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.(less)
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.(less)
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.(less)
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.(less)
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!(less)
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.(less)
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.(less)
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.(less)
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. (less)
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.(less)
I have to say I did things a little bit backwards when it came to this series. It all started with The God Tattoo, Tom Lloyd's anthology of stories from the Twilight Reign that I read last year. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much. Furthermore, it made me want to explore everything else this world had to offer, so when Pyr gave me the opportunity to read and review The Stormcaller, the first book of the series that began it all, I very enthusiastically accepted.
That collection of tales had given me a taste of the Twilight Reign universe, and piqued my interest with its promise of a dark and epic fantasy. Here was the world I had been introduced to, one of white-eyes, ancient deities and terrible magic. Now I was finally able to see the wider context, getting the full depth of the story filled with gods and demons, clandestine politics and violent clashes between warring peoples. I feel like what I'd gotten from the anthology was just a nibble. And here, this was the whole cake.
Born into a life of poverty, our main protagonist Isak is a white-eye, a genetic rarity known to make those with the condition bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Feared and mistrusted by those around him, Isak had resigned to the fact that he would never be accepted, until fate intervenes and raises him to a position of power as the heir to the Lord of the Fahlan. In some ways, I feel the book comprises of several distinct parts, and this section of the story would be the first of them, focusing on Isak's transition from a simple peasant to someone with status.
Now, while it's true that a lot of fantasy stories begin this way, I thought Isak's background was a big part of what set his tale apart. For one thing, I find the lore and history behind white-eyes fascinating. Purported to be stronger, faster and more charming than normal men because they are god-touched and divinely chosen to be leaders, white-eyes are still no less shunned and despised by many. Because of this, Isak has to prove himself twice over to satisfy his detractors.
Regrettably, I also think this part of the book was the most difficult to get through. As Isak learns the ropes, this section of the story is mostly filled with descriptions of the things he learns and the people he meets, and it's the most slow-moving part of the story. Add to that, the writing style took some time for me to get used to. I thought the prose came across rather stark and ponderous, and while I wouldn't say I disliked the writing, it still felt like it was missing something -- lightness or emotion, perhaps, though to be fair, the story is meant to be quite dark and heavy. To get through this first part of the book, I did feel I had to work at it.
The action didn't come until later, but I have to say the plot picks up considerably once we follow Isak and his people into war against the elves. This section of the story is driven by several pitched battles, and here the author also starts fleshing out his world in earnest, giving it history and depth. As the layers were filled in one by one (culture, religions, politics, etc) I finally began to feel the full weight of the Twilight Reign universe.
I ended up loving the second half of this novel. It encompassed the final section of the story, in which Isak travels to Narkang with his retinue, and they meet the celebrated King Emin. I won't deny this probably had to do with having read The God Tattoo first; Emin was a character that featured prominently in a couple of the stories in the anthology, and so in a way, I felt like I already knew him and had a good grasp of the setting of Narkang. And lastly, this part of the book also featured the climax of the final battle, which was a great way to bring everything to a close.
All told, it took me a while to read The Stormcaller, partly because it's such a long book but also because I had to settle in to the writing style. Still, I enjoyed this one. I may have come to this series in a roundabout way, but further exploring a world that fascinated and intrigued me was so worth it.(less)
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.(less)
I have not had the pleasure of reading Andy Remic's Clockwork Vampire Chronicles yet, but hearing about how those books have earned the author the nickname "Tarantino of epic fantasy" has gotten me mighty curious. Being compared to the great QT is high praise indeed! How then could I possibly say no to The Iron Wolves?
This book has it all: bloody fight scenes and explosive battles, psychopathic villains and twisted, gritty anti-heroes. Oh, and mud-orcs. Mustn't forget the mud-orcs. Needless to say, I am happy to report that Andy Remic's title is well-deserved; we're talking no-holds-barred dark fantasy, of the faint-of-heart-need-not-apply variety. We're talking graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and a truly astounding number of decapitations within these blood-soaked pages.
If this sounds like your kind of novel, then you're in for a real treat. Andy Remic has taken the classic "gather your party and go forth on a quest of epic proportions" objective, and so generously wrapped it all up for us in a nice grim package. To stop an invading army of horrors, the great general Dalgoram sets out across the land to reunite his band of veteran warriors for one last stand. Having been estranged for years, the members of the Iron Wolves have all either fallen on hard times or have turned to lives of deviance and corruption. But together again, they find they can transform their shared curse into something so much more.
By the way, my description of "twisted, gritty anti-heroes" was in no way an exaggeration. With perhaps the exception of the old man Dalgoran, I was hard pressed to name a single admirable soul in this group of vile, despicable Iron Wolves. But that's what I signed up for so I can't complain too much, especially since Remic delivers exactly what was promised. The only downside I could see to this is finding enough to set some of these characters apart, which gets a little difficult when almost all of them are defined by broken pasts, foul mouths and violent tendencies.
Also as I've noted before, at times a novel's "epicness" can be something of a double-edged sword, as it can do a number on pacing. This story stumbles a bit due to the sheer size of the cast and their multiple points of view, especially when a couple more Iron Wolves are still being added to the mix at about two-thirds of the way through the book. As maniacal as they are, I wish we'd gotten a chance to know Zastarte and Trista a bit better, though I think this will mean a much smoother ride for the next installment now that the scene has been set and all the introductions have been made.
Speaking of which, I'm excited about book two, and if you'd seen that ending, you would be too. I have to say I felt the final showdown scene was over way too quickly, though this probably had less to do with the pacing and more to do with how much I enjoyed the climax and conclusion. Andy Remic is in his element when it comes to writing big battles and fight scenes, and he graces this book with a lot of them. It would be easy but disingenuous to brush them all off as an excuse to provide gratuitous violence, because I actually found many of the scenes of war and fighting to flow and fit exceedingly well within the context of the story.
