Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: I Am Alice by Joseph Delaney

i am aliceFormat:  hard cover, first edition, 2013

Pages:  432

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

 

I Am Alice is the 12th book in Joseph Delaney’s Last Apprentice Series. It’s been over 5 years since I reviewed the previous book, Slither. Delaney continues his detour away from his protagonist, Tom, to explore the adventures of Alice as she ventures into the dark to find a blade that Tom will use to cut off her thumbs and cut out her heart in a sacrificial rite that will stop the evil Fiend. No, I am not making that up. I’ve grown tired of this series but with only this book and the next to finish, I thought I’d get one step closer to the end. I don’t think there are very many people who are still paying attention to this series, but I did manage to find a couple of reviews, which I’ve summarized below, and after that are my own thoughts, which are chock full of minor spoilers and one great big one. If you don’t want spoilers, it’s probably best to skip to the last sentence…

 

Karissa of Hidden in Pages is ready to get to the final battle, but had a positive review, stating: “Through most of the book all I could think was “poor Alice”. She has a very heartbreaking past…this girl has got to have the worst luck of any heroine I have ever read about. Then you get to the present and Alice’s journey through the Dark. Poor Alice has to face things no one should have to face. She has to face enemies that she’s already vanquished and deal with their hatred for her part in their deaths. Things just get worse and worse for her as the book goes on. Then you remember that she is doing all of this to retrieve a dagger that will be used to maim and kill her as a sacrifice to destroy the Fiend. It makes you even sadder. That’s not to say that this is an especially depressing read. It is one of the darkest book in the series. However, Alice faces her miserable circumstances with a surprisingly practicality and a resilient attitude. She is incredibly brave and incredibly determined to not succumb to the Dark.”

Jade Cranwell of nudge-book reviewed the UK version (titled Spook’s: Alice): “Alice, loyal companion of Tom and the Spook, gets straight down the business; travelling into the realm of ‘The Dark’ to find the third object needed by the Spook and his apprentice, Tom, in order to destroy their greatest enemy, The Fiend. The Dark is not a place anyone would want to go – a place where the non-human folk end up when they die on Earth. It just so happens that Alice has done her fair share of killing some on the more dangerous and evil creatures over the year – or at least been a helping hand – and by travelling into their realm, they finally have the chance to take their revenge. This makes for a bad situation for Alice but a brilliant, action-packed story for the reader! Alice not only encounters past threats but also takes readers down memory lane by revisiting her childhood through an encounter with a particular enemy….as always, Delaney is able to effortlessly create an atmospheric world fit for witches and other such unsavory creatures that I have grown to love so much.”

 

During the 5 year gap in my reviews of Slither and I Am Alice, a movie was released called Seventh Son that was supposed to be loosely based on this series. The movie was quite terrible and had very little in common with the books, other than the names of the characters. Apparently the dollar signs Delaney saw when optioning his book for the big screen outweighed any creative control he might have exerted in making sure the movie stayed true to the books. Allowing his series to be turned into another forgettable Hollywood dud does not reflect well on the fact that a decent movie might have steered new fans towards his books. And while I can appreciate Delaney wanting to tell stories through different viewpoints, as the two previous stories Grimalkin and Slither have done, I Am Alice feels like a money grab more closely related to the movie than the series itself.

The prose and tone of this book are fairly consistent with previous entries. Due to the large text the pages fly by fairly quickly. I have always liked the character of Alice; she’s strong, brave, and loyal to Tom, and a book that focuses on her should be a joy to read, but there are a number of missteps to be found in I Am Alice. Since witches and evil creatures go to the Dark when they die, it gave Delaney a chance to bring all of his villains back for a greatest hits, gauntlet-like run that Alice must endure to find the dagger she needs. It also re-introduces the character of Thorne, Grimalkin’s former apprentice. You could argue either way as to whether seeing these characters again is a good or bad thing – either you enjoy getting to see familiar faces, or are disappointed to revisit more of the same. However, a couple of the villains do not appear in any previous stories. The introduction of these new villains causes Delaney to divert from the present tale by employing flashbacks to fill in Alice’s backstory, and her relationship with these evil beings. The problem for me was that these two flashbacks took up 218 pages of a 432 page book – over 50% of the book is spent going back to the past. The flashbacks are important in establishing Alice’s character, but we are 12 books into the series…does a flashback of this length really need to be done? Shouldn’t this have been done several books ago? It feels a lot like fluff.

Another problem is that some of Alice’s problems are solved by deus ex machina. Just when it looks like Alice has no chance of survival, something comes along to turn the tables just in time. The worst instance is during a showdown between Alice, Thorne, and several water witches. Alice and Thorne are saved by skelts, bug-like creatures with long snouts that use those snouts to pierce their victims and drink their blood. The skelts leave Alice and Thorne alone and go after the witches, then guide the two girls to the Fiend’s throne room. This is after some other skelts tried to kill them in another part of the Dark. Why did they save Alice and Thorne? Alice postulates that maybe these skelts are different and don’t want to serve the Fiend. Since the skelts up to this point have been nothing but mindless creatures who are caged by witches and released to drink the blood of victims, this explanation makes no sense.

What I can say, without reservation, is that the worst part of the book is on page 427, just 5 pages from the end, when Alice is reunited with Grimalkin, who states:

The bad news is that you didn’t need to journey into the dark after all. The dagger you hold is not needed. You risked your life and very soul for nothing.

Wait a minute – Delaney just told the reader that none of what they just read matters? Are you kidding me?! Who does that?! It means the only purpose of this story is to get Alice close enough to the Dark so that she can turn into some evil creature in the last book. Talk about a forced plot point!

I’m so glad there’s only one more book to go. I’ve had enough of this series…

Fun Fact: Alicia Vikander, who played Alice in Seventh Son, is now starring as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot…

Advertisements

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Benjamin Ashwood by AC Cobble

ashwoodFormat:  paperback, self published, 2016

Pages:  398

Reading Time: about 6.5 hours

 

Benjamin Ashwood, AC Cobble’s debut novel, was released in 2016, the same year that Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen and Phil Tucker’s The Path of Flames were released, also debut novels, so comparisons by me are inevitable. However, Benjamin Ashwood has not gotten the review exposure that The Crimson Queen or The Path of Flames have, so finding reviews from other sites was a challenge. Fortunately I was able to find a couple for reference. After the reference reviews, I’ll have thoughts of my own, and as always, expect a few spoilers to appear.

From the back cover of Benjamin Ashwood: “Epic Fantasy at its best. This classic swords and sorcery tale is inspired by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Tolkien’s The Hobbit. If you liked them, you will love Benjamin Ashwood.

Life is simple in Ben’s small town until an attack brings the arrival of exciting strangers straight out of a story. Before Ben understands what is happening, he embarks on a dangerous journey to help his friends. A mage, demons, thieves and assassins are just a few of the perils he will face while trying to make it to safety.

But things aren’t always what they seem and safety is a fragile concept when the destructive behaviors of the powerful are exercised unchecked. In Ben’s world – like our own – political, economic and military might create a system to keep the elite in power at the expense of the common man. As the series unfolds and Ben’s knowledge and skill grows, he will have to decide if he wants to live within the system, flee from it or break it.

 

The first review comes from Leony Henry of Booknest.eu, who states “It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn’t feel derivative at all…the fighting scenes, action, adventures, political intrigue, journeys, city and market scenes are top notch quality and the book is a solid page turner. One great thing about this story is, the main protagonist is just a simple brewer from some backwater village. He has no special powers, no prophecies, no magic. He is not a chosen one or savior. He listens to his mentors and learns skills with hard work and daily practices. This was quite inspirational stuff, no special powers coming out of thin air, but with disciplined work and dedication. I really liked this about the story.

Leona also provides more insight with “However, as fun as it was to read, Benjamin Ashwood has quite a few issues…for one, I found the female characters weak and nondescript for the most part. Amelie is quite flat, even though she is supposed to be important. Lady Towaal had potential in the beginning, but she is mostly absent and hardly talks…way too modern vocabulary sours the experience quite often…I could overlook those, but then the phrases like “frugal lifestyle” and “tax dollars” sticking out like a sour thumb made that impossible…another issue I had was the girls throwing themselves at Ben. There was one one night stand sex scene, which came out of nowhere and served absolutely no purpose, left me scratching my head.

The second review comes from The Genre Minx, who says “The supporting characters were a hoot! Now they did have their super skills but that was appropriate as they were the teachers in this story. His travel companions all have their own secrets and Ben spends quite a bit of time trying to piece figure out where their loyalties lay and how they fit together…Along the way there is death and loss. Ben has never truly had to consider or face the realities of what it meant to fight, what being a hero was truly about. He had spent so much time as a child listening to stories of hero’s that he never considered what the downside was. I loved watching Ben’s character develop and seeing him struggle with his humanity was a breath of fresh air so to speak.” What Minx didn’t like was a lack of detail in the worldbuilding.

 

The first thing I’m going to talk about is the marketing of the book. The name itself is so plain and uninspiring that it could be the title of a romance novel or an action adventure like Jack Reacher. It could even be a western! Also, just a suggestion, but if you’re going to drop names on the back of your book like Tolkien and Jordan and compare yourself to them, you’re putting a lot of pressure to measure up to those lofty standards, and probably setting yourself up for failure.

Cobble freely admits that Benjamin Ashwood is a farmboy sword & sorcery trope. The beginning of the story has Ben and his fellow townsmen hunting down a demon. Despite the fact that demons are another well-worn trope, this introductory scene does a great job of delivering tension during the hunt and demon encounter. A group of strange travelers show up to help, and the story turns to one of travel and adventure. I can definitely see the Eye of the World influence here.

However, as the story progresses, Cobble begins to lose his way. The places Ben travels to are described in enough detail, and the plot is fairly straightforward, but the tension evaporates as the group meanders from city to city. The addition of a young thief to the party, Renfro, makes no sense and his acceptance by others in the group is highly suspect. And the book might as well have the “farmboy goes to a school to train” trope added to the list of tropes, because a large part of the story involves Ben training with a skilled swordsman in the group.

The worst part related to pacing and plot, however, is a sequence in the last third of the book detailing Ben’s brewing efforts and his concern about fending off rivals. The section completely drags and I struggled to get through it, as it was boring and uninteresting. Spoiler Alert – skip if necessary – finally at about the 370 page mark, things start to pick up again as tension makes its way back into the story, when Ben’s benefactor leads a squad of armed men to take on their rival, only to be ambushed. I saw the ambush coming, although I will admit that I didn’t see who would be leading it. The action ratchets up as Ben races to save Amelie. The problem for me is that this sequence should have happened 100 pages earlier in the story. Benjamin Ashwood ends with a cliffhanger, which you may love or hate depending on your take. Personally, I felt there was way too much padding in the story to necessitate ending on a cliffhanger.

Their are some other missteps along the way. Ben’s traveling companions all have mysterious backstories, and Cobble sheds little light on where their skills or powers come from. I get that the characters are deliberately evasive, but there’s almost nothing revealed by the end of this first book. Also, Cobble’s prose is not great, incorporating a “telling” rather than “showing” style that avoids detail and makes character actions and interactions unbelievable. Cobble also has a nasty habit of using modern terminology to turn a phrase, as Leona Henry points out above. Text such as “assured mutual destruction”, “what makes the man tick” and “no way!” are so awful that the real world intrudes and it kills the fantasy vibe.

In conclusion I blew through Benjamin Ashwood quickly because I was suffering from a cold and couldn’t do much else but read, but it was a struggle at times to get through what is a tediously boring story, except for the beginning and ending. The back cover comparisons to Tolkien and Jordan are ludicrous, and Benjamin Ashwood doesn’t even come close to approaching the high standards set by contemporaries The Crimson Queen or The Path of Flames. On his website Cobble, who mentions several times the amount of time he puts into marketing, proudly proclaims that Benjamin Ashwoodwas one of the Top 5 Epic Fantasy debuts of 2016.” I found that hard to believe, based on the lack of reviews by review sites, but then I went to Goodreads and found several 5 star ratings, and I just shook my head. As for myself, I will be steering clear of the sequel.

