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.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Prince Yarvi has always been an outcast and a disappointment to his parents. In a society which values strength of arms Yarvi disfigured hand has been a major handicap. Nonetheless Yari has used his brains and cunning to study to become a Minister and is about to take the exams before his father and elder brother are murdered. Thrust into kingship Yarvi lacks confidence to fulfill the role, nonetheless he swears an oath to avenge his family. He later learns that his uncle had his father murdered and attempts to do the same to Yarvi who is betrayed and left for dead. Made a slave Yarvi is still intent on fulling his oath and may acquire some strange companions to do so.

This novel is very much a coming of age story at its crux and explains the Young Adult classification. Yarvi is initially consumed by his lack of physical prowess and his status as an outcast but begins to trust his own strength as the novel progress.

While Yarvi is a cconvincing protagonist I found the support cast less fleshed out then I have come to expect from an Abercrombie novel. One of the reasons for this is Abercrombie has steered away from the multi points of view perspectives which he is so good at.

The world building is exceptionally well done and unintrusive. The world is set in a viking like setting with politics and religion well portrayed in particular.

Despite being the first volume in a trilogy the story stands very well on its own and I enjoyed the well foreshadowed plot twists,

Overall Abercrombie has delivered a solid novel but his characterization is somewhat below what I have come to expect. 8/10.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Harry August was born in 1919. His mother was a household maid who was raped by the affluent master of the household where she worked. Harry's mother died in childbirth and while he was not acknowledged as his father's son his aunt ensured that Harry was raised within the household by the groundskeeper and his wife. Aside from his rather traumatic beginning Harry lived a rather ordinary life and the died....only to be born again in 1919 and have his memories from his previous life slowly come back to him and so the process begins again. Throughout his lives Harry meets others like him who form the Cronus Club who abide by a code of non-interference in linear affairs, At the end of one of his lives receives a message that the world is ending or more correctly ending sooner than it should. Knowing that one of his own kind can only be responsible Harry sets out to find the culprit.

The concept is an original and well conceived one. The story takes place as something of a narrative from Harry's perspective and as one might except Harry jumps around from life to life as events which have shaped him effect 'the present' circumstance. This is an appropriate way of doing things as it shows a very real similarity to a real world biography and is an excellent way to explore the central character to an impressive degree.

With such an approach there was a very real risk that the support characters would be left underdeveloped which I am happy to say is far from the case.

Overall an original concept and well developed lead ccharactermake for a compelling read. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Lore and Order by Steve Peacock

Jameson Parker is a warlock, a government sanctioned and controlled wizard with his magic being limited to whatever he can have signed off by Whitehall's bureaucrats. Jameson is however okay with that seeing as how the power of his magic once consumed him and made him into the 'dark lord of Hampshire'. Oh and if he used his magic without permission his bosses may explode his heart. When fires begin sprouting up all over Humberside City it is obvious an arsonist is involved and when a magical connection is inferred Jameson is sent to investigate. However with his government bosses  having major trust issues with him and the other local warlocks looking to start their own revolution, things may get complicated. 

As with most urban-fantasy novels, this one is written from a first person perspective and like other novels in this genre the key to a great read is having an engaging lead character. Jameson Parker certainly ticks all the right boxes. There are similarities to Harry Dresden and Bobby Dollar but these are largely superficial and I did enjoy his 'Britishness' and his surprisingly playful nature. 

The world-building is pretty interesting without being overbearing and I felt that Peacock used the setting of Humberside well enough. 

Pacing is well-controlled with never a lull throughout proceedings. I did enjoy the theme of the lead character having to rely on other non-magical solutions and thought this was worked rather cleverly into the conclusion.

My only minor gripe was with the random paragraph breaks mid-sentence which were distracting and broke the flow. It was also something that could have been easily remedied. 

Overall Peacock delivers a a strong lead-character driven novel and I can't wait to see where the next novel takes us. 8.5/10.   

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology

An anthology based on a look behind the scenes into the writing process itself, from brain storming story ideas, through the initial drafts, writing group feedback and final drafts. I haven't come across anything like this before. It's a very cool concept and will be a useful tool to budding writers and any readers with an interest in all things 'behind the scenes.' Of course all that aside the story themselves still need to work on their own and I'd say for the most part they do.

A Fire in the Heavens by Mary Robinette Kowal: A priestess of a religious minority group sails across the ocean hoping to help her people escape discrimination by finding the land where the mythical founders of her religion hailed from. However she finds more than she bargained for and there may be a good reason her ancestors fled. A very believable and well-developed protagonist steals the show and is well supported by some well conceived support characters. World-building is solid and the plot is well paced. 8.5/10.

