New Orders 10-11-19

I’m slowly working my way through Paternus: Wrath of Gods. Unfortunately there’s not enough time to do much of anything else right now. I did manage to place an order for Jonathan French’s The True Bastards, the sequel to The Grey Bastards. It’s sad that I haven’t ordered many books that were released this year…

true bastards

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Status Update 9-24-19

Today I completed The Labyrinth of Flame, the third and final book in The Shattered Sigil series. The Pages Read count for the year is now 8725 . It’s been a tough couple of months for reading due to great outdoor weather, but the weather is now turning wetter and colder, which usually leads to more reading. I am currently working on a review of Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. Up next: Paternus: Wrath of Gods, the sequel to Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus

Book Review: God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston

God of Broken Things

Format:  paperback, first edition, 2019

Pages:  312

Reading Time:  about 8 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Edrin Walker has survived a battle with gods and monsters and saved his city, only to find out that he must lead a suicide mission to his birthplace to fight off Skallgrim invaders, powerful creatures of horror…and his grandmother.

 

Cameron Johnston’s The Traitor God was tied for my top read of 2018, and absolute thrill ride that earns a spot in my all-time favorites. God of Broken Things is the sequel, in which Johnston promised that he would be “dialing up the monsters and magic to 12“. So was he successful? Read on to find out, but expect to encounter some spoilers, as well as several for The Traitor God, which I recommend you read before reading this review. For a good synopsis of the story, check out Mark Everett Stone’s review over at new york journal of books. Now, on to the guest reviews from cyberspace…

 

Dr. Dann Lewis of Grimdark Magazine says: “Johnston’s way with words is another thing that I must mention. The base description within the generic grimdark story revolves around “action, blood, sex, magic, monsters, more action, blood, and more sex”. At times there is little to no nuisance, and this is where Johnston excels above his luminaries. To read passages such as: ‘The Scarrabus shrieked in rage…as their god-beast fell to earth, burning and unconscious, its vast mind a fragmented thing drained of all magic…they slammed through the skin of the world and its fiery blood spewed into the sky’ and ‘flesh burst in a welter of blood and from his insides a god came forth…my guts churned and my Gift burned as if I stood too close to an inferno’, not only depict the world as gritty and dark, but as magical, volatile, and bleak. Broken Things is filled to the brim with such little details that build upon Johnston’s already wonderful world…Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed Broken Things, there were some parts that detracted from Johnston’s novel. The language itself was a little derivative and while his description and worldbuilding was spot on, the characters’ vernacular and narration was, at times, tedious. This was disappointing and distracted me considerably as, more often than not, wonderful tidbits of detail was placed next to lines such as ‘Oh. Fucking. Shite. I suddenly needed to piss. Badly.’. The wittiness and banter does add a layer of levity much needed in Broken Things, but there were many instances where the levity took on a life of its own. The swearing did also border on being quite juvenile and not befitting such a fantasy realm, but that may in fact be a personal qualm of mine. The characters were, unfortunately, mostly forgettable, though that might be the fault of being in the shoes of Edrin Walker. As a first-person novel, the reader is beholden to whatever the protagonist wants to see, feel, taste, and describe, and this in no exception in Broken Things.

Nick T. Borrelli of Out Of This World SFF Reviews states: “Where the first book was more of a slow-burn that focused on Edrin in somewhat of a detective role trying to uncover the identity of the murderer of his best friend, GOD OF BROKEN THINGS puts a boot on your throat from page one and never lets up. It’s very rare that you get a second book that actually has even more action and thrills than the first, but this fits that bill. Normally second books are methodical and used as a setup for the breathtaking and riveting final book finish. Yeah, not so much here…Johnston has just gotten better and better as a storyteller and his characters continue to have incredible depth and personality that you don’t see in many fantasy books these days. Yes, Edrin is still a wiseguy who believes he can get out of any situation, but he also has a vulnerability that makes him sympathetic and endearing. ..The ruined city of Setharis is described in such amazing detail as we get to see and feel the devastation that led to its fall and the subsequent aftermath. Yet we also get a sense that it may rise again one day and here is where Johnston hints at a bit of hope in the midst of enormous hopelessness. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book.