After all, this is The Iron Wolves, folks. A great choice for readers looking for a stronger, headier kick to their heroic fantasy, just remember to steel yourselves for the unlimited energy and madness this book will unleash upon your lives!(less)
Okay, I can be pretty out of it sometimes. I picked up Luke Scull's The Grim Company on account of all the positive buzz surrounding the book, and ended up loving it. But the thing is, I didn't read many reviews or any information about it ahead of time, so it wasn't until weeks after I finished the book that I finally found out about all the comparisons made to Joe Abercrombie, an author whose work I adore as well.
In retrospect, I suppose there were a lot of parallels, but at the time I can honestly say I didn't get that vibe at all, other than the fact both authors write grimdark fantasy about gruff and tough barbarian warriors who love to swear a lot (not a distinction held by any one specific author in the industry, really). In the end I'm glad I went into this book blind, because I found that Luke Scull's writing shone through with his own style, not to mention the heavy focus on magic and other unique ideas found in his book made me consider it entirely on its own merits.
When it comes to a gritty fantasy adventure, we're definitely starting out on the right track with a story that spans far and wide in terms of locale and history, featuring settings from palace halls to the northern remote highlands. Five hundred years ago, the Magelords killed the gods and now their tyrant Salazar rules the empire of Dorminia. Meanwhile, his greatest adversary the White Lady plots his demise from across the Broken Sea and seeks to free the people. Far away from both, demonic forces plague the remote mountains in the north.
Caught in the middle of this kerfluffle is a motley crew of misfits and outcasts all linked to the events, trying to hold everything together. And on this topic, I have to say the characters in this book are just as diverse, though it would be tempting to pigeonhole each into the all too familiar fantasy archetypes. But upon first inspection, I feel their traditional roles belie their unique personalities and colorful pasts.
Take Davarus Cole, for example, the hero who knows he's the hero and won't let you or anyone else forget that for a second. He's so full of himself and deluded in his self-importance that I just couldn't help but love him and indulge in him like you would a spoiled little kitten, even as I gleefully anticipated that sweet moment the truth will blow up in his face. Then there's Jerek the Wolf, a supporting character in the shadow of the more prominent Brodar Kayne, but it was the former I took to, due in no small part to his loyalty as well as talent for cursing which would make even a longshoreman blush like a schoolgirl.
And indeed, what surprised me the most is the streak of wry humor which ran through the story, which made the book a lot less grim than I'd anticipated. This was simply a very enjoyable and entertaining read, and I don't know if there's any more I can add to that.
Because I knew so little about The Grim Company before I read it, I also didn't know anything about its publication history and the fact new indie publisher Head of Zeus first acquired the rights to the trilogy after winning a fiercely contested auction in a six-figure deal. Yes, they were that confident about it. And now I understand why.(less)
Here's the thing, whenever I finish a book I love, I tend to make it a mission to check out more of the author's work. This might mean pre-ordering th...moreHere's the thing, whenever I finish a book I love, I tend to make it a mission to check out more of the author's work. This might mean pre-ordering their next book if the author is new, or if they have other books already out those will immediately go on my to-read list. Anyway, ever since I discovered Django Wexler's The Thousand Names he's become one of my favorite authors, so of course I went through the same process of tracking down his other stuff. Thing is though, his two previously published books are out of print and are extremely hard to track down, but as luck would have it I was able to get copies without having to break the bank.
I am glad I started with Memories of Empire. If you've read The Thousand Names, this one actually feels almost like its spiritual predecessor. There are shared elements in the story and setting that made me feel right at home, those that are common in epic fantasy like faraway lands, exotic cultures, multiple plot threads featuring many different characters and warring nations. We have Veil, a young girl sold to slavery only to be accidentally rescued by Corvus, a passing swordsman who seeks answers to his past. We have the Khaev draek riders Kit and her Wing Leader Kei, tasked on an expedition to hunt down a rogue sorcerer. Then there are the other factions carrying on behind the scenes, not least of all the demons and spirits of this world who pull the strings and play mortals as their pawns in order to suit their own ends.
After reading this I can see how the author's writing has evolved and gotten better over the years. It's true there are some parts of this book that could have been streamlined, some characters that felt underused or whose motivations could be better explained, plot points that could have been made more clear. Still, for someone who really enjoys Wexler's smooth, flowing style and pacing I was not disappointed, and his talents for world building and character development were apparent even back then.
For one, I adored Veil and ate up every page she was featured in, and still couldn't get enough. Her relationship with Corvus is something I followed with enthusiasm; there was something very sweet and endearing about the nature of it, a mixture of admiration, respect and awkward school-girl crush. That's just one example of the author's knack for conveying the complex emotions and dynamics between characters, and another is the friendship between Kit and Kei. Some of the flashbacks and memory sequences into their pasts didn't add much to the story, but they made the two women better characters even if I still didn't connect to them as much as I did Veil, who was my absolute favorite.
I can also see how Wexler's love for wargaming came through in this one. I wonder how much of it was involved in the descriptions of the fighting, but no doubt what went in made the battles in the book better because of that. The final one near the ending almost reads like a narrative for a campaign, and it's a real treat to read a book with battles in it written by someone experienced in a command role in historical wargames. If that sounds like something that interests you, definitely check out Django Wexler. The Thousand Names has all that goodness too, and unlike this book it is easy to get your hands on!(less)
Books like Mage's Blood are extremely hard for me to review, and not least of all because the many comparisons of this to A Song of Ice and Fire are mostly appropriate; this first book of the Moontide Quartet is a sprawling epic indeed! Still, I'm of the mind that George R.R. Martin's epic series stands uniquely on its own...but then so does David Hair's. It would be impossible for me to go into every single thing I liked about this book without having to talk about why, because that would just lead to lengthy explanations into the details of the plot, and if I did that this review will end up being thirty pages long with half of it made up of spoilers. Obviously, we can't have that.
Suffice to say though, this book has it all: nations at war, clashing religions, political intrigue, mages and sorcery, multiple points of view. Yuros and Antiopia are two lands long separated by vast ocean. But every Moontide, the seas part to reveal the magnificent mage-crafted Leviathan Bridge, allowing trade and communication between the two continents. Unfortunately, the passage is also a source of much bitterness and conflict. The last two Moontides have involved crusades of conquest, thanks to the lofty ambitions of the Magi.
