Saturday, June 13, 2015

Review: Monument by Ian Graham

A drunken vagrant named Ballas, comes close to death when a pickpocket goes horribly wrong. Nursed back to health by a clergyman Ballas learns of a jeweled piece owned by a friend of the clergyman who owns a museum. Stealing the piece Ballas hopes to fence it and make his fortune. When a disagreement with an underworld boss, with church connections, ends in the offender's death Ballas finds himself on the wrong side of the Church's considerable resources and on the run. But with the church controlling most of the known world Ballas has no choice but to seek out a mythical lands which may or may not exist. In fact it almost seems like a compulsion...

Monument's greatest strength is the way the character of Ballas is gradually built throughout the novel. While it is obvious from the beginning that he is no hero finding out exactly what he was, was fascinating. Although ninety percent of the novel was told from Ballas' perspective tiny portions are told from a few other character's points of view. While I'm generally not a fan of this (I'm more of the opinion that either stick to one character's perspective or divide it more evenly, small sections in isolation seem like a cop out to me.) in this case it actually and in fact the novel wouldn't have worked without one in particular. The  supporting cast are well realized and the world-building is solid and unintrusive.

Overall Momument is a solid character-driven  novel. 8.5/10,    

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan

Five years after the events of Return of the Jedi the members of the rebellion have formed a New Republic, trying to get intergalactic trade up and running, enticing new worlds into the republic and dealing with the remnants of the empire. Thrawn, the last of the empire's Grand Admirals, has taken control of the scattered imperial fleet. He plans on using technology hidden away by Emperor Palpatine and an unlikely alliance with a dark Jedi, Joruus C'Baoth ,  to restore the fleet. In return for his aid C'Baoth would like other Jedi's to bend to his will, leading Thrawn's forces to target Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia.

For the most part Zhan succeeds in capturing the right feel for the characters, though at times it does feels like he is trying to hard by having them repeat lines from the original movies. I was especially impressed with how well Zhan was able to portray non-speaking characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca and really made them come to life.

The original Star Wars movies are pretty intent on portraying the empire as irredeemable evildoers which does give it an overstrung aspect of black and white. However in Thrawn Zhan has created a capable and intelligent nemesis who I couldn't help cheering for a little bit.

The copy I read was the 20th anniversary edition which included commentary by Zhan which added an behind the scenes aspect that added an interesting layer.

I did have an issue with some rather bizarre and silly aspects which popped up from time to time and did spoil my immersion. The best example is a new Wookie character that humans can understand due to a speech impediment.

I did find Zhan's prose a bit simplistic at times.

Overall Zhan delivers a very good Star Wars book but some issues can be distracting. 6.75/10.

This edition also contained a novella entitled Crisis of Faith. I enjoyed it and felt Zhan's prose markedly improved, is well paced and has one of the more interesting alien points of view I have read. 8/10.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Daughter of Regals and Other Tales by Stephen R. Donaldson

Daughter of Regals:  Princess Chrysalis decides to try and take hold of her birthright and become a magical creature on her twenty -first birthday.If she fails he life may be forfeit as the three leading nobles will look to take control and plunge the kingdom into war. Whats-more her magical protector is dubious about her chances and may have plans of his own to keep the kingdom intact. Superb world-building and well fleshed out support characters. I enjoyed the dichotomy of Chrysalis faith and doubt in herself. 8.5/10.

Gilden-Fire: The tale of Korik of the bloodguard and his quest with two of the master's of the land to aid the giants of Seareach. This was originally cut from the Illearth War, the second book of the Thomas Covenant series. Does not work as a standalone work as it doesn't have a real end but interesting character perspective and flows well. 8/10.

Mythological Beast: In a world where violence has been eliminated by the close control of people by machines, a man experiences some very strange physiological changes which make him a threat to society.  I found the lead very distant and  inaccessible as a character. 6/10

The Lady in White: A blacksmith relates a tale of a beautiful yet mysterious woman who lures men into the woods. A complex lead and has a finale that left me thinking on it many hours later. 8.25/10.

Animal Lover: In the future a special agent is sent to investigate a game park with an unusually high death rate. Strong world building and cleverly makes you think the story is heading one direction before switching to another. 8/10.

Unworthy of  the Angel: A guardian angel that has his memory wiped after each mission is tasked with saving an artist's soul who is slowly killing his sister. Loved the lead and the concept. I would really enjoying seeing Donaldson take this one further. 9/10.

The Conqueror worm: A married couple with deep seated issues argue after returning from a party while a centipede is loose in the house. Both primary characters are fleshed out exceedingly well but the story just doesn't go anywhere. 5.75/10.

Ser Visal's Tale: An aristocrat is plied with drinks by young nobleman and tells the tale of how another nobleman inadvertently freed a witch and was excommunicated. Well developed characters and a great twist. 8.5/10.

Overall a strong collection: 8/10.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Auri, a strange girl who lives in the tunnels below the university, knows she has only seven days before her friend Kvothe visits her again. In that time she needs to find him the perfect gift and ensure that everything is in it's proper place.

