Have you started reading the Craft Sequence yet? Because if not you are now four books behind in what is probably the best seriesFantasy Review Barn
Have you started reading the Craft Sequence yet? Because if not you are now four books behind in what is probably the best series running under the speculative fiction label. I come to this conclusion slowly. I have not personally five starred any of the previous outings despite finding them all highly enjoyable. And here is a spoiler for you; I will be giving Last First Snow four stars instead of five at the end of the review.
Because what we have here is a series that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is high praise because each outing of this series has been unique and wonderful, brimming with a creative setting unlike any other and dealing with a cast of characters that hasn’t disappointed throughout. The design and outlining that has gone into crafting (bad pun) this series to date is nothing short of exceptional. Because while up to now we have seen plenty of overlapping the first three books we complete standalones in a timeline we could only guess at. With Last First Snow it is all coming together AND continuing to operate as a complete stand alone.
For the first time the main protagonists are people we have spent serious time with before though neither were the main characters in their previous appearance. A craft lawyer (aka magical necromancer who operates within some rules) and a former priest of now dead gods find their paths crossed during land negotiations. That’s right, negotiations over land. That is what this book is about. Except of course, it is so much more. Because it is a battle of classes, a battle of gods, a fight about tradition (which means live sacrifice) and of course—a battle of law. When lawyers can toss magical shields, priests can take a hands on approach to violence, and a skeleton represents the ruling class anything can happen.
What makes this book great is the same thing that has powered the three previous entries. It is fast paced and unique. It makes seemingly mundane details matter; particularly when the very base of the story involves a common land dispute. When the fantasy aspects really start to show their face they turn things up to eleven. And the strength of the characters is second to none. This is a world without villains but full of people to love and hate. Everyone has motivations that are understandable; some selfish and some less so but all very human.
But what makes this a great series is the way everything is starting to come together. It is no secret that the chronology of this series is represented by the numbers in the title. With this forth book being the first some questions are being answered. Questions I didn’t know I had. Characters are fleshed out, the land’s history is becoming clearer, even the nature of the craft that we have seen used since the beginning is becoming more clear. Context we didn’t need yet craved is being provided book but increasingly good book.
This may be the best book of the series. It may not, I seem to be saying that after each new outing. Certainly my own opinion is suspect because I am a sucker for books that hint at class warfare. And let’s give some credit for have a likeable character involved in human sacrifice (something I have only seen in Aliette de Bodard’s historical fantasy series before). Not that I am a proponent of human sacrifice but it adds an interesting dynamic in this case.
I ask again. Are you reading the Craft Sequence? Because if it isn’t obvious, I think you should be.
Mark Lawrence writes a great conversation. Not necessarily a realistic conversation, which would no doubt include more gaps and paFantasy Review Barn
Mark Lawrence writes a great conversation. Not necessarily a realistic conversation, which would no doubt include more gaps and pauses and, at least in personal experience, horribly awkward phrasing. But his conversations flow smoothly and while reading them both feel real and entertain; don’t we all remember our interactions as more witty than they probably were at the time? It is a skill that I don’t remember being exhibited as much in the first two books of the Thorns trilogy as a lunatic with a temper isn’t necessarily the best conversationalist. But in The Liar’s Key I saw the best of it in Jalan’s interactions with, well, everyone. Turns out a lying coward with a quick tongue just has more entertaining conversations.
It is probably a good thing that everything Jalan says, either out loud or in his narration, is pure gold from an entertainment standpoint. Because as much as I enjoy his voice The Liar’s Key starts of pretty slow. This pace was forced by the setting; travelogues are always tough and even more so when the cast is constrained in movement by boat travel. But the pages still turned on their own and by the half way point of the book the fireworks really start to fly. Not that the book becomes pure action, though there is plenty of that, but rather everything Jalan does or has happen to him seems to have a purpose.
The Liar’s Key is a middle book through and through. Though it has a very specific goal for the characters to reach, and sufficiently answers the questions as to if the characters reached their goal, it also spent a lot of time providing background and filling in details hinted at in Prince of Fools. This is not a criticism, outside of the early chapters the characters paths never felt like filler while pieces got moved around. In fact it is mostly a good thing that we took the time to learn some background stuff. So many interesting aspects of this broken world were introduced in book one that needed expanding on. Oh sure some may prefer an air of mystery throughout, and at times I enjoy have room for my own thoughts about the little details, but this world has been so well crafted there is always a desire to know more about it.
Some of the horror aspects are lost through these explanations though; specifically the silent sister who went from something of nightmares to a character who is still quite worth reading about but has lost some of the mystery. Tradeoffs are inevitable of course but in this case I wouldn’t be too upset; a little bit of atmosphere in exchange for a good deal of payoff.
One of the more fun aspects of post-apocalyptic works is playing spot the familiar item. I know when I found a reference to CERN I smiled a bit as I am a reader that missed almost everything in Prince of Thorns. I appreciate that the general purpose of items like phones are not a complete mystery in this world even if the actual workings are lost in the years. It stays consistent with the world as shown, that is one where a good deal of knowledge has been passed down. This also leads to one of those little details that are unimportant to the overall story but still add so much life; keep an eye out for an object that presents the ultimate test of faith.