Now another Moontide is at hand. As the time draws nearer, the people on both sides prepare for war. Antonin Meiros, a mage of great renown (in fact, it was he who was the intellect behind the Leviathan Bridge) seeks a new wife, and travels to Lahk to wed Ramita. Ramita, however, is already betrothed to the hotheaded Kazim. In another part of the world, Elena Anborn has pledged her life to protect the royal family of Javon, fighting off the assassination attempts and conspiracies masterminded by her former lover Gurvon Gyle, who works for powerful political enemies. Meanwhile in Noros, Elena's nephew Alaron prepares for his mage finals. But during the presentation of his thesis, he unwittingly proposes a dangerous topic that could mean the end to his hopes and dreams.
Everything and everyone is connected in this massive and intricate web that David Hair has woven. The scale of both setting and story are vast. The continents involved here encompass various nations, many of which are described here with great thought and detail. Their populations, including their cultures, languages, religions, rituals and even food and styles of dress are given the same exacting care. This is a world where both magic and theology form a strong basis for society, and it is diverse.
At the same time, readers will find there is much that is familiar in this fantasy world of Urte. Most of the nations and cultures in this book bear marked resemblances to those in our reality -- even when it comes to religion and geography. The nature of this brought to mind a recent discussion I had with a friend, regarding settings in various epic fantasies and how he usually preferred fictional worlds that he can imagine as our own earth, whereas I tended to prefer the opposite. Needless to say, a book like Mage's Blood can appeal to both camps. As well, even I can admit that real-world historical and cultural influences in a fantasy setting can add a lot to a story, a prime example being Jacqueline Carey's original Kushiel's Universe trilogy which remains one of my favorite series of all time.
With a book so massive which features a cast so big, it was perhaps no surprise that the first quarter of Mage's Blood is the most demanding of the reader. The different characters and their story lines are cleanly organized and separated by chapters, which is why this is my favorite format for epic novels. Nevertheless, it makes for a slower start, when an author has to cycle through the perspectives while introducing all the main players, and the first couple hundred pages were dedicated to this task. Patience pays off though, as the book finishes setting the scene and gradually builds up momentum in the middle chapters. This is the meat of the story, and it is amazing how David Hair manages keep all the plates spinning at once, giving each character and plot thread the attention they deserve, while also meticulously bringing them all together so that they eventually form a much bigger picture.
As Mage's Blood features an ensemble cast, obviously I had my favorites (the notable example being Ramita and her story with Antonin Meiros) while others were not as interesting to me. Each person has an important role to play though, and this was made clear by the climax and the ending, which is in a word incredible. It is a conclusion that is positively incendiary, leaving me wondering what else the author has in store. As the series name implies, Mage's Blood is only the first in what is meant to be series of four books, and as such there is much left wide open for huge things to come. However, at the same time David Hair has wrapped things up in a way that is straightforward and satisfying, without any abruptness. I think this is a far rarer skill than people realize.
I have a feeling a lot will be happening in The Scarlet Tides. Mage's Blood may have been encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up to the story, which I honestly don't think could have been avoided. I suspect, however, that we will jump right into the action with the sequel. I'm excited, and can't wait to see where things will go.(less)
I really, really liked Seven Forges. Still, I'll admit the book had me rolling with the punches for most of it. It left me cold for a long time, waiting for something awesome to happen, something to make me perk up and say, "Hey, now we're onto something."
A lot of this has to do with the book's pacing, which is probably slower than I'd have preferred. I noticed while reading, for example, that even at more than halfway in, I was still treading in territory already covered by the blurb in the back of the book: a group from Fellein makes first contact with the mysterious warrior people of the Seven Forges mountains called the Sa'ba Taalor, and the expedition leader Merros Dulver brings a small entourage of them home with him.
Of course, there were other developments along the way, but not many that helped me tease out what was supposed to be the main conflict, even as I was well into the book. The world James A. Moore created here is highly imaginative and the characters and cultures are intriguing, but I still wasn't seeing what all the fuss was about.
And then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Unexpected plot twists, shocking revelations, total chaos. Everything I thought I was signing on for when I picked up this book, I got. The only catch is? All this only started occurring in the last fifty pages or so.
The question is then, can the final 10-15 percent of a book be so incredibly awesome as to impress me enough turn my opinion completely around? I struggled with this question and as a result also struggled with my review, but in the end, I have to say yes. And I don't come to this decision lightly; very rarely does a book redeem itself in my eyes simply for having an extraordinary ending, but somehow this one manages. I went from feeling generally unaffected to being completely absorbed.
I don't want to make it sound like I wasn't enjoying myself at all before this point, though. I felt the book took its time getting to the meat of the conflict, yes, but even so, all the while I had the sense that it was there all along, just building up in a slow burn. Looking back now, I see that the bulk of this book reads like a very long introduction, all leading up to the point where the conflict finally ignites. And when it does, it happens in a very powerful, explosive way.
Speaking of which, James A. Moore is in his element when he is writing scenes with fighting and big battles, and his strength is definitely in crafting very realistic, frenetic action sequences. On the other hand, areas I felt needed more attention included character development and dialogue. For example, Desh Krohan the emperor's sorcerer was someone I was very interested in, but would have also loved to see more exploration into his character. He talks a lot about what his powers are capable of, but even now, I'm not entirely sure what sort of magic he does and what the nature of it is.
I suppose all that will come in time, in subsequent books in this series. There's a lot of untapped potential when it comes to the characters, but at the same time I see things moving in the right direction. Even now I think a hero is emerging in Andover Lashk, a character whose place I wasn't sure of at the beginning, but now I see the author is actually raising him up in a very unique and unprecedented way, one I think I'll enjoy watching.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Moore, you have me practically on pins and needles for the next installment.(less)
23 Years On Fire was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Not really knowing what to expect when the book arrived from the publisher for review, I didn't exactly plan on reading this right away, seeing as it is described as the fourth Cassandra Kresnov novel and I generally prefer not to start reading in the middle of a series if I can help it.
