A powerful tale of friendship and courage, with both horror and humor injected into the story perfectly. Lawrence's beautifully vivid prose brings toA powerful tale of friendship and courage, with both horror and humor injected into the story perfectly. Lawrence's beautifully vivid prose brings to life yet another set of characters.
Can definitely be read without reading the Broken Empire trilogy, but the scenes with characters from Mark's earlier work won't be nearly as effective.
Roughly 25 years after Rictus and his Dogsheads returned from the epic march of The Ten Thousand, the man is still a mercenary, but this time when his contract ends he’s contemplating retirement. He’s no longer a young man. As he settles back into farm life, tales begin to reach his secluded farmhouse of a young upstart named Corvus who desires to unite the Macht under one king. Corvus is clearly a model of Alexander the Great in nearly every way but for his lack of royalty in Corvus, down to the Companion Cavalry. He’s a brilliant tactician, he’s charismatic, and he’s mightily ambitious. He’s heard the legend of Rictus, the Dogsheads, and the march of the Ten Thousand since he was a child, and he wants the man himself to aid him in his conquest of the Macht.
The spear by the door.
So says one of the part headings of Kearney’s Corvus. I think that it’s a very poignant phrase in its simplicity. Rictus wants to leave the life of soldiering, but he can’t – it’s such a part of him that he isn’t sure what he would do without it. The spear by the door is a constant reminder of what he is: a killer of men. And it’s something he knows, as is shown in his constant return to the life of a military man. He’s strikingly similar to Christian Cameron’s Arimnestos in his Killer of Men series. The two characters are very similar in that their lives and families have been brutalized by their choice of profession, but they simply can’t leave it or escape it. It’s a very relevant phrase to today’s life as well, as there are many soldiers who continue to re-enlist in the military because it’s all they know.
Not only are their characters alike, Cameron and Kearney are very similar authors as well. They both have a very strong grasp on historical accuracy, although Cameron writes historical fiction (and fantasy as Miles), and Kearney writes fantasy very strongly influenced by historical events. They’re both masters of throwing you into the phalanx, from the terminology such as aichme & sauroter – the two ends of a spear, to the chiton, the tunic worn by ancient Greeks, and so on. With both authors, you can see yourself in the phalanx with men shouting, gore soaking down your spear. Perhaps my favorite thing that both authors include in their Greek (or Greek-influenced) fiction is the inclusion of the Paean. The Paean was the battle-hymn that ancient Greek armies would sing upon marching into battle, both for a sort of motivation and to instill fear in your enemies. It’s chilling in the way each of them write it, imagining a body of soldiers singing as they charge at you with blood in their eyes.
Corvus, like The Ten Thousand and pretty much everything that Kearney writes is a brutal story. When shit hits the fan for Rictus or whoever he writes about, Kearney scoops it back up and tosses it right back into the fan. When you things can’t get any worse, they probably can. One of the author’s strength is his character development, and you end up rooting for the people on both sides of the conflict. Karnos is the Speaker of Machran, basically the head of the people for the most part, and he’s the main non-Rictus point of view character. Kearney makes you empathize with him, a man whose homeland and home city is under siege.
If you’re a fan of military fiction, Kearney writes some of the best....more
It’s no secret to anyone that follows me that I really enjoyed David Hair’s first adult fantasy novel, Mage’s Blood. In fact, I’m pretty sure I read the entire 700-page doorstopper in about 2 days. Hair began what is now one of my favorite (and one of the more underrated) current fantasy series by completely immersing us in a world so similar yet so new that I can’t help but be impressed with The Scarlet Tides. The world of Urte is strikingly similar to our Earth in the Middle Ages – specifically the crusading era.
The western continent of Yuros meets the eastern Antiopia at the Leviathan Bridge, erected by the supremely powerful Ordo Costruo mage Antonin Meiros. The Bridge rises every dozen years during the Moontide, and continuing in the traditions of its last two Moontides, the Rondians of the west amass their legions and embark on a great crusade to the east in the hopes that, like the previous two crusades, they’ll return to Yuros rich (if they return at all) – only this time, the Antiopians are gathering an army to oppose the Rondians in a shihad. East and west clash as our heroes are naturally caught in the middle of it all.
