Edward Moon was once the darling of London, a magician who helped break some of the biggest cases of the time. His day seems to be...moreFantasy Review Barn
Edward Moon was once the darling of London, a magician who helped break some of the biggest cases of the time. His day seems to be pasts however and he is now invited to soirées more out of habit than any desire to have him present. His stage act still draws modest crowds, though mostly because of his silent (as in mute) partner, The Somnambulist, a giant of a man who does not bleed. He is bored, spending his time lamenting the lack of interesting criminals and visiting a brothel specializing in very unique tastes. As is bound to happen, strange murders around London brings him out of his lull, and once he starts investigating things take a turn right past strange and into ****ing weird.
I knew I would like this book almost immediately, because I am a sucker for a unique voice in the narration. The narrator tells me he may lie at times, holds grudges against characters, and acts in a condescending manner throughout; of course I am all in. Readers will either love or hate it when his identity is revealed; I felt it was unnecessary but didn’t really detract from the book.
In some ways the book reads like homage to just about everything. Allusions to Dickens, Frankenstien, penny dreadfuls, and a few of the name drops common in books with a Victorian setting (very few thankfully). The narrator calls the book literary nonsense but he is wrong, literary hodgepodge is more apt. I am sure there are twenty homages I missed completely that those better read would pick out in a heartbeat.
Plotting is secondary, though it is not necessarily a weakness. First come the throwaway references, McGuffins, rantings of the narrator, and the introduction of characters that may or may not be important. While not every characters is important to the plot, what a cast they make! The Prefects are bound to be most peoples favorite, two grown men in school boy uniforms that make Croup and Vandemar look like angels. An inmate in Newgate with a passion for trinkets and baubles is a strange addition, and there is a whole club just for those with grotesque injuries. But get past all this and a reader is bound to realize that the plot itself was deceivingly simple. Moon really had no say in what was happening, he just followed the rails and did what he was supposed to.
If a person is a reader who wants all of their mysteries solved they will hate this book. McGuffins and red herrings aplenty litter the book, little plot elements introduced but never expanded on. Where did Moon’s former partner go wrong? Why can’t Moon and his sister be around each other for long? How did a certain organization command such strong loyalty so quickly? What the hell is The Somnambulist anyway, and where did he get his name when sleep seems to be no problem at all for him? For that matter, is the title character even really important to the plot? Geez, I am just getting started.
Recommended to anyone who enjoys dark humor, a quirky narrator, and isn’t put off by lack of resolution of every plot line. Must be forgiving of unlikable characters and some jaw-dropping awful moments. Not recommended for those looking for a completely coherent plot. Mostly it comes down to this; if you want to read a book with middle aged assassins dressed like school boys who think they are the epitome of wit, then jump right on it.
I may have a new rule when reading Valente. First give the book five stars. Then read the awesomeness. Repeat and enjoy. No review...moreFantasy Review Barn
I may have a new rule when reading Valente. First give the book five stars. Then read the awesomeness. Repeat and enjoy. No review I do will ever do justice to her works.
Fairytale deconstruction is hard to do, which is why parody is so much more common. Snow White may be the silliest fairytale I can think of. I am therefore kind of amazed that my favorite deconstruction efforts both deal with Snow White; Neil Gaiman’s short story ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ and this new effort by Valente.
Snow White in this tale is named not for her pure white skin, but rather the skin her stepmother sees as the ideal in beauty. All the elements we know are there, and each is brilliantly redefined. I especially loved how Snow White one-upped the huntsmen, and the reasoning for the step-mother wanting a heart. The magic is very subtle; with only one exception a reader would almost wonder if it is there at all or just the view of the narrator.
I am not a reviewer that spends much time breaking down the authors writing style and prose but I can surely recognize it when it is above the genre’s average. Not as dense as other books by Valente, it never less had a beauty in it’s easy to read style. The voice was a joy to read, both when it was in the first person from Snow White, and a conversationalist third person narrator in the second half. Fast paced and short, this is the type of book I used to read in one sitting (oh to have that kind of time again!)
The genius of Valente is that the book works on two levels. If I was able to find a reader not familiar with Snow White it would STILL be a beautiful little fantasy story with just the right amount of wonder, action, and mystery. The old west backdrop is quickly becoming a favorite fantasy setting for me; I hope more authors jump on this train.
But of course everyone who reads the book is familiar with Snow White, and of course it makes the book that much better. What do you want? I already mentioned the huntsman and step mother. There are also seven dwarfs, strong resilient women with diverse backgrounds who run a town. Prince Charming? Oh, I won’t spoil that one. Kiss to wake a sleeping princess? Got a couple of them, but there is no need for a hero prince here. Valente keeps everything, yet changes it all, without ever taking the easy way out and just mocking the traditional story.
I only had one complaint in the slightly anti climatic ending. The need to wrap everything up added something I am not sure the story needed, but it was short enough to affect my enjoyment not at all. I thought about complaining about how short the story is, but when it did everything it needed to why should I wish for it to be longer?
Am I expecting too much from this series? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of the first book. Dragons in the Napoleonic w...moreFantasy Review Barn
Am I expecting too much from this series? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of the first book. Dragons in the Napoleonic wars just makes so much since. How did this not happen in real life? It certainly should have. The series seems well researched and has the vibe of being intelligent historical fantasy, and yet… And yet I can’t help but feel this has been a bit shallower than I expected, or at least hoped for.
Again the story follows Temeraire and Captain Laurence, this time as they travel to China. The Emperor has learned that a mere soldier is riding around on a Dragon meant for royal hands only, and China wants their dragon back. Going by sea, because going by air would have just been silly, once again half the book meanders along before getting to the main plot (lots of sea travel). Once in China Temeraire learns how other dragons live, Laurence deals with politics and diplomacy, and the whole story is wrapped up with the most simplistic solution in a dragon book possible (outside of a dragon just eating everyone).
