it was the climax that made it all worth it, with the tension culminating into a conclusion that made me understand the reason for all the build up. ...more
The story of Blood Song is about a young boy who trains and grows up to become a leader and one of the greatest warriors in the kingdom. It's a tried-and-true formula in epic fantasy which by all rights I should be sick to death of by now, but Anthony Ryan manages to pull it off without making me feel like I'm getting the same old, same old.
Take how the book starts, for example, opening on an encounter between a scribe and a prisoner who is being transported across the sea to answer for his crimes. A duel to the death is the only end left for Vaelin al Sorna, also known as "Hope Killer". With a sobriquet like that, I couldn't help but wonder at his character, but I was also intrigued by his soft spokenness and eloquence. More puzzling is the fact that everyone seems to be treating him with respect and deference, in spite of his chains.
Vaelin's story is recounted by the scribe, a mode of storytelling which is not uncommon even outside other mediums of fantasy, but in this case it is deftly executed, providing a deeply immersive experience for the reader. As a child, the main character is sent to the Sixth Order to train in the martial ways of the Faith. It's a harsh life fraught with peril, as Vaelin and his peers are driven relentlessly by their instructors to learn everything from doctrine and history, to survival methods or ways to wield a sword.
In general, I'm not a big fan of this trope. More often than not, I find the training and "growing up" phase of the hero's story to be the most tedious part, and so I'm usually looking forward to getting it over with. Not so with Blood Song, though. Imagine my surprise when these sections of the book turned out to be the most rewarding aspect. I loved reading about Vaelin's experiences in the Sixth Order, especially some of the more challenging trials. I very much enjoyed the bonds he shared with his fellow brothers of the Faith, the fact that any conflicts between the boys are negated by the knowledge that they are all in this together.
In fact, I liked this section a lot more than the later parts of the book, in which we see Vaelin go off to fight big battles and become embroiled in political plots and magic. Normally that would be the kind of stuff I live for in my epic fantasy, so you can see just how much I enjoyed the first half of the novel to consider it my favorite. Not that the second half is a slouch -- I think most people would find it more interesting, actually. For myself, I just couldn't help but develop a soft spot for Vaelin back when he was just a boy, when he still retained some of his innocence.
As you've probably guessed, I have nothing but good things to say about the portrayal of Vaelin and the other characters in this novel. You will see the relationships forged early on between him and his brothers evolve as they face their hardships together year after year. And when enemies become friends or friends become enemies, the transformations are both a surprise but also believable. Vaelin himself is a good and honorable person, and his desire to transcend the expectations of his order and be a better person for those around him is an engrossing study into the themes of sacrifice, morals and personal beliefs.
Highly recommended. I can just imagine the thrilled reactions of readers who picked this book up back when it was still independently published. A gem like this doesn't come along every day, and I'd say it stands out even beside some of the major epic fantasy novels today....more
I have to say I did things a little bit backwards when it came to this series. It all started with The God Tattoo, Tom Lloyd's anthology of stories from the Twilight Reign that I read last year. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much. Furthermore, it made me want to explore everything else this world had to offer, so when Pyr gave me the opportunity to read and review The Stormcaller, the first book of the series that began it all, I very enthusiastically accepted.
That collection of tales had given me a taste of the Twilight Reign universe, and piqued my interest with its promise of a dark and epic fantasy. Here was the world I had been introduced to, one of white-eyes, ancient deities and terrible magic. Now I was finally able to see the wider context, getting the full depth of the story filled with gods and demons, clandestine politics and violent clashes between warring peoples. I feel like what I'd gotten from the anthology was just a nibble. And here, this was the whole cake.
Born into a life of poverty, our main protagonist Isak is a white-eye, a genetic rarity known to make those with the condition bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Feared and mistrusted by those around him, Isak had resigned to the fact that he would never be accepted, until fate intervenes and raises him to a position of power as the heir to the Lord of the Fahlan. In some ways, I feel the book comprises of several distinct parts, and this section of the story would be the first of them, focusing on Isak's transition from a simple peasant to someone with status.
Now, while it's true that a lot of fantasy stories begin this way, I thought Isak's background was a big part of what set his tale apart. For one thing, I find the lore and history behind white-eyes fascinating. Purported to be stronger, faster and more charming than normal men because they are god-touched and divinely chosen to be leaders, white-eyes are still no less shunned and despised by many. Because of this, Isak has to prove himself twice over to satisfy his detractors.
Regrettably, I also think this part of the book was the most difficult to get through. As Isak learns the ropes, this section of the story is mostly filled with descriptions of the things he learns and the people he meets, and it's the most slow-moving part of the story. Add to that, the writing style took some time for me to get used to. I thought the prose came across rather stark and ponderous, and while I wouldn't say I disliked the writing, it still felt like it was missing something -- lightness or emotion, perhaps, though to be fair, the story is meant to be quite dark and heavy. To get through this first part of the book, I did feel I had to work at it.
