Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Song of the Ice Lord by J. A. Clement

The Ice Lord's armies march across the face of the known world intent on nothing but destruction. Lodden, a talented inventor, is among the survivors gathered on the Skral Islands, the last bastion against the Ice Lord's advances. He must put aside the loss of his hand and accept a world-view very different from his own in order to try and salvage something before it is too late.

I enjoyed the world-building with a number of differing cultures thrown together. Lodden comes from a society very similar to ancient Greece or an idealized version of it whereas the Skarl's are more similar to Vikings. Although Clement does explore the aspects of these very differing cultures thrown together I think it would have been interesting to get a perspective from a character who didn't find it as easy to adjust.

Much of the middle period of the book is spent building, planning and waiting for the Ice Lord's advances. This could have lead to the pacing dragging but Clemet cleverly avoids this by having the characters relate tales from folklore which I enjoyed thoroughly.

While most of the main characters are believable I did find some of the support characters lacked depth. The addition of a few unnecessary points of view during the finale of the book could have been avoided.  

Overall good world-building and some memorable main characters make for a solid read. 7/10.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Tough Times All over by Joe Abercrombie: Set in the back streets of Sipani and follows a mysterious package as it changes hands several times through some rather dubious means. Clever way to get through a lot of different characters, some old favorites and some new ones. The way Abercrombie builds up characters in minimal words is impressive. 8/10.

What do you do? by Gillian Flynn: Arguably the best story in the collection. Follows a con-woman pretending to be psychic who is contracted by a woman to cleanse her home after her step-son exhibits some disturbing behavior. The best realized character in the collection and a very clever plot twist. 9/10

The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes: A rogue is hijacked by an almost forgotten god to rescue his last follower. Good world-building. 7/10.

Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale: Two men try to rescue the drug-addicted daughter of one of their significant others. Impressive voice and wonderfully realized characters. 8.5/10.

Tawny Petticoats by Michael Swanwick: Scifi. A pair of conmen take on a female partner for a daring caper. Well developed world-building and memorable characters but the ending was highly predictable. 7/10.

Provenance by David W. Ball: An art dealer is contacted by a likely thief about selling a painting. This one didn't really work for me. Pacing was well off and the characters left me feeling flat. 5/10.

Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn: Two women enter a magical club looking to make an alliance with the patron. The best piece of short fiction I've read by Vaughn. Appropriate atmosphere and believable characters. 8.25/10.

A year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch:  A retired gang is tasked with stealing a street. A fun blend of sci-fi and fantasy. I would love to see Lynch write more in this setting. 8.5/10.

Bad Brass by Bradley Denton: A thief/relief teacher gets mixed up in an odd musical instrument fencing incident. Very cool lead character and original story. 8.5/10.

Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest: A modern day warrior is tasked with investigating a strange spirit haunting and killing in lake in a small former  mining town. Steady enough but lacks the punch in the finale most of the others in the collection have had. 7.5/10.

The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham: A young rogue has to find away to free a slave girl who has caught the eye of the exiled prince she is protecting and has fallen in love with. Engaging lead character, solid world bundling and clever finale. 8.25/10.

A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell: A man in the military is forced to confront a younger version of himself from an alternate dimension. Didn't stand so well on it's own and the characters felt flat. 6/10.

Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor: A philosopher and apprentice purchase a book of magical spells one of which is said to make the user invisible. A fun and fast paced tale although the ending was a tad predictable. 7.5/10. 

A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix: A magical puppet and a knight have to try steal a collection of ivories before the gods within awake. Another fun one with a predictable ending. 7/10. 

Diamonds From Tequila by Walter Jon Williams:An actor who career hinges on his latest project finds himself in a dilemma when the leading lady dies. Fresh take on the premise and an engaging and believable lead character. 8.5/10. 

The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein: A bard with the ability to teleport travels with a caravan on exotic drug run through the desert. Well paced and well developed characters. 8/10.

The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle: A female sleuth and sherlock holmes like partner take on a curious case assigned to them by a little girl. Amazingly developed 'voice', engaging plot and solid characters. 9/10.

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman: A rogue loses his lucky coat and is caught by an arch-nemesis. Another engaging voice, quirky characters and world-building. 8.75/10.

Now Showing by Connie Willis: Set in the near future a college student is reunited with the boy who walked out on her in a world where the cinema has become an encompassing experience. Another original take with clever twists and structure. 8.75/10.

The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss: Follows Bast, who trades secrets and favours with local children at the lightening tree. Fun and I enjoyed the small-scale feel. 8/10.

The Rogue Prince or, a King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin: A prequel to Martin entry into the Dangerous Women anthology. Like that tale it is structured as a historical narrative. Also like that tale this feels like a phoned in effort by Martin. Doesn't really use the theme to any degree and while the subject matter is interesting in itself it's not inspired writing by any means. Time for Martin to stop adding his own entry to these anthologies or do it properly. 6/10.  

Overall a strong collection. 8.25/10. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa is graced, highly-skilled in a specific activity. Her grace is killing and is used by her uncle King Randa to brutally enforce his will. This leads to her being something of an outcast. Katsa resents being used as a weapon and the world where competing  kings play their games without regard for the common folk  but can't openly defy him. Instead she forms a council of like-minded individuals to do what they can for the people. On one such mission Katsa rescues an old Lienid man who turns out to be the grandfather of the princes of Lienid. This leads to  Katsa meeting with Prince Po the youngest of the princes, and a graced fighter himself ,who wants to discover why his grandfather was kidnapped and who did it.

The strongest point of this novel is that it is very much character driven. Katsa's journey of self-discovery takes center stage and I particularly enjoyed the way Cashore showed the way Katsa upbringing effected the choices she makes and the way she reacts to events.

World-building is solid and I liked the concept of graces, especially how they are often mis-perceived.

Pacing was initially on the slow slide but gets into it's stride about a third of the way through the book.

Overall Cashore delivers a strong character driven novel. 8/10,

Monday, January 19, 2015

Did not finish: The Madness of Hallen by Russell Meek

Being from New Zealand myself I am obviously excited when I come across a New Zealand author writing in the fantasy genre. However that also means when I come across something that doesn't quite work I am doubly dissapointed.

Meeks writing style itself causes problems right from the get go. There is a major issue of telling rather than showing. This is exasperated by the frequent point-of-view shifts, often within a paragraph, which makes things very disjointed and prevented me from being immersed in the story.

The plot  itself is pretty standard from what I read with two brother's in an isolated mountain village whose parents are involved in some mysterious dealings. I can't really add much further as I couldn't get past page 60.

Sadly I found this one adhered to many of the negative stereotypes of self-published writing. While I am loathe to add a rating having only finished a fraction of the book I'd say it was heading for a 3 or a 4.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: Legion:Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds, a genius who compartmentalizes different skills by creating personalized aspects that only he can see,  is contacted by on old acquaintance named Yol, a high profile Korean businessman. Yol has recently acquired a new bio-tech company which was working on a way to encode data directly into the human body. Only catch is it can be used to produce cancer. One of the lead scientist recently died in a skiing accident and his body has gone missing, with much of the data encoded within. If its falls into the wrong hands the result could be catastrophic.

Sanderson capitalizes on Stephen unique condition by showing him interacting in everyday situations (for example the book opens up with him on a date) as well has having some of enemies capitalize on it which I thought added clever layers of depth. I also enjoyed the way different aspects accepted/rejected their imaginary status.

Thankfully Sanderson doesn't overplay the humour aspect and what he does include works because of its subtly. This is definitely key for him moving forward.

Pacing is brisk with a clever plot twist.

Overall Sanderson continues to deliver in the shorter formats, combining a well worked story with clever uses of the overall concept. 8.25/10.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Master and Fool by J.V.Jones

Tawl is wrongly accused of the Duke of Bren's assassination and takes Meli into hiding. Meli discovers she is pregnant with the Duke's heir making her a very real obstacle in Baralis' plans to have Kylock head a northern empire. Meanwhile Jack learns of the danger Meli is in and decides to cut his training with Stillfox short and journey to aid her but will he be able to match Baralis and Kylock?

As with the previous volume I found the bumbling, overconfident nature of the majority of the characters to be majorly off putting. Many of the dialogue scenes also felt stilled and forced and made it difficult to get into the book. Some side characters motivations also didn't add up. 

On the positive side many of the major story arcs are resolved and it is clear that Jones is skilled at foreshadowing. However pacing certainly lagged in places.

Overall the concluding chapter to the Book of Word's trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. 5.75/10. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Ghosts 2014: The Snowman

“Bah humbug.” Inspector Brown muttered as he stomped his feet in a futile attempt to force some feeling back. He loathed Christmas. It was like the bat signal for nut-jobs and he invariably found himself freezing his balls off in some redneck’s backyard.
At least his partner was the one having to wrestle the suspect into their car, some pimply kid who kept screaming about a snowman even when his bloody fingerprints covered the knife. Inspector Brown frowned at that self-same snowman, which stared contemptuously back.
“Must be losing it.” He muttered. “Could have sworn he wasn’t so close before.”