Right from the foreword Rothfuss warns that this a very different story, and one not everyone will like. There is only one character, no action and nothing resembling  a normal narrative. It is fair to say Rothfuss has taken a big chance with this story and it's one I'm glad he did because he has created something quite extraordinary and very beautiful.

Auri's perspective is very different. She is at once both very lonely yet not.... as she is able to make the world and the objects in it into something else. So even though she is the only character in this story the inanimate objects she interacts with definitely have personalities all there own. The juxtaposition between the tragedy of Auri's situation and the triumph in living her life anyway is something special.

The big reveal at the end of this story is very intriguing and I look forward to seeing how this plays into Rothfuss' next book.

Overall Rothfuss takes a big chance and delivers something unique and very different to his regular novels in this series. I hope Sanderson was taking notes. 8.5/10.

Review: Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Months after Steelheart's demise the city of Newcago is in a state of rebuilding. The Reckoners have come out into the open and joined forces with Steelheart's former guard hoping to keep the city free of epics. However Steelheart's demise has not gone unnoticed and Mitosis, an epic with the ability to make a seemingly endless supply of clones of himself, has arrived and is looking to kill David.

Marketed as a bridge between Steelheart and Firefight this novella simply does not deliver. In essence it boils down to an epic coming to town to kill David and is defeated, something which happens in the first chapter of Firefight as well. It simply offers nothing new and no character development at all. I can't help thinking Sanderson missed a trick by going with David's point of view again  instead of Mitosis or a former member of Steelheart's guard which might have been interesting.

Whats more this novella simply highlighted most of the short comings from the first book. David as a character simply does not work. He is supposed to be haunted by his father's death and destruction of the world he knew by epics, instead he is a goofball obsessed  with silly puns. This might work if it was a facade which cracked when he was under pressure but no such luck. Sanderson needs to stop trying so hard with humour because when he tries to force the issue it simply doesn't work. He also needs to stopping dumbing down his prose simply because it is a young adult book.

The only thing that worked for me was the way Mitosis is defeated is reasonably clever.  

Overall a very disappointing read which I wouldn't even recommend to fans of the first book. 4/10.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Legend by David Gemmell

Ulric has united the many tribes of the Nadir people and seeks to invade the Drenai lands. The Drenai had been following a policy of appeasement seeking to negotiate with the Nadir and had thus allowed their army to dwindle. The fate of the Drenai lies at the fortress of Dros Delnoch where an insufficient force, an incompetent general and a dying earl must seek to hold. The Earl sends a message to his old comrade Druss, a legendary warrior now in his sixties. Druss heeds the summons even knowing it will mean his death as he fears dying toothless and alone but can he still be the legend men remember? Ruk is a former army officer who seeks to stay clear of the conflict but following a chance meeting with the earl's daughter leads him to fall in love with her and draws him to the fortress.

One of the most notable features of this novel for me was one many would not expect;the byplay between the characters. Amusing at the right times, without being silly and destroying the mood and often offering some rather clever insights into the human condition. Pacing is fast and often action packed.

One thing however I think could have been improved upon is the development of Ruk's character. In the beginning he is dead set against being involved in the coming war and yet in no time he has accepted his fate. I found it quite unbelievable that he wouldn't try to avoid his fate or a least rail against it. It almost like there are two different characters with not enough linking the two.

Ulric is a very convincing villain. Far from being a cartoon one-dimensional villain who muses on how history will view him and has his people's welfare at the foremost in his mind. I found the observations of some of the other characters into his motives very apt.

I am not a fan of point of view shifts in the middle of a paragraph and found it disconcerting at various points in this book.

Overall Gemmell's first novel was fast-paced, action packed and some very interesting interactions between characters, despite a few flaws. 8/10.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Scattered across an inhospitable sea linked only by airships working on a few safe currents are a number of island kingdoms. Over recent years a wasting disease has gripped these kingdoms causing crops to fail, fishing areas to run dry and even slowly killing people. Two of these kingdoms are seeking an alliance through marriage to offset these problems. However nobody knows that prince Nikandr of Khalakovo has contracted the wasting putting the alliance into jeopardy.  As part of the celebration the Dukes of the other kingdoms arrive in Khalakovo, almost immediately the grand duke is attacked by a summoned spirit and killed. Nikandr is tasked with finding the culprit, the lead suspect is autistic child who has a strange affinity with Nikandr. Nikander believes the boy is merely the puppet of a shadow group with sinister motives and his strange powers may in fact hold the key to dispelling the wasting.

Beaulieu's world building is impressive with cultures, history and magic integrated seamlessly. Initially I found his characterization impressive with representatives from the various groups portrayed with complex motives. However as the story progressed much of this was pushed to the side with a number of characters ending up as one-dimensional cartoon villains. This stems from the novels biggest problem; mistimed pacing. Everything feels far too rushed and interesting events and character progression loses a lot of significance. Rehada's  shifts in view points I felt was particularly unbelievable in such a short amount of time.

Overall Beaulieu's world building is highly impressive and his story is intriguing and original, rushed pacing however robs this novels of key elements that could have made it great. 7/10.