J.P. Ashman handed me this book himself at Bristolcon
I don't know why I'm smiling like someone has a knife to my balls. And J.P isn't as tall as he loJ.P. Ashman handed me this book himself at Bristolcon
I don't know why I'm smiling like someone has a knife to my balls. And J.P isn't as tall as he looks: I'm actually leaning over on a bar stool.
Anyway, a fine chap.
The hardback is deceptive as it looks to be a book of medium size when in reality it is filled with tiny font and is in fact a *long* novel. 234,000 words long in fact. Prince of Thorns was 82,000!
Black Cross is a novel where the author's enthusiasm shines out on every page. Ashman has a love of arms and armour, and the chance is that you will learn something new about some weapon or piece of kit. Do you know what a heater shield is? Well, you can't cook on it or use it to warm the hovel. I learned that. Reminded me of Jeff Salyards' Bloodsounders' trilogy in that regard.
Black Cross has a distinctly D&D inspiration. There are magic users, clerics who heal, kobolds, griffins, goblins on wolves, elves galore. And he's not alone in that. T.O. Munro's Lady in the Helm and Jonathan French's The Grey Bastards are two others (among many) adopting a similar approach. It can work very well.
The defining feature of the book for me was the enormous number of point of view characters. I remember struggling a little when the first 8 chapters of Richard Ford's Herald of the Storm each introduced (and stayed with) a new PoV. With Ashman the PoV count mounts swiftly and soon exceeds Ford's. PoVs are swapped regularly in a way I've not see before but that I am told is seen in Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. I believe both books exceed twenty points of view!
So, we spill across the plot and the city in a plethora of characters encountering such wonders as giant lobsters, naked seal-men, hot air balloons, nymphs, and the like while dealing with a strange plague and court politics. It took me a while to get to writing this review so I'm a little hazy on some of the detail, and to be fair there was a *lot* of detail.
While the story has an upbeat feel to it there's plenty of grim, including rape, torture, young girls forced into prostitution, all that kind of thing.
So, it's a story full of energy and imagination.
The writing itself can be a bit rough and ready in places, and there are some typos of the reins/reigns variety. Some of the awkwardness and exposition may be an unavoidable side effect of the large number of pairs of eyes we view this world through, but that of course offers compensatory strengths, not least of which is the novelty of a fresh approach to storytelling.
The Bookworm Blues blog gave Black Cross 4* and selected it as a semifinalist (best of a batch of 6) in my first Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off.
You can check it out on Amazon and have a read of the start. See what you think.
I’ve read 1* reviews of this book and I’ve read 5* reviews, and I can see where both of them are coming from, though I definitely lean in the directioI’ve read 1* reviews of this book and I’ve read 5* reviews, and I can see where both of them are coming from, though I definitely lean in the direction of the latter rating.
This is a long review so here is the TL:DR for the impatient among you:
This is a very well written book – by which I mean that the writing is excellent. Ironically that writing may well be a barrier between many readers and enjoying it.
This is an interesting book – by which I mean it evokes interesting questions of a literary nature. It is not a book with a well-engineered plot where everything comes together in the end with an almighty bang a la Sanderson.
This is a grim book - Nasty stuff happens to innocent people. The level of detail is often small in these instances but the quality of the writing makes you cringe at them even so.
This is a book I advise you try – I don’t know if you will like it but it’s a bold experiment and feels like something new.
To the review!
The most popular 1* review of this book says:
The writing in this book is killing me already. For example: "Big as a cart horse. Deep fetid marsh rot snot shit filth green." & "Imagine saying that to Gulius's family: he was killed fighting a dragon. He was killed fighting a dragon. A dragon killed him. A dragon."
I understand the reaction but disagree with the implication that the writing is not good. I think the writing is excellent, but it is certainly not the sort of writing that fantasy fans are used to. This is a book written in a refreshingly literary style more familiar to the readers of literary fiction. There is a strong voice to the prose, which I liked a lot. I needed my word-brain exercised after the last couple of books I dipped into and abandoned where the words fell dead on the page.
However, many fantasy readers will not like the change. This is in no way to suggest that they lack the intelligence or sophistication to appreciate the work … just that it will not be what they were expecting.
