It is a fine, fine line that sometimes separates those little details that work and those that start to fall apart and take a bookFantasy Review Barn
It is a fine, fine line that sometimes separates those little details that work and those that start to fall apart and take a book with it. Dark Eden is a book that could go wrong in a hurry by relying on some threads that have to be played just right. It is a near future society that lost its access to technology, a sci-fi dystopia if you will. And be honest how many dystopias hold up to a close reading? It also takes modern English and twists it around to fit the people speaking it. Even though I am not a linguist I tend to pay more attention to language in speculative fiction worlds than anyone wants me to and all too often it doesn’t hold up. Both of these aspects had a chance to derail the entire reading experience for me yet I made it through the whole book. A good sign.
Dark Eden is a title that can be taken quite literally. The world is a literal Eden, started by only two people stranded only five or so generations back. It is also dark, with no star in the sky the only light is provided by the life on the planet (or whatever this celestial body happens to be); native trees and animals mostly have their own light source (with tree being one of many things with Earth names the founders used them on completely new flora and fauna). Both of these setups are more than background information that sits in the back; they are intrical (it’s a word, a promise) to every portion of the story.
For several generations the people of Eden have diversified their genes best they can, scavenged for food, and eeked out an existence as they look to the dark sky for their eventual rescue promised by the founders. Their entire presence is a mistake but with three of the original five heading back to earth it is a given that if they stay close they will be found. Life is getting harder as the population grows and tradition set down by this extended family doesn’t allow for deviation. Finally one young man named John looks at the situation and decides it should change. The valley they live in can’t be everything in the world and if the animals of the land can cross the snowy dark then…
And we come back to those little details and how well they work out in this ambitious setup. Language can be a sticking point. I have read some reviews of Dark Eden that take issues with the liberties he takes with English. One on Goodreads specifically (and quite entertainingly) compares the bastardization of certain words to Dolly from the Family Circus comic; childish mishearings that have stuck in the society. And it is true, ‘versary’ instead of anniversary and radio being split into two words seems like a simplistic approach. But in this one man’s opinion it actually works here. We are dealing with a society that come from two people; any lisp, idioms, or misheard phrasing is forever stuck in the groups’ vocabulary without a larger society to correct it.
The same can be said about the use of repeating worlds for emphasis (it was cold cold out there). My love of British humor has seeped into my everyday language, which in turn has spread among my social group. I have heard many friends say things like ‘pull the other one it has bells,’ a very non regional cliché. I also am quite proud of how many people I know use ‘snake’ in place of the word steal. So I have no problem with a small society taking on linguistics of a couple of dominating personalities. Something I am known to nitpick over is a strength in my mind; just one more aspect of some pretty unique world building.
But another little detail was tougher to swallow. The book seemed to decide on an inevitable move from a fairly female dominated group to a generational shift to patriarchy. The necessity of keeping the gene pool diverse (hairlips and other birth defects already plague the colony) has also let to sexual freedom and is something that has helped women keep an equal footing in this devolving land. But changes that John brings about spark a power grab that seems destined to end with women in a secondary role. Already many women in the society seem content with being regulated to breeding stock; several men in the society seem happy to take what agency they have in their lives away.
Details like this aside I don’t hesitate to say I was hooked on this book throughout. Minus the Eden aspect (and various other biblical allusions that the people of the land have played telephone with to almost being unrecognizable) there was almost nothing recognizable about this land. Life coming from the core rather from the sun and light being provided by the native flora and fauna finally clicked in my mind as a deep sea setting on dry land; valleys acting in the same role as vents in the sea by providing heat and focal points for life. And while I hesitate to call most (if any) characters likable they are still fairly compelling.
Mother of Eden is out soon, if not all ready. Peeking ahead it looks like it skips two hundred years in the future of this land. I am going to move it to my must read pile.
Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of bookFantasy Review Barn
Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of book that felt designed to hit all the right notes of a popular series. Yet despite its familiarity almost by the numbers feel (*cough* First Law *cough) I never felt that it was derivative of the works it could be compared to. It took a well-worn feel and gave it a life of its own. I immediately was ready for Sword of the North to come out so I could continue the adventure.
Sword of the North is a very different animal than its predecessor despite keeping the same general feel. The Grim Company had its feet firmly planted in the Grimdark thing (call it a genre, sub-genre or whatever have you). It started with a man using magic to drop half an ocean onto a rival’s city after all. From there it followed a familiar path of people trying hard and ultimately failing in their futile efforts; that things were only going to get worse was perfectly clear.
I felt there was actually a bit of hope, a bit less chance of tragedy, hell a little bit of happiness hidden in a few pages. Don’t get me wrong, this book still walks on the darker side of fantasy complete with high body counts, betrayals by people you actually like and nasty people getting big wins. But unlike ‘grimdark’ books I found that characters I have liked through two books have for the most part stayed likable. I feel that there are people who actually care in this world, which of course takes out some of the caricature feel common in dark fantasy. What’s more, some characters actually show some will to improve themselves. What a concept! We are halfway to a comedy (by classical definition).
We continue to follow characters met in the first book; Brodar Kayne as he heads North to check on a rumor about his family along with the grim man who goes by Wolf. Cole, who should be a celebrated hero for his deeds in book one, instead wakes up in a penal colony. Sasha, following her sister into a confrontation with The White Lady (would be savior from The Grim Company). And the half-mage; a man digging into secrets that could prove important at a later date (and pissing off important people while doing so). The land is learning that anyone powerful to dispose of a despot should probably be looked into, war is coming to the north (with the help of some barely under control demons) and lots of dying people is pretty much inevitable.
I enjoyed each of these character’s paths, save one. The story’s expanded scope, and an overall villain much more interesting that that who ruled the first book, was well woven and entertaining. Minor anachronisms are forgiven (and Pulp Fiction homages are noted but ultimately ignored) for sake of a good read. But the grizzled barbarian who helped carry the first book, one Brodar Kayne, was given the short end of the story this time around. It felt like the author knew what to do with each piece of his puzzle save this one. So on a travel quest he goes! Picking up as large of a quest party as possible along the way, one piece at a time, just to keep the story going I suppose. It led to an entire POV that I wanted to skip each time it came up, never a good thing and for this reader slowed the story down greatly.
This is a shame because in a lot of ways I think Scull is giving us a more creative and in depth story this time around in every other aspect. As inevitable as ‘same as the old boss’ style mechanics may be it always breaks the heart when it turns out to be true. And the new bosses minions are one of those little unique touches that always makes me smile when I read fantasy. I can safely say that for the most part this book clicked all around for me. It just falls into that common trap of having too many pages that don’t add anything to the story.
Let’s reminisce back to Traitor’s Blade so we know where we stand with the series thus Knight's Shadow far. In my mind it read likFantasy Review Barn
Let’s reminisce back to Traitor’s Blade so we know where we stand with the series thus Knight's Shadow far. In my mind it read like three separate books, two of which were very good while being very different from each other. It started out as something of a light hearted romp. It ended on a very serious note with a strong conclusion that left me pining for the next book. The fact that I found the middle tedious and even a bit insulting was forgiven by the end. The question is which of these books to expect for the second outing.
Knight’s Shadow continued the serious tone that Traitor’s Blade ended on. It occasionally drops back to its humorous tone but it works so much better on the whole with the darker edge. It was more focused, faster paced (despite the longer word count) and made this yet another book that I have read recently that beat the debut in quality and enjoyment.
Falcio and his fellow Greatcoats have a new purpose. Years after his king’s death Falcio is committed to putting his heir on the throne. To do so he must gain support among the various Dukes, hard enough on its own and even harder with someone he once trusted building an army of her own to take control. His fellow Greatcoat Kest is struggling with a new found curse he thought would be a blessing and Brasti proves to care a little more than his flippant attitude suggests. Oh, and there is an ancient group of unbeatable assassins that may have a target on Falcio. So to recap: Protect the rightful heir, built support to stop an army, watch out for assassins. And from there things really get crazy.
There was a unique focusing agent that kept this book moving at a brisk pace. Had it been overdone it could have quickly turned to gimmick, instead it was something I loved because it was only used enough to be effective and ignored when not needed. To describe it would be something of a spoiler but I can say that it involves something that happened to Falcio at the end of Traitor’s Blade. Every morning starts to count. Throughout chapters start with Falcio waking and the implications of what is happening to him continues to matter more each time. It gives the book a countdown of sorts, forces each day in the story to matter, each action to count for something, and each failure to hurt just a bit more. Running out of time always sucks, and the urgency helps here.
The stronger focus and knowledge of exactly what kind of book it wanted to be was one reason I thought this was a stronger book than its predecessor. I also felt it benefited from the addition, and change of status, of a couple of characters. The Tailor was introduced in book one but becomes a major, even the major, player this time around. Outside of Falcio no one affects the land of Tristia more. Darriana is a new character but a great addition, one of two women Greatcoats who balance out the cast and provider of some of the more entertaining moments as she cuts the boys down to size repeatedly.
I did struggle with the ending again. The conclusion itself was pretty strong even if a bit too easy; after such a torturous journey it seems things fell into place a bit too well for the story to end. Still, some bad guys were defeated and others remain for more books to come. And there is just the right note of hope mixed with melancholy that on the whole I have to give the ending to the author.
I end by talking about a section I am still at odds about. It involved a long torture scene lasting an entire chapter. And I can’t decide how it fits in. It certainly ties into the story, and it is the author’s story to tell. But outside of providing a chance for some allegiances to be made and a certain plot snare to be escaped from I didn’t really see its purpose. It was long, drawn out, and included a couple scenes that require a trigger warning. While the series has proven that it will always be darker in tone than the early chapters suggested this may have been a bit over the top; it certainly changes the way I was reading and provided the only pages I didn’t read at a record pace. It was really only this small section that detracted me from the book on the whole and I can’t really place my finger on why. So know that there is something nasty coming up, and perhaps it will bother me and me alone.
I am still finding this to be a very entertaining series and will continue to look forward to seeing the next outing. Which at this point already can’t come soon enough because I can read these books like I eat candy.
Mayot gets his hands on an object that gives him power to rival the gods. And it is quickly apparent he plaFantasy Review Barn
All roads lead to Rome.
Mayot gets his hands on an object that gives him power to rival the gods. And it is quickly apparent he plans on using it. His presence turns into a magnet for everything to follow; a focal point for the entire cast to converge on for differing reasons. Some know exactly why they are heading to this man while some are driven there by factors beyond their control. But each soul that heads in his direction is drawn in completely; one way or another their fate will be decided in his new magnetism.