However, my curiosity became too hard to ignore. Plus, the sleek, elegant cover image was part of the attraction, appearing to show an armored female black ops-type soldier in the midst of performing a military free fall jump. I flipped it open to read the first line, with the intention of just checking out the first few pages...only to get pulled in by the explosive opening scene of a covert assault on an enemy base. I ended up finishing the whole book in a matter of days.
As it turned out, not having read the first three books that came before did not hinder me too much, and I was able to follow this one just fine. It can definitely be read by itself, and the main character Cassandra "Sandy" Kresnov's backstory is easy enough to unravel just based on what unfolds in this book alone. An artificial person or an android called a "GI", Sandy was created by the League but defected to the Federation to join their security forces on the world of Callay.
That decision had a lot to do with the one thing Sandy would not stand for, which is the mistreatment of her fellow GIs. Just because they are synthetic doesn't mean that they do not possess humanity, and when it is brought to light that New Torah is involved in ruthless experimentation with artificial soldiers, Sandy leads a mission there to investigate. What she finds on New Torah, however, is a lot more than she bargained for.
Before this, I never would have thought military sci-fi would be my kind of thing (actually, I hadn't even read enough of it to determine whether it's my "thing" or not) but this turned out to be highly entertaining. It rather reads like a summer Hollywood sci-fi flick, and as such I thought the sex was a little overplayed and the book is heavily indulgent on the action, gun fighting and explosions, but it is a high-tech in-your-face roller coaster ride as it should be.
Sandy herself is somewhat of an enigma, even though I think she's a great character. She's certainly a different and unique kind of protagonist, being a synthetic human. Because she is a more advanced designation, this also gives her higher intellect, thus leading to her ability to have a wider range of emotions, to question her circumstances and form her own moral code.
As a result, she has a developed personality but also a childlike attitude towards certain topics, sometimes caring too much about something and at other times caring too little, and often her approach is very direct. I think Joel Shepherd did an incredible job giving Sandy an identity that stands out and at the same time making it clear that she is hardwired to be a certain way. I still don't know what to make of her yet, but then again I didn't have the benefit of getting to know her from the beginning of the series.
Ultimately, I went into this book knowing very little about it, but came out glad for the experience. Furthermore, I enjoyed this even though it has a bit of a cyberpunk feel to it, which was surprising but also a credit to the author, given how that has been a subgenre I've had little luck with in the past. A lot of the ideas I encountered were very interesting, and the book proved tough to put down.
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. My thanks to Pyr Books! (less)
4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to tr...more4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to try! In general I tend not to do spoilers in reviews, but more important is the fact that I simply don't think anything will compare to the emotional rollercoaster of experiencing all the ups-and-downs of this book yourself.
Like the first book, though, it took me a while to get into the story. However, it's significant to note that some of the best books I've ever read start off slow in the first 100 pages, and this has been the case with both books in this series so far. Part of this also has to do with the writing style, which I still find over-encumbered and hard to get used to.
But feel free to ignore all that, because none of it mattered in the end; as soon as this book got its arashitora claws and talons in me, I was pretty much putty in its clutches. After the events of Stormdancer, I was on pins and needles wondering what Yukiko, Buruu, and the Kagen rebels would do now with the entire Shima Imperium in turmoil. My first shock was discovering the Lotus Guild's choice for the new Shogun. That just can't end well.
Now the Kagen are in a frenzy of planning, hoping to sabotage the Shogun-to-be's wedding and foil the Guild's aim to put him at the head of this new tyrannical dynasty. The enemy, however, are also plotting something of their own, something that would have the power to end the Kagen and destroy their forest home. Meanwhile, Yukiko flies off on Buruu across the oceans to learn more about the Kenning, her mysterious power that has been unstable as of late.
There's definitely an epic feel to this series now, especially with the addition of more characters, their points-of-view, and multiple plot threads occurring in different places all at once. For the first time, we also get a brief glimpse of the world happening outside Shima, finally giving some context to this "gaijin war" we've been hearing about for the whole of the first book and a part of this one, but so far have seen none of the fighting or battles.
And if I thought the first 100 pages were slow, the last 100 pages certainly made up for them and more besides. I know "unputdownable" sounds cliched, but it was almost literally the truth when the book was practically glued to my fingers with the nervous sweat coming off of my hands, I kid you not. I don't often like making comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire when I talk about books (because truly, I have never come across anything quite like George R.R. Martin's series) but there were definitely times where I felt this one was "Game of Thrones-ing" me. It was just shock after shock in the last quarter of the book, some which were expected, some not.
Of course, I had some issues, especially with some parts of the plot (like, what a nice convenient way to get Yukiko out of the picture for a while), and the prose with its excessive use of metaphors often made me want to tear my hair out, but overall these were overshadowed by the climax and finale, as well as an insane revelation about Yukiko. I cannot believe I didn't see that one coming.
In the end, I think I liked this book even more than the first one because it was darker, more visceral, violent. I love books which are unpredictable and that keep me guessing, whose direction can change like the wind without warning. I liked how this was not a happy story. It has evolved a lot in this book, and its characters as well. Considering how Jay Kristoff left things off here in total chaos, I'm already looking forward to the next book which I have no doubt will be explosive.(less)
I don't know what I was expecting when I first got into Vampire Empire, probably something light and fun given its vampire and steampunk concept. But...moreI don't know what I was expecting when I first got into Vampire Empire, probably something light and fun given its vampire and steampunk concept. But I have to say though, this is shaping up to be quite an impressive series. Somewhere along the way, these books have gone beyond simply being candy for my mind, to the point now where I find myself emotionally invested in the story and its characters in particular.
After the events in The Greyfriar, Princess Adele finds herself back in the heart of the Equatorian Empire, trying to put off her dreaded marriage to Senator Clark of the American Republic. Unfortunately, her husband-to-be is eager to get on with sealing their vows so that the new human alliance can start waging war on the vampire clans of the north. His battle plans, however, involve committing atrocities Adele would have no part of.