I am teased with a deeper book, but the author pulls back. Temeraire sees a slave revolt, then starts looking at his own station in life and making comparisons. Are we going to look a little deeper into the intelligence of dragons and what it means to use them as war engines? No, Temeraire is placated with unspecific promises and lets it sit in the back ground. Later on in China we see a poor dragon that barely earns enough to live. Perhaps a look at the price of freedom for Temeraire to think about? Not really, never thought about again. We also contemplate the lack of speech and its correlation with intelligence after a sea dragon’s attack. Net result? A brooding dragon for a short time, then also forgotten.
Oh yes the ending. Did I mention it was simple? Incredibly simple. The solution to the whole book’s issue came down to “let’s try this, think it will work?, don’t see why not.” And yes, it worked. So they traveled all over the world for a solution that came up in idle conversation.
Ok stop, enough negative. The book was not that bad, I jumped right into the next one to finish of the omnibus. Novik writes very exciting action when she gets to it. Battles are easy to follow with strong visuals; they don’t drag on nor last even a page too long. The battle with the sea serpent was good, a siege later on in the book was even better. There were some interactions between people of different cultures that I also found interesting. Some of the crew had no problem interacting with the strange to them Chinese culture, while others were more reluctant.
Certainly not a bad book and maybe it is even a very good book. It very well may be that my expectations were set for a different book than the author had in mind.
No matter how bad the party, it should be considered rude for a vampire to attack a guest. It is just unlucky to try to feed on a...moreFantasy Review Barn
No matter how bad the party, it should be considered rude for a vampire to attack a guest. It is just unlucky to try to feed on a house guest that has no soul; a too forceful push with Alexia’s parasol and now the party has a dead vampire. Enter BUR investigator Lord Maccon, a werewolf in which Alexia has no spark, romantic interest, or desire to get to know better. No way would these two ever be interested in getting together, after all they have so many differences and it would never work. Just can’t happen, aww, get the idea?
I would have hated this book if at any time the author had ever taken it serious. My lack of history with romance novels (paranormal or otherwise) left me unprepared for the sheer amount of weak knees, neck nibbling, and “I love him I hate him” seen here. But the author really knew how to play it, it was so over the top at times that it made giggle at times, and at others I may have actually blushed. More importantly, I actually began to root for the romance at some point in the story.
Hidden around the romance aspects was a pretty damn good alt-history fantasy. Vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings have actually been accepted into British society. They follow strict rules, do their best to self-police, but also fall under the jurisdiction of the BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry). Alexia is a rare ‘soulless’ being, the natural antithesis to the supernatural. Her mere touch will take the undead back to mortality as long as contact is maintained; in the past people like her acted as hunters of the supernatural. By being involved in the killing of a vampire she is dragged into something deeper; supernaturals are disappearing and no one is sure why.
I am not sure how to describe my feelings about this book. I certainly enjoyed most of it. The light tone never quite entered parody territory, but was still often humorous. Every major character started as a caricature (aloof spinster, manly man werewolf, over the top gay vampire), yet over the course of a short book each was proven to be much more than they seemed. Especially the over the top vampire, who often played to expectations in order to hide in plain sight. The plot was a very over the top as well, with the bad guys being either evil or clueless. Alexia was a fun character, usually independent despite occasionally mooning over Maccon (Not really fair, Alexia is not a mooner, but she does think about him all the time).
The biggest issue I had with the book was the nature of being ‘soulless.’ Why did it prevent Alexia from appreciating art but didn’t seem to affect her emotions? As anti-supernatural device it works, as a state of mind, not so much. The lack of serious nature the book had can only be returned in kind; enjoyable yes, but this is certainly not a book that will stick with me for any length of time. Also, the absolute horror found in the baddies lair doesn’t really fit with the light hearted nature the rest of the book shows, and the characters lack of seriousness while in said house of horrors doesn’t fit at all. And when it is all said and done, half the book is taken up by a completely telegraphed romance with zero real intrigue. With the outcome never really being in doubt, I wanted to start skimming whenever the two were in the room together.
Light hearted, a lot of fun, and at times very witty. The writing is smooth and never clunky, and the pacing is very quick even with the romance due to the banter. But almost nothing in the books needs looking into very deep or it may fall apart. The quasi-science the bad guys were trying to pull went right over my head, and I am not sure it was meant to be dissected at all. If taken for what it is, it can be an enjoyable read.
Johannes Cabal already sold his soul to the devil. He did it years ago, without regret, in order to gain the secrets of necromancy....moreFantasy Review Barn
Johannes Cabal already sold his soul to the devil. He did it years ago, without regret, in order to gain the secrets of necromancy. The problem is he belatedly realized he needs it back. Not because he is worried about his soul, but his experiments just are not working without. So down to hell he travels to get it back. A wager is offered; a wager is accepted. Johannes must round up one hundred souls, signed on the dotted line, to get his own back. He has one year to do it, and a traveling carnival to do it with.
Cabal is not a nice guy. He is not a ‘bad guy’ per say, that would imply caring about others in some way. But if people are in his way, he pushes them out of it. Knowing he needs someone to help him figure out other people, he brings on his brother and the Cabal Bros Carnival is born. Between the two of them a hundred souls may just be doable.
Obviously a mixture between’ Faust’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes,’ the author crafted a very enjoyable tale here. Always a bit tricky to do with an unlikable protagonist, it was Cabal’s path of discovery when it came to basic human nature that drove the story. The writing is above average, and the meta references were subtle enough that they would stand out like a sour thumb if a reader didn’t know the source. While mostly focused on the travels of the carnival a few interesting diversions were included, with a funny little duel with a megalomaniac warlock providing something different.