If you’ve read Mage’s Blood, you know where our heroes left off – Ramon is a battlemage in the Thirteenth legion and marching to war in the crusading army, Alaron is on the run and chasing Cymbella, Gurvon’s up to his old politicking tricks, Ramita finds herself in way deeper than she had originally thought, and many more new and recurring characters. Hair continues to excel in worldbuilding, and the gnosis continues to dazzle with its depth and particularly stars in the battles between gnosis wielders.
An issue that some readers had with Mage’s Blood – the fact that the two continents are so similar in many ways despite having been separated prior to the Leviathan Bridge’s construction – is explained very aptly, and if I remember correctly someone asks the exact question. Not only does Hair explore cultural diversities and similarities, but he also explores the harsh realities of war and the crusades in particular. A quote that I found rather poignant was spoken by Kazim Makani:
"How can you find paradise by killing innocent people?"
The original thought or purpose of the crusades was to fight the infidel for God in order to be accepted into paradise, regardless of which side you were on. In reality, the crusades ended up being opportunities for nobles to gain land, money, and power, often heedless of what got in their way. Innocents were killed, villages burned, and lives ruined all in the name of God. Hair delves into this issue with Kazim, who is an assassin fighting for the shihad that begins to question his morals and those of the other shihadists and crusaders who are lost to zeal and greed or some combination of both. Is killing really the way into paradise?
Hair’s The Scarlet Tides continues a fantastic epic fantasy series with a great cast, immersive world, and fascinating system of magic that builds to a stunning several-hundred page conclusion in the vein of Steven Erikson, where everything possible happens to everyone. He improved on everything that made Mage’s Blood so good and added even more oomph to it. I cannot wait to start Unholy War.
Tony Ballantyne’s Dream London jumped out in Solaris’s catalog instantly with its cover. The blurb was also interesting – a London that constantly changes, buildings grow of their own volition every day, very weird things happen on a daily basis. People with tongues that have eyes, potty-mouthed little girls, and an orange frog-man. Captain Jim Wedderburn is caught up on a mission to find out why London has changed. The book had some good characters, especially the frog-man, had a lot of great humor, but the plot was somewhat damaged by its eccentricity and in the end it left me feeling that it was alright, but not great....more
After I finished Blood of the Mantis, I immediately sent an email to Pyr asking after the rest of the series and they obliged. I soon found out that Pyr didn’t have plans for anything after book 5, The Scarab Path, which is a shame because they format the books to be a bit taller, shortening the page count in exchange and making the books more feasible and less daunting. Not to mention having the beautiful covers designed by the very skilled Jon Sullivan. In the review, I also wrote about how quickly Shadows of the Apt was becoming my favorite series to date. After Salute, there can no longer be any doubt - Apt has taken the throne by force.
The world of the Apt and Inapt is in total war. The expansionist Wasp Empire is sweeping across the Lowlands and any outlying city that sparks a glint in Emperor Alvdan II’s eye. War Master Stenwold Maker’s agents are scattered everywhere in attempt to give the Lowlands any sort of advantage against the encroaching horde. Cities like Sarn and Myna are in open rebellion. Plots and twists are commonplace. Everything that has been building up over the first three books in the series culminate in Salute the Dark.
One of the highlights of the series is how Tchaikovsky manages to weave cultures of our world into the story and make them feel so real. The Solarnese feel genuinely like Renaissance Italians, the Wasps like the Romans or various other empires, as well as many others. Some of my favorite scenes from Blood of the Mantis took place in the sky – in orthopters, heliopters, fixed-wings, and even huge insects. The aerial aspect returns in Salute the Dark in much greater scale. To put the culture in perspective – just prior to World War I, some of the first stable propeller-driven aircraft began to be manufactured with the purpose of war in mind. People were drawn to these fascinating machines, and throughout the war the pilots styled themselves knights of the air. There was a distinct system of honor in the aerial part of the war, drawn from some branch of chivalry that medieval knights adhered to. Pilots would rarely aim to kill in their dogfights, their dances in the sky – they’d aim for wings, the rudder, anywhere but the cockpit. It was an almost unspoken rule – if you hit someone’s engine and they could no longer fight, they’d glide to the ground in an attempt to land and, for the most part, would not be pursued – this counted as an aerial victory. Tchaikovsky implemented these same chivalrous ideals – the early tech of the vehicles, the aerial chivalry – into Blood and Salute, making the story feel that much more vivid.