Finally, T. Eric Bakutis of The Fantasy Hive opines: “On the surface, God of Broken Things is a war story, and the ways Johnston leverages his already interesting magic system into the punches and counterpunches of a running magical military battle is one of the most entertaining parts of the book. If there’s one thing Walker’s good at, it’s coming up with nasty tricks and traps to slay his enemies, yet this time, the enemy is just as devious and clever as he is. Worse yet, Walker has traitors within his ranks waiting to backstab him the moment they get the chance. The running battles of the book are a highlight that showcase Johnston’s cool magic system. However, Johnston’s book is much more than a series of riveting battles and explosions. As Walker’s situation gets more desperate, we gain further insight into the events that shaped him into the dickish yet sympathetic jerk he’s become. We also (finally!) learn the true origin of Walker’s demon dagger and his history with his witchy brethren, and watch him move beyond vengeance to truly caring about people outside of his circle of friends. He grows both as a person and a leader. By the time the book careens toward its close, the stakes have risen beyond even Walker’s worse fears. The final clash between Walker and the leader of the opposing army is as epic as the flesh kaiju battle from the first book, and just as satisfying. And as is typical for Walker, the choices he makes in the end leave almost everyone incredibly pissed off, which is just the way he’d want it…If you enjoy bloody, highly tactical magic battles, a slow burn demonic history reveal, and a grumpy and relatable jerk who you can’t help but root for despite his flaws, God of Broken Things is your jam.

 

The city of Setharsis as a setting appears as a fraction of the story this time around, as Edrin Walker heads out to the mountains of the Clanholds to do battle with the invading Skallgrim. I found this slightly disappointing, as the open terrain is an inferior setting compared to that of Walker’s hometown, which I absolutely loved in the first book. Also, in a setting of this magnitude, it’s impossible to maintain the insane pace of the first book, since there is much more traveling and strategic battle planning involved. Still, I applaud Johnston for trying something different from his first plot. Equivalent in many ways to our own Celt society, the Clanfolk seemed to be more than just barbarians despite their primitive beliefs and simple lifestyle. While there, we get a glimpse into Walker’s past (he grew up in the Clanholds), including the sadistic grandmother that caused so much damage to him when he was younger.

Walker travels with a group of misfit mages to aid him in his mission. This was possibly the least believable aspect of the story, as Walker’s quest is billed as a desperate attempt to stall the Scarrabus parasites, and yet the Arcanum gives him little assistance to get the job done, asking for volunteers to accompany him instead of assigning them. The volunteers that step forward are flawed just like Walker is, but their skills are complimentary to one another and the group ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. To add a bit of a twist and some mystery, an unknown member of the group is very likely a traitor, which is a problem that must be solved in the midst of trying to stop the Skallgrim invasion.

The supporting characters are fleshed out just enough to make you care about them, although each deserves a little more page time to explore their personality and past. In his review, Dr. Dann points out:

The characters were, unfortunately, mostly forgettable, though that might be the fault of being in the shoes of Edrin Walker. As a first-person novel, the reader is beholden to whatever the protagonist wants to see, feel, taste, and describe, and this in no exception in Broken Things.

This is a really great observation. When a supporting character in the story was lost, I had a feeling of disappointment, but not really grief, as I didn’t really bond as strongly to them as I would have with more development involved. One way that Johnston could have overcome this is through more interaction between Walker and his coterie. Through direct dialog, more of each character’s personality would come through, we’d learn more about their background and what makes them tick. Maybe we’re not supposed to care about them – Walker certainly doesn’t (for the most part) – but dammit, just because Walker doesn’t, that shouldn’t mean that I don’t. I wanted to feel the loss of these people, for their lives to matter more. I do want to thank Johnston for bringing back a prominent character that I really enjoyed in the first book, and one that I did care about…Johnston did well with that character, and no I won’t spoil it.

While the pacing is fine and the battle strategies and large scale combat taking place on open terrain are interesting, as I mentioned above the pacing isn’t as thrilling as that of the first book, and the plot is not as tight. In fact, there are several diversionary scenes, including interacting with gods and powerful beings on other planes of existence that take the story on an odd tangent. Combined with the downtime of traveling (since the landscape isn’t really anything groundbreaking), the book drags a bit more than The Traitor God.

Walker himself is still the snarky, self-preserving arse that he was in the first book, but you don’t go through what he did without some changes happening. Always the reluctant hero, he is a bit more willing to embrace the role this time around, and actually displays some leadership skills in running his band of misfits on their suicide mission. The ability to “think outside the box” and come up with clever solutions to problems while still maintaining his self-preservation motivation is quite the balancing act, and Johnston manages to pull it off, which is no simple feat.

