Status Update 1-30-19

It what has become a disturbing trend, I have finished another book before a review of the previous book was completed. I just finished Revisionary, and I’m now starting on Will Wight’s The Crimson Vault. A review of Fury of the Seventh Son still needs to be written, and then another needs to be composed for Revisionary. It’s a good problem to have, I guess.

This means I have read 1,261 pages in the first four weeks of 2019. At that rate, I would hit 16,000 by the end of the year, well above my 15,000 goal. It may not be sustainable, but it is encouraging…

Book Review: Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

paternus

Format: oversized paperback, trade paperback edition, 2016

Pages: 457

Reading Time: about 11.5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Fiona, through her association with a mysterious old man, gets caught up in a battle between gods, only to find out secrets that upend the world she thought she knew.

 

I first heard about Paternus: Rise of Gods through the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SBFBO), where it received some high praise and ended up as a semi-finalist. Though I prefer epic fantasy and Swords & Sorcery, I will occasionally crack open a urban fantasy. So did I agree with the praise from the SPFBO? Read on to find out. First, a few guest reviews from around the internet…

 

RockStarlit BookAsylum (cool name!) states: “Rise of Gods builds up slowly, but the second half or so is packed with action to the brim. But then you need a bit of time to get used to the book being written in the third person, present tense and the sudden changes in the POV, which sometimes can be kind of annoying. Because of this and that things happen really fast, and mythical creatures and legends get a rather big role (maybe bigger than they should have at some points) there isn’t enough time and space for character building (I liked how Fi and Zeke adapted to the situation though), so this book is rather action driven. Sometimes this is overwhelming and makes hard to connect to the main characters: Fi, Zeke and Peter. Although their interactions are good and they bring some humor into the bloodbath, which does good to the book. These light moments are refreshing and give a moment of break to get from one scene to the other…The writing is smooth otherwise and this book is crammed with mythology, stories, names and legends from all around the world: from Native America through Ancient Europe to Africa and Asia. Good points for Mr Ashton using the less known legends and stories instead of the overused greek and roman gods. Actually, let’s give the man respect for doing such a thorough research to bring together so many cultures.

J.C. Kang of Fantasy-Faction explains: “From my personal preferences of fantasy fiction, two aspects, one after the other, dug Paternus into a deep hole: Third Person Present Tense. Dipping into many characters’ thoughts in quick succession. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the gold standard in executing the latter brilliantly; and since nothing quite compares to Douglas Adam’s masterpiece, it would be unfair to compare Paternus to it. That said, I’ve never been accused of being fair. While it took me a while to get used to the perspective, I found Paternus to be a swift-paced, fascinating story, written in vibrant prose. I was intrigued by the fantasy elements in an urban setting, and was trying to figure out if it was a werewolf story. Don’t Panic! It’s not a paranormal romance. There’s no snarky heroine or brooding love interest…The benefit of the Omniscient Viewpoint is that we get a glimpse into so many different heads, to understand their motivations. It is easy to like, loathe, adore, or otherwise feel invested in many of the characters. That said, it was also hard for me to connect deeply to any of them. I would certainly classify it as a plot-driven story. The Omniscient Viewpoint sometimes leads to the head-hopping effect. I sometimes felt like I was caught in a Michael Bay movie, jumping from the thoughts of one character to another. This was particularly disorienting during fights.