Whereas Dragonfly Falling had some large battles and sieges in it, Salute truly felt like a total and utter world war. Sieges, rebellions, field battles, ambushes in the black of night, cavalry charges, aerial battles, flamethrowers, and even some horrific chemical warfare that felt all too real. Not only did the story include these traditional aspects of war, there was also an entire thread of gladiatorial combat with a huge culmination, again reminiscent of the Romans. People are reduced to savages in the audience, where skill is a non-factor for entertainment on the sands. The only thing that matters is that blood is spilled and in great quantity.
Salute the Dark is an incredibly apt name for the story. It is absolutely brutal. My heart was racing whenever I picked it up to read. Nobody is safe – you can feel the danger seeping from the pages. Aside from a few average characters of no outstanding martial quality, there is an abundance of characters in Shadows of the Apt who are peerless in combat, able to cut down enemy after enemy without breaking a sweat. After finishing Salute, it almost seems like Tchaikovsky purposely used that trope of fantasy – the nigh-invincible swordsman or mage or rogue – just so he could turn it on its head and smack you in the face with it. This is real, visceral, brutal war.
Thus ends the first arc of Shadows of the Apt. Ties are wrapped up, but there is a definite sense of foreboding that has me compelled to continue the series. Unique in culture and character, massive in scale in every sense of the word, Shadows of the Apt has become my favorite fantasy series of all time and Salute the Dark is one of the best books I have read this year. If you haven’t even started the series, you are really, really missing out....more
Same boat as Midnight Riot. DNF but I made it almost halfway through and I had zero interest. Cool ideas but bland prose.
Feel like I'm swimming upstreSame boat as Midnight Riot. DNF but I made it almost halfway through and I had zero interest. Cool ideas but bland prose.
Feel like I'm swimming upstream on this one, too.
Same disclaimer for DNF ratings: I'd waffled between rating DNF books or not, but I feel like if it wasn't good enough (for me) to read the whole thing, a low rating isn't that farfetched. Plus it makes me feel like I've not been too lenient on my star ratings because my average is too high. ...more
The Violent Century was a book I was very excited to read. It had an awesome premise and came highly recommended. Fogg and Oblivion are superheroes – Fogg creates fog and can create things from that fog, Oblivion makes things cease to exist. A World War II-Cold-War era setting with superheroes – what could go wrong? The narrative did it in for me. Tidhar writes in a strange way where quotes don’t exist. If someone says something, it’s like Tidhar describes him or her saying it rather than shows it via quote. It’s choppy (purposely) in that situations are described in rapid-fire – “Fogg walked in the room. Saw a chair. Sat in it.” (not an actual quote) – and in the end, I think that a normal narrative would have made The Violent Century an outstanding book. It’s different, a breath of fresh air for some, but it didn’t work for me....more
While I was rummaging through Goodreads for more books to read, I stumbled across a review of Ex-Heroes written by Mihir over at Fantasy Book Critic that convinced me to look into a book I would have otherwise set aside. I don't really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman who's nigh-invulnerable removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read the book, but Mihir convinced me otherwise, so I contacted Crown Publishing who obliged my request for a review copy and sent me the lot.
Zombies and superheroes - two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, World War Z. When done right, you know you're in for a boatload of fun. Unfortunately, with the sheer amount of zombie books, movies, and shows, many of them are bound to be bad. Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, blurbs about Ex-Heroes on the front cover, calling it "The Avengers meets The Walking Dead", and I can't think of a more apt description.
The Mighty Dragon aka St. George, Gorgon, Zzzap, Cerberus, Stealth, Regenerator, Lady Bee. Some have acrobatic skills like Stealth or Bee, the Dragon is a fire-breathing Superman, Zzzap essentially turns into a star that can think, all heat included, Regenerator is exactly what he sounds like. Cerberus is a woman inside of a giant battle robot, and Gorgon saps the life from humans who look into his goggles and uses it to boost his martial ability. These heroes, along with a few thousand survivors from the virus outbreak, are holed up in The Mount to defend against the exes. They're called exes, as Clines says, because the world refused to accept that zombies were real. St. George is the protagonist of the heroes, and he tries to fight the good fight. Killing, unless the person is undoubtedly an ex, is wrong and shouldn't be done, always do the right thing, that kind of deal. The other heroes have an "if you're not with me, you're against me" mentality, and this makes for a group of people that is not cohesive. Tension rises and and tempers flare as the people have been trapped in the Mount for quite some time. The heroes all have their own problems, their own scars from the past.
Another trend I've noticed in modern sci-fi and fantasy is increased use of splitting the narrative into a past and present section. When done right, it fills in critical backstory and makes the story much better as a whole, but often it can go wrong, leaving the reader confused. Clines splits Ex-Heroes into two parts, then and now. Past and present. Then fills in that critical backstory, telling us about how the specific hero came to be. Now is the narrative of the real fight against the exes and the growing threat of the Seventeens, an LA gang that styles themselves the SS, no doubt after Hitler's Schutzstaffel. Clines hits the bullseye in this narrative style in his debut. Yes, I said debut. Even after reading Ex-Heroes I'm finding it hard to believe it's a debut, as many of the mistakes that often mark a new author are nearly nonexistent.
Ex-Heroes will appeal to almost anyone who reads the genre, especially with its constant pop culture references. The inclusion of so many references has been hit-or-miss with most reviewers, and while I enjoyed many of them, ones along the lines of "is that the chick from Heroes?", sometimes Clines went overboard with them. When St. George is flying through the sky and lands on a rooftop or Stealth is leaping from rooftop to rooftop, you can count on Clines naming the building. Anything from Target to LA-native names that I didn't recognize, he'll throw the name in. Sometimes it felt forced, like he was trying to fulfill a bet to see how many references he could throw in.
Outside of the slight over-inclusion of pop-culture references, Ex-Heroes is a fast, gritty and action-packed tale that should be read by any fan of the genre. Don't go in expecting super-deep characters, or a complicated plot, because let's face it - it's a zombie story with superheroes, though throughout the story the heroes are made to seem more and more human. Go in with an action movie mentality and you will love this story. Did I say movie? Ex-Heroes is the perfect premise for a blockbuster film, and Christopher Nolan needs to make it happen. ...more
Jo Fletcher is a fairly new imprint for Quercus specializing in most of the speculative fiction genre. They started with a bang, and their list of authors includes some who’ve proven their mettle like Sarah Pinborough and Ian McDonald. They also have a slew of authors who have debuted within the last few years with success, like Aidan Harte, Mazarkis Williams, Tom Pollock, and David Hair. This year includes promising debut Snorri Kristjansson with Swords of Good Men, the first in the Valhalla Saga. After I’d found myself the victor of a giveaway for Aidan Harte’s Irenicon back in July, I decided to browse their catalog for authors of interest. After reading through all of the names, it was difficult to find one that didn’t catch my eye. I ended up requesting the one that stood out the most, and since I can’t resist a good Norse tale, they obliged and sent me Swords of Good Men.
After reading the first few chapters, I began to see that Kristjansson’s writing was very similar to Nathan Hawke’s and David Gemmell’s – there is no fluff. He tells the story how it is, without flattery and overbearing detail. But, more like Hawke than Gemmell, Kristjansson writes the violence with gory detail, making the action very fun to read – the kind of stuff you’d see on History’s new show, Vikings. Taking place in Norway, Swords of Good Men is much more historical fiction than it is fantasy, with the aspect of magic not appearing until the very end for the most part and in a supernatural way.
Swords begins with Ulfar Thormodsson and his cousin Geiri on their way to Stenvik, the last stop on a journey throughout the world before they can return home. Despite Kristjansson’s focus on the action rather than the world, he paints a very vivid picture of a Norse town in Stenvik. It feels real, down to the longhouse with barrel-chested men drinking mead and singing. A woman captures Ulfar’s heart with just a glance, and makes quite the enemy in the process. Ulfar and Geiri aren’t the only ones coming to Stenvik, though. The young King Olav Tryggvason, a Norse leader turned Christian, is moving west with his growing army in an attempt to bring the White Christ to the populace of Scandinavia. Skargrim has gathered a huge force of raiders and are advancing on Stenvik from the north with some kind of witch at the helm, and outlaws come out of the woodwork to harass the town as well.
Therein lies the biggest flaw of Swords of Good Men. Too many forces seem to be converging on this one small town. The book is split into many points of view, possibly too many, in order to help us keep track of all of these forces. Throughout the story we jump around from character to character, force to force, leading up to the penultimate siege – and the transition isn’t particularly smooth. If two of the main characters are in the same place, occasionally one paragraph would be spoken from one of them and the following one from the other, which made the story somewhat hard to follow.
Another problem with Swords was its length. It seems like a fairly standard story length for a debut at 352 pages, and it went smoothly until the last quarter. Shit hit the fan and had me turning page after page, the book glued to my hands. I buzzed through the last few pages and found the next page to be blank. The book was over. Too much had happened in the last 5 pages for me to wrap my head around immediately, and I think that the book, with the multiple point of view writing style, would have benefited from an extra 50 or so pages to smooth things out.
Despite what it may seem like by reading this review, I actually did enjoy Swords of Good Men because it had some very real characters and great action, though there were some flaws and those should be expected from a debut author. The choppiness did smooth out as the story moved along, and it’s clear that Snorri is steadily improving and the sequel looks to answer a lot of questions and I look forward to more action....more
‘Attack someone from behind? There’s no honor in fighting like that!’ ‘There’s no honor at all in killing someone, lad. No matter how you strike. There’s no glory to be had in taking a life.’
General Dun-Cadal Daermon was one of the most famous generals of the Empire. In the years since the Empire’s fall, the general has been drinking his life away, waiting for death to come and attempting to remove the betrayals of his friends from his mind. First and foremost in Dun-Cadal’s mind is the loss of his apprentice, Frog, whom he trained into knighthood. Viola, a historian from the Great College of Emeris, and she is on a quest to find the Emperor’s legendary sword, Eraëd. Rumor has it that Dun-Cadal escaped the Empire’s fall with the Eraëd in hand, and Viola wants to know where he hid it. When Dun-Cadal’s once-friends are assassinated one at a time, the two are caught up in a massive plot in which not much can be said without revealing a significant part of the plot.
Knights in The Path of Anger use magic called the animus, very similar in use to the Force. I’ve always thought that pure air, pure force, if you will, provides the best basis for a magic system. It’s simple, isn’t exactly the standard muttering of a spell to cast a fireball, and it’s fun. Where the Force appears to be able to be cast without consequences, the animus has distinct detrimental effects on the body and soul. There’s something awesome about slamming the ground and having the enemies surrounding you be launched backwards.
It seems to be a trend in recent fantasy novels for authors to use flashbacks in one way or another. Personally I think that, however interesting the flashback may be, it almost always detracts from the pacing of the present story. While most, if not all of the novels that utilize flashbacks separate them by chapter, Antoine Rouaud weaves the flashbacks into the story mid-paragraph. Whether they’re dreams or stories being told, they’re masterfully woven into the story in a way that does not detract from the pacing of the present story at all; the narrative flow is likely better than anything I’ve read this year. While most of the credit goes to Rouaud in writing the story, credit must be given to Tom Clegg, the translator. Many translated novels suffer from bumps in the translation that hinder the narrative in some way – Clegg’s translation is superb.
The Path of Anger is full of compelling characters. Dun-Cadal, Frog, and Viola are all well-sculpted and the minor characters are fleshed out in comparison to the many novels that simply sideline their non-essential characters. Dun-Cadal may have been an impressive figure years ago, before the Empire’s fall, but he’s spent the last several years drinking his life away and the alcohol’s effects are apparent – he’s no longer a great swordsman. Viola’s a young bookworm with no experience in politicking and warfare outside of what she’s read in her books.
There was one issue that seems to have nagged at everyone who’s read the book – the world-building. There isn’t any. The Path of Anger is definitely a character and plot-driven story, but may cities and events are simply named and dropped. I don’t know if a map is included in the press release of the novel, but I’m of the feeling that maps are essential in most science fiction and fantasy novels that take place or at least mention several different locations. The world isn’t described and it takes a certain something out of the story to prevent it from being a full one, though in the end the lack of world-building was a fairly minor issue in comparison to the beauty of the narrative and the characters.
The Path of Anger‘s ending was somewhat jumbled, though it did end in a solid stopping point, though I am very eagerly awaiting the sequel. Despite the distinct lack of world-building, Antoine Rouaud’s The Path of Anger is absolutely worth the read, if only for the superb narrative. Rouaud, with the help of his translator Clegg, has a way with words that simply works....more