I.E. Demon by Dan Wells:Members of the U.S. military are tasked with field testing new technology which disables explosive devices. However they run into problems when the device malfunctions and they find themselves the target of a very angry gremlin. The weakest story in the collection by a country mile. The two speaking characters are underwhelming, with no real development and the story has very real issues of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. The concept itself is interesting and the conclusion is well thought out but everything else felt rushed. From the writing group discussions it is revealed that Wells was working to a word number constraint but I don't think that is a good enough excuse. The word count should be firmly dictated by the needs of the story not the other way around. 5/10.

An Honest Death by Howard Tayler: A biotech firm has developed a way to cancel the aging process making human immortality a reality. However when when death himself takes issue with this development and confronts the cooperation CEO his security team find themselves in an unprecedented situation. Is it all an elaborate hoax and if not can they protect their boss from the grim reaper? A very strong and well developed core cast of characters were the driving force in this story. The concept was clever and well considered and the pacing was spot on. 8.5/10.

Sixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson. Set in a world where birds raised on archipelago chain grant people amazing abilities. A lone trapper must face up to the end of his world as outsiders seek to learn the source of the birds' ability. When he meets up with a stranded member of the outsider crew he learns that the fate of the island and their world itself is in their hands. Everything I have come to expect from Sanderson on his best days. The world-building was outstanding, the interaction between the two protagonists was believable and wove the various plot lines and themes together. An exceptionally well considered and satisfying conclusion to top it all off. 9/10.

Overall three of the story in this collection are absolute gems and the anthology offers something unique in the way it looks at the writing process. 8/10.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Having survived Sadeas betrayal through the unexpected aid of the bridge four crew Dalinar steps up his efforts to unite the High Princes, knowing that an unfathomable danger is just around the corner. Kaladin the leader of bridge four finds himself assigned as head of  Dalinar's bodyguard. While he doesn't entirely trust him, due to his social station, he knows that bridge four's only hope is for Dalinar to remain alive. Meanwhile Shallan finds herself in grave danger. The ship is attacked by assassins leaving Jasnah dead and Shallan as possibly the sole survivor. She needs to continue her journey to the shattered plains, knowing the very fate of the world could lie in her completing Jasnah's mission.

There is a lot right with Sanderson's second installment in the Storm Light archives series. This very well might be Sanderson's finest piece of world-building combining a vivid-landscape  with a long history and various peoples. These are explored in greater depth than the first volume.

Dalinar, Kaladin and Shallan remain the three main protagonists and the pay off in particular from Kaladin and Shallan as they mature throughout the book is very rewarding. I also enjoyed the exploration in the complex motivations of side characters and groups.

In no uncertain terms this is a large novel. Yet at no point did I find myself experiencing any lag as the plots developed, a sign of exceptional pacing.

There is also an unexpected depth to some of the subplots, as complex issues such as racism are explored in a very mature way.

Sadly Sanderson's biggest struggle remains his attempts to improve the humor in his writing.  There are number of examples where this felt forced and made some of the character's almost 'cartoony' at times. Having said that there were moments when he did get it right, some of the interactions between Pattern and Shallan being the best examples. The only other negative comment I have is the choice of using some words in dialogue which do not gel with the setting and do lead to moments where I lost my immersion in the story.

Overall the second installment of this series is combination of excellent world-building, character development and pacing. Minor issues in forced humor provides a slight distraction at times. 8.5/10.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Thornlost by Melanie Rawn

After finally winning a place on the summer circuit the members of Touchstone find themselves in a seemingly secure position. In addition to their success on stage they have gained a valuable ally within the royal family. However all is not as calm below the surface. Mieka's marriage is marred by an act of domestic violence that has Cade concerned that they are taking the first steps into one of the horrible visions of the future. The Archduke and his pet group Black Lightening have their own agenda for Touchstone as well.

The centerpiece of the series remains the complex relationship between Cade and Mieka which continues to steal the show. However I found the support characters developed to a very satisfying degree in this installment as well.

The sheer complex historical and social structure of Rawn's creation is highlighted extremely well with Touchstone's role in the movement for women's rights and the hints of the Black lightening stirring up long dormant racial tensions.

This series and this novel in particular are perfect examples of putting character development and interaction at the forefront of a story providing a base for building the plot around. I definitely found the story had a tighter focus than the last installment which I am extremely pleased about.

Overall this is certainly the strongest installment in this series to date 8.75/10.