I will let you know that this book didn’t hook me right away. There was a D&D feel to some of it, starting with the naming conventions of things like the Forest of Sighs and The Book of Lost Souls. Characters felt wooden and early scene of powers in negotiations didn’t work at all. Toss in a night attack by what can only be described as ninjas and a character speaking in a faux old English accent and my eyes found themselves rolled completely into the back of the head.
But patience in this case was absolutely rewarded. The consistent build up, chapter after chapter, was handled superbly. Power growing and building; Mayot extends his reach a little more with each fight, small or large. And as his power grows the ripples are felt from farther away, leading to even more of the players in this magical world wanting the book he holds for their own. And Mayot’s plans are truly ambitious; it wasn’t until late in the book that I realized just how far he was willing to take this.
This is not a subtle book, it is a book of magic. Mayot will take on wizards, titans and gods. Some try to take, some try to manipulate (my favorite character’s favorite tactic) and some try to negotiate. And did I mention that Mayot’s methods are truly horrible? No? Some are trying to stop him only because his success will lead to things worse than death. When the Heavens Fall is completely about the buildup and the payoff; characters, history of the world, deep themes is not the game here. If you are willing to play along, which I eventually was, then there is little room for disappointment by the end.
Every so often a book does something that catches your eye that maybe isn’t central to the plot, or character, but still seems worth remembering. Turner wrote a book with a cast with a fairly mixed gender representation. Woman and men both act with strong agency. But what caught my eye was a completely lack of gender notice by the narrator. There is a standard practice (made fun of early by Terry Pratchett) that when a female mercenary is introduced a reader is immediately clued in to if this one is a possible love interest based on physical characteristics or not. But the men and women of this world are given the same treatment. Unless a specific character makes note of a physical detail a movie casting could truly be put together with a blank slate. A bit of tangent I know, but the realization hit me and I couldn’t help but mention it.
This was a book I started slow on and had some innate silliness in its set up. But I cannot ignore the buildup that eventually hooked me, nor the fact that the payoff didn’t disappoint. Mark Turner wrote a damn fine book.
Can a book end up almost exactly where you expected it to go, down to almost every single plot detail, and still manage to surprisFantasy Review Barn
Can a book end up almost exactly where you expected it to go, down to almost every single plot detail, and still manage to surprise you? That is what I found with this delightfully charming young adult book. There was no twist in the beginning, characters did what I expected, and the resolution was exactly what I called at the beginning of the book. But the author gave me enough to question my wisdom, and made me laugh throughout, and overall I was left, well, charmed.
A small town in the middle of the woods has for years found itself locked in a strange situation; children being taken and eventually showing up in their fairy tales. The sequence in which the adults try to figure out what is going on over the generations is one of the funniest passages I have read by the way; expect absurd theories involving some impressively evolving bears. But after a short three hundred years a pattern is found; two children, one good and one evil, are taken by the head master to learn fairy tale conventions.
The School for Good and Evil follows two young girls, nominally best friends, who have very different ideas about this school. Agatha is a realist and refuses to believe in the school (hidden story books not withstanding). Sophie on the other hand is certain she has everything it takes to be a story book Princess. On the night of the choosing the two are of course taken… only to be dropped off in the school opposite to what each expects.
What follows is a lot of Sophie trying to convince everyone she should be in the school for good while she eyes her prince, Agatha doing her best to get back home, and the two friends finding themselves in over the head in almost every way. All while princesses scoff, witches ready curses, and the mysterious headmaster allowing a destiny of sorts to reach a final conclusion.
This was a perfect diversion for me as it contained two of my favorite things; humor and heart. Agatha’s path will melt even the coldest heart and Sophie’s isn’t easily forgot either. And the humor is present throughout; subtle and rarely over the top but at times it made me chortle out loud. Both of these aspects more than made up for the predicable nature of the actual story. After all, this is a book of fairy tales, predictability is part of the game unless trope bending is the design (and in this case it was not).
If, like me, you partake in audio books at all then I give this book an extra nudge in your direction. The narration was fantastic, perfectly hitting the timing needed for the humor and putting just enough distinction in the voices to separate them. She even had a decent singing voice for the two or three lyrical sections found in the book.
Reading John Love is an unique experience. He crafts characters that sit just outside of humanity despite nominallyFantasy Review Barn
Reading John Love is an unique experience. He crafts characters that sit just outside of humanity despite nominally being part of it. Obsessions, large appetites for just about anything, levels of intelligence that sit just outside of insanity – these are the traits that can be found in even his most sane characters. The situations he places them in fit the same mold; even the most mundane actions have two or three competing underlying themes.
It is 2060 and the UN is holding a conference to discuss the biggest issue of the day, water rights. Hosting the summit is the New Anglican church, an impossible to describe mixture of church and business that has grown into a huge power on the strength of openness, large charity projects, and it’s charismatic arch bishop Olivia del Sarto. Olivia is a shrewd leader and largely responsible for the churches success yet is better known to the public for her voracious appetites; for food, the spotlight, and sex.
Anwar is one of The Dead, physically modified operatives employed and created by the UN. When he pulls what amounts to body guard duty better suited to ‘meatslabs’ we start to see the obsessions that will make up a good portion of the rest of his story. When his boss asks him if he accepts the mission however he says yes, and will guard Olivia with the same compulsion that drives him in everything. For the danger she faces is very real.
Lastly we have Marek. A terrorist with unparalleled success. His face has been seen, his body count much lower than many fundamentalist groups, but never caught. Not big on speeches or taunts, with no specific targets or patterns, his group truly lived by the works Justify Nothing. Marek’s ability to fade to black after not only committing the terrorist acts, but also having the compulsion to go back and ensure every death, makes him a true ghost in a near future where that seems impossible.
Evensong is a book obsessed with obsession, starting with Anwar. From the moment he takes the mission we see his cracks. Obsessed with his ranking among the low number of Dead. A weird compulsion over the value of containers vs their contents. This works in his favor in many cases; along with the heightened senses he can analyze any situation twenty ways faster than most can once. He is not alone though. While he tries to figure out the big detail missing the people in the background are obsessing even further.
Every conversation is being analyzed by each member for deeper meanings and hidden messages. Even the affliction of the voice gets ran through the mind repeatedly. Each word spoken is part of a large sparring match that goes on for all of Evensong. This goes beyond the characters. I am certain there are hidden meanings to the Evensong mass and even several Shakespeare sonnets that this book drops in that I am missing completely.
Everything builds up to a particularly noteworthy ending. A payoff was going to come, everything kept building for a point in time that we knew was coming. But it was impossible to know what the climax was going to be. Several times obvious choices were shot down in the days leading up to the event. Until finally? Huge reveal and a hell of an exciting climax. Followed by a gut wrenching afterword in a spot usually devoted to wrapping up loose ends in a pretty package. I still don’t know if the final ending ‘worked’ but it certainly leaves an impression. Obsession carries through until the very end.
This is a book that I could read three more times and find more to over analyze. I enjoyed it greatly.
A siege of a single city thousands of years in the making. Three distinct eras of history in one book each with distinct characteriFantasy Review Barn
A siege of a single city thousands of years in the making. Three distinct eras of history in one book each with distinct characteristics and all important to events of the day. Gods with real power, a real sine of wonder, and thought processes that are alien to those on a lesser plain. More importantly these gods have a since of awesome in the truly biblical meaning of the word. The Godless is unique in style, deep in history, and just a little bit wonderful.
The story starts with Ayae, a young refuge living in Mireea with a promising future as a cartographer. Despite the city knowing war is coming there is still a safe feel for the inhabitants. An attack changes that in an instant for Ayae. Despite being saved by an enigmatic man the real surprise is how she came out unscathed; pulled of the burning mess without so much as a mark. Conspiracies start to show themselves all over from there. Dead gods, living gods, and ‘keepers’ who consider themselves to be ascending gods all start to show their hands.
Told in a fractured style this isn’t a book for someone who prefers linear plot lines. Chapters often alternate between the present and one of several time lines; be it recent or distant past. Somehow this is done without ever messing with the feeling of urgency in the present day. Peeks into he past allowed this world to gain its rich history without awkward info dumps, I found myself looking forward to jumps back each and every time one showed. Done especially well is each era feels like a different time period in style and background. Turns out that if something that should be immortal dies it is not an instant thing.
Moving between the characters the larger story slowly unfolds. Ayae’s path stays within one timeline; the siege of the city and the attack on her early in the book make up her concerns. She quickly runs with some illustrious company though not always by choice. The keepers eye her because of her affinity with fire and want her full support; truly enigmatic characters who seem to be on no side. A small mercenary force moves behind enemy lines and learn the enemies’’ plans involve so much more than simple conquest. And Zaifyr, the mysterious man who pulls Ayae out of the fire, quickly becomes the highlight of the whole book. His story can be found moving between times, showing the evolution of just what people think the gods’ fall actually meant. All the while he holds a piece of power from the gods’ fall that has sent him into a cycle of insanity and back.
A slow burn of a book but with enough zip and wit to hold my attention. Characters are easy to relate to and even to cheer for. Twists actually caught me by surprise and the villain’s plan and will to act on it was worthy of the battle to come. I have said it before; this dying gods sub-genre of fantasy can stick around for as long as it wants. The Godless is another great entry into this very specific classification.
Copy used for review received from the author (and signed, thank you good sir!)....more
The hardest part of sitting down to review Words of Radiance, this massive tome Sanderson gifted the world, is figuring out just whFantasy Review Barn
The hardest part of sitting down to review Words of Radiance, this massive tome Sanderson gifted the world, is figuring out just where my thoughts end and other’s have seeped in. As the Wheel of Time for this generation (beloved by many, panned by a few, but certainly known by all), it is almost impossible to go in with a completely blank slate. Ultimately I realized the futility of it and will instead freely admit that while all the thoughts here are my own some of them were certainly influenced, crafted, or put into better words by others before me.
I start with a confession. I was not overly excited to read this book. I gave The Way of Kings a three star rating and as I look back that still feels right. It was good enough to consider reading more but nowhere close to where the hype suggested it should be. I was put off almost immediately in that outing; an early scene showed what should have been an exciting assassination attempt completely thrown off of any kind of flow as the author inserted complex explanations of his magic system. So I put off Words of Radiance for a long time. And then, when I finally picked it up? I put it back down not once but twice for other books.
But I have finally finished and surprisingly despite putting down this monster twice I am not going to pan it. Don’t get me wrong, high praise is not forthcoming, but ultimately I finished this book with many of the same feelings as I had for the first. That is that it is good enough that I will most likely continue to the next one, but still consider a good portion of the fantasy fandom nuts in their exultation of this series.