April 15, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Battle Mage by Peter A. Flannery

battle mageFormat:  oversized paperback, 2017, first edition

Pages:  630

Reading Time: about 10.5 hours

 

Do you like dragons? Demons? Farm boys with swords that go to a school for training? Battle tactics and armor descriptions? Then this book is for you! In all seriousness, I was a little nervous about multitude of tropes that manifest within the pages of Battle Mage. Even the cover had me thinking that this book was nothing special. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Epilogue…

 

First, let’s start with some reviews. I didn’t find any dedicated blogs that had reviewed Battle Mage, except for one called H. G. Chambers, so in addition to that, I pulled some reviews off of Goodreads. H.G. Chambers of hgchambers.com writes: “I must admit, when I first picked up Battle Mage, I was not expecting anything extraordinary. A fairly generic title, and a nice looking, but also somewhat generic cover. As I delved in however, I found the story to be anything but. It begins with Falco Dante and his best friend Malaki. Since a young age, Flaco has been afflicted with a lung disease, putting him at a great disadvantage. He’s got lots of room to grow, and Flannery makes use of every inch. Malaki, the son of a blacksmith, is quite the talent with a sword. While his character goes through less of a metamorphosis, he’s still enjoyable to get to know. Both characters are entirely likable, and I found myself rooting for them from the beginning.

In this coming of age fantasy adventure, the world is afflicted by the presence of the “possessed,” a demonic force from hell that is determined to overtake humanity, ensnaring it in eternal, permanent suffering. The bigger demons emanate an aura of fear that cripples regular soldiers, unless under the protective shielding of a battle mage. When a battle mage completes his (or her) training, they may attempt to summon a dragon. If it answers their call, then they are bonded with it, and together they stand in battle against the demons and their armies of possessed. I really enjoyed the concepts and premise of this book. It achieves a balance between original ideas, and familiar fantasy concepts that you don’t always see in this genre.

 

Shari Kay on Goodreads says: “This book appealed to me because it sounded like an old school fantasy read (which I love). You know the kind– the ones where an ordinary young man overcomes all the odds, finds out how special he really is and fulfills his destiny by saving the world at the end. That trope. About the time I got to the hated RED WEDDING scene in the GoT series, I was over the dark plots that are so prevalent in the fantasy genre today and looked forward to a book with a likable character with a happy ending. BM lived up to that expectation…mostly.

BM has magic, dragons, Demons, betrayals, secrets, deaths, victories, cruelty, violence and heartache. It is epic in it’s scope and detail. You really know these characters by the end and fear for their lives–for their very souls.

 

Kathleen on Goodreads states: “Good story, but too lengthy for me. With so many pages, we never learn whether all the lost souls are freed from eternal suffering when their demons are killed. After all the sad descriptions of eternal suffering and baelfire, this felt like a major mistake. In all those 850+ pages, oh so many deaths and repetitive battles. I began to skim the battles.

The testing and summoning scenes were excellent, though.

Demons and possessions and eternal suffering but no religions, no gods mentioned in this world. Seems unlikely.

 

These are all excellent points, and yet there is a great story here, an epic fantasy full of tropes and flawed but likable characters, though the story is not without problems of it’s own. So why should anyone read it? What is different about Battle Mage than all the other trope-ridden stories out there?

My answer: Battle Mage is a story about fear and self-doubt warring with faith and love, and overcoming loss, but even more than that, it is about failure and redemption. In fact, the book is divided into three sections, the first and third of which are titled “Ruin” and “Redemption” respectively. I’m going to reveal a minor spoiler here because it explains what I mean about failure and redemption. There’s a scene near the beginning of the book where the main character, Falco makes a horrible, tragic mistake. This mistake causes the death of other characters, the panicked evacuation of a village, and still more deaths, including someone dear to Falco. This in turn leads Falco to despair and self-loathing, and although time lessens the pain a bit, it takes a long time for him to overcome the effects of that one mistake. That’s essentially the underlying theme of the story – how a youthful mistake that costs lives is ultimately redeemed by the willingness to sacrifice oneself to save others, and thus give one’s life meaning and value.

And that’s what makes the story incredibly deep – the characters have flaws that don’t make you want to throw the book across the room. They aren’t frustrating flaws like stupidity or conceited entitlement…instead, these flaws are naivete, youthful inexperience, and uncontrolled passion. And although the “kids go to school” trope is here, it is not the whole story, rather just one section, and is necessary to explain how the youths develop their talents and are given commissions. Going back to Shari Kay on Goodreads, she says: “The idea that inexperienced “kids” were given, and kept, command of military units seemed farfetched during war time“. But what you have to remember here is that this is a war that’s been going on for quite some time and many of the able leaders have been slain, so anyone who shows an inkling of command ability is going to be handed the reins. And as is true in our own world, young inexperienced officers are given command over a unit, often with disastrous results, so it didn’t seem quite as far-fetched to me. The fact that these young leaders all came from the same village is more far-fetched, and tips a cap to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, where many of his young protagonists come from the same village. In Jordan’s story, however, that is explained away as destiny or fate (“ta’veren”); In Battle Mage it just is, with no explanation as to how it is possible.

In addition to finding the characters and the story compelling, I also enjoyed some of the unique ideas that Peter Flannery utilizes to tackle old tropes. The forging of a battle mage’s sword, the testing of abilities by the Magi, the bonding of a battle mage to a dragon, the various demons that control the undead armies – Flannery does a good job of breathing new life into these well-worn fantasy staples. Additionally, there was a lot of tension as the story progressed, as I wasn’t sure who was going to live and who was going to die right up to the end. I also should add that Flannery’s prose is excellent, and rarely gets in the way of the story, except for some of the “boss” showdowns with demons that don’t feel fluid – maybe choppy is the right word to use here – and battles end up being a bit repetitious.

There are a few other problems I should point out, and you might want to avoid the rest of this paragraph if you have an aversion to serious spoilers. One problem is that the story ends quickly after the final battle and wraps up a few things, but there are many unanswered questions. Maybe those things get explained if a sequel is coming, or maybe they will go forever unanswered. As Shari Kay points out: “But the main reason I couldn’t give this book a higher rating was because of the ending. I hated it…am I just suppose to assume things worked out? That all our people lived? That the war was won? Can the Emissary marry the Queen now? What consequences did the Prince have? What about Meredith’s father? What was up with the 3 mages at the end? What was the connection with Falco? Why did they get another dragon? I thought there was only one per mage. Do all the black dragons come around, do some dragons still go mad?” I would add, what happened to the commander in the south that was turned? How did Meredith deal with his own father and what became of the Magi? What happened to Fossetta? How was the young “autistic” boy in the village able to determine who would become a Battle Mage? Why do Battle Mages all have the exact same abilities?

Another problem is what Kathleen pointed out above – there is absolutely no religion. There are no gods (not even primitive sun or earth gods), no creation story, and people say prayers, but if there are no deities, who they are praying to? In fact, demons pray to something or someone in the underworld, but it’s not clear who it is they pray to, either. Also, why are there European names everywhere (French, German, Italian etc.) but yet this story does not take place in Europe? Is it a different plane of existence? Europe in the distant future?

In addition, there’s a bit of a “superhuman” problem, where people should be beyond their limits, are exhausted or severely injured, and yet draw on hidden reserves to persevere, which seems a bit deus ex machina. Finally, demons are brought from hell to the surface at various times. It’s not clear how many demons there are, and why they aren’t all brought to the surface at once considering the war has been going on for some time. What’s the limiting factor? How does “hell” work? It’s all a bit nebulous and convenient for plot purposes.

Criticisms aside, I was thoroughly entertained by Battle Mage. The length of the book is a challenge, but I felt it was a much better solution to have this single massive tome that advances through the plot at a decent speed, than it is to split it into a trilogy and pad it with tons of fluff. I thought the pacing was good, the characters were believable, and the underlying theme of redemption was well done. I’ll be watching to see if Peter Flannery has a sequel up his sleeve, and if he does, I will most certainly spring for it.

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Call of the Sword by Roger Taylor

call of the sword

Format: paperback, 2nd revised edition from 2008 (originally published in 1998)

Pages: 212

Reading Time: about 2 hours

 

This was a book that I decided to take a chance on when I was searching for potential purchases on Amazon. Although The Call of the Sword could be considered a classic review considering it was originally published 30 years ago, I bought it fairly recently so it’s not a book I once read and am now re-reading. I hadn’t intended to move it to the front of my queue – there are many more intriguing books waiting there – but I thought since it was short (and I don’t have a lot of reading time right now) I could blow through it quickly and get on to another book. So here’s my review, which is actually not filled with a lot of spoilers, because there is much to spoil.

The first thing one notices when picking up The Call of the Sword is that it’s pretty thin. It’s not as thin as some other books of its era like Elric or Amber, but it’s a quick read compared to today’s epic doorstops. The second thing one notices is that the story is filled with tropes and The Lord of the Rings inspirations: magic sword – check; gloomy evil kingdom nearby – check; mad king and poisonous adviser – check; evil humanoid creatures – check (mandroc = orcs, it’s right there in the name as an anagram!); castle on the border warding against evil – check. I do have to give it kudos for avoiding one trope that I have become bored with – the young teen coming of age. The main character, Hawklin, is no struggling youth; rather, he is a bit older, and though he has lost his memories, there are hints that he has an extensive and mysterious past.

Roger Taylor’s prose is, for the most part, excellent. He does a good job of painting a picture with an economical use of words. Another positive is that Taylor is effective in presenting villagers and common folk as empathetic characters. Unlike Terry Brooks, whose common people of Shannara are virtually invisible, some of Taylor’s common folk are given just enough page time and development to make them feel real and worth saving. It could have been even better with a few more pages and a slightly longer story.

That leads me into discussing a few problems with The Call of the Sword. One is that events are very slow to develop. A mystery builds, characters are presented and developed, and traveling occurs, but nothing much of consequence happens until the last few chapters. By the time things pick up, the story has ended far too quickly. This is what differentiates The Call of the Sword from Elric or Amber stories, which move along rapidly with several action sequences. Also, the main action sequence near the end is not well-described and is a bit confusing…Taylor’s prose was good up to this point, but he really struggles with trying to describe what is happening, and events were hard to follow. Magic is kind of all over the place, with no explanation as to how it works or how much people can continue to use it. The poorly described action sequence and unexplained magic contribute to a rather abrupt ending and left me quite unsatisfied with where the story left off.

The most glaring issue, however, is that there isn’t a lot here that we haven’t already seen somewhere else. It’s abundantly clear that The Lord of the Rings heavily influences this story, and although there are some interesting possibilities, such as Hawklan’s true identity, history carved into the stone of a castle wall,  and a series of lords banding together against the king, it seems like I’ve read this all somewhere else. The Call of the Sword is not necessarily a bad story – it’s the kind of book I would have readily consumed in the 80s as a teenager – but it also doesn’t fare well against what is being published today. I might pick up the sequel, The Fall of Fyorlund, after getting wiped out by a giant epic fantasy and needing something simpler .

 

March 4, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

prince of thorns

Format:  hard cover, first edition, 2011

Pages:  324

Reading Time: about 5 hours

 

I suspected when I ordered this book that it was going to contain material that I normally don’t go for. A story about revenge, a 14 year old boy as the protagonist, and a group of looting, murderous associates is not one I’d normally look forward to. However, I like to think I have enough of an open mind to give it a chance, especially when considering the high praise it has received. Also, I feel as if I owe no small amount of gratitude to Mark Lawrence…his Self Published Fantasy Blog-Offs have turned up some great titles that I had no idea existed and might not have made it into my collection otherwise. He also backed Courtney Shafer’s kickstarter to publish The Labyrinth of Flame, the final book in her trilogy, which I was able to track down in paperback before all copies had disappeared completely. Buying and reading (at least) the first book in his series feels like a way to repay Lawrence for the sum of his efforts. So on with the review, and expect a few spoilers along the way.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to crack open this book and discover a first person narrative…my favorite style! My mind immediately went to The Black Company and I wondered if there would be similarities. The answer is not really. Lawrence’s work stands on its own, especially his narrating protagonist, Prince Jorg Ancrath. Where the Black Company featured the camaraderie of a mercenary group that looked out for each other and had their own code of honor, Jorg’s group has a loose camaraderie that is held together only by Jorg’s whim and strength of will. In fact, it is a constant, internal battle for Jorg not to kill the men he travels with when he feels disrespected, or when he suffers a foolish statement or an argumentative response from one of them. To him they are just tools, a means to an end that allow him to achieve his goals.

Although there are only 324 pages, there is a lot of adventure (and darkness) packed within this book. From castles and dungeons, to shanty towns and bogs, to underground caves and even a combat tournament, Jorg and his crew venture to several locales, each with a believable motivation. And the darkness! Various murders and incidents of looting, Machiavellian schemes, dark impulses and genocide…as I mentioned above, not something I would normally invest my time in. But Lawrence has accomplished something brilliant here, and even after finishing the story my head is still swimming.