As a case in point, consider one of the offending lines from above. “He was killed fighting a dragon. He was killed fighting a dragon. A dragon killed him. A dragon.” Writers are schooled against repetition and redundancy. But everyday conversation is full of these things, especially when we are wrestling with a concept. Dialogue in fantasy books is generally a stand-in for genuine conversation. Playwrights do not write dialogue like fantasy writers do since they need the audience seeing the person speaking the lines to believe in them, there and then, in the moment. Some of the dialogue in TCoBK follows this style.
The book moves from first person to third, from present tense to past tense, takes an omniscient point of view at times, and varies these things for a given character. The effect can be quite dramatic and powerful, but also may unsettle a reader.
Fantasy writing is generally all about the story, specifically: all about the plot. Many readers want prose that draws no attention to itself whatsoever. A line that makes a reader sit up and notice is, by some lights, taking the reader out of the story. The prose, some say, is a plot delivery mechanism. This can work very well. I really enjoyed the Brandon Sanderson book I read. The writing delivered plot and I didn’t notice it. You will notice the writing in this book.
"The moon was vast in the sky, the stars broken silver."
I've not found eminently quotable lines so much as a constant stream of elegant, poetic lines that do their job. The linguistic skill is aimed mostly at description rather than at aphorisms. The effect is cumulative over a page rather than shining from one line.
Speaking of plot: this is a chaotic book where it is very hard to predict what will happen next and where. I never had a sense of overarching plot. It is more a series of things that happened, though focusing down on two characters and their journey toward an uncertain destiny. This is not a bad thing, unless you really need a plot.
The next thing that fantasy readers tend to like are characters. If they aren’t all about plot then readers tend to be all about character. I’ve had my own struggle to convince readers to get on board with books about characters who are merely interesting rather than good/heroic/moral. I do though, I hope, throw the readers a bone by making them charismatic and/or funny to compensate in some way their despicable elements.
TCoBK goes a step further and presents us with characters who are generally horrible in almost every aspect and lack even humour or charisma to hang onto. The main character in particular is very hard to like and whilst there are interesting things about him I never felt emotionally engaged with his plight, or indeed that of any character in the book.
The pacing has been mentioned, and it can be erratic. Toward the end there are several longish contemplations of the countryside, and the description there is just excellent, really beautiful. But pacing-wise … not so sure it was the best place for it. Description throughout the book is a strength though.
Grimness. This book is pretty grim, not so much for the gory detail but for the things that are done, the way they are done, and who does them. Babies are killed, children drowned, young women mutilated, innocents burned, murder abounds, kindness is in short supply.
Despite the level and quality of description I would say the book is physically shallow and thematically deep. The cities and wilds are described wonderfully but with the characters it never feels as if we are physically deep in them. Several of them get burned, beyond a mention of it aching the issue is pushed aside. Injuries and mind-wrecking hangovers get similar short thrift. Being exposed to a cold wind for the first time, snow, having sex for the first time, all similarly relegated to the background in favour of more existential angst (not said in a mocking way - I like existential angst and suffer from it myself).
However, it is still, to me, an interesting book. It feels as though there are themes being addressed here. I’m not going to (or qualified to) lay out a full literary analysis, but it’s the kind of book that warrants one. There is an oft-repeated focus on the dichotomy between disgust and desire. And a focus, paralleled by drug addiction, on the self-destructive and doom-laden impulse of youth. A focus on the most physically beautiful people doing the most repulsive things. A focus on the desire to be led battling the desire to be free, and how that leader can be a person or simple fatalism.
An interesting book to read and fascinating to discuss afterwards! I think you should read it and form an opinion for yourself.
Oh, oh! And I learned two new words! Loggia and caravanserai.
Another fine book from Jane Johnson, containing many of her trademarks: east meets west, split time line - historical/present, elements of romance, soAnother fine book from Jane Johnson, containing many of her trademarks: east meets west, split time line - historical/present, elements of romance, some bloodshed, and fascinating historical fiction. Johnson's stories bring both past and present to life, and by offering a western eye in an eastern setting she is naturally able to satisfy our curiosity.
This book also has food porn! I want Friday couscous now!
