Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in the new Jessica McClain urban fantasy series from Orbit, written by Amanda Carlson.
“I had no idea that reading about Werewolves could be so much fun. Big Thumbs-up.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ll be honest: urban fantasy, despite all my experiments with the genre this year, is really not my thing. I like watching this stuff, far more than I do reading it. Buffy, Angel, Underworld, True Blood, I’m all for that kind of stuff. But reading just doesn’t work for me all that much. Matt Forbeck’s Carpathia, a Titanic and Vampires mash-up, is the first such novel I read since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, back in middle school. Sarah Marques’ Vampire Musketeers: Sword & Blood, a Three Musketeers and Vampire mash-up was also fun, and I kinda did love the book of course, but I didn’t exactly feel a drive to read more about Vampires. They were both fun little experiments. Reading Amanda Carlson’s Full Blooded has changed my feelings on that matter however and now I’m really keen to read more in this sub-genre of urban fantasy: supernaturals of all types, whether Vampires or Werewolves or other kind of shifters.
The protagonist ofFull Blooded is Jessica McClain, a female werewolf, and the only one of her kind in known memory since there have never been any female werewolves. This marks her as somewhat of an outcast but given that she is also the daughter of Callum McClain, the Pack Alpha of the Northern US Territories, she gets some leeway and a tacit acceptance. It’s all still an uphill battle for her though, and has been from the start since her birth was an oddity: Werewolves always fathered sons, never daughters. The only thing that stopped her from getting killed until the present day was that she never shifted. But that’s all changed now, and there are forces out there who have been ready to take her down for years, since she is supposed to be the subject of the “Cain Myth” which effectively says that a female werewolf will be instrumental in the destruction of the Werewolf race. Now Jessica has to keep her new abilities a secret from anyone not of the McClain pack, even though there’s a detective from NYPD (an old nemesis from when she was an officer) breathing down her neck about a case.
Let me start by saying that I loved the novel. Carlson’s voice has a lot of welcome levity to it and it rarely gets over-serious to the point that, as a reader, you feel stressed out over what’s going to happen next. Jessica is smart, she is capable, and she is… normal. Not over-sexualised, not under-sexualised. There’s a balance to her character. And she has some good support from Tyler (her twin brother), Callum, James (the second-in-command of the pack), Rourke (a mercenary shifter of some kind), and Eudoxia, a Vampire Queen who has taken an interest in Jessica for reasons unknown.
The characterisation is definitely the key selling point here. Jessica McClain just leaps off the pages here because of how well she is written. There are some dialogue and monologue bits that fall a little flat and are a bit cheesy, but they don’t devalue the experience at all. Full Blooded is written as a full-on action movie, and Jessica’s character fits into that role very nicely. I’ve heard some horror stories of how female protagonists in the subgenre are often treated by the authors, as nothing more than a representation of author fantasy and the male gaze, which demands that the character be over-sexualised (both in terms of personality and attitude and clothes), and that if she isn’t some sort of an archetypical kick-ass heroine, then she be a damsel-in-distress, even though she may be the star of the novel! Jessica is none of those things. Her characterisation is mature and intriguing because there is a real depth to her as a character, as borne out by her struggles with her new abilities and her unfamiliarity with the “other side” of the fence.
The supporting cast of Tyler, Callum, James, Rourke, Eudoxia and the others is a really rich and colourful cast. Some of them fill archetypical roles such as the over-protective father (Callum), the badass merc that everyone is scared to death of (Rourke), and the sophisticated and sensuous Vampire (Eudoxia), but they are all so much more when put up against Jessica. Given that the novel is in the first person, we don’t get to read their side of the story but through Jessica we do get to explore the characters all the same. Callum’s role as Pack Alpha is emphasised again and again, as well as his over-protectiveness when it comes to Jessica, but none of it is ham-fisted in any way. When Carlson writes him as someone who has a dominating presence within a group of his fellow shifters, he does have that presence. Rourke is more than just what he is made out to be in the pages. He is actually a genuine compelling character that you can root for. Carlson writes him as an expressive extroverted character rather than this brooding bad-ass everyone is scared of. Eudoxia is a sweet-talker and charmer, but she has her “off” days too, when she gets all fired up and badass. There is a certain confrontation towards the end of the novel which is particularly delightful in that respect....more
Shadowhawk reviews Helen Lowe's debut novel that won her the David Gemmell Morningstar award this year, Heir of Night, the first in the Wall of NightShadowhawk reviews Helen Lowe's debut novel that won her the David Gemmell Morningstar award this year, Heir of Night, the first in the Wall of Night series by Orbit Books.