The Stormlight Archive is certainly an original world. A land of magical storms, unique flora and fauna, and of course, that special magic system. Even the war that has sat at the forefront for two books feels different; with food almost inexhaustible due to the creation magic employed the fight over crystalist feels even more petty than the usual noble games. Everything is thought of it seems. There are language barriers between people (and the communication songs of the Parshendi are actually pretty awesome), and customs that affect everything from dress to education. And while it contains a man’s rise to power from the lowest of the low and includes truly epic stakes it is quite obviously NOT your typical farmboy, faux-European fantasy.
So why does it feel so damn familiar? Again I wish I could credit whoever I first saw pose this question but it is just so valid. New customs, same game. A highly patriarchal society but with a few habits that don’t quite fit. For while there are various women who show real power (and you can’t say the narrative is lacking in strong characters of either gender) so many of the roles feel forced. I still can’t fathom while a patriarchal society with a major power obsession would allow the flow of information to be taken completely out of their hands. It defies reason and tradition doesn’t hinder more serious crimes (murder, betrayal) yet only one character in this book seems to have broken this taboo. It all feels like the book wants to have its cake but also eat it.
We still get a fight against a mysterious ‘other,’ this time with the Parshendi playing the role of a more relatable orc. Through two books through the light eyed humans are strongly playing the role of savior to the world. Likewise we still have a feudalistic society at the core with rich slave owners funding the knight-classes, and the idea that the right king in his place is better than the chaos of no king brokering no arguments at all. Minor spoiler, the changing eye color of one character even suggests that this whole system doesn’t just stem from tradition, it very well could be right and just. And just where the hell do the horses fit in anyway? I hundred new and exciting animals in this world and the mounts are still horses? Maybe Hoid brought them in from another land or something.
“I have no idea what to make of you.” Adolin regarded her. “You’re not like anyone I’ve met.”
“It’s my air of feminine mystique.”
The overly familiar setting may seem like a complaint, but in reality it was just a rambling observation. No the reason I kept putting Words of Radiance down is because of the characters and their conversations. Pages upon pages of conversations that to were the book’s weakest link. Dialog doesn’t flow, jokes are forced, and it often feels like a high school drama production. Shallan, who otherwise was probably my favorite character, is especially egregious with her constant banter. I rarely found her funny. And I know not everyone feels this way but puns made in English often take me right out of fantasy land and place me back on earth. Especially when the character then takes even more time to explain the pun to others.
Enough with the negative, there was a lot to this book I liked. Despite occasionally feeling that I should be figuring out the finger placement on a controller when it is explained I do enjoy the so called magic system. I thought the Truthless assassin was one of the best parts of book one and enjoyed his almost absurd power again here. The slow revelation of what is coming, both from the ever changing enemy and in Dalinar’s search to re-found the knights was handled superbly. Never was I bored by the story that was being unveiled, only at times by the delivery. Shallan’s back chapters were especially enjoyable to me, and had a twist I missed coming.
Sanderson’s characters are easy to root for. Their motivations usually feel real, even when they defy logic. I now some had issues with Kalidin’s brooding throughout this book but I never thought it out of place; this is a man who has incredible expectations of himself that no one could possibly live up to. When they were not engaged in banter I enjoyed the way Shallan and Adolin’s relationship grew. Shallan proves to be one of the smartest characters in the book and her path was the most fun to follow.
Lucky for me it feels like I am the last person to read this book. I therefore don’t have to worry about people asking me whether or not I recommend it. But if I were asked I would simply turn the question around. Did you enjoy The Way of Kings? Then be ready for more of the same. Sanderson is nothing if not consistent.
A reader will know within a few pages of picking up Among Thieves whether or not the book is for them. Torture scenes are not all tFantasy Review Barn
A reader will know within a few pages of picking up Among Thieves whether or not the book is for them. Torture scenes are not all that subtle; if that is the starting point an assumption that more darkness will follow is not a stretch. When it quickly becomes apparent that Drothe, the man inflicting the pain is the book’s protagonist the tone is further set.
This is not the most original setting. Drothe is a bad man with a hunt of honor in a typical fantasy city that has an economy that appears to be entirely driven by crime. There are warring crime lords, hidden puppet masters, and a police force that is more interested in protecting the interests of those in power than any kind of civil service. A series of info-dumps from our first person narrator provides this information. It is effective, but slightly awkward. I could find a similar setting in how many other books published the last few years.
Well give it credit, it takes skill to make the familiar work as well as Hulick managed to do here. The crime organizations felt right, perhaps because they felt like actual organizations. Not everyone is a super assassin, look no further than Drothe. While he carries his share of weapons and is reasonable proficient in them his skills are not as a fighter. He is a Nose; a sniffer of information, middleman, and two bit smuggler. Other people in the organization act the bruiser, the fence, or any number of other needed jobs. The Emperor’s lack of concern about rampant crime also works within the setting. There are lines that cannot be crossed, and if crossed the Empire will come down hard, but the organizations’ know where the line is.
Drother is a great main character but I find myself with a couple of quibbles. He is interesting because with only a couple of exceptions he really is an everyman in a land of legends. The power crime lord Drothe works for inspires fear on the street. A mythical group of Gray Princes secretly pull the strings of said crime lord and all his competition, moving Drothe even farther down the line. Even the people he employs hold talents he can’t begin to match; from mythical fighter and sometimes bodyguard Degan to the people who can actually use the magic that saturates the land. Drothe uses his cunning and network not trying to get ahead, but just trying to keep caught up with the spiraling events.
My problem with Drothe comes from the way he is presented. I think I am supposed to like him, even think he is a good person. He acts with honor in his dealings, tries to prevent war, and works solutions that will make as many people as he can happy. He even looks after those he holds power over; specifically a family of renters in a building he owns. But through it all I know he is deep in a criminal organization, hires bad people to do bad things, and was first seen overseeing torture of a man who interfered with a little profit he was trying to make on the side. I prefer my anti-heroes to be anti-heroes and not everyone gets to have the best of both worlds. I also felt his vision condition, the ability to see in the dark, was a clumsy addition that didn’t help the story (nor did it hinder, just didn’t add much).
Get into the story though and it is pure entertainment. The city is a strong setting with a very interesting history (a three bodied, reincarnating Emperor especially stood out). There are double crosses, chases, and plenty of fighting. There is also plenty of plotting and mystery through. That is all feels so familiar is probably intentional; though it already feels a bit dated. Fire years ago I would have probably considered it a near perfect debut; as I read it after so many similar books I am content to just call it an entertaining story.
Sure, you hear it all the time. ‘Trope bending’ fantasy, as if just the act of bending tropes is noticeable and hasn’t been done aFantasy Review Barn
Sure, you hear it all the time. ‘Trope bending’ fantasy, as if just the act of bending tropes is noticeable and hasn’t been done almost since any kind of trend in fantasy was noticed. I am guilty of it. I enjoy a fresh take on an old tale after all. So I will forgive you if you roll your eyes as I go on about yet another ‘trope bending’ fantasy. “I don’t care,” you may be saying. “I just want to know if A Crown for Cold Silver is a good book. The answer to that is unequivocally yes.
“It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.”
No hiding the basics of the plot here; sometimes someone fucks with the wrong person. It ought to be the first rule of fantasy; when an old woman with her old dog have no fear when soldiers take over her town then perhaps someone should ask why. Would have made this a much shorter book through, so a brash young man makes a big mistake and pays for it. And now Cold Zosia, who together with her ‘five villains’ once led an army that took over a continent, is well and truly pissed and looking for revenge. She leaves the village she had been hiding in and sets off with her ‘faithful hound,’ Choplicker. A dog worth keeping your eye on.
Slowly the five villains are met; separately living very different lives since their leader supposedly died in a duel for her hard fought crown. A couple seem content to live hiding in plain sight and enjoying riches. One is trying to fight back from nasty addictions. And the last two never stopped playing power games. Zosia starts her search with the easiest to find and, as is bound to happen, slowly reunites with them all. Along the way she finds betrayals, false betrayals, and a rumor that she is out rebuilding her army before she even knows her own plans.
From there the story expands, a world and its recent history built into one book as strong as I have seen recently. Do you get tired of false world building as I often do? Name of places dropped, strange fauna mentioned but never seen, religious cults that are nothing more than a quick side story? It is a relief to read a book and realize that I am glad I marked a reference several chapters back because that info suddenly matters. Mysterious sunken lands have a strong probability of mattering soon, all the religious schisms are going to affect the upcoming war, and the land’s balance of rule between the Crimson Queen and the Black Pope of the Fallen Mother can’t last. Watch close and take good notes gentle readers.
“He loved his regiment, because they had earned his love damn it, even that fellow there picking his nose as he sat on a hogshead. Go on lad, mind all the silver ye may; you’ve earned it!”
A Crown for Cold Silver is a book that embraces the darker side of fantasy. A tone of inevitable defeat is often present, though not as bleak as some. There is a possibility of hope, but never a promise of a happy ending. Through all the blood and betrayal cuts a wicked sense of humor, usually at inopportune times. Is it a breakdown of grimdark or a continuation of what has made it popular? Probably a bit of both.
A mold the book doesn’t break away from is the inclusion of over the top characters. Zosia is an old lady when this book starts, her glory days well behind her. But her mind is still sharp and she has a hidden trump that keeps her a bit (well, a LOT) more physically fit that people expect. Each of the villains stands out, though it is former addict Morato that gets the most page time. His deep love of Zosia is tragic, even if it is quite unhealthy. Some of the most interesting ‘what ifs’ come from a mistake he thinks he made in the depths of addiction; that mistake’s role in all that is to come is unknown but haunts him anyway. And the wizard Hoartrap? Keep your eye on him. For one he is going to play an important role in what is to come, but mostly he is just really damn entertaining.
“Her once waxy mustache had finally been tamed.”
Tropes can be played with in different ways. Expect plenty of comparisons to Joe Abercrombie and consider them apt; at least when it comes to humor and over the top characters. The First Law took all the clichés that came from the Tolkien knock offs and turned them over; quests to nowhere, mentors turned bad, etc. Marshall on the other hand twisted around a common setting and kept it complete recognizable, yet slightly different. Homosexual arraigned marriages, a man caught in the classic ‘bet on who beds the new person’ trope or a woman’s mustache are not important at all. In fact they don’t warrant a second of speculation. They are just the facts of the land in an otherwise properly grimdark land of low hope.
