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.

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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…

 

Extended Reading Goal Achieved

Yesterday I completed The Tainted City, for a final “pages read” count of 14,375 for 2018. The goal for 2019 is 15,000 pages read. It will be tough, but I think I can do it.

I’ll have a post later today on my awards for books that I read published in 2016. In the next few days I’ll discuss my awards for 2018, and post a review of The Tainted City.

Happy New Year!

The Hippogriff Awards – 2013

This entry of Hippogriff Awards focus on my favorite books published in 2013. 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 2013

codex born

1. Codex Born – Jim C. Hines

rose and thorn

2. The Rose and the Thorn – Michael J. Sullivan

house of blades

3. House of Blades – Will Wight

memoryoflight

4. A Memory of Light – Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

slither

5. Slither – Joseph Delaney

 

AWARDS

Best Plot: The Rose and the Thorn
Since I’m reading the prequels before original trilogy, my absence of any knowledge of subsequent events, combined with multiple plot threads and unpredictability makes this my choice for best plot.

Best Plot Twist: House of Blades
The clever twists that Wight reveals at the end of the book not only fits some missing pieces into place, but also took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting.

Best Emotional Moment: A Memory of Light
To quote my review: “There were moments of intense grief. After finishing page 795, I had to stop reading as the tears just kept rolling down my face. A character who I had grown to love as my favorite was gone.” It doesn’t get more emotional than that.

Best Action Sequence: Codex Born
Despite its slow start, Codex Born has multiple, crazy action sequences that astound. Take your pick…

Best Hero/Heroine: The Rose and the Thorn (Rueben)
I consider Rueben more of the main character in this story, and thus he earns my vote for being such a non-traditional protagonist. Slither the Kobalos was a close second.

Best Supporting Character: Codex Born (Lena)
Once again, to cite my review, “This review by the Little Red Reviewer explains far better than I could why Lena is one of the most complex characters ever written, and is really the star of the show here.

Best Villain: House of Blades (Overlord Malachai)
For a villain with depth, I turn to this quote in my review: “Overlord Malachai is described as vain and lazy, and his methods for obtaining sacrifices are unnecessarily brutal. Yet he loves his family, and in the face of death thinks of the future of the kingdom and how Simon will be an asset.

Best Setting: A Memory of Light
After 13 Wheel of Time books, the setting of the Last Battle in the 14th book is incredible.

Best Worldbuilding: A Memory of Light
Jordan’s world, despite its flaws, is simply amazing.

Best Names/Languages: Slither
This award easily goes to Delaney’s imaginative culture of the Kobalos.

Best Magic Item: Slither (Kangadon)
It was pretty cool to read about Kangadon, the Lance That Cannot Be Broken, forged by Olkie, the four-armed, brass-toothed god of the Kobalos.

Best Magic System: Codex Born
Just like Libriomancer, Hines’ magic system is probably the greatest ever created, and in Codex Born he even introduced a new form of it.

Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: Slither (Haggenbrood)
This was a close call between the Haggenbrood, the grotesque, three part creature with a hive mind that Slither is forced to fight in arena combat, and the various Dungeons and Dragons creatures (not to mention Frankenstein’s Monster!) running rampant in Codex Born, but I gave a slight edge to Delaney’s wild imagination.

Best Non-human race: Slither (Kobalos)
Delaney’s Kobalos are incredibly detailed and he explores their entire culture. Wight’s race called the Nye, a group of oriental/anime-inspired cloaked beings that train people on swordfighting, was simply awesome, but the depth devoted to the Kobalos just barely beats the Nye for this award.

Best Ending: The Rose and the Thorn
The bittersweet ending, to quote my review, and from which the book derives its title: “from out of bad can come good, but the cost incurred is not forgotten.

Best Cover: A Memory of Light
I was tempted to pick Codex Born for the depiction of Lena on the cover, but in the end it’s tough to vote against Michael Whelan.

Note: this year, only 2016 and 2018 awards will follow, as I don’t yet have enough entries for 2014, 2015 and 2017…