"A fantasy novel written as a grand mythology epic, Heir of Night hits all the right buttons and is another must-read of the (last) year." ~The Founding Fields
Read lots of different stuff this year, I thought back in January. Step out of my comfort zone, I thought. Honestly, nothing could have prepared me for Helen Lowe's debut novel from last year, Heir of Night. What usually sets fantasy novels apart from one another is usually the setting or the type of characters being talked about or how gritty or soft or adult or simplistic they are. Rarely does an author focuses on how to tell that story itself, by which I don't mean the choice of tense or flashbacks or anything like that. I mean the style of the narrative, the mood it creates, if that makes sense. What Helen does with her novel is something entirely different from any other fantasy novels I've ever read, except for those by a particular author: Tolkien.
And if that's not a clue enough, then, simply put, Helen doesn't just tell the story of a young girl on the run from the forces of darkness that want to utterly annihilate her people and her struggles to deny that future, she tells the saga of the same, an epic. She evokes the wonder of Tolkien's style and the mood of his most popular works and yet stamps her ownership and influence all over the novel. To use one of my oft-used phrases, she writes an epic fantasy story in a truly epic way. I could easily have been reading a Norse saga or a Greek myth.
That's what defines Heir of Night for me and what sets it apart from all its contemporaries and its peers.
The first in the Wall of Night series, Helen's debut is about a young noble girl Malian who is forced to confront one harsh truth after another about her race's arrival on the world of Haarth and the terrible enemy the Derai have brought with themselves. It's a coming-of-age story, of innocence slowly forgotten in the face of reality and a toughening-up of character to become the leader the Derai need and yet do not know of it. The protagonist is neither a thief nor an assassin, a long-suffering noble or a disillusioned common man. The protagonist and her supporting cast are neither superfluous nor stupid, they are all logical and realistic beings, if often susceptible to their emotions. First and foremost that is why I liked Heir of Night.
As the novel is not in first person limited to the POV of the protagonist, we see the world of Haarth, the Derai and the various native races in detail. Haarth is not a place where I'd want to live by any means but all the same, it is a world where I'd love to go at least once! The flight of the Derai from their homeworld to Haarth eons ago, their settling on their new world, their interactions with the natives, the Derai culture, their history, it all makes Helen's world complex yet simple in a genre that is increasingly being burdened with too much of the former and not enough of the latter. The author has found the right mix of these and has stayed consistent all the way to the end.
As the Derai culture and society is the one we see most off, I can say that the Derai were richly portrayed and come across as multi-faceted and realistic in and of themselves, rather than being caricatures of any "real-world" culture or society. They are certainly original, but they are also something much more. Their formalities, their titles, their codes of conduct, their histories, it is almost as if Heir of Night is not just a fantasy novel kicking off a series, but also a deep and insightful study into that very culture.
My appetite has really been whetted for the sequel, Gathering of the Lost.
You can find the full review at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in the popular Eli Monpress series by author Rachel Aaron, published by Orbit Books.
“Extremely entertaining with l
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in the popular Eli Monpress series by author Rachel Aaron, published by Orbit Books.
“Extremely entertaining with large doses of humour, Spirit Thief is one of the most fun reads of the year.“ ~The Founding Fields
While I do like my fantasy novels to often be serious, dark, gritty and somewhat nuanced to an extreme, I do also love the simple approach every now and then. By which I mean that I love to read fantasy that has an easy narrative, moves along at a steady, easy clip, and entertains me in the same way that a good comedy movie does. Rachel Aaron’s Spirit Thief hits all those right notes and then some. I first met her through NaNoWriMo last year and her blogposts on writing since then (and older ones) have been very helpful to me with regards to my own writing and I’d wanted to get around to reading her novels soon as I could. Juggling my reading around to fit them in was a bit of a tricky proposition, although I finally managed it this month.
