“A stunning conclusion to the Broken Empire Trilogy. Easily one of the best books of 2013 – and a book that’s well worth the wait.” ~The Founding Fields
If I had to make a most anticipated list of Novels coming out this year, Emperor of Thorns would be in the Top 5, there’s no question about it. Mark Lawrence really impressed me with the first two books in the trilogy, both of which I own in hardback – so that I knew that Emperor of Thorns was always going to be a release day-buy for me. This will explain why I was so happy when I was able to get an Advanced Review Copy, so I’d like to start this review with a massive thank you to the kind folks over at Harper Voyager, and the author himself, so we could work something out. And does the book live up to my expectations? Oh, hell yes. It’s easily one of the best novels of the year, and with a year of some excellent books and we’re just over halfway through, that’s certainly saying something.
"To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.
The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Don’t think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.
Follow me, and I will break your heart."
This is it, then. The last adventures of Jorg. Whilst I’m somewhat sad that there won’t be any more Broken Empire novels, as noted by the author himself, prequels or otherwise, it’s probably best that it ends at Book 3 rather than becoming an over-bloated series that readers quickly start to lose interest in the longer it goes. However, there is also the danger of a fantasy trilogy ending ‘too soon’ if you get what I mean. But thankfully, Lawrence brings it all to the table with a satisfying conclusion (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it), that really brings an end to this epic tale that will most surely be among the best fantasy works that I’ll read. I loved this trilogy, and I think with each instalment, it just gets better and better.
Emperor of ThornsJorg’s character growth is incredible. He’s a rather unique main character for a story, often coming across as more of a downright villain than an anti-hero, and indeed – written by almost any other author, he would be. But the character himself is still as awesome as ever, and if you’ve enjoyed the last two books – then that’s what you should come to expect. It’s a strong, epic conclusion to the trilogy that really pulls out all the punches, where nobody is safe – and as we’re now all used to the major game players involved, Lawrence can waste no time with setting up future events (of course, no time was wasted setting up future events in the previous books as well), and instead create a compelling story that will draw the reader in, and not let up with the breakneck pace that this book moves along at.
The author’s characters are well created, complex and far from the standard one-dimensional ones that litter poor novels. You’re not going to forget any of them in a hurry, and neither are you to forget The Broken Empire Trilogy anytime soon. It’s immense. Unpredictable. Captivating. A fitting conclusion. However you want to put it, the last adventure of Jorg of Ancrath is his best outing yet. Over the course of the trilogy, Lawrence has made himself a name to watch in fantasy, up there with the likes of Peter V. Brett, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie & George RR Martin. I can’t wait to see what he throws at the reader next, but it’s one that I’ll certainly be on board for.
THE BROKEN EMPIRE TRILOGY: Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns ...more
“An excellent novel that should please fans of the Broken Empire Trilogy and newcomers to Mark Lawrence’s work alike. You really should check this out.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.
After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.
I really enjoyed the debut trilogy by Mark Lawrence, his Broken Empire novels – and was really looking forward to see where he would take Prince of Fools, the start of The Red Queen’s War series – and thankfully, he didn’t disappoint, with this novel serving to be another strong contender for the most enjoyable books of 2014 – with a confident narrative that doesn’t disappoint.
Prince-of-FoolsWith the return to the world of the Broken Empire, Lawrence instead shifts his focus to a prince with slightly less ambitions than Jorg Ancrath – Jalan Kendeth, a grandson of the Red Queen, who is one of the most dreaded rulers of the Broken Empire – and has been at war since she was crowned. However, Jalan is completely unlike his ancestor – a drinker, gambler and womanizer, and a far different character to Jorg. He’s tenth in line to the Throne, but unlike most members of the Monarchy in fantasy series – is content with what he’s been given.
Jalan is a character that undergoes a lot of growth over the course of this novel, and the fun is in witnessing his transformation. He joins up with a Norse Warrior after escaping a death trap set by the mysterious Silent Sister, the Red Queen’s Greatest Weapon – and sets on a journey across the Broken Empire. The Norse Warrior is called Snorri, and acts as a good companion to Jal’s endeavours. As before, the book is told in first person – and we get to see Jalan’s growth the most of all. He’s a very different character to Jorg the more we learn more about him – and it’s great to see that we haven’t simply been giving a carbon copy. He’s flawed, but has a level of morality and loyalty that don’t make him completely despicable – and serves as a powerful lead character who carries the narrative well.
The book serves as more of a straightforward fantasy read than the previous trilogy, but balances a strong element of horror to keep a fresh feeling. At the same time, the plot manages to be great, well balanced and action packed – with there never being a dull moment, with a greater exploration of the Broken Empire in a way that can appeal to both newcomers to Lawrence’s works as well as old ones – if you want to jump in here then this is as good chance to get involved as any.
If The Broken Empire was an epic, conquest-driven series, The Red Queen’s War is shaping up to be focused more on the characters – both Jalan and Snorri get developed very well and it’s interesting to see their journeys throughought the book. The interaction between the two characters is great to read as well, with some strong dialogue pulled off by Lawrence.
Fans of the previous Trilogy will no doubt be already up for buying this book, but it’s newcomer friendly and easily accessible. It’s powerful, entertaining and deeply engrossing – and comes highly recommended. When this book hits, if you don’t have it preordered already, you’ll want to go and grab this one as soon as you possibly can.
“An excellent novel – Charlie Fletcher has certainly crafted one of the better reads of 2014 so far. If you’re a fan of the likes of Neil Gaiman or China Mieville then this is a must read – and with some fascinating prose, this is something that you won’t want to miss.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side.
Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand.
When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight’s London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled – but the girl is a trap.
As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow.
This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all."
I was first drawn to this book when I saw it compared to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and as that is my favourite all-time book, I thought I’d give it a shot, and thankfully, I was not disappointed, with Charlie Fletcher’s The Oversight turning out to be one of the best novels that I’ve read so far this year. In fact, it also manages to be different from the majority of other novels that I’ve read this year as well, so if you’re looking for something that has that originality factor then you can’t go far wrong with this book, which hits shelves tomorrow through Orbit.
This novel serves as the first outing in the Oversight trilogy and is handled very well. The Oversight are a secret organization that policed the lines between normality and magic and once sported hundreds of people amongst its ranks. Now though, that number is down to just five, with the society being a shadow of what it once was.
When a screaming girl is brought to the Oversight’s headquarters in London they believe they might at last have found a new recruit. However, Lucy Harker is not who she seems, and is part of a plot that could have catastrophic repercussions for not just the Oversight, but the world.
Charlie Fletcher is an accomplished young adult writer and The Oversight is the first time I have read a full novel by him, but I remember back in Secondary School flicking through Stoneheart in the Library – and it’s certainly something that I intend to get back to at one point. However, back on the subject of The Oversight, it gets almost everything right – my only real complaint being that it gets off to a slow start, but even that changes – as it quickly becomes engrossing as the pages go on and by the end you won’t be able to put it down. The book spends plenty of time in creating the atmosphere and developing the world, giving a great look into the magical side of London, which normally brings out the best of Urban Fantasy novels. However, The Oversight isn’t just your average Urban Fantasy novel. It’s a gothic, historical and beautifully written masterpiece that deserves your attention – with incredibly strong prose and an attention to detail that doesn’t bog down the narrative.
There isn’t really any main character in The Oversight, with the Last Hand (the last five members of the Oversight supernatural law enforcement) getting similar amounts of pagetime to Lucy, who also gets a key role in this book. Whilst the book may be clearly focused more on the world than the characters, that’s not a bad thing, because Fletcher still manages to weave a compelling narrative and on top of that, the world is awesome and it’s easily something that I can see myself returning to.
If you’re a fan of the likes of Neil Gaiman or China Mieville, then this book should be right up your street. Charlie Fletcher has crafted a smart and intelligent novel that kicks off what should really be a strong series, with a compelling plot and some interesting characters. There’s very little where this book goes wrong, so it’s certainly something that you should devote your time to. And if it helps, out of the Advance Reviews, I’m yet to see a single one below 4 stars (although at least one is ranked 3.5 on Goodreads), so it’s clear that I’m not the only one who loves this book. Highly Recommended.
“An excellent second act in the Riyria Chronicles. Michael J. Sullivan’s The Rose and the Thorn manages to be even better than The Crown Tower, making this book, and the duology – one of my favourite reads of 2013.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
As soon as I finished The Crown Tower I knew I had to get into the second instalment sooner or later, and thanks to NetGalley, I didn’t have to wait, even if I did end up taking a break in the middle to read a different novel, after all – I didn’t want this series to be over too soon. Fans of the first book, or readers of The Riyria Revelations waiting to see if both novels are strong before delving in will be pleased to know that The Rose and the Thorn is just as excellent as The Crown Tower, and I don’t think Michael J. Sullivan has written a bad book yet with this spectacular second outing (story-wise, not publication wise – this is now their seventh novel) for Royce and Hadrian, allowing for a stunning conclusion that not only wraps things up very well, but leaves readers eagerly wanting to read The Riyria Revelations, whether they have or haven’t already read it. Even though I’ve read all of them, that ending really wanted me to embark on a re-read, especially as it wraps things up nicely, really setting the stage for Theft of Swords.
"TWO THIEVES WANT ANSWERS. RIYRIA IS BORN.
For more than a year Royce Melborn has tried to forget Gwen DeLancy, the woman who saved him and his partner Hadrian Blackwater from certain death. Unable to get her out of his mind, the two thieves return to Medford but receive a very different reception — Gwen refuses to see them. The victim of abuse by a powerful noble, she suspects that Royce will ignore any danger in his desire for revenge. By turning the thieves away, Gwen hopes to once more protect them. What she doesn’t realize is what the two are capable of — but she’s about to find out.
The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords(publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order)."
The characters have always been one of the high-points of this series for me and the main focus of Royce, Hadrian and to a certain extent Gwen DeLancy works wonders for the book, with some great character development that takes the characters from their early days in The Crown Tower to Theft of Swords, and actually proves that this is one of the rare cases where prequels written after the main series actually work. Whilst the first book may have focused on the origin of Royce and Hadrian’s partnership, this fleshes it out a bit more, really developing the key figures that continue to grow as characters over the course of the main Riyria Revelations series.
The Rose and the ThornThe Rose and the Thorn deals with a lot of characters introduced in this sequel that weren’t given as much page time in the first that might prove a bit daunting to readers who have not read the main series, but Sullivan allows for an interesting split on the focus between all of them, to the point where you never feel like there’s too much or too little of one character. The fleshing out of the characters and seeing their origins before the main series really is pulled of superbly, and I think that all people who want to write prequels for their main series could learn something from The Riyria Chronicles, as both novels in this duology are executed with very minimal flaws and easily provide the reader with some of the best fantasy works to hit shelves this year. The Rose and the Thorn will be in the upper half of my Top 25 novels of 2013 for certain, as not only is it a great tale on its own, but it also manages to beat The Crown Tower.
I was slightly surprised at just how different The Rose and the Thorn was from The Crown Tower. More world-building is on display here, but the book still manages to move along at a very fast pace after an initial slow start, where we find ourselves introduced to a completely new character, Reuben Hilfred – whose story seemingly follows a separate thread from the main events until later on in the book when you start to see things coming together, and his tale is an interesting break from the main event of Royce and Hadrian. The plot is strong and consistent throughout, and despite the fact that this may be a prequel, there are several twists and turns that you won’t be able to see coming even if you’re familiar with the Riyria Revelations.
