New Orders 1-15-20

I placed a couple of new orders today…first is D.P. Prior’s Mountain of Madness.

Mountain-of-Madness-500

This is the second book in the Annals of the Nameless Dwarf series. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick up another signed hardcover.

Also, I placed an order for Gareth Hanrahan’s The Shadow Saint.

shadow saint

This is the second book in The Black Iron Legacy series that was just released a little over a week ago.

I’ve put in an interview request with each author. I’ve got one approval so far, so look for that in the near future…

Status Update 1-12-20

I have just completed reading The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan. The Pages Read total for the year is 753 (6% of goal). Next up is The Shadow King by Alec Hutson, the third book in The Raveling series. After that will be The Light of All That Falls by James Islington, and then I will offer up the 2019 Hippogriff Awards. In the next day or two I’ll start working on a review for The True Bastards.

Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan

winters daughter

Format:  hardcover, first edition, 2018

Pages:  444

Reading time:  about 11 hours

One sentence synopsis: Royce and Hadrian take a job to find a man’s missing daughter, but the simple fact finding (and revenge) mission turns into something bigger, and the two men get more than they bargained for.

 

Michael J. Sullivan’s books (at least the ones I’ve read) have been both consistent and inconsistent for me at the same time. What I mean by that is that they’ve been consistently well-written so that I’ve been intrigued by them and look forward to reading them; they have been inconsistent, however, in the quality of the plot and its predictability. The previous book, The Death of Dulgath, fell squarely in the middle between The Rose and the Thorn and The Crown Tower. The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter, besides the interesting title, is the first Sullivan book I was able to acquire in hardcover. So where does it fall between the previous 3 books? Read on to find out, beware of spoilers, and have a look at some guest reviews…

 

Joshua S. Hill of Fantasy Book Review says: “The interesting characters we meet along the way – some who may sound familiar, and others who will never appear again – are beautifully crafted and bring their own quirks and personalities to an already rich tapestry. The city of Rochelle is an odd place – but, then again, eerily similar to some of today’s societal trends. In this Sullivan doesn’t hit you over the head with subtle societal critiques, but rather uses today’s absurd treatment of one another as fodder for a fascinating city with its own unique currents and eddies…I will say this, however. This is the first time that I thought Sullivan tried to fit too much into a book. It is a small thing, barely noticeable throughout the book, but enough that, by the time you close the final page, there are certain threads left hanging that seemed to be related but in fact, weren’t. A POV character simply disappears towards the end of the book, and a thread which Sullivan introduces for the potential of a future story only served to muddy the water of his main mystery. In the end, I wonder whether the confused ending was the result of trying to weave too many strands together. That, however, is a minor point in the overall scheme of the book.

DarkChaplain at The Reading Lamp states: “The book is chock-full with great moments, adds background to Hadrian and Royce alike, brings the couple even closer together and, to my delight, ties a few more knots to connect the prequel Chronicles to the Revelations. Michael J. Sullivan is a master at making his world of Elan feeling interconnected and dynamic, whether it be through small easter eggs or a wider mythology…The new, and expanded on, side characters were honestly delightful as well. From Mercator Sikara, the Mir trying to find compromises and protect her people, over Evelyn Hemsworth, the old “hag” renting out her room to Royce and Hadrian and always, always added a motherly snark to a scene, to Duchess ‘Genny’ herself, the novel is stocked with interesting, dynamic and even inspiring characters. The villains, too, feel authentic and offer a proper challenge or three. There was never a dull moment, but plenty of laughter. It is incredible to me how well this entry straddles the line between being a depressing story about real oppression where even children may end up dead in an alley, and being a humorous adventure full of Jiggery-Pokery…I’ll just say that, whether or not you have read Riyria before, this book will entertain and excite you on its own merits, and if you have read other installments, you’ll end up with even more to appreciate.

Finally, Kopratic of The Fantasy Inn opines: “Firstly, this book was excellently paced. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt things were dragging…The imagery is, frankly, astounding. The sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes are all accounted for. We even get descriptions of touch, too! I felt like I was living in the bustling city of Rochelle. Every line felt necessary, so the amount of editing that must have gone into this book definitely paid off. A major positive result of the writing is how it helps to convey the world-building…Sure, on the surface it might just appear that Royce is the pessimist (excuse me, realist), and Hadrian is the optimist. But they’re so much more. They’re amazingly well-rounded. And it’s not just them. Even the most minor of characters have their own, distinct personalities. Something I greatly appreciated was that different species’ characters also felt distinct. For example, we meet different characters who are mir. There is no “mir personality.” There’s “this is Villar’s character, etc.” Another thing is that this book employs some strong, extremely well-written female characters. They’re each strong in their own ways. They aren’t the same character with different names and hair colors. They aren’t men with breasts. From Evelyn the homeowner, to Genny the duchess (whom we meet in the opening chapter), we see a variety of strengths from these women and more.