The first thing that struck me about her writing and her world was how similar it is to Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations novels. Both authors have an approach to their writing that doesn’t dazzle the reader with fancy stuff or throws too much at them to show off a complex, and often twisted, world. They ease the reader into their world, gently introducing them to the characters and the events. Not to mention that their characters are some of the most fun characters to read about ever, because of their quips and mannerisms, and their straightforward approach to their lives.
After reading Spirit Thief, Eli Monpress is definitely one of my favourite male protagonists ever, and the same for Miranda Lyonette, who is Eli’s rival and nemesis rolled into one, of sorts. Their at-odds relationship is very much like that of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks from the 2002 hit Catch Me If You Can. Eli is a cheeky thief who can charm his way out of almost any situation, while Miranda is the (slightly) frustrated but determined mage who is tasked with bringing him in, on the orders of the Spirit Court itself. There is a great, fun camaraderie between the two, enhanced by the company that these two keep. With Eli, it’s the mystery swordsman Josef and a girl named Nico who has a rather mysterious past that makes her very dangerous to everyone around her. With Miranda, it’s her spirit-companion ghosthound, Gin, and her other spirits that she has convinced to ally with her, such as Durn, a stone spirit.
Which brings me to one of the things that I really enjoyed about the novel: the magic. We don’t have wizards throwing spells around at each other here, or shamans using the power of the elements against others. Not quite. The way the magic in this world works is that each and every thing, whether it is a ghosthound or a door, the wind or the sand, they all have spirits, even humans. Most people can only distantly “hear” and “feel” these spirits, but there are some, such as the wizards of the Spirit Court, who can call on these spirits to do their work. And it’s not a case of seizing the power of these spirits, but convincing them to ally with the wizard in question, to form a somewhat symbiotic relationship based on truth, honesty and friendship. This was a really fun thing to read about. It appears to be a rather idealistic concept but Rachel pulls it off with flair, showing us how the deliberate misuse of such power can lead to the spirit-human relationship being horribly imbalanced, as well as cavalier use of it, no matter if it’s well-intentioned or not. Certainly some important lessons here.
Like I said, the characters are the shining part of the novel for me. Whether it is Eli charming a depressed prison door into letting him escape, or Miranda calling on the power of her spirit-companions to help her against the enemy, it all makes for a profoundly character-drive narrative. Both Eli and Miranda, as well as their companions (whether spirit or not) are portrayed as intelligent and resourceful, able to think on their feet and surprise you with their brilliance. After all, how many thieves do you know of who actually want to increase the bounties on their heads? Eli Monpress is crazy. But that’s why I like him. Miranda’s oftern stern and stubborn attitude against what he does, such as giving all spirit-wizards a bad name with his thieving and such, contrasts well and whenever these two verbally clashed, it was like watching two old friends and enemies talking, comfortable in their views. Or something like that.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the second Widdershins Adventures fantasy novel by Ari Marmell, False CoveYou can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the second Widdershins Adventures fantasy novel by Ari Marmell, False Covenant, published by Pyr Books.
“Not as good as the first book but still quite decent, False Covenant is just as delightful in the end.” ~The Founding Fields
When I started reading this novel last month, I’d been waiting to get to it for a good long while. The first book in this series, Thief’s Covenant, had been just plain, good old fun, and I’d enjoyed reading about Adrienne Satti/Widdershins, and I couldn’t wait for more. I expected a lot of things out of this novel that were all a continuation of things that Ari had established in the first novel: Widdershins’ characterisation, the good and healthy dose of humour to Ari’s prose, the hijinks that Widdershins keeps finding herself in, the exploration of her relationship with her “pet” god Olgun, more on the thieves’ god and the inclusion of some of my favourite characters from before, namely Renard, Robin, and Julien.
