My first Mieville read and quite good. I can see why people love his use of language. There were times where it felt a little self consciously fancy,...moreMy first Mieville read and quite good. I can see why people love his use of language. There were times where it felt a little self consciously fancy, but generally speaking it was enviably crunchy in its ability to evoke emotion in a really visceral way. I enjoyed it very much.(less)
The Traitor Queen is the third book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador's Mission, here and the second book, The Rogue, here.
My feeling on The Traitor Queen don't deviate much from my comments on the previous two books. Strong characters, good line-by-line writing, a little lacking on the plot/tension side of things, great world building and good attempt to integrate same sex relationships as a normal part of the world. If you're interested in more thoughts on that front, I'd recommend my previous reviews (links at the top of this review).
In terms of a third book in a series, all the major plot points were closed off by the end. The final battle between the Traitors and the Sachakans happened, but was a little anti-climactic. I actually enjoyed the smaller scale drama of the roet/Thieves/Lillia storyline much better.
I quite enjoyed the sense that the Guild was having to adapt on many fronts at once - politically, technologically, internally. It gave a sense of change and time marching forward, which doesn't always happen in a fantasy world.
Canavan has introduced several younger characters, and if she was to ever revisit this world again (which I don't believe she has any plans to), I think leaping forward into the future and not focusing on any of the older characters at all would be the way to go. Anyi and Lillia would form a solid basis for a new series, especially if combined with dealing with the results of the world changes mentioned above.
The Rogue is the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador's Mission, here.
The story follows straight on from The Ambassador's Mission. I found myself gravitating towards the "home" plot, involving Cery the thief, Sonea the Black Magician and some internal shenanigans in the Guild, rather than the one that followed a trail of international intrigue. Still, The Rogue expanded even more on the politics wider world and introduced some tantalising glimpses into other societies, which I found quite interesting. Canavan has created a complex and intriguing world and I'm sure there was a depth of world building that went on to create such a coherent narrative.
As with the first novel, the pacing was a little slow for me. At the end of the day I just wasn't worried for the main characters. I suspect this was one of the reasons that I warmed to a sub-plot involving a new character tricked into learning black magic. As the character was new, I wasn't as certain that they'd survive, and that added an extra dollop of tension, which I quite liked.
Great to see a normalisation of homosexual relationships, with the same attention given to the gay character's love life as the straight ones. Truth be told, there were points where I found all the relationships a little vexing ("you're the Ambassador man, no good can come from sleeping with a senior official in another government!") but then I'm becoming a cranky old man (who apparently dislikes other people's happiness) faster than I'd like.
All in all a very solid middle novel to an enjoyable trilogy.
I first came across Dirk Flinthart's work when reading back over the New Ceres project, a shared world Australian spec fic project which occurred a wh...moreI first came across Dirk Flinthart's work when reading back over the New Ceres project, a shared world Australian spec fic project which occurred a while back. Dirk's work featured in both the New Ceres Nights anthology and the stand alone Angel Rising (links are to my reviews of both). I enjoyed his stories in both, so when I saw he had brought out his first full length novel, I was intrigued. I also really liked the cover, to be honest. Iconic Australian imagery doesn't often find itself on the front of an urban fantasy.
The novel centres on medical student Michael Devlin, who works in a lab to help keep himself at university. He is accidentally infected with a mysterious substance and when he goes to ask the Professor running the lab what it was, a crazed killer breaks in and kills both the Professor and Michael.
Which makes in all the more surprising for Michael when he wakes up in the morgue, toe tag and all. Not only is he not dead, but he seems to have picked up some nifty special powers along the way. The rest of the book involves Michael trying to work out what the hell has happened to him, and avoid/fight off the increasingly scary beasties that want to destroy him.
The book moves along at a fair clip, and involves a series of increasingly large and violent action sequences. According to the Internet Flinthart is a highly experience martial artist, and that flavour comes through in the book. The fight scenes seem authentic, especially the hand to hand stuff.
The story is told from several points of view, but my favourite is Jen, the Sydney police detective. She's tough, smart and very pragmatic. She is also very relatable.
This is the first book in a series, and while the plot does stand alone there is a lot of world establishing going on. I like the idea of international intrigue and secret cabals of vampires in an uneasy truce with their human counterparts, and the book hints at a scope that could make for very interesting story telling.
That being said, the book is a lot of fun and my impression was that Flinthart was having a good time writing it. This impression was further entrenched when I heard the Galactic Chat interview of Flinthart, where he said "I had a good time writing it". It is a very interesting interview - Flinthart has some pragmatic views on the publishing industry that I found informative. He even said that writing doesn't need to be good in order to sell. Thank whatever deity you hold most dear that is the case, or my own writing career would be in a lot of trouble.
Lots of action, violence and vampires - and you're supporting Australian speculative fiction at the same time. What's not to like?
Bloody Waters is the first novel of Australian author Jason Franks (better known for his work with comics and graphic novels). It was nominated for th...moreBloody Waters is the first novel of Australian author Jason Franks (better known for his work with comics and graphic novels). It was nominated for the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2012.
When guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier finds herself blacklisted she makes a deal with the devil for a second chance. Soon Clarice and her band, Bloody Waters, are on their way to stardom… but cracking the Top 10 is one thing; gunfights with the Vatican Mafia and magical duels quite another. Clarice is going to have to confront the Devil himself – the only question is whether she’ll be alive or dead when it happens.
I really enjoyed this novel. The style was very different to a lot of the horror I've been reading recently, with a clarity and deceptive simplicity that really suits the story. The protagonist, Clarice, is a no nonsense, kick arse kind of person, and the writing reflects that attitude.
The supernatural elements of the story build slowly. For the first little while, the book seems focused on the utterly un-supernatural rise of Clarice. She is a guitar god, who gets her skills from years and years of borderline obsessive practice . She sacrifices her free time and all semblance of a social life on the alter of her talent. It is refreshing to see the hard work needed to master any skill being reflected so effectively on the page. This section is well executed, but I can see that if a reader wanted all horror all the time they might get a little impatient here. Stick with it - the work done here to establish Clarice pays off handsomely later in the book.
Clarice herself is an excellent central character. "Doesn't play well with others" would be an understatement. Clarice is rude, tactless and doesn't take crap from anyone. She has a clear vision of what she wants, and anything that gets in the way does so at its own peril.
This single minded attitude helps with the building of guitar skills, but not with much else in the musical world. When she becomes black listed by record companies, the supernatural enters her world when a deal with the devil is needed to kickstart her band's career.
The book is filled with rock and roll references. To be honest, I'm not intimately familiar with rock and roll lore and I suspect a more knowledgeable reader would get more out of those aspects. But it is not overplayed - there is no rock and roll entrance exam needed to enjoy the book!
The escalating series of supernatural encounters had a balance of kick arse action and absurdity that appealed to my sense of humour. The pacing of the story was good through this section, moving from one skirmish to the next at a fair clip.
I really enjoyed the ending, as in many "deal with the Devil" tales, the Devil plays a crafty game and it isn't until the very end that you find out what's been behind all the events. The resolution felt fresh, without a cliche in sight.
I can see why Bloody Waters was nominated for the Aurealis Awards. Highly recommended - especially if you love rock and roll.
Brandon Sanderson is fast becoming one of my favourite "popcorn" authors. I first came across his work (like many others) when he was selected to fini...moreBrandon Sanderson is fast becoming one of my favourite "popcorn" authors. I first came across his work (like many others) when he was selected to finish the Wheel of Time series, but he has fast become a strong name in the genre in his own right. I find his books to be real page turners, if running somewhat long at times. It's nice to have a more modern and sophisticated version of the big, fat fantasy's I used to enjoy through my teenage years.
Given all this, I was interested to see what Sanderson would do in turning his attention to the young adult market. Steelheart is set in a world where a small percentage of the population has gained super powers, and the result has not been pretty. The super-powered (Epics) tend towards using their powers for evil instead of good, selfishly building little empires in the ruins of America.
The protagonist watched his father killed by one of the most powerful Epics of all, the Steelheart of the title. Fast forward several years, and the now 18 year old David is out for revenge and is attempting to join up with the Reckoners, a shadowy group leading a rebellion of sorts against the Epics.
The plotting and pace of the book is very good, and as is normally the case in Sanderson's work the world-building is detailed, consistent and filled with cool ideas. In a lot of ways the Epics remind me of the Aces in the Wild Card series of books from the 80s/90s, with unique and interesting powers but much more structured/classified in Steelheart.
I had the same problem I have with a lot of YA novels - as I get older I find it harder and harder to sympathise/empathise with the teenage protagonists. Unsophisticated, black and white views of the world. Moral certainty. Boundless energy. All these things are reasonable representations of a teenage mindset, but they grate on me.
Along the same lines, the protagonist was just a little too perfect for my taste. Problems get resolved a little too easily. Insight into other character's motivations come a little too effortlessly. New skills are picked up a little too quickly.
But having said that, there are some really cool ideas in this book, excellent action scenes and fantastic use of foreshadowing so that the end, when it comes, leaves you with that good sense of "oh yes, I should have seen that coming". There were enough clues (and red herrings) to make it an enjoyable read.
I won't be lining up in front of any bookstores to get the sequel, but I will probably read it. Recommended to YA fans who love evil super heroes.
In Wizard Undercover, Gerald and his friends are sent in undercover to a royal wedding in another country to uncover a plot to sabotage the event and cause international strife.
This book brought together a lot of the strengths of the first few books. The plot is fun and engaging, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. It is more of a straight out spy story, and is better for it.
While there is still an element of Gerald's powers saving the day in an entirely unpredictable and convenient way, this is significantly de-emphasised compared to the previous books and indeed the smaller instances serve to advance other plot points.
In this book, Gerald's inexperience as an agent is his biggest handicap. It is all very well bringing the biggest gun to the party, but if you don't know who to shoot you are still rendered somewhat ineffective. Wizard Undercover treads that line much more adeptly than the last two books.
The character interactions felt more natural and polished as well, which adds to a richer reading experience.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, and on the strength of it am eagerly awaiting any further instalments in the series.
Wizard Squared is the third book in the Rogue Agent series by K.E. Mills. You can read my review of the first book in the series, The Accidental Sorcerer, here and my review of the second book, Witches Incorporated, here. Those reviews cover a lot of my general thoughts on the world building and general background, so I'll keep this review shorter and focused on the plot of this third book.
Wizard Squared is essentially a parallel reality story. In The Accidental Sorcerer, the protagonist (Gerald) makes certain noble decisions to resolve the plot. In Wizard Squared, the author postulates an alternate world where Gerald made other, less noble decisions and as a result warped himself into an evil sorcerer.
I thought this plot had a lot of possibilities, and was looking forward to reading the book. However, I wasn't taken with the direction it went in. In some ways I am guilty of wanting a different book than the one the author wrote, which isn't really fair.
The first section of the book retells the ending of The Accidental Sorcerer, but with the alternate ending. This went on for quite a long time - it almost lost me to be honest. I did wonder whether this kind of backstory might have been woven into the plot a little more seamlessly (and briefly).
Perhaps as a result of the extensive introduction, the rest of the story felt rushed and didn't broaden the readers view of the world Mills has created as much as the previous two books. This was disappointing.
Evil Gerald was a little too "moustache twirling" for my tastes. He had gone completely and utterly bonkers, and because the conversion to cartoon evil was so complete, it was hard to summon the "there but for the grace of god" type feeling I think the reader was supposed to have. I think there was an opportunity to portray a more subtly evil Gerald, which would have made some of good Gerald's decisions more complex and morally ambiguous.
I mentioned this in the review of Witches Incorporated, but the use of Gerald's wild and unpredictable powers to resolve plot issues irked me particularly in this book. None of the character's actions have much impact - Gerald's power did most of the work. And his powers were not particularly under his control. So really, things worked out via luck more than anything else. I found this slightly unsatisfying.
As a stand alone book, I'd have trouble recommending this one. If you are enjoying the series overall (which I am), there is enough character progression to warrant reading, but don't be afraid to skip a few pages where necessary.
Fortunately (spoilers) I enjoyed the fourth book in the series (Wizard Undercover) a lot more.
Witches Incorporated is set after the events of The Accidental Sorcerer and follows the adventures of Gerald and his friends as:
Gerald completes his secret agent training (to become a "janitor"); Monk continues his mad inventor schtick for the government; Princess Melissande, Reg and a new character (Monk's sister Bibbie) set up a witching locus agency (Witches Inc)
As the title suggests, this book focuses mostly on the last dynamic, with the point of view character mostly switching between Melissande and Gerald. After an interesting prologue with Gerald, the focus of the first half of the book is almost entirely on Melissande and the witching agency.
Melissande's "promotion" to a primary point of view character is an interesting choice. It certainly gives a different perspective. Melissande is the least powerful (magic-wise) of the characters, and given Gerald's super-wizard status, this gives us a slightly more relatable character to see the world through. In that way she takes the place of Gerald in the first book, before he came into his powers.
This brings me to one of the issues I had with this book (and with the rest in the series, truth be told) - just how powerful Gerald has become. The first book had Gerald in the underdog position most of the time, which made him more endearing. From this book onwards, he is (by a long way) the most powerful wizard in the world. It changes his dynamic with his friends and old enemies, making restraint his most strongly emphasised personality trait. Restraint isn't the most compelling trait in the world. His poorly controlled and understood powers also make for a convenient way for him to get out of sticky situations, without him being fully aware of how he does it.
The plot brings together the at-first-blush-relatively-trivial mystery that Witches Inc has been hired to solve with Gerald's first janitorial mission. The story moved along at a fair pace, and the ins and outs of the various bits of industrial espionage and implications for international politics were interesting and kept me reading.
The focus on a broader range of characters did add to the richness of the world Mills has created. There is a lot of banter and I found the interactions interesting enough, although there was a little bit too much of the Robert Jordan style "women and men don't understand each other" dynamic for my taste. That's a minor gripe though.
I really enjoy the world Mills has created - a kind of steampunk powered by magic vibe. The first book focused on a colonial setting, this one was set in the motherland. I liked the extension of the world view, and gaining a better understanding of how the world works.
Overall I enjoyed dipping into this series again, enough so that I continued in my journey reading the remaining books straight afterwards.
2312 was one of the big science fiction releases of 2012, but given my horrendous backlog of reading I didn't quite get around to reading it. As 2013...more2312 was one of the big science fiction releases of 2012, but given my horrendous backlog of reading I didn't quite get around to reading it. As 2013 came to a close, and still hearing it talked about, I thought I better include it in my catch up reading binge.
Humanity has spread through the solar system, but not to the stars. The plot follows several different characters in what first appears to be a bit of a murder mystery, but quickly extends into a solar system spanning conspiracy.
I've read a few reviews of 2312 and I don't know that I have anything particularly new or startling to add to the dialogue. Frankly, I found the plot to be almost of secondary consideration. As the characters moved around the solar system, I was almost more excited to read about how humanity had tamed the planets. None of the characters were particularly compelling/engaging for me, but still the book kept me hooked.
The treatment of gender was fascinating, and handled quite subtly. Robinson postulates a solar system where gender issues have been rendered largely secondary. Rather than making heavy handed comments on the nature of equality, he just shows the world as it is. No one comments on gender-parity issues, because there are no issues to talk about. The description of a equal world happens between the cracks, building over the course of the novel and best enjoyed in retrospection.
The sheer engineering gumption that it takes to populate the solar system is impressive. A rolling city that crosses Mercury staying constantly in the temperate zone, hollowed out asteroids spun up to create gravity and containing an astonishing array of plants, animals and societies, the timescale involved in terraforming Venus - it is all fantastic stuff. People talk about the book evoking that old school "sense of wonder" - I can now see what they were talking about.
Robinson uses multiple points of view effectively, fleshing out the universe and showing key characters from multiple points of view, highlighting their flaws and making them more three-dimensional (and in some cases less reliable narrators when their turn to be point of view character comes around again).
In summary, it won awards and excited great comment. It's well worth the read. It's long. It can be a bit dry in places.
(I read all three books in this series in rapid succession - this review is for the whole trilogy, and is repeated against each book. Sorry!)
I first c...more (I read all three books in this series in rapid succession - this review is for the whole trilogy, and is repeated against each book. Sorry!)
I first came across the first book of the Expanse trilogy Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (pseudonym for the collaboration of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) in a review of one of the later books in the series on the Random Alex website. I have been looking for some good old fashioned space opera, and while Alex's review of Leviathan Wakes itself was a little underwhelming, I was drawn in by her description of the series as a whole.
I've heard a lot of discussions about inside the solar system space opera, but this was my first experience with the trend. I must say I enjoyed the trilogy. For one, I actually went on and read the whole series (rather than putting down the first book and saying "I must get back to that later" as is my usual style). That's got to be a good sign, right? I think it also came at a time where I needed some reading that was interesting but not too intellectually taxing - this fit that bill quite nicely too.
The characters were relatable (if suffering from perhaps a lack of female perspective in the first book). There was plenty of action, solar system spanning politics, alien intrigue, Rag tag crew, advanced space ship, fighting the forces of oppression etc - all good stuff. I found the exploration of a "realistic" (read "no faster than light travel") solar system very engaging. The mechanisms used to colonise the planets/moons, the impact of different gravity environments on human physiology and the resultant "race" relations that ensue, the creation of a new frontier society and the ongoing impact of corporations on the expansion into space - these were all interesting themes explored around the edges of the main story.
I enjoyed the plot of the first book, Leviathan Wakes. It was self contained, had a fairly solid mystery at the core and resolved somewhat satisfactorily. The next two books grew grander and grander in their scope, but didn't seem as tight as the first book.
I read in the latest issue of Locus that the series has been optioned for TV, and I'm not surprised. The books seemed written with at least the possibility of a TV/movie adaption in mind - big ships, big explosions etc. I understand one of the authors is George RR Martin's assistant in another life - I guess being around that much TV success probably has a way of rubbing off on a person!
I also read a somewhat shorter novella The Butcher of Anderson Station, which tells the story of one of the minor characters of the main series. If you like the novels, this is worth reading - quick and gives more depth to the universe created by the authors.
Great popcorn reading, well worth the price of admission.