This is the best book Salyards has written to date. No joke. In the interest of transparency, I have to confess I have a mad man-crush on the guy. InThis is the best book Salyards has written to date. No joke. In the interest of transparency, I have to confess I have a mad man-crush on the guy. In fact, some might accuse me of stalking him. Which is stupid to admit, I know--if someone ever took Salyards out, I'm sure I'd be a serious person of interest.
Anyway, the book is pretty good. Give it a look. ...more
Say whatever else you want about THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, but you can’t call it derivative. Right from the get go, Beaulieu throws the reader in the deSay whatever else you want about THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, but you can’t call it derivative. Right from the get go, Beaulieu throws the reader in the deep end, introducing Russian-inspired names; a fascinating magic system that doesn’t include an instruction booklet and isn’t systematically explained; bandoliers, rifles, and cannons; air ships that (thankfully!) don’t resemble your Steampunk zeppelins in the slightest (don’t get me wrong, I like those, but it’s good to see a different take on dirigibles); complex politics and faction alignments that require some puzzling out to make sense of; a stately pace, as measured and patient as Russian literature of old; did I mention those names?
In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been off putting, or worse still, just a damn unsightly mess, but Beaulieu has clearly thought all of this through, and doesn’t pander—he trusts that his readers will be smart enough and invest enough to reap the rewards, which are many. The characterization is terrific, and the interactions feel real and grounded, despite the foreignness of the setting (which, to my mind, is actually a strong selling point!). While the pace is hardly breakneck, the prose is inviting and lush, with some wonderful descriptions that again take the edge of the fact that some stuff is a little confusing at first, and the author is in no rush to over explain with clumsy infodumps.
I hate it when a review says something to the effect of: “For a debut, it is very solid and blahblahblah,” as if it implies that the standards are lower for debuts. Sort of a backhanded compliment. That said, it’s rare to see a debut author show such confidence, trusting that the story and characters will draw the reader in until the world building starts to fall into place and make some semblance of sense, and yet Beaulieu has no problems at all here. WINDS sets the table nicely for the rest of the books in the trilogy, with believable characters who have complex, adult relationships, some fantastic political intrigue and backbiting, and a really intriguing and fleshed out setting. ...more
I recently finished The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan. I’ve been a fan of his since the first page of Altered Carbon, so I was really interestedI recently finished The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan. I’ve been a fan of his since the first page of Altered Carbon, so I was really interested to see where he took things in a fantasy milieu. The first book in the series, The Steel Remains, wasn’t quite as well-received as his science fiction, but I enjoyed it, and thought The Cold Commands was even better. The second book feels more confident and poised, less like he was out to prove something and more just focused on storytelling. The Kovacs books are a tough act to follow, but I think if readers come into this series and judge it on its own merits, they’ll discover he doesn’t have any real issues stepping into another genre.
Of course, anyone familiar with his previous work won't be shocked to discover there is plenty of violence, gore, profanity, and sex (straight and gay). Not for the faint of heart. You dig it, or you don't, and in this milieu, as in his science fiction, it makes perfect sense, as the place it full of shady, degenerate, and largely irreverent characters/antiheros, a dystopian vibe where rounding every corner seems to promise something uglier and more horrific than the last, and Morgan's trademark fixation on politics and the power that comes with the territory, and there's an underlying dark humor that somehow keeps the whole thing from being overwhelmingly oppressive.
As you might expect, the prose is vigorous, muscular, and brutal at times, but again, perfectly in sync with the storyline and setting. The Steel Remains didn't hook me immediately, but I figured it was Morgan, so I would stick it out, and I'm glad I did, because while that book slowly grew on me, The Cold Commands had me from the start. As I said, it seemed less like posturing and bravado and “See, I’m going to shiv every genre cliché in the kidney and laugh maniacally”, and much more focused on just delivering a top notch story that moves fast and grips you tighter as it goes. ...more
There are two things I really look for in any fiction: compelling characters that feel fleshed out, full of contradictory impulses, doubts, jealousiesThere are two things I really look for in any fiction: compelling characters that feel fleshed out, full of contradictory impulses, doubts, jealousies, and all the other human foible stuff; and a clever or unique take or treatment, an angle that separates it from everything else out there. The second is especially important in fantasy novels, which has a history almost as long as storytelling itself if you go back to Odysseus and Gilglamesh, so sometimes falls into the unpleasant habit of recycling tropes without bringing anything new to the table.
And I’m here to say, The Whitefire Crossing, the debut effort by Courtney Schafer, has both of those elements in spades. On its surface, it doesn’t appear all crazy unusual. It has a scoundrel with a complicated history named Dev, who’s a smuggler, but in the Locke Lamora mold as far as criminals go—he’s clever, likable, and not completely amoral or bloodthirsty. His sections of the book are told in first person.
And then there’s Kiran, a young secretive mage’s apprentice who’s on the run for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. He needs to get out of the city of Ninavel and into the country of Alathia undetected. There are plenty of obstacles (most won’t touch for fear of spoilage) but none greater than the inconvenient mountain range in between. In an interesting and bold choice (perhaps to help maintain the mystery for the bulk of the novel), Kiran’s sections are presented in third person limited.
This violates a cardinal precept most creative writing instructors proclaim from on high: don’t mix and match your POVS—pick one, and stick with it. So the story goes, mixing them confuses, frustrates, and potentially alienates readers. And while that’s not the worst advice, Schafer pulls it off here. It does take a chapter or two to adjust to the shifts between the characters/alternating POVs, and while this helps maintain some of the secrets both from Dev and the reader, it seems a natural rather than contrived choice once you get used to it.
So, structurally you have something that sets the novel apart (and in a good way, since it works!). But once of the other things that immediately sets this novel apart is the smuggling itself—it requires traveling through the mountains, and while Dev is skilled at transporting gems and small charms over the mountains, getting an inexperienced person through the mountains is a different proposition.
The characters themselves are well-drawn, their exchanges believable, and they’re both pretty well layered, as they each harbor their own secrets. But while there are plenty of other good things going on in the novel, the mountain crossing itself is where it truly shines. Most authors, gloss over travel of this kind (ocean in pre-modern times, mountains anytime, desert pretty much any time, hellish swamps, etc.), and because most readers aren’t experts on the topic, we grant authors a lot of latitude and suspend our disbelief, unless the writer clearly makes some horrible gaffes.
But when an author DOES know the terrain and territory, and is really familiar with all the challenges and dangers involved, it can turn a rote journey into a gripping one filled with tension and terrific realism. And boy, does Schafer know mountaineering. While the sections of the book that take place in urban environments are certainly handled well enough, the mountain crossing is absolutely fantastic in its rendering,
At the end of the day, the main characters are front and center, and they carry the novel, but the pure verisimilitude achieved in the mountaineering section really elevates this novel (pardon the pun) to another level.
I look forward to reading the next in the series. Although I’ll be sad if the mountains don’t feature prominently. Unless Schafer is also an expert in spelunking. Which is entirely possible. ...more