The richness of the setting is great, as is the content of the overall storyline and The Rose and the Thorn proves to be a stunningly executed sequel that as I’ve already stated, resides among the best work that I’ve read all year so far. People who have read book one but not the Riyria Revelations should enjoy it as equally as those who are reading this in chronological order. Let me know if you’re reading this novel without knowledge of what happens in the main series – I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have – as so far, I’ve only heard perspectives from readers who have read the Ryria Revelations and your reaction to this as a newcomer would be pretty interesting.
THE RIYRIA CHRONICLES: The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn ...more
“An awesome debut, if you’ve enjoyed the likes of Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson and Joe Abercrombie - Promise of Blood is a book that you’ll want to get on board for. Unputdownable.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.
It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king… Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It’s up to a few… Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved… Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…"
I think if I were to do an award for debut novel of the year, then there’s no question about it – The first book in the Powder Mage Trilogy from Brian McClellan will almost certainly be up in the Top 5. It’s stunning, well crafted, compelling and engaging, with some well written scenes throughout the whole novel with a powerfully built world allowing to enhance the story and create a greater impact on the reader.
Whilst some may dismiss the opening of yet another fantasy trilogy, especially with all the previous trilogies that have come before The Powder Mage, - The First Law Trilogy (Initial three books) by Joe Abercrombie, The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, and thousands of more fantasy trilogies out there right the way through The Lord of the Rings and beyond – there comes a point where the reader starts to wonder if fantasy has anything new, fresh and exciting to throw at the reader. And I will respond to that question with a firm yes. There’s always going to be new fantasy titles on the market, and Promise of Blood is among the best of the new debuts that I’ve read since my introduction to the fantasy genre, not just in 2013.
The book itself is fairly dark, certainly darker than Brandon Sanderson’s, but it never quite reaches either Abercrombie or Martin levels of grittiness. This is an excellent debut that manages to draw several different things across from a variety of genres – for example, there’s guns and technology here as well as magic. In that category, it very much falls in with the same sort of style of novels as Brent Week’s second series, The Lightbringer, and even to a certain extent the Warhammer Fantasy tie-in novels published by Black Library. Regardless of that however, – you will find yourself hooked in right from the start, and find yourself unable to put the book down as you are dragged on a fantastic adventure that will leave you begging for the next installment in the series, particularly when it comes to the awesome conclusion.
Promise of Blood is an epic read, and it’s one that starts of strong and gets better as the story progresses. The more you find yourself engaged in the narrative, the less you find yourself able to put it down. The world, the magic and everything is very firmly established and there is little room for anything that feels like it could be a “deus ex machina” moment. The characters are strong as well, adding another strength to an already impressive load of them, for the book’s characters are varied, diverse, creative and are, like all the best fantasy novels, flawed. They each have struggles that they must overcome, and the world itself is also quite different to the standard fantasy fare – having the feeling of perhaps a revolutionary France, especially when the King gets booted off the throne in the very beginning of the story, providing a great momentum for things to come.
It’s a complex and compelling debut, and although may not be as good as Abercrombie or Weeks, it’s very, very close. I think the only major flaw here is that the characters aren’t as memorable and engaging as the fantasy favourites – Kylar Stern, Logen Ninefingers etc, but Tamas, Taniel and Adamat are among the better crafted fantasy characters that a reader can be entertained by, and as a result – the book itself still manages to be a very strong read. There’s just one minor flaw that I’ve found that barely detracted anything from the reading experience.
“There are some series that I wish could go on forever, and The Expanse is one that fulfils that category. James SA Corey delivers another stunning entry with Abaddon’s Gate, and therefore Book Four cannot come fast enough.” ~The Founding Fields
James SA Corey is the penname of Daniel Abraham & Ty Frank, for those people who do not already know – if you’ve been following the series or at least have read the first volume, then you’ll know this by now. Daniel Abraham it seems can turn everything he touches into awesomeness – I’ve really enjoyed his The Dagger and the Coin epic fantasy series, whilst his urban fantasy Unclean Spirits under the penname of MLN Hanover has made me want to read more of that series, although I have not picked it up in a while, which is something that I really need to get around to.
"For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark.
Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them."
We’re back with the crew of the Rocinante, and it’s very interesting to see how the main cast develop over this instalment, with Jim Holden, Naomi and Amos being the main crew memebers, but there’s also strong showing from other returning characters too. Newcomers, such as Bull, Melba and Anna, also present an interesting, fresh look in the series, and we’re starting to understand for the first time for why this series is called The Expanse. It’s big. There are several characters alongside those already mentioned and the book rarely stays from the POV of most characters for long, which can be jarring for readers who favour one character over the other, but Corey has managed to make each viewpoint enjoyable and there wasn’t a dull one. Another point in favour of the Expanse goes to the Space Opera setting itself, it allows the reader to explore a wide variety of concepts and setting so that we never feel like Abaddon’s Gate is simply just a re-hash of Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, with Corey coming up with new ideas to bring to the table.
Middle novels in series can be sometimes of a chore to get through. All too often, they are spent setting up the final act, continuing on from the first, and not much really happens. Not so with Abaddon’s Gate, it’s page-turning action all the way through – and even this novel brings a certain sense of conclusion to the book, as the series was originally planned as a trilogy before being extended. I haven’t been finishing novels as quickly as I would like to lately, mainly due to exams (which are now out of the way), but Abaddon’s Gate was one novel that I have been waiting for since Caliban’s War and exam the next day or not, I could not resist staying up slightly later than normal to get as much reading done. So, if I did fail my exam – I blame James SA Corey for crafting such an impressive and mind-blowingly awesome novel.
Seriously. This series has to be among the best of the Space Opera at the moment, up there with the likes of Iain M. Banks & Alastair Reynolds. Corey’s novels keep getting better and better. Whilst I’m no expert in politics, everything seems pretty realistic here, with humanity not being presented as a unified force, which is the problem that I have with such things in other media, Independence Day and Halo being two notable examples, it seems as though we’re never going to put aside our differences at any point. Not even for a big massive alien invasion.
Another thing that I love about this series is the lack of Hyperspace Travel/Warp Drives etc. This is a series not set 40,000 years into the future like the novels of Black Library, and it’s a little closer to home. Technology is still developing, and there isn’t a massive influx of alien races in Star Wars. Fans will be pleased to know that there’s no change here, and Corey continues so that Abaddon’s Gate is still recognisably part of the same series, although it probably isn’t the best jumping on point for newcomers – you’re better off just playing catchup. Whilst it may not be the cheapest option, it’ll certainly be the most rewarding one.
Fans of the series will not need any convincing to buy this book – but I’m going to give this book my strongest recommendation anyway, as it currently stands a contender for one of the best novels of 2013 so far. Count me on board for Book #4 for certain.
“An excellent novel that’s one of 2014’s best. Joe Abercrombie is one of fantasy’s strongest authors no matter the target audience, and Half a King is an incredible success that fans of both adult and young adult fiction alike will enjoy.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…
Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite epic fantasy authors so there was no way that I was going to miss Half a King, the start of Abercrombie’s latest series, The Shattered Sea. His First Law Trilogy is amazing and the standalone novels of Red Country and Heroes have been superb as well. It’s good to see that Half a King was no different, and if for whatever reason you haven’t jumped on the Abercrombie bandwagon yet, then this is the perfect place to start.
Prince Yarvi, the main character of Half a King and its main narrator, is a crippled teenager who was put on the throne following the death of his brother and father. It’s a position that he never expected to be in, but when he was betrayed and sold into slavery, he’ll do anything to win it back. Suffering from a handicap since the start of the novel, it allows an interesting and unique lead character as rarely you will find a novel featuring a major character with a disability such as Yarvi’s. Abercrombie handles it incredibly well and gives it that strong voice that keeps the character sympathetic as well as packing enough punch to hold the story.
Despite the fact that Half a King may be young adult, it is certainly one of the darker young adult novels that I’ve read and that is no surprise when you consider Abercrombie’s adult fiction. Despite the darker tone, the novel is very much a coming of age tale, and you can tell that although it sounds like familiar ground (I mean, how often have you heard a coming of age young adult fantasy book been described to you before?) but Abercrombie adds an interesting twist that keeps this book feeling fresh and at no point over the course of the novel did it feel dull. Abercrombie has a captivating way of engrossing readers and he did not disappoint at all, and as a result I wouldn’t be surprised if Half a King were to end up in my Top 10 books of 2014 come the end of the year.
I breezed through Half a King in three separate sittings, limited only by the length of my bus journey. If I didn’t have a stop to get off, I probably would have kept reading (I almost did towards the end) because the novel reads like a thriller, and you’ll be turning the pages desperate to find out what happens next, which is rare in a fantasy where attention to detail can often bog down the pace. Not so with Half a King. There is plenty of world building and you get enough details to keep you going but don’t let that put you off. The balance is handled well and Abercrombie, a veteran author, rarely puts anything wrong.
There are so few young adult novels that manage to maintain a certain level of unpredictability all the way through and Half a King is very much one of those. Its constant twists and turns, ramping up to a higher level near the end, had me hooked from start to finish and I couldn’t see what was coming next. The fact that Abercrombie manages to juggle all of these elements as well as allow for some great character development makes Half a King a must read that can’t be ignored. It’s just that good.
Even if there was nothing new about the coming of age premise, the way Abercrombie executed the narrative made the book compelling and engaging. It focuses more on the characters than the plot, and gives plenty of room for Yarvi and the others to grow. The villains are fleshed out as well and it’s great to see what Abercrombie has done with this. It’s always a bit of a risk when an author moves out of his traditional stomping ground (yes, Abercrombie may still be in the fantasy genre, but young adult fiction is a different beast to adult fiction entirely) and the author has adapted confidently, handing the new element well. As a result then, this book comes highly recommended, and if you’re a lover of fantasy in general then you can’t go wrong with Half a King. Let’s hope the rest of The Shattered Sea continues to be this impressive.
“An excellent collection that gives a great exploration of how varied Urban Fantasy can be, bringing some great stories to the pipeline with some stellar contributions across all areas. Certainly worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of the subgenre.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Rev – Kirk Dougal | I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal, Too – Zachary Jernigan | Los Lagos Heat – Karina Fabian | Savage Rise – Adam Millard | Front Lines, Big City – Timothy Baker | Break Free – Ryan Lawler | Naked the Night Sings – Teresa Frohock | Double Date – Andrew Moczulski | That Old Tree – R.L. Treadway | Dharmasankat – Abhinav Jain | Nephilim – TSP Sweeney | Toejam & Shrapnel – Nickolas Sharps | Green Grow the Rashes – William Meikle | Under the Dragon Moon – Jonathan Pine | Gold Dust Woman – Kenny Soward | Wizard’s Run – Joshua S. Hill |Chains of Gray – Betsy Dornbusch | Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic LA – Jake Elliot | Queen’s Blood – Lincoln Crisler | Beneath a Scalding Moon – Jeff Salyards | Separation Anxiety – J.M. Martin | Blessing and Damnation – Wilson Geiger | Jesse Shimmer Goes to Hell – Lucy A. Snyder
"From angels to vampires, dragons to wizards, Manifesto brings together twenty-three stories full of action, snark, and unadulterated badassery.