This is Cabal’s story throughout, though his brother has surprising depth for his low amount of page time. Toward the end an adversary of sorts is added, but he provides us more insight into Cabal than he ever develops as a character. The denizens of hell on the other hand are entertaining throughout. The devil is crafty, but bored in hell. Demons are powerful but petty. And a paperwork queue just to get into hell provided me with laughs more than once. For a book about the collection of souls there is very little soul collection present. We see Cabal work the first stop of his horror show, and from there see almost nothing until the end of the year. I can’t decide if I like this decision or not; on one hand it certainly keeps unnecessary details from turning the book into a slog, on the other the author is clever enough I think I would have enjoyed seeing how some of the rubes were tricked.
Cabal is a clever man throughout, and occasionally even becomes likable, so I found myself rooting for him by the end. When he does something truly horrible, it actually shocked. It also led to an ending as good as anything I could have hoped for. Some parts were foreshadowed fairly heavy for the reader, but I think most will still find a few surprises.
This was a quick read, and not a deep read. But it was a very entertaining read by an above average writer. It works just fine as a stand-alone, though it does have two sequels at the time of this review. Strangely enough, the second book seems to be in steampunk style, which was not seen at all in this book. Huh, guess I will find out eventually.
This review may contain minor spoilers. Couldn’t express my thoughts without them. Sorry.
Well I finished this book. I am not sure why I was so determined to do so; I guess the short length played a part in it, and a hatred of not knowing how a story ends played its part to. I knew the book wasn’t for me, but I kept reading thinking that maybe, despite that, there was something to the book anyway. I don’t really think there was, the book will fill a niche for some paranormal romance fans I am sure, but there is no crossover here for other steampunk fans to latch on to.
The same common steampunk setting we have seen before; the Victorian age continues onward but with airships! There is the requisite magic, with some mumbo jumbo about powers of light and shadow explaining it. Warlocks are the fantasy mages, while alchemist’ are more sciencey(once again microsoft, it is a word if I say it is!) practitioners of magic. There are also vampires in the mix, though they have zero real purpose. And there is a battle going on between all of them.
Elle Chance is a plucky redhead, and she is a feminist! I mean, she is a suffragist and flies an airship despite her families misgivings and everything. She says things like ‘I don’t see why we should wait around for some hero on a white horse to help us.” Ya, she needs help from no one. She is called in to fly a cargo for a man called March, and he is a jerk. Doesn’t like the suffragist movement at all. He is kinda hot though, no, don’t think about that. And mysterious, and, NO! Stop thinking like that.
The problems with this book stop and end with Elle, who I never bought her as a character. She is never once in control of her situation, bouncing around the plot as other characters need her. Even her big awesome ‘save herself’ finish was the result of age old powers awakening, not a talent or plan she used. She acts tough; once refusing to do anything else unless she gets the whole story, but choosing to do what Marsh wanted anyway. And when Marsh threatens to kidnap her and keep her locked up forever, she is pining the way she treated him to get away within a few chapters; after all, he has such a tragic back story!
I lied, there are problems with the book other than Elle. Marsh goes from loyal to his guild to realizing his love and saying ‘screw them’ in record time. A villain knows his adversary is in the room during the big finish, and lets them hold an extremely long planning conversation before looking for them. There are lines like ‘What we need is another Oracle. That’s what we need.’ That line is well after it is established that EVERYONE knows another oracle is needed. There is Marsh deciding to leave Elle and checking why a train has stopped, when their adversary was seen on the stations docking platform. Really? Why do you think the train stopped?
Part of my dislike of this book is definitely stemmed in the fact that I dislike romance of this variety. Back in forth ‘I hate you, I might love you’ thinking does nothing for me. I can’t speak for normal paranormal romance fans in this regard. But there are so many inconsistencies in the story, so many elements added that don’t affect the plot, and so many characters that defy logic. I have to assume people would rather read a book where the main character has some agency.
2 stars. I won’t go lower because there was obviously enough there for me to finish reading, and I can’t really judge it to other paranormal romance due to reading so little of the genre.
Reading copy provided by publisher.
Note: According to the author the American review copy contains several lines that were changed and some editing that changed the timeline. Therefore the quotes I added may not show in the final copy. I will not be rereading the book to check on that.
Note 2: I will withdraw this if someone prove me wrong, but for a book with a declared ‘feminist’ as a main character, I do not even think it passes the Bechdal test. I can’t recall any conversation between Elle and another female in which she wasn’t discussing one of the men around her. (less)
“It’s been proven by all the sciences, m’boy-biolgoy, alienism, phrenology.”
Westerns and fantasy work surprising well together I am finding. ‘Territory’ by Emma Bull, ‘Half-Made World’ by Felix Gilman, even ‘Red Country’ by Abercrombie are all solid tales with a western vibe. Add ‘The Six-Gun Tarot’ to that list.
Golgotha, Nevada is a strange little cattle town whose inhabitants do their best to live normal lives. Sure they have a sheriff who may be immortal or already dead. There may or may not have been a run of rats that went on two legs a few years back. And no one really talks about the run of critters around town whom had all their blood drained overnight. But despite that, they live normal lives.
Into this town comes Jim, on the run from Kentucky, rescued from the 40-mile desert by Mutt, the town’s deputy. Almost immediately things start happening, again. A raving man in the general store is only the start of a crazy turn for the town, a showdown of a battle that has been waged since the beginning of time. Enter a crazed preacher, a bar owner who is way more than he seems, a direct descendent of Lilith, and a Cthulhu like creature.
A lot of debate over what to classify this book is already threatening to take over conversations. Western fantasy works for me, though there are some steampunk and horror elements. There is a lot going on in this book. In the big picture, there is a mostly Christian mythos mixed with other religious beliefs (like many in fantasy, belief lends itself to reality in this world). A battle that started with the phrase “let there be light,” and it leads a different view to the fall of Lucifer as well. But the book really shines in the smaller picture, remembering the importance of the town people’s relationships, and never letting the larger story overtake that.
The biggest issue I had with this book was the handling of the first character we meet, Jim. Most of his story was entertaining and worked well. But his part to play in the final showdown was the most unexplainable. Through an artifact of his fathers he had some major power, but the earlier limits on that power just went away in the showdown. The book also left the Chinese in town completely underdeveloped. Some credit for not ignoring a large immigrant population in this work based on actual history, but there is no sense that he ever knew how to tie them into this story. The connection Jim has with them through his late-father’s artifact is dubious, at least to me. A couple real minor problems; a few chapters jumped between characters thoughts in confusing ways, and it is strange the way everyone in town came up with the same name for people with a specific ailment so quickly and independently of each other.
A few things that could bug some readers, but worked well for me. Almost every character had something supernatural about them, in a land where magic isn’t an everyday thing. This didn’t bother me much though, as Golgotha was obviously a town that would draw power like this. Maude is set up to be unbelievably powerful, but it wasn’t ever really a problem because the author didn’t abuse it. A lot of flashbacks are present, some not completely relevant to the main story, but most showed insight into one of the many characters.
There were very few ‘real world’ references outside of the now over civil war and a passing reference to the Ghost Dance movement. I was forced to look something up when a line rang false, but learned that while most Mormon temples don’t have crosses on them, a small number did. So the author’s was right on this one, and no gotcha moment was to be had (damn, love gotchas).
The story was great, entertaining throughout. The characters were realistic, a very diverse cast with some amazing relationships between them. The town felt alive and real. I love the visuals of the mythology, from Christian Angels to the Coyote spirit (though it, like the Chinese part in the story, was seriously underdeveloped). There was a strong conclusion (minus Jim’s part in it), but there is enough left to this town that a sequel seems like a real possibility.
4 stars. I have no problems recommending this book to almost anyone. (less)
Another example of me finding a book that it feels everyone else already knew about, raved about, and left me wonde...moreFirst posted at Fantasy Review Barn
Another example of me finding a book that it feels everyone else already knew about, raved about, and left me wondering why the hell I have not read it before. ‘The Curse of Chalion’ is my first reading of Bujold, but will certainly not be my last. Here is an author who knows how to play with pacing, keeping the duller times in the character’s lives interesting somehow, but providing occasional action scenes that don’t lack either. Even better in my mind, the very strong pacing and plot is outdone by the strength of the characters.
There really isn’t much the author didn’t do just right in this book. The book is the story of Cazaril, former soldier, former rower on a slave ship, and at the start of the book, a penniless man hoping to beg a job from a family he served earlier in life. Hoping for any job at all, he is surprised to be offered a job as secretary/tutor to Royesse Iselle, second in line to the throne. Doing his best to remain inconspicuous, he finds himself dragged into the political arena. Even worse, he becomes aware of a curse hanging over the whole family, and may be the only one who can remove it.
While the titled curse could be considered the main plot line of the book, it is but one important thread followed throughout the story. Equally important is Cazaril coming to terms with his importance, Iselle working hard to make her own path, and a decent game of political maneuvering that affects everyone in the family. Throughout the entire story the religion plays a strong part, with ample proof that the five worshipped gods are real and active, though they are in no way omnipotent. I am personally a big fan of well-crafted religious stories, which is one more plus for this book in my mind.
The books biggest strengths of the book is the characters. Being the story of Cazaril, the narrative never leaves him, a rare third person narrative with only one POV. Sold out before the story began, he was not ransomed at the end of a long siege and was hardened by his time as a slave. He may seem too good to be true in some cases, but for the most part he is a reasonable portrait of a man who wants to be a good man, and whose actions reflect that. He excels at a great many things, but has some noticeable failures as well, keeping him away from the Gary Stu territory. Iselle is likewise a wonderful character. She shows signs of spoiled princess early, but it is quickly shown that that is only the case if a person goes in with preconceived notions. In reality she is very intelligent, with a desire to learn more. She has some of the rashness of youth, which leads to some hard moments for Cazaril. When she decides to take her life’s direction into her own hands she does so with quick decision making backed by strong research. I loved her throughout the book. Another example of a well done character is Iselle’s companion, Betriz. She has many strengths, but the reason I point her out is how well she worked as a love interest. When rejected she acted realistically; that is with disappointment but not falling into grief. (Teen fantasy is often criticized for lots of true-love angst, but I have found a lot of adult fantasy falling down the same hole, which is why this is so refreshing to see). The books main villain may have seemed a bit too evil, but the curse realistically shows some of the reasons why. And though he may be evil, he is just as smart and calculating as Cazaril.
I also found the pacing and writing style to be very well done. Not a lot of extra flourish, and by sticking with one character it was one long transition between scenes. Only a few minor nitpicks here. Not an action book, the action scenes did lack for some excitement, but luckily were not the core of the book so it mattered very little. Travel was also inconsistent, with some journeys taking an appropriate amount of time, while others went so fast it made the land seem like it was only a hundred miles across.
It would be hard to talk about the politics or religion without spoilers, so I only point out that both were done well. The politics were a bit simplistic, and there were some things that seemed like coincidences that may throw some readers off. But the influence of the gods is constant, with some of the coincidences being literal dues ex machina. This may be the best made up religion I have read about since ‘Firethorn.’
So, good strong story, great characters, interesting religion, simple but entertaining politics. The only flaw I really saw was in fairly weak action sequences, which were not even the point of the story.
A series I had my eye on for quite some time, ‘Obsidian and Blood’ intimidated me at first. It looked to be right up my alley, but I...moreFirst posted here
A series I had my eye on for quite some time, ‘Obsidian and Blood’ intimidated me at first. It looked to be right up my alley, but I wondered if I would get lost in a world based around the ancient America’s, of which I have very little knowledge. I feared getting lost in the names, lost in the mythos, and feared the book would turn into a giant research project if I wanted to follow the story. My fears were unjustified; the book is a well-crafted, well contained story. I have mentioned it before, the books are surprisingly accessible, and at no point did I lose myself in the names.
What is the series about? In short it is the story of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in pre-colonization Tenochtitlan. His duties are usually about ushering the dead to his master Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death. But due to his position, he often spends time investigating deaths that affect the boundaries that keep the world safe. The stories are told in first person from Acatl’s point of view, and his travels take him all around the capital. Although these are obviously historical fantasy, in many ways they read like urban fantasy detective novels. Our protagonist interviews witnesses, fights little political battles with his superiors, and races against time to bring justice and/or save the world.
The world building is superb. Gods in this world are real and active participants, several times Acatl is forced to talk to one or more of them. Blood sacrifice is a way of life. There is no modern spin put on the realities of this world, sacrifice is necessary and there are no qualms. It would soon seem out of place if Acatl didn’t use worship thorns to get blood from his ear. The state of the supernatural is revealed as needed, without annoying info dumps, so that a reader will quickly understand recurring details such as the fifth world is under the protection of the Southern Hummingbird, and what is needed to keep it so.
The author’s writing is a no frills style that may not appeal to everyone, but may be part of the accessibility of the book. I hate to call the books easy to read, because that seems to denote simplicity and lack of intelligence, which simply is not the case. But it is true that de Bodard is not trying to be a wordsmith here, the economy of words keeps the pacing brisk and entertaining. Perhaps it was the easy read style that allowed me to keep track of the characters so well. I never had to go back to find who a character was, or which god they attended, or even what that god represented.
The characters in the book were both good and bad. Acatl really grows through the series, from a brooding man who is almost ashamed of his position to a very competent High Priest. His student Teomitl on the other hand was a single not player for most the series. His devotion to Acatl doesn’t really fit with his pride and stubborn nature. The Reverand Speaker was almost cartoonish incompetent. But to counteract that several of the High Priests Acatl is forced to play politics with are fiendishly clever and fun to read. Only a few female characters, but with a couple of strengths. Ceyaxochitl was a master of politics, and a strong ally to Acatl. Mihmatini quickly fit into her role as a Guardian. A couple others seemed to exist only to give cryptic messages. All forgivable in a very obviously patriarchal society, the interactions stayed realistic.
I only had a few issues with the books. The main one came toward the end of the third book when we once again followed Acatl on a long runaround between witnesses. I know it is a staple of the mystery genre, but after three books it grew tiring. Just once I wanted a witness to reveal all the information, especially when they had nothing to hide. There were also a couple of convenient “cryptic warnings.” I also felt the second book got carried away with the magic. Hard to describe, but it felt like a TV medical drama at times, with “ok this spell didn’t work, so let’s try this one.” Lastly, if a reader picks up the series in omnibus form, skip to the short stories at the end and read them first. Several of Acatl’s relations are explained that would have been nice in the first book especially.
Obviously, the strengths of the series far out did the problems for me, and I enjoyed the series a lot. I would recommend to many fantasy lovers. The historical setting and interactions with gods give the series an epic feeling, but the detective style will appeal to many lovers of urban fantasy.
Though I will try to avoid it, this review may contain minor spoilers from ‘The Half-Made World.’
‘The Half-Made World’ was one of the...moreFirst posted here
Though I will try to avoid it, this review may contain minor spoilers from ‘The Half-Made World.’
‘The Half-Made World’ was one of the best books I read last year. Almost impossible to put in a category, it mixed the fantasy and western genres almost perfectly, with a touch of steampunk. Gilman did so many things right in that novel, but ended it almost abruptly, leaving fans like me desperately hoping for a sequel. Obviously we got one, but perhaps not the one we hoped for. Rather than follow the main characters from ‘Half-Made World’, Liv and Creedmoor, the ‘Rise of Ransom City’ is the story of one man, the Professor Harry Ransom. Do we get a resolution from ‘Half-Made World’? Kind of, but perhaps not the one readers were looking for. It didn’t end up mattering to me though, as ‘The Rise of Ransom City’ is another great book, and fans should not be disappointed.
‘The Half-Made World’ was about a pseudo American West that was still fuzzy around the edges, almost as if an artist was drawing it from the inside out. It followed Liv out west as she searched for a man who held the secret of a great weapon in his head(though an injury left him without memory of anything at all). The weapon was thought to be able to finally take down the two supernatural entities that are warring over the new lands. One is The Line, intelligent train engines who run an almost hive mind society, the ultimate of an industrial dystopia(hasn't this term been around long enough for a spellchecker to recognize it?). The Second is The Gun, larger than life outlaw figures under a pseudo-control of individual daemons. The book ended without the characters ever really finding out if the weapon was workable or not.