(SPOILER ALERT! Move along to the next paragraph if necessary!) What I’m referring to here is something that stumped me early on. How does a ghost encounter a 14 year old boy and run away frightened? How is it that this same boy, who left home determined to have revenge against a rival baron, spent 4 years pursuing other interests and then decide to head home instead of pursuing that revenge? How does he command the respect of thugs and outlaws, and make decisions that only someone twice his age would be seasoned enough to reason out? Feel no guilt over committing genocide? Recognize that caring for anyone is a weakness that enemies can exploit? I thought it all too unbelievable, and had I given up, I would not have known the truth: that Jorg did not control his own thoughts and actions. It is a brilliant concept that once revealed, explains so much, and still leaves me wondering if any of Jorg’s actions were his own? If so, which ones? It also explains the title Prince of Thorns, going beyond the simple explanation of a child trapped in a thorn bush; instead, I believe it refers to Jorg being trapped and not able to exercise his own free will, as well as symbolizing that whenever Jorg even considers that he cares about something, the pain of loss (potential or realized) causes him to bury his feelings and not expose himself to “weakness”.

I loved the concept of court wizards using/advising kings and barons as chess pieces in a game only the wizards know is being played. I also liked that the scoundrels that follow Jorg around continue to do so after he murders one of them, or doesn’t deliver loot as promised, simply because they have no other prospects and Jorg generally lets them be as nasty as they want to be. A lot of characters are killed off during the story, including my favorite character, although as the story progresses, new characters are added. There are fantasy elements such as ghosts and magic, but it’s not clear what the source of that magic is. There are also references to ancient technologies, which become part of the plot, and some cultural references suggest that this may our own world, or perhaps a parallel one. By the end of the story I was “hooked” enough by the Prince of Thorns that I felt the need to order King of Thorns, the sequel. Well played, Mr. Lawrence, well played.

February 23, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker

path of flames

Format:  oversized paperback, 1st Edition, 2016

Pages:  495

Reading Time:  about 8 hours

 

I picked up The Path of Flames after discovering that it was runner-up in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off in 2016 held by Mark Lawrence. It received accolades from many readers, and I don’t think it is by accident that the cover is something one might see on an Elric novel. Not that The Path of Flames has anything in common with Elric, only that it sure couldn’t hurt sales to invoke such imagery. Other reviews of The Path of Flames:

Elitist Book Reviews

Booknest.eu

Fantasy Faction #1

Fantasy Faction #2

Vanessa at Elitist Book Reviews says the magic system isn’t explained well enough, the world-building seemed unfinished, and the plot has holes, but yet the story delivers on tension and the need to know the answers to many questions. Petrik at Booknest.eu is impressed by the strength of the female protagonists, but feels there was too much action and not enough character development, that Tharok’s point of view was disjointed, and is reminded of RPGs such as Dragon Age or World of Warcraft. Geoff at Fantasy Faction stated that the magic and religion reminded him of Dragonlance, feels all the trope boxes are checked, but that the story is enjoyable and the world and magic are interesting. Geoff’s counterpart at Fantasy Faction, J.C. Kang, felt that the strength of the story was in the excellent world-building and character POVs, points to a “Hindu-like progression (or regression) of reincarnation, that establishes a race- and location-based caste system“, and feels that the narrative prose is good but not as elegant as the world-building.

These are all excellent observations – I suppose I could stop right there and say “that’s a wrap!” But I feel like I have a few more things to add, so I’ll move on to discuss said things now, and if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know the drill – I’m going to spoil the story a little bit; however, no major plot points will be revealed here.

As the story began, I found the prose a bit choppy and jarring. Having read a lot of smooth-flowing prose recently (Devon Monk and Alec Hutson for example), it was glaringly evident that Tucker had a good story to tell but was having difficulty in trying to establish a smooth and consistent narration. As the story progressed, however, Tucker seemed to find a rhythm and the prose only occasionally interfered with the story. And what a story it was. I found myself swept up in events…from the opening large scale battle to a small tournament, then to the occupation of a ruined keep, a hunt for a demon, and a climactic battle – Tucker moves the story along briskly, with events unfolding in a believable manner, and often characters are faced with situations that give them no good choices. It’s compelling to follow these characters through their struggles, and I really had no idea where the story was going most of the time, which was a good thing – it wasn’t predictable.

I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with J.C. Kang: the world-building is top notch. Gate travel, floating worlds, frozen heroes and dragons, the Age of Wonders that predates the main religion (Ascension), the suggestion that Ascension is very likely not what it seems, ruined castles, 18 feet tall faceless demons, albinos living in caves near “hell”, seven “Virtues” (knights with magical powers)…it all creates an interesting world that I want to learn more about. Unfortunately, in this first book, some answers that are brought forth serve to only create more questions. The title itself refers to a a thin black book within the story that reveals The Path of Flames is “seeking the greatest good at the cost of the least corruption”, otherwise known as Sin Casting. However, the book is only briefly looked at, giving us nothing but hints as to why Tucker’s debut novel bears the same name. I also agree with J.C. about the Hindu elements, and I would add that the concept of karma makes an appearance as well, as doing bad things (as defined by Ascension) will get an individual reincarnated in a land closer to the Black Gate, while performing acts in the service of Ascension will move an individual closer to the White Gate and the afterlife.

I found all the characters were interesting and have a major part to play. Six POVs is a little bit much, and often takes the reader away from a POV that they find more interesting…Tucker could have stuck with four and that would have been sufficient. Although many reviewers felt that the story of Tharok feels like a separate novel, in his final chapter there is a reveal that puts him squarely in line with the other POVs. Did I see the reveal coming? Well yes, but that didn’t make it any less important – the events that got Tharok to the exact place and time that he needed to be, so that he will interact with the other POV characters later, I’m certain will be important in the next book. My favorite character was one that did not have a POV and possessed no magical abilities nor wielded a magic sword: that would be Wyland, knight and last of the order of the Black Wolves. Wyland is noble, level-headed, and full of positive energy despite the struggles he becomes embroiled in. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that this virtuous knight doesn’t quite fit in a story where darkness is everywhere and even the highest members of the Ascension have questionable motivations, but in a tale so full of religious zealotry, cynicism, and racism, Wyland is a breath of fresh air. There is a scene near the end between Wyland and Asho that is fantastic and hit home for me…sometimes all you need is for one person to believe in you in order to become something greater. I loved it.

There are a few problem areas in the story. Characters often experience sudden changes in emotions that aren’t believable – sometimes within subsequent sentences…it happens far too frequently to be able to ignore. The magic system does not seem to be well-defined yet, but I suspect it will be fleshed out in later books. A couple of the protagonists seem to have almost limitless powers from out of nowhere, and some powerful magic items are introduced, relegating the ending to one deus ex machina effect after another. In the later part of the story, as some of the characters are hunting a demon, the character with the POV at the time, Kethe, gets separated from the others, and the narrative follows her actions. When Kethe meets up with her mother later, the characters she was separated from just “pop” back into the story unexpectedly, with no explanation as to what happened to them after the separation…it almost felt like there was a chapter missing, and with only 10 pages per chapter, it wouldn’t have hurt Tucker to insert one here to tidy up things a bit. Finally, there are a few typos and some punctuation issues, but nothing too glaring that disrupted the story…actually, for a self-published novel, there were fewer than I expected.

In summary, from my perspective, the strong world-building and characterization win out over the deus ex machina devices, occasional stumbles with prose and the other issues I mentioned above. I can see the Dragon Age/World of Warcraft comparisons, but there are enough unique ideas here that have me intrigued, and with a plot that careens from one difficult situation to another without being predictable, I was thoroughly entertained and want more answers, especially about what Ascension really is. I have ordered the next book in the series, The Black Shriving, and will be tackling it, I hope, later this year…

February 19, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Cold Copper by Devon Monk

cold copperFormat:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2013

Pages:  383

Reading Time:  about  6 hours

 

I had mixed feelings about reading and reviewing this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed the first two books in the Age of Steam series. On the other hand, it’s looking like the series is done, since it is now 2018 and it’s going on 5 years since a fourth book could have been written but hasn’t. That’s unfortunate, because Monk had planned the series to run for about 7 books, so the end of this book right now is literally The End, and does not resolve the rest of the story that would have continued in the last 4 books. So with a heavy heart, I’ll proceed with this review. Minor spoilers lie ahead.

Monk’s prose continues to be wonderful, and the dialog is snappy and often witty. I chuckled a few times, although there were no laugh-out-loud moments. The characters remain fairly consistent in their mannerisms and actions. The whole cast is back from the previous book: Cedar, Wil, Mae, Rose, Hink, and the Madder brothers, and some new characters are introduced: the mysterious Mr. Wicks, how has a tendency to keep popping up; Father Kyne, a native American preacher who has a hold over the Madders; and Mayor Vosbrough, who seems to be up to no good. The story is told from Cedar’s and Rose’s perspectives as each chapter alternates between the two. Cedar is with Mae and the Madders as they search for the holder; Rose is still in the coven as repairs are being made to the airship from the last book, Tin Swift. Towards the end there are a few chapters from Hink’s perspective. Wil gets more time in human form, and although I like his character in wolf form, it is still a welcome change.

Unfortunately, there are several problems with the story. Nothing really happens until about 150 pages in. The story is not necessarily bad…it just moves at a glacial pace as characters move around and try to solve mysteries. Part of the problem, which is true for any story that uses alternating viewpoints, is that if you find one viewpoint more interesting than the other, you must struggle through one you like like to get to the one you like more. For me, I wanted to follow Cedar’s viewpoint, which I found far more interesting. Trying to track down the holder, Father Kyne’s hold over the Madders, the Madders’ history in Des Moines and with Vosbrough, Cedar’s curse…these are all very compelling plot points. Rose’s story, on the other hand, deals with jealousy and her relationship with Hink, a train ride, and the introduction of Wicks. It is thoroughly, totally uninteresting. Wicks himself is the most ho-hum character Monk has created. At first he is in the story as jealous tension, then he pops up at various places without any explanation as to how or why he is there. He’s mostly useless and annoying, and totally unnecessary to the plot.

Spoiler alert – skip to the next paragraph if necessary. Another problem is that with the glacial pace through most of the book, the last 40 pages seemed rushed and a bit scattered, almost as if Monk wasn’t sure about which way to take the story. The finale with Vosbrough is very anti-climactic and underwhelming. Cedar should be dead but inexplicably soldiers on, impossible to kill, robbing the story of tension (the same complaint I had with Tin Swift). Some plot points are never explained fully: how were the children taken? Why did their tracks end at the river, but they weren’t found at the river? Why did the Strange bite Cedar on the shoulder in his dream, and why did it keep bothering him when he wasn’t dreaming? Why did the Strange guide him to Vosbrough’s generator instead of to the place where its brethren were being held? If the Strange can enter dead bodies anytime, why don’t they do this to free their trapped brethren? What was the power plant used for? Why did Cedar have memories of Vosbrough that were vague and incoherent? Why was Cedar slow to heal even before his transference with Father Kyne? What is the significance of a cold copper triangle Cedar found and put in his pocket? Why did the Strange attack him after it lead him to the children? There are far too many unanswered questions and plot points that don’t make sense that left me feeling confused and unsatisfied.

I’m disappointed to say I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I did the previous two books. It had too many non-compelling pages, an ending that feels rushed, too much time devoted to the useless Mr. Wicks, and some glaring plot holes that remain unanswered. I do appreciate the amount of time Monk has to put into research, and I would have liked to see the automaton featured in the story more, but maybe that was a setup for the next book. Perhaps in the future the author will write a fourth Age of Steam book, and if so I’ll give it a read in the hope that it redeems the series. And if another book is not forthcoming, it’s a shame that this is the way it all ends, fading away instead of going out with a bang, because Age of Steam was becoming one of my favorite series.

February 5, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

crimson queenFormat:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2016

Pages:  419

Reading Time:  about 7 hours

 

Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen was added to my queue after reading a review of the book over at Fantasy Book Critic, where it was a Booknest Fantasy Award semi-finalist for 2017. A followup post, which contained an interview with the author, piqued my interest even more as Hutson talked about his path through self-publishing. I ordered a copy of The Crimson Queen from Amazon, and moved it to the front of the queue when I decided to mix in some new releases to queue. I was a little disappointed that it was not available in hard cover, but that is to be expected for a self-published novel. With the final whispers of the story still echoing through my mind, my review follows, complete with minor spoilers.

First things first – head over to Fantasy Book Critic and check out the plot and review summary from Mihir Wanchoo. The story is described by Mihir as “the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skills, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades.”