Usually if a person says the best part about a book is that it ends then said person is mocking the title in question. But in this case it is just describing one of the best endings to a book I have ever seen. Sure, it is a bit of a cliffhanger, an always present aspect of middle books. But it is everything that is to be expected from Jalan’s story thus far; show casing every aspect of his personality competing with itself until his luck takes over everything. It took me by surprise twice; leaving me with a smile and an itch to read more.
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.
Not often I say that but for The Wolf of Winter it actually is good advice. For one, it is really short. Like a single page shoRead the damn prologue.
Not often I say that but for The Wolf of Winter it actually is good advice. For one, it is really short. Like a single page short. And it appears to be a simple piece of random world building that gives the history of a simple title used throughout the book; Ulor, the leader of the people of Rhazaulle. But it matters people! It has implications to the larger story! Without, and this is important, giving anything away until the author is ready for everything to come together.
And then leaves you feeling stupid for not catching some of the little details.
The Wolf of Winter is a story that appears to have some influence from Russian culture, or at least an American’s understanding of what fantasy influenced by Russian culture should look like. I will be honest, not my area of history. The story, despite what the back cover says, is about a man named Varis who is the brother of current Ulor and far back in the succession line. Weak in stature and with watery eyes he begs off to live in seclusion where he discovers a path to the art of necromancy. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first half of this book is something of a mind twist. It isn’t that Varis path is trippy or random or hard to follow, it is actually pretty strait forward. The problem is Varis isn’t a complex character but we were given an opportunity to think he is. As he starts a single minded campaign to eliminate the entire line of succession that lays in front of him (with the aid of the trapped spirits his new magic allows him to control) and it is impossible to turn away. This is the bullied young man we thought we would be rooting for? Oh god, he wouldn’t….oh shit he just did. What is he going to do next!?
Time for part two, which if you read the back cover you know will involve young Shalindra, niece to Varis. If you have not read the back cover then don’t, the events it suggests make up the main portion of the plot don’t occur until the last forty pages of the book (we could revisit back cover blurbs here but that is a conversation for another day). Shalindra gives us a protagonist to actually root for and a completely new direction in plot. It keeps the same strength of plotting and wonderful use of language from the first half; never racing yet avoiding being dull by skipping the tedious details that just don’t matter.
As an overall experience this as a very quality read. Great imagery and quick moving, it also had a very unique take on necromancy. But taken in pieces it was at times jarring in its transitions. Time jumps are hit and miss, but very distinct changes in tone are a little rougher. As well Shalindra never really captured me quite the same way Varis did, despite having the more admirable path and being much more likable. This, for me at least, meant the book climaxed about half way through with only the final pages finally bringing my interest all the way back around.
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
It has been a little while since I read a book that gave me a ‘oh hell yes,’ stand up and cheer type of scene. And if the one in thFantasy Review Barn
It has been a little while since I read a book that gave me a ‘oh hell yes,’ stand up and cheer type of scene. And if the one in the waning pages of Kushiel’s Dart consists of the type of thing that can only happen in movies or books, so be it. Because it was the accumulation of events set in motion many chapters before, with everything finally lain before the reader, and it was a rare climax that matches the buildup. The strangest thing about it? It is pure action in the middle of a war, hidden in a book that is certainly not about either of those things. But hidden in this book of political intrigue, strong sexuality, and a massive game of espionage came one of the most memorable battle scenes around.
I think I may be in love with this book. I love the setting with its almost Christian religion in which the Mary Magdalene of the world is as important as its Christ. I enjoyed each of the characters, both good and bad, none of whom ever feels like a cliché within their role. But most especially I appreciate a book that can keep me hooked from page one to six hundred and something (near a thousand pages in the paperback I am told). I can use a Game of Thrones comparison that is being pushed here because Carey actually includes the phrase in the book; there is something about royal maneuvering that just makes me smile.
If this is to be compared to Game of Thrones then it must be done right. Kushiel’s Dart is what would happen if Martin were more focused, decided Sansa was the main character of the story, then put her through hell all the while remembering that hope is occasionally welcome. So nothing at all like Game of Thrones; outside of a battle of nobility and some high quality intrigue.
If Kushiel’s Dart is known for one thing it is the very sexual tone in the books. And this is a book that lives up to its reputation. Phèdre, protagonist and narrator, is marked by a dart in her eye that labels her as anguissette, or one gets pleasure from pain. In a land where Namaah’s path is a form of worship (temple prostitution if you will) Phèdre is trained by a man named Delaunay to be something even more. She grows to be a weapon, not in a physical sense, but rather as a user of information. And in the collection of information sex is ever hers to use.
It is every bit as kinky as it sounds, but perhaps not as dirty as it seems. It would be easy to mock the prostitute’s path as an easy way to turn up the thrills but Carey takes the time to build the land and the religion that follows it in a way that makes it seem natural. Some may argue she takes too much time building it, and that may be, but as a lover of well-crafted worlds I was happy. Oh I may wonder why so many were ready to take advantage of Phèdre’s unique abilities when it is supposed to be such a rare trait, but only once did it really seem a bit too convenient.
Leave the sex behind, or rather don’t because it is interwoven into the entire canvas, and what you get is a long game of rivals trying to control the land. Double crosses, treaties made and broken, more betrayals, and a whole lot of campaigning make up the majority of the story. With a fair amount of traveling, some rough patches, and perhaps some forbidden love. Phèdre tells the story from a position of knowledge but shows only pieces of it while walking us through her path. This allows her to foreshadow at times and point out what may be important later. It was a relaxed story telling style that fit the story well.
I know this book was most likely give a new cover treatment in hopes of catching new audiences that Game of Thrones and Fifty Shades of Gray can provide. Simply by being out there again I know it got my interest and I hope it works on others s well. Because I now know this is a series that deserves a lot more readers.
Cherry Bomb is the only kind of ending that would have worked for this short series about half-vampire Soibhan Quinn. It was irreleFantasy Review Barn
Cherry Bomb is the only kind of ending that would have worked for this short series about half-vampire Soibhan Quinn. It was irrelevant, at times nonsensical, and concluded on a note of…non-conclusion. That is to say the plot lines are wrapped up, and Quinn is obviously done telling her story, but there will be no tagged on ‘where the fuck everyone is now’ kind of epilog to assure the readers everything turned out all right in the end. Nothing about Quinn’s life has turned out all that well thus far, so why should everything be wrapped up with a bow?
To recap events to this point; Quinn was a junkie attacked by a werewolf and a vampire in a time frame close enough together to make her half(a third?) of each. Conventional wisdom would say this should make her the baddest unholy monster on the block but instead she just has that many more enemies and problems. For two books she has blundered around doing strange jobs for the mysterious Mr. B but after the episode with the unicorn horn (see Red Delicious) she gets on a bus and tries to escape.
Clever transition and find Quinn living off an accountant with a S&M itch that Quinn is able to scratch. An occasional open vein is her reward for keeping the accountant happy (perhaps a parody/reference to 50 Shades or perhaps the upcoming movie has me seeing ghosts on that front). A better offer comes at a certain, specialized, kind of party and the story gets past build up and into the meat of the tale; a relic hunter has something that could completely, and quite literally, change history.
Everything I love about the series is present; Quinn has one of the most unique voices in the genre, does her best to piss off everyone around her, and flirts with but never quite completely breaks the forth wall. She seems very aware she is a walking pissed off parody in an urban fantasy novel but refuses to actually say it out loud. And when events taker her to the lowest point the silly factor leaves; same great voice but able to be serious when it is called for. The twin ghoul nasty’s have a plan appropriately over the top; a highlight came in the perversion of Christian mythos the creatures follow. Above all else the book is funny. The way the narrator plays with story telling conventions, dropping hints about upcoming info dumps and the like, is a treat to anyone who struggles to craft a sentence. And Quinn’s ongoing fight with seagulls has been bringing a smile to my face since book one.
After a strong start in Blood Oranges I felt a bit let down by the second book. I am happy that this concluding volume is much more up to standard. Looking too deep into any of the background info is a mistake. For one, the story is designed to be over the top. And for two, Quinn has told us through three books not to trust a word she says.
This series is something of a parody and that either works for people or it doesn’t. For me, despite not reading a whole lot of urban fantasy, I found it to be a delight. Each book is short enough to be a diversion without requiring a lot of commitment. And Cherry Bomb finished dup the series perfectly, both in story and tone.
Gentle readers you might not know this about me but I am a shitkicker to the core. I may put on high airs and use proper grammar anFantasy Review Barn
Gentle readers you might not know this about me but I am a shitkicker to the core. I may put on high airs and use proper grammar and such to the best of my ability but in reality I am genuine hick. I raised hog for most of my growing days and have a fair hand with a hoss. Get me around my mama’s kin for more than an hour and this ol boy could fit in to the most authentic casting of Oklahoma y’all have ever seen.
So you bet your ass I fell in love with miss Karen Memery, spelled like Memory but with an ‘e’ there in the middle. She may not be from Oklahoma but with that accent I could sure enough take her home to meet my grandma. She is in Seattle territory, back before the states were all carved up, or maybe never will be since this ain’t your granpappy’s old west; there are airships and steam powered autotrons bouncing around that can’t be seen in any old pictures I have ever laid my eyes on. Karen is a simple girl, which don’t mean stupid, mind. She got enough lernen to read and has a real keen mind. But damned if her accent didn’t make me think of family here and gone. I fell back into it and so far ain’t looked back.
She calls herself a stargazer, and she pays her taxes as a seamstress, and I don’t think you need a schoolmarm to tell you what that means. She got lucky though, fell in with the right type of lady who runs a better sort of house. Only has to take those clients that she needs and the house muscle don’t let anything rough happen. Got herself a dream too, saving up to run with a stable of her own liker her and her daddy used to work before…well, just before. Would be no kind of story at all though if trouble didn’t come around, or maybe it would be a different kind of story, but this is the kind of story were trouble does end up coming around.
A ground war is brewing, with Karen’s Madame facing a bad sort of man who runs his own group of stargazers but in a whole different way. When two girls come to the door all bloody like a spark is hit that threatens to build quick. One of the girls escaped from Peter Bandel, the Madame’s main competition in towns a right swarmy heel. The other gal is the one doing the break out, and has a reputation for doing it more than once. Peter damn sure wants back what he reckons is his by right, servitude he don’t call slavery even with the lack of choice involved. It all goes to hell from there. Enter a U.S. Marshall chasing a serial killer, a little gun play and some steam contraptions, and a hell of a lot of people usually found sitting in the corner of a book instead standing up and taking action.
Shitkicker I may be but a long ways from the worst of the hick side of my family I sit. I love seeing a diverse cast take over a story completely. Did I mention Karen might lay with men, but paying is the only reason that would ever happen? No I didn’t because it don’t matter much where Karen’s attention lays; at least until it does. Because when she finds love she fights for it with the same fire as anyone else would. The Hotel Mon Cherry ain’t just color blind, it is completely blind. Women who are part of the madam’s circle are loved and cherished, no matter their color or where their attraction lays or even if they have a little something extra under their skirt. Don’t mean Seattle is suddenly the most enlightened town in the West, not at all. But a group of outsiders that stick together can do all right for themselves.
Call a spade a spade. Karen Memory (note the spelling, with an ‘e it is a name, but if that ‘o’ is there I am talking about the book and not the person), is a fast paced dime novel. This is a cast to adore, sure, but it ain’t no character study. Adventure full of twists and turns, gun play and chases, and a few gizmos doing what they do make up the base of this tale. Louis L’Amore sits on a good many shelves in my family, bout the only books to be found outside of the bible, and as far as I know the man wrote one book forty different times. Black hats take the girl and the cowboy gets her back. And that is what we got, excepten the cowboy is a seamstress who ain’t afraid to rough it up with the boys (or if she is she puts on her brave face and does it anyway). And she got a posse of men and women of every color and walk of life right there with her to back up her moves. Even the damsel of Karen’s tale don’t lay back and wait, doing her fair share throughout to make sure the black hats don’t carry the day.
I ain’t too certain this a book I will always remember. It is a simple story after all. But I am also pretty damn sure I haven’t done my reading of a single book this fast in quite some time. Karen Memory is a tale full of diverse characters but it don’t lean on that as its crutch nor a gimmick; it just runs a fun story using the people that have always been there but don’t always get their face on the cover.
One last thing, any character that knows what a Tobiano is, even in just a single mention. Well, she is all right by me.
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.
Friends, I think I have a bittersweet fantasy story here you may wish to read. It is a no magic affair set in a secondary world that feels like a timeFriends, I think I have a bittersweet fantasy story here you may wish to read. It is a no magic affair set in a secondary world that feels like a time mashed mirror of our own. It has a young woman confronted with some extraordinary choices; and with some choices that are hardly a choice at all. It has heart, it has hope, and it has sorrow.
Of course you are.
This is the story of Laiki, a young woman who is comfortable acting as a private teacher for a rich family’s children but never fulfilled. So it takes very little to convince her to go on a trip of a lifetime. Her studies have taught her the language of Lisan, an isolated country bordering her own Trea. And Lisan has decided to allow a small contingent of Trean scholars to study at their holy city’s new university; a rare chance to learn about their mysterious neighbors is something Trean leaders won’t be passing up.
Lisan is isolationist by choice, using the geography of the area to lock out the Treans after a failed occupation. They are led by Lord Hamin, a former revolutionary who is worshiped as the country’s savior and father. Personal property is gone; the government both collects and provides everything to its people. According to Lisan its people are prosperous and happy, with each year’s harvest and gains being better than the last. To the Treans it appears Lisan is falling farther and farther behind; people living on less and the technology march progressing well behind their own. Rumors of starvation are common.
This is the story of a young woman who wants something different. Somewhat naively she joins this journey, sure that her knowledge from studies will get her through. Never questioning the reason for her journey or the motives of either country. From the outset things go wrong; violence forces her from the prescribed path and she quickly learns about the worst of Lisan life first hand. It is a more calloused individual then that finally finds her way to the holy city. She will from there be shown only what her hosts want her to see, and learning both sides are playing games that she will have to learn in order to get through.
Laiki is the type of character one can’t help but adore because she is the type of character people can see themselves in. She is fairly competent but shaken but what she sees. She proves that despite wanting to do what is right all the time she is not a rock. She gives in to her own impulses; sometimes they prove right and others they cause her problems. She is a bit selfish, but knows enough to be ashamed when she is. Most of all she makes a mistake. This is no secret, she tells you in the first line of the book. And no one I knows wants to read about a perfect person, do they?
The world here is simple enough but something that a reader should pay attention to as the very nature of Trea and Lisan provide plenty of foreshadowing for what is to come. Trea is going through an industrial revolution; railroad is being laid and modern conveniences like indoor plumbing are becoming common. It is a freer society but with hints of inequality below the surface. Lisan is still agrarian in nature, behind in developments and stifled by its communist government. There are cracks in the system but a total education of the youth have kept any real thoughts of rebellion minimal. Laiki is going to learn that going from one to the other will not be an easy transition.
Laiki in Lisan is low action but high intrigue; dealing with small scale politics in a bigger picture and the protagonist’s relationships. There is a lot at stake, but only in some small things does Laiki’s course get to influence it. I think I have an early candidate for next year’s Self Published Gems list – this was an enjoyable surprise.
“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.
A jaded police investigator in a Victorian setting. His star struck young partner disillusioned at finding his hero a shell of theFantasy Review Barn
A jaded police investigator in a Victorian setting. His star struck young partner disillusioned at finding his hero a shell of the stories told about him. Petty crimes proving to be forbearers of something more sinister. A plucky child in danger proving to be the linchpin needed to solve the mystery. Darkwalker is the type of cozy mystery I most enjoy; quick pacing, a tight plot, and just enough supernatural to keep everything off balance.
Nicolas Lenoir is the aforementioned grizzled investigator. Prepare to dislike him from the start. He seems uninterested in cases, quick to snipe at his partner, and all too ready to get back to town hang out in a cozy social club. That he is a man of legend among his own force suggests there is a backstory we are not seeing which of course comes out in due time (though when it hits it proves to be one of the few confusing aspects of an otherwise solid story). Along with his partner Kody he is looking into a grave robbery in an outlying village. Kody is his opposite in every way. Young, athletic and a dead shot with a crossbow. He is also, thankfully, quite intelligent despite a bit of youthful brashness. It is good to see partners on a bit more equal footing than the norm. Though Lenoir is obviously the alpha, and Kody despises the man he has become, Kody is still allowed to proceed right past Lenoir’s occasional objections.
A nice genre mix-up is involved in Darkwalker. There is a mystery that stands as the core of the book. Typical piece the clues together and hope we are not too late stuff, but well written. It comes complete with a bit of ‘a friend is in deep trouble,’ which conveniently kicks Lenoir out of his lethargy. But this is also very much an urban fantasy; the faux-Victorian setting here proving that steampunk is not the only one who can own the conventions of the time. The fantasy aspects from the titular Darkwalker, an original creation that deserves his own page in the great big book of awesome supernatural creatures. The Darkwalker is a legend from an outcast group called the Adali who obviously proves to have a root in fact. His tie to Lenoir is a bit hazy but takes some incredible turns that caught this jaded reader by surprise.
I really enjoyed the setting of this tale; the creation of the Five Villages and their budding legal system especially. Already, despite phenomenal success in some cases, a jaded feeling is showing. As would be expected in a land with a noble class the law is there for certain people and not others. Certain people are untouchable at this point but that is something that Lenoir seems unwilling to allow to continue. Like a more serious version of Pratchett’s city guards Darkwalker runs a sub current (beneath all the other things it is working on of course) of a police forces still trying to find itself; its limits, and its potential.
I also was a bit fan of the Adali culture; a nomadic herding culture dealing with persecution with the five cities. I especially was a fan of the unique economy they used and the social implications of it. But if I worry about anything it comes from two years of conversing about speculative fiction with others; I know there are some questions to be asked with the only magic comes from a shamanistic dark skin ‘other’ people. I just hope the people of the Five Villages eventually show that they too have magical affinities at some point. I also had a few minor points that stayed confused in my eyes dealing with Lenoir’s earlier association with the Darkwalker but they were nothing the broke the flow of the tale.
Something cozy but a bit different. Urban fantasy in a secondary world. What is not to like, right?
Context is overrated, info dumps can be a drag, and sometimes it is best to just jump into the middle of The Story. Half Bad, a very strong outing by Sally Green, is all the better for this. It starts with a bang and only teases the reader with a greater context throughout, answering some questions while leaving others always tantalizingly out of reach.
Meet Nathan, son of the most notorious black witch around. No, belay that; BE Nathan, son of the most notorious black witch around as the story starts off with you in a cage. Yes YOU, as Half Bad switches between a second person narration and first person several times. It is an interesting experiment that ultimately works; Nathan’s emotions come through even better as the reader is forced to live them in times of turmoil.
Nathan is a half-code, born of a black witch father and a white witch mother. That context issue comes up here. Though we immediately learn that white witches are considered good and black witches are evil it is unclear whether this designation is genetic or more arbitrary; ultimately it doesn’t seem to matter. The white witches are in power and see themselves holding the right cause. Anything they do is just and this takes young Nathan from a bad situation to increasingly worse ones. Edict after edict is passed to restrict Nathan’s, and his very small family support groups’, freedom. All, it appears, to use him to catch his father. Flashbacks to early life show all the stops that ultimately lead to the first page of the book; Nathan living in a cage with a harsh caretaker.
This book is an interesting study of themes with real world context but without directly aping something form our modern times. The hatred of black witches and everything attached to them seems to reek of racist oppression, or red scare tactics, or even counter-terrorism measures. But instead of being preachy there isn’t enough detail to be morally sure of anything. Because it appears that black witches really DO have some nasty things going on in their background; full of murder and rage. At the same time the stories Nathan gets of black witches all come from white witches; no context to the stories is given making it harder to ascertain just how true any of this is. Certainly the tactics of the white witches prove themselves capable of seems to be just as evil as what the black witches are accused of. But what makes all this so interesting, at least to me, is the uncertainty of knowing if these are evil tactics to fight evil or evil tools of oppression.
Half Bad is set in modern England though it hardly matters only Nathan’s issues with modern technology really necessitate a time frame at all. For the most part the story is fairly timeless. And while dealing with witches and magic it is actually a pretty low magic affair. Instead this is simply Nathan’ story. We see his lows (and there are a lot of them, don’t expect a lot of sunny moments). WE glimpse the few good things in his life; kindness from an unexpected source or the unbreakable relationship he has with is brother and grandmother. And while the bad heavily outweighs the good there is an incredible sweetness to it that will ender several characters to even the most heartless reader.
I tore through this book in a couple of sittings. While it moved a bit slower in the final third, and was hampered somewhat at the end by a plot turn that everyone should see coming, it proved to be a great reading experience throughout. A young adult book with adult themes and a unique style, there isn’t much here that I don’t recommend.
Full apologies to M.L. Brennan, Soft Cell, Gloria Jones, and Ed Cobb. Sometimes I can’t stop myself.
Sometimes Fort feels he got to (da da) Run away, he got to (da da) Get away from the matriarch of The family the fate he shares (da da) Is a dark, cursed fear I turn up my light No toss nor turn cause I read all night
(chorus) Were bears called on you (they called) A murder to solve for you The evidence your given Doesn’t work with the bears agenda Kitsunes your friend but that’s not near ENOUGH…
Tainted Blood (oh oh oh) Smell for blood (oh oh oh) Now I know you got to (da da) Find killer, you got to (da da) Learn your place, your mom might not be around much more If you don’t fight Purdence may take your right Then the creatures all will pray, Learn to late Prudence don’t play that way
(chorus) Work with witches (witches) While chive mourns his wife The vampire life your living Is closing in on full fruition Take may cash because this book is pure joy!
Tainted Blood (oh oh oh) Tainted Blood (oh oh oh)
Brennan write more please I can’t stand the way you tease More about this family I should know From here where will this series go?
Were bear, were bear Don’t call them that to their face Because they big and mean, And can do much harm
I start off with something of a tangent here but something started messing with my head as I was reading this book. The InheritanceFantasy Review Barn
I start off with something of a tangent here but something started messing with my head as I was reading this book. The Inheritance Trilogy, or at least the first two books of it, have the strangest titles in relation to the books I can think of. These are books that in each case deal with a single person and their intimate relationships with the various gods and demigods in this land. Yet they have titles (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms) that suggest the most epic of epic fantasy; clash of nation type stuff. It left me wondering if it was a marketing trick to pull in a different segment of fantasy readership or if I am missing some really awesome allegories, allusions, and hidden references within the titles. Honestly, I have tried to think myself in circles and decided to give up.
I waited a while after reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because after the reading the glorious Dreamblood duology first it just didn’t excite me as much. I was a bit worried I would forget my place starting up The Broken Kingdoms but didn’t much want to do a reread. Two things were learned by me in this process. Book two takes place ten years after book one and needs very little residual memory, and that from the first pages I enjoyed The Broken Kingdoms better than its predecessor.
Oree is a blind artist who makes a modest living selling some of her stuff to tourist visiting the city of Shadow. It is only her lesser works that sell though, her real art she keeps hidden. There is a magic to it that even she can see; a magic that is best not discovered by those in power. At first I was a bit concerned by the convenience of the set up; to make a person blind but then allow her to see if magic was involved? But Jemisin is better than that; Oree does live her life, productive as it is, under the limitations that lack of sight give her. A walking stick is her constant companion, she has gotten lost in her own city, etc. She is a real person in a fantasy world, with no comic book superpower to take away the limitations her birth placed on her.
Oree also has a problem with Gods and Godlings; she seems to collect them around her. She romances a Godling named Madding for a time before he breaks her heart. She invites a silent Godling that seems to have been abandoned and lost into her life and even shares her home with him. This will of course become important later on as she slowly discovers who he really is. But in the immediate future she also has the bad fortune of finding what should be impossible; a dead Godling in an alley that is going to set the cities course for a while. Because only the Gods should have the power to do this and they want answers.
The path that all these events lead Oree on is interesting, even exciting, but certainly not a fun one. This isn’t a book to make one throw a fist in the air and yell ‘take that’ at vanquished foes. The mystery that has to be solved is deceptively simple. It isn’t one that foreshadows itself and leaves a reader feeling dumb for not figuring it out because all the facts are not knows to us. But it does feel wonderfully complete once brought to completion.
The highlight of the book is the interplay between the gods, mortals, and whatever it is that people like Oree are (not really a spoiler, that fact she sees magic automatically tips us off that she is different). Oree is but a flash in the lives of the immortals but oh so important to them in the now.
I stay in love with this little fantasy sub-genre of living gods that Jemisin seems to have led a surge of with this trilogy. What a good book, I think I shall read the next one (which is easy as I have all three collected in a handy omnibus).
Copy for review received from Orbit through NetGalley....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
Sometimes taking a story all the way over the top just flat out works. It is not enough to )have angels on earth, zombie outbreaks,Fantasy Review Barn
Sometimes taking a story all the way over the top just flat out works. It is not enough to )have angels on earth, zombie outbreaks, Frankenstein-ish scientists and various shape shifters in a Wild West town. It would be much, much better to add in some ninjas, ancient orders of mysticism, and a large number of the nastiest killers in the world to the mix. When in Rome and all that jazz (mixing clichés is even more fun that mixing metaphors, you should try it). Here is the weirdest thing about all of this though; every single strange element I just listed is present in The Shotgun Arcana yet somehow the story avoids feeling like pure pulp.
Really it shouldn’t surprise me that this works so well as the ‘everything goes into the pot’ approach is used in the urban fantasy sub-genre to great affect all the time. And when picking a classification the UF label works as well as any other for this series despite taking place a good hundred plus before most urban fantasy tales.
Anyway… The Shotgun Arcana is the follow up to The Six-Gun Tarot which set the stage for this weird west town named Golgotha and the strange happenings with in. The first book was overly ambitious and while I enjoyed it immensely it was all almost too much; it wanted to do everything and I felt there were a few things that fell through the cracks by the end. Shotgun Arcana benefits from having the mythos of this world pre-established and was able to move right in the story. As such it felt like a tighter and more focused book all around. From beginning to end the pressure is never let off; right up to the end as loose ends are neatly tied while new threads are purposely unraveled.
A basic plot summery boils down to rival angels competing for the direction earth will take; final showdown taking place in Golgotha. Serial killers from around the world appear to be converging on a town that is doing its best to forget the crazy transpirings from a couple years before. Those standing to stop them from destroy the town (and eventually the world) include an immortal (allegedly) sheriff, his part coyote deputy, a decedent of Lilith with near super powers, and a few other over the top and completely awesome personalities. Expect lots of action, lots of blood, and a few things that can’t even be explained by the supernatural.
Dark but occasionally funny this a tale that balances characters one can’t help but love and a setting /mythos that will leave a person dying for more. I admit I was hooked, flipping pages at a pace I don’t get to do much of anymore and threatening to bite anyone who asked me to put the book down. I wanted to know who all these serial killers I was meeting in random interludes were; and gave a self congratulatory pat on the back to myself when I figured out just what it was they were all carrying. I was rooting for the various love interests despite some of them being incredibly creepy. And when it was all over I was a bit sad that the next book in the series isn’t out right now.
A small note about Golgotha itself. It is a city with life and realism. Mining camps outside of town, various churches, people everyone knows and people completely marginalized- all are present. Belcher gives he women professions other than prostitute (and though that profession is present the ‘happy whore’ trope is thankfully not in affect). He remembered enough about U.S. history to include a strong Chinese contingent in a town affected by the building of the railroad. Though some of his characters are suspiciously modern when it comes to their views the town still fights with racism and other strong ‘views.’ And the characters fight real fights against these views; some winning small victories and some sadly losing the fight.
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 wonder if the book even needs an introduction. Ancillary Justice didn’t exactly fly under everyone’s radar when it came out. It wFantasy Review Barn
I wonder if the book even needs an introduction. Ancillary Justice didn’t exactly fly under everyone’s radar when it came out. It was a glorious mindfuck that built momentum with review after review. Science Fiction at its finest; the ancillary concept, a new take on immortality, and a time jumping narrative that forced a reader to stay sharp to reap the rewards. And oh ya, ‘the gender thing.’
I have no doubt that the way Leckie forced a look at gender perceptions played a large part in the hype of the Ancillary Justice. It was new and exciting and if not completely unique then certainly still fresh. Like so many others I fell for the trap of trying to guess the gender on certain characters despite it mattering not a single iota to the actual narrative; a habit I had to re-break myself of yet again with Ancillary Sword. A society which had dropped gender differentiations within speech was cool enough; watching someone from said society confronted with a culture that still finds the distinctions important was all the better.
But make no mistake; Ancillary Justice was no one trick pony. The main character used to be a starship after all; sentient but built to serve. The leader of this unique culture has bodies sharing a mind all over the galaxy’s reach; immortality in hive mind rather than body. And perhaps coolest of all was a unique sort of madness that could only happen in the Radchaii space. And it is with these aspects that I can finally talk about Ancillary Sword rather than its predecessor.
So where did Leckie go with Ancillary Sword? We get a smaller scale, a more linear plot, and deal very little with the overriding threat of Miannaai’s split leadership styles. Instead Breq, formally a Justice sized warship with thousands of ancillaries but now a single body and mind, finds herself captain of small ship off to secure a single planet. While her purpose is simply to prepare for the civil war at hand she is dragged into the cultural battle that has long escaped the emperor’s attention.
I was worried that with the various intricacies of the Radch culture established the series would stall with the need for direction. Gender conventions being thrown out the window and watching a scene from seven sets of the same eyes can carry one book but wouldn’t have kept my interest twice. Those worries are happily put aside; the dynamics being fully ingrained in my mind allowed the series to move on with its new story. In short the big ideas of this sci-fi world have been established; now the series can focus on the little ones.
How is this done? A character based novel with political and cultural implications. Breq finds a world that doesn’t really live up to the cultural ideal that Radch civilization is supposed to live by. She ingrains herself with the most powerful by default; taking a name that forces political consideration. But she takes quarters outside the reach of the station that acts as the civilized hub (more than once we are reminded that the world for civilization is the same as Radchaii, the two are tied in the mind of Radch). A tale of expansion, occupation and resistance, and eventual submission is in the background of this planet; the inevitable corruption and those who fall through the cracks catch Breq’s imagination and time.
I for one enjoyed this change of direction. This series could go as far as Leckie wants to take it; a Banksian ‘Culture’ vibe has been established even as the meta-plotline fades to the background. While the Emperor’s Civil war is woven into the narrative at various points it is not the main thrust of the novel. The book could almost, but not quite, work as a stand along because of this.
Another very strong outing and a series I continue to be excited about. I look forward to seeing where this series goes from here.
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.
If I could bang the hype drum alone I would. I don’t know what I need to do to convince a few people to get excited about a new relFantasy Review Barn
If I could bang the hype drum alone I would. I don’t know what I need to do to convince a few people to get excited about a new release but for the love of god people, get excited about this release. I will shout if I have to, but I don’t think I should. I expect that for once in my life someone will listen to me, take my advice to heart, and read this damn book.
I know a book is doing everything right when it is making me love it despite using elements I usually hate. I hate time travel in my books people. Hate hate HATE it. All I want to do is poke holes in the plot lines; who hasn’t wondered why Hermione could save a hippogryph but not any of the humans killed in battle? And alternative history? Psh, give me a break. Usually it gets tied up trying to include real life figures and falls over its own tangled web. But Bernobich has given me the book I needed to prove every rule is made to be broken. Time travel in an alternative earthly timeline and it feels so good.
Believe it or not this book is first and foremost a political book. This is a land where Éire has risen to the top. Culturally and politically they are looked to for guidance by Europe. But it is a time of strife despite the appearance of peace. The Anglian colonies are beset by separatist, Prussia is looking to expand their power base, and everyone is interested in the technological achievements Éire is making. One of those techs? The study of time.
Enter Áine, young queen of the land. Watching a demonstration of a young scientist’s machine perks her interest despite less than impressive results. And while her country comes first from the beginning;her obsession with the subject fuels her passions for both science and scientist. One test is all it takes to change everything though; trying to travel time has real consequences.
That is it, that is all I can tell you. Even a hint at what you can expect will be a major spoiler; or perhaps only a red herring. Because this be a journey that has to be taken on its own. This is a tale that shifts as it needs to; pushing towards a specific goal while the rules and gameboard changes around it. Entire plot lines may be thrown out as time changes, but it can never be forgotten. Nothing can be forgotten, event that which is forgotten, it all ties together and it all is part of the final tapestry that Bernobich weaves.
Disjointed? Perhaps at times, despite the purposeful nature behind it. From the initial thrill of discovery to the possible consequences there is a solid and surprisingly complete novella in the first third alone. A political thriller makes up the middle portion as Áine sends out her old body guard Ó Deághaidh (there is a hell of a story there that I won’t even go into) to the continent in an attempt to keep her land, and rule, secure. Despite some cerebral mind fucks throughout the narrative I never found the book tough to read nor especially complex. The politics and espionage and scientific discovery were engaging on their own; even more so when thrown through the mixer.
I want to rant and rave about nothing but the awesomeness of this book. I really do. This hit me the same way Felix Gilman did the same time; no way should a book this smart should be this engaging. It gives me illusions of having intelligence. But I can’t go all out on the book, I have to be honest. This book was only perfect for like, the first 95%. Granted that is a whole lot of awesome. But those endings are so important to overall enjoyment and this one fell short. Not in a horrible, ruined the book, how could things go so wrong so fast kind of way. But in a, ‘eh? That’s it?’ kind of way. Way too easy, way too transparent, just a bit of a letdown after a great ride.
Conclusion? READ THIS BOOK. Please? Because even an average ending it is pretty awesome.
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.