The action didn't come until later, but I have to say the plot picks up considerably once we follow Isak and his people into war against the elves. This section of the story is driven by several pitched battles, and here the author also starts fleshing out his world in earnest, giving it history and depth. As the layers were filled in one by one (culture, religions, politics, etc) I finally began to feel the full weight of the Twilight Reign universe.
I ended up loving the second half of this novel. It encompassed the final section of the story, in which Isak travels to Narkang with his retinue, and they meet the celebrated King Emin. I won't deny this probably had to do with having read The God Tattoo first; Emin was a character that featured prominently in a couple of the stories in the anthology, and so in a way, I felt like I already knew him and had a good grasp of the setting of Narkang. And lastly, this part of the book also featured the climax of the final battle, which was a great way to bring everything to a close.
All told, it took me a while to read The Stormcaller, partly because it's such a long book but also because I had to settle in to the writing style. Still, I enjoyed this one. I may have come to this series in a roundabout way, but further exploring a world that fascinated and intrigued me was so worth it....more
Shadow Ops: Control Point is military science fiction, but definitely not the kind I had been expecting. And honestly, if I'd known earlier just what kind of excitement I was going to be in for, I probably wouldn't have let this one hang out so long on my to-read list.
Not long ago though, I was in a bit of a reading funk and was in dire need of a book to pick me up, and Control Point sure did the trick. The book follows protagonist Oscar Britton, an Army officer who suddenly manifests a power which allows him to summon portals between and within worlds. In a time when people with such magical abilities are strictly regulated and under surveillance, those who run from the government are immediately labeled renegades and hunted down. Panicked and overwhelmed, Oscar chooses to flee but in time realizes there is a lot more to this world of magic than he's ever known.
The first chapter was like a pure shot of adrenaline, laying out everything I needed to know about this book and what I saw pleased me. It pleased me greatly. Sorcery and spec-ops tactics? Soldiers with superhero-like powers and codenames? This is a marriage of science fiction and fantasy made in heaven, where magic and futuristic technology co-exist in harmony with the unadulterated action of a military sci-fi novel, from an author who obviously knows what he's writing about.
The cover? Totally does not do this book justice. I wouldn't had a clue what was waiting for me within these pages if I hadn't dug deeper. Even the description belies the true nature of the world in this novel, which is unlike any setting I've ever encountered. An entire civilization has been altered, the existing social structure upended because of people waking up with magical talents, and Myke Cole does a great job showing this in is storytelling. A whole other realm also exists on another plane, home to a race of goblin-like creatures who are in constant war with the military base there. The magic system is also fleshed out and presented well.
I was also surprised to see that the story is not just nonstop action. Between the hectic battles and covert military operations, there is a real attempt at character building and exploration of the relationships between the main protagonist and the others around him. Britton is a much deeper character than I'd expected, a thoughtful man who struggles with his own feelings a lot, constantly asking questions and evaluating his situation.
Like most other reviewers, I've also noted Britton's indecision and his frequent switching of sides. To tell the truth, I didn't find it as extreme as some make it out to be, though my issue with this has less to do with his wishy-washiness and more to do with the fact that his inability to make up his mind often seems like a tactic to drive the story forward. It's obvious from his constant self-analyzing that Britton is a smart, introspective person, and yet on several occasions he will do things without thinking, and always much chaos and loss of life would be a direct result of his actions. He would be sick with guilt afterwards, but it's hard to feel for him after the first time it happens, especially when he doesn't learn from his mistakes. It's a very small gripe though, considering the pile of positives that more than made up for it.
This book offered me a side of the genre that I haven't seen much of before, and as such the author has my attention. I'm looking forward to see how the rest of this series will unfold; something tells me the next book will be just as much fun and full of surprises....more
I have not had the pleasure of reading Andy Remic's Clockwork Vampire Chronicles yet, but hearing about how those books have earned the author the nickname "Tarantino of epic fantasy" has gotten me mighty curious. Being compared to the great QT is high praise indeed! How then could I possibly say no to The Iron Wolves?
This book has it all: bloody fight scenes and explosive battles, psychopathic villains and twisted, gritty anti-heroes. Oh, and mud-orcs. Mustn't forget the mud-orcs. Needless to say, I am happy to report that Andy Remic's title is well-deserved; we're talking no-holds-barred dark fantasy, of the faint-of-heart-need-not-apply variety. We're talking graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and a truly astounding number of decapitations within these blood-soaked pages.