While it’s predecessor followed three main characters, ‘The Rise of Ransom City’ is an edited memoir written by Harry Ransom himself. This is a man who several times changed the history of the land, at least according to himself. The ‘creator’ of the Ransom Process, his memoirs show his rise and fall while he tries to bring his process to the world. Along the way he runs into Liv and Creedmoor(an agent of The Gun in the first outing), tying the book nicely to HMW without actually following the same characters. The voice of Harry Ransom is a treat. A completely unreliable narrator, he also isn’t much of a writer. Often times details are given out of order, he talks about things he is sure he has pointed out before, and has to backtrack to give details. Gilman had to have had a blast writing this, I can picture him giggling madly as he tosses in a double negative, because it would be completely natural for his character. Because the entire story is coming from Ransom, some scenes have sketchier details than others, and some are nothing more than assumptions that Ransom makes. Though he tries to point out when he is only guessing at conversations, it gives the reader knowledge that nothing he says can ever be taken purely at face value. Readers will also never know what kind of details they are going to get. Some very important events will be glossed over quickly, some minor characters will get pages written about them. This would have driven me crazy if written from the third person, but feels natural coming from a memoir.
Ransom’s story is quite an interesting one. From his early childhood that influences his feelings on The Line, to his traveling days, to his ascension to one of the best known men in the West, his life is never boring. Like all larger than life figures, sometimes he is in the middle of important events, even in control of them. Other times he is a bit player in them who gets too much credit(or blame). And sometimes, he is nowhere near the events he has attributed to him. It all feels very authentic, as many larger than life personalities of the Old West were a product of dime novels more than their actual deeds.
Plotting is harder to rate in this one. Much of it reads as a travel memoir, as Ransom describes places and people he meets along the way(even two horses get part of a chapter). Ransom and his assistant Mr. Caver try to sell this new process(and I am being intentionally vague about what the process is, because the author keeps it that way). Eventually a major event comes along, in which Ransom learns a little more about what his Process is capable of, but even that doesn’t escalate the tension. Instead the pacing stays slow and steady. I don’t want to imply that nothing happens, because there are some exciting confrontations with various enemies from The Line and The Gun. But Ransom’s writing style is such that they are sometimes highlighted and sometimes dealt with briefly. I personally felt the pace of the plot fit the writing style perfectly, but if someone hears ‘western’ and goes looking for a shoot-em-up, they will be disappointed.
Being the story of Ransom, who was a great character, there is less to say about secondary characters in this one. His assistant Mr Carver is present for much of the book, but never really picks up a personality (other than strong and silent). Liv and Creedmoor show up from the first book, and while events in this one give some closure to the first outing, nothing really new is learned about them. Rival/Possible love interest Adela could be interesting, but we learn what Ransom knows about her is as unreliable as what we learn about him. It all worked for me though, showing that to Ransom, his story is the one that needs to be told.
The story ends in many ways like the first, with most of the plot lines tied up, but with one major thread left completely open. And like the first, it is open in a way that could show up in a future book, or could leave the reader forever unaware of how things really end.
Another great book from Gilman, and I do hope for another book in this world. Personally the best part was Ransom's voice, and I liked it so much I could overlook the slower pacing.
Third, and currently last, in the series, Master of the House of Darts once again follows Acatl as he investigates threats to the emp...moreFirst posted here
Third, and currently last, in the series, Master of the House of Darts once again follows Acatl as he investigates threats to the empire, and the mortal world itself. A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the series. Acatl is the High Priest for the Dead, who in his duties of ushering the dead to his master also does his best to keep people from messing with the boundaries that protect the world. Magic is real, gods are accessible (on their own terms of coarse), and blood fuels many things. Told in the first person, the book follows Acatl in his investigations.
Building off events of the second book, we learn that the coronation war for the new Reverend Speaker Tizoc-tzin was a disaster, not bringing in near enough captives for sacrifice. The Reverend Speaker is a weak, paranoid man, yet his coronation necessary to keep the boundaries safe. Thus matters are made worse during the celebration, when one of the captives falls to a illness. Tizoc-tzin sees it as a slight at best, a plot at worst, and Acatl is called in to investigate. He once again face hostile witnesses, political infighting, and magical enemies. Worst of all, some of the blame for the sickness may fall in his own lap.
Personally, I found this to be the best book of a very good series. The same positives from the first two books are still present, a very easy to read writing style(easy to read but not simple or dumbed down), a quick pace, and some incredible world building, incredible accessibility despite the lesser know pantheon and names. Even though the second book dealt with a possible end to the world, Master of the House of Darts took a similar fate and did it better. Perhaps this was because in many ways it felt more like a fantasy book than a mystery book, which lends itself better to the "save the world" type story. The magic felt more organic here, it was never used as a crutch, or perhaps it was just better explained. There was a bit less traveling this time around, which also led to a tighter story. The ending involved several confrontations that were tense and believable, including some between people who are supposed to be allies
Perhaps it is because I am more familiar with the characters three books in, but I felt several were seen at their best in this book. Acatl continues to build on his improvements from the second book, and is now more secure with his place than ever. Which is good, because as usual he is surrounded by people who are only friends if it helps their own cause. Nezahaul-tzin is back from the second book, still infuriating Acatl, but still helping in small ways. I have grown to enjoy any chapters with Acamapichtli, one time enemy of Acatl, whose master of political manners are in direct contrast to Acatl, who finds the politicizing to be the worst part of his job. Mihmatini, Acatl's sister, has a larger presence in this book, and makes the most of it. She is one of the most resourceful characters in the book.
The book is at its' weakest when it is following conventions of the mystery genre. Constant dead ends in the investigation have started to get repetitive after three books. The "cryptic message" trope is also overused. Is there any reason that not one person cooperates fully with Acatl? Especially those innocent of wrong doing? But as this book is more focused on the weakening of the boundaries, this is a minor squabble at most.
There was also one plot point that seemed to rely on knowledge that I am not privy too. It was brought up that Acatl's order was forced to expel many of the female followers, making it currently an all male priesthood. I know there were several short stories published before the novels, and wonder if the details are are in one of them.
Harbinger of the Storm is the second book in the Obsidian and Blood series, and is an very good continuation of the series. For those unfamiliar, the...moreHarbinger of the Storm is the second book in the Obsidian and Blood series, and is an very good continuation of the series. For those unfamiliar, the series is a historical fantasy set in the Aztec Empire, an empire where magic is everywhere and common, and where the gods have an active part in life. It is also a series of murder mystery, but with magic. Like the first book, the story is told in first person from the point of view of Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead. Where the first book was at its core a murder mystery, the second book ups the stakes to the fate of the world itself.
Like the first book this novel is surprisingly accessible. My knowledge of Aztec mythology is minimal, yet I never lost track of the deities or their corresponding priests. The author is very good at dropping just enough information to keep you from getting lost, without ever slowing the story down with it. Pacing is important to me, and this is another strength. Acatl starts off investigating a grisly murder, and quickly gets involved in something much larger. Escalating amounts of danger, more and more politics, and a showdown with a couple gods follow.
While I enjoyed this novel a lot, I struggled with the magic system a bit more this time around. In a land where gods play an active part it is hard to criticize the pure amount of magic that affected the characters, but at times it overwhelmed everything else. Example, while the world was coming down in the form of star daemons, Acatl and others conveniently find a loophole in a ceremony to replace a necessary Priestess who can slow the damage.
The world is just as brutal as before, with sacrifice being a necessary part of life. Some gods required certain animals, some human, and almost all spells require some kind of blood immediately at hand(Acatl is described cutting his earlobe numerous times). There is no modern morality spin on this, the gods require blood and it is never second guessed.
I enjoyed Acatl's voice a lot more this time around, the brooding inferiority complex is mostly gone. I was hoping for more grown from his apprentice, Teomitl, who remained a brash, impulsive young noble. I was also surprised by the complete disappearance of women characters. The first book had a couple of strong women who did all they could to influence events, despite the patriarchal society. In Harbinger I counted three females, none who had a any real influence on the story.
Pros: As easy to read as dime store paperback murder mystery, but a lot more intelligent. A very interesting main character, and a nice blend of building on the story, while keeping it contained in one book.
Cons: The magic got overwhelming, and Acatl made is discoveries at just the right time a bit too much this time around.
Surprisingly accessible, despite dealing with a lesser known pantheon of gods. A first person murder mystery that morphs into a fuller story. The main...moreSurprisingly accessible, despite dealing with a lesser known pantheon of gods. A first person murder mystery that morphs into a fuller story. The main character broods a bit too much on his past, but is likable, and has realistic interactions, both with mortals and gods(Gods are real, and part of the world here). The supporting characters are fleshed out, with their own stories in the background.
Politics are interesting, as is the use of religion. The author makes zero attempt to cover up the brutality of the religion, nor is there any attempt to put a western morality spin on it, sacrifice is part of the world, period.
Few complaints. Use of a modern idiom stuck out(but only once), and a semi-let down when it came to the reasoning behind the main characters brooding.
Quick paced, fun, well researched(or faked well), and completely unique. Recommended, and here is hoping the next two books in the series are just as enjoyable. (less)
I hate to say it, but maybe it is time Pratchett leaves Diskworld behind(much as I hope for one more trip with the witches of Lancre). If he keeps wri...moreI hate to say it, but maybe it is time Pratchett leaves Diskworld behind(much as I hope for one more trip with the witches of Lancre). If he keeps writing quality entertainment like this I will forgive him completely.
Hard to put in a category, but as the author calls it Historical Fantasy in the afterword, that is good enough for me. Follows the title character who early on rescues a women from a bad situation, then does his best to keep her safe. As is the norm for this type of book, meets lots of historical persons, some easily recognized, some requiring Google to know.
The title characters is easy to relate to and a lot of fun, damsel in distress doesn't have a large enough role, but eventually proves to be more than a damsel in distress. The main villain is a smart turn for readers, but also isn't fleshed out enough for my liking.
Some humor, but without the constant side-notes typical of Pratchett(with a few well placed exceptions).
Highly recommended(skip the last few Diskworld novels if you must).
Quite fun. Ever read a Christopher Moore book, laugh all the way through, reached the final couple chapters, and prepared your self for a rushed and c...moreQuite fun. Ever read a Christopher Moore book, laugh all the way through, reached the final couple chapters, and prepared your self for a rushed and confusing ending? Abnett is like that, but with an ending that doesn't suck! (Honestly, this is the guy best know for Warhammer books?)
This is an alternative British history in which the Renaissance produced not a scientific revolution, but rather a magical one. In it, our hero, discoverer of The Beach(Australia) finds himself in the middle of a plot against country and queen.
Allusions to the Princess Bride, Clint Eastwood, and countless others galore, the references were not so contemporary as to fall flat.
Truly a funny book, fans of Pratchett or Moore should read this. Even the chapter titles are funny(such as when the author starts to lose tract of them).
Every few months the book American Gods comes up in conversation, and people seem to love it or hate it. While there are some compl...moreFantasy Review Barn
Every few months the book American Gods comes up in conversation, and people seem to love it or hate it. While there are some complaints that have validity(Protagonist is lifeless, and others) the most common one is that "the book just doesn't go anywhere." I only bring that up, because I just KNOW I will be having the same arguments with someone over this book, which assuredly will stay at the top of fantasy reading lists for some time.
This is not an action book, but plenty is happening. In an English world that is almost identical to our own, magic used to be commonplace. This is the story of two men who bring it back, and the consequences brought on by one particular early spell cast by the master, Nr. Norrell.
We meet fairies, magicians, historical figures(hello Duke of Wellington). We follow the war vs Napoleon. But really the book is about the relationship between the only two practical magicians.
The author's writing style is what really stands out. Comments to the readers, footnotes(often with "facts" that really only fit this world), subtle humor(the entire introduction the character of Mr Norrel was amazing), all make this very long read stay fresh through out.
