Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Blogspotter: Saturday, February 17th

Shannon Thompson explores the relationship between in-depth discussions and spoiler-free reviews over at her site. My take appears in her comments section, but I’ll re-post it here:

A good review has spoilers. At a base level, a reviewer could supply a “I liked it” or I didn’t like it” and if you generally agree with that reviewer’s likes and dislikes, that would be all you need. But let’s face it, we want a wordy, explanatory review rather than a thumbs up or thumbs down because we *love* to read, and that reading includes reviews, especially lengthy ones that the reviewer puts a lot of thought and effort into. A review that doesn’t include at least a few spoilers is a waste of time, because expressing vague generalities buys you no credibility as a reviewer.

As an example, I recently read reviews for a book on Amazon, trying to determine if I should spend my hard-earned money on it. A couple of spoiler-free reviews almost had me convinced I should buy it, but two reviews that contained spoilers gave me information that I knew would make me regret my purchase. The reviews don’t have to be negative – they just need to provide you with a little more information. And to be honest, with the growing pile of books I have to read, by the time I get around to the book in question and get absorbed in the story, those spoilers have been relegated to the far recesses of my mind and are no threat to ruin a story.

With that said, I do try to give a warning if I feel I’m about to reveal a major plot point that would remove surprise and/or tension from the story.

A great topic to consider from Shannon that helped me to explain why my reviews are not spoiler-free…

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February 17, 2018 Posted by | Blogspotter | Leave a comment

Interview with Cameron Johnston

In my last post I indicated that I was going to be doing an interview with Cameron Johnston, author of the forthcoming novel The Traitor God. Little did I know that Cameron was already hard at work on my questions and banged out his answers in one day! It’s his first ever author interview, and it’s my first interview as well, so there’s bound to be some rookie questions on my part…fortunately Cameron was up for the challenge. I tried to keep my questions that were in reference to The Traitor God spoiler-free, but there’s a couple of tiny tidbits in the interview due to the inherent sneakiness of my subconscious…

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BACKGROUND

Cameron Johnston is a Scottish writer of speculative fiction (usually a mix of fantasy and horror) and a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle since 2010.

He is also a swordsman, gamer, enthusiast of archaeology and history, a fine ale drinker, builder of LEGO, a cat-slave, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves.

His short stories have appeared in publications such as Niteblade Magazine, The Lovecraft eZine, and Swords and Sorcery Magazine to name a few, and his debut novel The Traitor God is forthcoming. A full list of Cameron’s writings can be found on his website: www.cameronjohnston.net.

With the background out of the way, let’s jump into the interview. My questions are in bold and are represented by “HA” (Hippogriff’s Aerie) while Cameron’s answers appear as “CJ”…

 

INTERVIEW

HA: Over at Fantasy Faction you mention 10 overlooked novels that “made you”. You also mention some of the big names like Lord of the Rings, Dune, Dragonlance, Elric, that are obvious influences as well. Which 2-3 authors would you say are your biggest influences?

CJ: All-time biggest influence is a tricky beast to define but we’ll start fairly early on as that influenced my future taste as a reader. If I have to only pick three I will go for H.P. Lovecraft for the sense of cosmic horror and ancient mystery, Michael Moorcock for the epic swords and sorcery multiverse and chaos vs order of the eternal champion books, and the duo of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for Dragonlance, which got me into fantasy in a BIG way.

 

HA: You signed with an agent for The Traitor God. On your website you describe receiving the acceptance letter. Did you receive any rejection letters? Do you think you would have considered self-publishing had no offers been forthcoming?