Featuring stories from Lucy A. Snyder, Jeff Salyards, William Meikle, Teresa Frohock, Zachary Jernigan, Betsy Dornbusch, and more.
The time has come to make a statement, to define a genre. This is our manifesto. "
Well, Manifesto UF. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy stories, then this collection will be right up your street. With plenty of established authors up there contributing to the anthology such as Zachary Jernigan, whose novel No Return I have read and enjoyed and Teresea Frohock, the writer behind Miserere, whose work I have sadly not got around to reading yet, and even Jeff Salyards – another established author whose work I need to read at some point. Another thing to note here is that the anthology also features the first published short story of fellow Founding Fields review Abhinav, (Shadowhawk), with one of the more unique and interestingly themed-short stories of the collection – entitled Dharmasankat, you can’t really afford to miss this. Normally when I read anthologies I tend to find at least one or two that I don’t like, and whilst they may not have been the most memorable of short stories ever – Manifesto UF proved to be a first for me, in which I enjoyed everything that the anthology had to offer.
Manifesto UFAs I haven’t read that many anthologies lately aside from American Vampire Anthology #1 from Vertigo Comics, this means that I haven’t really had the chance to adjust to the short story format for a while, having read a lot of full novels recently, the closest prose-wise I’ve come to a short story being the serialised reviews of Scars by Chris Wraight each week (look out for a review of Part 7 on Saturday), so as expected it was a refreshing change for me. I don’t know about you but I also don’t normally tend to read anthologies all at once – often I tend to break up the stories so the change in narrative and setting doesn’t really bother me that much. However, most of the short stories tend to flow pretty smoothly together, allowing for a very interesting collection of themed stories that urban fantasy fans shouldn’t pass up on.
Opening with a story simply titled Rev, by Kirk Dougal, the first line “I remember the first time I died”, allows for a very interesting opening hook and I was suckered in from the start. It’s a powerful opener that sets the tone to the stories to come, and delivers a very strong read. Strong highlights as expected include Zachary Jernigan’s I’m an Animal, You’re an Animal Too and Teresa Frohock’s Naked the Night Sings, and whilst the temptation to jump to these stories by familiar authors might be there, it’s better to read the entire collection in the way it was intended as there are really some hidden gems inside, such as Nickolas Sharps’ Toejam & Shrapnel, which is another strong instalment. I also really enjoyed Abhinav’s entry as well – as with an different setting to a vast majority of the other entries, Dharmasankat proved to be a lot of fun to read. Something else that was a standout was Savage Rise from Adam Millard, bringing a slightly darker take on the urban fantasy setting that proves to be a lot of fun.
Tim Marquitz is the editor behind this one, who also brought Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous last year. Judging by the high quality standards provided in this short story, I’ll certainly be sticking around for anything else that Marquitz puts out next year, if he continues to follow the trend of releasing an anthology with multiple authors inside for 2014. This time he’s also had the help of Tyson Mauermann, and with them – come 23 short stories that are really worth your time.
Recommended if you’re an urban fantasy fan looking for a varied take on what the genre has to offer. Certainly one of the most solid collections of anthologies that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and really worth your time.
“Mark Lawrence follows up to Prince of Thorns with a cracking, compelling, unpredictable sequel that succeeds in almost every way. My new favourite Fa“Mark Lawrence follows up to Prince of Thorns with a cracking, compelling, unpredictable sequel that succeeds in almost every way. My new favourite Fantasy novel of 2012.” ~The Founding Fields
You know in my review of The Blinding Knife, I mentioned that I’d found a favourite fantasy of novel of 2012? Well, as it happens, the very next fantasy novel that I read beats a Brent Weeks novel. Something that I’d never thought possible unless the name of that author was George RR Martin, Peter V. Brett or Brandon Sanderson, (I would put Abercrombie in there as well, but I’ve only read the first First Law novel). Lawrence produced an awesome trilogy opener with Prince of Thorns, which I didn’t get around to reviewing (But I loved it nonetheless), and has now followed that up with a dramatic, enthralling and captivating sequel that you will be unable to put down. Mark Lawrence has made it two out of two, and he’s jumped to the top of my favourite fantasy authors list (along with the aforementioned Martin, Sanderson, etc).
"The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.
A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.
Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan."
In any other book, Jorg would be the bad guy. Some of the acts that he commits in Prince of Thorns were enough to put some readers off, as he’s far from the normal “Knight in Shining Armour” that you see in your average fantasy novel. Jorg is flawed, but despite the issues with his character, Lawrence has somehow managed to weave a compelling narrative that will actually leave you wanting Jorg to emerge victorious. You want to follow him, no matter what he’s done. He’s developed as a character over the course of the two books so far, and it will be interesting to see how he changes in the third book.
King of Thorns takes place four years after the ending of Prince. It’s clear that Jorg is older now, but nonetheless still in his teens. He’s not perfect. He will make mistakes. This allows the novel to be more believable, and Lawrence writes a gritty, dark world that readers of George RR Martin will be familiar with. Nobody is safe, and anybody can die. There are no cliches here folks, and King of Thorns provides a very unpredictable read.
"DAY ONE The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%. WEEK TWO Civilization has crumbled. YEAR TWENTY A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild. STATION ELEVEN Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan - warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'.
Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world."
The dystopian/post-apocalyptic genres can be pretty hit and miss for me. However, I’m still drawn back to them and that is the case with novels such as Station Eleven. It’s smart, compelling and engaging and really not just one of the better novels of 2014, but also one of the best books to come out of this genre in a while. Written by Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven is very much a different beast to your usual post apocalyptic novels, and packs some unique qualities that keep this book feeling fresh and original. The prose is confident and the narrative is compelling and there’s enough good stuff here to make Mandel a must read author going forward, because I was simply blown away by what Station Eleven has had to offer.
Station Eleven is hauntingly real. There isn’t anything too outlandish about the new world, and this isn’t the sort of book where you’ll find evil overlords or ruthless police states. It’s smart, compelling and unlike most post apocalyptic novels that I’ve read, looks back into the past as well as keeping a firm eye on the present. Flashbacks, designed to tell what life was like leading up to the outbreak of the Georgia Flu are handled incredibly well, and with a unique structure that balances that with looking at what life was like not just immediately after but also twenty years into the future from the collapsing of society, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s incredibly well plotted and at no point do the transitions feel jarring or out of place, with some great character work over the course of the novel that is really handled well. No part of this book overstays its welcome – it isn’t a fast thriller that completely overlooks characters and world building in favour of creating suspense and neither is it a dull, character study with not much going on. It’s the perfect blend of everything needed to make a good book and it really pays off in the execution.
Let’s get onto the characters, and they are incredibly awesome indeed. Station Eleven charts the lives of six various different people, both before and after Society’s collapse, exploring the interlinking lives of Arthur Leander, a famous actor, his oldest friend Clark and his first (of three) ex-wife Miranda. The journalist Jeevan is thrown into the mix as well alongside Travelling Symphony performer Kirsten and to top everything off, a self-proclaimed prophet. So it’s certainly an interesting bunch of characters to say the least and the way they’re interconnected across the novel is incredibly well thought out. They’re all richly developed, given their own quirks and flaws in a way which helps them stand out from the other bland, boring and faceless characters that you’ve seen in the genre before.
If you’re looking for something new, fresh and exciting in the post apocalyptic genre then you’ve certainly come to the right place. Literally, the only thing wrong with Station Eleven is that it ended, because I finished this book just wanting more. It’s one of the best novels of the year with some great themes overlaying the book. The character work is great and the Shakespeare connections – including the links to King Lear, are handled very well indeed. So as a result, I can’t recommend this novel enough – this is one you’ll really want to check out.
“Hands down, the best book of the year so far. Unputdownable, engrossing and imaginative, I can’t recommend this enough. You’ll love it.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.
I’m a massive fan of Mike Carey’s work. The Unwritten: Apocalypse was my first exposure to his comics writing and I’ve loved every second of it, so when I heard that he was putting out a new book under the penname of MR Carey, there was no way I was going to pass this opportunity by, and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s very little where The Girl With All The Gifts puts wrong, and it’s going to take some beating to be knocked off the “Best Book of the Year” status which this title currently holds.
In fact, scratch that. It’s not just one of my favourite novels of the year. It’s one of my favourite novels in the zombie genre period – the only thing that comes close out of what I’ve read is the equally incredible The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell. However, The Girl With All The Gifts is something entirely different. It doesn’t look like a zombie novel on the surface, maybe about a girl with special abilities at a stretch, but when it becomes apparent that you are in fact dealing with the undead, things really get interesting.
I went into The Girl With All The Gifts with virtually no knowledge of what was going to happen. Heck, I didn’t even know that it would be about zombies until I started reading. The less you know about it, the better – because this title will really surprise you, with its unpredictable narrative and a fantastic pace. You’d be hard pressed to put it down once you get started, and I blazed through this one really quickly.
The Girl With All The Gifts isn’t your typical zombie drama though. It’s not quite I am Legend, but neither is it the movie version of World War Z. It deals with plenty of science elements, and it handles them well, in a way that doesn’t bog down the narrative. It also allows time to make you care about characters, for example, Carey really makes you feel sympathy for Melanie as well as the others that we get to meet. He’s an experienced writer and it shows here with this book.
Whilst the book deals with a small band of survivors, it avoids many of the common clichés associated with zombie novels. I love the genre but they get noticeable after you’ve read one too many book, and thankfully for the large part clichés are something that The Girl With All The Gifts avoids. It feels like a breath of fresh air so if you’re someone who has been falling out of love with the Undead recently, then this book should be certainly right up your street. If you’ve never read a zombie book before and want to try out the genre than this book is equally accessible, working well as a standalone.
What some zombie novels put wrong is that they throw their main characters into one too many life threatening scenarios and don’t kill off any major leads, leading you into the scenario where you think everyone you care will survive, and thus rob the tension. This book avoids that, keeping the tension high – and the horror remains relevant throughout. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, and that’s why it’s just so thrilling.
I’m struggling to find anything wrong about this book. It’s just simply too good, unputdownable and a masterpiece. In short, if you haven’t already brought it you’ll want to pick it up as soon as you can, because The Girl With All The Gifts is not just the book to beat in 2014, it’s the book to beat in the entire zombie genre.
“My first Trudi Canavan novel is mostly a success. Smart, well written and compelling Thief’s Magic may not be perfect, but it is one of the better Fantasy books you’ll read this year and I can certainly recommend it.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
In a world where an industrial revolution is powered by magic, Tyen, a student of archaeology, discovers a sentient book in an ancient tomb. Vella was once a young sorcerer-maker, until she was transformed into a useful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been gathering information, including a vital clue to the disaster Tyen’s world faces.
Elsewhere, in a land ruled by the priests since a terrible war depleted all but a little magic, Rielle the dyer’s daughter has been taught that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. Yet she knows from her ability to sense the stain it leaves behind that she has a talent for it, and that there are people willing to teach her how to use it, should she ever need to risks the Angels’ wrath.
