Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: At Faith's End by Chris Galford

With the Idasian emperor having fallen a power vacuum has emerged which many contenders would seek to full.Leopold a priest and brother to the late emperor, strongly supported by his wife, who has been out of the empire for decades sets to work taking the throne. His main opponent is a nobleman Walthere Cullick who has the empress under his thumb and hopes to marry his daughter Charlotte to the former emperor's young son. Meanwhile the emperor's bastard son Tessel has taken control of the imperial army in the field. He lacks the support of the nobles and when an attempt on his life fails he decides to lead the army home intent on conquest. Rurik Matair is uncertain of his own place, he is caught between his loyalty to Tessel and his own brother. His friends in the company of the eagle have turned their backs on them unsure if he is responsible for raping Essa when she was drugged. All the while the man responsible the deranged baker Voren would like nothing better than to see the end of Rurik.

Like the first book the biggest strength of this one is the diversity and complexity of it's well realized cast of characters. Having said that I was disappointed that some of the events that happen do not seem to leave an emotional impact on the characters. For example a group of merecenaries attempt to rape Essa but this does not seem to have any impact on her going foward.

Pacing is initially very slow with little happening in the first third of the book. Having said that once it does pick up I was hooked and thought the ending in particular was well realized.

Another minor issue is that two conversations that Rurik has with Alviss and Essa later in the book seem to be completly recycled from earlier. This should have been picked up in editing.

Overall this is a good solid book but several issues make it somewhat less than it's predecessor. 7/10.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review:Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar is on something of an enforced probation as some of the higher powers in Heaven look at his role in the events of the emergence of a "third way."  Things quickly get worse as an undead creature named Smyler begins attacking Bobby. Smyler is after the location of an archangels feather that Bobby has which could cause trouble for Eligor a grand duke of hell by proving he has been making deals with someone in heaven behind his colleagues' backs. That coupled with the fact that someone pretty powerful needs to have been involved to bring Smyler back from the dead is enough for Bobby to decide to take the fight to Eligor. He embarks on a seemingly doomed venture into hell itself to rescue his demon girlfriend Casimira from Eligor's backyard.

Bobby's journey through hell is an emotional tour de force. While the first volume touched on the themes of redemption and characters of shades of grey this one takes it to the next level as Bobby encounters not only evil in hell but some good as well. It definitely doesn't shy away from some tough questions and the characterization definitely takes a step up from the previous volume. 

My only critique would be the ending is a touch predictable and does seem a bit underwhelming compared to the rest of the story.

Overall  Williams improves on his previous urban fantasy effort with a tough emotional punch. 8.25/10.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Review:The Baker's Boy by J.V. Jones

The king's chancellor and powerful sorcerer Baralis has been plotting for decades to rule the kingdom of Harvell and eventually create for himself an empire. He secretly fathered the heir Prince Kylock and is responsible for an injury to the king that leaves him unable to rule. Now Baralis turns his attentions to a former co-conspirator Lord Maybor who has plans of his own. Maybor wishes to have his daughter Melliandra marry Kylock and secure more power for himself. Something Baralis won't allow. Meanwhile an orphaned baker's apprentice Jack learns he may have powers of his own and must flee the castle that has been his home as Baralis will undoubtedly see him as a threat. Melliandra has no desire to wed Kylock and decides to run away herself.

A wiseman named Bevlin had foreseen events taking place in the present and had dispatched a young knight named Tawl on a vague quest to "find the boy". Tawl is imprisoned by the corrupt archbishop of Rorn. He is eventually released so the archbishop can try and figure out what he is up to. The archbishop also gets wind of Baralis' plans and is very uneasy about them.

At first glance the Baker's Boy might appear to be a combination of standard fantasy stereotypes. This is certainly not the case. What I found extremely refreshing is that the plot focussed on the three villians, Baralis, Maybor and the archbishop and their plots as well as how they play spoiler to the  three heroes. However I did have some trouble with the characterization for the three as they are all too much like stereotypical villains and can lack a degree of complexity. For example the archbishop is portrayed as glutton in almost every scene he appears in and they all seem to suffer from an unrealistic overconfidence. Oddly enough the only villain who doesnt seem to fall into this trap is Baralis assisant and I'm curious to see how he develops.

Pacing is very well controlled and the world-building is interesting as well.

Overall I enjoyed the different approach by focusing on the villains' various schemes but bit more complexity in their characterization would have been a great touch. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall

Dahoud is a former military commander who committed great atrocities, particularly against women, at the behest of djinn that shares his soul. He has been in hiding for years, working as a clerk and hoping to forget his past. When he is given an opportunity to become the satrap of a territory he hopes he can make up for all he has done. Merida is a weather magician who has recently become a diplomat to a land that doesn't believe in her skills. However when she brings rain she may have also brought a great deal of trouble for herself.

The first thing that I noticed about this novel is that the prose does not gel with the 'dark' fantasy setting the author was trying to create. It is rather simplistic and underdeveloped.

Most of the characters come across as highly naive. While this may suit Merida it certainly doesn't suit the rest of the cast.

The plot is highly unorganized and scampers all over the show. There is very little build up to important moments and it often seems to lack an overall vision.

There aren't quite enough typos to say the book was riddled with them but there are certainly enough to be distracting.

While the basic premise of Storm Dancer had potential, huge problems in the prose, character development and overall plot made it a chore to read. 3/10.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

With the worm at world's end roused and seeking the to devour the Elohim the Land is plunged into a never ending twilight. With her adopted son Jeremiah finally free of his dissociation Linden Avery seeks to aid him in a desperate plan to build a refuge for the remaining Elohim and forestall the end of everything.  Meanwhile Thomas Covenant has finally put an end to his insane ex-wife's suffering and the inadvertent damage she was doing to the arch of time. Covenant is healed from his injury's by Brinn who tasks Covenant with protecting the Lurker against possession by a Raver. All three characters must face their greatest fears if the Land is to survive.

As one would hope in the concluding volume in a series plot lines are constantly being resolved throughout this novel. This set up a steady pace throughout which certainly kept me engaged.

As always the main strength of any Donaldson novel is the depth of his characters. Covenant, Linden and Jeremiah all get point of view chapters and Donaldson does an amazing job of showing the toll the strain of events takes on each of them. The cast of support characters are also exceptionally strong and well fleshed out.

Overall strong pacing and engaging characters make for a fitting finale for one of the cornerstone series in fantasy literature. 8.5/10. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review:The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

With their options seemingly exhausted and Locke virtually on death's door due to poison Locke and Jean receive an  offer of assistance from a source they would never have expected, one of the Bondsmagi. The Bondsmagi in question, Patience, is willing to heal Locke in exchange for the gentlemen bastards' aid in rigging an election in the city of Karthain. However the opposition have an interesting cats-paw of their own, Sabetha Belacross Locke's former lover and someone whose skills are a match for his own.

The story is divided into two main parts; the events in the present and events in the past detailing Locke's first meeting with Sabetha, interesting turning points in their relationship before detailing efforts of the teenage gentleman bastards to stage a play while juggling an overbearing patron and other obstacles. One advantage to this strategy is Lynch gets to use some interesting characters such as father Chains and Calo and Galdo who were killed in earlier books. There is however a major drawback which I will come back to.

The book starts with a roar and hiss but runs out of steam in the middle and never really recovers. Part of this is due to a lack of tension. Sabetha obviously has no intention of doing serious harm to Locke and Jean and we know that the main characters are under no threat in the past storyline, ie the major drawback. Part of this could have been alleviated by focusing more on the conflict between the two Bondsmagi factions as this is clearly a major plot point but an underdeveloped one.

Having said that the characters remain engaging and there is an interesting touch of world-building which hints at the direction this series will take.

While there are some pacing issues and a serious lack of tension strong characters make for a worthwhile read. 7/10.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago a cosmic event named calamity occurred. This burst of energy gave a select group of men and women, now called epics, extraordinary powers. However instead of using these abilities for the betterment of mankind the epics seized power for themselves. David is a young man bent on revenge. Ten years ago he watched Steelheart, the epic who rules what was once Chicago and is said to be invincible, murder his father.  However David has seen something no one else alive has, he has seen Steelheart bleed. David begins a search for the Reckoners, a shadowy group who fight the epics, although only some of the low level ones. He hopes he can convince them to help him against Steelheart and gain his vengeance.

One aspect of writing that Sanderson often has trouble with is humour and this is really evident in this novel. David is meant to be consumed by the need for vengeance in a dystopian world but is seemingly obsessed with random metaphors. This is really distracting in the first half of the book and doesn't sit well with the subject matter. Thankfully this eases once the action picks up later in the book. 

I noticed in The Rithmatist, Brandon's other young adult novel, that the protagonist seemed younger than he should have and that is also the case for David here and is something Sanderson needs to address.

Sanderson is well known for his well thought out and exceedingly well organized magic systems. What he delivers in Steelheart is very out of character. The weaknesses for the epics are especially arbitrary and I hope he addresses this later in the series.

Having said all of that Sanderson does work some very well shadowed plot twists into the mix and the group of support characters is very well realized.

Overall Steelheart is a book of two halves with a problem riddled beginning and an action packed conclusion. 7/10.