With such depth of setting the book started off at a slower pace and a couple of the character’s had chapters that did nothing to alieve this. The villains were unique but I felt shorted at the lack of coverage some of the more interesting ones got. Of course it should be obvious but when dealing with people as over the top as those present one shouldn’t expect much subtlety or inner depths; leading to a bit of predictability in some action. These are things I point out because I notice them, but not a single one of them messed with my enjoyment of the book.
This is the type of book that demands a reread each time a new entry into the series comes out. Surprising depth in the setting for what looks to be a simple revenge tale, escalating events that will take things to a whole new level, and characters I want to know everything about. Sometimes a book is worth they hype.
“There is a point at which a man ceases to use his men to secure his own fortune and starts using it to secure the fortunes of others…usually, for himself.”
It can be considered a good sign if only a few pages into a book I am looking around for someone to read passages to. Be it for humor or depth of thought I like to share what I am reading. Usually no one cares, but occasionally a quote is so good it elicits a chuckle from others even without context. The City Stained Red gave me a good vibe almost immediately.
A mercenary group who follows an adventurer named Lenk chases their mysterious benefactor to a new city in order to get payment…and hits a dead end. Lenk has an image in his head of putting down the sword and starting over; but he needs that last paycheck. Perhaps naively he assumes this is a path that will work for his companions. But pretty dreams are no match for reality. Behind the silk based riches Cier’ Djaal is a city on the edge. Not only is it being eyed as a prize by a couple of stronger foreign powers (held in check by each other more than anyone in the city itself), there is internal tension threatening as well. As is the pattern in an adventurer’s life avoiding these troubles is going to prove impossible.
The City Stained Red is a continuation of the Aeon’s Gate series. But it doesn’t require previous books to be read. The various back stories are woven in smoothly, letting a new reader to the series catch up but never felling overly redundant to someone who has read Sykes before (even if it was several years ago in my case). Be warned though, this book is a commitment. Expect no resolutions here; this is most definitely the start of what appears to be a truly epic series.
Sykes impresses with the way he blends here. A very serious and fairly dark tale is blended with great wit and wordplay. I dare say The City Stained Red contains some of the most entertaining dialog I have read recently, made even better by how natural it feels to the characters. Also blended in this tale is a great mix of the familiar with the completely unique. Yes, there is a D&D party feel to Lenk’s group with the soldier, the mage, the healer and the muscle all present. But each of them seems to different than their stereotypical archetype that I didn’t really consider it until a ways in. And outside of the familiar creatures are some completely unique ones. The traders who use random paintings as a mask are probably my favorite but a sentient group that made me think of the Cheshire Cat are a close second.
There ought to be a formula that takes into account a book’s length vs how long it really feels. In this case the story flew by; never felling like the epic brick of a book it really is. There is rarely a dull moment through that doesn’t come only from no-stop action. There are no wasted pages. When not in heavy action mode we are learning about the city, or expanding on a characters’ background, or enjoying some of that great wordplay mentioned earlier.
With such a large cast it would be easy to lose a character or two but each felt necessary. The ensamble cast goes their various ways and I was happy to follow each of them. A massive collection of identity crises would be the best way to describe it; Lenk’s determination to leave the life behind they had all lived together forces each of them to reevaluate everything. A dragonman wondering about his loyalty, a healer who has a surprisingly relaxed approach to violence, an enigma whose past is suddenly snapped back to the present are all compelling paths. But it is the relationship between Lenk and Kataria that shines. Neither can ever live the life the other can do due to racial differences (Kataria’s ork-like people are looked upon with much distrust in human society. It is one of the most human relationships I can imagine; bad communication, misunderstandings, and lots of mistakes but still unmistakably a kind of love.
Not a lot of negative to point out. While I love the epic nature it was a rough story to jump into; lots of names, places, and past deeds to start learning. The ensemble cast each had their part to play it jumping between them sometimes hurt the flow. I am also used to each volume of a tale to have at least a little bit of a resolution. Not so here. Disappointment that I don’t know how the story ends probably shouldn’t count against the book though.
An outbreak of plague is not a crime. That it occurs in a city that acts as a major trading center is hardly suspicious. Yet InvesFantasy Review Barn
An outbreak of plague is not a crime. That it occurs in a city that acts as a major trading center is hardly suspicious. Yet Investigator Lenoir and his protégé Kody are asked to meet with a medical man who believes there is a crime involved. And after only a short investigation it is clear the man is right; this plague was deliberately brought into the city. Which means it is now Lenoir’s problem. It is up to him and Kody to find the who and why before everything in the city boils over.
Leaving behind the supernatural seen in Darkwalker we get a more conventional detective story in Master of Plagues. Lenoir finds himself knee deep in everything this disease is affecting. Beyond figuring out who is responsible and why he also is running increased tensions within the city. All the old favorites born of fear start showing themselves; disaster profiteering, unrest, and of course racial divides. It appears to some that the Adali may be immune to the disease, though in reality the groupe just has better treatment methods. But in a time where sickness is blamed on bad humors in the air and leeches are a large part of every treatment plan it is unclear if the Adali’s ways will be accepted by the larger population or if it will just make them even more of a target to fear.
Master of Plagues never reached the high bar that I felt Darkwalker provided. I felt it lacked for ot having some of the supernatural elements, though I did like that those present were presented ina way that left their actually supernaturalness up in the air. I also felf Lenoir was a bit too slow to the obvious answer of motive this time around; there are only two good reasons someone would start a plague I could think of( baring true lack of sanity), and Lenoir never grabbed onto the one that seemed more obvious to this reader. Perhaps in attempts not to lead the reader to obvious conclusions the actual ‘Master’ of this plague is never developed, making his/her final reveal anti-climatic.
Despite that it is a fun detective/adventure story. Lenoir’s battles both with the case and with incompetency of those above him has not failed to interest me yet. It is made better still by the fact that the incompetent are realistically so rather than pure caricatures; only one person is laughable stupid while others just make bad decisions. It is worth noting that part of what makes Lenoir endearing is he also is prone to bad decisions despite a high intellect.
While this is a second book the series seems to be more along the lines of connected stand alones. Certainly one could read this book without reading Darkwalker (though, as stated above, I think that would not be the correct decision). But for those paying attention there also seems to e a long game being played in the background that will connect the series eventually. Tied no doubt to the ‘Darkwalker’ and those Lenoir connected with in books thus far. Something I will look forward too.
Not as good as Darkwalker but still a short and fun diversion. I am looking forward to seeing how some of the longer plotlines tie together as the series progresses.
Yarvi may have given away his kingdom but that just pushed him into the shadows. The actual fact of the matter is as the King’s MinFantasy Review Barn
Yarvi may have given away his kingdom but that just pushed him into the shadows. The actual fact of the matter is as the King’s Minister he may be more powerful than he ever could have been as a cripple holding the thorn in a land that values strength. With pressure on the kingdom coming from all sides, most especially from The High King who rules all the lands, Yarvi starts spinning a web for Father Peace in order to avoid war. And just as he steps to the sidelines within his kingdom so does he step back from the front of the story in Half the World.
Those who enjoyed Yarvi’s story in Half a King should not despair though; his web entangles two young characters that have no problems in carrying the story. Thorn is a young woman who wishes to follow her father’s path more than her mother’s. She fails a rigged test and is named a murderer before swearing an oath to Yarvi in order save her life. Brand dreams of being a warrior but is cursed with a habit of doing ‘the right thing;’ because of this he finds himself off the roster when the raid he trained for sets out.
Genuinely likable characters in a story that deals with an incoming war, betrayals, and a decent amount of blood. Thorn is trained to be an edged blade; relying on a combination of strength, quickness, and the unexpected to take down bigger and stronger men. She is tough and abrasive, quick to anger and seemingly unaffected by other people’s deaths. Yet she is human with insecurities and foibles; more importantly she shows growth through the tale. Brand could fit in to any of Abercrombie’s previous works as he gains everyone’s respect though his strength and heroics; and provides a nice counter balance to Thorns fire with his calm.
The dialog is everything Abercrombie is known for and makes Half the World worth reading on its own. Several times I found myself reading passages out loud to my wife; often fun but sometimes just very apt. And humor comes at appropriate moments, not in the middle of battles.
I have come to the realization that Abercrombie is once again twisting old tropes; but this time it is the tropes of the modern Grimdark genre he helped make prevalent that are being twisted back around. Keeping the bleak world, dark deeds and bloody battles, but then lacing it with hope. Yarvi is becoming Bayaz, complete with financial backing (provided by the Golden Queen), but with Father Peace’s goals in his ultimate game plan. Thorn and Brand are turning into Named Men of legend yet keep their humanity; complete with confusion and youthful mistakes. Brand could have easily moved the path of an increasingly disillusioned killer like Gorst had he been present in Abercrombie’s earlier works, instead he keeps his head and continues to work for what he sees as right. Thorn shows a bit of honor and even love all the while she is turning into one of the most dangerous people around. Both are clever enough to see pieces of Yarvi’s puzzle but neither is ever able to see the whole scene.
Fast paced but with more depth that should be possible in its short page count, Half the World continues to set Abercrombie up as one of fantasy’s finest writers. The world building expands a touch, mostly by throwing in enough illusions to ensure a reader knows this is a future earth. The main cast shines and the background cast gives them a run for their money; including a few characters involved in Yarvi’s earlier trip around the sea.
Acknowledgments where they belong. I picked up this particular graphic novel after a discussion on the current TV show Gotham in whFantasy Review Barn
Acknowledgments where they belong. I picked up this particular graphic novel after a discussion on the current TV show Gotham in which it was suggested that The Long Halloween was one of the biggest influences on The Dark Knight movie we all know and love. After reading it in two sittings I can both that the influence is obvious and that it is worth reading on its own anyway.
Representing one long story arc that takes place over a single year The Long Halloween pits Batman against a killer called Holiday. Holiday is something unique as he/she is targeting members of Carmine Falcone’s criminal enterprise; leaving a question of why this vigilante is better or worse than Batman. The question comes from Gordan himself; is Gotham attracting a different sort of criminal because of Batman’s presence? The Long Halloween also acts as something of an origin story for one particular villain. I won’t name who but from the first appearance I was waiting for the eventual ‘snap.’
This was a strong overall story that in my mind was somewhat hampered by its episodic nature; it felt like the series of short comics it was. On the one hand this lead to some very cool appearance by almost the entire Batman villain pantheon; or at least all those that a novice like myself would know. As a showcase I doubt there is a much better representation. Both the Joker and Catwoman are woven into the story several times with great effect. Selina Kyle especially shined in this run more than a match for Bruce even without her other moniker. I also appreciated the way the art worked with Catwoman and Poison Ivy; allowing them both to be sensual with resorting to fan service.