I completely agree with Mihir’s first assessment: there are some very strong Wheel of Time influences found here, but with Middle Eastern and Asian influences, two rival factions of sorcerers (both past and present), paladins of light, and thousands of years of history, Hutson has created an incredibly diverse and layered world. Some of that history is delivered to the reader through tales of lore, and some is delivered through characters’ discovery of books and exploration of ruins, but the biggest reveal comes through flashbacks of the immortals who were actually there, in the past, and are still walking the world in present day.

Hutson’s characters are well-developed and their motives and actions are believable. The story is told through the eyes of Keilan Ferrisorn, a fisherman’s son; Janus Balensor, a wakened immortal; Alyanna, a courtesan; Holy emperor Gerixes; Xin, a warrior-slave; Senacus, a paladin; Wen Xenxing, the Black Vizier; and Cein d’Kara, the Crimson Queen (thanks to Mihir for this list of names). Each chapter lists the name of the character whose story will be told in that section. There are many other characters that make appearances, but do not have a part in the narrative. I never felt like characters had the same voice, and some have quirky traits that make them unique. Speaking of unique, the author also creates some imaginative creatures – Genthyaki, Wraiths (different from Tolkien’s Ringwraiths), and Deep Ones – while having creatures we are familiar with such as spiders, herons and horses.

The pace is perfect, never bogging down in the details, or under pages and pages of angst. Hutson’s prose is flowing and easy to read. There were a few minor issues I had with the story. First, it’s not entirely clear how much power each sorcerer has (it varies), or even how magic works. It comes from something called the void, but that isn’t explained very well. Also, I did notice a number of grammatical mistakes – then vs. than, a dropped pronoun, and a few other mistakes that a spellcheck wouldn’t catch. In addition, there are occasionally moments where I would be reading about two male characters, then Hutson refers to “he” when some action occurred. It’s not always clear which “he” is being referred to. These grammatical issues are a byproduct of self-publishing and not having an editor, however, they are few and far between, and did not affect my enjoyment of the story. I did appreciate the breaks within the chapters, which made it very easy to find a stopping point when necessary.

I was very enthralled in the magic of Hutson’s story. The world-building, the characters, the mystery, gods, demon hunters, immortals, sorcery, ruins, shadowy assassins – there is a lot of material crammed in this book and Hutson pulls it off. Not everything is original…a coming of age story lies at the heart, the antagonist finds hidden reserves of power to force the plot where it needs to go, and some elements were predictable (I knew who one mysterious character was immediately). But I hated to put the book down. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the world’s history and the Crimson Queen, to see which characters (and creatures) would intersect, and to follow young Keilan’s adventure. The ending comes fast and furious, and features copious amounts of action in the form of sorcery and sword fights. As the pieces of the past slide into place and much of the mystery is revealed, I was even more impressed at not only Hutson’s world building, but also in the way that events of the past connect to the present.

In summary, The Crimson Queen is the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s inconceivable to me how this was not a finalist, much less a winner, of the Booknest Fantasy Awards. I’m looking forward to the sequel with great anticipation. Highly recommended to those who love epic fantasy, magic and adventure, and imaginative world-building.

January 28, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

shadows of selfFormat:  hard cover, 1st edition, 2015

Pages:  376

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

 

Shadows of Self is the first Brandon Sanderson book I have read that was somewhat of a disappointment to me. A common misconception is that this is a sequel to The Alloy of Law, but actually Shadows of Self is the first in a planned trilogy of industrial age Mistborn books, with The Alloy of Law being a prequel. That prequel, now a stand-alone novel, either must have been very enjoyable for Sanderson to write, been more successful than predicted, or perhaps was a generous helping of both, convincing him that it needed a followup trilogy. Shadows of Self comes in with about an extra 50 pages more than its prequel. Unfortunately for me, I struggled at times to maintain interest and complete this book. Read on for my thoughts and as always, spoilers may crop up from time to time.

For the most helpful reviews of Shadows of Self, check these out:

Tor.com (Martin Cahill)

Fantasy Literature (Marion Deeds)

SF Signal (Robin Shantz)

As I struggled to articulate exactly what was wrong with this novel, I found that the above reviews each provided a piece of the puzzle. Martin talks about the humor and banter being a little forced and contrived; Marion is flustered by references to Earth inventions such as radios and aviation, doesn’t appreciate a lack of depth in the Roughs setting, and says the story at times feels like a stage set; Robin, on the other hand, felt it was more like a TV show, and that the story was choppy, lacked detail, and the characters lacked emotional appeal. Even Sanderson admits in the front of his book that he wrote a third of it while waiting for the editing of another book, was forced to set it aside, and that by the time he got back to it, his ideas had changed.

These insights were a great help to me in coalescing my thoughts. Shadows of Self is obviously meant to be a light, quick read, with more flash than substance. This is by design. I understand that context, as The Alloy of Law was written in the same style. But something is wrong with Shadows of Self…to me it feels hollow, like it has no soul. It feels exactly like the byproduct of a successful stand-alone novel, an afterthought, a half-developed idea rushed to market. Oftentimes as I read I would have a hard time maintaining my interest level as I followed Wax (the same protagonist from The Alloy of Law) and his attempts to solve the mystery of who wants to kill the corrupt governor. Which could be any one in the entire city, since everyone seems to be unhappy. Sanderson’s aversion to substance didn’t leave me with enough to care about the plot. His prose is fine, and there’s lots of action in the story, but it is the characters that really impede the novel.

I’m still struggling to explain what I’m feeling, and the closest analogy I can find to illustrate my thoughts can be found in television. Procedural crime dramas like CSI and NCIS enjoy a lot of success not just because of their content, or their mysteries to solve, but primarily due to the dynamics of the ensemble cast. When watching spin off shows like CSI Miami, CSI Cyber, NCIS Los Angeles or NCIS New Orleans, I always lose interest in these other shows quickly. Some of that has to do with saturation, of course, but the biggest part of the equation is the cast – how they work well together, play off of each other, and possess an intangible dynamic. The spin off shows, which try to copy the originals by sticking to a formula, certainly present fine mysteries to solve. The problem is, using a formula can’t necessarily emulate the intangible dynamics of that original cast.

Wax is a well-developed character, but using the analogy I have provided above, he and his allies and antagonists don’t have that intangible dynamic that the characters in the original Mistborn series had, heck, they don’t even capture the magic of The Alloy of Law. Wayne gets more time to shine here, and Sanderson’s efforts are applauded, but as stated above by other reviewers, it’s often a case of trying too hard. We get to see more of his eccentricities and even a little tragic backstory (which could have been expanded upon), but his character contains too many contrasts rolled into one person. His unusual brand of humor doesn’t work very well, although a large part of his role is comic relief, and he’s supposed to come off as an everyday Joe, yet he’s a twinborn (he can use Allomancy and Ferochemy). There’s also a scene where he enters a bar and tries to change everyone’s mood, and it’s so utterly strange that I really struggled with it. Moving on to Wax’s fiance, Steris, she has been so underdeveloped that when she and Wax spend time together and she makes smart observations, I thought that she might have been killed and replaced by the chief antagonist (who in this story is certainly capable of such a feat). Marasi continues to be the most interesting character, as a woman who accomplishes much in a “man’s world”,  but even she doesn’t have a lot of depth to her story.

The moments of the book I did enjoy all referenced the original Mistborn series: what has happened to the Kandra (including Tensoon), what Harmony (Sazed) is up to, statues of Eland and Min, an underground Mistborn museum, and even an appearance by the Lord Ruler’s palace (could the Well of Ascension still be around?!!!). It’s all the stuff in between that I struggled with. Sanderson pulls his usual shocking twists and reveals at the end, with wild chases and battles, and I’ll admit I was entertained by the ending, but in this story it was a bit predictable, lessening the impact more so here than it does in his other books.

Shadows of Self feels very much like a successful writer’s side project, a passable sci-fi western/action movie in the vein of Wild Wild West or Sherlock Holmes, and that’s okay. I guess it’s my fault that I want Mistborn-level depth, which in this setting I think would be spectacular. Shadows of Self definitely feels disjointed, and clearly the author’s initial writings that were shelved and then picked up later and taken in a different direction are evident, and caused more than a few problems. However, with that said I will read Bands of Mourning, the second book in the series, since I bought it at the same time as Shadows of Self. I’d like to see if Sanderson can salvage this series after an uneven opening that has lost its momentum.

January 22, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Forsaken Kingdom by J. R. Rasmussen

forsaken kingdomFormat:  Oversized paperback, 1st Edition, 2017

Pages:  343

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

 

Forsaken Kingdom is author J.R. Rasmussen’s debut fantasy novel. I purchased this book based on Amazon reviews, before I learned of the “pay for review” scheme that I mentioned in previous posts. With an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon, and after reading the book, I am highly suspicious of that rating. Forsaken Kingdom is not a bad book by any means, but neither is it worthy of a rating equal to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn or Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, both of which are also rated at 4.5 stars. To be fair, Forsaken Kingdom has less than 50 reviews, so that’s a pretty small sample size, but I would expect to see at least one or two critical reviews at this point. Read on to discover my impressions, and as always, expect a few minor spoilers.

One of the factors that drew my interest in reading this book was that the protagonist, Wardin Rath, decides at the tender age of 12 that he needs to protect his magical school, called a magistry. He does this by surrendering to his enemy and has his past memories “wiped” and replaced with new, fabricated memories that make him think he is a common servant rather than a prince. When the spell that took his memories begins to fail, however, we are led on a quest where Wardin must discover who he is and where he came from. Although this seems like a pretty unique plot, it’s not the first time a protagonist has lost his or her memory – Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle was the first story that I could recall to use this plot device. However, the method in which the memory wipe is accomplished is pretty unique, and the reason Wardin isn’t executed on the spot makes perfect sense. The enemy, King Bramwell, has a very complex personality. Kudos to Rasmussen for developing Bramwell into a character both despicably brutal and yet able to be touched by sentiment in a believable way.

Another factor I found intriguing was the magic system. There are three schools of magic: contrivance, battlemage, and sagacity. Most people with magic talents use only one of these schools, and doing so requires “balance”; for instance, if you use too much contrivance, a spirit-based school, you need to balance that by performing physical activities such as hiking or scrubbing floors. Becoming “out of balance” leads to catatonic states and madness. Also, magical dogs known as blackhounds can provide a boost of power to a spellcaster through touch. However, by the end of the book it’s still not clear what a person’s limits are, what they are capable of, or what determines whether they can perform magic in the first place (it seems perhaps to be an innate, random ability).

I struggled through the beginning of the book a bit, as the dialog and descriptions are a bit choppy, and everyone seems to have the same voice. As the story progresses, however, Rasmussen settles into a good rhythm and the prose flows a bit better, while characters begin to develop distinct differences. (Spoiler ahead! Skip to next paragraph if necessary!) For the most part, character motivations are explained and believable, including when Wardin returns to the magistry. He has difficulty in cultivating trust with the magistry’s ruling powers, including Wardin’s childhood friend Eriatta, now the archmagister, who believes Wardin might be working for the enemy and trying to destroy them. Wardin is frustrated that he can’t convince them that he is not a threat because his memories haven’t returned. It’s only when a magic item conveniently has the ability to sort out the truth that story progresses. Rasmussen also does a good job of using an early plot device to foreshadow the means by which Wardin is able to repel the army that is about to invade the valley…this was quite clever and nicely done.

Main characters initially feel two dimensional, but Rasmussen does a good job of developing them as the story progresses. I like Erietta, who is strong and courageous, and her twin brother Arun, Wardin’s best friend who has a happy-go-lucky personality. Erietta has conveniently become archmagister despite being only 20 years old; while her character is smart, this seems like a bit of a reach. Minor characters aren’t quite fleshed out like main characters are. Also, Rasmussen experiences a little of what I call “Brooks Syndrome”, where we see few if any supporting characters, “common folk” from the magistry and the kingdom of Eyrdon, and those that we do see are combative or self-serving. It is hard to empathize with protecting such people – instead we have to root for the heroes.

The story has some problems that I feel I need to point out. Although King Bramwell has been established as a complex character who has selfish and brutal motives, we don’t understand why this is. He has killed all of his rivals, yet those rivals were his friends when he was younger. There’s not enough explanation provided as to why he killed all of his friends. He did seem to be jealous and wanted to kill everyone with magic powers because he had none himself, and everyone with magic powers is a threat to overthrow him. But it’s really left to the reader to put two and two together, because we are only given brief glimpses into the king’s past, either as a child playing with his friends, or on the field of battle where he’s killing those friends. I just think a little more depth here would be nice.