If this sounds like your kind of novel, then you're in for a real treat. Andy Remic has taken the classic "gather your party and go forth on a quest of epic proportions" objective, and so generously wrapped it all up for us in a nice grim package. To stop an invading army of horrors, the great general Dalgoram sets out across the land to reunite his band of veteran warriors for one last stand. Having been estranged for years, the members of the Iron Wolves have all either fallen on hard times or have turned to lives of deviance and corruption. But together again, they find they can transform their shared curse into something so much more.
By the way, my description of "twisted, gritty anti-heroes" was in no way an exaggeration. With perhaps the exception of the old man Dalgoran, I was hard pressed to name a single admirable soul in this group of vile, despicable Iron Wolves. But that's what I signed up for so I can't complain too much, especially since Remic delivers exactly what was promised. The only downside I could see to this is finding enough to set some of these characters apart, which gets a little difficult when almost all of them are defined by broken pasts, foul mouths and violent tendencies.
Also as I've noted before, at times a novel's "epicness" can be something of a double-edged sword, as it can do a number on pacing. This story stumbles a bit due to the sheer size of the cast and their multiple points of view, especially when a couple more Iron Wolves are still being added to the mix at about two-thirds of the way through the book. As maniacal as they are, I wish we'd gotten a chance to know Zastarte and Trista a bit better, though I think this will mean a much smoother ride for the next installment now that the scene has been set and all the introductions have been made.
Speaking of which, I'm excited about book two, and if you'd seen that ending, you would be too. I have to say I felt the final showdown scene was over way too quickly, though this probably had less to do with the pacing and more to do with how much I enjoyed the climax and conclusion. Andy Remic is in his element when it comes to writing big battles and fight scenes, and he graces this book with a lot of them. It would be easy but disingenuous to brush them all off as an excuse to provide gratuitous violence, because I actually found many of the scenes of war and fighting to flow and fit exceedingly well within the context of the story.
After all, this is The Iron Wolves, folks. A great choice for readers looking for a stronger, headier kick to their heroic fantasy, just remember to steel yourselves for the unlimited energy and madness this book will unleash upon your lives!...more
Okay, I can be pretty out of it sometimes. I picked up Luke Scull's The Grim Company on account of all the positive buzz surrounding the book, and ended up loving it. But the thing is, I didn't read many reviews or any information about it ahead of time, so it wasn't until weeks after I finished the book that I finally found out about all the comparisons made to Joe Abercrombie, an author whose work I adore as well.
In retrospect, I suppose there were a lot of parallels, but at the time I can honestly say I didn't get that vibe at all, other than the fact both authors write grimdark fantasy about gruff and tough barbarian warriors who love to swear a lot (not a distinction held by any one specific author in the industry, really). In the end I'm glad I went into this book blind, because I found that Luke Scull's writing shone through with his own style, not to mention the heavy focus on magic and other unique ideas found in his book made me consider it entirely on its own merits.
When it comes to a gritty fantasy adventure, we're definitely starting out on the right track with a story that spans far and wide in terms of locale and history, featuring settings from palace halls to the northern remote highlands. Five hundred years ago, the Magelords killed the gods and now their tyrant Salazar rules the empire of Dorminia. Meanwhile, his greatest adversary the White Lady plots his demise from across the Broken Sea and seeks to free the people. Far away from both, demonic forces plague the remote mountains in the north.
Caught in the middle of this kerfluffle is a motley crew of misfits and outcasts all linked to the events, trying to hold everything together. And on this topic, I have to say the characters in this book are just as diverse, though it would be tempting to pigeonhole each into the all too familiar fantasy archetypes. But upon first inspection, I feel their traditional roles belie their unique personalities and colorful pasts.
Take Davarus Cole, for example, the hero who knows he's the hero and won't let you or anyone else forget that for a second. He's so full of himself and deluded in his self-importance that I just couldn't help but love him and indulge in him like you would a spoiled little kitten, even as I gleefully anticipated that sweet moment the truth will blow up in his face. Then there's Jerek the Wolf, a supporting character in the shadow of the more prominent Brodar Kayne, but it was the former I took to, due in no small part to his loyalty as well as talent for cursing which would make even a longshoreman blush like a schoolgirl.
And indeed, what surprised me the most is the streak of wry humor which ran through the story, which made the book a lot less grim than I'd anticipated. This was simply a very enjoyable and entertaining read, and I don't know if there's any more I can add to that.
Because I knew so little about The Grim Company before I read it, I also didn't know anything about its publication history and the fact new indie publisher Head of Zeus first acquired the rights to the trilogy after winning a fiercely contested auction in a six-figure deal. Yes, they were that confident about it. And now I understand why....more