On the other hand the story could have been pulled off just as effectively with about half of the cast. Several of the villains seemed to be present only to knocked off my a checklist; showing up an disappearing without contributing the story in any fashion. If I had the collection in individual comics rather than a single bound collection I would discard about six issues before passing it on to the next reader—and they would get the same story I did in a lot less jarring format.
Several plot lines needed to be tied up by the end of the story arc and the conclusions were something of a mixed bag. The villain creation story was exactly how it should have been as was the final twist on the Holiday killer itself. But there was a collection of villains who made a final appearance that I really didn’t see the need for. Sadly this included a very unsatisfying end to Catwoman’s otherwise excellent story.
I wasn’t into superheroes much as a kid but Batman will always be cool. This is the comic I have read that actually focuses on the dark knight but I am more than willing to start catching up....more
This is the third book of the series. Minor spoilers of previous books are probable.
Third book. Book one was a buddy cop drama with space zombies; decent but for some reason didn’t hook me. Holden, the main character, wasn’t the most captivating protagonist I have ever read and horror in space isn’t really my thing.. Book two hooked me with the addition of Bobby and Avarasala; two women who absolutely dominated the page whenever they were present (with Avarasala winning the round if both were in the room). It also put the ‘protomolecule,’ the requisite weird sciency object that took center stage in Leviathan Wakes, firmly into the background-letting the characters shine instead.
So if you had told me that once again the cast would be jettisoned almost completely, and more importantly Avarasala wasn’t going to be present, I am not sure I would have jumped in to Abaddon’s Gate so enthusiastically. And just as I was wrong to go into Caliban’s War with some reluctance, so I was also wrong to be reluctant here. I didn’t like it quite as much as book two, but we are dealing with a sliding scale that has ‘very good’ on its low end here.
Once again it is all about the people. Now don’t get me wrong, Holden can die off for all I care. Three books in and I just plain don’t like him. He is a bit too much in the center of everything important for my liking and not all that charismatic. So for me to like a book despite its protagonist everything else has to go right. It starts right there next to Holden though; his crew is perfect. Naomi, Holden’s girlfriend, makes scenes with Holden more bearable with her capable hands and quick thinking. But I confess a love of Alex, nominally the requisite ‘brute’ but a man who shows tolerance and an anything go attitude that seems contagious.
The authoring duo took away Avarasala (though she gets a mention so we know she is still up to her political maneuvering) and instead gave us Ana who was still pretty awesome. She is pastor of a small congregation and she takes the chance to join the expedition to see just what the weird alien thing is up to now (having left Venus and worked its way around to Uranus). I knew I was going to love her from the first meeting; protecting one of her own from an abusive husband. I won’t spill the details but rather just focus on one line –
‘Anna shot him again.’
*Sniff* It really is the simple things in life. Moving on because that is what this series is starting to do. That molecule that has been cooking in Venus and worrying everyone suddenly moves to Uranus, forming a ring with a purpose that only it knows. The three powers in the solar system all send people to observe and of course Holden and his crew get dragged along with it. The story quickly diverges along a couple of paths: a sabotage and set up story against Holden, a redemption arc without a sappy ending for a new character, and a lot of political maneuvering over knowledge that comes from exploring the protomolecule.
I love the political maneuverings as everyone is forced to react to Holden’s moves. I have realized he is less of a characters and more of a moving force; a reaction is coming from somewhere no matter what he does due to his previous exploits. I was less found of the heavy action final third of the book. Though it fits the story just fine I don’t see it as the author’s strength; I was less excited when guns and explosions were going off than I was when Anna worked to save a single passenger.
Abbadon’s Gate is a success because it worked as a single story and as a continuation of the overarching plot. The theme here was faith and redemption. Not necessarily in a purely religious since though the inclusion of Pastor Anna often framed it that way but just faith in humanity, in each other, in something. It ended with a note of hope along with sadness; great things may be happening in the solar system but nothing comes free.
Three books into a war spanning two continents- where the hell are you?
For reasons I can’t figure out David Hair’s epic series is flying somewhat under the radar. The Moontide Quartet has everything I am looking for when I want a truly epic feel and Unholy War is a very worthy continuation of a good thing. After a strong but uneven opening book the last two books have been very consistent; lots of action, smart political plays, and a few surprises no matter how vigilantly one watches the text.
I continue to be impressed by the way Hair takes some very familiar, almost trite, ideas and spins them in a new way. Not in a trope bending fashion, that doesn’t really explain it. He built a fantasy version of the crusades, hardly an original through in fantasy. But Hair refused to take the easy route and make things as simple as Us vs Them, Black vs White, or dare I say, Christian vs Muslim. No single culture monoliths are present; even within groups are being forced by circumstance to fight alongside each other divisions work deep.
Made even better by scattering the point of view characters all over the map; there is no right side to this conflict for a reader to gradually start rooting for. Perhaps a reader’s cultural biases may have them thinking one side or the other is showing backward thinking but the narration itself is completely neutral. And if one ‘culture’ shows you it’s worse side in one chapter then be assured a chapter soon after will have you realizing they represent only a fraction of that sides actually beliefs.
So if there isn’t a correct side to root for where is the reader’s emotional involvement to come from? The characters of course. Some to root for, some to root against, and some that you just can’t help to follow even if you are not quite sure how you feel about them. Even characters of whose chapters I wanted to skip in earlier books are must read at this point; a major thing in the series favor is there is no POV that is noticeably weaker than the others. Gyle, spy and wannabe puppet master is by far my favorite to read about; not a nice man but always involved.
This is a middle book in a four part series and as such spends a lot of time moving its pieces around. Almost everyone is on the move; some lags occur during the travel times. If there was anything that annoyed me it was the insane rate that our major characters started ‘hooking up.’ Perhaps I am over stating it but three or four of our major characters found another major character to ease the journey a bit (wink, wink, nudge nudge). Basically if you found a male and a female together for more than a chapter expect a sex scene (got tired of winking, subtlety is not really my thing).
Epic fantasy is not dying my friends, it is just moving in new directions. Here is a book (not the only book but a great example) that proves that fantasy can have a basis in medieval ideas and still remember to give a role to women and non-white cultures. And yes it still has cultural oppression, racial biases, and hellish situations for the downtrodden. But it also has signs of growth, diversity, and people of all walks carrying their own agency.
This was a book that needs all eight hundred pages to follow its multiple viewpoints. There is some foreshadowing that is hard to ignore; I would be shocked if a few story lines don’t end up exactly as I envision. But there are so many moving pieces that guessing the whole story is proving to be impossible; and if the final book proves me wrong on the threads I think I have then so much the better.
Copy for review provided by Jo Fletcher Books....more
An all female mercenary company gets sent into a trap and almost die to a nasty troll. They must get to the bottom of a conspiracyFantasy Review Barn
An all female mercenary company gets sent into a trap and almost die to a nasty troll. They must get to the bottom of a conspiracy that threatens their town in their own way; finding joy where it can be found, drinking whenever possible, and kicking ass better than anyone around.
If more comics were like this one I would read more comics. Or maybe more comics are like this one I should be reading more comics. Either way Rat Queens is certainly a comic I will be wanting to read more of. The classic fantasy setup made it a perfect fit for someone who typically isn’t a comic reader.
It reminds me of the webcomics I used to try to keep up with before life got in the way only…better. Obviously better polished in art and editing than the amateur efforts of love those represented. But over all just a strong collection that both mocks and works within the fantasy feel. Not quite pure parody, though plenty is present, as it also sets up a longer term story arc. At its best when the characters’ wit was on display; this is one awesome collection of badass women. Lucky for me there was almost never a time where one of the characters wasn’t cracking me up, so it was at its best often.
There is simplicity to comics that novels can’t match; a plot with an awful lot of complexity is showing up in a relatively short span. Romantic relationships, family dynamics and a whole lot of action were put on display crisply due to a wonderful mix of art and conversation; what I loved was this felt like a single work rather than art haphazardly added to a writer’s musings.
If you are wondering if you should read Rat Queens ask yourself a few questions. Would I like a diverse cast of awesome women kicking ass? Do I find humor in dark situations and gallows style joking? Have I ever wondered what a female troll looks like? If a fantasy dwarf shaves off her beard would I find her attractive? If you are thinking yes to any of these questions (or just wondering what the hell is with the dwarf beard thing) then get right on it.
The last time a comic was must read for me was Sandman and that was ten years ago. I promise as long as Rat Queens keeps up this pace I will be eying the collections’ release dates....more
There was a section in this book about muddy tire tracks in an abandoned lot. The botanist saw all kinds of lifeFantasy Review Barn
Muddy tire tracks.
There was a section in this book about muddy tire tracks in an abandoned lot. The botanist saw all kinds of life in the most mundane places. And I found myself thinking about the major flooding in my area last year. When the rain stopped we walked to the neighborhood park. For several weeks the large tire tracks from earlier construction were filled with water and full of life. Frogs I had never seen before would dive into the mud as we went by; tiger salamanders caught many people by surprise that had no idea they lived in the area. And while thinking about that brief but interesting time of my life I forgot I was listing to a book and eventually had to rewind about five minute worth and start again.
That was my problem with this book. The botanist, narrator of Annihilation, was so detached from the narrative that I couldn’t help but follow suit. Can I admire the craft, the details, the realness of the people within (including the relationships they build) and still find myself completely cold? Of course I can.
I just don’t ‘get’ this one. As in I don’t have a clue where the book was supposed to go. It spent as much time on the relationship with the botanist and her now late husband as it did on her mission into Area X, a land of unexplained hidden in a seemingly mundane wrapping. No questions were really answered and the hints of truth we are given were a major let down. The early pages, including the first trip down the tower, were masterfully done. The atmosphere was perfect for a while; then the game changed and I was never able to get it back.
Truth is I was bored. Not sure what I expected but this wasn’t it. It was great for a half but lost its momentum quickly.
I listened to the audio version. The narrator switched between voices smoothly; though of course that is a bit easier with only a few speaking characters. My lack of enjoyment of the book makes it hard to judge her voice work beyond that....more
In the style of an oral storyteller, bringing to mind the Greek classics in its deeds, I admit I was quite surprised by how good EFantasy Review Barn
In the style of an oral storyteller, bringing to mind the Greek classics in its deeds, I admit I was quite surprised by how good Elric of Melniboné was. It is not a question of an old book holding up in this case, rather Elric is obviously a pace setter that countless that follow can only hope to keep up with. If anything I have proven to myself that some of the classics of the genre are considered so for a reason; I will drop a minor heresy in that given a choice I would reread this title again anytime over any of Tolkien’s creations.