CJ: You would struggle to find any trade published author that hasn’t been on the receiving end of rejections and ploughed on through it. Before I began The Traitor God I was working on short stories to help improve my writing skills before I began to write another novel (my third!), and when you have a few short pieces out and about at various markets and get three rejections all on the same day, well, that is not fun! With agents and novels the game has been upped and the stakes higher so rejections hurt more and acceptances are ecstatic – I received some nibbles of interest and some form rejections from agents before I was lucky enough to join forces with Amanda Rutter of Red Sofa Literary, which worked out very well indeed for me. I would definitely have considered self-publishing if The Traitor God had not been snapped up by a publisher. I believed in it too much to just trunk it in an abandoned folder somewhere, but thankfully with the help of my agent and Angry Robot’s fine editors it is being published stronger than sleeker than ever before.

 

HA: Did you write a synopsis and attach it to your manuscript? If so, how hard was it to crunch your book down to a paragraph or two?

CJ: Synopses are awkward and brutal and every writer I know hates condensing their novel to a brief and flavourless outline of plot points. I took the approach of ‘If they like the start then they just want to get a brief overview of where the rest is going to make sure it’s not going entirely crazy’ so I tried not to sweat the small stuff and give them that overview. Of course, as soon as you send it you start fretting over it all again.

 

HA: On your website you talk about some of the ancient places that you’ve visited, like Arran’s Giant’s Graves and the Machrie Moor stone circles. Do you find these mystical places making their way into your stories or influencing your writing? Besides Scottish/Celtic history, are there other areas and times in Earth’s history that you are particularly drawn to?

Giant 2

CJ: The sense of age and mystery that cloaks such ancient places has always called to me and absolutely influences my writing. I’ve even written a short story published in The Lovecraft eZine around standing stones and ancient churches and why they were set in a particular location. I only wish I could visit the distant past to find out how ancient sites were really used! Other areas of history that I am especially interested in are: anything prehistoric from the Stone Age right through to the Iron Age, ancient Egypt and Roman times. I am also interested in UK history of the Dark Ages through medieval – all those lovely castles, swords and armour!

 

HA: You are a self-admitted huge fan of archaeology and history. In the world that appears in The Traitor God, did you come up with a history first, or did it develop as you wrote the story? Are the monsters in the story familiar (based on Earth mythology/Dungeons & Dragons), or did you create your own unique creatures?

CJ: I’m of the school of worldbuilding where character and story develop first, and the world coalesces around that story. I had a core idea of the world but the details filled themselves in as I went along through the first few drafts. The monsters in The Traitor God are largely nothing like you would see in D&D-esque fantasy, with most being something far more disturbing that have more in common with the creations of H.P. Lovecraft than with elves and orcs.

 

HA: The Fantasy Hive calls your novel a “grimdark epic”. Is grimdark a rebellion against stories about farm boys with magic swords coming of age, a reflection of our current society, or something more? What is the appeal of grimdark to you?

CJ: Grimdark is a response to the old days of epic fantasy, of goody-goody farm boys with magic swords but it’s also more than that, and just one part of an ongoing trend of real-world cynicism. It’s partly a desire for more realism and authenticity in the same way that modern war films don’t shy away from depicting the brutality and atrocity of war or the moral implications of darker deeds by all involved. Many of the video nasty’s of the 1980’s seem tame and cheesy compared to modern horror films, and the Internet is everywhere now – the knowledge must flow, which over time has meant the restraints of censorship have been relaxed for much of the media. We’ve all seen and heard too much about the real world and its scandals to go back to those more innocent days of pure-hearted heroics – at least not all the time. It’s always good to escape all the grimness of reality and read unashamedly fun fiction too, one of the reasons why I think a book like Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames has done so well (despite it being generally awesome anyway).

 

HA: The cover of The Traitor God was done by Jan Weßbecher and is absolutely gorgeous. How did that come about?

Traitor God

CJ: Angry Robot asked me what sort of cover I fancied, and agreed with me that it should be artwork as opposed to one of those photo-realistic hooded man style covers. Then I was asked for a range of images that inspired me, and to write a brief of what the main character looks like, his gear, descriptions of the city of Setharis and that kind of thing. Jan wove that into a series of rough sketches that Angry Robot and I looked at and chose the parts we liked best: the bridge detail, the angle of view, character pose, and the style of the titanic *coughcough* ‘statue’ in the background. Then Jan fleshed out all the amazing detail work. I was thrilled to be so involved in the process.