Even though it took me a while to read the book felt too short, in as much as I was sorry to leave it. The past thread covers a period of twenty years or more, the modern thread less than twenty days + flashbacks to a time several years early.
The setting for both the past and present stories is the Alhambra in Granada, and Johnson is clearly very familiar with the place and more than a little in love with it. The palace becomes an additional character, and I would very much like to visit it myself!
The themes of war and terror between Christians, Muslims, and (less centrally) Jews very clearly resonate in modern day Spain. But there are also themes of friendship and love between individuals from these cultures too, and it would be nice to think those will be the ones to eventually prevail.
If you're a fan of historical fiction with a focus on the people against a background of great events, then Johnson should be on your tbr list!
An inline comment from my editor when going through it: "Woah, nasty!"
She didn't ask me to change it though! :)
Some lines from the book:
"Never be so focused on picking a lock that you forget kicking down the door is also an option."
"Nothing is as cruel as a righteous man."
She lifted a hand, as if it were the heaviest thing in the world, to XXXX’s cheek. “You’re bleeding.”
XXXX took the fingers and kissed them. “You are my blood.”
"Hers the anger of an ocean wave rolling over deep waters to spend its white fury against the shore, one and then the next, relentless, tearing down high cliffs, pounding rocks to pebbles, grinding pebbles to sand, and thus are mountains laid low. Hers the storm’s wrath, thunder-shaken, sharp with lightning, blown on a wind that rips the oldest trees from the hardness of the ground. Hers the defiance of stone, raised in outrage against cold skies. Hers the anger that sits like broken glass within a chest, the anger that will allow no sleep, no retreat, no compromise."
“I am my own cage.” She lifts her sword. “And I have opened the door.”...more
The folks at Voyager know I am a fan of Robin Hobb and were kind enough to send me #4 of 50 in this limited edition of Assassin's Fate.
Why the fuss? WThe folks at Voyager know I am a fan of Robin Hobb and were kind enough to send me #4 of 50 in this limited edition of Assassin's Fate.
Why the fuss? Well, this book is the conclusion of a twenty-two year journey (over fifty years in book time) through the world Robin Hobb has created. The protagonist who has led us in that journey is Fitz, the assassin mentioned in the title (and the apprentice mentioned in the title of the first book, Assassin's Apprentice, released in 1995).
Officially the journey runs thusly:
Though Fitz (as far as I know) only appears in the Fitz & Fool series which are the 1st, 3rd and 5th series in the image above.
Now, to the book! First I should note that I haven't read the Liveship or Rain Wild series. This is significant as although those books and their characters don't seem to have any significant impact on the Tawny Man trilogy, they do have a minor impact on Fool's Quest and a major impact on Assassin's Fate.
Because of my not having read those two series I am certain that sizable chunks of Assassin's Fate had far less impact on me that they otherwise would have had. Much of this book is spent travelling on liveships crewed by people who I believe are central to the Liveship trilogy, and passing through ports where yet more characters from that series reside. There are many points in Assassin's Fate where I had the distinct feeling that an event was somehow momentous ... but it passed me by. As a writer I could tell that the story was spending far too long with some "minor" characters and understood that this must because they had in previous books earned their right to page time.
So, although I've given the book 5* there is the chance that had I read those other 7 books I might have been raging that I couldn't give it 6*! Also, the 5* are based on the power, impact and entertainment from those sections where I wasn't missing anything.
To the text in hand! Well, you all know how Robin Hobb writes. Slow, beautiful prose, building character relationships, turning the screw on the protagonists, piling on the hurt, and then to a conclusion. The same thing happens in this book. The writing is rich and satisfying and I consumed the first two thirds of the novel in many small bites. Toward the end when we largely won clear of the characters and plot lines from the books I haven't read I began to move more quickly through the pages. The pace and tension pick up and you really begin to wonder what the end game will consist of. How will Fitz, the Fool and little Bee end up? Will Hobb show any mercy to these characters we've grown to love (over decades for Fitz and the Fool)?
I enjoyed the Bee thread the most, possibly because it was free of the Liveship/Rainwilds entanglements. Also Bee is a fierce and determined little creature that it's impossible not to root for. After having so much abuse heaped upon her it's very satisfying on the occasions that Bee strikes back.