A man thrust into power that he doesn’t truly want but is determined to keep. Elric struggles with a type of morality at the head of a people who most certainly don’t; long time adherents to chaos gods are the people of Melnibone and years of unquestioned superiority has them holding their heads high. Yet Elric is not shining knight; anti-hero seems to be a common designation. He often does things that would be considered to have the moral highground; such as stupidly showing mercy on several occasions when none would be given to him. But his search for morality seems less about a care for people underneath and more about controlling his own life and steering a new path for Melnibone; long lost in its own arrogance.
Example? A inevitable sword fight comes to pass between two wielders of swords with minds (and desires) of their own. Mercy is not shown for mercy sakes, only to exert control over the sword’s bloodthirsty ways. Elric is a man who has no issue sending out his entire fleet to search for his own love; nor to use his own wounded veterans for his own purposes despite sending them to almost certain death.
Knowing nothing going in but reputation I expected a darker run; more barbarian sword play than games of royal succession. So consider me pleasantly surprised on this front. With his albinism and reliance on a cocktail of drugs to keep his strength he is considered weak by his own people; a race completely sure of their superiority and unsure of the weak blood they perceive Elric to have. (I am unsure at this point if the people of Melnibone are a different race than the people of the ‘younger kingdoms’ or if it is a racial superiority complex they are exhibiting. It is interesting, disturbing, and probably best left to be answered by those who study the author in more depth).
I mention a similarity to Greek classics partial because of the direct involvement of gods; Elric is both guided and saved by beings of greater power than even his own considerable sorceries. But he also feels like a hero of the old ballads. He isn’t perfect but is certainly larger than life. Toss in visuals of ships grounded by petty infighting between high beings and an entire golden fleet and I think my comparison is apt (and no doubt should I start digging I could find pages and pages proving that none of my ideas are all that original).
Perhaps at its most interesting when dealing with memory; in Elricverse apparently a curse and a weapon. Elric has spent several lifetimes on a dreamers couch before taking the throne; giving him knowledge beyond his years. A mirror that steals and houses memories proves to be enough to take over small nation; the consequences of it possibly breaking are too dire to consider. Or a man trapped in another realm for wanted to know everything; and is now stuck there until he forgets it all.
I am left in a strange spot in the end. Though obviously setting up a longer tale I feel oddly comfortable with where this book ends. I enjoyed it, quite a bit actually, but I am unsure if I possess the desire to move on in the story.
A note on the audio; it was interesting. The narrator had the perfect voice for the tone and his pacing was superb. He also switched between characters effectively but subtly; no falsettos for the woman’s voices or the like. It was backed with a musical score throughout which at first I thought might be distracting but ended up kind of digging. So, more musical scores behind my fantasy please!...more
“An’ then…then I’m gonna get medieval on his arse.”
There were more pressing problems but this one intrigued Mr. Pin.
“How, exactly?” he said.
“I thought maybe a maypole,” said Mr. Tulip reflectively. “An’ then a display of country dancing, land tillage under the three-field system, several plagues, and if my –ing hand ain’t too tired the invention of the –ing horse collar”
You can always tell when my favorite author is on his ‘A’ Game and when he is off. When the plot for a book is a bit weaker than the norm the easy jokes start coming through. The obvious ones, more likely to come from the fun guy at a party or a start up standup comic. I think of all the bad jokes that permeated through Soul Music and Moving Pictures and I cringe. So it is with great pleasure that I will point out that nowhere in The Truth did a character shout out some paraphrasing of ‘you can’t handle the truth.’
Finally breaking from his ongoing sub-series for the first time in quite a while The Truth is the first to feel like a success to me since Small Gods. While the last book in the series set the stage for the world to start changing The Truth finally picks and aspect of Anhk-Morpork’s society to change in the major way. And true to life what better way is there to shake everything up than by have the people learn what is going on around them; or at least the free presses’ version of events?
One of Pratchett’s funnier openings starts it off, people speculating that the Dwarves have found a way to turn lead to gold. Just another example of Pratchett getting more out of a page and a half than any one should be able to. Quickly we meet the protagonist of the novel when he runs right into this gold making machine (or more accurately, it runs into him); a movable type press a dwarven couple has brought into town against the wizard’s long standing order against it. But money moves all, and as long as the Patrician sees no issue then it is time to proceed with this new venture.
William de Worde has long told important people what is happening in the city and made enough to survive on by doing so (plus all the figs he can eat). Making copies was a time consuming process though, this new movable type makes it so easy. On a whim he tries selling these items to non-important people and quickly find the news waits for no one. Of course timing is everything and when the Patrician is suddenly accused of attempted murder de Worde finds himself working hand in hand with the watch to solve this case (without the watch wanting him around at all).
As a look at the impact of free press the book is hit or miss. This little venture becomes a full force in incredible time; a must read after two or three issues. de Worde and his cohorts, quickly joined by a reporter by nature named Sacharissa, fall into the game so fast there is no real transition of learning what power they have quickly found (most of their struggles are against the norm and involve supplies and competition rather than acceptance of this new idea). And of course de Worde is only interested in the truth, in no way influenced by money or political situations; a picture of what we hope free press could be rather than any reality we live in. The cash driven yellow journalism is presented as the outlier, the deviation, rather than any sort of norm.
But despite getting up and going so quickly the way they start interacting with the world around them is a highlight. A pen in the hand changes everything; the knowledge that things could be made public proves to be as effective as old threats. The City Watch finds itself in the position of being watched (whereas before when asked Who Watches the Watchman before Vimes was always able to ME). The public has to learn what role these papers actually play, and what role they play with the truth (sometimes in an over the top manner but this is a short book).
I would suspect that this book is most memorable for most folk because of the pair of villains, The New Firm, Pin and Tulip. They are not nice people at all. In some ways they are nothing new; the obvious comparison is Croup and Vandamer from Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Old James Bond fans would recognize their style in the villainous pair form Diamonds are Forever. Hell they remind me of a diabolical Abbott and Costello as much as anything. Pin is the thinker, Tulip is the muscle. They play to each other’s strengths and finish each other’s sentences. But Tulip makes them something special. Maybe it is a gimmick, giving the supposedly dumb muscle a reverence for things of beauty (another nod to Gaiman’s characters?). But listening to Tulip wax poetically about various works of art, even choosing to use a balled fist to knock someone out so as to save an antique, is a complete gem.
As an addition to this series The Truth is a welcome one, one of my favorites truth be told (feel the pun people). I am not sure it says what it wants to in the way it wants; it tackles little issues with an ease that its handling of journalism never grasps. But it is real damn funny, a kick to read, and basically a standalone outside of knowing a bit about the Watch in the background (something that was common early in the series but getting rarer by this point). Right now I am going to call it a top five Pratchett book, let’s see where I stand with that when I have reread them all.
Third in the series but I think it may be the best one yet. The world is starting to tie together in lots of interesting ways. This time we are takenThird in the series but I think it may be the best one yet. The world is starting to tie together in lots of interesting ways. This time we are taken to a city that wants nothing to do with the gods and deathless kings that rule other parts of the world; religion is not snuffed out but rather minds are reprogrammed the right way by giant stone terrors known as penitents. Rather than gods or goddesses this is a land of idols; keep some of the benefits but none of the pesky will that deities tend to have.
Alternating between two characters, a street rat that who befriends a hidden angel (that’s what I am calling her at least) and a priestess who watches the death of a god she helped create. One remembering a dead god who should have never existed, the other mourning one that died under seemingly normal circumstances. Eventually they are tied together by a poet who’s rise to fame can only be described as a minor miracle- in a land where that should be impossible.
Some series makes the reader fall in love with the world and this is no exception. This strange semi-urban setting Gladstone lays out continues to impress. Many of the larger concepts important to Full Fathom Five were laid down by earlier books; human soul as currency, necromancer lawyers, and living gods remain important. Each city visited so far have interacted with gods in different ways but the deities presence are strongly felt in each of them.
Better still is the way Gladstone continues to give an entirely new cast with each outing that immediately catch my interest. This is a bold approach, we know people often invest more in characters more than they do in authors, to start over each time is not an easy trick. Kai the priestess and Izza the thief show that this approach works though. We follow them for different reasons; Kai seems more important to the larger picture of the city but Izza acting a priestess of gods that shouldn’t exist provides the earlier hook into the world. It allows a slower set up for Kai, who eases into her role, because Izza’s path is action packed from the get go. Of course as the story goes on we find they both have equally important parts in this play.
Everything I have said complementary about previous works in this series still apply; imaginative, deep, smart, and wonderful. Seeing characters start to show up from the previous books is feels natural; life is moving forward and all that. The Craft Sequence is one of my favorite series going these days, I can’t recommend it enough.
I will tell you the truth about Gleam. I got through the first chapter and was downright pissed at the main character already. I waFantasy Review Barn
I will tell you the truth about Gleam. I got through the first chapter and was downright pissed at the main character already. I was willing to continue on only reluctantly because the casual way this seemingly nice guy was willing to leave his child behind without a fight grated hard. Yes, I understand fighting against a seeming Utopia that others don’t question but to leave behind your son without a second thought? I don’t think so.
But I read on, and I am glad I read on, because what lies beneath the surface eventually comes to light. See, it turns out our protagonist is an asshole with a conscious. And that is the type of character I can read about gladly. Gleam is a bit of post apocalypse, a bit of dystopia, and a whole lot of weird. It is also strangely compelling, a bit more fun that its dark themes should provide, and a damn fine read.
Alan has spent most of his life in the Pyramid, something that appears to be the lone point (oh hey there unintentional pun) of civilization in a world slowly being taken over by a growing swamp. Life is simple here; work your station, give a little blood, and eventually retire in comfort in the pyramid’s garden. But Alan isn’t from the factory and always holds a bit of resentment. Something in his past doesn’t sit right. And when he mouths off a few too many times the Pyramid makes it clear that he can leave into the Discard, lest his family be punished for his actions.
What follows is the tale of a quest. A short, but eventful, messed up quest. A little bit of coercion has Alan in desperate need of the most scarce of mushrooms. The choices are few; dealing with the so called Mushroom Queen (a character who can get her own sequel anytime the author wants to give us one) or track it to the source. Alan, as mentioned, is an asshole who knows how to burn bridges. Asking nicely for the object of his geis probably won’t turn out well so it is team freak show assemble!