Further away, a people called the Travelers live their entire lives on the move, trading goods from one world to another. They know that each world has its own store of magic, reducing or increasing a sorcerer’s abilities, so that if one entered a weak world they may be unable to leave it again. Each family maintains a safe trading route passed down through countless generations and modified whenever local strife makes visiting dangerous. But this is not the only knowledge the Travelers store within their stories and songs, collected over millennia spent roaming the universe. They know a great change is due, and that change brings both loss and opportunity.
Trudi Canavan has always been one of those authors who has been high on my to-read list but someone whose work I’ve never actually read. When Thief’s Magic came around as the start of an exciting looking series with lots of potential I leapt at the chance, and was really glad I did, with the focus split between two characters making this a very good read and something that is most likely going to be one of the strongest fantasy titles of the year. It’s certainly got me interested in reading more of Canavan’s work and I’ll be interested to see where she can take the series from here, with the second book Angel of Storms having an expected publication date of August 2015 according to Goodreads. Needless to say, I will be picking that one up for sure based on the strength of this title.
There are several strong things about this book. The world building is done cleverly and imaginatively – not only do we get one fleshed out world with its laws and settings, but two - for the two main characters that are on offer start in entirely different settings and it’s great to see the creative display of Canavan on offer here as the despite the large attention to world building, the pace doesn’t suffer, with the title managing to be a compelling and enthralling read despite this featuring two likable and sympathetic lead characters who you will be able to get behind.
Firstly we have Tyen, who studies Archaeology. In the process of excavating an ancient tomb he stumbles across a book that’s capable of communication with anyone who can touch it, and with the name of Vella – it gives Tyen a narrative that we follow for most of the book. It’s interesting to see how is character grows and develops over the course of the title and how he struggles with his choice to keep Vella a secret. Like all secrets, even the most well kept ones – they’re bound to come out sooner or later.
It isn’t long before we meet Rielle, and the differences between her world and Tyen’s come quickly. Whilst like Tyen, both of them are unfortunately and annoyingly naive in places, her world doesn’t ban magic and its inhabitants can use it freely. It’s interesting to see how this affects her world and the changes from Tyen’s are fascinating to see, which is great but comes at a cost, because the split between the two characters doesn’t always work. Just when you’re beginning to be invested in Tyen’s story the narrative switches to Rielle and then back again to Tyen, which can become frustrating in places especially as there’s no clear connection between the two characters.
However, if you can put that aside, then you’ll find Thief’s Magic a compelling read and hopefully the sequels will build on what this title has fleshed out for us. It’ll be great to return to this setting for sure and I can despite the problems recommend this book based on the strength of its characters and world building.
“A well-researched, well-developed book – The Thousand Names manages to impress a lot. Count me in for Book 2.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
“Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.
To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.
The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.”
I don’t get to read and review enough military fantasy outside of the Warhammer Fantasy Universe and The Thousand Names came as a welcome treat for me, especially as it’s a subgenre that I really enjoy. The book has been receiving high praise for quite some time now, and the book seemed like right up my street, as the start of a series by newcomer Django Wexler. When this book came up on NetGalley I leapt at the chance to request it, and got stuck right in. Here’s what I thought:
To kick things off, let’s look at the main characters who (apart from Janus) share the third person narrative. At first, they might seem like traditional fantasy stereotypes – the honour-bound tough guy Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, the woman-disguising-as-a-man cliché in Winter Ihernglass, and the ambitious and enigmatic Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. With the description I’ve just given you, take away the names and they could be anyone that you’ve seen before in any other fantasy book. However, what Django Wexler does well is that he really fleshes out the characters, making them memorable, flawed, likeable and very interesting to read about. The book has to deal with character development, world building, plot movement and pacing at the same time and it manages to get the characters spot on, handling the clichés so well that they would become clichés if they were written by someone else less talented. And it’s not just the characters that are handled well, either.
The world building on view here is fascinating, but I did have a minor issue with how Wexler handled it, but let’s get the positives out of the way first. The world of Khander is a desert-setting and something that readers don’t often see in fantasy novels nowadays, and could easily be comparable to a Middle-Eastern country a four or five centuries ago if you were looking for an example. The military theme of the book is really enhanced by strong, in-depth research allowing for an interesting background where you’re not thrown off by elements that feel out of place for the setting. And another thing, the setting actually plays a part in the book. I’ve read some books where the setting never seems to slow the characters down, and they never really take into account any of its hazards or how it affects them. This book doesn’t fall into that category, you’ll be pleased to hear – the setting plays an active role in the book as the characters have to deal with the desert terrain which becomes a problem quite often. The culture is explored in some depth here too, but (here comes a problem that I had with the book) we never really get to see the ‘other side’ if you will – aside from a few minor POV sequences that could have been fleshed out a lot better to the point where we could have even had a major character POV. However, All major POVs (think Marcus and Winter) are from the characters on one side of the war, and we never really learn a lot of the other side. Sure, this would have probably hampered the pace and meant more pages, but I’m hoping that Wexler can explore this in future novels.
The book itself moves along at a fairly solid pace, even if it does take a while to get going. I know I talked in the above paragraph about adding stuff into the book, but Wexler probably should have taken a few things out in order to trim it down a bit. If we’d have got straight into the good rather than the build-up, this book could have saved quite a number of pages. And of course, with the decision to use clichés, there are a few predictable outcomes that prevent this novel reaching amazing status. However, that doesn’t stop it from being very, very good – and despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Thousand Names a lot, and I can’t wait to see where Wexler takes the reader with future books. The Shadow Campaigns series is certainly something to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing where Wexler can take us with book two, which I will certainly be on board for.
“An epic conclusion that reinforces the fact that Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors out there. Jaw-dropping stuff.” ~The Foundi“An epic conclusion that reinforces the fact that Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors out there. Jaw-dropping stuff.” ~The Founding Fields
Do not read this review unless you have read the first two novels in the Trilogy, The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension, as there are spoilers for the previous books in this series.
And so it ends. Three books, a lot of reading and a lot of catching up later, Brandon Sanderson’s finale to the first three Mistborn novels and the conclusion of Vin and Elend’s story arc - The Hero of Ages ends with a bang rather than a whimper, and proves why he’s one of the best living fantasy authors alongside George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie. It’s not often that you read a book with more than 500 pages that you find yourself struggling to put down.
"Who is the Hero of Ages?
To end the Final Empire and restore freedom, Vin killed the Lord Ruler. But as a result, the Deepness—the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists—is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.
Having escaped death at the climax of The Well of Ascension only by becoming a Mistborn himself, Emperor Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by the Lord Ruler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been tricked into releasing the mystic force known as Ruin from the Well. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. She can’t even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!"
I couldn’t put this novel down. I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy novels this year including the entirety of the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson and I can safely say that The Hero of Ages is easily among my top 5, due to several reasons. The level of world building and depth that Sanderson puts into this series is a very enjoyable one, and you can tell that he hasn’t made this ending up on the spot. This was planned, and I am really glad to see that Sanderson’s conclusion has met the promise set by the last two books, and given us a series that I’m not likely to forget in a while. And it’s not even over yet. Well, the adventures of Vin and Elend are. We won’t be seeing anymore of them especially after the titanic conclusion that will leave the reader breathless, but a new story by Sanderson set in the future of the Mistborn world, The Alloy of Law, is a novel that I set an aim to myself to read before the end of this year, but now – I don’t really want to.
“An excellent novel that will pull you in with an imaginative world and fascinating characters. It’s one of those books that you won’t be able to stop reading, and it’s one of those books that definitely lives up to all the hype.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past and criminals disappear into thin air.
The murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners.
Only one woman may be willing to peruse the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.
Robert Jackson Bennett has been one of those authors who I really should get around to reading more of especially with the praise that he has received for all of his novels. As of the time of writing this review I have only read The Company Man, which I ended up really enjoying. However, it wouldn’t be until City of Stairs when I would return to Bennett’s work, and was really glad that I was able to check it out because I was quite simply blown away with it. I know I’ve been praising a lot of books that I’ve been reviewing lately, (Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams and Steven Erikson’s Willful Child) but the fact is, they’ve all been good books. And City of Stairs is certainly no exception to that rule as Robert Jackson Bennett steps out and knocks it out of the park.
The city of Bulikov once boasted the powers of Gods and had the ability to conquer the world. However, the mysterious deaths of its divine protectors has meant that the city has fallen into a shadow of its former self, and now Bulikov is simply just another outpost of a new world power with strict laws on censorship among other things.
This is where we meet Shara Divani. On paper, she’s an average diplomat sent by the authorities of Bulikov’s enemies. However, in secret, Shara is an expert spy, tasked with finding out who killed an innocent historian, Dr. Efrem Pangyui, who shouldn’t really have anything to hide. But little does she know that she’s about to stumble out of her depth, and the Gods themselves might not be as dead as everyone thought they were…
First off, there’s a lot of world building on display here. It takes the reader a while to get into the novel but trust me, don’t let that put you off. It’s well developed and well created, with some great attention to detail on display here. Bennett has, as far as I am aware, has never written an all-out fantasy epic before, with Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, The Troupe and American Elsewhere all being very different reads but it’s good to see that Bennett has continued his spectacular form across to a different genre from what we’ve come to expect from this writer.
Although the pace doesn’t quite pick up until midway through, City of Stairs is still an excellent success. You’ll find yourself immersed in the world that Bennett has created here and his characters are just as strong. Sigrud, Shara’s ally, is just as awesome and one of the novel’s clear standouts. Although Shara is the main character, Bennett makes his secondary cast leave a distinctive impression on the reader and that is excellent to see.
This is one of those books where once you get into it, you won’t be able to stop. It’s engrossing, captivating and engaging and is at this rate, on course to be one of the better novels of the year. There’s just so much good things about City of Stairs that it’s hard to ignore, and you’ll be blown away by just how awesome it is. There’s a good reason why everyone’s talking about this book, and believe me, you won’t want to miss out on the hype.
“Chuck Wendig once again excels with another awesome look into the kickass character that is Miriam Black – delivering a page-turning thriller that is a must buy for any readers who enjoyed the first two books. Wendig has created a compelling read here, and The Cormorant might just be one of the best books in the series yet.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief”… to “killer”.
Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at. But in her vision she sees her client die by another’s hand – and on the wall, written in blood, is a message just for Miriam.
Before we begin I just want to touch on the Cover Art for the Miriam Black series. It’s something that I don’t normally do – bring up cover art in reviews, but I can’t help but do so here – mainly because all covers in this series have been utterly phenomenal. Seriously – each cover is amazing – and The Cormorant just screams as a must-read. If I saw any of these books in a bookstore having no knowledge of what they were about – I would probably snap them up based on the covers alone. Joey Hi-Fi is an incredible artist and each new cover from him is exceptional. Now with that out of the way, let’s get started with the review.