Thief’s Covenant was defined by its highly upbeat mood, the general feeling that things would get better, no matter how terrible they got. That dark tone is all too prevalent in False Covenant. When the novel starts, the situation for Davillon is rather dire as the Church has taken certain religious and economic decisions against it, following the events of the previous novel. The city is close to a boiling point, with tensions everywhere, and everyone close to just breaking down. In steps rumours of a supernatural harasser on the city streets, a harasser who later turns to murderer, and you have the makings of a rather dark novel. Dark in the sense that bad things just keep happening to good people with no relief in sight.
That’s an aspect that I liked. It contrasts favourably with the first book and shows another facet of the setting and the characters. It brings out the stubborn and unyielding aspect of the characters and it gives a whole another dimension to them. Characters such as Renard, Robin and Julien really came into their own in this novel, which was a great route to take by the author. The narrative this time around was as much about them as it was about Adrienne/Widdershins. The revelations that come out, or the aftermath of revelations already made, was what kept me going, turning the pages.
However, as much as I generally enjoyed the novel, I didn’t like some things about it either. These left me feeling a little lost and disappointed.
One such thing is a stylistic choice made by the author – the use of bracketed sentence fragments in the middle of other sentences or on their own as paragraphs in their own right. It made for some really disjointed reading because I kept tripping up on them. I think that the huge majority of them could have had the brackets removed and they would have worked just as well. As it was, they interrupted the flow of the story and came off as info-dumps of sorts rather than a part proper of the narrative....more
Shadowhawk reviews the first book in the Dreamblood Saga by author N. K. Jemisin, published by Orbit Books.
“A daring novel,The Killing Moon is one of the most intriguing and compelling reads of the year and presents a very unique brave new world.“~The Founding Fields
When I started to read The Killing Moon, I was in a bit of a reading funk, the result of a week-long trip to India for some annual festivities and being very intensely focused on my novel project for the National Novel Writing Month, which is still ongoing. The anthology I was reading at the time was proving to be somewhat boring so I turned to comics to fill the gap since none of the other books I was trying were working for me. N. K. Jemisin’s latest book stepped in quite nicely, bringing me out of that damn funk and getting me back on track to reading long fiction again. And enjoying it too.
The Killing Moon is a very different type of fantasy novel. On the surface, it sounds like a lot of the fantasy that’s been taking centre stage lately, but once you get into it, the novel forces you to dig deeper and takes you along for quite a unique ride through the world that the author has created. The first few chapters were rough going for me, I’ll admit. There was a lot of in-world referencing going on, not to mention that this is not a traditional Euro/Western fantasy, so those pages were confusing and disorienting. But I was determined to stick with this, so I kept going. The dream-magic that the author has introduced at an early stage, and the cultural setting intrigued me enough to make that decision, and I’m glad I did.
Ehiru, a servant of the Goddess Hananja, is a Gather, his primary duty being to go out in the dead of night, steal upon sleeping people, and cut their life-threads while they in a deep dreaming state. The distinction needs to be made that he is not a murderer. The Gatherers are one of the servants of Hananja, and their task is to ease the passing of people into the Gujaareen afterlife. They do this not by any arbitrary decision, but at the request of family members, and friends. The first few pages set up a great character conflict for Ehiru, he first carries out a textbook gathering, but the second goes horribly wrong and Ehiru is mentally scarred by his failure. The rest of the novel is largely set up for Ehiru coming to terms with what happened. His unexpected failure is a signifier of larger events that are occurring in the city of Gujaareh, and Ehiru is about to get sucked in big time.
The Ehiru from the beginning of the novel is a very different Ehiru at the end. Jemisin explores his fears through his crisis of religion, his crisis of trust, his traumatic memories, and ultimately, his resolution of his entire crisis of faith that paralyses him often. In Ehiru, she has created a deeply sympathetic character who is challenged at every turn by events and people around him, whether they are his enemies or his allies, strangers or family. Ehiru is someone who generates empathy from the reader. I certainly loved how he was portrayed.