Besides, her heart still belongs to mysterious swordsman and great vampire hunter known as the Greyfriar. While I would by no means categorize these books as pure "Romance", the relationship between Adele and Greyfriar is still a strong element in this series, and I want to highlight it again because it was what struck me in the first book. Theirs is probably one of the most well-written and engaging love stories I've encountered in my reading, which I think is why the romance still manages to shine through here amidst all the action and adventure. There is just so much chemistry between these two characters.
To put it into perspective, take this one minor scene in which Adele puts on some inconspicuous clothes as a disguise and asks Greyfriar offhandedly how she looks. His response: "Strong. Determined." THAT'S how Greyfriar always sees his beloved! And the world of significance behind his simple two-word answer is like the biggest turn on ever. In any book, the fact that two lovers can originate from vastly different backgrounds but still be able to stand together and treat each other as equals is a very important thing for me.
Quite honestly, despite the various action scenes in the first quarter or so of this book, I find I could not enjoy myself to the fullest until the the two of them were reunited. After that, I was happy and relieved, even if they did get themselves into more than a few harrowing situations, and as ever the vampire clans are a constant threat.
In these books, vampires are a whole separate species from humans, with their own civilizations and desires to expand and conquer. With the humans driven south, a lot of this series takes place in an area of the world not frequently seen in vampire fiction. The seat of Equatoria is in Alexandria, and with the displaced people from all nations and faiths coming together as one to defeat the vampires, I also loved the diversity in the cast of characters.
With secrets blown wide open, the war with the vampires raging on, and Adele and the Greyfriar's future hanging in the balance, I have a feeling there's a lot in store for me in the third book. Can't wait to read the conclusion to this trilogy!
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!(less)
These books are still a joy to read, though I've pretty much accepted that none of the sequels in this series are ever going to come close to being as...moreThese books are still a joy to read, though I've pretty much accepted that none of the sequels in this series are ever going to come close to being as good as the first book again. At least this one was better than the last, which sees Laurence and Temeraire back on an adventure again in a faraway exotic place.
This time, the crew finds themselves in Australia, with Laurence having been banished to the prison colony of New South Wales after being convicted of treason. The British Aerial Corps has nonetheless tasked him of taking care of three dragon eggs, in the hopes of establishing a new base in the area. Exile in Australia is proving much more difficult than expected, however, as Laurence and Temeraire are caught up in a political mess involving an overthrown governor and a band of rebels. To escape, they readily agree to take on a mission to seek out a passage through the Blue Mountains.
Rather than fighting flesh-and-blood adversaries, their main enemy this time is the harsh wilderness of the Australian outback. It's not as exciting as some of the past journeys Laurence and Temeraire have been on, but I love seeing them go to new places regardless. Australia is still an unknown factor to our characters at this time, and it's both suspenseful and awe-inspiring to read about their struggles with the land, which includes surviving thirst, poisonous creatures, brutal storms and savage wildfires.
The characters' purposes, however, could have been more interesting. The goal of trying to find a passage through the mountains is as dull as it sounds, though the book picked up when one of Laurence and Temeraire's precious eggs are stolen. But then they spend more than half the book trying to hunt the thieves and track it down, and that was just too much to devote to this side plot. There really was no climax to this tale either, and the book's ending was not anywhere near as satisfying as I'd hoped. (less)
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!
Vampires an...moreNote: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!
Vampires and steampunk! The former, obviously, is a topic that's been wildly popular for years and years. The latter, as well, has been a subgenre gaining more traction in the science fiction and fantasy world lately, hence the fact that I would finally stumble across a book which unites both concepts in the foundation for its story was only a matter of time! What did strike me as a pleasant surprise, however, was finding a book that does this so well.
The Greyfriar is set in an alternate history in which humans and vampires have been locked in a bitter war for more than a century. In 1870, the blood drinkers rose up to conquer the northern lands, driving the humans towards warmer climes. Now, the young princess Adele of Equatoria is to wed the famed vampire hunter senator of the American Republic, their marriage to be the start of an alliance to take back their lands. But a month before the wedding, an ambush on the princess' airship throws all plans into turmoil. Adele's way home now involves a partnership with the Greyfriar, a semi-legendary figure who has become a symbol of humanity's fight against the vampires.
Notice I say "partnership with" and not "dependency upon", because as princesses go, Adele is far from your dainty damsel in distress and can most certainly hold her own. In this book, both the main protagonist and also the enemy vampire warchief are female characters one would not be wise to cross, as each woman has a commanding presence about them in their own way. With Adele, I loved her for her independence, intelligence, fighting skills, as well as for her protectiveness and love for her little brother. All the characters here are pretty well written, but it's extra nice having a heroine I genuinely like and enjoy reading about.
Still, while I'm steadfastly rooting for Adele, it's hard not to be drawn to the vampires as well, with their fascinating empire, politics, family conspiracies and infighting among their peerage. The vampires in this book are atypical enough not to bore me, with their strange biological quirks allowing their bodies to be lighter and to "float" in the air, and it amuses me to no end how disdainful they are of human myths like the ones claiming vampires to be their own dead risen to life. Their culture is well defined, like everything else in this book's world.
My favorite part, though, is the thread of romance woven through the second half of the book! Admittedly, as much as I enjoy love stories, romance in these types of books usually make me balk -- like, seriously, why spoil a perfectly awesome action adventure tale by forcing a contrived and cringe-worthy romantic side plot just for the sake of having it? And yet, the thing is, the love story in this book could not have been more natural and just...totally appropriate, like it belongs. I don't know what it is, but perhaps the fact that the authors are a married couple who have been writing and publishing together for years has something to do with it, because the attraction between Adele and Greyfriar felt passionate, gradual, sweet, real and -- most importantly -- earned. None of that insta-love nonsense.