Finally, Dorian Hart says: “My issues with Paternus are mostly of the technical/editorial sort; it felt like any editing done was light and incomplete. That is not to say the book is one of those amateurish nightmares of the self-pubbed world with dozens of typos and piles of broken grammar. Overall the writing is quite good. But there were many small things that kept pulling me up short: comma splices, wrong homophones (e.g. peaked instead of piqued), use of interrobangs and multiple exclamation marks, and similar small glitches…Paternus is written in the third-person present tense, which is fine, but the head-hopping between characters was so constant, it gave me whiplash. It often happens between short paragraphs without so much as a section break. And while there are a lot of characters in Paternus (and I love some of them and like most of them), the two lead characters, Fi and Zeke, felt flat to me. They seemed more like witnesses and people-to-whom-things-happen than interesting characters driving the action…So, what did I like? First, just to get this out of the way, the author knows how to write sentences to serve his action…and this book is almost all action. There are beautiful and evocative images throughout, and his ability to describe scenes is magnificent. So understand, despite my complaints, this is not by any means a poorly written book. Quite the opposite…But the star of this show is the action. The pace of Paternus is so relentless, and the battles so entertaining and cinematic, no piddly little editing issues were going to stop me from turning the next page. The conceit of battling gods from multiple pantheons is absolutely brilliant. (Quetzalcoatl vs. Hephaestus and the Minotaur! Anansi vs. Galahad! Kali vs. Baphomet! Cerberus vs. the Devil!) As a 14-year-old D&D nerd reading the hardcover Deities and Demigods, I loved to speculate about who would win if (for instance) Odin fought against Cthulhu. Dyrk Ashton wrote a whole book about that kind of epic clash of titans, and it’s every bit as delightful as it sounds. The research and knowledge of world mythologies that went into his work is astounding, and the novel is just plain popcorn fun from beginning to end.

 

To start, I think Dorian makes some great points. Like him, as a teenager I imagined battles between gods from the Deities and Demigods book from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game, so Paternus calls to that part of my imagination, and I have no issues with the premise of the plot. After laying low for many years, suddenly all these god-like creatures are about to get caught up in war that forces them all to choose a side. The two sides are the Asura, who are classified as bad, and the Deva, who are the good guys. However, the plot contains a serious hole big enough to drive a truck through. When the Asura leader Kleron sets his minions against an old man named Peter, who is a dementia patient in a hospital, it unleashes a chain of events that continually serve to thwart Kleron’s plans. It makes no sense as to why Kleron simply didn’t send a wealth of his Asura minions out to pick off the Deva one by one, since they are mostly scattered and vulnerable. This does happen in a few instances, but surely there are more Deva in the world, and in some cases Kleron doesn’t send enough minions to ensure success. Had Kleron wiped out the Deva, he could have then turned his attention to the hospital, leaving old man Peter with no allies. It’s a bit of a blunder for a character that is portrayed throughout the story as being a step ahead of his opponents.

There are a few other problems with the story. One involves the use of cybernetic insects on parallel worlds, and it’s not really clear how they have come into being or how the Kleron controls them and has them do his bidding. Some characters are “unbeatable”, so there’s not much tension with regard to the outcomes of their battles. And the third-person present tense is an awkward choice. As J.C. and Dorian describe it, the head-hopping between characters using an omniscient viewpoint is often troublesome.

And this brings us to the main problem with Paternus: Rise of Gods – the characterization. For much of the book, Fi and Zeke feel underdeveloped, and the beginning, as other reviewers have pointed out, definitely has a YA urban fantasy/angst love story vibe. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but that type of perspective does not lend itself well to deep character development. As Dorian says, they simply react to events going on around them without driving the action. It gives them a feeling of being bystanders, and that aspect, combined with their limited viewpoint – due to the number of different characters with page time – makes them feel shallow. To me, Ashton is merely describing their feelings…I didn’t really feel what they were feeling. As for the god-like creatures, we can’t really understand what’s going on in their head or why the even care about certain things, especially the few that are millions of years old.

SPOILER ALERT! There’s a scene where the Asura master and his minions get into a secret catacomb before the protagonists do…how is this possible? How did the Asura master even know about the catacombs? It is not explained. Additionally it is revealed that Zeke has a “power”, even though he is mortal. So where does this power come from? Even some of the more knowledgeable characters admit that they don’t know. And what are the chances that a mortal with Zeke’s powers should not only be close to Fi (who is also more than she seems), but an intricate part of her life? It feels like there is a piece missing here, so my hope is that Ashton actually has an explanation that will be revealed in sequel and that it’s not just a huge coincidence for the sake of the plot.

There’s a significant chunk of downtime towards the end where a big infodump occurs. Usually authors will place an infodump at or near the beginning of the story. Why? Because it slows down the pace. By placing the infodump at the end, where normally an author is building up tension to an exciting conclusion, Ashton has robbed his story of some of that tension by stalling out while trying to process the infodump. Fortunately the copious amounts of previous action sequences carry the day. Also, it should be noted that there is some darkness to this fantasy, with gore, heads being ripped off or eyeballs plucked, and a sex scene that may bother more sensitive readers.