And it’s a review that I could literally just stop after saying “It’s Awesome.” I mean, what more is there to tell about Miriam Black that hasn’t been said already? Chuck Wendig’s unique, engaging and daring take on Urban Fantasy is not for the faint of heart and if you’re familiar with Blackbirds and Mockingbirds then chances are you will know by now what to expect. Wendig’s writing takes no prisoners, pulling you along at an incredibly fast pace and the end result is always unpredictable. You never feel like you’re getting the same book twice with a Miriam Black novel and you can always count on Wendig to entertain you – three books in and the series shows no sign of losing its quality just yet, instead feeling fresh and exciting and another welcome break from all the standard, run of the mill urban fantasy stories that we’ve seen from female and male authors alike. The Cormorant and the preceding books are different – and if you think Urban Fantasy can’t surprise you then look no further than this series. It’s captivating, engaging – and if you’re reading this review without knowledge of the previous two books then I strongly recommend you buy them as soon as you can. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
In the third installment of the series, Wendig takes Miriam Black to Florida, where she’s trying to stop a nightmarish vision of the future from becoming reality. Of course, it’s never as easy as it sounds – and she’s in pretty much over her head with the Law Enforcement, Gangs and Old Friends. It’s an action packed book that’s very well written with a unique voice, one that’s particularly foul-mouthed. However fans of the series should be by now familiar with Miriam’s swearing and this is something that really didn’t bother me at all, having already gotten used to the character in the past three outings and it was welcome to return to the strong, independent and kickass female character that is the driving force behind the three books so far. It’s always great returning to Miriam’s life, even if Wendig drags her literally through hell and back with a gritty narrative that’s unpredictable far from disappointing.
Each book in the Miriam Black series has been exceptional and The Cormorant is another excellent addition to that list. It’s clever, engaging and unputdownable – I’ve been saying that a lot about Angry Robot’s novels lately but this is very true on pretty much every one. If there’s one thing that can be guaranteed when picking up an Angry Robot novel, it’s that I won’t be able to stop reading it. This was very much the case with The Cormorant - which was helped by its fast pace and short chapters allowing me to speed through the book like I was reading a much more awesome version of a novel by James Patterson. It’s just so good, and I can’t help but heap praise after praise upon this novel.
Chuck Wendig’s The Cormorant then, is another great success from the author. I’ve yet to read a book that I didn’t like from him and each has been very good indeed. I hope that we return to the Miriam Black Universe soon – because I can’t wait to read more. Miriam is a badass and an incredibly strong female character who is just as awesome as the more popular female characters in literature. She certainly can leave an impression on the reader, and is easily one of the strongest parts of an excellent novel. Highly Recommended, but only if you’ve read the other two first.
“An excellent, fun cyberpunk novel with a kickass female lead character. Koko Takes A Holiday is a fast paced, awesome novel that comes highly recommended. You won’t want to pass this one by.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko’s day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her."
Going into Koko Takes A Holiday, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I know next to nothing about the author, but the premise sounded cool and at the time I was up for a cyberpunk novel. And as it turned out, this book completely blew me away – it’s fun, energetic and very entertaining, and if you’re looking for a good science fiction novel then Koko Takes A Holiday should be right up your street.
Koko-Takes-A-HolidayThis is one of the books best read in as few sittings as possible, because you’ll be blasting through this as quickly as you can. It’s a page turner in every sense of the word, and once you start you won’t be able to put down. It’s one of the most fun books that I’ve read this year, and has set a new high bar for action cyberpunk sci-fi.
I found myself comparing Koko Takes A Holiday more than once to the style of a graphic novel. It’s hard to write prose fiction that feels like a comic but Kieran Shea has captured that feeling very well. So if you enjoy comics, then you’ll dig this book. Heck, if you enjoy Sci-Fi period, you’ll dig this book. It’s just that good.
Koko Martstellar is our main protagonist, and she more than fills the category of your action heroine. She’s smart, compelling and easy to get behind, with some good solid development making her a three dimensional character. And then, on top of that, you also have the world building to consider – for not only has Shea managed to flesh out his characters well, but the future created by him is given a lot of depth. The fact that this is one of the most fast paced novels of 2014 and you still get a sense of just how good the world building development is really helps its case for one of the better books of the year.
The original content on display in Koko Takes A Holiday is impressive as well. This book isn’t quite like any others, and that’s what makes it great. You’re getting a fun read that you haven’t seen a thousand times before, which is rare in today’s market. There’s little here that falls into the trap of cliché, and by the time the book finished I was left wanting more. It was just too good.
It’s almost hard to believe that Koko Takes A Holiday is in fact, Shea’s first novel. It’s written confidently and with the skill of a writer who’s spent years honing his craft (Shea has written short stories in the past). It comes as a welcome surprise to say the least and I really can’t state just how good this book is. There’s hardly anything that this title puts wrong and you’ll be glad you gave it a shot.
Koko Takes A Holiday is one of those few books where you can in fact, judge something by its cover. If you look at it and think that you’re going to enjoy the book, then pick it up – you won’t be disappointed. (Did I mention that the cover is awesome as well?) Koko is a fantastic protagonist and this book is an excellent introduction to her world.
Told in third person narrative, Shea uses this to shift around from protagonist to protagonist. Whilst Koko gets a vast majority of the attention (as one would expect), Flynn is also given a perspective. He’s a cop who finds himself diagnosed with Depressus, which subjects its victim to join in a mass suicide event called Embrace. And, things aren’t looking good for him – because Depressus is incurable. This allows for an interesting take on Flynn’s character and his development is just as fun to read about as Koko’s.
In case you haven’t already guessed, Koko Takes A Holiday comes highly recommended. Kieran Shea has just become an author to watch, and I’m fully looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
“An awesome, epic hard-sci-fi follow up to The Quantum Thief makes sure that The Fractal Prince was one of my favourite books of 2012.” ~The Founding“An awesome, epic hard-sci-fi follow up to The Quantum Thief makes sure that The Fractal Prince was one of my favourite books of 2012.” ~The Founding Fields
The Fractal Prince was the last book that I finished in 2012, and it was a great year to end my reading on. As The Quantum Thief was one of my favourite novels of 2011, I seized the chance to read a copy of The Fractal Prince and I am grateful for Tor for sending me a copy to review – I just couldn’t put this book down, making it two out of two for Hannu Rajanemi leaving me wondering where he’s going to leave us with the final novel in the trilogy.
This was superb stuff, and if you loved the first book as much as I did, then you’ll find The Fractal Prince to be one of your favourite novels of 2012 as well.
“The good thing is, no one will ever die again. The bad thing is, everyone will want to.”
A physicist receives a mysterious paper. The ideas in it are far, far ahead of current thinking and quite, quite terrifying. In a city of “fast ones,” shadow players, and jinni, two sisters contemplate a revolution. And on the edges of reality a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box for his patron. In the box is his freedom. Or not.
Jean de Flambeur is back. And he’s running out of time.
In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed international sensation The Quantum Thief, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe…and we discover what the future held for Earth.
This novel is a direct continuation of The Quantum Thief utilizing a similar tone to the first novel in the trilogy. The book is among the hardest of the hard sci-fi novels that I’ve read, up there with the likes of Iain M. Banks and Peter F. Hamilton. Whilst The Fractal Prince may not be as long as the Peter F. Hamilton novel that I am currently reading, The Reality Dysfunction, It doesn’t have to be. I loved Rajaniemi’s narrative, prose and setting – and although it’s one of the more weird novels that I’ve read recently, it also happens to be one of the best. SFX describe this book as “Something Strange this way comes,” and I think that just about sums it up. This is certainly not a book or indeed, a series – that you’d give to someone reading their first hard sci-fi novel. For those of you who are at all interested in literary sci-fi however, The Fractal Prince and its predecessor, The Quantum Thief, are for you.
“An excellent novel – David Ramirez establishes himself as a fantastic author who’s certainly one to watch with a complex, entertaining and original science fiction novel that comes highly recommended – you won’t want to miss this.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new planet aboard one ship, The Noah, which is also carrying a dangerous serial killer…
As a City Planner on the Noah, Hana Dempsey is a gifted psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat and is considered “mission critical.” She is non-replaceable, important, essential, but after serving her mandatory Breeding Duty, the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, her life loses purpose as she privately mourns the child she will never be permitted to know.
When Policeman Leonard Barrens enlists her and her hacking skills in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death, Dempsey finds herself increasingly captivated by both the case and Barrens himself. According to Information Security, the missing man has simply “Retired,” nothing unusual. Together they follow the trail left by the mutilated remains. Their investigation takes them through lost dataspaces and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a serial killer after all.
What they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity in this thrilling page turner.
The thing that sold me on The Forever Watch was its cover. Having no knowledge about the writer or the book I requested it from NetGalley based on the eye-catching cover and when I was able to get stuck in I did, and the book did not disappoint, providing among of the most unique science fiction experiences that I’ve had the pleasure of reading so far this year. It’s smart, original and compelling – and hopefully this won’t be the last that we’ll see of David Ramirez.
The-Forever-WatchThe Forever Watch charts the story of the spaceship Noah and its journey to find the Promised Land – Canaan. This alone was enough to remind me of my favourite TV series Battlestar Galactica – the 2003 version, where a group of survivors are fleeing the twelve colonies of Kobol in search of the mythical world known as Earth, and this book turned out to be very interesting indeed, putting the reader’s attention on the main character Hana Dempsey – a city planner who’s gifted in multiple fields, among them hacking and economics.
Given the fact that David Ramirez is an ex-scientist, you can expect that The Forever Watch is going to be well researched and far from a simple read, and you’d be right – the book involves a lot of technological elements and they’re pulled off very well, allowing for a complex read and it doesn’t just come from that front – The Forever Watch also handles complex characters and an interesting plot to boot, making it one of the strongest science fiction novels that I have read in a while, especially as it is a debut one.
Hana herself allows for a great protagonist. Her first introduction comes as a mother giving birth, as is required by law on board Noah, which is something that’s unusual to happen even in a book where a law isn’t there. However, this allowed an intriguing element to the book, and it was interesting to see how Ramirez dealt with this, and he handled it effectively in what otherwise could have been an awkward situation. As well as Hana there’s also Leonard Barrens, a police officer who drafts in Hana to help find the murderer of his mentor, and he is another good character that the writer has given us, well developed and just as interesting as Hana.
This book is one of the most original science fiction novels I’ve read in a while, there are some fascinating concepts here and they’re dealt with very well – despite the fact that this may be Ramirez’s first novel, he’s a confident and strong writer who manages to knock it out of the park – this could very well be one of the year’s best debuts by the end.
Ramirez doesn’t fall into the trap that comes with having vast amount of scientific elements in his story that will seem off putting to a reader only casually invested in the science fiction genre. However, Ramirez manages to tell a good story despite this, weaving a confident and strong narrative that doesn’t get bogged down with the details, the book turning out to be an incredibly strong read and the pace allows for some compulsive reading.
It’s amazing how much Ramirez has accomplished in his debut novel that feels like the second or third novel rather than the beginning. His book never feels overlong and doesn’t feel too short either, getting the perfect balance. In fact, there’s very little wrong with this novel, as the writer deals with powerful themes and an intriguing plot incredibly strongly.
I think Joe Abercrombie might be one of my Top 5 favourite authors, along with George RR Martin, Iain M. Banks,Brandon Sanderson and JRR Tolkien. ThisI think Joe Abercrombie might be one of my Top 5 favourite authors, along with George RR Martin, Iain M. Banks,Brandon Sanderson and JRR Tolkien. This was awesome,probably either my first or second favourite read of 2012. Utterly unputdownable.