A person’s tolerance for Gleam will be tied to their love of quirky characters. I am not sure any of them have that depth thing that makes feel like real people but almost all of them are a kick to read about. Alan’s oldest friend and partner in the Discard has a history that left him without eyelids. A tattoo artist that seems to live on hallucinogenics joins the little journey to probable death without a second though. Alan’s newest squeeze sets up the little party for Alan but obviously has plans of her own. And to top it off the party is joined by a Mapmaker. Mapmakers make people in the discard, people who live with daily violence without blinking, shake in their lack of boots. To visualize this team’s mapmaker think River from Firefly with a whole lot more sadism; yet at time she is the kindest character in the book.
I am also thrilled to have a dystopian future that breaks from the current trend of forcing people into false factions. Barely recognizable as something earth-like this is a world to dig in to. Ancient factory is the best guess but whatever it is this is a land covered in decaying human construction. The people in the Pyramid consider themselves to be the sole point of civilization left; and for all the pride those outside it show there is very little to prove them wrong. Like the best of dystopias this one deals with what themes like the price for security, the price of anarchy, and everything in-between—and doesn’t pretend to give an answer as to who has things right.
A very impressive book and sure to be enjoyed by those who like their world dark and their characters insane.
I know you like epic, heroic fantasy books. You love magic with real results and consequences. You enjoy the ballads of small bandsFantasy Review Barn
I know you like epic, heroic fantasy books. You love magic with real results and consequences. You enjoy the ballads of small bands of fighters taking on long odds. Farmboys going to war is not a trope you fear but embrace. But you are already behind on most of the popular series, yes? Even trilogies can be a bit daunting if book one sits there unopened. So trust me, go ahead and pick up The Free by Brian Ruckley. Everything you love in one standalone volume, honestly you have nothing to lose.
I actually went back and forth on whether or not I even wanted to read this one. I read Ruckley’s debut a few years back and was left with a sense of overwhelming bleakness and not enough interest to fight through it. Now this tale isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; expect the characters to go through plenty of hell. But the bleakness never completely overrode hope. And damn did it piss me off every time life forced me to put the book down.
In a land where ‘clevers’ have the ability to cause mass destruction there is a school that keeps these magic users in check. Even as rebellion sweeps the land and ousts the royal line there is a power dynamic at play with this school. All the clevers of the land are held to a line – all but a mercenary company known as The Free. On the verge of being disbanded for good their leader, Yulan, takes one last contract. A chance to revisit an old ghost and take down the last of the royal line.
Drann is young warrior who has spent his whole life idolizing The Free. He is sent to witness the completion of the contract. Drann has no choice but to grab on and hold tight; time spent with this company makes for a wild ride.
Less is sometimes more. Who are the Orphans and why is Yulan so afraid of them getting their hands on the object his target is taking them? Doesn’t matter, what matters is stopping the man. Who all can do what with their magic? Who cares? Only those who use their clever powers for this cat and mouse game reveal to us readers. Of course we want to know more about the ‘permanences’ that strike fear into people’s hearts ; the two named versions we see are true weapons with awesome capabilities. But learning about any others that can be found in the world wouldn’t add to the story so I am fine with them being left on the cutting room floor.
Instead of excess information we get a tight tale with well-paced action, interesting battles with dynamics a bit different than your typical fantasy warfare, and subdued but interesting character interactions. The characters fit into some standard archetypes to be sure (soldier with rage issues, grizzled leader, guy who takes pity on the new guy) but in this case I found it helped me identify with them early without needing to spend a huge amount of time with them in the early pages.
A very interesting world is being built in the background here, frustratingly so if you are a person who wants to know everything about it. Only glimpses of the full capabilities of the clevers are shown. Only a glance of the larger political picture can be seen. But if you, like me, can find happiness in only hints of a larger world around a great story with a strong focus then you can rejoice. Being free sometimes come with a cost after all.
The Scarlet Tides, second book of the Moontide Quartet by David Hair, fairly non-surprisingly picks up where the first in the serieFantasy Review Barn
The Scarlet Tides, second book of the Moontide Quartet by David Hair, fairly non-surprisingly picks up where the first in the series left off. This is both completely obvious and slightly telling; you see I found the second half of the first outing infinitely better than the first. So picking up from that point is obvious from a narrative angle; and also a major plus from the enjoyment side.
The setup is a very familiar one. Pseudo –Europe goes on a crusade against a pseudo-Middle East. Those who dislike a lot of real world parallels will not be thrilled; those willing to immerse themselves in the world anyway will not be disappointed. One of the things that sets this tale apart from some of the others who have borrowed the crusade theme is that it follows both sides of the struggle. From there we see splits and a multitude of different cultures within the factions themselves. No mindless hordes or oversimplification of the ‘Us vs. Them’ theme; there are a lot of different motives at play all over the map. A lot of cultural clashes and fights about values here, some leading to understanding and some…not.
A fine line between epic with a capital E and something a bit more personal follows. On the one hand the cast is huge and it took me a while to reconnect the different names with their story lines. With the alternating PoV style it employed I didn’t see any single PoV a second time until around the hundred page mark. But once it got into its flow this ended up working well; it isn’t that the PoV cast is exceptionally large, rather we get to spend enough time with each character to actually get to know them. While the background cast is huge and at times intimidating the main characters become as familiar as a person can want.
For a book with a big old war in the background of everything that is going on this is surprisingly rarely a war novel; another way it differs from the major titles I would want to compare it to. Instead it is a nice blend of political maneuverings, double dealings, relationship building, and even the boredom of a long march. Magic and its affects make the world a bit more manageable but we are still dealing with a sprawling map with events taking place all over it. Hair plays it right; interweaving some stories with others until they all connect but without forcing improbable coincidences to force the cast into one place.
Complaints are few. It is a very familiar tale though the setting shows that to be by design. No character is one of a kind or even all that memorable; some of that comes from each of them being fairly realistic (in a magic using fantasy kind of way) without the over-the-top caricatures we almost expect from our epic fantasy any more. And on a personal front I find that no matter how good the story is reading seven hundred page bricks turns into a struggle after a while.
The series has been a slow burn so far but some pay off is coming. Obviously this is a series with a plan in place and it will take a war to settle it. A possible hero of the ages has been introduced but I genuinely like the character so I am willing to wait it out. And while Hair hasn’t thrown too many curves at us yet I remain hopeful that the next book is just as compelling as this one. For if it is, watch out, this could turn into a must read series in a hurry.
Premonitions is a book that is exactly as advertised; a heist novel with paranormal elements. Karyn Ames, leader of a little crew wFantasy Review Barn
Premonitions is a book that is exactly as advertised; a heist novel with paranormal elements. Karyn Ames, leader of a little crew with a constant need for cash, takes on cases that involves the theft of items that may have protections a bit harder to cut through than state of the art alarm systems or dogs with big teeth. She has a condition that allows her to see glimpses of the future but it is more curse than blessing. While occasionally useful in their heists it takes a powerful (and expensive) drug to keep from taking over; seeing EVERY vision of the future is maddening.
The story kicks off when the crew takes on a case from a known crime lord named Sobell. Their mission is simple enough; steal an artifact. Problem is the artifact is in the hands of a pretty fanatical cult and may be guarded by something extra sinister. Saying no is not really an option though. Not only do several members of the crew REALLY need the cash; Sobell is not the type of person one says know to.
There are two threads here playing out as one. One is the story that is supposed to be the main one; that of Karyn and her crew. It is an exciting heist tale with simple theft gone wrong, a failed delivery, and a whole lot of minor magics. The second story, which is supposed to be the background thread, involves the crimelord Sobell. And Sobell’s story absolutely shined. He was exactly the kind of character I wanted to read about; talking to demons, locking up angels, gaining a near immortality and ruling a criminal empire. Any scene he showed up in was gold—and it over took the rest of the story for me. I felt that this book lacked when he wasn’t present; a problem when he is not supposed to be the main character.
I don’t know where Karyn’s story moved to the back seat for me but once there it never threatened to come back up. Her crew was actually pretty forgettable; if you showed me a list of names two days later I am positive I will mix up a couple of them. One plays the tough girl, there is the big gun, and we have a newcomer who can draw up some cool magic. But Karyn’s condition basically places her outside the action. While her reflections on what is really happening had potential I mostly ended up thinking they distracted from the action; this is a heist novel and a brisk pace is pretty key.
So I found myself entertained throughout but usually wishing Sobell would just take over the whole story. There was nothing wrong with the main plot line on its own, it was fairly well paced and had some nice twists and turns that kept things from getting stale. But dealing with crew infighting and Karyn’s slipping sanity just couldn’t compete with Sobell’s full on mutiny and fight to stay ahead of demons.
A good read with perhaps a few too many ideas put into its page count. Something was going to suffer or the pace would be lost and for me it came out of one of the two major plot lines. Like many first in a series there are a good number of questions that are as yet unanswered. But still a book I have no problem recommending; it is a series that will be worth keeping an eye on.
Copy for review provided by the author. Thank you Jamie Schultz!...more
Ten copper is equal to one silver, ten silver is equal to one gold. After a battle the victors go around the field and harvest a glFantasy Review Barn
Ten copper is equal to one silver, ten silver is equal to one gold. After a battle the victors go around the field and harvest a glowing ball of energy from each of the dead; collect enough of it and a person can level up one rank. Die and a person can be revived, but will lose a level of rank. More rank means better magical abilities; higher ranked men can shrug off sword blows with ease and heal even the deepest wounds in seconds. After a duel the victor gets all the lootz from the loser; usually keeping any magically enchanted items and selling off the mundane stuff.
The latest online roleplaying game from Blizzard? No, unfortunately this is the world in which protagonist of Sword of the Bright Lady finds himself transported to in this thoroughly mediocre portal fantasy offering. Now I have accused books of feeling like a video game before but I can’t think of a book that was this blatantly a video game in written form. The harvesting of tael and the ability to lose it upon death is the collection of XP, plain as day. I have collected glowing stuff from my kills in too many video games to mention. There is a color coded system to check people’s affiliation so a person can always check the manual if they get lost. And at one point Christopher, our poor lost soul of destiny, looks through his recently acquired spells through a visual menu like apparition in front of him; complete with a silent guide to act as a tutorial.
I wanted A Connecticut Yankee tale here, and in a way I got one. But instead of King Arthur’s Court we ended up in Azeroth; and did so without a trace of irony to be found. There was a decent story to be found here; Christopher using his mechanical knowledge to change society around him. But it walked a predictable line and was surrounded by so much silliness that it was hard to take seriously. Of course the protagonist shows gunpowder to a disproving audience, changes the course of warfare, and becomes a man of destiny within a world he barely understands. There was quite literally no other way this story could have gon. It was what I expected, it was what I got. Enjoyment can be found in these stories and I got a bit of satisfaction when everything he did was inevitably proven to be right. I admit that for all the predictability I saw through the story I was caught off guard by the ending; in retrospect it was obvious but the author managed to fool me and kudos to him for that.