 

HA: One of my favorite posts that your wrote on your site is called “A Writer’s Thick Skin”. It nicely sums up the anxieties of being a writer, as well as the need for constructive criticism to make you a better writer. Did you have any family and/or friends read and critique The Traitor God? If so where there things you thought you nailed that they didn’t like? Pleasant surprises? How long have you been working on this story?

CJ: I am a member of an amazing and long-running (30+ years!) writer’s group here in Scotland, that has enjoyed having some wonderful trade published writers such as Hal Duncan, Neil Williamson, Gary Gibson, William King, and Michael Cobley through its doors. Plenty of professional advice has been on hand, and critiques are completely but constructively honest and focused on building a writer up to be better instead of tearing them down. Which is exactly what you need if you really want to improve. One thing I have learned is that writers are really not the best judges of their own stories and some things I thought were fairly bad turned out to be well received. The first draft of The Traitor God began as a short story called ‘Head Games’ in late 2012 and the first rough draft of the novel took a year. Multiple drafts and rewrites later, it went out to agents in late 2015, then following edits, to publishers mid-2017. Quite a journey!

 

HA: On my site you state “if only The Traitor God does well enough to get a book 2 & 3, then the magic and monsters will be turned up to 12″. Do you already have an arc/plot for the next two books? Does that mean there will be unanswered questions in The Traitor God that will leave the reader anxiously awaiting resolution in a sequel?

CJ: I originally wrote The Traitor God with the intention of it being part one of a trilogy, as we fantasy writers tend to want to write. However, one thing that I feel passionate about is that any book should also have a satisfying ending, to stand alone to a great extent. And so The Traitor God does! I really hate it when a good book just…stops, and an entirely unresolved story is left dangling – that is just not fun for readers. The Traitor God has a satisfying ending to the events of this book but also leaves open the possibility for more mayhem. If enough wonderful readers buy it, like it, and want to explore more of the character, the world and its dark history, and its macabre magic then I hope to have the opportunity to write it for them.

 

HA: You mention an interest in swords/fencing on your site. Can you expand on this?

CJ: Well-crafted swords are things of intrinsic beauty to my eyes, the careful work of master smiths. Take a look at the exquisite work of the Raven Armoury, Castle Keep, or Albion Swords and I defy anybody to say I’m wrong. On that note: I’ll drop in a cheeky ‘buy my book’ to readers here – I’d love to be able to afford one of those works of art some day! A guy can dream. I also dabble in Historical European Martial Arts, which tries to reconstruct martial weapon arts from surviving original texts, historical records, and practical reconstruction. Also, what’s fantasy without those magic swords we love so very much? (shush, don’t mention question 6!)

 

HA: Bonus Question: I know you’re a Harryhausen fan like I am. Favorite Harryhausen movie and favorite Harryhausen creature? For me it’s Clash of the Titans for sheer epic-ness, and the six armed, sword-wielding statue of Kali in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (full disclosure: I have the vinyl figure from X-Plus sitting on my bookshelf because it’s so awesome!)

CJ: I’ll have to go with Jason and the Argonauts I think. As for creatures, Kali is an amazing foe that I’d put on par with Medusa from Clash of the Titans, but for me the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts win out. The slow advance and then that mad charge and the fight, all perfect.

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Many thanks to Cameron Johnston for graciously accepting my interview request and taking the time to answer my questions in an entertaining manner. Look for The Traitor God to be released on June 5th in the U.S. and Canada (June 7th in the UK), or better yet, pre-order it now from his publisher, Angry Robot Books; it’s also available for pre-order from Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

February 14, 2018 Posted by | interview | | Leave a comment

Cameron Johnston Interview Request

Traitor GodI mentioned in my previous post that The Traitor God is one of my most anticipated reads for 2018. I have contacted Cameron Johnston for an interview and it sounds like he is up for it, so I will be publishing the interview transcript here once it is complete.