“An epic, awesome standalone fantasy novel that I really enjoyed. One of gritty fantasy’s best Authors, Abercrombie is right up there with George RR Martin.” ~The Founding Fields
Red Country was the first book that I brought on my Kindle Fire that I got for Christmas, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s my third Abercrombie novel that I’ve read, after The Blade Itself and The Heroes. And I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t put this novel down, and I was glad that I was reading this on a long journey allowing me to read this in pretty much two sittings – It’s just one of those books that I couldn’t put down. And whilst it may not be my favourite Abercrombie book (The Heroes holds that title), It’s still a very good one and better than most of the stuff that I read that was released in 2012 (all of it apart from Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns, as it turns out).
Shy South comes home to her farm to find a blackened shell, her brother and sister stolen, and knows she’ll have to go back to bad old ways if she’s ever to see them again. She sets off in pursuit with only her cowardly old step-father Lamb for company. But it turns out he’s hiding a bloody past of his own. None bloodier.
Their journey will take them across the lawless plains, to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feuds, duels, and massacres, high into unmapped mountains to a reckoning with ancient enemies, and force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, a man no one should ever have to trust . . .
There were a few things that prevented Red Country from being as awesome as The Heroes, which I’m going to talk about before I start saying how good this book was. There were a couple of pacing issues that I had with the book, for certain sections I felt dragged out for me. Other than that though, the novel was epic – and even though I don’t read/watch a lot of westerns (despite one of my favourite films being The Magnificent Seven and one of my favourite debut novels of 2012 being Lee Collins’ Western/vampire book from Angry Robot), Red Country was still really epic, as Abercrombie manages to include enough fantasy in this book to make it feel like a fantasy novel rather than a western. Sure, there’s the traditional western cliches thrown in there – bar fights, wide open spaces, wagon trains etc, but Abercrombie’s writing manages to save this book from being very poor indeed, after all – it was billed right from the get go as a Fantasy Western. And I’ll admit that the only reason that I picked this up was because it was Abercrombie.
“Very dark, very gritty and very atmospheric. Wolfhound Century is also a book free of genre constraints, allowing for a great original and entertaining read. Top Notch stuff by Peter Higgins.” ~The Founding Fields
Every so often you come across a book that is impossible to fit into a single genre, and Wolfhound Century hits that spot perfectly. It seems like a weird combination of alternate history, fantasy and the good old noir crime fiction as well – set in a world that is similar to 1940′s Russia. If you were looking for one of the most imaginative books of the year so far, then you’ve come to the right place.
"Investigator Vissarion Lom has been summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist — and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police.
A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown insurgents with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists.
Lom has been chosen because he is an outsider, not involved in the struggle for power within the party. And because of the sliver of angel stone implanted in his head."
The strongest aspect of Wolfhound Century is clearly Higgins’ worldbuilding. He’s captured a gritty world with one of the darkest tales that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I’ve read Warhammer 40,000 fiction – the setting that first coined the term grimdark. (I think). Don’t expect any heroes here, for Higgins’ characters are well developed, three-dimensional and very interesting, and Higgins has made them feel realistic enough to fit in the totalitarian state that he has created as a backdrop, and never does a character feel like he or she shouldn’t belong.
Whilst the book has a larger cast of characters than just the man mentioned on the blurb, Investigator Vissarion Lom is the story’s key man, summoned by a high ranking police official to catch a terrorist at the bequest of the head of the secret police. Lom is a great character and he manages to carry the book through the dark corners that Higgins takes us. It becomes clear that one of the main themes in this book is fear, fear of the Secret Police, and this is one of the many reasons that helps connect Wolfhound Century to its 1940′s Russia setting. The pace is fast, and if you enjoy Wolfhound Century then you won’t be able to put it down, for the chapters are almost James Patterson-level short in places, allowing that “One More Chapter” thing to really kick in even though you know you have to get off the bus soon (If my bus stop was not the last stop on my journey, I would have missed it – I was that engrossed in Wolfhound Century), allowing for a great read.
The writing style of Peter Higgins is fantastic and if Wolfhound Century is anything to go by then I will stick around to see more of what Higgins puts out – he’s a great writer and has really captured the fact that fantasy doesn’t have to be set on a completely invented world nor in our own reality to be enjoyable – alternate history/fantasy is a much under used genre that I am now wishing to explore in more depth to see if there are other books like Wolfhound Century out there.
This could very well end up being in my list of Top 25 books of 2013, and it’s certainly going to be one of the weirdest novels that I’ve read this year - Wolfhound Century is engaging, enthralling and this is a ride that you’ll want to get on board for. Fans of noir, classic spy thrillers, and fantasy fans will want to get on board on this book and whilst its dark tone may not be for everyone It comes with a high recommendation from me.
“How do you make vampires more original? You put them in the Western genre. Collins has created a stunning debut here that is sure to entertain.” ~The“How do you make vampires more original? You put them in the Western genre. Collins has created a stunning debut here that is sure to entertain.” ~The Founding Fields
So, The Dead of Winter. What a heck of an enjoyable read, and Angry Robot continue to impress me with another stellar debut. The storyline is unique and engaging, and it moves along at a brisk pace. This is the first novel in the Cora Oglesby series and it did not disappoint - I loved every second of it.
"Cora Ogelsby and her husband, Ben, hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist.
When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious, bloody deaths out in the badlands, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if she is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, Cora must first confront her own tragic past."
Let’s start with discussing the characters. Cora and Ben are at the core of the novel and are the most developed characters here. Collins manages to make Cora a strong, lead character that is not one-dimensional, and he manages to have the novel lead a lasting effect on the characters involved, as well as the reader. An interesting choice by Collins was to make Cora and Ben a married couple, rather than a pair of lone assassins, which I found to add an interesting element to the story. With She Returns From War coming soon as the next book in this series, you can count me in as a reader of that for certain. I enjoyed almost everything about The Dead of Winter, to the extent that there’s only one thing that I had an issue with (which I’ll touch on later).
The book itself is essentially written in two halves, and the first of which deals with the introduction of Cora and what a normal job would be like for her, whilst the second kicks things into gear and after developing Cora as a strong character and allowing the reader to fully understand her as a character, we’re thrust headlong into the action in the second half, and Collins’ pace doesn’t relent. It’s action-packed, and written with confidence and very entertaining.
“An excellent book. Unputdownable, engrossing, spectacular – you won’t want to miss this.” ~The Founding Fields
There’s a lot of grimdark fantasy out there at the moment. George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie, and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy are three of the more notable books from the subgenre. However, when I approached Herald of the Storm, I approached it not with the sense that this would feel like a rehash of books that we’ve seen before, but with a sense of anticipation. Ford’s Kultus was well received by my fellow Founding Fields reviewers Commissar Ploss and Djinn24, and it was mostly well received elsewhere from what I’ve seen. And Herald of the Storm has already been receiving some pretty good praise so far from what I’ve seen. So I went in with anticipation, and the end result? Well, the end result was good. I actually really enjoyed this book.
"Welcome to Steelhaven… Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States. But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha. When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end."
There are several things to love about Herald of the Storm. If gritty fantasy is your thing, then you’ll enjoy it. Sure, whilst it may be in the standard fantasy format, debut novel in a trilogy to boot, the book’s setting is somewhat different than most. Rather than follow a variety of characters across the entire world, Richard Ford chooses to hone in on one city, or to be more accurate – a cityport. Steelhaven, and populates it with a vast amount of inhabitants, fleshing each of them out and developing them into more than just your average one dimensional, stock fantasy heroes.
Although the narrative is divided between multiple characters, The principal character is Janessa, daughter of King Cael, and focuses on Janessa’s role when Cael is, at the start of the story – off fighting a war. And therefore, even though the larger responsibilities of government are left to councillors of her father, Janessa still has to deal with the smaller scale bureaucratic duties. Many of the other seven characters however, could easily fit stereotypical roles, which by saying this would almost make me hypocritical by going back on my earlier statement about them being one dimensional and your standard heroes. But they’re not. Ford has taken a similar approach to what Whedon took with Firefly, and deliberately work within these predefined roles. However, it’s the strong level of storytelling that Ford brings to the table here – with some great character interaction, and some fantastic character development over the course of the book, and at the end – leaving the reader eagerly awaiting more, and what’s more – you’ll care about these characters. You won’t treat them like they’re just talking plot points designed to advance a story, you’ll treat them like genuine people. They’re that well developed.
Of course, in a grimdark fantasy, you’ll expect action – and that’s exactly what Ford gives us. It’s unrelenting, gritty, and moves along, taking no prisoners. Creating attention to characters as well as the action and handling both in a way that still leaves plenty of time for worldbuilding, Ford has managed to create the perfect balance. Whilst there may not be one ongoing, main plot thread that tangles all the little extras together, the book is very good at exploring different, subplots across the city. What we don’t get is a sense that there’s an overall story, but that’s pretty much one of the few issues that I had with Herald of the Storm, the only thing preventing it from getting top marks. However, with two books left, there is plenty of time to develop a main plot thread, but with the way that Ford handles everything else, you almost won’t care.
Therefore, despite its one small issue then - Herald of the Storm is a strong opener, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Ford’s next book set in the city of Steelhaven.
“I never expected The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare to be as good as it was. It took me completely by surprise and turned out to be quite possibl“I never expected The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare to be as good as it was. It took me completely by surprise and turned out to be quite possibly one of the best novels from Strange Chemistry books to date. Forget popular books like The Hunger Games & Twilight, M.G. Buehrlen’s debut novel is something that every young adult fan should read.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.
But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.
It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.
Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.
And will stop at nothing to make this life her last."
Time travel has been a great part of science fiction and fantasy culture primarily due to the 50-year old British Science Fiction TV series Doctor Who and the Back to the Future trilogy. The subject genre has also given us novels like Stephen King’s 11.22.63, and of course the classic H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine. With such a vast subject to cover it’s amazing that beyond the aforementioned titles you’ll probably struggle to recall and really exceptional time travel material in both novels and film that has been really, truly brilliant. Despite the fact that M.G. Buehrlen’s The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare may not look like much on the blurb, sounding like another time-travel romance story, but despite the fact that romance does play an important part in this book the main focus is on the time travel, and the plot actually moves forward rather than just being about two characters falling in love. It’s compelling, page-turning and a really quick read – something that will appeal to fans of both young adult and adult fiction alike.
The57LivesofAlexWayfareThe main character is 17 year old Alex Wayfare, who’s a sort of time traveller. She lacks a TARDIS and a DeLorean, but what she does have the ability to do is move through fifty seven different lifetimes, in various bodies and actually live history rather than read about it in paper. The catch? When she time travels, she transports herself into different people’s bodies and it’s not always clear whose bodies she’s going to end up in. And then of course, there are rules – you cannot fall in love, or kill a person, because this may end up changing the future altogether. It’s clear that the writer has actually put some thought process into the idea of time travel and doesn’t make up new rules as she goes along. It’s good to see a sense of direction as well, because the plot rapidly advances and as a result allows for a really compelling read.
Alex Wayfare is a likable, rootable and engaging character. She’s the outsider at school – nicknamed “Wayspaz” by her peers, with little friends and a good ability to fix things. It’s not often that you get a well rounded character in young adult fiction nowadays – particularly female characters tend to be underdeveloped often, but Alex is one that certainly has been fleshed out and over the course of the book really grows as a character. And more importantly, Alex actually gets stuff done. You’d be amazed at how many young adult novels (and not just YA novels) there are where the female protagonist doesn’t actually do a lot of stuff other than fall in love with the man. When a book is written entirely through a first person perspective it’s important that you can connect to and root for the main character and that’s what Buehrlen does. Alex isn’t off-putting and never feels like a Mary-Sue.