There are three other characters of note in the novel, who are just as important to the narrative as Ehiru. Nijiri is an apprentice-Gatherer assigned to Ehiru. He is young, often brash, but a quick learner. When Ehiru goes through his darkest moments, Nijiri is always there to provide some stability to him. He does that not just because they are master and apprentice, but also because they have a history together, for Ehiru was the one who Gathered Nijiri’s mother when he was still an infant. These two are simpatico in every respect, they are both dedicated to Hananja and the work they do in her name, to justice, and to weeding out the corruption in Gujaareh and beyond. In Nijiri, Jemisin has crafted a great secondary character, who complements the protagonist in almost every respect and gives a great alternate view into the Gujaareen culture and the events that he and Ehiru find themselves in....more
For the second-last day of the “Advent Reviews” series, I have another novel that I read earlier this year, but never got around to reviewing, mostly because I did not enjoy the book at all and was somewhat reluctant to do a negative review at the time. Plus, I already had too much of a backlog in that regard (still do), so I passed over it. I love reading SF set within the solar system, such as Orson Scott Card’sEarth Unaware or Katy Stauber’s Spin The Sky, and that’s one of the reasons I picked up this book, in addition to the striking cover art. But the book failed to impress me and it left me pretty disappointed as a complete experience. Once again, this is a review from memory, so I do apologise for any details that I get wrong.
Leviathan WakesThe first in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (the pseudonym for writing duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), Leviathan Wakes is pure action-oriented space opera with a heavy dose of detective noir. It is split into two ongoing narratives, told from the perspectives of Jim Holden, the executive officer of a mining-class ship, and Detective Miller, a cop on one of the mid-system space stations. Of the two, I definitely liked Jim Holden’s sequence far more. It has much more action to it, and a very real sense of danger to it, given that Holden keeps getting into some really tight scrapes that he has to fight out of. Miller’s sequence was, in short, rather boring. There was little to excite in his narrative and Miller’s monologues really turned me off from the character. There was also an abrupt shift in his character portrayal mid-way through the novel that left me scratching my head. I might have missed any early signs but it was as if Miller abruptly turned into an alcoholic without any setup.
The larger story, involving a derelict ship, a missing woman, interplanetary war, revolution, and mass murders, is quite interesting and the denouement/pay-off is written well, but the road to that is often very dreary. One such example is when Holden and Miller team-up on one of the space stations and are attempting to halt the mass murders and interplanetary war from breaking out. The descriptions of the… murder agent really did put me to sleep and I had to slog through the novel at those times.
Whenever the narrative involves Holden, the pace is excellent. When it comes to Miller, it often plods along. It was as if I was reading two entirely different narratives. The two characters are brought together really well, but at times it was all just too convenient. The conflicted tone of the narrative didn’t help either.
The science aspects of the novel are very good and it’s all very convincing in its detail and effect, but nothing that particularly stands out. It all adds to the space opera nature of the novel, nothing more. The politics of the solar system are also cast in the same vein: it’s the usual spacer versus earther attitudes and mentalities that we’ve already seen before in a ton of space opera fiction. It was all disappointing in the fact that it’s all so… commonplace. I didn’t feel a sense of uniqueness in any of it.
At best, I’d say the novel is uninspired and lacks originality. Some of the characters such as Holden and his crew, are portrayed well, but those like Miller and his cop buddies are, at best, serviceable. I’m interested in picking up the second novel, Caliban’s War, but I’m quite hesitant about it. We shall see.
Shadowhawk reviews the third Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, which was nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Awards this year.
“Lots of maShadowhawk reviews the third Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, which was nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Awards this year.
“Lots of magic, lots of monsters, lots of startling revelations and very bittersweet.” ~The Founding Fields
So finally I am able to get to the novel that began the whole interest in the Terra Incognita series: The Key to Creation, the final novel of this big trilogy about sailing adventures, exploration, mythical monsters, lost lands, religious crusades, fanaticism, gods and crises of faith. It has been quite a ride too and to call the series a saga wouldn’t be too far off the mark either.