Another problem is travel. There is a map provided in the front, which is appreciated, but I didn’t get a good feel as to how far it is from one place to another. And how characters get from one place to another isn’t really explored – they just “arrive” with no explanation of what happened on the journey. Characters just pop into where they need to be in order to move the plot from Point A to Point B. I understand travel can be quite boring, but there should be some kind of attempt to describe the journey, even if it’s just a few paragraphs. There’s another sequence where Erietta is captured by the king’s son, Prince Tobin. Although I liked the sequence of events that leads to her attempted escape, the person who aids her escape arrives from far away and at just the right time, once again with no attempt to describe the journey or timing, the helper just appears and advances the plot to where it needs to go.

The most glaring problem, however, occurs at the big climactic battle near the end that the story has been building up to. (Spoiler ahead! Skip to next paragraph if necessary!) I understand that Wardin hated the king, even though Bramwell could have executed him from the start but didn’t. And I also understand that Wardin was unable to control his rage and rushed to attack the king. This is an important development in the plot, because it helps Wardin win the respect of Wardin’s Eyrdish countrymen, who essentially switch sides during the battle. In reality, however, Wardin should have died instantly. Throughout the story Bramwell has been portrayed as a more-than-competent warrior, who has killed all of his rivals, including those with magical abilities. It’s ludicrous to think that Wardin, a 20 year old boy with very little weapons training, could last longer than 10 seconds in combat with a man that desperately wants to kill him, a man that has proven to be so competently brutal and effective in battle. Rasmussen even acknowledges this by stating that “he was barely twenty years old, inadequately trained and not at all experienced, facing a true swordsman, a true warrior.” There’s no actual description of the fight scene itself, only that Wardin manages to fend off Bramwell’s attacks until help arrives. It actually ruined the story for me, to have this nonsensical sequence lead to an unbelievable victory for Wardin, and turns what could have been a passable story into a disappointing failure.

As I stated at the beginning of the review, Forsaken Kingdom isn’t a bad tale. There’s much to like, and I was engaged in following Wardin’s and Erietta’s efforts, as Wardin tried to recover his memories and the two friends attempted to save their magistry. However, an unbelievable ending unravels all the good work that went before it, and a bad habit of glossing over travel, combat, and events to get characters and/or the plot to where they need to be makes it hard for me to recommend Forsaken Kingdom except to those willing to overlook such flaws. I won’t be purchasing the sequel, A Dark Reckoning, which is due out this Spring 2018, and I’ll be watching to see if the ratings on Amazon remain unbelievably high.

January 16, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

crown towerFormat:  Oversized paperback, 1st Edition, 2013

Pages:  368 (not including 46 pages of glossary, extras, and a preview of The Rose and the Thorn

Reading Time: about 6 hours

 

For a few years now I have been eyeing Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, volume 1 in his Riyria Revelations series, as a possible series to add to the queue. Although many of his reviews were positive on Amazon and Goodreads, it was the negative reviews that scared me away. Complaints about one dimensional characters, worn out tropes, a simplistic and predictable plot, and conversations that drive the story in place of telling a story, are found aplenty. As a result, I did not consider reading Sullivan’s books despite owning a library of works including Flanagan, Eddings, and Dragonlance novels that could be criticized in a similar way. When additionally considering the “pay for reviews” scheme that I talked about in a previous post, I was skeptical of the positive reviews I was reading. I’m not accusing Sullivan of paying for positive reviews, but in light of the scheme and the fact that Sullivan was initially self-published, it was a concern. Sullivan, however, utilized focus groups on Goodreads to hone his stories, so he had already built up a following that was enthusiastic about his novels.

It wasn’t until I was looking for books to add to the queue by perusing authors on Fantasy Literature’s site that I came across their page on Sullivan, and I saw a review of The Crown Tower, which is Volume 1 of the Riyria Chronicles. That review convinced me that I should take a chance on this book. Although the author and many readers were recommending reading Sullivan’s books in published order, I ignored that recommendation and determined that I would read the books in chronological order, starting with The Crown Tower. I wanted to form an opinion of the series from the beginning, so that I wouldn’t have knowledge of what comes later, in an attempt to maintain tension. My opinion of The Crown Tower would be the determining factor towards any future purchases of Sullivan’s work. So on to my review, and as always, a few minor spoilers are included…

I won’t provide a synopsis here – the review over at Fantasy Literature does a great job of explaining the plot. There are two main characters that drive the narrative: Hadrian, a soldier returning home from war, and Gwen, a fortune-telling prostitute. The first thing I immediately liked about The Crown Tower was Sullivan’s writing style. It is fast moving with just enough detail to get the job done. I never felt like the story was bogging down in the details, and I burned through the book in a few days. When I did have to put it down it was with disappointment, as I was very engaged in the story. The early mystery of the barge ride and the hooded man was captivating, and a later scene featuring Royce and Hadrian in an inn was also excellent. I almost enjoyed Gwen’s story more than Hadrian’s…watching Gwen outsmart her opponents by cultivating favorable relationships was some excellent plot writing. Gwen is smart, strong-willed, and caring, all excellent qualities. I felt that each character did exhibit flaws – Hadrian is naive, Gwen is filled with self-doubt, and Royce has a laundry list of internal problems. And despite some plot predictability – like a supporting character that is claimed to be dead yet I was 100% sure he wasn’t – there were also a couple of plot twists that I didn’t see coming.

However, there are several problems with his book. Most of the criticisms are spot on. The plot at times meanders, but the worst part is it’s all a little too convenient. When Royce and Hadrian are forced to work together, their benefactor hopes that it will all work out in the end. That hope is dependent on convenient timing and assistance of a god-like figure; the latter’s inclusion is totally unnecessary and is a plot device that suggests it can (and will) be used by the author any time it is needed. It also makes their benefactor look wise and all-knowing as a result of nothing more than chance. Such plot devices really undermine the author’s ability to tell a well-written story that can stand on its own merits and not rely on such contrivances. Another problem is “telegraphing”: due to a character having psychic abilities, combined with the fact that the novel is a prequel, together those two factors tend to rob the story of much of its tension. No one is going to die here that was previously featured in the Riyria Revelations series, and since we know the characters will be arriving at Gwen’s doorstep because as a psychic she’s “seen” it, it’s simply a matter of Royce and Hadrian getting from Point A to Point B without any fear of loss or life-ending danger. This is why I wanted to read the Riyria stories chronologically – to help maintain tension by not knowing what happens later.

Also, the dialog between the main characters is a bit clumsy at times. During those moments that dialog feels forced and unnatural. At times it reminds me of Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, with humor that comes off as “I guess you had to be there” to appreciate it. Whether that’s by design, as Royce and Hadrian are polar opposites and thus their conversations are awkward, or it occurs unintentionally, it kills the flow of the story in some places. However, I did not feel that the dialog was driving the story as some other critical readers suggested.

Almost all of the women featured in the story are prostitutes, which is troubling. That’s not to say that prostitution couldn’t exist in Sullivan’s society; it is, after all, known as”the world’s oldest profession” in our own civilization. Rather, it’s simply that there are no women prominently featured in the story that assume any other role. The only woman who does appear as something other than a prostitute makes an appearance at the beginning of the story and is gone by Chapter 5, and a farmer’s wife appears briefly at the very end of the story. There are simply no strong female characters that aren’t prostitutes.

Hadrian’s motives and direction are a bit all over the place. I get that he’s done with fighting a war and he doesn’t know what to do with himself, but it’s a bit frustrating watching him try to figure out things that are obvious to the reader. As to Royce’s motives…well, let’s just say that one of the reasons that the author didn’t want the books read in chronological order is that he thought that readers might want Royce to die in this book based on the way he treats people. That actually does a disservice to readers and to Sullivan’s own story, because characters should change over the course of the tale. In fact, many readers want to see a deeply flawed character rise up and become something more – that is the environment in which novels are written today, due to the influences of George Martin, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie and other dark fantasy writers. Finally, there isn’t much world building here. There are some allusions to events in a previous age, and the Crown Tower itself is a relic of that period, but we don’t really get a good feel for what’s going on in the world, and what has happened in the past, other than a few brief mentions.

Despite these numerous flaws, I still found the book entertaining. I do appreciate that it is not a “coming of age” story…even though the main characters are fairly young, they’ve had their share of worldly experiences. I enjoyed the concept of Royce and Hadrian absorbing attributes from each other and changing over the course of the story, and Gwen’s story was well-written. At first I thought that Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser had influenced Sullivan’s Hadrian and Royce, but in this article Sullivan sets the record straight – there is no connection because Sullivan has never read Leiber.

I didn’t feel that the glossary in the back of the book was necessary, as it’s pretty easy to keep people and places straight. I did like the author’s Q&A session in the extras, they provided great insight into Sullivan’s process. One thing I greatly admire about Sullivan is his commitment to writing and finishing his stories, and continuing this over a period of many years, “honing” his craft. I also admire the amount of advice and help he dedicates to aspiring authors with suggestions on writing and self-publishing. I decided to order the sequel, The Rose and the Thorn, to “kick the can down the road” and use that book as the deciding factor for determining whether or not I will read The Riyria Revelations series. I recommend this book to fans of Sullivan, and to those who enjoy a light-hearted, fast-paced action-adventure that uses familiar tropes, and doesn’t contain pages and pages of meticulous detail and expansive world-building.

January 8, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

codex bornFormat: Hardcover, 1st Edition, 2013

Pages:  324

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

 

Back in 2013 I gave a glowing review to Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, the third from last book I read before taking my long break from this blog and reading fantasy. In the meantime I read some biographies (Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla), graphic novels, magazines, and other blogs. Eventually I had the urge to start reading fantasy again. Since I had been so enamored with Libriomancer, I turned to its sequel, Codex Born, in early December of 2017 to try to re-ignite my interest in fantasy.

Getting back on that horse proved to be difficult. During the early stage of the book, told once more in first person through the eyes of Isaac Vainio, it begins with an investigation of a slain wendigo. I put the book down several times during the first few chapters, trying to summon enough interest to continue, but really struggling to get through it. In Libriomancer, Hines sets a tone and brisk pace early when Isaac squares off against vampires. Codex Born starts slower, and I was disappointed with myself for not being able to overcome the lack of action. I wondered if I had made a mistake in picking up reading fantasy once more.

Though I was only reading a few pages at a time, persistence paid off when I hit page 50. After that the story became action-packed, moving at a furious pace, and I couldn’t put it down. Some new characters are introduced, and the book dives deeper into Johannes Guttenberg’s past and the threat of not just one, but two different groups of entities with malicious intent trying to cross over into the real world. A new form of Libriomancy is also introduced. Make no mistake, however – this book is really about the development of Lena Greenwood, the dryad that returns from Libriomancer…there she was a supporting character, but now she is front and center in Codex Born.

This review by the Little Red Reviewer explains far better than I could why Lena is one of the most complex characters ever written, and is really the star of the show here. At the beginning of every chapter is a brief glimpse, a flashback, into Lena’s past. We still don’t know how Lena came to exist, other than she had to have been brought into existence by a libriomancer, but the rest of her past is filled in wonderfully, and she becomes the key to both the bad guys winning and the means to oppose them. She has to be one of the best fantasy characters ever written. Kudos to Mr. Hines for that accomplishment.

The look back into Guttenberg’s past is also fascinating. No one in this story is above making mistakes, and that includes the all-powerful Guttenberg. At times he seems to be morally corrupt and heavy-handed, and you wish to see him fail and get a comeuppance. On the other hand, without the safeguards he has put in place, the world would have surely been destroyed many times over. As I mentioned in my review of Libriomancer, it’s easy to criticize, but much harder to come up with a better solution to the problems libriomancy presents, that will actually work.