Plus, no worries if romance isn't your thing; as I've said, it's not the dominant focus and does not overtake the entire story, and I liked how there were just as many if not more action-oriented battles and fight scenes in this book. In fact, my only wish is that the novel was better paced and balanced. After a very bombastic introduction, it wasn't until halfway through the book that my enthusiasm spiked again, but once it did, you can be sure I was completely enamored. I read the second half all in one sitting, and loved every minute of it.(less)
Wow, did that seriously just happen?! Those were the words running through my head when I reached the very end of this book. Just when I thought this...moreWow, did that seriously just happen?! Those were the words running through my head when I reached the very end of this book. Just when I thought this series couldn't get any crazier with its genre-bending goodness, it decides to throw me for another loop (which in the context of talking about this book is a rather clever pun, now that I think about it. I'm just a little miffed now because I can't explain it without spoiling anything!) The way I see it, as far as those shocking "I-NEED-to-know-what-happens-next" cliffhangers go, Ian Tregillis just raised the freakin' bar.
If I had to go back and talk about the first book of the Milkweed Triptych, Bitter Seeds, I'd probably describe it as an alternate history World War II novel with both fantasy and science fiction elements, mostly due to its main premise involving Nazi Germany's lab-raised soldiers with superpowers versus the British's warlocks and their demons. This second book still has all of that, except it takes place some twenty years later, and even though the war is over, Great Britain now finds itself locked in a precarious power struggle with the USSR.
Now Project Milkweed is threatened when they find out that Britain's warlocks, the country's greatest defense in keeping their enemy at bay, are being killed off by an unknown assassin. Meanwhile, a pair of super-soldier siblings who fought for the Nazis in WWII escape their Soviet prison and make their way to England. One of them is Gretel, the psychopath pre-cog who is still obsessed with manipulating the life of British agent Raybould Marsh. Even after more than two decades, she is still pulling the strings, nudging the future towards her own mysterious agenda.
By all accounts, I should have liked this book more, and I think I would have if it weren't so utterly bleak. I know "Super soldiers vs. Warlocks" sounds like an interesting and unbelievably fun premise -- which it most certainly is, don't get me wrong -- but part of me is still having trouble getting over how dark this series can be sometimes. While I'm no stranger to dark fiction with dreary themes, there's just something about these books that unsettle the heck out of me and chill me to the bone.
I suppose depending on who you are, that can be seen as a good or bad thing. For example, in Bitter Seeds, I found that the disturbing ideas in the first book really worked in giving the story the hard edge it needed. I was able to transform those feelings of dread into suspenseful anticipation which kept me turning the pages, and also because I felt pity for the poor characters who have had such terrible things happen to them or are forced to make these awful decisions.
Unfortunately, my sympathy for the characters ran out and was largely absent for the most part in The Coldest War. The main players were mostly the same, but in the twenty-two years since the events of the last book, many things have happened to turn even the "good guys" into pretty despicable people in my eyes. While the main antagonist Gretel is still as evil as ever, I nevertheless had a difficult time bringing myself to muster up any enthusiasm to root for Marsh or Will this time around. There are no truly upstanding characters in this book, which normally isn't a problem for me; I find I can be drawn to even the most morally corrupted of characters if they are written well, but I honestly couldn't find anyone particularly likeable in this book, with the possible exception of Klaus, Gretel's brother.
Story-wise, though, I am absolutely floored. The ending alone was probably worth all the frustrating moments the characters put me through, not to mention the next book presents the perfect opportunity for many of them to redeem themselves. That last line in the epilogue has got to be the most effective two words in the history of book endings. I can't wait to pick up the third book for the finale, I MUST find out how it all ends.
Apparently, I love "flintlock fantasy". The phrase, which according to Wikipedia has been around since the 1990s to describe a sub-genre of fantasy "set in a Regency or Napoleonic-era period", admittedly only entered my lexicon just this year. But all this time, I knew deep in my gut that there simply had to be a term out there for this incredible and distinctly unique brand of fantasy with the musket-era setting that I so adore; I just never knew the name for it until now.
There's just something so attractive to me about fantasy inspired by this period, mostly because of the fascinating historical ideas and imagery that immediately come to mind, themes like revolution and war, battles waged with gunpowder weaponry, discovering new worlds and colonialism, etc. That's what first drew me to Django Wexler's The Thousand Names. Just the first sentence in the blurb was enough to make me add this to my must-read list, and the positive reviews it received only made me bump it up to the top.
The book is mostly told through the perspectives of two soldiers, assigned to a sleepy desert colonial fort out in the fringes of the Vordanai empire. However, a recent uprising and subsequent takeover of the city of Ashe-Katarion by a local sect called the Redeemers has resulted in the outpost not being so sleepy anymore. Now the king of Vordan has sent reinforcements, and Captain Marcus d'Ivoire finds himself welcoming a whole new garrison of inexperienced recruits to join his Old Colonial troops. Then there's Winter Ihernglass, a low ranking soldier who unexpectedly earns a promotion and comes into command -- except getting more attention is the last thing Winter wants, given the fact she is actually a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to enlist and flee her past.
With the Colonials on the march to take back the city, both Marcus' and Winter's lives are in the hands of the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a military genius whose demeanor and tactics are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. But despite the confidence and aptitude Janus exudes, it soon becomes clear there is a lot more to the mysterious commander. Marcus begins to suspect that his colonel's objectives -- and ambitions -- may extend beyond simply defeating the Redeemers, encroaching into the realm of magic and the supernatural.
My experience with this book pretty much played out like a fast-paced and passionate relationship. The Thousand Names practically came out of nowhere for me; I'd probably only heard about it around a month before its release, leaving me not much time to anticipate it. Nevertheless, I went into this with higher-than-high expectations, and ultimately I have to say even those were met and exceeded. I fell in love with this book really quickly, probably within the first few chapters, especially after the two main characters were established. This might make me sound silly, but I won't deny after turning the last page I actually couldn't help but feel slightly lost and a bit melancholy, finding myself caught in a sort of "oh crap, I'm finished, what the heck do I do with myself now?" kind of fugue. I was just that addicted to this book.