Although this review sounds overwhelming negative, there are positive aspects to the story. In addition to the brilliant warring gods concept, the action sequences that these gods engage in are described very well. And I actually enjoyed the linking of the same mythological being throughout a variety of different cultures. It’s clear Ashton has done his homework and taken it to another level. And the pace, aside from the infodump near the end, is fast-moving.

In conclusion, despite many problems with the story, Ashton manages to make it work to enough of a degree that I will probably spring for the sequel, Paternus: Wrath of Gods. While it not one of my favorite reads lately, it wasn’t a struggle to get through and has a lot of things going for it, and I’m curious to see what direction Ashton takes the sequel in.

Status Update 1-21-19

Well, before I could even get a review for Paternus completed, I finished Fury of the Seventh Son. Now I have two reviews that need to be written! I’m also close to 1,000 pages read for the year already. For now I’ve moved on to the next book in my queue, Revisionary.

Status Update 1-16-19

I’ve completed Paternus by Dyrk Ashton and thus have conquered my first book of the year, and taken my first step towards my 2019 reading goal. I’ll have a review up hopefully within a few days.

One interesting development is that my reading has slowed quite a bit since I returned to blogging. Prior to the 4+ years that was gone, I could read about a page a minute. Now it’s about 2 pages every 3 minutes, or a 33% decline. I’m not sure why that is…maybe it’s just age catching up with me. As a result, the reading times for books I read in 2018 are a bit higher than the books read in 2013 and earlier.

So far there are only a few new releases in 2019 that are on my radar: The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft, The Light of All That Falls by James Islington, and The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson. Also, will we see Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss? If so, I’ll be dropping everything to read it. I’m also not sure if we will see The True Bastards by Jonathon French, and God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston. Plus there are several other books not on my radar, and for now I’d like to keep it that way, as I can’t possibly keep up with everything I already have plus the aforementioned titles above. It’s shaping up to be a great year if many of these books make a 2019 release…

The Hippogriff Awards – 2018

This entry of The Hippogriff Awards focuses on my favorite books in which the versions I read were published in 2018. Below are my Top 5 favorite books of that year, and then my awards, with an explanation of the reasoning behind each choice.

HIPPOGRIFF’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2018

Traitor GodSenlinAscends1. tie: The Traitor God – Cameron Johnston, and Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

grey bastards3.The Grey Bastards – Jonathon French

silver sorceress4. The Silver Sorceress – Alec Hutson

Port_of_Shadows_Cover5. Port of Shadows – Glen Cook

This was a difficult choice and I agonized for a few days between who should get first place and who should come in second. Senlin Ascends had a classic feel and was full of wondrous moments; The Traitor God was an action-packed thrill-ride. Different styles for each, but both were amazing – there’s really no right or wrong answer here, in my opinion. Hence a tie for Book of the Year between the two.

AWARDS

Best Plot: Senlin Ascends
A brilliant, amazing story not only carried by strong characterization, but also the wonderful plot of Thomas Senlin searching for his wife in a strange place.

Best Plot Twist: The Grey Bastards
Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll simply say that the story careened in directions I didn’t see coming, but the biggest involved a character that was pretending to be something she wasn’t.

Best Emotional Moment: The Grey Bastards
The loss of a supporting character was a very sad moment…while it was not an enjoyable moment, it was the best in terms of soliciting an emotional response from me.

Best Action Sequence: The Traitor God
There are several amazing sequences here to choose from…but the best is probably the battle for the city near the end of the book.

Best Hero/Heroine: Senlin Ascends (Thomas Senlin)
I picked Senlin because of the courage, ingenuity and resilience he displays as he moves through the Tower. Edrin Walker from The Traitor God was a very, very close second due to his dark and complex depth of character.

Best Supporting Character: The Silver Sorceress (Jan)
I really enjoyed learning more about Jan’s backstory.

Best Villain: The Traitor God
Revealing the villains of The Traitor God would spoil the story. You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that they were pretty awesome.

