Status Update and New Orders 12-23-20

This year is trash, toast, crap – use any adjective you like – it probably fits, and this is no great surprise to anyone, as I would bet that your 2020 has been just as bad. I’ve had no time to read, no time to post, and blown my pages read count and book reviews. Earlier this year I did finish Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia. The Pages Read total for the year will end at 5162 (43% of goal).

Despite this, I did acquire a few new books for future reading:

Reviews of this book have not been great, but when you’re hooked into a series full of doorstoppers, you have to take the bad with the good.

I’m not sure why I bought this…I guess the price was right, and some day I want to read it again. It has been 30 years since I read it and I don’t remember it very well. Plus it was a 30th Anniversary edition in hard cover…

I really liked the second Paternus book, Wrath of Gods, and I’m really looking forward to this one…

Status Update 5-29-20

Today I completed reading Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb, and I admit to being very emotionally drained by the experience. I’m going to take a few days off from reading before I jump into Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia. The Pages Read total for the year is 4730 (39% of goal). As I mentioned previously, I had fallen a bit behind goal, but completing Assassin’s Fate by the end of May has put me back in a good spot.

I’m still working on a post for the 2019 Hippogriff Awards, and my review for The Gutter Prayer is almost finished.

An Interview With Gareth Hanrahan

delta green

Gareth Hanrahan, from Cork, Ireland, is the author of The Gutter Prayer and The Shadow Saint, the first two books in the Black Iron Legacy series. He has also written short stories for a few different anthologies (such as the Cthulhu-based Delta Green anthology, Extraordinary Renditions), but prior to his work as a novelist, Gareth was known for his game designing. Initially a computer programmer, he decided to turn to writing and never looked back.

 

cthulhu

He wrote Mongoose’s fifth RuneQuest setting, Hawkmoon: The Roleplaying Game, as well as the Traveller Core Rulebook (2008), which managed to outsell RuneQuest and become Mongoose’s new #1 game. Later, after a mountain of work for various publishers (that included Middle Earth, Doctor Who, and Warhammer Fantasy environments), Gareth became a full-time writer for Pelgrane Press, producing incredibly imaginative material for Trail of Cthulhu (Lovecraftian RPG),  13th Age (epic story-based RPG), and Night’s Black Agents (espionage and vampire RPG). He has recently developed an RPG adventure that takes place in his Black Iron Legacy setting.

Mr. Hanrahan was very gracious in accepting my request for an interview. I tried to avoid spoilers, especially when referring to The Shadow Saint…I tended to ask more generalized questions about it. The timing of the interview is perfect, as I’m currently working on a review of The Gutter Prayer.

My questions are in bold and referenced as “HA”, while Gar’s answers are represented by “GH”.

 

INTERVIEW

HA: According to other interviews I’ve read, Lovecraft, Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, the UK House of Cards, the comic book V for Vendetta, and even the video game Thief are all influences on your writing, and elements of these are identifiable in your work. Monsters, thieves, gods, alchemy, and political intrigue abound. Is there any influence or aspect that you *haven’t* worked into your stories yet, but that you want to explore?

GH: Arguably the biggest is humour; I used to write a lot more funny stuff. There are a few jokes in the Black Iron Legacy, but it’s a pretty grim place, and while it does sometimes descend into farce, it’s usually more “oh god, everything’s exploding and six different people are betraying me simultaneously.” Douglas Adams and PG Wodehouse don’t quite fit into Guerdon – although Wodehouse does sneak in a little.

 

 

HA: Did you have anyone close to you read and critique The Gutter Prayer? How much re-editing did you do before publishing? How long had you been working on it?

GH: A few friends read various drafts of The Gutter Prayer, and gave different degrees of feedback. The biggest influencing factor there, of course, was my wife’s insistence that I actually finish the manuscript instead of junking it and moving onto another shiny idea.

Later, when I signed with John Jarrold, he did a full edit of the manuscript before he started shopping it around to publishers. It didn’t change that much in editing – it was mostly polishing and tightening. I started working on it in… November 2014, I think, and it was done by the start of 2016 or so.

 

gutter prayer
HA: What was your publishing experience like? Did you have to shop your book around a lot? How did you end up with Orbit?

GH: Once I finished the MS, I sent it in to a couple of open calls. I didn’t even try to get an agent, because some friends of mine had complained about how hellish and exhausting the process could be. So, I thought I’d bypass it and go straight for the open calls.

As far as I can tell, I made it to the later stages of all three open calls, but didn’t get any requests for a full manuscript. I also wasted far, far too much time trying to read tea leaves on twitter, hitting refresh on my inbox, and generally obsessing over a process I had no control over.

When the last open call announced they were done, I thought I’d try self-publishing – while I haven’t really self-published anything, I have a lot of experience to draw on from working for years in tabletop roleplaying publishing, so I have a vague idea of the process. My plan was to wait and save up some cash to pay for good cover art, then run a kickstarter.

While waiting, another friend mentioned that his agent was always open to submissions. I sent it off without much thought – as I said, my impression was that finding an agent was a demoralising grind, and I’d already worn my nerves out with the open calls.

But John Jarrold liked it, offered to represent me… and within a few months, there was a great deal on the table. So, from one perspective, the publishing experience was all totally painless and easy – but it took me a long time to get there.

 

HA: I’m always curious how much a writer works their own personality into characters in the book. Do you feel like any of the characters reflect you in some way?

GH: I think that’s inescapable. Even if I set out to create a character who’s absolutely nothing like me, I’m drawing on the negative space of my personality. Certainly, all the main characters are either partly derived from my own thoughts and experiences, or are a commentary or reaction on them.