I won't go into the plot. Hobb continues to paint a rich, interesting, and integrated world, she works her usual magic with the story, and it's a great read. Then you get to the last fifty or a hundred pages. The finale that 21 years, 17 books, and the several fictional lives have been building up to.
I thought I was handling it pretty well. Several things happened that I thought might happen and I bit my lip and carried on reading. Then...
I don't know why that scene was so powerful for me where others flowed over me. But it was. And from that point on had I not been such a manly author of GRIMDARK I would probably have been working my way through a box of tissues and pretending to any nearby family that I had hay-fever.
So, the ultimate ending... Bitter sweet as you might expect. Lots of bitter, and a fair bit of sweet too. Capping off such an epic work of fiction / literature was always going to be a monumental ask. To my mind Robin Hobb pulled it off. She managed to close the back cover on story in a way that stayed true to the characters and all that had gone before, and in a way that will likely have a lasting impact on the fantasy landscape. The ending will certainly stay with me, joining my small collection of iconic fantasy moments.
So, get reading. I won't lie, it's going to hurt, but you'll also be glad that you did it.
This is a gothic horror novella at 25,000ish words many modern writers would call it a long short story and Michael Moorcock would call it a book.
TheThis is a gothic horror novella at 25,000ish words many modern writers would call it a long short story and Michael Moorcock would call it a book.
The primary strength of Danse Macabre (the 7th book of that title thrown up by Goodreads search) is the prose. The descriptions and atmosphere are excellent. Not perfect - to my taste Hughes often uses one more adjective than needed - but really very good.
The period and location are rather tough to pin down and quite possibly it flits across centuries and continents. At first the story is rather confusing and you have to bear with it across some rather swift scene changes, but once you get the hang of the thing it becomes fun.
There are twists, there is satisfying murder, there are moments of sadness.
I'm rounding this up to 5*. I'm a proseophile. If you like novellas you should like this one. Hughes should write a book. And remove 3 adjectives a page.
This was an odd one for me. I've seen an enormous number of opinions about Sanderson's books on the fantasy forums I hang out on, the great majority fThis was an odd one for me. I've seen an enormous number of opinions about Sanderson's books on the fantasy forums I hang out on, the great majority favourable. I was interested to see what it was that had sold so very many books and got such an incredibly high average score on Goodreads.
The opening was strong and engaging. Then I started to falter. For most of the book I didn't think that I would be giving it 5*. I started to worry that I might have a legion of Sanderfans on my case :o
I think I am too much of a scientist for the magic system not to jar against me. I liked the complexity, and the effects, and the ways it was used were cunning, clever, and ingenious. But the ingredients and the execution fill me with unanswered questions.
And for much of the middle section I was struggling through all the balls and house politics, having a hard time caring.
And the plans felt flimsy and dubious...
But, the last hundred and fifty pages were a huge payoff and I really liked all the twists and turns. Also the action scenes were great, and the tension was kept high, nobody felt safe, the reveals kept coming ... it was all really well done and I had a blast with it.
I've heard it said that Sanderson's biggest strength is plotting, and yes, the plot unwound splendidly.
The reading experience and writing put me in mind of Brent Weeks more than any other writer I know.
A kind editor pointed GRRM my way when he decided to have a Wild Cards book set in the UK and wanted more British authors on board. Actually as a dualA kind editor pointed GRRM my way when he decided to have a Wild Cards book set in the UK and wanted more British authors on board. Actually as a dual national I'm half American, but I've spent 90%+ of my life here.
Anyway, Wild Cards is a franchise spanning 30+ years in real time and 60+ years in book time, and sprawls over 23 (& counting volumes).
The good thing is that although all that alternate history and the cast of characters are there to be used, most of the books (all of which comprise a collection of short stories) stand well on their own, as do the stories within them.
And the underlying idea of the whole thing can be delivered in a couple of lines.
In 1940(ish) an alien virus is released. It infects a few thousand or tens of thousands then fades away, with new outbursts down the years. 90% of those catching it die, 9% are horribly deformed, and 1% are largely untouched but gain super powers. Simple!
So, in preparation for writing my 15,000 word story for Knaves over Queens, book 27, I read book 1.
