Enjoyable, occasionally irreverent history of invented languages, somewhat in the vein of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in that i...moreEnjoyable, occasionally irreverent history of invented languages, somewhat in the vein of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in that it focuses as much on the personalities behind the languages as the languages themselves. Also the majority of the book is about auxlangs (auxiliary languages meant for international usage) rather than artlangs (languages created for fictional worlds), but then artlangs rarely aim for perfection :)
All it really needs is an updated edition, covering the recent resurgence of interest in conlangs thanks to David Peterson's work on TV series such as Game of Thrones and Defiance. Still, a must-read if you're a serious conlanger!(less)
Short, but interesting. Glad to say I already implemented some of the suggestions in my current series (multiple members of a given group, diverse opi...moreShort, but interesting. Glad to say I already implemented some of the suggestions in my current series (multiple members of a given group, diverse opinions amongst a culture), but there's food for thought to take forward into my next project.(less)
Another great instalment in the Eli Monpress series, this time focusing on Josef as much as Eli. We find out a lot more about the swordsman's past, as...moreAnother great instalment in the Eli Monpress series, this time focusing on Josef as much as Eli. We find out a lot more about the swordsman's past, as well as the wider history and geography of the world, and it definitely has a more epic feel than the earlier books, even compared to The Spirit Eater. There was also a revelation about the cosmology of this fantasy world that took me totally by surprise - I'll have to re-read the series one day to see if it was hinted at in earlier books and I missed it.
Only downer is the somewhat cliffhanger ending, though I guess that just means I'm going to have to read the final volume sooner rather than later!(less)
I think The Thousand Names can best be summed up as “Sharpe does Napoleon’s Egyptian campaigns with a dash of Indiana Jones”. It’s a pretty low-fantas...moreI think The Thousand Names can best be summed up as “Sharpe does Napoleon’s Egyptian campaigns with a dash of Indiana Jones”. It’s a pretty low-fantasy story, at least for the first three-quarters of the book, focusing mainly on the day-to-day life of soldiers in a desert campaign. The tech level of the setting is roughly equivalent to late 18th/early 19th century Europe, with armaments including muskets, bayonets and a variety of cannon.
The star character has to be Winter Ihernglass, a young woman doing the historically well-attested thing of disguising herself as a man in order to join the army. As someone who has written a character very much like this, I enjoyed seeing Wexler’s take on the theme. Winter is hardy, resourceful and determined, but we never forget how vulnerable she is (though thankfully without any rape!); a truly strong female character who feels utterly realistic.
By contrast Captain Marcus d’Ivoire feels a little bland, but that may be because he has a lot less at stake. Sure, he’s under constant threat of death in battle, but so is everyone else. It isn’t until close to the end of the book, when he begins to suspect there are skeletons in his own family closet, that there’s a reason to think he might have an interesting personal arc ahead of him.
The book itself is something of a slow burn, and the second quarter consists almost entirely of a detailed account of a battle between the colonials and the rebels. Although I’ve studied a little military history, I’ve never gone into the minutiae of battle manoeuvres so I found these scenes hard work, trying to visualise all the details of the terrain and the troop deployments. Hence although these chapters are well-written, I confess I was relieved when the scale switched back to the individual characters’ level.
One thing that did slightly bother me was the worldbuilding. Despite its Afghan-sounding name Khandar is pretty much your standard North African/Near Eastern stereotype, with its self-centred puppet prince and his colonial allies ousted by a coalition of his own army and a bunch of religious fanatics, not to mention horse-riding desert raiders led by a mysterious masked character (The Desert Song, anyone? Or am I the only one old enough to remember that musical?). None of these elements is bad in itself, but together they feel a bit too much of a coincidence. Wexler tries to get away from identifying them racially as Arabs by giving them greyish skin, but it’s such a minor difference (and being visual, too easy to ignore in a book) that it feels like a token effort. Perhaps if we’d seen more of the Khandarai than their magic, there would have been enough cultural differences to throw the stereotypes into the shade, but the reader can only go by what’s on the page.
Flaws aside, this was a great book; it’s always a good sign when I find myself really looking forward to my next reading session. Like Brian McClellan, Wexler has released a prequel short story (“The Penitent Damned”), which I will definitely be checking out whilst I wait for the sequel, The Shadow Throne.(less)
I'm a bit conflicted about how to rate this book - on the one hand it's a very good example of its kind, on the other, I think I've somewhat outgrown...moreI'm a bit conflicted about how to rate this book - on the one hand it's a very good example of its kind, on the other, I think I've somewhat outgrown the sword'n'sorcery genre. Also, whilst a laudable reaction to traditional S&S, the anti-misogynistic message towards the end was a bit heavy-handed for my liking, and the resolution kind of misses the point, tbh.
Still, a fun, fast-paced read, and Nix is a likeable protagonist. I dare say I may pick up the next one when I need a bit of light entertainment!(less)
Eli Monpress is the greatest and most infamous thief in the world. At least, that’s his ambition. The bigger the theft, the higher the bounty on his w...moreEli Monpress is the greatest and most infamous thief in the world. At least, that’s his ambition. The bigger the theft, the higher the bounty on his wanted poster – and what could be higher profile than stealing a king? Unfortunately the kidnapped king’s absence leaves a power vacuum in the wizard-hating kingdom of Mellinor and sets off a chain of events that even Eli’s charm can’t easily get him out of.