Is “reflect” the right word here? Maybe “refract” is more like it. Someone like Spar has bits of me in him, but a lot of the character is defined by their place in the world, by their own upbringing, by the needs of the plot.

The character who has the most me in them… might actually be the Spy, because he’s not defined by anything, so he’s going to take on more colour from the refraction, so to speak.

 

HA: When you started writing, what came first conceptually: your characters, Guerdon, or early plotting?

GH: Of those three, bits of Guerdon – I have some notes on elements of the city that go back years, although ‘concepts’ is probably overblown. It’s really just a list of evocative location names. I started writing without any real clue what was going on or who the characters were, grabbing names and ideas that had been swirling around my head for ages. Then, after about 20,000 words, I sat down and actually worked out something approaching an outline of a plot.

 

HA: What’s the most difficult thing about writing viewpoint characters from the opposite sex?

GH: Breaking down characters is always really tricky, at least for me. Systems and structures, in general, need to make sense. If you’ve got, say, a flying castle, then there has to be a reason it flies, or it needs to be in a setting where a flying castle is unremarkable – in which case, everything else in that setting needs to align with those assumptions. Guerdon’s a quasi-Victorian steam-punk-ish city in a setting full of mad gods and sorcerers, so everything there has to work under those constraints.

Characters, though… they’re their own little worlds, and they don’t have to make sense anywhere outside their own heads. Taking them apart tends to expose those contradictions and quirks. So, when I’m writing a woman – or a man, or a ghoul, or a psychotic candlestick or a god – their sex is only one part of their character, and trying to pick it out and analyse it in isolation wouldn’t not make sense. Would, say, Carillon be a different character if I wrote her a man? Yes, but I’m not sure how.

 

HA: You have said that in The Gutter Prayer you had written your characters into a tough spot and didn’t initially know how they would get out of it. Was it difficult to find that “way out”? Did you ever worry that you wouldn’t find a satisfactory conclusion?

GH: Nah. The glorious thing about writing is that you can go back and change stuff, and no-one will ever know. You can have a revelation about how they’ll escape, and then go back and add more material to justify that revelation, and then tweak everything until it’s a satisfactory conclusion. The rough shape of the ending was always there, I just needed to figure out the details.

 

shadow saint

HA: You started The Gutter Prayer as a standalone, but now The Shadow Saint is out, and I hear you’re working on a third book, and possibly a fourth or fifth. Despite starting with a standalone, in your mind, is there an overall arc that would tie the books together? Are you thinking that far ahead as far as a unifying concept?

GH: There’s definitely an arc, although I’m trying to tell a more-or-less complete story in each book. I wrote The Gutter Prayer as a standalone, but Orbit offered to buy a sequel – which meant unpacking some plot threads I’d intended to just leave as tantilising hints. And the sequel, similarly, leaves some threads open. I do intend to wrap the series up conclusively when the time comes.

 

HA: When did you start thinking about plot and characters in The Shadow Saint – or when did you start to conceive of it as a sequel?

GH: I’ve had bits of the plot and some of the characters in the back of my head for years, long before I wrote The Gutter Prayer. I don’t think you ever start a book from scratch – you’ve always got ideas that are just drifting around for years, waiting for the right place to take root. When I needed a sequel to The Gutter Prayer, I was able to slot those concepts in to the already-built world.

 

HA: What would you say are the biggest differences between The Gutter Prayer and The Shadow Saint, from not only a story perspective, but also in the writing process when crafting the two books? Did you feel any pressure when writing The Shadow Saint based on the success and positive feedback of The Gutter Prayer?

GH: Structurally, the two books are quite different. The Gutter Prayer was, at its core, a bunch of people trying to unravel a mystery. While the different protagonists each had hold of a different part of the elephant, they were all on the same side, more or less. In The Shadow Saint, the three main characters are each representing one side in a struggle for control of the city, and there’s a lot more intrigue and conspiring instead of investigation. The second book is also a little slower and more considered but that’s mainly because the main characters have different outlooks.

The Shadow Saint was more or less done before The Gutter Prayer came out, so there was no pressure or feedback to consider for that one. Book 3 is a different story…

 

HA: How much interaction do you have with readers/fans of your books?

GH: I live on twitter. I lurk on goodreads and reddit. I’m cautious of too much interaction, though, because my instincts were honed by tabletop gaming, so my initial reaction to comments is often to give advice or suggest tweaks. That works for a tabletop game, but not for a novel.

 

HA: Are there any “Easter eggs” in your books, things that maybe only you or your friends/family might recognize, or small things you’ve hidden in The Shadow Saint that pay homage to The Gutter Prayer?

GH: Oh, yes. Most of the locations in the books are inspired by places in Cork, as are some of the names. There are some roleplaying in-jokes in there, too. There are lots of little connections between the books – I’m not sure if they count as Easter eggs, but a big theme of the series is the connection between past and present, how places get repurposed and history gets layered on and reinterpreted. So, the same locations get used in several books but for different purposes and from different perspectives.

 

HA: If you had a chance to sit down and bounce ideas off of any author you’ve never met, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

GH: Oh. I’m unsure how to choose. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t mind having a chat with Robert Anton Wilson, of the Illuminatus! series. I adore his Masks of the Illuminati in particular. His was a fascinating mind.

 

dracula

HA: Bonus question: your Fall of Delta Green and Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops material sounds amazing. Could you ever see that material making its way into a novel?