By now, as I was about to start reading the final installment, I knew exactly what I was in store for me. The Map of All Things had set up things nicely by the time it ended and the future for the characters and the war-torn lands of Uraba and Tierra alike was all murky and uncertain. Events had been building up gradually, forecasting that there was about to be some big throwdown and the inevitable full-scale clash between the two nations was about to become a reality. Not to mention that the Dyscovera and the Al-Orizin had finally set sail and were well on their way to discovering the fabled, mythical land of Terravitae, the home of the god Ondun and his three sons, Urec, Aiden and Joron.
At this point it would be somewhat distracting and inconsiderate of me to talk about the narrative style that Mr. Anderson has used in his Terra Incognita novels. It is what it is, and I’ve grown used to it, although I still am against it. However, even beyond being used to it by now, I didn’t really mind it as much this time around. I was quite caught up in the characters and the plot itself to really care about the style. Especially towards the last third of the novel where the style really, really ramped up the pacing and gave me a downright incredible suspenseful reading experience. I burned through the last 150 or so pages faster than I’d read them for the last two novels. That was a good improvement. The sense of excitement in the climax this time around was much more atmospheric and much more enjoyable.
The characters still continued to puzzle me at times however. The main culprits here being the usual ones: Anjine, Mateo and Omra. Mateo gets much more tolerable in the climax but really, I was actually wondering if these three were sane at all. They flipflop in their feelings and their actions too much. It is almost as if they just don’t learn from the mistakes that their predecessors have made and the ones that they themselves have made. They are impulsive, headstrong, unwilling to listen to reason and unbelievable intractable at times. It is a lamentable trait for the novels but again, it is what it is. The self-sacrifice and the good-of-the-state ideals only go so far for me until they become unrealistic. These three characters, most of all in the entire novel, suffered from this repeatedly, as if they had no true will of their own and had to bow down to the wishes of their people and what was expected them.
But, characters like Criston, Istar/Adrea, Asaddan, Ciarlo and a handful of others balanced it all out. They were the most sympathetic, credible and true-to-themselves characters for me. Criston has a really compelling arc across the trilogy, one that is somewhat mirrored by his former wife Adrea as the two struggle to make sense of a life without each other. The sympathetic magic that links the two of them together, strands of Adrea’s hair that she gave to him when he set out aboard his first proper voyage aboard the Luminara, was a really heartfelt miniplot, one that I really enjoyed. Quite an emotional one too. Seeing how the two resolves their new lives is almost heartbreaking. I wish it had been written differently but sometimes, a writer just has to do things a certain way. I certainly appreciate what Mr. Anderson did with them. Prester Hannes also gets a mention here, that slimy good-for-nothing preacher!
Asaddan was also a real surprise. To see him challenge the beliefs of his allies, the Urecari, and be a true force for change in the world. I was literally cheering for him all the way. And that was mostly because he truly made a point to listen to both sides of the conflict rather than taking the Urabans at their word that the Tierrans were all murderers and criminals and what not. In him, a delightful character was created. I wish we had been able to see more of him.
Ciarlo, poor Ciarlo. For me, he epitomised what it means to have complete faith in your religion’s teachings and yet be open to change. More than either Omra, Anjine or Mateo, he was truly central to how the narrative progresses, because just like Asaddan, he was a force for change in the world. Fantastic character who shines in all his scenes in The Key to Creation.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the second Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, continuing a tale of dogmatic religious crusades, tragedies, adventures on tShadowhawk reviews the second Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, continuing a tale of dogmatic religious crusades, tragedies, adventures on the high seas and doomed romances.
“A novel that continues and builds upon its predecessor, this is a must-read for fans of the series for the simple fact that Anderson stays fully true to the world he has created.” ~The Founding Fields
I took a break in between reading The Edge of The World and The Map of All Things so I wouldn’t overload on the experience. Like I mentioned in my review of the former just a couple days back, it is a good novel all around but it leaves a few things to be desired and it is told in a style that I found myself quite at odds with it. So it all prepared me for the second novel of the series in that I knew what to expect from it and so wouldn’t be as disappointed in the style regard as I was with its predecessor. Kevin J. Anderson had set a certain benchmark and being as familiar with his work as I am, albeit somewhat limited I’m sure, I knew that things could only get better, simply speaking. The major question was whether it would be an average to good growth or average to excellent one.
It was the first of those cases as it turns out. The Map of All Things had a lot of plot threads to account for, given the ending of The Edge of The World, and once again, I was surprised by how well Mr. Anderson kept things together with a tight narrative that never ignores its characters, irrespective of what their status in that narrative is.
Being familiar with the narrative style – really small chapters with lots of character hopping and unexpected tragedies in particular – made for an easier read this time. I was used to it and it didn’t bother me so much now, although I still wish it had been written in the more traditional manner. That would have made the reading experience that much more complete and enjoyable.
The story here picks up relatively soon after the climax of the previous novel as the war between the Urecari and the Aidenists continues with atrocities piling up on both sides and both refusing to take moral blame for their actions – They did so and so and that gives us the right to do so and so to them because they are heathens!. That would be quite an apt description for a good many of the atrocities and tragedies that are committed in the Terra Incognita novels. But things are heating up nonetheless and both sides launch ambitious plans to defend themselves and seek help from outside their borders at the same time. That definitely is the most important plot in the novel as far as I am concerned. Everything revolves around getting help from the gods Urec or Aiden and their father Ondun and their brother Joron, no matter what it takes.
Religion in these novels is interesting. It has very stark similarities to our own history and our world in its present state. The Terra Incognita novels are very much religious commentaries in that regard because it is blind fanaticism that drives the characters throughout. We have to have our revenge against those murderers! All I can say is that it made for a more enjoyable read.
The characters continue to develop as many of them begin to settle in their new roles and while others persist in their old ones. They also continue to develop. Sometimes the changes are abrupt and quite at odds with how the characters have been portrayed previously but the fact is that Mr. Anderson handles it all well. A little thought is required to see how the author got the characters from A to B which, if you think about it, is a good approach to take with the readers. If you are not forced to dig deeper into character motivations and if the novel doesn’t make you think about what you have read, then the author hasn’t really delivered on the goods.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the first Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, a tale of adventure on the high seas, religious crusades, and the inevitabiliShadowhawk reviews the first Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, a tale of adventure on the high seas, religious crusades, and the inevitability of politics.
“A rousing start full of promise and an engaging experience, The Edge of The World, still lacks something to make it truly spectacular.” ~The Founding Fields
Kevin J. Anderson is one of my favourite all-time authors. I read his Star Wars novels back in the day, and have read a fair bit of his Dune-verse novels that he has co-written with Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert, and I’ve loved every minute of them. This is a man who knows how to tell a proper story and delivers on a reading experience that is very captivating and intriguing. Which is why when I was offered a chance to do reviews for the David Gemmell Legend Awards, I jumped at the chance to review his third Terra Incognita novel, The Key To Creation. Of course, I didn’t quite realize at the time that this was part of a series so I had to go get the first two novels as well, The Edge of The World and The Map of All Things.
Midway through the third novel I am, the series so far has been a very interesting read, mostly because it is a very different sort of novel to what I usually read and what you usually get in fantasy fiction at least, from what I’ve seen over the years.
The Edge of The World is set in a world where the two opposing nations of Tierra and Uraba have long been at war with each other over religious differences, the former worshiping the deity Aiden, while the later worship his brother Urec. At the start, the rulers of the two nations are coming together to resolve their differences and sign a treaty at the holy city of Ishalem, the holiest of all places in the world. Matters take a turn for the worse faster than you can say “bugger” and then spiral into even worse straits faster than you can say “oops!”. From then on, it is unending war as either side looks to gain some measure of retribution and revenge against the other and establish its dominance over the world.
As I remarked earlier, this is a very different novel from what I’ve read over the long years and what is usually the norm in speculative fiction. The Edge of The World is firstly told from the viewpoint of dozens of characters, both large and small, almost all of which get to shine every now and then. It gives the novel a true feeling of a world-spanning saga because the cast is so big. We have kings, princes, generals, sea captains, chartsmen (ship navigators and mapmakers), priests (or presters as the Aidenists call them) and priestesses (as the Urecari call them), soldiers, slaves, traders, pirates, governors, conmen and many others.
Together, they all sketch out the world in significant detail, pulling the reader in hook, line and sinker. With such a large cast, I kept thinking that any time now Mr. Anderson would trip up and forget all about this character or that character but that never happened. The entire cast gets its time in the sun, and they are all significantly different from each other, whether it is their station or their dialogue or whatever else.
The main concern I have with the cast however is that, at times, they are very naive (even the best of them) and unrealistic. Given a war that drags on for years, little effort is ever made to reconcile differences and sue for peace. The status quo is pretty much as it is from the opening chapters, except that the problems for the characters continue to multiply like rabbits. This was a rather sore point with me actually since I’ve enjoyed Mr. Anderson’s character-building in his Star Wars and Dune-verse novels alike.
Speaking of the characters, another sore point with me was that the author often had a very careless attitude with them. Several times a few characters are built up quite nicely with promising futures but then they all just… die. Character death was a recurring tragedy in the novel that the survivors had to overcome, aside from all the general grittiness of the setting. It put me in mind of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000, two settings that are sometimes so dark and grim that I could briefly consider Sauron or Palpatine to be the lesser of two evils.
A sore point yes, but in a way, it was also very realistic. Most tragedies are sudden and unexpected and totally random. Although I found Mr. Anderson’s particular approach to be over-used, it does connect you stronger with the characters who are going through these ups and downs. It creates a very strong sense of there being no absolute security. No one character is above this dark experience and in the end, it is just a strength of the novel.
The novel spans a period of several years as the Aidenists and Urecari engage in their bitter religious schism. The time jumps only showed how ridiculous the war between the two nations was because in all those years, they don’t really engage in any mass conflicts. Piracy, privateering, short naval engagements, raiding and what not, the war drags on. And on. And it drags on a little more. Don’t get me wrong, it all makes good in-universe sense since the rulers of the two nations are not that interested in open conflict and are mostly content with the occasional raids and spies and assassins, but it all came across as rather unrealistic.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Discovering authors through Twitter was the grand theme of this year, and last. Some of the best fiction I read this year was a result of that discovery and I’m really glad that things worked out so well, since most of these authors came highly recommended from bloggers I followed at the time, or their interactions on social media were always entertaining and professional and something I could learn from. Michael J. Sullivan is one such author and his Riyria Revelations novels are some of my favourite fantasy novels, because they are tales without the super-complex adventures that have become the norm in mainstream fantasy. Michael offers this prequel short story as a freebie to promote his books and it was my first taste of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, two of the most charming rogues I’ve read about, period.
viscount_and_the_witch_cover_250As I said, this is a prequel to Michael’s six-novel Riyria Chronicles series, and it is pretty much one of the earliest adventures of Royce and Hadrian as a team, and their first encounter with Viscount Winslow, who later becomes their agent and broker. At a little over 5,000 words, The Viscount and The Witch is one of the shortest short stories I’ve read, but is still one of the most engaging and fun. The story is what I would call “typical Michael J. Sullivan” in that it has the same level of casualness as his novels. It is about a simple chance encounter and some team-building between the characters, with a really funny and unexpected twist at the end. As with his novels, the chemistry between Hadrian and Royce is excellent. Michael definitely knows these two in and out, and he builds a great sense of atmosphere with their dialogue, which is often humorous and flippant/tongue-in-cheek.
When I was done with the short story, I was very much excited about reading the novels themselves, and in that, The Viscount and The Witch served as an excellent teaser. I wanted to find out more about these characters, and what made them tick. The novels are set quite a few years after the short story, when Royce and Hadrian have established themselves as the highly capable thieving duo named Riyria, so there is a bit of disconnect between the novels and the short story, but that doesn’t work against either of them. That’s the thing with prequels: they should have distance between them and the “original material”, and that’s part of their charm, at least for me.
In short, go get this short story from Michael’s website, and then go buy his novels. They are all excellent. As it so happens, I recommended the novels to four friends this year, and they all loved it. That’s some kind of a record for me, I’m sure!