I confess that I started reading this book under the misapprehension that it was YA – I’m not sure why, maybe the lovely new cover art for the omnibus edition? However it took me some time to realise my mistake, perhaps because between the “clean rating” (no swearing or sex, very little violence), the girl mage who rides a giant telepathic wolf, and the wryly humorous style, it reminded me of a cross between The Princess Bride and an intelligent Disney cartoon. Of course the fact that the previous book I read was The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan probably made the contrast even more striking! At any rate, this is one of those books that is likely to appeal to – and be suitable for – a wide age range of readers, from young teens upwards.
Towards the end it becomes somewhat darker, as Eli confronts a particularly nasty wizard bent on taking over the kingdom, and I’m told that later books continue in this vein (I have the omnibus edition, so I’ll no doubt be reading them at some point). However the overall flavour is definitely slanted towards the light, epitomised by master swordsman Joseph, who walks around covered in unfeasibly large amounts of edged steel but is really only interested in fighting opponents worthy of his skill.
If you’re not keen on the “gritty” type of epic/adventure fantasy, or just want a break from all the raping and pillaging, I heartily recommend you check out this book. Eli’s reputation depends on it!(less)
Action-packed urban fantasy with some of the most charming, flawed (and all too often, psychotic) angels you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting - an...moreAction-packed urban fantasy with some of the most charming, flawed (and all too often, psychotic) angels you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting - and a heroine who doesn't need to dress in leather or kick ass in order to be strong and awesome. Highly recommended!
(Disclaimer. Yes, Lou is a friend. No, I don't say nice things about books just because a friend wrote them. I'm mean that way...)(less)
The Emperor’s Knife is one of a flush of Middle-Eastern-inspired fantasies that came out in 2011 – an encouraging trend, since that milieu has been sa...moreThe Emperor’s Knife is one of a flush of Middle-Eastern-inspired fantasies that came out in 2011 – an encouraging trend, since that milieu has been sadly neglected in the genre despite being a rich source of myth and story formerly very popular in the West. The setting is a secondary world rather than the historical Middle East, but with its deserts, grand viziers and palace intrigue it manages to capture an Arabian Nights feel whilst allowing Williams a broader palette for storytelling.
The central conceit of the book is the Pattern, a magical analogue of the elaborate pattern of a Persian rug. The Pattern is generally believed to be a disease: once it appears on a victim’s skin (somewhat like a tattoo), the person either dies or becomes a kind of zombie, physically alive but with their old personality gone. However there’s literally much more to the Pattern than meets the eye, and the characters of The Emperor’s Knife became enmeshed in it in ways they never imagined.
Four main characters carry the narrative: Prince Sarmin, who has been kept locked in a tower since childhood as a secret backup in case his brother the emperor fails to produce an heir; Eyul, the emperor’s Knife, i.e. assassin; Tuvaini, the obligatory scheming grand vizier; and Mesema, daughter of a nomad chieftain and intended bride of Sarmin. These four offer very different and often opposing perspectives on events, and the frequent switches between the four helps to keep the story moving along even when not much is happening in an individual’s timeline.
The narrative pace did sag somewhat in the second quarter; it felt like Williams was struggling to fill the time whilst all the pieces moved into position, resulting in several scenes where characters had long conversations that didn’t amount to much. It didn’t help that some of these conversations were almost too realistic, wandering around a topic that neither character wanted to discuss—or even think about—directly, and in one case I was left very confused as to what was actually going on. However once everyone got back to the capital city the pace started to pick up and I read the second half of the book in a couple of days.
Also, whilst the characters were generally interesting and well-developed, I felt that the assassin Eyul lacked something. Maybe it was just a combination of the aforementioned confusing scenes, Eyul’s own repressed personality and my being unwell whilst reading the book, but his emotional arc didn’t quite work for me.
Flaws aside, though, there’s a lot to enjoy in this book. Prince Sarmin is a delightfully gender-reversed Rapunzel, spurred into action by unexpected visits to his lonely tower, and Mesema is the kind of strong female character I love to read about: not a “kickass warrior babe” male fantasy but a resourceful young woman coping admirably with the scary new world she’s been thrown into. Also, the magic of the Pattern is pleasingly organic, woven into the fabric of the world, its mysteries unrolling before the reader like a…(OK, enough with the Persian rug metaphors! Ed.) *ahem*
In summary, if you’re looking for an action-packed fantasy epic you’re going to be disappointed by this book. If on the other hand you enjoy a character-driven tale of political intrigue as subtle and intricate as the Pattern itself, I can strongly recommend it. It’s a solid debut, and I’ll certainly be picking up the next book in the series.(less)
A wonderful debut following in the footsteps of Asimov and Dick, vN is a fascinating exploration of human-android relationships as well as an action-...more
A wonderful debut following in the footsteps of Asimov and Dick, vN is a fascinating exploration of human-android relationships as well as an action-packed SF adventure with a geeky sense of humour. A must-read for all serious robot fans!(less)