By the time I had read the last page and closed the book, I was thoroughly satisfied. Like its predecessor, Codex Born is smart, funny, and full of action, once you get past the first 50 pages. Hines puts a lot of thought into his libriomancer system, as well as plausibly developing the new form of it, and how at least one group of adversaries came to exist. He also continues to explore moral and ethical questions that may not have a right or wrong answer. Character motivations seem believable. My only criticism of the book would be the ponderous slowness of those first 50 pages, as well as Victor Harrison’s father, who is presented as both smart and stupid depending on how the plot needs him to be, and his motivation is the only one I really questioned. Ultimately I found the book to be fast-paced, exciting and compelling, building off what made Libriomancer great and taking it to another level. It proved to be a great selection to rekindle the flames of my interest in fantasy…I’m not sure there’s another book out there that would have done as well. I’m looking forward to the next book, Unbound, which is in the queue of books to be read, to see what further trouble Isaac and Lena can get into…

January 6, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks

bloodfire questFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  339 (not including a 10.5 page preview of Witch Wraith)

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

 

I must say that I approached this review with some trepidation. This was the story and review that became the final nail in the coffin that kept me locked away from reading fantasy for four and a half long years. Like an eel in a flooded soap factory, reading time slipped away me for those four and a half years. Suffering burnout from a lifetime of reading fantasy (30 years) and blogging (2.5 years straight), and in desperate need of a break, it is unfair to assign any blame to this book – that is all on me. For some reason, I could not offer a review that said something different than what was already said elsewhere, which I found extremely frustrating. After all this time, I am ready to navigate this review and move on to other books and reviews. Continue reading to find out more of my thoughts, but fair warning given: spoilers of Wards of Faerie and Bloodfire Quest are present.

Here are some other reviews of Bloodfire Quest:

A Dribble of Ink

Fantasy Book Critic

M.A. Kropp

Aidan’s review at A Dribble of Ink talks about how war seems imminent (though it is not present in this book) and also about how strong the female characters are. Ryan Lawler at Fantasy Book Critic offers a bleak review – the darkness and death, as well as the recycled plots in this book, made him unhappy, turning Bloodfire Quest into an unsuitable sequel to Wards of Faerie. M. A. Kropp also talks about the book’s darkness as not being fun to read, but claims it is necessary to show that Brooks is willing to step outside his comfort zone, achieving growth after years of stagnate writing, and offers a reminder that Bloodfire Quest is only part of the story.

So how do my thoughts differ from those above? They don’t, exactly. I agree with everything said above. And yet, at the same time, I feel like that may be an oversimplification of what Bloodfire quest both offers and represents. Hopefully I can explain that contradiction.

Brooks has always been at the top of his game on “quest” stories. While the plot lines may seem recycled, and in a way they are – elves trying to save the Ellcrys, the Ard Rys confronting the Straken Lord, the Federation trying to snuff out magic – there are subtle shifts in perspective. In the Elfstones of Shannara, we didn’t understand the sacrifice required to save the Ellcrys until the end. But what if the character knew what the sacrifice was going to be ahead of time? What would that struggle be like, how much harder would it be? And now the Federation is being controlled by a witch who desires magic, particularly the elfstones, for herself. How might that change what the Federation has always represented?

The character of Grianne Ohmsford, probably the most unique and compelling character Brooks has created, along with her interaction the Straken Lord, seemed to have a disappointing story arc by the time the High Druid of Shannara ended. It was as if all the efforts and loss in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara and the High Druid of Shannara meant nothing, and only the journey mattered. Oft times it is the journey, and not the destination, that matters, but when the destination undermines the journey, it leaves one less than satisfied. However, Aidan’s review of the final book, Witch Wraith, gives me great hope that The Dark Legacy of Shannara series will conclude Grianne’s story satisfactorily. Here is what Aidan said that gives me that hope:

It’s better to consider the ‘trilogy’ to be the story told across all nine of the books, beginning with Ilse Witch and ending with Witch Wraith. Let’s call this the Ilse Witch Trilogy, for lack of an official name…Just by existing, Witch Wraith and The Dark Legacy of Shannara change the nature of the first two volumes of The Ilse Witch trilogy and take them from being footnotes in Brooks’ career to a cornerstone.”

Aidan offers the most intriguing take on the 9 book arc that I have seen anywhere. The main difference between a book like The Elfstones of Shannara, and the books of the “Ilse Witch trilogy” as Aidan calls it, is that that each series should have only been one book, consisting of all three books in that series. Brooks has become a rich man by spreading each story into three separate books, but that has also lead to much criticism at the fluff and filler it takes to accomplish this. Compiled as 1 volume, with the filler cut out, there is no doubt that Antrax, Morgawr, and Ilse Witch as one book, called the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, would have been epic, and the same goes for the High Druid of Shannara trilogy. You can indeed buy all 3 books of each series in one volume now, although since they are not re-edited, the fluff makes them longer than they should be.

So what did I think about Bloodfire Quest? I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is full of action, airships flying all over the place, battles and combat (including ship to ship combat) and lots of dead characters. The stakes are high (and grave) as the end of the Shannara stories draws near. I particularly enjoyed the Bloodfire quest portion as Arling struggles to accept the sacrifice she must make, and I also liked the happenings in the Forbidding and the return of the Straken Lord, and the forthcoming quest to see what has become of Grianne. It was a faster read than Wards of Faerie and at times I didn’t want to put it down. This time Todd Lockwood’s art, and the map, have been moved to the front of the book, which I appreciated. And the the last ten and half pages offer a preview of Witch Wraith, the sequel to Bloodfire Quest and the third and final book in the series.

Criticisms are numerous…the main criticism I had was of Edinja the Federation witch – her power seems limitless and its source is not explained to my satisfaction, so when she creates a few animal-like creatures out of men, why doesn’t she create more? What is stopping her? And why does she have so much information, yet remains clueless about the Ellcrys dying, the Forbidding failing, and the Straken Lord coming, which might make her think twice about killing off those who could defend against this? It feels once more like a forced plot device. Many questions from the first book remain unanswered. The heroes continue to only react to events around them…rarely do they ever drive the action. And once again we see only the heroes, with no “regular” people, except at the very last few pages of the book, where a couple of “regular” people appear, only to be depicted as greedy and self-serving, and not worth saving.

Despite the shortcomings, I really didn’t let them influence my enjoyment of the story. Action-packed, fast-moving, and heroic, Bloodfire Quest is much better than Wards of Faerie, in my opinion, and one of the best Brooks novels in quite some time. Since I have no plans to read the subsequent Defenders of Shannara and Fall of Shannara series, the final book in this series, Witch Wraith, is very likely the last Shannara book I will ever read. And with Aidan’s words (that I have quoted above) in mind, I’m very much looking forward to, well, “The End.”

January 1, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Slither by Joseph Delaney

slitherFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  371

Reading Time:  a quick 4-5 hours

Slither is the eleventh book in the Last Apprentice series. Like book 9, Grimalkin, the story takes a detour away from Tom Ward, the Spook’s Apprentice, and on to a whole new character: Slither. A few other new characters are introduced, a horde of gruesome beasts parade through the pages, and a familiar character makes an appearance. I was fully prepared for a negative view of this book based on some early reviews I caught on Amazon. Is that my consensus? Read on to find out…

The setting for this story is a land far to the north of the County. It is a cold, harsh land, divided into farming communities as well as the lands of the Kobalos, a hairy, savage, blood-drinking humanoid race with tails. The Kobalos have a large city called Valkarky, where most of them live, but some of them are Haizda mages – outsiders who study magic and rule over their haizdas, a territory often containing humans. Slither is one such Haizda mage; he commands magic, is able to change his size, his breath has magical properties, and his tail warns him of danger. He makes his home inside a tree (through magical means) and his haizda consists of several farms, most of which are terrified of him. There is one farmer that trades with him, however. One day when the farmer has an accident and lays dying, he strikes a deal with Slither – if the creature will deliver his daughters to their aunt and uncle some distance away, Slither may keep the oldest daughter, Nessa, for his own. As Slither agrees and sets off with the girls, the viewpoint switches between Slither and Nessa.

Nessa has some great qualities, consisting of bravery, sacrifice, and empathy. Her story is a sad one, however, since she is destined to be a slave. Kobalos must sell a human at auction every so many years, or he will be hunted down and killed, and Nessa will fulfill this obligation for Slither. The younger sisters are more of an annoyance, however, as they constantly whine and cry about their situation, and aren’t really well developed. In fact, there isn’t really any character development here at all, other than Slither’s and Nessa’s.

The seemingly innocent journey quickly take a turn for the worse when a snowstorm hits and Slither is forced to keep his charges alive by seeking refuge in the manor of another Kobalos mage. When the mage turns out to be treacherous, Slither is forced to kill several opponents, including a mage-assassin who has the ability to send his dying memories instantly to the assassin’s order back in Valkarky. The assassin’s order vows revenge for the loss of one of their own. What follows is a steady stream of opposition that Slither is forced to overcome to keep his side of the bargain with the farmer.

The story has some pretty imaginative elements, from mage assassins and a two thousand year old knight that can’t be defeated, to a grotesque pit creature called the Haggenbrood and centaur-like creature called a hyb. Slither gets deeper and deeper into to trouble, and the main reason for this is surprising: Slither is an honorable creature who keeps to his word. He feels a great obligation to stick to the deal he made with the farmer, often to his own discomfort or risk of life. It’s a good story, and though it is not really frightening, the fantastic elements and change of characters and scenery are enjoyable, unlike the trip to Greece in Clash of the Demons (the sixth book in the series). Delaney goes all out to unleash his imagination with strange creatures and the even stranger culture of the Kobalos. One problem I did have with the story was that it did not seem that Slither was consistent with his people’s culture…where he is lenient and honorable, most of his people, including their rulers, are cruel and treacherous. Now maybe Slither’s years away from his people have changed him, but even when he is consistently betrayed by them, he stubbornly sticks to complying with their cultural norms and customs, putting himself at a disadvantage. This is only a minor annoyance, however. The appearance of Grimalkin, still carrying the fiend’s head and looking for something specific, was a pleasant surprise, and her character is fleshed out even more with qualities I would not have expected of her.

So despite the negative reviews I had observed, I actually enjoyed reading Slither. I know some people won’t appreciate the deviation from the main story line, but to me it’s not a stalling tactic or a money grab – it’s a good enough story, and looks like it’s important to explain what’s happening with Grimalkin. It will be interesting to see whether some of the characters specific to this book  will make an appearance again sometime in the future. The book is a quick read, with a large font and smaller page size (consistent with the rest of the series), and copious amounts of action. The book also contains a lengthy poem at the end and a Kobalos glossary. Recommended for fans of the series that don’t mind a change of scenery (and characters) once in a while.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

libromancerFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

Pages:  305

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

I read a few reviews of Libriomancer when it was first released. Some people loved it. Others thought it was okay but flawed. I didn’t really know what to believe, but Little Red Reviewer’s take was probably the one that convinced me I should take a chance. Still, it took over 6 months for this book to find its way into my queue and then into my hands. Usually the sign of a good book for me is the inability to put it down. Every once in a while, though, I come across a book that strikes a chord in my inner psyche. There’s only a few authors who have had this effect on me (Roger Zelazny, Glen Cook, Robin Hobb, and Patrick Rothfuss come to mind).

For me, Libriomancer is one of those books.

Other reviewers don’t seem to have had the same experience. I’m not even sure I can completely explain my fascination with the story…but I’ll give it a shot. It starts with style and pacing. Hines lays out fast-paced, first person narrative that very much reminds me of Zelazny’s The Last Defender of Camelot or his Amber series. Add some sleuthing like The Dresden Files, a magic system that at times resembles Inkheart, and maybe a little craziness, sexism, and magic from Xanth, and you’ve got one heck of a story. It is in some ways a coming of age trope, as the main character, Isaac Vainio,  is a young man who has been restricted from practicing magic in the field. Although he understands the magic and its rules, what he must learn is how to bend those rules, without getting killed or going insane in the process. What I found most compelling about Isaac, however, was his innate understanding of how magic works; at the same time, he lacks the inhibition, or common sense, to know when to stop pushing himself, right up to the edge of death or madness. In other words, he’s a big-time risk-taker.

Isaac has been exiled to a small public library, where his job is to catalog book titles for the Porters’ database. The Porters are a secret organization of wizards who try to squash harmful magic from being unleashed on the unsuspecting populace, like the agents of Warehouse 13 or Harry Dresden, or even Supernatural. They keep vampires, werewolves and other creatures in line, cover up magical happenings, and nab people who show a talent for magic. Isaac’s talent is libriomancy; through the collective belief of a book’s readers, objects and people in the books become real, and a libriomancer can reach in and pull objects out of books, making them real in our world. There are a couple of problems with this, though. One is that you could pull out some incredibly power objects that allow you to dominate the world, such as The One Ring from Lord of the Rings or the Elder Wand from Harry Potter. To prevent this, all copies of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,  and other problematic books have been magically “locked”, meaning a libriomancer can’t access their pages. A second problem is that reaching into a book carries risks…for instance, while reaching into a book about vampires, your arm could get bitten by a vampire, which would then turn you into one. Finally, by reaching into a book, you immerse yourself in the story, and the more you draw on the magic in the books, the less able you are to separate the books from reality (remember, the people and objects within the books have their own reality). In a nutshell, the rules that govern libriomancy are there for a reason, and because Isaac once broke those rules while in the field, he can’t be a field agent again.