You can check out Cameron’s website here. He has a post about the importance of pre-orders, and since I was planning on acquiring The Traitor God anyway, I did Cameron a solid and signed up for a pre-order.

Stay tuned for my interview with Cameron soon…

February 13, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Most Anticipated Titles for 2018

Although I have a huge stack of books in the queue – I’ve only listed about a third of them here on the site – there are some releases coming out this year that I’d like to get my hands on, and I’ve always wanted to do one of these lists. So here is a list of the books I’m looking forward to acquiring the most this year, in no particular order:

2018 NEW RELEASES

grey

The Grey Bastards (hard cover on June 19th)

From Orbit Books: “You might have heard of The Grey Bastards because it won Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 – meaning that a panel of ten top fantasy bloggers picked it as the winner out of hundreds of entries. And this win was thoroughly deserved . . . This fantasy debut is brimming with raucous energy.

It’s the story of Jackal – who is proud to be a Grey Bastard, a member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs . . .

Jonathan’s voice stood out to us as one of the freshest we’ve read in years. The story overflows with crisp dialogue, blood-soaked action, an entertaining sardonic voice and a wonderfully compelling cast of characters. It’s an irresistible action tale that will thrill readers of fantasy such as Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Stan Nicholl’s Orcs series and Markus Heitz’s Dwarves series.

This sounds really cool and I’m stoked it is being released as in hard back format…

 

 

 

 

SenlinAscends

Senlin Ascends (released in paperback on January 16th) and Arm of the Sphinx (paperback on March 13th)

Senlin Ascends (from Amazon): “The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of luxury and menace, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the illusions of the Tower. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

 

 

 

 

 

ArmoftheSphinx

Arm of the Sphinx (from Amazon) (SPOILER ALERT): “The Tower of Babel is proving to be as difficult to reenter as it was to break out of. Forced into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew are struggling to survive aboard their stolen airship as the hunt to rescue Senlin’s lost wife continues.

Hopeless and desolate, they turn to a legend of the Tower, the mysterious Sphinx. But help from the Sphinx never comes cheaply, and as Senlin knows, debts aren’t always what they seem in the Tower of Babel.

Time is running out, and now Senlin must choose between his friends, his freedom, and his wife.

Does anyone truly escape the Tower?

These sound incredibly innovate and unique to me. Some reviewers reference steampunk elements, while all say that the sequel is nearly as good or better than the first (Kindle reviews). Although these will be paperback acquisitions and not hard cover, I’m going to gamble on at least the first and spring for the sequel if all goes well…

 

 

 

 

Traitor God

The Traitor God (paperback on June 5th)

From Amazon: “A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magus Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the mageocracy who rule the city. He failed.

Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…

The cover art is gorgeous, but it’s the premise – unimaginable horrors? Outcast? A mageocracy? A guy skinned alive? Killed a god…wait, what? This sounds so epic and right up my alley. Thanks to The Fantasy Hive for turning me on to this one. I hope Cameron Johnston is already considering a sequel…

 

 

 

 

crimson queenThe Shadow King (paperback, 2018, no release date yet)

I really enjoyed Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen and although there aren’t a lot of details yet, I will definitely be grabbing the sequel when it is released some time later this year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREVIOUS YEAR RELEASES

fools quest

assassins fate

Fool’s Quest and Assassin’s Fate

 

Oh, you KNOW I’m going to get these regardless of how I feel about Fool’s Assassin! It’s just a matter of time…

 

 

 

 

paternus

Paternus

I find urban fantasy to be a bit hit and miss, but I love mythology and there are so many great reviews that I will take a chance on it…

 

 

 

 

 

what remains of heroes

What Remains of Heroes

I’m not sure how I feel about this one, but I will probably take a chance on it as well…

 

 

 

 