The only real complaints I have is so much time was spent on some secondary characters. I feel I should be interested in their story, but they are so over shadowed by the title characters, and they really seem to have no outcome on the rest of the story, that I wonder if I would skim their chapters in a reread. Oh, and Childermass needed a much bigger role.
On last note, if your reading this on a Kindle be warned, footnotes suck if you don't have a touch screen. Got used to it after a while, but rough going early on.(less)
Oh friggen sweet. Ok, so here’s how it is. This stuffy British sea captain wipes the deck with a frenchie ship (ha, wipes the deck)...moreFantasy Review Barn
Oh friggen sweet. Ok, so here’s how it is. This stuffy British sea captain wipes the deck with a frenchie ship (ha, wipes the deck). When they take control of the ship it has this giant egg on it, because it turns out there are dragons. This egg is about to hatch so he makes his crew draw straws on who is going to be its best bud because these crazy people don’t want their very own dragon and it is a punishment or something. But when the egg hatchets and the loser kid tries to talk with him the dragon is like, oh hell no I ain’t running with no lackey, where is the big dog on this boat? He finds the captain and talks to him in perfect English saying, you and me man.
So Captain Laurence has this dragon, and doesn’t know what to name him, so he calls him Temeraire after some lame ship or something. And the dragon is really smart, but because they are new they have to go off and train on how to be a useful in a fight. Which is awesome, because I totally read all the Pern books and those dragons NEVER fought, they just flew around people and shot falling strings out of the sky. But in this book Europe is at some war between the English and the French, and they totally load the dragons up with gunmen and bombs and attack ships and other dragons with them.
So here I am, all psyched out because Laurence keeps telling Temeraire about all these dragon battles, but the first two thirds of the book are about training. Laurence is a Navy man, and he knows he is so much better than the hippies in the air corp, so he spends his time showing them how to be more duty bound and clean cut and the right way to do things. It is okay though, he doesn’t always know what’s right, and sometimes other people have to call him out on it. Like when he is shocked to see girls with dragons too. Sure there wasn’t much fighting, but I guess I can reluctantly admit I was interested never less, because I am kinda a softy and Laurence and Temeraire are getting tight together.
Then bam, they get a mission. And this Napoleon dude is craftier than people think, and he totally tricks everyone and now it’s up to the dragons to save the day, including Temeraire even though he isn’t trained all the way. And it is exciting, and I can feel the tension and hear the rifles and everything else I want in a battle. There are different kinds of dragons doing different things, and Laurence thinks of them as ships and so he comes up with strategies no else thought of. It was awesome.
I got bummed a little though, because Laurance was such a stuffy pants he was boring sometimes. And it was weird how he was such a bad judge of character and so hoity toity but people still thought he was cool, even the people who didn’t like him change their mind. And as cool as it was, sometimes my brain hurt when I tried to figure out stuff like how they could hold normal conversations while flying through the air and how people could hold so steady when riding a giant flapping animal and how many cows does a dragon have to eat a day and where do they all come from?
I really like Kate Elliot. I raved about her ‘Crossroads’ trilogy. She is a great world builder (her blog is titled ‘I Make up Worl...moreFantasy Review Barn
I really like Kate Elliot. I raved about her ‘Crossroads’ trilogy. She is a great world builder (her blog is titled ‘I Make up Worlds’), has always shown interesting characters, and usually her writing quickly draws me in and keeps hold of me. I have had this series on my to-read list for way to long, but finally I got to it. To my complete surprise, and eventual disappointment, the book left me a little cold.
In typical Elliot fashion the world building shows a lot of promise. An alternate history that is a little hard to explain. Rome kept some power, the Phoenicians built a fairly strong sea-trading empire, Mali was a power before disaster forced a mass exodus into Europe. There is a mix of steampunk technology along with mage houses acting as focal points of power. I could probably read an entire faux history book on this alternative world. A lot of questions are left on the table, even the map doesn’t show where a lot of the lands I wonder about are. More than anything else, it was this world building that left me hoping for more, and was strong enough for me to know I will continue the series no matter what.
It was a good thing I was so intrigued by the world building, because the story itself did nothing for me. I have read a lot of ‘first books’ in trilogies, but rarely have I seen one in which so little is resolved. A great many plot points are brought up, but very few go anywhere. A Roman infiltrator in the girl’s school, what power does Rome still have? Why was he at the school? No hints given. A book Cat learns is a code book, what is it for? Who knows? Certainly not the reader. Why is everyone so interested in dreams with dragons? More questions than answers in almost every thread of the plot. When Cat breaks through to the spirit world I don’t know why, nor what is important about it. At least twice her mystical, previously unknown brother disappears, both times she broods on what might have been. I just found myself caring very little. The magic system gives nothing, I still don’t really know much about the cold mages themselves, and even less about the meager magic Cat wields
I also wasn’t too fond of Cat as a main character. The brooding over her brother when his disappears is only the beginning. She has a strange fascination with Andevai, even when he is basically kidnaps her from home. She is semi resourceful, but most of her good breaks are luck rather than her own doing. Ironically villain Andevai worked much better as a character for me, torn between who he is and who he wants to be, loyalty to his house verse loyalty to his family. His set up is great, initially a cold villain, growing into a more human character. Cat’s cousin Bee was also very entertaining, knowledgeable in reading people and playing off their expectations of her. There were other characters, but I have already forgotten most of them as well.
This is a fairly disjointed review, but I have rarely been so conflicted about a book. I finished it last night and while the world building stands out in my mind still, I feel I would need cliff notes to remember the plot. I tried twice to write a quick synopsis at the beginning and gave up.
3 stars, because it was just good enough to make me hope the sum of all parts will make the series better than the first book. (less)