GH: The Fall of Delta Green is based on the Delta Green property – there are a bunch of novels and short stories out there already (shameless plug – I have a story in Failed Anatomies).

As for Night’s Black Agents, I co-wrote a novel (sort-of) that ties into that, in the form of Dracula Unredacted.

I do have a few modern-day ideas for weird fiction lurking around, but nothing planned for the medium term…

***

Many thanks to Gareth for taking the time to answer my questions in an engaging manner – I was fascinated by his responses. The Gutter Prayer and The Shadow Saint are both currently available for purchase a most bookseller outlets. The third book in the series has a currently projected publishing date of January 2021.

For more about Gareth Hanrahan, you can check out his site at https://garhanrahan.com/

 

Status Update 5-2-20

Time for reading, much less writing reviews, is in short supply for me right now. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my company was not only deemed essential, we also had to ramp production, as several of the parts we make go into medical equipment like respirators and ventilators. I’m working from home as much as I can,  but with a slow internet connection thanks to my rural location, it takes so much longer to maintain, much less exceed, my previous productivity. Which means longer hours spent working. Add a not-so-fun water leak in the house that required tearing walls open, and it’s very frustrating. Still, I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for those who have lost jobs or loved ones…to those who have, I’m truly sorry for your loss.

Today I finally completed reading For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones. The Pages Read total for the year is 3883 (32% of goal). Next up is the last book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb. I’ve fallen a bit behind goal, but if I can complete Assassin’s Fate by the end of May, I’ll be back on track.

I’ll start working on a post for the 2019 Hippogriff Awards soon. I’ve been working sporadically on a review for The Gutter Prayer, so hopefully I can wrap that up by next weekend.

Status Update 4-5-20

Today I (finally) completed reading Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson. The Pages Read total for the year is 3531 (29% of goal). Next up is the first book in The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones.

I’m continuing to hold off on posting the 2019 Hippogriff Awards until after I read For the Killing of Kings. I’ve also started working on a review for The Gutter Prayer.

Book Review: Ravine of Blood and Shadow by D.P. Prior

ravine blood shadowFormat:  signed hard cover, 2019

Pages:  235

Reading Time:  about 5.5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  When the strange traveler Aristodeus arrives with troubling news, and strange events begin to happen in Arx Gravis, Carn’s world slowly descends into a nightmare that he can’t wake from.

 

Since this is the first book in the series, which I picked up without any preconceptions, and I couldn’t find any guest reviews, I’m going to jump right in to the review. Ravine of Blood and Shadow is the first book in the Annals of the Nameless Dwarf series. The origins of the Nameless Dwarf started as a short story that D.P. Prior wrote back in 2009 for Pulp Empire. That turned into 5 novellas, which were in turn published as an omnibus, and then another full length novel followed that. Looking to tie all the stories together in a cohesive arc, Prior approached publishing houses who were complementary of his work but stated that “dwarves don’t sell.” Prior decided to self-publish the books as Legend of the Nameless Dwarf, which went on to sell over 600,000 copies, as well as a successful (but complaint-generating) audio book. Prior decided to reboot the series, both in hard cover and in a new audio book, as Annals of the Nameless Dwarf. It became a major re-write, according to Prior:

Scenes were axed (characters too); scenes were added. Big words were ditched in favor of simpler ones. Names were changed, again to make them easier for the reader. Whole passages of prose were trimmed, and many thousands of words were cut.

The result: a much faster, more succinct, and focused read. It’s not only improved the series, but in essence it has created something new.

I somehow stumbled across the series on Amazon, intrigued by the gorgeous cover art, and a trip to the author’s website revealed that he was selling signed hard covers. Putting money directly into an author’s hands is always an easy decision for me, so I reached out to Prior, sent him some money, and soon I had received a signed hard cover.

Ravine of Blood and Shadow (which was previously titled Carnifex: A Portent of Blood before the major re-write) follows the story of Carnifex (Carn), a high level Ravine Guard, whose mother died in childbirth. But Carn has his brother, the studious Lukar, and his friends Kal, Thumil and Cordy, as well as his father, Droom. Characters are so well-defined that it is impossible to mistake one for another or get confused about who is who. Prior does an excellent job in fleshing out each character…their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears, their mannerisms and motivations. Even certain members of the Council and their right hand, the Black Cloaks, come off like self-serving jerks rather than actual villains. And then there’s the mysterious Aristodeus, a Gandalf-like character who brings dire warnings of a being of ancient evil known as Mananoc, as well as the faen, his magic-wielding servants. And of dark visions and prophecies.

The use of prophesy in fantasy has always been problematic. Since a prophesy foretells what will happen, it essentially robs a story of tension, since the outcome is already known. Furthermore, it implies acceptance of the concept of fate – that the future is written and cannot be changed, so that any choices or the concept of free will are made meaningless. Prior takes a bit of a different approach here. Early hints in the story suggest there are dark times ahead and that Carn will play an instrumental role. Aristodeus is the primary hint-dropper, with statements like “I’ve already said too much”. Prior introduces prophesy and vision, but immediately counters it with Aristodeus trying to convince himself that “the future is not set”, implying that it perhaps the prophesy can be changed. Which then begs the question: if it can be changed, should it? Let’s say there are two paths the future could take: a) the hero rises from tragedy to challenge evil or b) the hero is told of the tragedy, chooses a different path and spells doom for everyone. Is Option B really the best one? Furthermore, if there are two paths, how does someone know which path is the path their enemy wants them to take? I felt like Prior did a good job in conceptualizing and presenting this.