The trio of enemies – Skallgrim, Scarrabus and Elder Tyrant – work well as a foil to Walker. And Walker’s meet up with his grandmother is satisfying as well. The ending was a bit predictable to me, and there’s something that I thought didn’t make sense. Here I will post a SPOILER ALERT – YOU SHOULD SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH! After the battle, when Walker’s mind inhabits a new body, that body just vanishes from the battlefield, only to reappear later somewhere far away. I’m not really clear as to how this was possible, but maybe I just missed something?

In conclusion, I’d have to say that I really liked God of Broken Things. While I don’t think that Johnston was quite able to dial the magic and monsters up to 12, and that The Traitor God was a bit better, I still enjoyed this new story immensely. I know Johnston values honest critiques and I offer up some minor ones here to build him up, not tear him down. Walker is a dark and yet likable hero and narrator, and God of Broken Things could still end up being my favorite release in 2019. I’ve heard some people say they can’t wait for the next one, while others are stating that Edrin Walker’s tale ends here. On his blog (see the “Cameron Writes” link in my sidebar), Johnston drops some hints that this might indeed be the end. I would be disappointed by that, but I also think Johnston would never say never, and at some point he’ll have a new idea rolling around in his head while he’s smithing swords, drinking ale or walking among ruins. He did state on my site in the interview we did (prior to the release of The Traitor God) that “if only The Traitor God does well enough to get a book 2 & 3“, which means book 3 *is* possible. I hope that’s the case because I’d love to see more of Edrin Walker and Setharis in the future…

Status Update 8-23-19

Yesterday I completed Emperor Of Thorns, the third and final book in The Broken Empire series. The Pages Read count for the year is now 8208 . I still have not yet started the review of Cameron Johnston’s God of Broken Things and can’t see it being done until next week. Up next: The Labyrinth Of Flame, the third and final book in Courtney Schafer’s The Shattered Sigil series…

Status Update 8-7-19

Yesterday I completed the third part of Michael McClung’s Amra Thetys Omnibus 1. Part 3 contains the book The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate. The Pages Read Count for the year is now 7912. Next up will be Mark Lawrence’s Emperor Of Thorns, the final book in The Broken Empire series. I have not yet started the review of Cameron Johnston’s God of Broken Things and it will most likely be about another week before completion…

Book Review: Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

fools quest

Format:  hard cover, first edition, 2015

Pages:  754

Reading Time:  about 19 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Fitz returns to Buckkeep, Fool in tow, in some highly emotional scenes, but when he finds out Bee has been kidnapped, nothing will stop him in pursuing the kidnappers and attempting to get his daughter back.

 

I can’t tell you how charged with anticipation I was to pick up this book after the cliffhanger ending of the first book in The Fitz and the Fool series, Fool’s Assassin, left me wanting more. Robin Hobb has rarely failed to disappoint me, and I expected Fool’s Quest to be no different. So was that the case? Read on to find out, and note that I’ve kept spoilers here to a minimum, although there will be some spoilers of events in Fool’s Assassin, which is necessary to help shed light on this sequel. First, some excellent guest reviews from cyberspace…

 

Joshua Hill of Fantasy Book Review says: “For those who are not fans of jumping points of view, this book might at times irk, as we continue to jump primarily from Fitz’s point of view, to that of his daughter, Bee. Bee does not receive a lot of page-time in this novel, and when she does the complete juxtaposition in character from that of her father rubs a little raw at times. However, I choose to see that as an example of just how well Robin Hobb has written these characters that the reader is so easily able to see that they have jumped perspective and are now in the mind of a completely different character. In the same vein, Robin Hobb is able to write the Fool in just such a way that he is completely and utterly believably a selfish jerk throughout the vast majority of this book, leaving me, the reader, feeling thoroughly uncomfortable at having to sit through portions of the book where he is whining about one thing or another. But the twist in this is not that the character is badly written, but that his situation has created a person so deeply traumatised and simultaneously hell-bent on revenge that all common-sense and reason has been eaten away, leaving behind only the shell of what once was, and in its place a vengeful and hateful, yet cowardly and fearful replacement. So while I might itch at returning to the point of view of our hero, Fitz, and away from the helplessness of his daughter Bee’s point of view chapters, and while I might desire to throttle the Fool for his absurd view on life, I can do neither (not least because it’s a book) because those are the characters they are, and to be otherwise would result in a lesser story and lesser characters.

Rob B of SFFWorld states: “There are so many things that happen to Fitz (and the Six Duchies) of tremendous import here, I hesitate to reveal any of them. Some are wonderful (Fitz), others are harrowing (Chade), while still others initially provide for a strong sense of cognitive dissonance (Fitz and the Fool). But of everything, the emotional flavor of this novel for me was bittersweet – heartwarming passages and emotional highs followed by the depths of despair. From Fool’s Assassin to Fool’s Quest, Fitz has been dragged through an emotional crucible, as was the Fool to an extent (both emotional and physical) in prior novels. In the Fool’s case we just get to learn more about it here in Fool’s Quest. My point is that these two characters have spent a great deal of time apart dealing with emotional and physical hardships. They both had to have their souls nearly destroyed so they could become the ideal versions of themselves through a rebirth and healing to confront their adversaries. The sense of urgency in the novel is extremely heightened, despite the same reserved pace that made Fool’s Assassin such a joy to read and experience. Fool’s sense of urgency to strike back at his tormentors, combined with Fitz’s desperation to find his stolen daughter made for incredible tension. Fitz’s experience; however, makes him realize rushing into their situation will only be a detriment to their success. Robin Hobb balanced their tension with a quiet reserve during many of the court scenes and meetings that Fitz was obliged to experience very well, giving both frustration and hope. Hobb’s magnetic, captivating prose completely wrapped itself around me.

Beauty in Ruins opines: “Fool’s Quest is an absolutely brilliant book that works perfectly on all levels. It takes the story that was introduced in the first volume, builds upon it, develops it, and sheds new light on what has gone before. More than that, it’s also takes the story that was told in the first two trilogies and develops it in some surprising (but welcome) directions. I won’t spoil the moment by providing any sort of context, but if you aren’t overcome with emotion when Fitz says “The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave,” then you haven’t been paying attention to the sacrifices he’s made throughout the series…As for the other cornerstone here, I won’t lie when I say that I loved every scene with the Fool. Here is a scarred, broken, damaged man, one who has been robbed of everything from his sense of purpose to his sense of future. He’s come to Fitz for help, for protection, and for revenge. He’s so terrified and so vulnerable that we get to experience another role relationship reversal between him and Fitz. The Fool grows as he heals, prompted by his own desire for revenge, by a surprising revelation regarding young Bee, and by his experimentation with a dangerous cure. His scenes are emotionally exhausting – as they should be – and he proves to be just as stubborn and obsessed as Fitz or Chade could ever be…This is a book that I found myself excited about, from beginning to end, never once lamenting those lulls to build character or reveal the truth behind schemes and actions. It was glorious to properly return to Buckkeep, but I also enjoyed our visits back to Withywoods. More than all that, though, I enjoyed our trips through the Stones the most, especially as they take us to some surprising (and nostalgic) places in the concluding chapters…Fool’s Quest isn’t just a return to form for Fitz, Chade, and the Fool, it’s a return to form for Hobb herself. This is precisely the kind of novel we were all expecting from the opening chapter of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, and it has me ridiculously anxious to read the next. The pacing is perfect, the characters ring true, and the world building continues in some delightfully surprising ways. There’s a lot of intimate, personal conflict here, and I really wondered how she would resolve it all, but the final chapters are some of the most satisfying she’s ever written – and that includes the agonizing cliffhanger we’ve come to expect.

 

Fool’s Quest is the middle book in The Fitz and the Fool series. When I read and reviewed the first book, I stated how I was frustrated by the plot but didn’t think the pacing was bad, while being of the opinion that the characterization was superb, what Hobb in essence is most known for. For me, Fool’s Quest reverses some things. I was frustrated by the characterization, thought the pacing wasn’t bad, and I really enjoyed the plot. I’ll get into each of these aspects in a moment, but it’s important to keep in the back of your mind that this book is outstanding, whatever criticisms I may have of it.

The reason I was disappointed by characterization here, which I usually consider to be Hobb’s strength, is the absolute frustration of following characters that wallow in self-pity, selfishness, or cluelessness. Hobb’s treatment of Fool’s character is the single worst decision she has ever made with regard to any of her characters. The mystery, quirkiness, wit and sarcasm of Fool have been stripped away, to leave nothing but a selfish, bitter and broken child-like man. I realize this was a necessary evil for Hobb to get the plot where it needs to go. That doesn’t mean it is easy to stomach, and is in fact difficult to wade through.

Meanwhile, another frustration is following Fitz as he wanders around Buckkeep, clueless that his daughter has been taken, while the reader knows. It made me want to skip ahead to the point where Fitz finally is informed, because you know the story has to pick up at that point. Skipping ahead would be a mistake, as I will relate in moment, but the desire is there. Bee continues to be a delight for me to follow, and even Shun is redeemed a bit, and while still a bit unlikable, speaks to Hobb’s abilities to make you care about a character that you thought you’d care nothing for. One of the best things about Fitz’s stay at Buckkeep, however, is more page time for Dutiful, Kettricken, Elliania, and Nettle, which is long overdue. The relationship in particular between Fitz and Kettricken is quite complicated. As we know from the past, she is more than just a stepmother…Verity used Fitz’s body to help conceive Dutiful with Kettricken. With Dutiful long gone, leaving Kettricken lonely, there are undercurrents of emotional (and even sexual) tension between Fitz and Kettricken that seem incredibly plausible, especially if you’ve studied the activities among the royals of Great Britain and European nations. I’m still a bit confused about Lant’s character – what is his purpose in the story – but I’ll give Hobb the benefit of the doubt here.

Plot is where Fool’s Quest absolutely shines. Despite Fitz spinning his wheels at Buckkeep for a time, it gives Hobb the opportunity to pursue something long overdue. There is a poignant scene that Beauty In Ruins describes above, without trying to be too “spoilery”:

if you aren’t overcome with emotion when Fitz says “The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave,” then you haven’t been paying attention to the sacrifices he’s made throughout the series.

That’s an incredibly deft way to describe an event without giving too much away. I’ll go along with that, but I will add this: I mentioned in my review of Fool’s Assassin that Hobb is the only author that made me feel so much sorrow, that not only did I have to stop reading as I blubbered at the loss of a character, the hurt stayed with me for days. Here, Hobb achieves the opposite – tears rolled down my face as I was overcome with emotion, but in a positive way. All the wrongs that had been done to Fitz, all the punishment, prejudice and pain, the toiling in obscurity, the absence of a regular life with Molly and Nettle – it is all reversed in a single scene that allows the brilliance of Hobb’s writing to shine more than that of a hundred – nay, a thousand – diamonds. That one scene makes the entire book, and entire series, satisfying and worthwhile. It doesn’t matter what came before, nor where the series is headed…it gave me an amazing moment that I will never forget. Near the end of the is another surprisingly emotional scene involving a character thought long gone. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it was bittersweet to experience, but I still appreciated that the character wasn’t forgotten. Making an emotional connection between the story and the reader is something Hobb does better than any other writer in fantasy.

As if that weren’t enough, I thought I knew where the plot was going, thinking back to a scene in the original series when Fitz manages to poison a group of men that intend to do him harm. In a surprise twist, things turn out a bit differently than I expected. In fact, Hobb lulls you into the fact that though Fitz still appears to be fairly young, in reality he finds that his age does limit him more than expected. It is such a refreshing alternative to the energy-filled enthusiasm of coming-of-age stories, of which there seems to be an endless supply. But there is also loss that provides motivation for Fitz to truly become Fool’s assassin. In my review of Fool’s Assassin, I mentioned some things that I thought were problems, such as inconsistency in Shun’s characterization, and also things I thought I had cleverly guessed such as Bee’s ties to Fool (though it appears that maybe it wasn’t that hard to figure out). While Hobb explained Shun’s inconsistencies through some dialog from Chade, I still found that explanation a bit implausible.

The pacing isn’t bad. Some found it better in this book than in the first; I thought the first half of the book suffers a bit based on what I wrote above about Fitz being clueless with regard to the welfare of his daughter…we know what happened and have to wait for him to catch up, which takes awhile. The moping bitterness and selfishness of Fool is also a drag on the pace. But once Fitz learns about what happened at Withywoods, the pace picks up and is so compelling that I didn’t want to put the book down. So to summarize, the pace is a little worse than Fool’s Assassin in the first half of Fool’s Quest, but far better in the second half.

In conclusion I can say that Fool’s Quest is outstanding, one of the best books I’ve read this year and it easily tops the list of books I’ve read that were published in 2015. With emotional highs, an unpredictable plot and a bit better pacing than the first book, the only thing that holds Fool’s Quest back a bit is the unusually frustrating (for Hobb) characterization. I am both excited and apprehensive at what I will find in the final book, Assassin’s Fate

Status Update 7-31-19

Today I completed the second part of Michael McClung’s Amra Thetys Omnibus 1. Part 2 contains the book The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good EyeI’m now moving on to Part 3, The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate. The Pages Read Count for the year is now 7774. I’m working on the review for Fool’s Quest, but it is still a couple of days away from being completed…