 

thief troubles braids

The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids

I’m not typically a fan of thief stories, but like Paternus there are so many great reviews I feel like I need to give this one a fighting chance too…

February 6, 2018 Posted by | Most Anticipated Releases | 1 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

New Books On The Way

It’s been slow going with my current read, Devon Monk’s Cold Copper, due to a lack of time. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my recent purchases…

 

fool's assassin

The Fitz and The Fool trilogy was one of the reasons I wanted to get back into reading fantasy. Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors, and I never imagined she would write another Fitz series. Since the last book, Assassin’s Fate, came out last year I won’t have to wait for sequels when diving in. I’ve heard this first book isn’t great, but the second and third are. Can’t wait to add this to the queue!

 

revisionaryI already possessed the third book in the Magic Ex Libris series, Unbound by James C. Hines, and had placed it in the queue. When I found out there was a 4th book in the series, it was an easy decision to add it to the growing pile of books to be read based on how much I liked the first two books. Hopefully I’ll get around to reading Unbound this summer and Revisionary towards the end of this year.

 

shadow of what was lostThe Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington intrigues me, from the beautiful eye-catching cover to the epic fantasy categorization. Comparisons to the Wheel of Time series are inevitable, and some tired tropes play out here – why are there so many “coming of age” and “attending a school” stories? But the world-building sounds excellent and the sequel seems even better. The third book is scheduled to be released in 2019 so I have plenty of time to get through this one.

 

February 1, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 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

More Classic Reviews

As I explained in a previous post, I have begun to replace some of my old episodic TV show reviews with classic reviews. The first is Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson, which you can find over in the “my reviews” sidebar…

January 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 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

The Backlog Conundrum

As I began to populate my new “In the Queue” list, I realized that I was faced with a bit of a problem. When I took a break from reviewing in 2013, I had a pile of books waiting to be read and reviewed. In the 4 years between then and now, I only read 1 book.

That’s pretty awful for someone that likes to read.

The problem moving forward, then, is that I’m reviewing a bunch of books that are 4 years old. By the time I make my way up to what’s current, those “current” books may be a couple years old by then. Especially if I have to work my way through Brandon Sanderson’s 3 Stormlight Archive books.

My solution is to add in current books (from 2016-2017) with the older books that are currently in the queue. This seems like a good way to inject some relevant titles into the mix while I work my way through the backlog.

Also, I’ve chosen to delay reading those Stormlight Archive gargantuan tomes. If I have to wade through multiple 1000 page books, reviews will be a long time coming. I have some time off next summer and I think that I might tackle them at that point.

December 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maintenance

I spent several hours yesterday repairing broken links, pairing down the blog links in the sidebar, restoring images, and fixing formatting issues and grammatical errors. I will probably repurpose some of the TV show posts with classic book reviews instead. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have things running smoothly again…

December 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Return of Hippogriff

Four and a half years ago I let this blog idle, for the following reasons:

  1.  Time  – not enough for reading or posting
  2.  My other blogs were fairly unique, offered opportinities and demanded attention
  3.  A multitude of other fantasy book review blogs were doing it better than I was
  4.  Dare I say, “book review burnout”?

Well, things have changed since then. I have a bit more time for reading now. I have ordered a lot of books and I’m very excited to read them and share my thoughts. I have let a couple of my other blogs idle, although one of them has been wildly successful and has led to other opportunities.

And the multitude of other book blogs? Many have folded or ceased posting years ago, like I did. Some big guns like A Dribble of Ink and Mithril Wisdom are gone. Some, like Grasping for the Wind, King of the Nerds, Mad Hatter’s Book Review, and Neth Space, have been idle for quite some time. This exit post from Bibliotropic is particularly poignant and sounds eerily like my last post back in 2013. Several blogs are still going strong, like Civilian Reader, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Literature, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and The Little Red Reviewer. It seems like a good time to re-enter the fantasy review blogisphere and make an occasional post now and then. I’m no longer concerned about the frequency of posts, only that I provide some new content from time to time.

You see, what really made me want to return to blogging about fantasy books was a New York Times article I read about authors and publishers paying for high quantities of fake positive reviews, mainly on Amazon and possibly Goodreads. I found this particularly infuriating and outrageous. There’s a line between marketing and deception, and those who use this service have crossed it. I realize that marketing is important, especially for a new author who desires to be heard above the multitudes (sound familiar?)…but if you are a good or great writer, people will find their way to your books (and positively review them), and there are other ways to positively market your product. Paying for positive reviews suggests that you don’t believe in the skill of your own writing, that the story is incapable of standing on its own merits and cannot face scrutiny, that the author is only out to make a buck at the expense of telling a decent story.

The provider of this service claims that it all evens out in the end, because those who don’t like the book will still leave bad reviews. This is at best disingenuous…some people don’t care enough to express their distaste by writing a review; also, negative reviews can be drowned out by the ocean of false positives. “Wow, look at all these good reviews! Those bad reviews must be crackpots or negative people!” The end effect is that potential customers are tricked into buying a book they normally wouldn’t take a chance on due to a high number of positive reviews. Caveat Emptor indeed.

As someone who would never accept money for reviews – heck, I won’t even accept free books for review because I feel it is a conflict of interest – I thought it might be useful to post reviews of books that maybe other readers are on the fence about, and my review helps them make up their mind. When you consider the fact that I never tell you to read a book or not to read it, I only state my dislikes and likes, and if they align with another reader’s, that reader can make a decision based on our common likes and dislikes.

So I’ll be back to posting reviews of books very soon. No more reviewing TV shows, except for reviews of a series as a whole. Perhaps I’ll continue with some Face Off posts as those have been pretty popular. And I really love Game of Thrones, which I believe is the best show on TV, but I won’t be posting about it. I may, however, talk about some other interests from time to time, especially The Hobbit pinball machine I own, since it is based on the movies that sprang from Tolkien’s book. I may also go back and replace TV show reviews with classic book reviews, such as Elric, The Black Company, Amber, and other old favorites.

Due to formatting issues and connection problems, I’m considering moving this blog from WordPress to Blogger. If I can fix the formatting issues, I’ll stay right here.

Look for a new review soon!

December 26, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Limping, Crawling Blog

This post has been a long time coming, and I’ve been avoiding it as long as possible. I apologize to those of you who follow the blog, and feel I owe you an explanation:

It began some time ago, when I tried to introduce TV show reviews in order to be a little different from other blogs, and there was too much downtime between reviews. It came to a head when I attempted to write a review for Bloodfire Quest. I found that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give voice to a review that would distinguish me from the multitudes of others out there.

And that’s really the underlying issue: there are a world full of book blogs out there. My voice is just one in a sea of many. At times, it has felt as if I were drowning in that sea of anonymity. Book review blogs are popping up all over, and there are many other sites that devote their full attention to books (some with multiple reviewers) and do it far better than I. Unfortunately, I’m not that focused. As you can tell from my blog, I have several different interests and hobbies.

The thing is, my other hobbies that I blog about are fairly unique – there aren’t any other sites like them on the Internet. Every post that I create here, adrift among the endless seas of book blogs, is a post lost for those other unique blogs. And I want to be unique and different, not just another book blogger. Blogging takes time, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness, with time being the greatest factor. With 5 other blogs running, I’m hard-pressed to devote the time it takes to make this one outstanding. Two of those other blogs have brought up monetary possibilities, which also gives them an edge.

I’m going through a transitional phase right now. Maybe this will all blow over and some book will come along that sparks my imagination. Or maybe I need to go in a different direction. I might even have to shut this down. What I do know is that I need a little more time to decide what to do…

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Editorial | Leave a comment

Face Off: “Mummy Mayhem” (Season 4 Episode 9)

face-offBroadcast date: Tuesday, Mar. 12th, 2013

This week’s challenge was to come up with a mummy design based on the film The Evil Dead. This is a tie-in to the new movie being released. The contestents are surprised with a visit from Bruce Campbell, who warns that the new movie is darker than the original and that they should keep that in mind while they work. Each person must choose a design based around an Egyptian god. There’s a little bit of yawn-inducing drama as the contestants talk about how much they miss their families, but it’s thankfully brief and nowhere near past episodes. After the sculpts are done and last looks are over, the results are revealed. Eric F.’s version of Ra is awesome and should have won, but the judges choose Kris’s ram god Knhum. Wayne’s crocodile god falls squarely in the middle. On the bottom are House, with a scribe god, and also Anthony (how far the mighty have fallen). I thought they’d be crazy to cut Anthony and I’m right – it’s House that gets the axe. All the designs were good this week – the judges hated to have to choose a loser. One more episode before the finale…

Kris's winning Khnum

Kris’s winning Khnum

 

Eric F.'s Ra - my favorite!

Eric F.’s Ra – my favorite!

 

Anthony's Anubis - not that bad

Anthony’s Anubis – not that bad

 

mummy house

House’s scribe god – good but not good enough…

 

 

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Steampunk Collectible

box 6 022In my post about things I collect, I mentioned that one of my interests was beer tap handles. A little over a year ago I was able to obtain the #1 tap on my wishlist, a steampunk tap from a brewery called Dogfish Head out of Milton, Delaware. Dogfish Head was already on my radar for their “Ancient Ales”…re-creations of ancient recipes found from various archaeological sites around the world. These amazing brews include Midas Touch Golden Elixir, a strong ale based on residue found on drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas, dating back to the 8th century BC and containing ingredients including Muscat grapes, honey, and saffron. There’s also Chateau Jiahu, a spiced strong ale based on residue from pottery found in the Neolithic village of Jiahu (in central China), dating to the 7th millennium BC, with ingredients such as rice flakes, wildflower honey, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers (this is the oldest known beer recipe to be brewed in the modern age).

Certain Dogfish Head tap handles are some of the most expensive and sought-after, with the steampunk tap (pictured left) routinely going for over $400 on eBay. I came across another rare Dogfish Head item on eBay that I just had to have. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you:

the Dogfish Head Steampunk Clock…

IMG_0966

This rare beauty (there are fewer of these than the tap handles) was picked up for quite a deal, considering they were $300 + shipping when they were originally available from the Dogish Head store; they sold out fairly quickly. The last one on eBay (before mine) sold for $408, and there’s one currently listed for $935! It does need a little work – the left gear is supposed to turn and the right needle is supposed to spin, but neither of them do. There’s also a section of LEDs not functioning on the right side. But these are all minor issues that I believe I can repair/replace without too much expense. The bottom line is that I now have a clock to match my tap!

April 10, 2013 Posted by | steampunk | Leave a comment

Revenge: “Retribution” (Season 2 Episode 15)

emily-vancamp-revenge-season-2Broadcast date:  Sunday, Mar. 10th, 2013

Three weeks after the explosive episode “Sacrifice”, Revenge returns with what you would hope would be, well, revenge, against those who perpetrated the demise of the Amanda (and one of it’s passengers, so Retribution should have been an appropriate title. Unfortunately it refers to making plans rather than actual action sequences. C’mon writers, you gave us 3 weeks to catch our breath…no need to slow the story down! So Jack pretty much hates on everyone while he’s in the hospital recovering, which is understandable, and eventually focuses his hate on . Later in the episode he’s walking around (!) and recovers the laptop. Fortunately Emily gets it back, then chucks it in the water? Shouldn’t have done that, babe. Nolan gives the Carrion program to Padma to exchange for her father. An during the funeral scene at the end, Emily’s foster brother Eli James shows up. What’s his agenda? Lots of intrigue, but not enough action this week – that’s not director Helen Hunt’s fault, that’s the writing…

April 10, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment