I can look back at a lot of so called dark fantasy and laugh in its face at this point because The FifthFantasy Review Barn
This one may have broke me.
I can look back at a lot of so called dark fantasy and laugh in its face at this point because The Fifth Season is a whole different level. Jemisin had my heart in hand from the first chapter and while I never quite hit tears it can only be explained by my reading in a quiet shock and awe of where she was willing to take us readers. Broken families, casual acts of violence, persecution and exploitation of those with gifts (curses?) is woven into each chapter. This book was never easy to read but always worth the journey. Do I want more? Oh yes please. Just give me a light hearted comedy to cleanse the pallet first (I had a very similar reaction to The Road by Cormac McCarthey).
With three separate plotlines the story focuses on people with the magical abilities that allow them to work with stone and the minerals within them. Those smarter than I should be able to spot the central link that holds the threads together but there is no doubt it is very cleverly crafted in its presentation. Each is compelling on its own; I never turned the page and wished I could go back to that other character’s story.
The world very well could be earth in the far future but doesn’t have to be. There are no hidden Easter eggs to search for, no game of guess the real life location because none of that matters. What does matter is that this is a land that isn’t just post-apocalyptic but is post-apocalyptic many times over; human life has been nearly extinguished more than once and is being challenged yet again within the course of the story. Earth appears to be forever broken, even if it can feign normalcy for a few centuries at a time there are too many factors that can set it all off again.
The Fifth Season is a book about survival, love and lust, duty and cohesion, persecution, and quite a few impressive magical acts. I pity anyone who tries to wrap the plot into a tight little synopsis because it doesn’t lend itself to an easy explanation. Along with its ability to shred my emotions I found one of its most impressive aspects to be how alien it makes the unknown aspects of this world feel. Creatures called stone eaters play a big part in this story line but their motivations are completely unknown to all; the reader gets no insight that the flummoxed characters don’t have. Giant floating obelisks dot the landscape with obvious purpose but no explanation. Even the land’s history is shattered; a combination of lost records and a dominate cultures’ manipulation leaves people in roles without other options. Until of course the land shatters again at which point the Stonelore they follow is nothing more than a guideline.
It is almost trite to talk about characters that seem real at this point; what should be the expectation in a good book is still noteworthy though. I love characters that I care about without knowing if I really like them. Who sometimes do the right thing. Who have obvious soft spots and bias and act upon them or occasionally against them with reluctance. And with a book that focuses on only a few characters these type of characterizations are only more important. Jemisin has given me characters to care about before and she does it here again.
The Fifth Season has been one of my most anticipated books for quite some time. It was delayed for quite a while but I am happy to say it has been well worth the wait. One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.
I read a lot of Michael Crichton in high school. Like, all of it. And for fifteen(plus) years since then I have tried to find bookFantasy Review Barn
I read a lot of Michael Crichton in high school. Like, all of it. And for fifteen(plus) years since then I have tried to find books like what he writes. Sci-fi thrillers that are actually worth a damn. Those where people are either screwing with science they shouldn’t or perhaps where mother nature is screwing with them. What I usually find instead are trite monstrosities where the lead male meets a hot girl, goes on an adventure that doesn’t even make sense, then saves the hot girl from a rape where she falls in love with him. It is a tired formula but seems to be bestseller gold.
The Gods of Laki is better than most of the wannabe thrillers I just alluded too. It has a small fantasy element that sets it apart from its sci-fi brethren but firmly fits into the thriller group. And I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is not the next coming of Jurassic Park by any means, but an enjoyable romp with a pretty cool premise.
In it a former member of the secret service takes a job that sends him to Iceland to guard a woman studying the volcanic activity. He is uniquely suited for this because geology happens to be what he left the service for. The volcanic activity of Laki is drawing a lot of interest though and through this tale we will be watching how it has drawn in a diverse group over time; 9th century Vikings, the Germans in World War II, and now various special interests with very different goals. The protagonist will join this conveniently gorgeous woman in stopping plans that have worldwide implications.
What else can we expect, right?
Some of the familiar traps that thrillers fall into are unfortunately present. Know why Elle in Jurassic Park has proven so much more memorable in the movie version than she was in the book? She wasn’t sexualized. She didn’t fall into the ‘same as every other book trap’ and thus stood out. (At least this is my humble opinion). In The Gods of Laki I have already forgotten the lead woman’s motivation. Despite being a huge part of the plot it was never her story. There was also a sexual assault story line on a different character that took up a decent amount of space seemingly only to drop a single important detail about a bad man’s plot.
What the book had going for it was a decent pace (a must for a thriller), some actual twists (including a duel villain thing that kept everything more interesting) and a genuinely different premise.
What else can I really say about the book? I don’t do thrillers enough to give them the respect they deserve but this one seems to fall into the better side of ‘run of the mill.’ I don’t think anything is fantastic, and while the premise is unique the execution feels very familiar. On the other hand it doesn’t actively insult me like some of the best sellers I tried have recently. And I like the slight fantasy influence.
Plus it has a fabulous cover, one of my favorites this year.
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.
This is serious business. Sex and violence and rock and roll – John Cougar Mellencamp
Can I state something here? The Dangerous Type is pure pulp. Yes it is, but why say that like it is a bad thing? Can’t a book be pulp and still be good? And let me further break down just how pulp this book is before we come to conclusions. It is a revenge tale where a small beautiful woman, who by the way hasn’t aged at all in twenty years, goes against a villain who is galaxy destroying bad. The book contains a sexy gunrunner, zero gravity martial arts, and at least one male fantasy threesome viewed with a heavy male gaze. Pulp right?
We can zoom in on the villain a bit too because it helps make the case for this book being dismissed as pulp. The man is on the books for exterminating an entire alien race; an act that has led to humanity’s ostracization from the rest of the galaxy. He enjoys torture, going so far as to use it to toughen up his own sons for their use as his personal army. And several times he uses sexual humiliation to further mark himself as the worst humanity has to offer. Moving from pulp to bad pulp here.
And yet I will not dismiss this book, rather I will spend a bit of time praising it. Raena is a character that is hard to love but easy to follow. She feels broken, but in a very dangerous way because she remains very capable. She is not defined by the pain inflicted on her in the past but it is revenge that keeps her going. There is no heart of gold moment that sneaks in and changes her but she does show a few small acts of mercy (and some that even she knows only remain a mercy in the short term). She remains true to the character we are presented with at the beginning; a deadly enigma that has still has some humanity that people can see in her. She is as fully realized as her advisory is trite.
At first I thought it surprising how much Sloan, the male protagonist, seemed to dominate the story’s tone. Especially in the aforementioned male gaze department as he seemed be providing the visual’s the third person narrator was using throughout. But he is kept in check by the two women that slowly take over the story. He starts off all too sure of himself and willing to take control. He finishes the book firmly in the background as Raena takes back her owns story (though there are plenty of places for him to go in future books).
But toss out any deeper look at characters. That doesn’t help my case. I called this book pulp and damn it if it doesn’t work well in that category. Not the fastest read around and less action packed than its cover blurb would suggest but still fun throughout. And it is built around some galactic history that begs a deeper examination—and refuses to give the reader more than a glimpse (I smell a series!). And like any good pulp read The Dangerous Type is short enough to be enjoyed in a few sittings.
Pulp and as such not entirely memorable. But pretty good at it. That would be the overall summation of this little review.
I am not sure if the Gaunt and Bone series, now on book three, is literary fantasy or just cleverly designed to look like it is. PeFantasy Review Barn
I am not sure if the Gaunt and Bone series, now on book three, is literary fantasy or just cleverly designed to look like it is. Personally I enjoyed the complete perspective changes used when switching point of view such as Mad Katta’s thoughts only seen through a journal while other characters are seen in a more traditional third person view. Flashbacks coming in story form takes away some of the awkwardness simply by realizing that if it is going to stand out then it is better that it is meant to. And the prose started of strong and has not slacked.
And while I have been mesmerized by a unique style I have also just enjoyed my reading experience thus far. Because I have characters to root for, not because they are wonderful humans but because even in this land of strange and noteworthy most of them have very a very human feel. Wants, desires, loyalties are something universal, as are lusts, irrational hatreds, and greed. All things that make even the villains worth reading about (though villain is hard word to justify seeing how in Chart of Tomorrows several of the ‘heroes’ end up on opposite sides of the brewing fight).
By suggesting that the Gaunt and Bone series could be literary in nature it would not be a stretch if one were to guess the series borders on the ‘weird’ side; new weird seems to attract a authors with the ability to turn a phrase and track insane little details. Chart of Tomorrows doesn’t disappoint on that end. It continues with a unique time moving trick that allows some characters to grow dramatically between books while others have only seen a year or two go by (tracking time is not my strong point). It has trolls, people switched with trolls at birth, and a heart hidden away from a body. And if you have stuck with the series you already know about Bone’s unique condition, the hidden world in a scroll (used to great effect this time around), and the magic carpet with major identity issues.
Here is the thing though. Despite the fact that the page count keeps getting inflated, book by book, I am not all that positive that somewhere along the line the author didn’t pull a fast one on me. The dense language and nonlinear plotting doesn’t make the series an easy read but I think I am a fairly intelligent reader and somewhere along the way I realized I wasn’t that sure what the hell is going on. Two children we have watched grow became the center of something earth shaking. Why was their path inevitable? I also have no idea what a few of the characters added outside of lengthy passages that left me cold. Too many characters played small parts without really seeming important enough to warrant their page time; it is the author’s story to tell but I missed the shorter and (slightly) more focused style of the first book.
If I could level one more small complaint it feels like we got a bit heavy handed with the anachronistic social issues. I am not, and I want this clear, complaining that the book featured societies accepting of things like gender fluidity. I applaud that a character can choose to be genderless without the book dissolving into medieval persecution. But the way it is handled, particularly in dialog as people not familiar with the concept come to terms with it, feel very twenty first century. I felt the that supporting text explaining things took away from the impact that just letting the character clearly be seen could have had.
Still, there is something about the whimsical nature that Willrich has laced this series with and that something has held from book one to three. While the weird vibe allows for a world where it seems anything can happen nothing ever feels like there isn’t an explanation for it somewhere. Not, mind you, an explanation the author feels he has to tell the reader each and every time. Rather there is a feeling that there are some rules this strange and wonderful world lives by; be it genie powered balloons or time shifting or carpets with homicidal tendencies.
Is this the final book in the series? I honestly don’t know though it reads like it could be. If so I will consider the series quite a success. It did something different, borrowed from earth and various cultures without ever converting to stereotypes or clichés. It mixed and matched cultures, creatures, and ideas and came out completely unique. While overall I don’t feel the final book was the best representative of the series it did end with a lot of excitement. And to bring things full circle I think literary fantasy is a perfectly apt description of this mostly indescribable series.
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.
Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of bookFantasy Review Barn
Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of book that felt designed to hit all the right notes of a popular series. Yet despite its familiarity almost by the numbers feel (*cough* First Law *cough) I never felt that it was derivative of the works it could be compared to. It took a well-worn feel and gave it a life of its own. I immediately was ready for Sword of the North to come out so I could continue the adventure.
Sword of the North is a very different animal than its predecessor despite keeping the same general feel. The Grim Company had its feet firmly planted in the Grimdark thing (call it a genre, sub-genre or whatever have you). It started with a man using magic to drop half an ocean onto a rival’s city after all. From there it followed a familiar path of people trying hard and ultimately failing in their futile efforts; that things were only going to get worse was perfectly clear.
I felt there was actually a bit of hope, a bit less chance of tragedy, hell a little bit of happiness hidden in a few pages. Don’t get me wrong, this book still walks on the darker side of fantasy complete with high body counts, betrayals by people you actually like and nasty people getting big wins. But unlike ‘grimdark’ books I found that characters I have liked through two books have for the most part stayed likable. I feel that there are people who actually care in this world, which of course takes out some of the caricature feel common in dark fantasy. What’s more, some characters actually show some will to improve themselves. What a concept! We are halfway to a comedy (by classical definition).
We continue to follow characters met in the first book; Brodar Kayne as he heads North to check on a rumor about his family along with the grim man who goes by Wolf. Cole, who should be a celebrated hero for his deeds in book one, instead wakes up in a penal colony. Sasha, following her sister into a confrontation with The White Lady (would be savior from The Grim Company). And the half-mage; a man digging into secrets that could prove important at a later date (and pissing off important people while doing so). The land is learning that anyone powerful to dispose of a despot should probably be looked into, war is coming to the north (with the help of some barely under control demons) and lots of dying people is pretty much inevitable.
I enjoyed each of these character’s paths, save one. The story’s expanded scope, and an overall villain much more interesting that that who ruled the first book, was well woven and entertaining. Minor anachronisms are forgiven (and Pulp Fiction homages are noted but ultimately ignored) for sake of a good read. But the grizzled barbarian who helped carry the first book, one Brodar Kayne, was given the short end of the story this time around. It felt like the author knew what to do with each piece of his puzzle save this one. So on a travel quest he goes! Picking up as large of a quest party as possible along the way, one piece at a time, just to keep the story going I suppose. It led to an entire POV that I wanted to skip each time it came up, never a good thing and for this reader slowed the story down greatly.
This is a shame because in a lot of ways I think Scull is giving us a more creative and in depth story this time around in every other aspect. As inevitable as ‘same as the old boss’ style mechanics may be it always breaks the heart when it turns out to be true. And the new bosses minions are one of those little unique touches that always makes me smile when I read fantasy. I can safely say that for the most part this book clicked all around for me. It just falls into that common trap of having too many pages that don’t add anything to the story.
Let’s reminisce back to Traitor’s Blade so we know where we stand with the series thus Knight's Shadow far. In my mind it read likFantasy Review Barn
Let’s reminisce back to Traitor’s Blade so we know where we stand with the series thus Knight's Shadow far. In my mind it read like three separate books, two of which were very good while being very different from each other. It started out as something of a light hearted romp. It ended on a very serious note with a strong conclusion that left me pining for the next book. The fact that I found the middle tedious and even a bit insulting was forgiven by the end. The question is which of these books to expect for the second outing.
Knight’s Shadow continued the serious tone that Traitor’s Blade ended on. It occasionally drops back to its humorous tone but it works so much better on the whole with the darker edge. It was more focused, faster paced (despite the longer word count) and made this yet another book that I have read recently that beat the debut in quality and enjoyment.
Falcio and his fellow Greatcoats have a new purpose. Years after his king’s death Falcio is committed to putting his heir on the throne. To do so he must gain support among the various Dukes, hard enough on its own and even harder with someone he once trusted building an army of her own to take control. His fellow Greatcoat Kest is struggling with a new found curse he thought would be a blessing and Brasti proves to care a little more than his flippant attitude suggests. Oh, and there is an ancient group of unbeatable assassins that may have a target on Falcio. So to recap: Protect the rightful heir, built support to stop an army, watch out for assassins. And from there things really get crazy.
There was a unique focusing agent that kept this book moving at a brisk pace. Had it been overdone it could have quickly turned to gimmick, instead it was something I loved because it was only used enough to be effective and ignored when not needed. To describe it would be something of a spoiler but I can say that it involves something that happened to Falcio at the end of Traitor’s Blade. Every morning starts to count. Throughout chapters start with Falcio waking and the implications of what is happening to him continues to matter more each time. It gives the book a countdown of sorts, forces each day in the story to matter, each action to count for something, and each failure to hurt just a bit more. Running out of time always sucks, and the urgency helps here.
The stronger focus and knowledge of exactly what kind of book it wanted to be was one reason I thought this was a stronger book than its predecessor. I also felt it benefited from the addition, and change of status, of a couple of characters. The Tailor was introduced in book one but becomes a major, even the major, player this time around. Outside of Falcio no one affects the land of Tristia more. Darriana is a new character but a great addition, one of two women Greatcoats who balance out the cast and provider of some of the more entertaining moments as she cuts the boys down to size repeatedly.
I did struggle with the ending again. The conclusion itself was pretty strong even if a bit too easy; after such a torturous journey it seems things fell into place a bit too well for the story to end. Still, some bad guys were defeated and others remain for more books to come. And there is just the right note of hope mixed with melancholy that on the whole I have to give the ending to the author.
I end by talking about a section I am still at odds about. It involved a long torture scene lasting an entire chapter. And I can’t decide how it fits in. It certainly ties into the story, and it is the author’s story to tell. But outside of providing a chance for some allegiances to be made and a certain plot snare to be escaped from I didn’t really see its purpose. It was long, drawn out, and included a couple scenes that require a trigger warning. While the series has proven that it will always be darker in tone than the early chapters suggested this may have been a bit over the top; it certainly changes the way I was reading and provided the only pages I didn’t read at a record pace. It was really only this small section that detracted me from the book on the whole and I can’t really place my finger on why. So know that there is something nasty coming up, and perhaps it will bother me and me alone.
I am still finding this to be a very entertaining series and will continue to look forward to seeing the next outing. Which at this point already can’t come soon enough because I can read these books like I eat candy.
For those that think there are no more unique ideas in fantasy I humbly present The Library at Mount Char. Impossible to describeFantasy Review Barn
For those that think there are no more unique ideas in fantasy I humbly present The Library at Mount Char. Impossible to describe or summarize in any way, this is a ‘big idea’ book that manages to stay accessible even through its strangest moments. I fell for this book the same way I fell for Gaiman’s American Gods years back; reading with a true since of wonder and a willingness to go anywhere the author wants to take me. It is a fine balance and I think Hawkins has something special here.
Three characters with various amounts of agency are drawn together. Carolyn is the enigma, more powerful than seems possible and a member of the strangest family put to page. Early on she is met trying to figure out what happened to her ‘father’ along with her other siblings. Where he went and why they care is a slow unfolding story. Caught in her path are Steve, who seems to be nothing more than a puppet for other characters until he finally is able to wrestle control of some of his own story in very surprising ways. And finally there is Erwin, an investigator who would carry any number of other stories, yet here is just doing his best to keep up with Carolyn. In this he may always be behind yet is usually three steps ahead of anyone else involved.
The disappearance of Father obviously has huge ramifications not just for Carolyn and her family but for an increasingly larger radiance until the stakes are for the entire universe. Power successions, creators and god-like powers, tribal politics…anything else? Well there are zombies that are not really zombies, a couple of lions, a pack of dogs, a rigorous course of studies with stakes beyond anything around, and a man in a tutu utterly unaware of how others see him. I tell you, impossible to describe, because as silly as some aspects sound without context this book was never silly. (A minor theme related to the tutu; several characters show how outright silly some cultural norms are if seen in a without the cultural context).
The tight casting that follows only three main characters allows this book to wander yet keep a manageable length. And wander it will, to the end of time and all the way back, through several possible timelines and all across (or above) the universe. Yet never does it feel like too much, nor was it ever weird for weirdness sake despite some very, VERY strange stuff.
It also, despite a fair amount of foreshadowing, is a book that lays out surprises time after time. Anyone who finishes this book and says they could see where it was going should be ostracized as a liar immediately; there are too many possible twists to pick from for anyone to know where it would finally end up. Where it ends up though was exactly where it needed to go, though I of course didn’t know that until it got there (how do you like that circular reasoning?). A bittersweet conclusion that was perhaps warmer(inserting a no context for you chuckle here) than expected, despite the implications that came from it.
The Library at Mount Char is incredibly dark in nature; betrayal and murder and high body counts are to be found. There are characters who delight in death, a character who delights in the already dead, a truly hard to read torture and the threat of one that could be worse. Yet it levies it with a wonderful sense of wit, starting with the chapter titles themselves and penetrating down through the page. Dry humor is a hard thing to get on page sometimes and when it is done right it lifts a whole book.
An early contender for my favorite book of the year. I loved the imagination, the willingness to take risks. I went from hating some characters to loving them and right back again. I couldn’t guess in a million tries where it would end up, in part because I have never read anything like it before. Set it up people, let the hype flow. This is a book to look out for.
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.
This is perhaps the most impossible to describe book I have read yet at its core it is a very simple, linear story. I can’t seem toFantasy Review Barn
This is perhaps the most impossible to describe book I have read yet at its core it is a very simple, linear story. I can’t seem to make sense of this seeming contradiction.
Woerld (yes I checked that spelling) is a land between the worlds. A barrier between earth and hell with its own thriving life as its denizens mostly do their best to keep fallen angels where they belong. It would appear that the Judeo-Christian mythos is somewhat grounded in reality here; yet obviously missing a few important facts. On Woerld the religious of the land all worship the same gods in different ways; oft reminiscent of their Earthly counterparts. Events on one plain seem to affect all the others.
When a young girl on earth walks through a portal (portal fantasy alert!) she finds Lucian, an exiled former exorcist who abandoned his lover for his sister (who then rewarded him by destroying his legs and leaving him relying on cane). The young girl is forced to get a crash course in living within her new land as she acts as a foundling to Lucian. For his part Lucian isn’t even sure he should take on the duties as her teacher due to his exile; and he makes things worse when he broke some very specific rules in order to rescue her.
This is a book of betrayal and redemption wrapped in one of the most emo packages imaginable. Plenty of brooding, self-loathing, and other muses of dark poetry which fits the quasi-religious setting well. I said it was simple but that doesn’t come from the setting, which takes most of the book to fully reveal it self, but rather from the plotting. Most of the book is Lucian and his young ward trying to escape the wraith of Lucian’s sister; a woman actively working to…well I am really not sure. But it is bad, and involves daemons and take overs of the hostile variety and lots of torture.
There are a couple of things that I really appreciated about this book. One is a simple thing; a set piece that for some reason tickled my fancy. A single rose acting as a guardian; hostile flora is big on my list of things more fantasy needs. The other major plus was how seamlessly the book handled the ‘portal fantasy’ aspect. I usually despise portal fantasies but here it fit the setting. The young girl is not the first who is pulled down; several characters in this story came from Earth and others came from Woerld. So people, like Lucian, have no problem helping the new foundlings and we as a reader are left with less annoying inconsistencies as people figure out the new way of life.
I give this book some major kudos for creativity and its page turning ways. At times my eyes rolled at the high school goth vibe, and I admit the ending came together just a bit too fast for my liking. This book sits on many bloggers list of majorly under-appreciated fantasy and in a way I can see why; it is completely unique and for the most part compelling. I can’t say it will leave a long term impression on me but I am glad I finally got it off my backlist.
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.
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.
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
I think the wrong short story collection got named Trigger Warning. Grimm Mistresses deals with some dark, dark stuff. A short and fairly solid five sI think the wrong short story collection got named Trigger Warning. Grimm Mistresses deals with some dark, dark stuff. A short and fairly solid five story collection; all by woman and all dealing with a modern take on an old classic story. I didn’t think there was a bad story in the collection but be warned; rape of men and women are included, as is a whole lot of bad things happening to children. Technically this is a collection of horror tales, with one excellent story full of hope hidden in the middle. With only five stories in the bunch I will do something I rarely do; say a few words about each of them.
Little Dead Red by Mercedes M Yardley – An obvious allusion to a famous young girl who just wants to get to Grandma’s house but there are no happy endings to be found this time. A compelling but nasty little story about a woman’s descent into a grief induced madness as she looks for the ‘wolf’ who took her little girl. It had an absolutely chilling opening, one of the best I have read. The only downer (outside of the dark and depressing story of course) was an ending that I could have done without. Some loose ends were tied up that actually hurt the overall feel in my opinion; it was better when I didn’t know some of the things revealed within the last few paragraphs.
Nectar by Allison M Dickson – I take back what I said up top, there was a fairly weak story in this collection. A trail of breadcrumbs story if you catch my meaning; also a story of wish fulfillment gone horrible wrong. Two middle age men go on a blind double date with women who possess goddess like good looks. And then everything goes wrong for those two men as they learn about the nature of houses made of candy. It was interesting for a while but I never really bought the overall premise and it moved into some science fiction weirdness that completely lost me.
The Leopard’s Pelt by S.R. Cambridge – Completely out of place in this collection yet for me it is the highlight. The Leopards Pelt takes place around World War II; before, during, but mostly after. But it is in no way a war story. A man’s time on a deserted island brings with it a magical binding that either a blessing or curse, and it will take the whole story to find out. I have no idea what old tale this is a take off form but I sure did love it; hopeful throughout and full of heart but without a pure fairly tale ending for everyone. Good stuff, if you only read on story from this collection skip right to the middle.
Hazing Cinderella by C.W. LaSart – When the head cheerleader decides to haze her new step-sister she drags a couple of friends along. Meanwhile back at home the newly married stepmother has a few secrets of her own. This story was pure horror. No suspense, no real twists, just nasty things happening to nasty people. Easy to read, pretty good, and would probably be a great movie Carrie style but ultimately a bit forgettable.
The Night Air by Stacy Turner – A family has moved to the country just outside of a strange but quite little town. The mother discovers and old graveyard during one of her walks. The graves have a real oddity to them; the times of death are all one of two dates. Asking around in town gets her nothing but a creepy feeling. Then the real nightmare begins. Heartbreaking more than scary, though again with a touch of hope that strangely feels right. Based on a well-known old tale, but to mention it would give away everything.
The copy for review was provided by the publisher....more