 

The strength (and hallmark) of a Sullivan book is the strength of characterization. Not just Royce and Hadrian, but also in the supporting characters. In The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter, it is the supporting characters that carry the story. From the Mir characters to crotchety old Evelyn, from Genny to Hadrian’s old war buddy, from priests to lords and peasants, each character is fleshed out with personality traits that remain consistent and unique. Their motivations are believable, and they are a delight to read. There’s some humor to be found here, and I chuckled a few times, especially in Royce’s and Hadrian’s relationship with Evelyn. She is one character that I hope appears later in the Riyria Revelations series.

The plot is effectively a murder mystery, as Winter, Genny’s father, wants to know what has happened to his missing (and presumed dead) daughter. This is a really great direction for Sullivan to take, because unlike the previous book, The Death of Dulgath -which suffered from being a bit too predictable – the murder mystery in this book allows Sullivan to dole the clues out slowly and keep the reader guessing how the plot will play out. A few twists here and there certainly help things along. Royce and Hadrian play Holmes and Watson, but of course with a different dynamic than that classic duo.

I also liked that more magic occurred in the book; in fact it seems as if each successive book ramps that up a little. How magic works is a bit of a mystery, so Sullivan can use it to move the plot to certain points, although he doesn’t use it as a deus ex machina so in reality it isn’t a major problem. Sullivan builds tension through the use of some of this magic, while at the same time Royce and Hadrian have to use a combination of wits and their particular skill sets to overcome problems, striking a good balance.

Another thing I liked that Kopratic mentions above is the liveliness of the city of Rochelle, particularly in the way that Sullivan describes it. He’s obviously put a lot of thought into the class system, the racial oppression of the Mir and Dwarves, the church’s role, the nobility’s role, the history of not only the city but also of the surrounding area, and the city’s layout and features. In addition, Sullivan accomplishes something a lot of other authors struggle with (and something that I always like to point out): he presents the “average” people in a way that makes you care about what happens to them. A city is made up of all kinds of people: blacksmiths, merchants, innkeepers, cobblers, guards – and they all play an important role in how a city functions and who the main characters have to deal with. Many stories push these supporting characters to the background…in others they are pretty much invisible. By fleshing out these people and making them integral to the story, Sullivan makes you care about Rochelle and what happens to the people that live there.

In conclusion, The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter is my favorite Riyria book to date. The plot is unpredictable, the pacing is excellent, the characters and city are well-written, and Royce and Hadrian do Royce and Hadrian things. This book is good enough to earn some Hippogriff Awards for 2018, so look for a revised version of that year’s awards that include this book in the near future. With no further books to currently read in the Riyria Chronicles, it looks like I may finally be diving into the Riyria Revelations series later this year…

New Page For Hippogriff Awards

At the top of the page you will find a new menu item, also known as a “page” in WordPress, titled “The Hippogriff Awards”:

hippogriff awards

Hovering over the menu entry will pull down a list of each year’s awards. Currently there is no list for 2014, 2015 and 2017 due to a lack of entries for those years, which I hope to remedy later in 2020.

2019’s Hippogriff Awards will be coming in February, after I have had a chance to read The Gutter Prayer, The Shadow King, and The Light Of All That Falls. And moving forward, if I read a book that will receive an award retroactively, I’ll make sure I point that out in that book’s review.

My 2019 Year In Review

2019 was a decent year with more highs than lows. On the personal front, I took only 1 traveling vacation: I went to Denver for the Craft Brewers Conference. I had a ton of vacation at the end of the year, which I mostly used up when my company shut down for 2 weeks for the holidays. I also had hernia surgery during that time that I’m still recovering from. I did not see a single movie in a theater. I bought 2 more pinball machines – The Munsters and Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle – and started rebuilding my Creature From The Black Lagoon machine. Work got more challenging as my company respected my experience and tenure, but that in turn led to more responsibility and less free time.

This was also the year I dumped network TV for good. Except for The Masked Singer – call it a guilty pleasure. I was entertained by The Witcher, Stranger Things, Umbrella Academy, and The Boys. My favorite movies were Shazam, Hobbs & Shaw and 6 Underground.

I read 21 books for a total of 11,407 pages. My favorite books I read this year, regardless of release date, were An Echo Of Things To Come, Fool’s Quest, and The True Bastards. The titles I most looking forward to reading from my TBR pile (again, regardless of release date) in 2020 are The Shadow King, Assassin’s Fate, and The Light Of All That Falls. And Doors Of Stone if it drops sometime this year…

Status Update 1-1-20

My first post of 2020 lands on New Year’s Day, so I’d like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year!

I’ve changed the reading goal to 12,000 pages for 2020, and as a result I have updated the reading goal progress in the left sidebar.