The dwarven society and the city of Arx Gravis are intricate and well-described. From dwarven histories and legends, to laws, political structuring, and policing, to mining and leisure aspects…all are believable and make sense. Even the floor of the ravine, where the destitute, law-breakers and non-conformers live, has it’s own sub-culture full of street vendors, crime, and brutal gladiatorial combat. There are two great maps at the front of the book: the continent of Medryn-Tha, which has no bearing on the story, and Arx Gravis, which is very effective in helping to conceptualize the unique layout of the dwarven city.

Action sequences are well-done, and there are plenty of them for such a short book. Amazon and Goodread reviewers mention violence and gore, but to me it was no worse than other books I’ve read lately such as The True Bastards or God of Broken Things. If I had to stylize the content, I’d say this: take some Dragonlance or Dungeons and Dragons, the tragic swords and sorcery tales of Elric, James Silke’s Death Dealer, and add a slight influence from The Hobbit, and throw them all in a blender…that’s what Ravine of Blood and Shadow feels like to me. Prior’s pacing is excellent; there were concerns about this in Carnifex: A Portent of Blood but I’d say those concerns have been corrected in the re-write. His writing style is also easy to follow, a welcome relief and change of pace from some of the intense door-stoppers I’ve endured. And for a self-published novel, I found no grammatical issues.

Something potential readers might find problematic are hints at other lands and other peoples, but this setting contains only dwarves and dwarven society. This is necessary due to the fact that this is an “origin story”, but it is rather limiting. However, I think I prefer this as opposed to starting with book 2 and presenting this material as flashbacks, so I wouldn’t take this as a negative – it simply sets the stage for the second book which will move away from the dwarven setting. One critique I have of Ravine of Blood and Shadow is that it is too short. At 235 pages it is the shortest book I’ve read since early 2018, and it feels like it ends when it’s just getting started…I can see the attractiveness of an omnibus. Also, for some reason I found the central mystery – the missing and then returned book of the dwarven “Chronicles” – confusing. Somehow I missed the significance of this act and the importance it played in the story…I thought Prior could have handled it a bit better, with more clarity. The final criticism I have of the book is that it doesn’t do a lot to dispel the stereotypes of fantasy dwarven characters that publishers seem to object to. Beards, beer-swilling, fighting and mining are dwarven staples, and aside from an exception or two, such as the scholarly Lukar, Prior stays the course.

Despite some of the minor flaws above, I liked Ravine of Blood and Shadow enough to purchase the second book. I found it a quick-moving, action-packed origin story that is needed to get the series off the ground and beyond dwarven society. If you don’t like Dragonlance or Dungeons and Dragons, Elric, The Hobbit, or dark violence all rolled into one, you probably won’t like this either, but as for myself I found it engaging. I’m looking forward to the second book, Mountain of Madness, to see where Prior takes this story…

Status Update 3-30-20

It’s been awhile since I posted, so I thought I’d just do a quick post to let those who follow this blog know that I’m still alive and well. These past few weeks have been nerve-wracking and dramatic and I feel like April’s going to be worse. Washington State, and mainly the Seattle area, was the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, although New York has since become the hardest hit. I’m only 3 hours away from Seattle, and for awhile it seemed like my county might get lucky despite the proximity to the Puget Sound area; however, cases are now accelerating in my locality.

I’ve been working from home as much as possible, with once-a-week trips to the office. Working from home brings its own challenges, from pet distractions to lagging internet over VPN. I’m fairly well-stocked when it comes to food and supplies – too many episodes of watching the Walking Dead have been embedded into my subconscious – but occasionally I have to go out to re-purchase goods that don’t last forever such as milk and eggs. I live in a rural area so social distancing is easy for me, except for the aforementioned trips to work. Despite a state-wide stay-at-home order, my company is deemed essential, since some of our products go into medical equipment such as ventilators, as well as telecommunications and defense.

I’m not so much worried about myself – I’m generally pretty healthy, although there are no guarantees with this virus – I’m more worried about my retired roommate, who is asthmatic, and his 85 year old father, who also lives on the property. They are able to stay at home, but my greatest fear is contracting the virus at work or at a supermarket and bringing it home. An infection for them is likely a death sentence.

So right now it’s tough to be able to focus on the blog and reviews, although that’s what people who are stuck at home need at this moment. I’ll see what I can do. I am able to snatch some brief reading moments here and there, though Reaper’s Gale is more challenging than I thought it would be and I’m only 60% through it after a month of reading. It’s starting to sink my reading goal for the year, but that seems inconsequential during these difficult times. The pace is picking up a bit, so hopefully I’ll finish it in the next couple of weeks.

Enough about COVID-19. I’ll keep working on reviews and reading whenever I get the chance. Take care, everyone!

New Acquisitions 03-11-20

I tried to write this post yesterday but my WordPress refused to upload images or save my post, and then failed again earlier today, so I’m trying once more.

This past weekend I found myself in a Goodwill thrift store once again to tag along with a friend. I stumbled across some hard covers and decided to pick them up despite knowing nothing about them:

new additions

I have heard Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s name but never read her work. My newly acquired copy of the Ill-Made Mute was published in 2001. While some reviews suggest that pace and plot are in issue, other describe her writing style as beautifully lyrical and descriptive. One of the big draws for me are references to Seelie and Unseelie creatures. As a big fan of White Wolf’s vintage Changling role-playing game and Arcadia collectible card game, I was intrigued to see how Dart-Thornton uses these terms.