The storyline is fantastic. It explores time travel in a way that most novels don’t – what if you ended up in other people’s bodies rather than time travel by yourself? Marty McFly didn’t have to deal with this situation, and neither does The Doctor. Buehrlen’s take on time travel is inventive and imaginative – and it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes the book if there is a sequel. She does include a romance element which will normally throw people off but it actually works here, not bogging down the story and still creating a really compelling read. There isn’t a love triangle that most books seem to be so full of nowadays and it’s all the better because of that. If anything, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare shows that you can write a good young adult novel with a female character that doesn’t have to deal with two separate love interests. It’s a refreshing break and makes Alex feel more realistic and less of an author’s wish-fulfillment.
Despite being a lot of fun, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare does have two minor issues that could have been developed more. They don’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the book but it would have been nice to see the secondary characters developed a bit more, especially when Alex herself was so well fleshed out. The other complaint is nothing to do with the writing of the book at all, it’s the fact that the cover is not as great as it could have been. A time travel novel has a potential for a great cover but the opportunity was really wasted here as it feels bland and generic, much like the “Man with hood” covers that epic fantasy seems to be full of nowadays.
On the whole, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare is an excellent book that can be recommended to all lovers of young adult fiction, with something that readers of almost every genre will find something to enjoy here. It’s compelling, page-turning and something that everybody should check out upon its release. It’s one of the best Strange Chemistry novels yet and that’s no easy award to win – the publisher has given the reader some excellent books in the form of titles like Laura Lam’s Pantomime, Kim Curran’s Shift and Rosie Best’s Skulk. Hopefully, this novel will get a sequel – because Alex Wayfare’s world is something that should be very interesting to return to.
“Inferno is possibly one of the worst books that I’ve read this year, and in fact – one of the few things that I can say it is better than is The Lost Symbol. But only just.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ll admit – I liked Brown’s first two books, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Heck, I even liked the films to a certain extent. But when his third novel, The Lost Symbol came around – it quickly became apparant that this was possibly one of my least favourite novels. So, I was torn on getting Inferno. Could Brown produce a novel that redeems himself from the travesty that I can’t even remember most of the plotline from, and match the books that remind me why I enjoyed his work in the first place? In short, no. He fails to bring anything new to the table and as a result, the book runs along a similiar plotline to the previous books that made his name and doesn’t give us a new approach like Deception Point & Digital Fortress, the latter of which I enjoyed, the former I couldn’t get through.
‘Seek and ye shall find.’
"With these words echoing in his head, eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no recollection of where he is or how he got there. Nor can he explain the origin of the macabre object that is found hidden in his belongings.A threat to his life will propel him and a young doctor, Sienna Brooks, into a breakneck chase across the city of Florence.
Only Langdon’s knowledge of hidden passageways and ancient secrets that lie behind its historic facade can save them from the clutches of their unknown pursuers.With only a few lines from Dante’s dark and epic masterpiece, The Inferno, to guide them, they must decipher a sequence of codes buried deep within some of the most celebrated artefacts of the Renaissance – sculptures, paintings, buildings – to find the answers to a puzzle which may, or may not, help them save the world from a terrifying threat…"
I think the biggest problem about Inferno is Robert Langdon himself, the Harvard Symbologist with his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, and the problem for most long-running thriller series featuring a lead character (James Patterson’s Alex Cross books is another example of this). They don’t develop. The Langdon that we meet in Inferno is virtually indistingushiable from the one that we met at the beginning of Angels & Demons. Heck, for all we know – Inferno could be the first outing for the main protagonist. But it’s not. He remains the same, and you’d think that he’d have some character development after the past few books.
Whilst this could be explained away as it allows the reader to jump on right with the latest book, it still poses a nagging problem for me. And it gets worse – There isn’t even, as far as I could tell, any references to the previous novels. Mainly because Inferno follows exactly the same pattern as his previous books.
Awakened in the dead of night, Langdon finds himself working with a woman with hidden secrets against the authorities and a mystery assassin dispatched by a secret organisation. Sound familiar? Yes. This is every Robert Langdon featuring Dan Brown book that you’ve read before. Whilst he may be sticking to the tried and tested formula that made him famous, I’d like him to bring out something new for a change. Something fresh. If Dan Brown was a video game, he’d be the Call of Duty of video games, and if you’ve read more than one Brown book before then you’ll get my point. The two biggest problems that I had with this book are lack of character development and originality.
And I think there are only two redeeming factors about this book. The first, is that it’s better than The Lost Symbol. Just. The page-turning element is still there, and the thriller portion will keep you turning pages. The second, is the cover, and one of the main reasons why when I was in a local supermarket, I went for this over Run, Alex Cross – the latest Patterson book. On reflection, I probably should have went for the Patterson book. But Brown fan or not, you can’t deny that the cover (UK Version, above left) looks awesome. If only the book could be as well.
Congratulations, Dan Brown. I think you may have just won my award for worst novel of 2013 so far.
THE ROBERT LANGDON SERIES: Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Inferno...more
“If this isn’t your most anticipated debut novel of 2014, then you’re doing it wrong. Traitor’s Blade may well end up going down as one of the strongest first fantasy novels of recent times – it’s an absolute stunner that you can’t afford to miss.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…"
Every so often as a book reviewer you stumble across a book that absolutely blows you away in terms of sheer quality. Brain McClellan and Brian Staveley and more have been relatively recent debut novelists and have really impressed with their first novels, but Sebastien de Castell absolutely steps up and knocks the ball out of the park with a stunning first novel in the Greatcloaks series from Jo Fletcher books, and instantly makes him a must watch author with his confident narrative that is a guaranteed place on many reader’s best of the year lists, even though we’re only in March.
Traitors-BladeThe book plants the reader in the head of Falcio, the first Cantor of the Greatcoats – an organisation that’s trained in fighting arts and uphold the law of the King. Once renowned as heroes, they’re now scattered and persecuted as traitors – having stood and watched whilst the Dukes took the kingdom, with their King’s head impaled on a spike. As you can imagine, the tables have turned – and the Greatcoats are far from what they once were.
The book itself is easily one of the most fun reads that I’ve had so far this year, and can claim that title as well as the bet debut novel. The book itself is a swashbuckling adventure romp, and will have the reader gripped to the page right the way through. There are clear hints of The Three Musketeers in the book itself – and there’s several instances of amusing witty banter throughout the book that works – not coming across as forced or out of place. The book shares more similarities with urban fantasies due to first person narrative with the short and to-the-point sentences rather than the long-winded often-third person structure that is a common theme in most epics.
If you’re not sold on the book already then it’s publisher - Jo Fletcher Books should really sell it for you – it’s rare that you’ll go by the publisher over the author but Jo Fletcher have not put out a bad book yet – at least in my perspective. Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne novels have been exceptional, as well as Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns. So far this is pretty much the only publisher that I’ve read that has a 100% track record with me as a reader – and almost anything that they put out will catch my interest regardless of the genre. Only a few other publishers can do that as well – Angry Robot and its imprint Strange Chemistry are two more. So whether this is your first Jo Fletcher book or you have read every title – one thing’s for sure, Traitor’s Blade manages to feel fresh and gripping despite having a relatively unoriginal premise.
Also, it’s rare that I point this out in a review, but how awesome is that cover? I didn’t even need to read the blurb before tearing into this book once it arrived, and it instantly stood out from the crowd of to be read books with its striking design. If I’d been browsing in a shop this would have definitely been an impulse buy – and it’s something that based on the sheer quality of the book I’m not looking like regretting any time soon.
The action is well written and there are a variety of fight scenes that don’t feel odd or cumbersome – running smoothly with the strong, page-turning pace of the rest that the rest of the novel provides. We get to see a superb level of plotting on display as well – something that quite a lot of debuts suffer with. The book also wraps up with a strong conclusion – and means that it will be a long wait for the next book, which based on the quality of this one – will certainly have readers coming back for more.
The characters are well developed, interesting and flawed. It’s no surprise that Falcio is the most memorable character of the lot – but there are a lot of other fleshed out characters as well. The book doesn’t fall into the trap of casting women in merely ‘damsel in distress’ roles either, and puts them in a variety of roles.
On the whole then, Traitor’s Blade is a stunning debut novel from Sebastian de Castell that has already guaranteed its place on the Best of 2014 lists and could possibly end up as the best debut novel of the whole year – it’s absolutely incredible stuff.
“An awesome book that provides great entertainment and a lot of fun, with Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson proves that he can write in a variety of genres extremely well, and create captivating and enthralling stories each time around, as he provides a treat for fans of not only fantasy and science fiction, but also fans of comics. And for fans of both - Steelheart surely is a winning combination.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"There are no heroes.
Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.
Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible.
It has been ten years. We live our lives as best we can. Nobody fights back . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans who spend their lives studying powerful Epics, finding their weaknesses, then assassinating them.
My name is David Charleston. I’m not one of the Reckoners, but I intend to join them. I have something they need. Something precious, something incredible. Not an object, but an experience. I know his secret.
I’ve seen Steelheart bleed."
As long term followers of The Founding Fields will know, Brandon Sanderson is probably one of my favourite authors. I’ve loved his Mistborn Trilogy and really enjoyed both The Rithmatist and The Alloy of Law. Whilst Elantris wasn’t as powerful as the previously mentioned books it was still a fairly strong read, and I really need to get around to reading Warbreaker and The Way of Kings judging from what I’ve seen from these respective novels. Sanderson manages to bring something fresh and original to the table each time he brings out a new book, and I’m quite happy to say that my most anticipated book for the second half of the year really did not disappoint, as Steelheart delivered on its high expectations, which was a relief – as I’ve been disappointed by various books in the past before by good authors because the books did not live up to the value of anticipation that had been built up around them (I’m looking at you, Dan Abnett’s Pariah). Of course, given Sanderson’s track record, I shouldn’t really have had any worry that this book was going to be any less than superb, and after finishing reading it – I can safely say that it stands as strong contention for among the best five novels that we’ve had this year so far.
SteelheartLike The Rithamtist, Steelheart is another Young Adult book by Sanderson and it’s just as engrossing and as awesome as his previous attempt. It’s essentially a post-apocalyptic book set on Earth in the near future populated with superheroes. However, unlike Superman, Batman etc - Steelheart has a darker twist on the superhero genre, and is in some ways, more realistic than the portrayal of them in comcis, after all – the temptation to abuse your power is always there and with Sanderson’s so-called “Epics”, he continues to expand on these characters and makes a point that with powers, not everybody would use them for the right means.
If you’re a fan of Sanderson like myself then you’ll know what to expect from this book. As usual, the world-building is pulled off with creativity and imagination, establishing how the Epics work and what makes them tick. Without a magic system, a rare change from Sanderson’s other works, we’re instead presented with a variety of gadgets and technology that mostly lean towards one goal – taking down the Epics. As there are no superheroes fighting for the force of good in this nightmare (and don’t expect the main character to gain powers either), the weapons and high-tech gadgets are ways of defeating the enemy that Sanderson manages to execute pretty well, to the extent that nothing feels like a get-out-of-jail free card, and they all feel like they fit the tone of this reality very well indeed.