I have completed reading my first book of the year, Ravine of Blood and Shadow by D.P. Pryor. The Pages Read total for the year is 235 (2% of goal). Next up is The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan, the first book in The Black Iron Legacy.

Book Review: City of Light by Will Wight

city of light

Format:  oversized paperback, 1st edition, 2014

Pages:  386

Reading time:  see below

One sentence synopsis:  Simon, Leah, and Alin must battle Incarnations to protect the kingdom.

 

City of Light is the third book in The Traveler’s Gate series. I liked the first book, House of Blades, but I thought the sequel, The Crimson Vault, suffered from some problems, and though it wasn’t bad, I didn’t think it was as good as the first book. So would City of Light return to form, stay the course, or fall flat? Read on to find out, but beware of spoilers. First, some reviews around the Web, which weren’t easy to find other than Amazon or Goodreads. It doesn’t help that Will Wight has given his book the same title as another novel released in 1999…

 

Benjamin Espen of With Both Hands says: “In City of Light, Will Wight finishes what he started. I admire his focus, there are clearly more stories in this world that can be told. But Simon has completed the hero’s journey, and the cycle is now complete. Which also means that Simon has become a man, and the nature of the problems he faces will be different in the future. Thus, Wight has ended the story at the place where the story should be ended. And for that, I salute him. We also see a great many pieces fall into place [though not all!], explaining why Elysia and Ragnarus are warring with one another, and why the Incarnations were trapped within the bloody trees of Ragnarus. And why the rebel city of Enosh was trying to free them. In the end, it turns out that many of the fateful decisions made had some justice behind them. But justice is not the problem. Everyone has had more justice than they can handle. What this world needs is redemption and forgiveness. Surprisingly, in a world gone mad with power and thirst for vengeance, there is redemption to be had.

John Munro of Wizard’s Blog states: “Something that was an issue in the second book is worse in this one – it’s almost completely fight scenes. Sure it’s the climax, sure they’re at war, but still it felt like somebody was always fighting with someone else, with only brief interludes for plot and character development. It also suffers a bit from all of the main characters being too powerful – as we discovered in the Matrix sequels, watching invincible supermen punch each other to no effect gets boring after a while. Finally, I was irritated a bit by the fact that not everything was tied up by the end of the book. It’s bad enough when one book in a series doesn’t have a complete plot arc, but it’s much more important for a trilogy to have one. I understand the desire to leave things open for a follow-on series, but it’s frustrating when you think a plotline has been introduced to be a big dramatic twist and nothing happens.

 

My Thoughts:

In early December in one of my Status Update posts, you may have caught a true hint regarding my feelings about City of Light after I finished it. I believe I used the words “I really struggled” and “took me almost the entire month of November to get through it”. Well, I’m not going to sugar coat it.

I found this book extremely disappointing and hard to read.

The plot moves relentlessly from battle to battle, with alliances constantly changing. Wight drops his big plot reveals here in the last book, as Benjamin states above: “why Elysia and Ragnarus are warring with one another, and why the Incarnations were trapped within the bloody trees of Ragnarus. And why the rebel city of Enosh was trying to free them.” The problem is, these reveals come too little, too late, as they drop near the end of the story (and thus the end of the series). The lateness gives little time to process this information, and comes at the cost of character motivations, which only now start to make sense (or still don’t). Further, since this comes at the climax of the book, characters are forced to react to these reveals in a way that robs them of agency.

As John mentions above, there’s very little character development since fight scenes dominate pretty much the entire book. When a character like Alin does have a developmental moment, it doesn’t feel genuine, only that he has a sudden change of heart (which actually happens more than once) to get the plot where it has to go or to introduce a McGuffin to bail out the other characters. Alin’s motivations are a constant problem, with his “color voices” offering conflicting guidance. Which voice Alin listens to at any given time seems to be determined at a whim; some of the voices he ignores completely, as well as their abilities. There is a “purple light” that Alin uses to banish anything that doesn’t belong in the territory, but later it doesn’t work properly. This largely has the feel of contrived plot devices and the lack of consistency is frustrating. John also makes a good point that by the end a few plot points remain unresolved, which was a bit unsatisfying.

In conclusion I’d have to say that City of Light is possibly the most disappointing book I completed this year, save perhaps Fury of Seventh Son. It suffers from a lack of focus and consistency, questionable character motivations, some choppy and repetitive prose, and late revelations that have minimal impact. I have never DNF’d a book, but I will admit I considered it here. The worst part is that because I was disinterested and struggled with the problems I outlined above (I went days passing up reading because I dreaded getting back into it), City of Light effectively killed any slim chance I had at meeting my reading goal for the year. For me, Wight’s high point will always be House of Blades, which established a foundation with potential to turn the series into something special, but unfortunately for me, The Traveler’s Gate crashed and burned by the end.