Best Setting: Senlin Ascends
The Tower of Babel is an incredibly imaginative setting. The different levels of the Tower, the steampunk-like features, airships, mysterious power sources – it was all very intriguing.

Best Worldbuilding: The Silver Sorceress
Alec Hutson’s world continues to be a joy to discover.

Best Names/Languages: The Silver Sorceress
There’s not much separating The Silver Sorceress from the other entries, but it is enough to take this award.

Best Magic Item: The Traitor God (Lust, the War Machine)
The gigantic metal statue that is really a magical war machine is one of the best magic items ever conceived.

Best Magic System: The Traitor God
Cameron Johnston’s system seemed to be the most coherent and logical of all the entries.

Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: The Traitor God (Magash Mora)
The Cthulu-inspired creature was pretty amazing.

Best Non-human race: The Grey Bastards (half-orcs)
The book revolves around a half-orc society, and Jonathon French has put a lot of time and thought into developing the culture that it seems totally believable.

Best Ending: The Traitor God
A massive battle featuring a gigantic, building-swallowing Cthulu-like creature, giant magical war machines, a magical dagger, and a couple of big reveals make this an easy choice for me.

Best Cover: The Traitor God
Jan Weßbecher’s cover is incredible!

That completes my awards for 2018…

Book Review: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

tainted cityFormat:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2012

Pages:  402

Reading Time:  about 10 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Dev and Kiran return to Ninavel in an attempt to win back their freedom, but when things go downhill quickly, it becomes a fight not only for freedom but also survival.

 

A little over 8 months ago I acquired all 3 books in The Shattered Sigil series by Courtney Schafer, and read and reviewed the first book, The Whitefire Crossing. I liked the story but was slightly disappointed by the ending, though I said at the time that it was certainly set up for the sequel. Well, I have just completed that sequel, The Tainted City, and I’m ready to offer up my thoughts. First, however, some guest reviews from around the internet:

 

Paul Weimer of SF Signal states: “Happily, for me, The Tainted City lived up to my expectations and wishes for a sequel. Its strengths are many, and I would like to start with the worldbuilding and the setting. Although we get some scenes within the mountains (no surprise, given the author’s interests), the focus and the heart of the story is firmly set in the city of Ninavel. The author brings the city of Mages to life as convincingly and in as much depth and evocation of sense of place as she does the Mountains. Also, the magic system worldbuilding is well done…Character and the writing that evokes it is the other strength I want to mention here. Like its predecessor, the novel alternates between a first person perspective for Dev, and a third person perspective focusing on Kiran. The character voices are strong. An event early on does act as a large reset button on their relationship, perhaps too much of one. However, this has the salutary effect of helping make The Tainted City stand very much on its own rather than being a sequel dependent on the first novel…What could have been better about The Tainted City? Especially with the ever growing complicated landscape and geopolitical world, a map and concordance was sorely missed. This is a big and rich world, and more and more of it is impacting on the story, even if the story itself is physically set in only a slice of it.

Sparky at Fangs for the Fantasy opines: “I love the way this book examines “end justifies the means” thinking by repeatedly showing its victims – whether it’s the way Dev and Kiran were betrayed by Marten, how Ruslan hurt Kiran to bring him back to their family or even the utter goal of trying to stop and remove a truly corrupt and dangerous city – but at what cost? The manipulations – and willingness to sacrifice people – on the past of the “good guys” are not presented as rosier or happier or more right than the manipulations of the “bad guys.”…Which brings me to the characters – I love the characters in this book because they’re all very real. From Marten and his manipulations and conflict over them, to Lena’s conflicted morality, to Cara’s free and easy ways covering her serious dedication to Kiran’s much abused world view. Even the bad guys – Ruslan and co and Dev’s ex are all very human with human motivations and understandable world views. You can see real people making the decisions of all these characters, their emotions feel real, their actions understandable, their view points, even when wrong, are ones you can see actual people having…This book has some good female characters – the determination and skill of Cara who also brings a brightness to book which is often so gritty. There’s the moral centre and conflict of Lena. There’s the enigmatic and cruel Lizaveta and I can’t get past the idea that she may be manipulating Ruslan and be the true power behind the throne and there’s even the painful, cunning yet redeemed Jylla. There are some other female characters but they are in minor roles – which is rather my problem with the female characters – they’re all rather minor…I would have loved to see any of these women take a more active role, or a role that wasn’t so related to the men around them. I liked them all as characters – as I liked all the characters in this book – but they deserved more presence in the book itself.

Finally, Kristen at Fantasy Cafe explains: “I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I ended up loving The Tainted City, though. It has everything I like to see in a secondary world fantasy – a fascinating, well-built, and consistent world; excellent, authentic characters who are put to the test; an exciting story that kept me on the edge of my seat; and magic that is not easy and often requires making tough choices. It’s a very thoughtfully written fantasy book, but not in a way that’s trying too hard or takes away from the story being told. It’s thoughtful in how seamless the characterization and world-building are, and the way good and bad are balanced in societies and characters…Similarly, the characters are well-rounded without falling firmly into the category of “black” or “white.” Some were darker than others, and they all had to face difficult choices that showed what they valued and where their priorities lay – Dev had to figure out just what he’d sacrifice to keep his promise to save Melly, and Kiran had to decide just how far he was willing to go to be a blood mage. Those other than the two main characters also had to wrestle with various choices, and I really appreciated that no matter what a character did or how much I might disagree with it, I always understood WHY he or she acted that way…In fact, the entire second half of this book was fast-paced, urgent, and kept me on the edge of my seat. If I had one complaint, it’s that there were some parts in the first half that were a little slow, but it really wasn’t a bad sort of slow that was boring. It just seemed to take awhile to really get to the heart of the story, but once it did things moved at a rapid pace and it was a fast ride full of twists and turns right until the end.

 

These reviews are spot on. The strength of The Tainted City lies in the characterization. The characters all have their own voices and own motivations, which makes them realistic and believable. In fact, much of the character interaction is what kept me glued to the story during the first couple hundred pages, when there really isn’t much action going on. Dev seems more of a hothead than I remember, and Kiran goes through some major changes. Cara returns but has very little page time, while Ruslan, Mikail and the opposing mages like Martin and Lena get greatly expanded roles. Schafer’s plot makes sense, and her magic system is so thoroughly explained with rules of not only what can and cannot be done, but also why and when and how it can or cannot be done. It’s one of the most complex, detailed, and flawless systems I’ve ever seen explained. In fact, it’s so complex that at times I’m not sure I fully grasped the nuances.

As I just mentioned, there isn’t a lot of action right away. Oh, there’s lots of interaction, mystery, and intrigue, with people trying to use their wits, along with any other means of leverage, to gain advantage. It’s a testament to Schafer’s talent that she not only managed to keep me engaged through all of it, but also took the story in a few directions that I didn’t see coming. Dev and Kiran return to Ninavel, and immediately Kiran is given to Ruslan. The remainder of the plot focuses on how Dev attempts to get Kiran back, while protecting his ward Melly, and all this happens concurrently with the search for a serial killer of mages. As the pages turn and the tension builds, I began to wonder how Schafer was going to possibly resolve these multiple plot threads in a satisfying way.

The worldbuilding is excellent, but as Paul stated, a map is sorely needed. While there was a big emphasis on mountain climbing (a hobby of Schafer’s) in the first book, there is very little climbing here except at the beginning and end of the story. Most of the setting takes place in Ninavel, and it is a fully realized city, with slums, mansions, markets, warehouses, embassies, a cistern where mages create water for the city, a royal palace, and the confluence, a source of magic within the city. It is not quite as exciting of an environment as the mountain climbing in the mountains in The Whitefire Crossing was, but it’s not a bad setting.

The conclusion does reach an ending. Is it satisfying? I suppose it depends on your expectations. With one more book to go, I wasn’t confident that the ending would be a happy one. In fact, the ending of this book reminds me a lot of the ending of the first book – not necessarily happy, but with reason to hope that things will work out in the next book. There is one thing I hesitate to bring up, and it is a minor quibble, and that is the plot itself, which returns Dev and Kiran almost immediately to Ninavel as the story begins. Why is that a bad thing? Well, if you think about how the plot of The Whitefire Crossing was to get Dev and Kiran away from Ninavel, The Tainted City returns them right back there by page 65. In other words, this sequel undermines the entire plot of the first book and makes it totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things, since almost all of The Tainted City is set in Ninavel. Again, this is minor, but still not a great treatment of the previous plot in my opinion.

In conclusion, I enjoyed The Tainted City thanks to the strong characters and detailed magic system. While it wouldn’t crack my Top 20 list that includes the year this book came out (2012), it is a good book that kept me intrigued and makes me glad that I took the effort to hunt down The Labyrinth of Flame.

The Hippogriff Awards – 2016

This entry of The Hippogriff Awards focuses on my favorite books published in 2016. Below are my Top 5 favorite books of that year, and then my awards, with an explanation of the reasoning behind each choice.

 

HIPPOGRIFF’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2016

shadow what was lost

1. The Shadow of What Was Lost – James Islington

crimson queen

2. The Crimson Queen – Alec Hutson

black shriving

3. The Black Shriving – Phil Tucker

path of flames

4. The Path of Flames – Phil Tucker

bands of mourning

5. The Bands of Mourning – Brandon Sanderson

 

AWARDS

Best Plot: The Shadow of What Was Lost
I really enjoyed multiple aspects of this story, including time travel, the Shadows, world-building, strong characterization, trying to figure out who is really the bad guy…the story captured my top spot for the year.

Best Plot Twist: The Shadow of What Was Lost
Great plot twists regarding Caedon, Wirr’s father, and Taeris Sarr.

Best Emotional Moment: The Path of Flames
As I said in my review: “There is a scene near the end between Wyland and Asho that is fantastic and hit home for me…sometimes all you need is for one person to believe in you in order to become something greater. I loved it.

Best Action Sequence: The Bands of Mourning
Sometimes the action sequences can be hard to follow, but a battle on a train, a warehouse firefight and a mountain fortress conflict were all superb.

Best Hero/Heroine: The Shadow of What Was Lost (Asha)
Asha was easily my top choice as her character evolves from an innocent girl to a brave young woman who becomes key to the plot. Iskra in The Black Shriving is very deserving of runner-up status.

Best Supporting Character: The Bands of Mourning (Steris)
Once again, to cite my review: “Every scene featuring Steris (and there are a lot more of them here) is among the best in the book.

Best Villain: The Black Shriving (demon lord)
The demon lord creature was like something out of a video game – truly evil, powerful and very nasty.

Best Setting: The Black Shriving
From the flying city of Stardakr to the Black Gate, from the courts of the Agerasterians to the cave of the Medusa, The Black Shriving is loaded with imaginative settings.

Best Worldbuilding: The Crimson Queen
Although The Shadow of What Was Lost makes this close, I thought the worldbuilding in The Crimson Queen was excellent.

Best Names/Languages: The Shadow of What Was Lost
The Shadow of What Was Lost doesn’t stand out as much as it should in this category, but it is still the best of this year’s bunch.

Best Magic Item: The Path of Flames (circlet)
When Tharok puts on the circlet, he becomes something completely different. The circlet plays a much bigger role in The Black Shriving (which is chock full of awesome items), but it is the introduction of the circlet that in my opinion had the biggest impact.

Best Magic System: The Bands of Mourning
After constantly being overshadow in my previous awards by Jim Hines’ Libriomancer system, Sanderson’s Allomancy gets its due and takes this year’s award.

Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: The Path of Flames (demon)
While I’ve certainly had my fill of demons over the years, Tucker’s menacing, 30 foot tall faceless demon certainly captivated me. Hutson’s temple spiders in The Crimson Queen get an honorable mention.

Best Non-human race: The Bands of Mourning (Kandra)
Although more prominent in previous Mistborn installments, the Kandra MeLaan is fun and clever.

Best Ending: The Crimson Queen
An epic battle that leaves many characters battered, and an ancient evil unleashed, is my choice for best ending.

Best Cover: The Crimson Queen
Although I liked the cover of the original release, the re-designed cover art of The Crimson Queen earns it top honors, with the beautiful simplicity of The Shadow of What Was Lost coming in second place.

 

The 2018 awards are up next…