Obviously, I loved the setting and the world-building. The writing had a way of putting you right there with the colonial garrison, so it wasn't hard to sympathize with the characters and the foreignness of their situation or the awkwardness of being strangers in a strange land. I was also fascinated with the idea of this ragtag colonial army that's made up of one-part green recruits and one-part jaded-and-couldn't-care-less old veterans, and all the rules of warfare go out the window. The Redeemer forces may vastly outnumber the Vordanai, but the fact that the former is made up of mostly militia and over-confident Auxiliary troops gave their clashes plenty of suspense, and the detailed battle scenes in the desert are worthy of any military fantasy.
But the highlight of this book had to be the characters. I absolutely adored Winter; she was probably my favorite character, but Marcus wasn't far behind either. What's great about these two characters is that they feel deep and real, and are immediately the kind of people you want to like and to see succeed. Beyond that, everyone in this book also has secrets and mysteries, and so you just want to keep reading to find out more.
This even applies to the supporting cast. Most of them are pretty well fleshed out too, and I think the fact that Colonel Janus is my second favorite character in this book despite him not being a point-of-view character is a testament to that. The author also focuses briefly here and there on Jaffa, a character inside the city of Ashe-Katarion, giving insights into what's happening on the side of the Redeemers. I felt this was important, as it gives us a look at the opposition, or else it's easy just to think of them as a faceless enemy army.
All told, this book was hard to put down. For its length, I finished it in really good time, and it was one of those rare gems where I knew it would go straight onto my shelf of favorites even before I had reached the quarter-way point. Easily one of the best books I've read this year so far.
Try as I might, I just couldn't get into this. I think I've mentioned in reviews of the previous books that my two favorite things about this series i...moreTry as I might, I just couldn't get into this. I think I've mentioned in reviews of the previous books that my two favorite things about this series is 1) the dynamics in the relationship between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire, and 2) the fact that they two of them get to travel and adventure in such exotic places. Ironically, all that stuff with the war against Napoleon and the French, I can take or leave. Which makes me wonder if I might be reading the Temeraire series for all the wrong reasons.
No one gets to take a trip to China or Africa or anywhere so exciting this time around. The story takes place back in Europe, back to the Napoleonic War side of things, which I suppose is the raison d'etre for all the characters if you think about it. And yet, I just found it all so dreadfully boring, and actually struggled to make myself get through the book. Granted, that was one hell of an epic battle at the end, but I'll still take the adventures in faraway places over all the tedious war planning and aerial dragon fighting scenes any day.
There were a few highlights, nonetheless. I was itching to find out what had happened to Laurence after the unfortunate events of the last book when he was imprisoned and tried for treason. I was glad to see that thread in the story resulted in the first real source of strain between Lawrence and Temeraire. I'd really wanted to see a wrench thrown into that partnership for a long time, and if that makes me a terrible person, so be it; things were getting way too cushy between them lately and their interactions were getting stale. I just wanted to see something interesting happen in their friendship again.
Unfortunately, the high points were also dampened by things that disappointed me. Why, for instance, does Laurence seem to be the only one in the entire military with even a shred of morality or conscience to do the right thing? It just feels strange, considering there are all these people in the Aerial Corps, most of whom should understand the love for dragons or at least understand why Laurence felt he had to do what he did.
Then there was the matter of Temeraire and his cause to champion more rights and better living conditions for dragons. He makes headway in this book, but also has to learn that gaining more rank and standing in the military also means accepting all the rules and disciplinary actions that come along with it. But gosh, he is just so, so naive. We've been repeatedly told that Temeraire is extraordinarily intelligent for a dragon, and yet so many of his thoughts and his actions in this book show otherwise.
My thoughts on the subject of the war and fighting notwithstanding, this installment just felt a lot weaker than the previous novels, with a lot of the things making up the story and characters unraveling and falling apart. Hopefully next book will pick up again.(less)
This book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I'm thinking that could be why I liked this book so muc...moreThis book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I'm thinking that could be why I liked this book so much. You have British warlocks versus Nazi Germany's engineered super soldiers in an alternate history of World War II.
At this point in the story, the U.S. is still out of the picture and the Soviet Union only gets involved later in the book. The British have discovered that Nazi scientists have been developed a technology to create a group of "supermen" -- there's a guy who can manipulate fire, a woman who can turn invisible, another dude who can walk through solid matter, etc. The British know they're screwed unless they come up with something fast, so they end up recruiting a bunch of their warlocks to counter the enemy.
But the story is a lot darker than it sounds, or at least that's how I felt. There are parts that were really emotionally disturbing and/or upsetting to me; the whole book just has this heavy, gloomy vibe surrounding it, which isn't uncommon for books that explore the theme of whether the ends justify the means -- because there's a catch to the warlocks' power. Apparently, it comes only from a group of omnipotent extra-planar beings called the Eidolons, demon-like creatures who demand a "blood price" for their services.
Not to mention that the book's main antagonist, the Nazi's super-soldier pre-cog named Gretel is one crazy scary bitch. She's even crazier and scarier than the Nazi's mad scientist. The people on her own side are afraid of her. Heck, her own brother thinks she's nutters. And yet, her personality is handled just subtly enough so the reader doesn't simply brush her off as just another cookie-cutter psycho supervillain. Personally, I found her fascinating in a creepy, discomforting sort of way, because you're left wondering what could anyone with the perfect ability to see the future and manipulate events possibly have planned for the world? It hurts my head just to work out the paradoxes, and quite frankly I don't really want to think about it at all.
Like I said, there were parts of this book that really disturbed and upset me, but not in the way that would make me want to put it down. Most of the time, it was the penetrating feeling of dread that hit me as I was reading, the anticipation of impending disaster or of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's a good, suspenseful fear, and I suppose it speaks well of the author that he was able to make me feel this way, because it doesn't normally happen unless I get emotionally invested in the story or the characters.
I don't want to make this book sound all doom and gloom, though. It's beautifully written and Ian Tregillis has clearly done his homework on the historical period. Despite the occult paranormal and science fiction elements, you get a highly realistic sense of the war setting. The main characters are also very well done; we see the story play out through three main narratives -- Marsh the British agent, Will the warlock, and Klaus the Nazi super soldier -- and between them I got a pretty clear picture of what's happening on all sides.
It's probably true that the ideas in this novel aren't completely original; you can probably recognize elements of them from other works, but the way Tregillis has mashed them together and the context he uses made this a really intriguing read. I'm really looking forward to picking up the rest of the series if it means I'll be getting more of that good stuff.
Science fiction fans with an inclination towards alternate history should definitely check this out, especially if you have an interest in the WWII era.(less)
Much more interesting and exciting than the preceding couple of books, with a mission into Africa to boot. I've always liked how this series takes the...moreMuch more interesting and exciting than the preceding couple of books, with a mission into Africa to boot. I've always liked how this series takes the reader to faraway places and this time Lawrence and Temeraire are off to find a cure for a dragon disease that's ravaging across the country and crippling the forces of the Aerial Corps.
I'm reading these books now more for the adventures rather than for the dragon battle scenes or the growing friendship between Lawrence and Temeraire, though those factors continue to feature strongly in the stories. I also like how the aviators have a different culture than the rest of the military, especially in how they view women in the service and in how they throw a lot of social norms to the wind. As a relative newcomer to that world, Lawrence is still in the process of learning all of this and it's often funny to read about his awkwardness and confusion.
The book ends in a cliffhanger of sorts. The bond between Lawrence and Temeraire has not been tested like this before, and I'm looking forward to see how all that pans out in the next book. (less)
I'm still enjoying this series, but I think the spark, that initial sense of magic and wonderment I first felt when I read His Majesty's Dragon, has f...moreI'm still enjoying this series, but I think the spark, that initial sense of magic and wonderment I first felt when I read His Majesty's Dragon, has faded.
I believe the ongoing war against Napoleon and the action-filled aerial dragon battles are meant to be the focus and highlight of these books, and that unique premise certainly sets this series apart from much of the other fantasy offerings out there. But if I'm to be completely honest, while reading this third book, I found myself constantly fighting the urge to skim over the fight scenes.
It's not that I don't find them well-written or interesting; but for me the best part has always been the forming and strengthening of the bond between Lawrence and Temeraire. That was what made His Majesty's Dragon a five star read for me, but it was even obvious by the end of that first book in the series that the captain and his dragon would be loyal to the death to each other and inseparable.
There's nowhere else for that relationship to go, and so we are left with their debates regarding the treatment and rights of dragons as the only source of tension between them, if that could even count as a conflict. I'm looking forward to see where this thread will take us as I continue with the series, but it still pales in comparison to that fascinating dynamic they had in the first book.(less)
4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had ju...more4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had just the right mix of space travel, aliens and futuristic technology, but were still light enough not to intimidate a relative newcomer to the genre. Now they still rank among some of my favorite books of all time.
So when I found out about Scalzi's new serialized novel based on the Old Man's War universe, I became all excited and got set to pick up the new episodes every week from January to April 2013. Unfortunately, I discovered that I am very impatient when it comes to having to wait to find out what happens next, and I'm as bad with books as I am with TV shows when it comes to keeping up with weekly installments. For the latter, I'd much rather buy the complete DVD/Blu-ray box set with all the extras at the end of the season and do a marathon all at once, so I essentially decided to do the literary equivalent with The Human Division.
It will help to have read the previous books in the series, especially The Last Colony, since what happens in The Human Division is the direct result of the drastic events that occur the end of that novel. As such, this review may contain minor spoilers for the books that came before.
For a couple hundred years, the Colonial Union has happily taken advantage of Earth, keeping the planet's population in the dark while farming it aggressively for colonists and soldiers in the name of human expansion across a hostile universe. Last we saw, John Perry has basically blown the cover off that whole operation. Thanks to him, the people of Earth now know the truth.
Angry and betrayed, Earth considers an invitation from a political alliance made up of 400 alien races -- also known as the Conclave, bitter rivals of the Colonial Union. The CU, currently aware of their precarious position, begins to play things more carefully, making every possible effort in politics and diplomacy. An unknown entity, however, may be sabotaging all their efforts.
Being a serialized novel, this was a great mix of thirteen narratives which all come together to tell an overarching story. Some served to push the plot forward while focusing on the main characters, while others acted more as filler but were still invaluable in providing the necessary background information required to follow the story. Like any anthology-type book, there were some episodes I liked more than others, but on the whole they were all very entertaining and enjoyable.
Some highlights for me include Episode 1: The B-Team, the story which serves as an introduction to our main characters, Ambassador Abumwe, Captain Coloma, Hart Schmidt, and Harry Wilson. Wilson, of course, I was glad to see because he's someone we first met in Old Man's War, one of John Perry's friends in the group they'd dubbed the "Old Farts", so it was nice to be able to catch up with him. This story was also one hell of a start.
Also Episode 2: Walk the Plank, which a one-off short told in transcript form and was a punch in the gut. This just goes to show while John Scalzi's a funny guy and a delight to read, his stuff's not all fun and games; he's also very capable of writing poignant scenes that can fill you with dread. Walk The Plank also reaffirmed my decision to read this novel only after it was complete, as it was a drastic shift from the first episode and I would have been left very confused that week.
Then there were the episodes like #7, The Dog King which were lighter, more humorous and closer to what I expect when I think of Scalzi's works. There were also pleasant surprises like Episode 10: This Must be the Place which I found heartwarming and quite meaningful. And of course, the final episode Earth Below, Sky Above which was all action all craziness, and had me on the edge of my seat. John Scalzi gets to flex all his writing talents with this diverse collection of stories.
Basically, if you've followed the Old Man's War series up to this point, you really can't afford to miss this. It continues the story, but the serialization format also made this an incredible experience. Admittedly, I had initial doubts about it, fearing that the novel being presented as individual episodes would make it feel too disjointed, but that was not the case at all. In fact, I actually really liked it. Either I'm just not as bad as I thought at handling serial novels, or John Scalzi is simply really good at pulling this off. It's probably both.
Like I said, you can get the full-length novel now which includes all the episodes as well as a couple extras, and personally, I so much prefer reading it this way. It appears Scalzi's been signed on for a second season too, so I'm ecstatic that the adventures in the universe of Old Man's War will continue.