One problem that I have with Steelheart is that the characters aren’t as fleshed out or as well developed as I would like them to be, with the only major memorable character apart from Steelheart himself is David, the main character who narrates the story through his perspective and his perspective alone. First person perspective is common in Young Adult books and this is the first time I believe I’ve seen Sanderson handle this method of narrative, which he manages to pull of pretty well for the most part. Sanderson fleshes out David well, making him a more than just a one-dimensional character. He’s also a great lead character as well, and never feels like the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue. For the most part the Epics are interesting and varied as well, with their names being pretty cool as well – and whilst some feel awkward, that’s only because they were designed to be.
Whilst the plot may seem similar to The Final Empire, Sanderson’s first Mistborn book, only in a different setting, you’ll be pleased to know that he handles it pretty well, making it seem fresh and not just a re-hash. It’s also a pretty unpredictable read, unlike a vast portion of young adult books that I’ve read before. You don’t know what’s going to happen next and this is a world where nobody is safe. Each chapter had me on the edge of my seat and I really couldn’t put this book down as I was reading it, with Sanderson handling the pacing of the book very well, without any moments that feel out of place or odd.
Sanderson’s Steelheart then, is a success. I can safely label it as one my favourite books of the year, and it’s one that everyone, even people who have never read a Sanderson book before, will have a fun time reading. It’s page-turning, awesome and captivating – and I really can’t wait to see what Sanderson brings to the table for the next volume in the series. You can certainly count me in for that.
“An entertaining novel with a brilliant premise that, whilst not quite delivering its full potential, offers a great look into two principal characters – Vulkan himself, and Konrad Curze, the Primarch of the Night Lords.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"In the wake of the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, the survivors of the Salamanders Legion searched long and hard for their fallen primarch, but to no avail. Little did they know that while Vulkan might have wished himself dead, he lives still… languishing in a hidden cell for the entertainment of a cruel gaoler, his brother Konrad Curze. Enduring a series of hellish tortures designed to break his body and spirit, Vulkan witnesses the depths of the Night Haunter’s depravity, but also discovers something else – a revelation that could change the course of the entire war."
I’m in full knowledge of just how little Black Library fiction I’ve read this year. I’ve missed out on the previous two Horus Heresy novels, Betrayer and Mark of Calth – and most of the fiction that the publisher has been putting out this year aside from Pariah (which I didn’t like) and Deathwatch (which I did like). So, where better to start than the twenty-sixth novel in the long-running, multi-author Horus Heresy series dealing with Kyme’s first Heresy novel?
Vulkan LivesThe book itself brings the Salamanders Legion to the forefront in the first time in the Heresy. They’re one of my favourite Legions – having been pretty much ignored in the previous outings of the Heresy, their only main focus being Promethean Sun, a novella also written by Nick Kyme – and it was about time they got their chance in the spotlight. Don’t worry though – unlike Prospero Burns (which I enjoyed despite the advertising), the book fulfils what it promised us – despite not offering an in-depth look at the legion, it does feature a heavy focus on Vulkan himself, who along with Konrad Curze, they both benefit from strong characterisation. However, not every character gets the same treatment as these two – I felt that the side characters, such as the few Salamanders that we encountered outside of Vulkan, were pretty much interchangeable and didn’t really stand out.
If you’ve read any of Kyme’s previous novels then you’ll know that he can handle action well and he does so again here, with some rather engaging action sequences that increase the page-turning ability of the novel. However, there presents another problem – the Salamanders in Vulkan Lives are of course Space Marines – indomitable, super human Astartes capable of withstanding blows that could cripple your normal member of the Imperial Army. However – in a move that I wasn’t a big fan of – we see multiple times, legionaries are slain by things which shouldn’t, according to lore – kill them. But despite that, there are some great moments that shine here, and I have to agree with fellow reviewer Bellarius (whose thoughts can be found below) that the Salamander’s planned assault on Khar-tann and the final confrontation between Curze and Vulkan are among the book’s highlights.
One of the strengths of the Horus Heresy series is that despite the fact that it is 26 novels long, assuming you know the basic storyline and have at least read the first five novels (Horus Rising to Fulgrim), – you can pretty much jump right in wherever you want, aside from a few exceptions like the Descent of Angels/Fallen Angels two-parter focusing on the Dark Angels Legion, and the A Thousand Sons/Prospero Burns duology focusing on the Invasion of Prospero. Vulkan Lives is a novel best read after the events of Fulgrim, at least in my opinion – and when you consider that we’ve pretty much moved past the Isstvan V Dropsite Massacre in the overall storyline, it may feel to some like a step backwards rather than a step forwards to read it this late in the series, but Kyme really does answer the question about what happened to Vulkan following the events of Isstvan V, and whilst Vulkan Lives may not quite be the Horus Heresy novel that Salamander fans wanted, it does provide an entertaining look into the two Primarchs, exploring and makes them tick.
What’s more – despite the negative thoughts that I raised about Vulkan Lives earlier in this review - I actually enjoyed it, and I felt, it was just what I needed to get back into the Horus Heresy kick. It’s a solid tale, but comes with a cautious recommendation – it may not be for everyone – particularly those who aren’t a fan of Kyme’s past works, but some will enjoy it – I think – on the flipside, those who enjoyed his previous novels will find something to love here. However, I’m certainly looking forward to more Heresy books by Kyme – it’ll be interesting to see whether he returns to tackle the Salamanders or deals with another legion in the future.
“An excellent read, Hollow World is a must read for all those who have enjoyed the Riyria Revelations and are looking for something different. Engrossing, imaginative and incredibly awesome – Hollow World may be one of the best books of the year.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.
Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World.
Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations."
I’m a massive fan of Michael J. Sullivan and have really enjoyed his Riyria Revelations novels, so it really was a no brainer that I was going to read Hollow World and after receiving an review copy (I completely missed the kick-starter, otherwise I would have no doubt put money towards it if I could), I got stuck right into the book and ended up really enjoying it. It’s a risk on Sullivan’s part to move away from the fantasy setting of his Riyria Revelations – but the book actually works because of that risk, it feels fresh – as though we’re reading a novel by the author for the first time, rather than following the end of a series that spanned multiple novels including its very own two-book prequel. So I applaud Sullivan for trying something new and It really pays off as a result – the book is gripping, enthralling and hard to put down.
Hollow World opens in Modern Day Detroit and following the collapsing of Ellis Rogers’ life, he uses a time machine that he created in his garage and with nothing left to lose – hurls himself 2,000 (initially only meaning to go 200) years into the future in an attempt to find a better world. However, things don’t quite turn out as planned, as just as soon as he arrives he’s thrown into a conspiracy where his only ally is a character simply known as Pax.
The book blends some great themes together, exploring complex and personal questions like politics and religion, and juggles with the world building aspect incredibly well – Sullivan doesn’t bog the reader down with any information dumping and keeps to a fast paced style that fans of his previous series will enjoy – it moves along quickly and we never really get any slow parts during the book – and as a result that’s why I couldn’t put this down, with an interesting backdrop that sees humans now living in the safety of underneath the planet following a series of global disasters that made the world above unsafe to live on – the people of the future now live in great caverns under the world, thus the title of the novel Hollow World. There’s no space opera and grand voyages through space to be found in this science fiction novel – but they aren’t required to tell a good science fiction novel and Hollow World makes the most of a book set on Earth with a compelling and engaging read.
If I had to point out one problem with Hollow World is that it did take a while to get going. Sullivan’s pace for the most part of the novel may be page-turning and awesome, but it does take a while to get going. Once you’re in the future though you should be well and truly hooked – because Sullivan will weave a compelling and strong tale that you won’t be able to put down.
All that said though, Hollow World is an excellent read – Michael J. Sullivan has written one of the better novels of the year so far and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Great stuff.
“A very promising fantasy debut that impresses with a confident narrative, however it suffers from poorly written female characters and plenty of repetition and a tendency to over explain certain elements. Despite this though, The Emperor’s Blades for the most part, is actually an incredibly solid read.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.
Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.
Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.
Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral."
Another year, another epic fantasy debut. Some have been successful and others have been a disappointment, but Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, the first book in the Chronicle of the Unhwen Throne series, is a mixture of both worlds. On one hand, it has a great plot with an enthralling narrative that will really hook you in. It’s compelling, and the world is well developed with some mostly good characters. But nothing is perfect though and The Emperor’s Blades actually slips up in multiple areas such as its treatment of female characters and its use of repetition.
TheEmperorsBladesMost fantasy books that we’ve seen have started with the death of a King/Emperor/leading Monarch and this book picks up the paces, focusing on his children who are intent on uncovering the conspiracy. You get Valyn, a aspiring warrior of the Kettral, who is probably the most likable of the three siblings. There’s also Kaden, sequestered for eight years in a mountain monastery in order to learn the discipline that he needs to become the next Emperor as well as keep him hidden from the enemy. And there’s Adare, who is the sister of both Valyn and Kaden and gets the least amount of pagetime in the book that spends most of its focus looking at the struggles of Valyn and Kaden, and as a result she comes across as the least developed character of the lot.
However, there are problems, namely when it comes to the competency of the lead characters, Valyn and Adare in particular. Yes, they may not waste time doing what many fantasy novels struggle to avoid, having the characters whine and angst for most of the novel doing pretty much nothing else, because they at least get the job done, working hard to see it through. However, the competency is where the biggest issue is with the principal leads – Valyn lacks the ability to make important decisions, and he also suffers from the fact that he’s not a great team leader – something that you’d expect a character who has years of training as one to be good at. The other culprit is Adare, and what is frustrating is that in the few pages that she gets – she isn’t able to put her political skills to good use, unable to control her impulsiveness when it comes to speaking in public. Like with Valyn, Adare is experienced and highly schooled, or at least that’s what we’re told, but we don’t really see much proof to back it up. It’s a case of telling and not showing.
It seems for every bad thing about The Emperor’s Blades though is that there is something to enjoy about it. Staveley’s world building is very strong – richley detailed and you get a good sense of what’s going on – the book doesn’t struggle in the establishing of the scene – you’re thrust right into a fully-realised world that you can tell has been developed beforehand rather than just made up on the spot, as Staveley goes deeper into the world in one book than many fantasy writers do in a whole series, and whilst yes it does mean that the wordcount is long, it’s balanced by the fact that the pace is pretty quick. There aren’t any moments where you want to skip a few pages ahead because parts of the book has become too boring – it’s engrossing and highly captivating reading as a result.
And it isn’t long before we’re back at a negative element again. One of the biggest problems, if not the biggest in The Emperor’s Blades is its handling of female characters, and this is where it will be a make or break for the reader – some will enjoy the book regardless but others will be completely turned off by it.The only two women who are mildly tolerable are viewed with scorn and suspicion by the respective narrators, whilst the rest are treated either as damsels in distress or people to have sex with. It’s a vital flaw that prevents The Emperor’s Blades from reaching the four-star count or higher, which is a real shame as if there had been a few more developed female characters the book could have easily been one of the better novels of the year given its quality in other areas and this is something that any future books in the series need to turn around.
There’s nothing new brought to the table in terms of originality, and crucially, despite its many flaws - The Emperor’s Blades still manages to be mostly well written with confidence and has all the ingredients to create a novel that will be enjoyed by a great many. However, if you want strongly developed female characters and don’t mind large amounts of repetition, then this book isn’t going to be for you.