Unfortunately the detractions to the book outweigh the strong ending and various comeuppances that the baddies of the tale get. Go beyond the silly set up and incredible ease in which Christopher bends the world around his will. It is actually surprising to see a book fail the Betchell test these days but this one does it rather miserably. The closest it comes to passing is when one woman addresses a table that has a second woman at it; it may be the only time in the book two women are in one scene — surprising because this is a land of endless war missing a large percentage of its male population. Of the six women of note in the book three offer themselves to Christopher in some fashion. And despite a large portion of the male population dying in the war women are still left with the prospect of a good marriage being their best (only?) hope in life (with a bit of an inconsistency arising from a high ranking church official).
For those who look for well-paced plotting first and foremost in their fantasy novels this book will probably work well. But it is pretty easy to overload on portal fantasy; they all too often deal with one super character changing the world and need something unique to break form the back. Granted, this one had a unique feel, but it wasn’t one that worked for me.
There has been a twitter hashtag game going strong for the last few days where people have been describing movies badly. No doubt iFantasy Review Barn
There has been a twitter hashtag game going strong for the last few days where people have been describing movies badly. No doubt it has originated from an old Wizard of Oz description that ‘a young girl kills the first person she meets, then teams with three strangers to kill again.’ And after finishing Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise I realized how much fun I could have with this game in literature. Because on the surface this has the ability to be the most boring book of all time. Let’s play!
Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion is called in to pin point the source of a water contamination. Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition. After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has.
Can’t you feel the excitement? But by adding a few words…
Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion (of live human sacrifice to the gods) is called in to pin point source of a water contamination (i.e. nasty monsters that can come right through the tap). Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss (immortal skeleton who took down the gods) calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition (a company that harnesses the power of two giant snake like deities’). After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has (i.e. major destruction and possibly the breaking of the world).
That feels a bit more like it.
My love of this series is growing by the book. A world where gods are real is always a plus, and their contractual way of using and trading power is completely unique. These gods are powerful yet so vulnerable as man has in many ways caught up to them. We first saw their power at work in Three Parts Dead as a god of fire puts his force behind running a city; in Three Serpents Rise we see the other side of things as the gods in question are harnessed against their will.
The Craft is shown again; a mixture of heavy contract law and necromancy that only makes sense if the books are read. But the way it can weave between mundane and extraordinary at a moment’s notice is a true testament to the strength of the author’s grand idea.
Truth be told I didn’t enjoy this outing quite as much as the debut but that should not suggest I didn’t love the book. I appreciate that the author isn’t just recycling ideas, I do. But with everyone in this outing actually working toward a purpose that I could possibly get behind I found myself missing a nice evil villain. Maybe I was just spoiled buy the amazingly creepy lawyer from Three Parts Dead. Fortunately the other characters of the story held up strong. The main duo had actual chemistry and I felt for them when the world acted to keep them apart. But the background cast threatened to steal the show in this one. A living skelton, the last priest of the gods who fell, even coworkers and friends lived their own lives within the larger story.
A strong second outing that has me pining for the next book already. This ‘living gods’ sub-genre is currently my favorite in fantasy; get on it before the substandard clones start showing up in mass.
Bit of a disappointment here. Shame because Gilman is an author I consider must read at this point, but thus I am shown the folly oFantasy Review Barn
Bit of a disappointment here. Shame because Gilman is an author I consider must read at this point, but thus I am shown the folly of high expectations.
The Half-Made World is one of my favorite reads of the last few years and I enjoyed its sequel almost as much. Thunderer is a book I need to read again; it was one of the first books to show me that fantasy can be just as challenging as other genres. Gilman’s works have a certain style that runs true through each of his works: a better than average prose, big ideas, and a refusal to answer all the questions a reader will have. The Revolutions continues this.
What The Revolutions didn’t do, that Gilman’s previous works did, was keep my attention in the second half. This is an author that is already going to infuriate some readers by writing in a style that “doesn’t go anywhere,” but I have always been sucked in to his ideas and let that carry me through the slower areas. But there was an irony here in that I was highly interested for the first half of the book; all set up and laying out of ideas with almost no payoff. But I quickly lost interest in the second half as we actually starting seeing the action and worked toward a climax. I just didn’t care.
A book of big ideas, two lovers possible tied by fate find themselves separated by strange work patterns. Perhaps a steampunk feel but without all the trimmings. A lot of things that look like magic but are really a mess of pseudo-science complete with the people who have various levels of tolerance toward the clearly mythical.
It all came together with a very Gilman ending; enough loose ends that one can’t be completely sure what they just read. I typically am fine with this style of ending but for some reason was hoping for a bit more payoff with this book; anything to make the previous hundred pages or so worthwhile. No luck.
Read Thunderer for a challenge and to see a world where magic keeps its sense of wonder and the possibility of mayhem. Read The Half-Made World for the best fantasy-western combo I have seen, or at the very least because you simply must know what The Gun and The Line are all about. Then if you love them please read The Revolutions and tell me what the hell I am missing.
3 Stars, all earned in the first half of this tale....more
Finally the ‘Coin’ comes out in the Dagger and the Coin. This after all was the promise of the series; the landscape of the conflict was to involve both violence and economic pressures. How this would take place was anyone’s guess but the hint of what was to come was there from the first time we met the banker’s apprentice Cithrin. And if our first big insight into how economics would take over the world came off a bit too Ayla-like (complex modern system dreamed into existence by one super character), well that is just fine by me.
Because there is a bit of simplicity running through this series. Part of its charm is how easy to read it is; the first book certainly surprised me by seeming almost generic. But things are building upon the blocks laid out in books past and suddenly things that seemed so simple at first are just the start of what we are reading. The Dagger and the Coin has thus far never completely left the ‘classic fantasy’ mold (as in Euro-centric Tolkien inspired), but it carefully steps outside the lines more and more as it has gone on. I think I have said it before; this is not a series that takes every trope and tries to break it. Rather it tries to twist them so far around that they look almost normal again; just with a little nagging feeling that we are being played with in some way.
Book three, The Tyrant’s Law, ended with a pretty mighty reveal so naturally that is where The Widow’s House picks up. The opponents of Geder have picked up a pretty nifty trick to use against him, if they think they can control it. It is something they have to try though because Geder’s march across the land seems unstoppable. The spider priests have brought him victory after victory. The story remains fairly simple from there; Geder pushes his war and pines for the vision of love that he built in his mind. Cithrin genuinely wants to do good but still struggles to control her own way and break the invisible chains the bank has placed on her. Clara does what she can to keep her family safe and undermine Gedar. And Marcus, who would be the main character in many series, fades to the background despite his adventures.
Those little details are what make it all stand out though. The, well let’s call it a secret weapon, that Kit and Marcus found? Turns out it made people over confident, led to an event that could have killed all hope. But as failure seems inescapable a new hope is formed from it. And our pitiful tyrant? I know how nasty he can be, I SEE how nasty he can be, yet often times seeing things through his point of view almost makes me feel sorry for him. Almost, but never will I be fooled again.
I was right about one thing after book three, Clara continues to threaten to take over the entire series. Both of Abraham’s ongoing series have middle aged to elderly women that I can’t wait to read about. Clara is strong, resilient, and cunning. She takes charge when she has to yet knows when to stay back. Her sense of loyalty and duty is so much stronger than her husband’s was in the first book. She has become my favorite character, displacing both Cithrin and Master Kit for the title.
This is a series that gets better and better. It remains simple but subtle. With its tight cast and focused stories lines it will never be the book that requires a binder full of notes to keep tract of but it is gaining in depth with every outing. Each provides just a bit more info about something that happened before, changing the perception of events each time. If you are already reading the series, catch up! This is another solid outing. If you are not reading the series don’t be intimidated; the four books here are shorter than they look but page turners to the last. You will be caught up in no time.
I am not sure I have ever seen a series do a complete one eighty in book two like this one has; I am certain that if I have it didFantasy Review Barn
I am not sure I have ever seen a series do a complete one eighty in book two like this one has; I am certain that if I have it didn’t pull it off so successfully. There is no middle book issue in this series; The Shadow Throne improves on the very strong start provided by The Thousand Names.
Wexler introduced us to this world with a book that was at its heart one strong military campaign. The Thousand Names was pure military fantasy with a focus honed in on a few people within the marching army. The fantasy aspects didn’t show until late with the early portions dealing with tactical maneuvering and some pretty exciting battles. But within this framework were some real gems when it came to characters; Winter and Janus specifically held my interest due to very different positions within the march.
Readjust the brain, keep a few characters but change direction. The Shadow Throne is a completely different game. Military mastermind Janus is back home and must match his wits with a man known as The Last Duke; Orlanko being the J Edgar Hoover of this land with a bit more power. This time the fight is a political one. The king is near death, his daughter is seen as weak, and dissent within the kingdom is on the rise. Janus proves his talents extend beyond the battlefield as he moves his pieces around the board, including Marcus and Winter from the first book. The goal is simply to secure Princess Raesinia on the throne under her own control; without Orlanko’s heavy influence.
But things would be so much simpler if everyone knew who was on their side wouldn’t they? Raesinia is running a few plots of her own and carefully orchestrates the spark that will either save her abandon the kingdom to Orlanko’s evil clutches. Hiding a secret that is both an amazing blessing and terrible curse each step she takes has to be perfect lest everything fall apart around her.
What makes this a perfect middle book? The fact that it is on its own a complete story. We get the set up to Raesinia’s plight, a full book of political maneuvering, a quick military diversion to keep true to the series roots and most important of all, a conclusion. Of course there is a long game running through the background as well; the thousand names and its implications are carried over from the first book and several characters obviously have potential we still have not seen. The series isn’t relying on cliffhangers and loose threads to keep our interest but still has a definite direction it is moving too.
On top of that it just does what it is supposed to. I bought into the political game being played; the gains were believable and the setbacks true to expectations. Janus is borderline Gary Stu but is aware that it is part of his reputation and does what he can to cultivate it. Orlanko is so strong in some areas but has major blindness’s that make him a very compelling villain. Raesinia was so easy to root for that it was easy to forget she had a few questionable actions as well; I can hope this series is deep enough for there to be repercussions for these types of actions later.
Two books in and this series has me hooked. A quick military romp to get things started followed by a surprisingly deep for its page count sequel, plenty of action and characters I love. A long game that has huge implications for the future but has to be kept in the background as other flare-ups keep everyone’s attention. Plus we got to watch the organic start of an all-female regiment in a traditionally male dominated army. Have you ever read about that in a fantasy book?