The Historian immediately hooked me when I opened this 2005 hard cover and found a map of Europe inside with synopsis of a story inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Reviews are mixed but are overall positive.

Children of Blood and Bone was a difficult choice and I almost put it back. Published in 2018, it’s a Young Adult novel, over-hyped with a massive 7 figure book and movie deals, and containing some standard fantasy tropes. Normally those three strikes would be enough for me to shy away from. However, it is told in first person narrative, the setting is inspired by West African lore and culture, and reviews are (mostly) positive. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, came out in late 2019. The negative reviews talk about abandonment of the emphasis on the world-building that was superb in the first book, a plot that feels like it was rushed under great pressure, and a dearth of character development, including too much angst, selfishness and immaturity. Positive reviews are brief and generic, which is not a good sign. I’ll probably just stick to this first book and approach it as a stand-alone novel…

Status Update 3-2-20

Yesterday I completed reading The Iron Circlet by Phil Tucker. The Pages Read total for the year is 2529 (21% of goal). Next up is the seventh book in the Malazan the Fallen series, Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson.

I’m holding off on the 2019 Hippogriff Awards until after I read For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones, which will probably be after Reaper’s Gale. And soon I’ll start working on a review for Ravine of Blood and Shadow.

Book Review: The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

the hod kingFormat: oversized paperback, first trade paperback edition, 2019

Pages: 567 (not including extras at the end of the book)

Reading Time: about 14 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Senlin goes on a mission to Pelphia for the Sphinx but is determined to finally find his missing wife Marya; Voleta and Iren attempt to infiltrate Pelphian society to determine if Marya is content or needs rescue; and Edith brings her new warship to Pelphia to find a missing painting that holds the key to the Towers secrets – and it’s destruction, while over all of this hangs the question: who or what is the Hod King?

 

Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends is one of my favorite books of all time. The sequel, Arm of the Sphinx, did not quite have the same effect on me, although it was still excellent. Having now completed the third book in the series, The Hod King, would my opinion of the series continue to slightly trend down, or would this entry be the best one yet? Read on to find out, and beware of minor spoilers for this book as well as the two previous ones. First, how about looking at some guest reviews from around the Internet?

 

Richard Marpole of Fantasy-Faction says: “There’s so much artistry and wry imagination on display here. A menagerie of cannons all shaped like different animals. A species of giant weasel bred to clean out pipes that can’t digest humans but enjoys using them as chew-toys. Parrots that live wild in a city, spreading the wickedest rumours they can find. A pork-beef hybrid called moink…Those familiar with the series will find Senlin as resourceful, good-hearted, and endearingly self-flagellating as ever. He’s a remarkable hero, one who survives by his wits but isn’t witty, knows how to throw a punch but isn’t a great brawler, and leaves devastation in his wake but cannot forgive himself for that fact any more than he can stop doing it…Not everything in this novel is perfectly to my taste. Since most of the viewpoints are from characters experiencing the same events, there is a ton of backtracking as Bancroft rewinds time and retells the story from another point of view. This is a common and accepted narrative technique but not one I’m fond of. I like to follow the plot, not circle it endlessly. Even this is a small gripe, as each character’s arc has new revelations and unique moments for us to enjoy and any amount of time spent with Bancroft’s beguiling characters is time well spent. And you can’t fault an author for trying out a different narrative technique. I don’t think that Bancroft could be content to stick to the same format, novel after novel.

Writer Dan of Elitist Book Reviews states: “It was so easy to fall into the pages of Bancroft’s writing. Felt like sitting down with an old friend. This was especially the case because of the three sections this book is broken into, the first deals exclusively with Tom. Tom is still Tom, and we are reminded of that over and over here. We see his goodness, his humanity, his intelligence, and more than anything his undying love for his wife Marya. He wants for nothing more than to find her and give her what she wants. No matter how his own future might work into that equation. While there are brief spurts of an omniscient narrator, and minor spats of POVs from external characters, the story in the main is told from Tom’s POV. I absolutely loved that. My one concern for this book was that the spread of POV time and head-jumping might get larger instead of smaller. I hoped for the latter. And indeed that is what I found, for the most part. There is still some head-jumping. Not enough that it really bothered me, because the story was just that good, but there was enough that I think the story lost some of it’s potential emotional impact because of it. Regardless, this story still packed a veritable punch. This was helped by the focus and drive of the story. The second section of the book comes through the eyes of Tom’s team of friends, “mostly” from Voleta and Iren, as they prepare for, and then infiltrate the high society of Pelphia. The end of the first section of the book had me concerned. The end of the second section had me actively worried. I spent the entirety of the third section, which is told “mostly” through the POV of Captain Edith Winters, on the edge of my seat. The climax of the book was seriously awesome and had me both crowing and still fearing for the worst that might yet come from the fallout. There is real impact and power that comes through this story that you just don’t find in other fantasy novels.

Finally, T.O. Munro of The Fantasy Hive opines: “Bancroft can span the chasm from comedy to tragedy in the space of a couple of lines, taking his readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride to mirror the physical one to which he subjects his characters. For all the eccentric inventiveness and inventive eccentricity in the people and the machines, and the machine-people with which Bancroft populates his work, this is a book of feels – of human emotion. Love, friendship, duty, and devotion are the driving forces that make this utterly fantastic world seem so desperately, poignantly real…He doesn’t drag out some reflex response through a sugar-coated instant of Disney schmaltz. Instead the reader is swept along by the characters, the rising crescendo of events, the sharp switchbacks of fortune and misfortune, the gut punches and sudden breaths of hope until suddenly – in one moment of calm kindness – the pent-up bubble of emotion is pricked and tears flow for character and reader alike…Bancroft’s prose soars through the story, lifting hod and nobles alike with the same elegant vision that filled Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx. So many pithy lines and phrases catch the eye – images that snag the imagination, references that resonate beyond the covers of the book – far too many to list them all in a single review…Bancroft paints the inhabitants of Pelphia with his customary skill. A realm that evokes the decadent obsession with form and fashion of pre-revolutionary France or the extravagance of the Austrian court depicted in Amadeus…Bancroft paints with the broad brush of revolution as skilfully as he wields the fine touch of personal interest. In all, I find The Books of Babel resemble a Russian doll of stories, each locked within another: the separated wife, the endangered crew, the decadent ringdom, the rising heat of revolution, the potential end not just of the tower but of the entire world. Against this looming catastrophe, the Sphinx sits in her lofty penthouse, surrounded by artefacts, something between the creations of Tony Stark, the machines of Robocop and the clockwork monsters from Dr Who’s ‘The Girl on the Fireplace.’

 

My Thoughts

At 567 pages, the heftiest book in the series by far (to this point), The Hod King is a study in contrasts. Thomas Senlin, a character I was once completely fascinated by, has faded in importance to me. Though others say he is the same old Senlin, I disagree; in Senlin Ascends, Senlin imposed his will on the Tower, improbably bending it and its inhabitants to support his cause. Now, however, the Tower has irreparably changed Senlin in return. As Richard points out above, Senlin “leaves devastation in his wake but cannot forgive himself for that fact any more than he can stop doing it”. He is more predictable and less clever and shrewd, and he now rarely considers what impact his actions have on others.

The book is divided into 3 sections, each featuring the narrative of one of the characters – Senlin, Voleta/Iren and Edith – and of those sections, Senlin’s is the least interesting and compelling, despite the fact that at long last he has contact with his missing wife. The Voleta/Iren viewpoint was also a struggle. The mannerisms and way of life of Pelphia, although interesting and imaginative, is also at times very slow in pace, and Xenia is an absolutely annoying character for the reader to have to put up with, though thankfully she becomes less prominent as the story progresses. I will say, however, that Voleta’s section does finish with quite a bang.

All that aside, and despite some backtracking as Richard points out above, it is Edith’s narrative that carries the day. Her story bubbles with simmering tension; part of that is due to her narrative being last, so the reader is waiting to see how she will react to events that are already known, and the other part is due to her role as the most powerful and enabled character. This allows her to use violent action as a resource to solve problems, which the other viewpoint characters are unable to do (except perhaps Iren, though to a much smaller degree). Commanding a massive warship and bearing the Arm of the Sphinx gives Edith those resources.

Edith’s narrative also includes the most fascinating supporting characters. Byron, the deer-headed butler, although a good supporting character in the Arm of the Sphinx, has a greatly expanded role here and is absolutely wonderful. Edith’s other crew member aboard the warship, the pilot Reddleman (SPOILER! formerly the Red Hand), is a perfect blend of reborn innocence, creepiness and sadistic violence, with the latter two traits lurking just below the surface of the first. And Ferdinand, the mechanical clockwork bull, also makes an appearance.

And then there’s the Pelphian Wakeman, Georgine Haste. Although one might argue that coming into the story, Duke Wilhelm Pell has the potential to be the greatest villain, depending on whether or not Marya is with him of her own free will, it’s Georgine Haste who is truly frightening due to the violent power that Wakeman possess. It had been intimated in the previous books that some Wakemen had lost their way and were no longer working for the Sphinx. As Edith’s narrative progresses, the question as to whether Georgine is friend or foe sits in the back of the reader’s mind, a constant worry. Edith is also instrumental in exploring the mystery behind the Hod King. And finally, Edith’s narrative contains an explosive conclusion, which is partially described within Volta/Iren narrative but is expanded on in Edith’s, and is absolutely thrilling. I would say that it is Bancroft’s best action sequence he’s written to date.

Bancroft does a good job at dropping some surprises here and there at unexpected times, especially when things look most bleak. Readers will be happy to find some resolution regarding several unanswered questions. What is the mysterious substance that the Sphinx harnesses in order to power artifacts and even the Tower itself? What is happening to the messages that the Sphinx hasn’t been receiving? Why is Marya staying with Duke Pell? Who or what is the Hod King? Will Edith recover the painting that the Sphinx needs for the giant zoetrope? Answers will be revealed! Well, some answers, that is. Voleta’s brother Adam is still conspicuously absent, so I would presume he’ll play a significant role in the the fourth book (spoiler: there is a preview of book four in the “Extras” section that does indeed feature Adam).

Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m wrong for feeling this way, but going into the story I was hoping that Senlin’s discovery of his missing wife would end badly. Why? Because of the negative impact it would have on Edith. Senlin and Edith definitely have something between them that feels like more than friendship, and Edith seems to have found a brief moment of happiness with Senlin. There are moments during Senlin’s narrative that he is thinking about Edith and what would happen to her if he successfully reunited with his wife. How sad and lonely this would be for Edith were it to happen. I won’t spoil things here, though; you’ll just have to read the book for yourself to find out if this plot point is resolved or not.

Something I was annoyed to see return in this story are chance encounters. I don’t mean that I’m annoyed that past characters make an appearance; I’m annoyed that despite the size of the tower, Senlin continues to run into past characters at the most improbable times. It is a bit unbelievable given the size of the Tower. Also the literary allusions are less than they were in Senlin Ascends, yet a bit better here than they were in Arm of the Sphinx.

In conclusion, to apply something similar that I stated in my review of Arm of the Sphinx, The Hod King has some problems, yet is still an exceptional story, told by a gifted writer. Though the first two sections have a slow-moving pace sprinkled with compelling moments and frustrations, it is the third and final act that elevates this book to amazing heights. Bancroft proves once again that Senlin Ascends was no fluke; though that initial tale is his greatest work in the series, the following two books have still been a delight to read. Book four is scheduled for release in 2021, and is billed as the conclusion of the series. I’m both intrigued and saddened that the story will end there…

New Orders 2-27-20

Howard Andrew Jones contacted me to see if I was interested in review copies of his new series. I opted to purchase them from him instead, in exchange for an autographed copy of each book. It’s always nice to place money directly into the hands of the author. So the following books are now on the way:

for killing of kings

For the Killing of Kings is the first book in the Ring-Sworn series, which is a trilogy.

 

upon flight of queen

Upon the Flight of the Queen is the second book in the Ring-Sworn trilogy.

I’ll admit I haven’t been doing a great job of keeping up with releases from some of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved the Asim and Dabir books from Jones, so I’m pretty confident that these new books will elicit the same feeling. Jones and I both share a love of Fritz Leiber and Roger Zelazny, which Jones lists as influences on his writing, so I’m really looking forward to these…

Status Update 2-24-20

Yesterday I completed reading The Light Of All That Falls by James Islington. The Pages Read total for the year is 2096 (17.5% of goal). Next up is the fourth book in the Chronicles of the Black Gate series, The Iron Circlet by Phil Tucker.

I thought I’d be caught up with reviews by now but a loss in staff at my day job has resulted in time spent conducting interviews and putting in close to 50 hours a week…it’s all I can do to find time to read, much less write and post reviews. Fortunately the 2019 Hippogriff Awards are nearly complete, so you should see those in the next couple of days. I’ve started working on a review for The Hod King, and I’ve sent some interview questions to Gareth Hanrahan, with some headed D.P. Prior’s way soon…

Book Review: The True Bastards by Jonathan French

true bastardsFormat: hard cover, first edition, 2019

Pages:  579

Reading Time:  about 14.5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  While Jackal leaves the Hoof to chase down the wizard Crafty, Fetching, the new chief, must contend with illness, challenges to her leadership, and a frightening new enemy that may destroy everything she values.

 

The Grey Bastards was one of my favorite reads from 2019, winning a couple of Hippogriff Awards. Would The True Bastards, a direct sequel, have the same impact on me? Read on to find out, but beware of spoilers both for this book and its predecessor. But, first, some guest reviews…

 

Nils Shukla of The Fantasy Hive says: “I’ll start by mentioning what I love most about this series, which would definitely have to be the world building. The Lot Lands is not exactly what you would call a picturesque place to live, and this second novel further establishes that fact. The Lot’s brutal, scorching terrain is filled with blood thirsty centaurs, volatile elves, orcs, ravenous hyenas, and human military forces that believe their rule is supreme…Now, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think I would enjoy The True Bastards quite as much as I did with The Grey Bastards. I wasn’t overly keen on Fetch in the first book, and knowing that she would be the main character in the sequel felt kind of disappointing. I WAS WRONG! Fetch was such a superb character. She showed an abundance of strength, courage, and she had such a fiery attitude – every time she was humiliated or degraded, especially by males, it truly was a pleasure to see her put them in their place…One of my favourite scenes was when the Bastards were playing games with the children from their orphanage in a lake. The children were reluctant to wash, as children are, and so to entice them into the water they made a sport of it. This scene just perfectly cut through all the grimness of the book, and showed such a beautiful light-hearted side to each one of them. I’m just going to briefly mention here that much in the style of The Grey Bastards, the levels of profanity, sexual references – including of genitalia – and crude behaviour are just as high in this book…So, what else made this book a remarkable read? Well, that resides in the action sequences. I previously found with the first book that there was a bit too much politics introduced, and at times I felt this became overly complex and confusing. In the True Bastards, French aptly delivers a balance between the politics, which is still central to the plot but brought more clarity, and in between those sections we also get exceptional combat scenes.”

Mogsy of The BiblioSanctum states: “The True Bastards feels slightly different in tone and style from the first book, which roughly follows a quest narrative complete with magical mysteries to discover and obstacles to overcome. The Grey Bastards was not a light story by any means, but still, it did offer a fair bit of adventure. This sequel, in contrast, is feels vastly more oppressive, serious, and bleak. Poor Fetch can’t seem to catch a break! For the entirely of this novel, she’s besieged with problems on all sides and her troubles never let up. In addition, this volume feels like a more personal character study, delving into the history and background of our protagonist. Expanding upon the world-building and adding to our understanding of half-orc society, French reveals a lot more about the magic and lore of the world that we did not know before. Some of it is very complex, and at times disturbing. Speaking of which, the author holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the brutality and grimness of life in the Lot Lands. Expect a lot of explicit language and unrestrained violence and death, though if you’ve read the first book, none of this should be a surprise. With Fetch at the helm, there’s also a shift in the types of issues the story deals with, including vulgar names and crude comments aimed at our protagonist because of her sex. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this isn’t a series for the fainthearted. But on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing this new adventure from Fetch’s point of view. She’s a lot more prudent than Jackal, which makes her lack a lot of his spontaneity as well as a certain fun spark. However, this reflects what I love best about these books—the fact that each half-orc character possesses a special and unique personality. Like Jackal, Fetch is a product of her own background and individual experiences, and they’ve shaped the way she views the world and deals with challenges thrown her way. There’s more darkness in her, but that’s okay; her tale is another piece of the puzzle that help us understand the life and ways of the Lot Lands.”

Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book Critic explains: “So let’s begin with what this book is not, primarily this book is a very different title to The Grey Bastards. That book was an action packed monster, this one is its more contemplative cousin who’s equally deadly but simmers slowly. Fetching as a narrator is very starkly different to Jackal, where Jackal was attack first and ask questions later, Fetching is equally effective at defense and offense. She is also an able leader whose skills get stretched to their limits with all the troubles the True Bastards face. The action in this series is more personalized as we get lots on one on one sequences as well as some mass scenes. The book however is equally filthy, coarse and gory as was its predecessor. It’s better than predecessor in its overall plot as we get more details about certain specific events from the first book as well as the magic system gets more insight. There’s some huge potential revelations that left me hugely excited for what come in the future. Going on to the characterization, with more than 500 pages and just one POV character, the author has to really nail down the tone. Jonathan French goes above and beyond in presenting Fetching as more complex character than Jackal was and having a lot more stress placed on her shoulders due to her gender, her birth as well events beyond her control. But face them with aplomb, she does, while being as foulmouthed, tough and brilliant as she’s shown to be in the first book. Jonathan’s decision to shift the focus really pays off as we get to see the bastards truly become a hoof through hellfire (mostly figuratively and some cases literally)…With regards to the drawbacks, the book’s place is also sluggish for the first nearly 40-50% as the author lays down a lot of tracks for the book’s plot arc as well as the series arc. While I didn’t mind it that much, there will be those who might not enjoy this slow pace at all. The story revelations that come, create more questions and there are no easy answers to be found.”

 

My Thoughts

The biggest difference between The Grey Bastards and The True Bastards is of course the main character, Fetching. Jonathan French took a big risk in switching the viewpoint away from Jackal. Fortunately, the risk pays off in spades. Fetch, half-elf and half-orc, not only has to contend with all of the troubles and evils that plague the Lot Lands, but she also has to be fast, stronger, and smarter to overcome the prejudice of a male-dominated society. French gives her a different enough voice so that the reader isn’t simply following a female version of Jackal. She also has to battle an internal sickness that happened in the previous book and threatens to make her weak and undermine her position. However she doesn’t do all this just to hold power…she does it because she cares about the Lot Lands and her Hoof dearly. She’s really a brilliant character and I’m curious to see what happens in the next book: will the viewpoint character remain Fetch, return to Jackal, or move to another character entirely?

The supporting characters are just as strong as in the first book. The silent and stoic Hoodwink remains perhaps my favorite. Other favorites like Mead and Polecat return, while new ones enter like Dumb Door, Sluggard and Xhreka. In true Lot Lands fashion, characters are going to fall along the way. You will feel sadness and your heart will ache. Your eyes might even water a little. You have been warned.

Other races have been fleshed out as well. The Centaurs, those evil creatures of the Blood Moon rampages, may be more than they appear. And the Tines play a very prominent role, with a good portion of the setting taking place in their territory. There is definitely a native American/Asian mix to them – at least that is the vibe that I got.

The villains have been ramped up too. the dread wizard Crafty is still causing havoc from wherever he is hiding. The men of Hispartha seem more evil and corrupt than ever. And then there’s the big albino orc and his frightening pack of wolves that is killing everything in the Lots. There are other Hoofs that challenge Fetch, and there’s even the appearance of a cyclops!

The plot is fast-paced, full of tension and action. While some claim that The Grey Bastards had more fast-paced action and that The True Bastards is more of a slow burn, I couldn’t honestly tell you as I didn’t notice enough of a difference between the to. And even if it were true, the way French maintains tension makes the story no less compelling. As I mentioned above, Fetch has to deal with challenges, fight off sickness, and contend with the threat of the albino orc. I was enthralled throughout the story. My only complaint is a bit of a deus ex machina that shows up at the perfect time. Other than that I thought it was some pretty flawless storytelling.

As before, the Lot Lands is no place for the weak. You will find swearing, violence and gore, reference to male and female sex organs, rape, and an explicit sex scene. I didn’t find it offensive but your mileage may vary. If you got through The Grey Bastards fine, you’ll have no trouble here. There is one lighter scene that Nils mentions above featuring a water game with children…though it feels a bit out of place, it is also appreciated as a break from the dark violence of the rest of the book, and gives some depth to the characters that the reader might not have considered otherwise.

In conclusion, French has written an impressive sequel to The Grey Bastards. Dark, grim, and compelling, The True Bastards, if it ends up being a middle book in a set of three, does not suffer from middle book syndrome at all. The new settings, villains and characters are great, the new settings are enjoyable (especially the arena!) and the ending is perfect, opening the door for a third book. The True Bastards is one of my top reads of the year, and will definitely claim some Hippogriff Awards…

Status Update 1-24-20

Yesterday I completed reading The Shadow King by Alec Hutson. The Pages Read total for the year is 1282 (11% of goal). Next up is the third book in Licanius trilogy, The Light of All That Falls by James Islington, and then I will offer up the 2019 Hippogriff Awards. I’m still working on a review for The True Bastards, and at the same time I’m formulating some interview questions for Gareth Hanrahan and D.P. Prior. Busy busy busy!

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.

 

My Thoughts

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.