The trouble starts when some vampires come looking for Isaac. They want some answers, and when Isaac is not forthcoming, they decide to use force. Fortunately for Isaac, he’s got a couple of friends: Smudge, the fire spider who senses danger, and Lena, a dryad who shows up in the nick of time to help. This sets Isaac on a quest for answers of his own, and he follows clues that eventually lead him to face down more vampires, robots, and a mysterious adversary who may or may not be the missing Johannes Guttenberg, the father of the printing press who is over 600 years old, and the head of the Porter organization.

The story is smart, funny, and full of plenty of action. I enjoyed the characters, and watching the plot as it unfolded.  What I didn’t expect to find were ethical questions posed by the story. I had an idea about Isaac’s dilemma regarding Lena (see Little Red’s review). However, the lengths at which the Porters (and Guttenberg) go to protect society and themselves seems at times a bit heavy-handed. Also, Guttenberg uses magic (like the Holy Grail) to keep himself young, but forbids others from using that magic, in what appears to be a totalitarian system. What the story suggests, however, is how would you handle it differently? It’s one thing to be critical; it’s quite another to be able to offer solutions, especially once you know the motivation and reason behind those decisions.

In conclusion, the story was over all too soon. It was the most enjoyable read I’ve had in some time, and I’m looking forward to the next book with high expectations. The ending wrapped up a little strangely, and at times the book conveys some nagging inconsistencies, but they didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all. Highly recommended to anyone who loves books, or what lies within them…

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The-Alloy-of-Law-by-brandon-sanderson-colourFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2011

Pages:  325

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

The Alloy of Law is not quite a sequel to the Mistborn trilogy, although it does take place several years after those events, in the same world. Some of the characters in Mistborn are referenced, but none of them are around for this book – except, perhaps, a few (sorry, no spoilers here!). Much of the innovative magic system has been retained, with some new wrinkles. There are other elements from the previous books still floating around too – like the Mists, Koloss, and canals.  Sanderson has hinted that there may be sequels to this book, but that’s not a sure thing. On to the review…

It’s been 300 years since the events of the first trilogy took place. Not content to leave his world mired in medieval times, Sanderson has moved technology forward to an industrialized setting, featuring rifles and revolvers, skyscrapers, trains, and electricity. In between some of the chapters you will find artwork simulating the pages of a newspaper; I found myself looking forward to these inserts and read them with great interest. It gives the story a very Sherlock Holmes/Jules Verne/Victorian/(almost) Steampunk feel, which is awesome. Many other authors have medieval-type cultures that make no technological process for thousands of years, so it’s great to see Sanderson do something different. Add to the fact that magic is still around, and you can get a feel for the chaos of how bullets can be made to fly around, people leaping off trains, etc. Into this setting comes Waxillium Landrian, a twin born who possesses both Allomancy (the burning of metals) and Feruchemy (storing up abilities to use later). Wax can push on metals with his Allomancy, as well as make himself heavier or lighter with Ferochemy. This is the closest you can get to being a Mistborn in the current age, as more abilities have been discovered but powers have been somewhat diluted. Wax was born a noble in the city of Elandel, but spent time in the Roughs, which is a sort of desert wilderness similar to America’s Old West. In the Roughs he was a lawman who tracked down criminals, but eventually he is called back to the city to run his family’s estate when his uncle dies.

Accompanying Wax is Wayne, a former criminal turned deputy who worked with Wax in the Roughs. Wayne is a master of disguise and accents, and is also a twin born, who can create speed bubbles with his Allomancy and store health with his Feruchemy. The speed bubble allows Wayne to speed up time inside the bubble, giving him time to plan his maneuvers and move faster than his surroundings. We are also introduced to a myriad of other characters including Steris (the potential fiance of Wax), Marasi (cousin to Steris who becomes a major character), Tarson (an evil, part-Koloss thug), and Miles (another lawman from the Roughs). There are several other minor characters but they are not really fleshed out and remain for the most in the background.

The dynamic between Wax and Wayne feels very much like the Sherlock Holmes and Watson dynamic of recent movies and TV. The pace is brisk and the action at times is fast and furious, reminiscent of scenes in the previous trilogy…except now add bullets, moving trains, and dynamite. This lends an exciting air to the book, and the main characters are fairly well developed, but it seems to be over far too quickly – this is not an epic on the scale of previous Mistborn novels. I’m okay with that, though, because it means that there isn’t too much unnecessary filler. Both Wax and Wayne are likable enough – Wax has a nobility and ethos similar to Eland, while Wayne is somewhat of a scoundrel – he’d fit right in on Kelsier’s crew. Marasi is more than just a third wheel – her insightful thinnking, knowledge of law and university studies, and ability to fire a rifle go a long way towards helping solve the case.  Humor is abundant – sometimes it feels a little forced, but most of the time it’s appropriate, and though I never did laugh out loud, it had me chuckling a few times.

Wax and Wayne are pitted against Miles, who is robbing trains and kidnapping women. Miles has the ability to regenerate, making him near-immortal, and is somewhat reminiscent of an Inquisitor. But there is another figure behind the crimes, a benefactor known only as Mr. Suit. I have to say that the revealing of Mr. Suit’s identity at the end of the book was not a surprise, as the clues left by Sanderson are fairly obvious. Another element that is fairly obvious is Marasi’s Allomancy – not only is it not a surprise when revealed, but the fact that we are told it is useless several times just screams that it is not. I have to say I didn’t see its use coming, and when it was used, I just shook my head at how sly (and clever) Sanderson can be.

Overall I have a very favorable impression of the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. When compared against George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge, which is similar in setting, I greatly preferred The Alloy of Law. The ending is not a cliffhanger, but there are some loose ends deliberately left untied to set up a sequel, and a visit from a surprise character at the end has me wondering if the generally light-hearted tone of The Alloy of Law might give way to a more serious change if a sequel is written. Although reading the original series would help a new reader understand Allomancy and Feruchemy better, I think they could probably figure out what’s going on, especially with the help of the indexes in the back of the book. Highly recommended to fans of the Mistborn series, borderline steampunk/westerns, and Sherlock Holmes/sleuth action novels.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

memoryoflightFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  909

Reading Time:  A long, long time…maybe 17 hours?

I must admit that I’ve wrestled with the approach to take on this review. The most effective review would be to look at the book as it stands, alone from the rest of the series, as well as it’s place in the series as a whole, due to the fact that it’s the conclusion. However, I freely admit it’s been 23 years since I read The Eye of the World. And here’s another neat fact about me – my long term memory is terrible. I really couldn’t tell you what happened in that first book, it’s been so long. I have a vague idea, mind you, but the details pretty much escape me. No, my time is better spent approaching this book as the final part of the trilogy that Sanderson has written.

Furthermore, I’m not a Wheel of Time superfan. I’ve never been to Dragonmount.com, I don’t debate and argue plot points, or speculate on what should have happened between the pages and what would have happened in the future. For some reviewers, the Wheel of Time is an important part of their life. I was simply a 23 year old guy who picked up and read The Eye of the World in 1990, liked it enough to continue buying the sequels, got more and more frustrated with the characters and the lagging pace and plot in each successive book, gave up on the series completely, figured it was toast when Jordan died, but renewed my interest when Sanderson took over. Now the series can have closure, and for me, I feel like that should suffice. Though the book has serious flaws, it also has its share of both shining and tragic moments, and I’ve walked away with a feeling that…well, let’s not say I’m completely thrilled, but instead, I’m satisfied enough that the 23 year journey was a memorable one. I’ve touched on both what I liked and didn’t like about the book in bullet format below. Minor spoilers to follow…

What I liked:

  •  As other bloggers have mentioned, Sanderson does a wonderful job of taking a cardboard character like Talmanes and breathing some real life into him during the opening battle for Camelyn. interestingly enough, Talmanes doesn’t show up for the Last Battle.
  • The bonding between Androl and Pevara is well done and one of the best parts of the story. It explains how a member of the Red Ajah could go from wanting to gentle a man with channeling to wanting to marry him. That’s no easy feat. Especially for a woman a couple of hundred years older than Androl.
  • The subtlety of Compulsion on the great captains was lost on me at first. I couldn’t understand why the shadow wouldn’t just kill the generals off. But it’s really a brilliant plot point. The idea is that by the time the armies discover their tactics have been compromised, it’s too late to recover. Were the Shadow to just kill the generals, some other commander would take their place. It also clears the way for Mat to step in and use those memories he’s been given.
  • Rand has a moving scene with his father, learning to duel with one hand, while they repair the rift that had grown between them. Both realize that this is probably the last they will see of each other.
  • The confrontation between Egwene and Fortuona is great, especially where Egwene dares Fortuona to put on the a’dam.
  • Where The Gathering Storm focused on Rand and Towers of Midnight put a heavy emphasis on Perrin, in A Memory of Light Mat steps up front and center to lead. And more of Mat is a good thing.

What I didn’t like:

  • Moraine’s importance seemed overstated. From my perspective, any Aes Sedai would have satisfied the “two women” requirement that Rand desired, including Egwene, Cadsuane, or Aviendha. And indeed it is Egwene that has the biggest impact when Rand is in trouble.
  • In addition, the Last Battle seems pointless. Why did the Shadow send a million Trollocks to attack the lands when it is Rand that determines the outcome of humanity and the pattern itself? Why not bend all its resources to stopping him and killing him?
  • The scene between Rand and Fortuona, after so much build-up, was bland and disappointing.
  • Many of the individual showdowns – Perrin vs. Slayer, Matt vs. Fain, even Rand vs. The Dark One – seemed underwhelming. The showdowns between Lan and Demandred, and Egwene and M’Hael, were better.
  • Elayne as the leader/coordinator of the entire army was ludicrous.
  • The use of the Mask of Mirrors. This is the single biggest flaw in the series, and its use is far more glaring than gateways. When anyone can pretend to be anyone at any time, why don’t they? Forsaken should have pretended to be generals, or Aes Sedai. Egwene could have pretended to be Forsaken or a Darkfriend and got close to Demandred and killed him. There’s just so many ridiculously possible storyline abuses of such a power…it was so effective that Demandred couldn’t see through Androl’s and Pevara’s disguise…that both its use and non-use is staggering. Just a horrible plot point, very deus ex machina.

Other random thoughts:

  • Many lamented Gawyn as a useless character; however, he was necessary to get Egwene into the right frame of mind to challenge M’Hael, and much more.
  • You can bet that Artur Hawkwind spoke to Fortuona about a great many things – including the abolishing of the a’dam.
  • It was good to read about the battle for the Black Tower, but it was somewhat underwhelming. However, the comment about “making the Asha’man into their own men” instead of being Rand’s weapons was accurate. At first I thought, “no, they just worship Logain instead. But when the time came for the Tower men to choose between Logain and doing what was right, they turned their backs on Logain. Impressive.

Final thoughts:

There were moments of intense grief. After finishing page 795, I had to stop reading as the tears just kept rolling down my face. A character who I had grown to love as my favorite was gone. This occurred again on page 904, when one character paid tribute to another that had fallen. I expected more big showdowns, awesome displays of one-on-one badass moments, and was disappointed that this was not the case. Overall it was an exhausting read…too many battles and tactics going on for page after page…the grief I just mentioned…the sheer number of pages to wade through. And the Epilogue is very, very short. It has been noted by those other than myself that it would not have hurt the book, and far enhanced it, to have about 150 pages less of battles and 150 more of Epilogue. After all, this is The End, and there will never be another Wheel of Time book. At one point in the series I would have shrugged, but now…it seems like a shame. A big thank you to Brandon Sanderson to get us to this point.

Thus it was that the Dragon rode once more upon the winds of time, and as I rode beside him, I observed and marveled at the immensity of his purpose, and wept as the Dragon fulfilled his destiny, but it was not the end. There are no endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending…

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

towers midnightFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2010

Pages: 843

Reading Time: about 15 hours

Okay, you know the drill…I’ve been reading the Wheel of Time series since 1990 blah blah blah…the end is nearly here blah blah blah, and so on. It’s really a series that is long past needing an introduction. Towers of Midnight is the 13th book in the series, and at a hefty 843 pages, is packed full of amazing stuff. So read on, but be warned that minor spoilers will follow.