It's set in the 40s, 50's and 60s, following the aftermath of the first outbreak and the progress of some of those new "super heroes" along with the social impact of their activities and of the far more numerous "Jokers" (those who end up sick and deformed) who form a persecuted underclass and mostly live in ghettos.
There is a focus on real American political events of the period, re-imagined through the lens of the virus. The political ramifications and events are not discarded but build through the series, giving it a persistent and realistic history that is absent in other superhero franchises where the board is reset regularly and consequences largely forgotten.
The political focus can make this first book rather dry, especially for younger readers for whom time has moved the events from recent(ish) history to something more distant and academic.
I found the quality of the short stories to be enormously variable. This is true of many anthologies, and I guess of many collections of books you might randomly pull off the shelf.
It's been a while since I read it so I can't go into detail. I remember GRRM's own contribution as being very entertaining, and that the story by the late Roger Zelzany (whose books I like a lot) left me somewhat disappointed. But that's part of the joy of collections, the authors can experiment and you never know what to expect. You get highs with the lows and it's definitely worth giving it a try.
You're not committing to a 30 book series here, since armed with the basics you can dive into any of the volumes as you please. It's an exciting and highly imaginative project with some very different takes on the whole superhero (& villain) idea. Well worth it.
And of course the volume my story will appear in (in anything from 9 months to 3 years) will be a must read!
I've read all (I think) of this series to my daughter, Celyn, but somehow this one escaped being reviewed until now.
I half-watched the film a year orI've read all (I think) of this series to my daughter, Celyn, but somehow this one escaped being reviewed until now.
I half-watched the film a year or two before we read this. Actually it was Rick reading (and being kind enough to review) my own trilogy that steered me toward picking up these books for Celyn (she's very disabled and can't read books for herself).
Anyway, it was a very good read. Celyn enjoyed the action and humour, and I enjoyed seeing the Greek legends I loved reading about as a kid given a new lease of life, offered up to the most recent generation.
It starts off with that irresistible device beloved of fantasy books that you (vicariously the hero) were meant for more than this regular old world and that all those odd things you don't understand about everyday life ... really are odd and full of special meaning. In fact ... your dad's a god, and not just any old god but Poseidon himself. And that means you're part god yourself! Hoorah!
So Percy gets inducted into hero school, makes friends with good monsters, fights and kills bad ones, and dives into adventure.
The hero school (Camp Halfblood) has demi-gods descended from all the Greek mythos, which makes for fun conflicts. Meanwhile in the wider world there are rumblings that the titans (from whom the gods wrested control of the world at the dawn of time) are about to stage a comeback. Zeus has lost his lightning bolt and the thief must be found before the gods fall to blows and Olympus topples.
The genius is in the mix of modern day America with all its kitsch, landmarks, cities etc with mythical Greece. It shouldn't really work, but does. And to cap it all, your kid is getting a classical education on the sly!
Pacing is clearly, as with all things writing, objective.
I have come to understand some of the key elements upon which that objectivity stands thoughPacing is clearly, as with all things writing, objective.
I have come to understand some of the key elements upon which that objectivity stands though. Primarily, if the reader's expectation of a story is at odds with the author's intent then it will translate into a complaint about the pacing.
If a book is about character and the reader wants plot, they will call it slow.
If a book is about training and the reader wants to see the student qualified and in action ... they will call it slow.
And so on.
The focus in this book is, in large part, on the dynamics of the relationships between traveling companions, proxy family, and later between fellow students. Once you realize that this is the story, rather than something that needs to be established so that you can get on with the story, then you and the book will get on well.
It took me two months to read this book. Admittedly it is a long one one and I'm a slow reader with little time. Also I had to read a Wild Cards book in the middle of it all to get up to speed for my own contribution to that series.
T.O. Munro writes very well. On a line by line basis he stands shoulder to shoulder with many famous authors. His fantasy writing is imaginative (albeit drawing on the orc, dwarf, elf tropes as a background - which thankfully got little exposure), his description skilled, dialogue solid (though I'm not a fan of accents).
The weakest areas of the book were, for me, pacing and a lack of tension, which are two sides of the same coin. The book is low on action - which is by no means a problem, a book can be gripping without constant sword fights, murders, flights from peril etc - but for long sections it felt as though nothing of consequence was at stake. Even in the framing story where one character is under interrogation in an oft-returned to flash forward scene, he appears to be fairly comfortable and in charge, with his interrogators on the back foot.
That said, there is much to recommend here, particularly for the swift reader who will be able to concertina the thrills and spills into a much shorter span and thereby up their density!
The novel stands alone despite building on a history of events and characters from previous related books. I didn't feel I was missing vital subtext although I'm sure that reading the earlier volumes would enrich the experience.
With its lack of violence, and focus on character and problem solving the book reminds me of Courtney Schafer's excellent The Whitefire Crossing. Recommended for those seeking some relief from grimmer and darker fantasy, and an adventure with some time to breathe in it.
When you type "Silent City" into Goodreads search this is the 9th hit!
The title, and elements of the cover, shout (silently) supernatural horror at meWhen you type "Silent City" into Goodreads search this is the 9th hit!
The title, and elements of the cover, shout (silently) supernatural horror at me. But the book is nothing of the sort.
It's more like a 1940s noir detective yarn, only without any real detecting going on. We have the hard drinking "hero" with the dark backstory, his life revolving around brooding in a bar, fist fights with strangers, and underwater maintenance.
The book's setting is entirely underwater, with domed cities, fusion-powered subs and strangely clunky computers, all of which lends it a hint of postwar fantasy a la EE Doc Smith where greasy pipe-smoking engineers take wrenches to the star-drive that hurls the ship between galaxies.
I was able to maintain my supernatural horror delusions for a while because all the early mentions of silent cities allowed me to. Actually they turn out to be quite dull things (as entities - this is not to say the story is dull).
The book is a slim volume and contains a fair bit of world building, much of it technical, revolving around the business of operating a "fish suit" and the nitty gritty of navigating submarines using sonar and hunting others. Having spent a few years of my day job researching some of the fundamentals of such things I can say it all seems fairly solid, with the possible exception of the laser communication.
There's plenty of action including the aforementioned fist fights, underwater explosions, rail guns, torpedoes, and base infiltration. A Bondian number of bad guys are clouted round the back of the head with a wrench or otherwise throttled into submission and stuffed in lockers. Well … at least three.
The book ends with a lot of unanswered questions. In fact almost every question I had was left unanswered. But this is Corin Hayes #1 so watch this space.
I would say that the world building and action were the book’s strengths. A judgement on the plot I think will have to wait on the next volume.
The characters were the part I had the hardest time getting a grip on. It’s in first person so we are almost completely occupied with the eponymous Corin Hayes, who as I said ticks many of the noir detective boxes but with rather less motivation – nobody is paying or asking him to solve the mystery … and the mystery isn’t overly mysterious. He does encounter a couple of dames and emotional connections seem to develop at a great rate of knots leaving me feeling a touch unconvinced. And his murdered daughter is dangled before us as plot/character device a few times but again I wasn’t entirely convinced. At the end of the book his contemplation of memories of the daughter’s mutilated corpse are interrupted by dame #1 and within a heartbeat he’s contemplating her small breasts instead.
These character niggles aside, it’s a short book that isn’t short on action or imagination and the setting is an interesting change of pace, so check it out!
-- Note: The book has just been withdrawn from sale (self published) prior to relaunch by a major publisher in 2018.
So this is without question th-- Note: The book has just been withdrawn from sale (self published) prior to relaunch by a major publisher in 2018.
So this is without question the filthiest fantasy book I've read, beating the former title holder The Grim Company by a factor of ten ... possibly a hundred.
The book has elements in common with Jeff Salyard's Scourge of the Betrayer in that much of it concerns the interplay between a small band of fighters.
But really if you've seen Sons of Anarchy on TV, then that's the perfect parallel. This is a book about a biker gang. Only the bikers are half orcs. And the hogs they ride are actual hogs. The sort that make bacon.
The story starts, and for a long time remains, very small scale. The focus is on the fewer than a dozen half-orcs in our biker gang hoof, and on their squabbles with small numbers of fairly low key antagonists. Some posturing leads to a fight, the fight to a death, the death to the hoof having to pay for prostitutes rather than get freebies ... it's entertaining but not epic.
We discover that the half-orcs have as neighbours all the D&D races with the notable absence of dwarves. But we do see elves, centaurs, orcs, and halflings. If I had been told this in advance it would have put me off reading the book, but fortunately I wasn't and French's take on these guys is sufficiently novel &/or grimy to stop it feeling like discount Tolkien.
Anyway, the plot spirals slowly outwards and turns out to be a complex thing of many moving parts that eventually encompasses two nations and a vast square mileage. The heart of it all though is always the hoof and the tight but complex friendships therein.
If you look past the towering mounds of vulgarity this is actually a book with a lot of heart and no real evidence of the morally grey &/or nihilistic slant often called grimdark. The main half-orc characters are loyal, good-hearted, and as inclined to do the right thing as many a fairy-tale prince, only with bags of very crude sexual innuendo (no, in your endo #Scrubs #TheTodd).
It's a well written book that captures characters well, contains great description, and keeps the pace varied but entertaining. I spotted a grand total of 2 typos and a dozen or so lines I would have scrubbed the purple out of, which now that the book has a major publishing deal should mean that the editors have very little work to do.
I really enjoyed this book. It has charisma. It's very entertaining, it builds to an exciting finish, and left me ready for more.
You know you want to read about a dozen orcs on giant pigs charging into massed centaurs while screaming insults and waving their genitals. Or ... you might not know it ... and be surprised to find that you like it!
Out of the 300 fantasy books that entered my self-published fantasy book contest #SPFBO for 2016 this book was the runaway winner!!
Check out the contest results here, there are other great titles clamoring for your attention.
I can see why the blogger who put it forward was enthusiastic about it. It’s an enthusiastic book that gets a lot into its sizeable word count (~250K).
It opens with a battle scene in which we’re treated to monsters, magic, and mass carnage. I had some trouble visualising the scene in places but for the rest of the book Tucker paints a full picture that never left me trying to puzzle things out.
At first sight Path of Flames is not a very sophisticated novel. It has an 80s fantasy feel to it and manages to bring in a great number of the “standard” elements of the genre. However, it does what it does well, and there are moments of both depth and genuine emotion that are also handled well. Lady Iskra, mother and widow, is a well written character who feels real.
Path of Flames is an exciting fantasy romp and it’s very easy to let yourself be swept along by the story and be thoroughly entertained. And for a lot of the time I was.
The chapters move between six (I’m guessing) points of view and for much of the time five of those are in the same place doing the same thing. The sixth, Tharok, is an odd one. Tharok’s story is entertaining too. He’s an orc-thing and his rapid rise through the orc-thing ranks is charted through the book in parallel to the story of the humans. The odd thing is that it really could have been an entirely separate book. The threads never join and there are very few hints that they take place in the same world.
There’s plenty of magic in the story, both in the “casting black flames at you” style and the more passive “teleport gates” and “floating cities” style. While none of it feels particularly new or fresh it does feel comfortable and well handled.
A niggle for those who have read a lot of fantasy may be just how many tropes are called upon. There’s also … I’m not sure what to call it … maybe a YA vibe or something similar. Our three youngest protags turn out to be fearsome warriors variously stuffed to the gills with mysterious and unexpected magic powers, or sporting important magic swords that they essentially found lying about.
The focus for the five human points of view is a tight one, bound for most of the book to two castle locations. Again the castles and the life within them feel familiar, and again, well done. There is a tournament which if you’re in a jaded mood you could roll your eyes at, but I actually really enjoyed. I’m a sucker for goodie knights vs baddie knights and all the arms and armour descriptions. It was exciting and entertaining.
As things progress our young heroes level up swiftly and a magical mystery builds with helpfully discovered secret libraries to fill in the blanks. We get a nice battle to end with, balancing out the opening battle, and our heroes become near super-heroes, cutting swaths through the foe to reach the boss-fights.
The ending is open with plenty to resolve in the following books. I never felt bored!
So, to conclude: don’t concentrate on my fault finding. With an open mind and your inner child(hood fantasy reader) turned up high, this could well be one of your favourite reads.