The title of the book at first glance seems to literally reference the thirteen fortresses in Seanchan that, during the Consolidation, when Artur Hawkwing’s descendants seized power, was the center of Seanchan might. However, the Seanchan barely factor into this story. I thought it might refer to the two towers that have been hinted at but largely ignored to this point: the Tower of Ghenjei, where the Aelfinn and Eelfin reside, and the Black Tower, where the Asha’man are living and training. And certainly those do become the focus of the last 10 percent of the book. But what about the other 700+ pages? They are a buildup to the Last Battle, which is now suddenly, frighteningly close. Returning to the reference of the Seanchan fortress, Artur Hawkwind’s armies were able to conquer Seanchan, despite the presence of the fortress, due to the divided nature of the Seanchan lands, where factions were pitted against one another; such divisions weakened the Seanchan and made them ripe for the conquering. With that in mind, the time has come for Rand al’Thor to break the seals on the Dark One’s prison. Will he be able to unite the various factions into a single purpose, to break the seals and fight the Last Battle? Or, will the differences and divided factions turn against him, and much like the Seanchan fell before the armies of Artur Hawkwing, allow their division to be the means in which the Dark One defeats them? Though the question hangs in the air as the book ends, as of yet unanswered, it is the events throughout this book that bring us to this point.

The pacing of the story, for the most part, is fast and furious…there’s so much happening that if you let your mind wander, or skip a few pages, you’d be likely to miss something important. I often found myself reading ahead in anticipation, and had to go back and re-read the section I jumped, chiding myself for a lack of discipline. The change of pace in the series is so different – so incredibly quick now – it seems like the glacial pace of entries like Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight are but vague memories, the side plots and characters in those stories completely irrelevant to what has needed to happen. Towers of Midnight does possess a few slow moments, like Perrin’s attempt to master the wolf dream or Elayne’s political maneuverings, but these are small sections of the book. As armies march and travel through gateways, disparate events suddenly begin to tie together, plot threads are resolved, and the pieces are in place for the conclusion. There’s no telling how long it would have taken Jordan to get from Crossroads of Twilight to the Last Battle, had his health not suffered, but it would have been far more than four books.

The characters readers have grown to love – Rand, Mat, Egwene, Perrin, Thom – at times in the series were nowhere to be found; now they dominate the pages. Other supporting characters that once had pages and pages of focus, such as Aviendha, Min, and Cadsuane, are now reduced to bit roles. The whole reversal effect, of main characters returning to the forefront while supporting characters step into the background, is a good thing – heck, it’s a great thing. Where A Gathering Storm returned the focus to Rand, with Egwene’s situation as the other major plotline, Towers of Midnight focuses mainly on Perrin, with a generous helping of Mat sprinkled in. With Perrin being the focus, his storyline is finally fully resolved in a satisfying way. Though Mat’s loose ends are tied up as well, he suffers the cost greatly, and someone close to him is not who they seem to be. Even characters I once despised – such as Elayne, and the Whitecloaks – I grudgingly followed in this book without skimming, and it proved to be a good decision. Mat has a brilliant exchange with Elayne, and the Whitecloaks show that they aren’t all religious nutcases. There were still moments when I was peeved about Elayne’s arrogance as Queen, which is in stark contrast to how Rand attempts to lead people, but those moments are blessedly few in this book. This time around, Sanderson has a firm grip on Mat’s voice, and he even manages to make Aes Sedai feel different, which is no small feat.

I was fortunate to start reading this book at just the right time, during my company’s Christmas shutdown. It allowed me to sit and relax in solitude as I consumed my reading in large chunks, and it allowed me to be immersed and entranced by the story. I think reading it in smaller chunks, only a few chapters at a time, would be more difficult; the story requires – no, demands – your full attention. There are many plot threads occurring: Perrin’s attempt to destroy Slayer and face the Whitecloaks; Egwene attempting to flush out Mesaana in the White Tower; Mat and Thom attempting to rescue Moraine; Rand trying to convince the Borderlanders he is the Dragon Reborn; Lan reluctantly mustering an army for a suicide run; Nynaeve taking the test to be Aes Sedai and trying to recover Lan’s Warder bond; Elayne attempting to take the throne of Carhein; Gawyn trying to find his place in Engewe’s new world; trouble at the Black Tower…and that’s just a brief summary!

There are so many questions still to be answered: why is rescuing Moraine so important? What will happen when Rand breaks the seals? Who will aid him and who will oppose him? How will Min’s visions translate into actually events? What happened to Logain, and what’s going on at the Black Tower? What will the Dark One do now that so many Forsaken have fallen? What are the Seanchan going to do during the Last Battle? I can’t wait for the last book!

If there’s one failing of the story, it’s Aviendha’s visions of the future in Rhuidean. Though they are essential to her character’s plotline, I feel the authors gave away too much of the future and robbed the story of some of its tension, and I would have been happier not knowing. However, assuming Aviendha attempts to change the future, maybe things will shake out differently. But that’s my only real criticism.

Towers of Midnight is a brilliant read, the best book I’ve read in a long time. Plenty of action, tension, resolved plot lines, and the return of prominent characters as the focus make this the best book in the series by far. Here’s to hoping A Memory of Light, which should be holding in my hands in less than a week, lives up to expectations that have now set the bar very, very high…

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones

BonesFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

Pages: 302

Reading Time: about 5 hours

This has been an excellent holiday season – I don’t normally get much time to read, but I’ve managed to polish off The Bones of the Old Ones. I was so impressed by Jones’s The Desert of Souls (of which you can find a review here), that I had been hoping for a sequel, and was disappointed to discover that the collection of Asim and Dabir stories titled The Waters of Eternity was only available on Kindle. At last, The Bones of the Old Ones has been released, and I immediately acquired it. My review follows, with minor spoilers ahead…

Asim the warrior and Dabir the scholar are enjoying the comforts earned from their previous services to the son of the vizier, Jaffar. Told once again in first person, not through the eyes of Asim as it happens, but rather as a story being written some years later, the adventure begins immediately. Asim and Dabir are no longer members of Jafar’s household; they now have their own house in the city of Mosul. When a beautiful woman escapes her kidnappers and is found by one of Asim’s servants, Asim and Dabir pledge their assistance to help her return home. However, matters get complicated when the kidnappers try to take her back by force. It seems that the kidnappers are ancient and powerful wizards called Sebitti, and their arrival sets off a series of confrontations that reveal the kidnapped woman, Najya, is cursed. To break the curse, Asim, Dabir, and Najya must venture out to find the bones of the old ones, ancient weapons that are thought to be able to break the curse. Things, however, are not always as they seem, and as the curse gets stronger, the entire world is threatened. It is up to Asim and Dabir to join forces with one of their old enemies and try to keep the world from falling to an an ancient, alien evil.

In my review of the first book, I was impressed by the way Jones grew Asim’s character. That growth continues here, with Asim’s heart, courage, and determination becoming more defined as his most prominent characteristics, but he is also supported by his wits and wisdom. Like Hamil the poet in The Desert of Souls, who won over Asim’s dislike and mistrust, Asim is able to win over an old enemy, who comes to realize that Asim is not just a thug with a sword, but is much more than he first seems. Dabir again does not seem to change much – he seems like a tragic character – however, he possesses traits similar to Asim’s, and seems to show a resilience in the face of tragedy. Other supporting characters are well done, with the Sebitti portrayed not as simply good or evil; rather, they have their own specific motivations that are self-serving, although at times their shifting motives are hard to comprehend. The female characters are more fleshed out and show more depth than the first book; Najya is integral to the plot and is a strong character, but I would argue that the Greek necromancer Lydia is one of the best characters in the story – she also is transformed by events, and has more depth than first appearances suggest. She is a very strong character, and the tension and presence she brings is a welcome addition to the tale.

The plot moves along at a brisk pace. There are copious amounts of action and no pages are wasted filler, as the plot advances rapidly and more mysteries unfold as the story moves to its conclusion. It also helps that Jones doesn’t have to spend time on introducing us to Asim and Dabir, since that’s already been done in The Desert of Souls. The scope of the plot is far more epic than the first book, with the fate of the world at stake. There were some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, with lots of shifting allegiances, and Jones does a good job of veiling who lives and who dies until they meet their ends. I can say that the ending was not surprising, given the fact that it could of gone one of two ways – happy or tragic – but it’s the tension of not knowing which of the two ways the story will go that keeps it compelling, as either ending would be fitting. Fantastical elements abound, from magic weapons and spells to flying carpets, rocs, and ghostly ice spirits. Humor is much the same as it is in the first book, delivered as witty barbs.

Like The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones is an easy, enjoyable read thanks to the smooth, flowing prose of Jones. Although 8th century Arabia is still the setting, the culture is not quite as prominent as the previous story, due to the fact that much of the action takes place in barren countrysides and ruins. Jones has still done his homework, however, tying his story to some ancient legends and touching on the conflicts between Arabs, Greeks, and Khazars. Some of these thoughts can be found in the afterword, which provides a bit of insight into Jones’s thought process and his recommended references, and where Jones also reveals Howard Lamb and Fritz Leiber to be inspirations. According to Jones, however, it is Zelazny’s Amber series that he perhaps admires most, and maybe that is why I’m so drawn to Jones’s work, because that is the series that I admire most as well, as I mentioned in my classic review of Nine Princes in Amber earlier this year (I also purchased The Road to Amber a few months ago just to read the Amber-related short stories).

In conclusion, the sequel is everything I hoped it would be: more epic in scope, with a great deal of  action and adventure, while at the same time improving the depth of supporting characters, all wrapped in the guise of a mystery…swords and sorcery doesn’t get any better than this. Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors, and I for one hope he continues to find success and gives us more stories in this setting. Highly recommended to all – I believe there’s something here for everyone.

December 29, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

gathering stormFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2009

Pages: 766

Reading Time: about 13 hours

The Gathering Storm is the 12th book in the Wheel of Time series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been with the Wheel of Time since The Eye of the World was released in paperback in 1990. The series has been both a delight and a struggle, and the payoff is finally here. There are a few minor spoilers ahead, so read with caution….

I would like to take a moment and offer the utmost praise to a man that has recently become my favorite fantasy author – Brandon Sanderson. What he has done here – advancing the story to it’s conclusion with nothing more than Jordan’s notes – is simply amazing. It’s hard enough to write your own stories; I can only imagine how much harder it is to write someone else’s story, in their voice. A standing ovation for Mr. Sanderson.

I’d also like to sidebar for a moment on the concept of the book itself. Initially fans were upset that the final book was to be split into two and then three books. They felt that they were being milked out of yet more money just to see the series to its conclusion. If you think about it, however, that’s really an asinine attitude. There’s absolutely no way this could have been wrapped up in one book – it wouldn’t have felt right. Conceptually, it’s already a struggle to relate this book to the previous few books that were glacial in pace, filled with padding and unnecessary detail, with viewpoints from a multitude of characters. To finish the story, it’s necessary to abandon that writing style, level of detail, side plots, and character viewpoints. With so many events that need to take place, main plots to explore, and main characters that need to be where they are, The Gathering Storm already feels much different from the previous few books. It would be worse with only one volume – it would be so jarring that it would never feel right. Splitting the last novel into three is the right move.

And speaking of right moves, the story is as good as any of the Wheel of Time books, maybe even better. Matt and Perrin are maneuvering their armies for the last battle, while Rand struggles with his inner demons, and Egwene tries to fix the broken White Tower. The pacing of the book is excellent; it’s been a long time since I was reluctant to walk away from a Wheel of Time book, but that definitely was the case here. I found the battle for the White Tower to be incredibly compelling and thrilling, as well as the final chapters when Rand seems to lose control and threatens to wipe out the Pattern (and all of humanity in the process). Both plot threads are resolved in a satisfying manner. I’m guessing that Towers of Midnight will feature both The Tower of Genjii, where Moraine is being held, and the Black Tower, which was notably absent in this book.

The characterizations are pretty much spot on, with Rand, Egwene, and most Aes Sedai captured perfectly. While Sanderson had a difficult time with Mat’s character, he did manage to capture Mat’s voice in a few places, and I wasn’t bothered by it as much as some other reviewers were.

While I don’t normally pay attention to cover art, Darrell Sweet’s cover is uninspired and just plain awful. I would have liked to see some Michael Whelan cover art (like the one done for A Memory of Light).

In conclusion, this is really an outstanding and thrilling book that is setting up a finale that has been over 20 years in the making. I’ll be moving on to Towers of Midnight with great relish, content in the knowledge that the conclusion of one of the greatest epics ever told is in good hands. Highly recommended for Wheel of Time fans; readers who want to get into the series should not start here – go to the beginning!

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment