Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams


The Kingdoms in the Northern Continent are becoming nervous as the Autarch, the god-emperor of Xi's, has consolidated his hold on the Southern continent and is seeking new conquests. King Olin of Shadowmarch sought to unite the Northern Kingdoms in alliance of protection against this threat but was captured by the bandit ruler of Hierosol who demands a considerable ransom for his release. Olin's heir Prince Kendrick attempts to hold Shadowmarch together but tragedy thrusts his two younger siblings to prominence. Briony is tired of being judged on her gender is determined to show her worth while her twin brother Barrick is plagued by nightmares that make him question his sanity. Meanwhile the Twilight people, fairy folk driven off by humans centuries ago, have plans to take back what was taken from them.

 Like many of Williams books the pacing of the novel, especially in the beginning, is exceedingly slow. However it is well worth persisting with. Williams is able to create a brooding atmosphere throughout which kept me turning the pages. World-building is solid and while the characters might seem to adhere to genre stereotypes at first glance they are very well developed.

Overall pacing issues aside Williams delivers a very strong, character-driven novel. 8/10.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Ghosts 2015: Elf

“Elf!”
            Santa called the entire multitude of workers crammed into the workshop ‘elf’ but Elf knew he was being addressed. He hunched his misshapen shoulders as Santa loomed over him examining the Furby he’d been stuffing. After an eternity Santa grunted and thundered on. Elf sighed and rubbed his elongated ears. They’d been normal once but Santa “Claws” had a grip like an enraged crab. Elf dismissed the thought before it drew Santa’s ire. Santa always knew.
“I won’t be naughty again!” A boy screeched as the reindeer herded him inside.

Elf tutted, had he truly resembled this strange creature?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines


Isaac Vianio's life is back on track,he is adjusting to his relationship with dryad Lena Greenwood, accepting the fact she has another relationship with Nidhi Shah and has taken on a mentor role to a young libriomancer who has a unique new ability. When Isaac and Lena are called to investigate the murder of a Wendigo they quickly stumble onto something more. A group Gutenberg thought he destroyed years ago is resurfacing and they have plans for Lena.

The magic system was very well thought out and constructed and I was happy to see Hines addressing new areas, such as e-books, and how they are incorporated into it. Lena was the most intriguing character from the first book and each chapter begins with a short extract on her own thoughts on her life. This cleverly shadowed a concept introduced in the book; whether you could incorporate enough key events into a book to recreate a person.

The mix of humour and addressing serious issues is again well balanced and I feel like Hines is definitely maturing as a writer.

Overall another clever, character-driven offering from Hines. 8.5/10.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan


For decades the city fortress of Bar-Khos has held the armies of the empire of Mann at bay. Now the Holy Matriach plans to lead a pincer force herself to finally crush the resistance. However there are dangers she does not expect. Ash, the aging and ailing Roshun assassin, seeks vengeance for his slain apprentice Nico. With nothing left to lose Ash is a very dangerous man. Meanwhile Che, a trained killer of the state, is assigned a secret mission; kill the Matriach if it looks like she will flee from battle, However disgusted at his own part in the destruction of the Roshun order Che is far from stable.

I really enjoyed the character-driven nature of the previous volume, especially the contrast between Ash's world-weariness and Nico's naivety. To an extant that contrast is still there but not to the same degree and the story has definitely moved to focus more on the larger events taking place. This is demonstrated by the more political focus in the early part of this volume. While this does keep things interesting I did feel sometimes the plot meandered unnecessarily.

My one criticism from the previous volume was that the supporting cast were underdeveloped and I'm glad to see that the author has made some very strong steps in rectifying this.

Overall a solid read which expands on the first volume but lacks a bit of it's character-driven focus. 8/10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Mama Sauveterre's Curiosity Shoppe by John Yeo Jr.


Tassina D'Emerald was part of a group called the laughing dancers, a supernatural group blessed with an unnaturally long life span. However after several centuries age was finally catching up with her and her famed beauty was fading. Tassina decided to make a deal with a demon and at the cost of all of her fortune and her status as a laughing dancer she swapped bodies with a younger dancer. However Tassina's triumph was short lived when she discovered the younger body was cursed with an illusion that made it's flesh terrible to look upon. Tassina believes that the younger dancer inflicted the curse herself as a form of revenge. The younger dancer, now trapped in Tassina's older body, went on with her life taking the name of Mama Sauveterre and adopting a odd assortment of individuals into a family and running a Curiosity shop that is more than it seems. Decades pass and Tassina hatches a plan to try and get Mamma to reverse the curse by trapping Mama's adopted daughter in a black magic bargain and using her as leverage. However there are unforeseen consequences that have both heaven and hell hot on Tassina's trail.

I loved the concept and think there was a very good story to be told here but the writing lets it down big time. The prose comes across as very clumsy and the author struggles with the issue of telling rather than showing readers what is happening. This is compounded by the decision to have multiple point of views shifts within paragraphs which is almost always a mistake, not to mention a pet hate of mine. There are also a number of rather obvious spelling errors which are distracting and I wish the author had given the text another edit.

Having said that I do feel that the author was able to create an interesting cast of characters and presents their own points of view very convincingly. The plot was also well paced.

There is a great story here struggling to get out but sadly writing issues keep it thoroughly buried. 5/10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines


As a teenager Isaac Vaino discovered he had the magic to pull any item, provided it would fit, out of a book. Anything from a ray gun from a science fiction novel to Excalibur from a book about King Arthur. Whats more he was recruited into a secret organization founded by Johannes Guttenberg charged with protecting the general population from magic and keeping it a secret. Isaac's dreams were shattered when a field operation went horribly wrong. He was taken off active duty and forbidden to use magic but was still allowed to remain with the Libriomancer's as researcher posing as a small town librarian. All that changes when Isaac is attacked by a group of vampires and saved by a kick-ass dryad named Lena who he has something of a crush on. Isaac learns that Guttenberg has disappeared the Libriomance's are under attack and something has the vampires spooked as well. Whats'more Lena romantically propositions Isaac afraid that if her current lover is turned to a vampire she will become something truly evil as the desires of her lover shape who she is. Of course this gives Isaac some serious moral implications to ponder.

I must admit I was hesitant regarding the concept; having a protagonist able to pull anything he might need from the pages of the book sounded problematic. Thankfully Hines establishes a very well thought out set of ground rules and limitations that make it work. Having the world-building based on this concept was a nice touch, For example different breeds of vampires are the result of different books and might not have weakness one would expect.  I always enjoyed the way Hines keeps the balance between the quirky and serious aspects of this book. Considering the moral implications involved in a very intelligent manner was a very nice touch.

The action is fast-paced and the characters are engaging.

Overall Hines combines a well though out concept and delivers a balanced and enjoyable read. 8/10.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchiakovsky


The two allied countries of Denland and Lascanne find themselves at war after the assassination of the king of Denland. Denland becomes a republic and can't have a working monarchy on their doorstep as it undermines their political position. Emily Marchwic is head of a noble house that has steadily declined after her father committed suicide years before. The man she blames for her father's death Mr Northway is the governor of their town and when he refuses to use his powers to prevent her fifteen year old brother from being sent to the front she hates him even more. However as she struggles to keep her family together she begins to understand he may not entirely be the villain she sees shes him as. When an announcement is made that each household must supply one woman for the front Emily volunteers herself, despite Mr Northway's efforts to save her. There she finds that the war and the fabric of her society itself may not be exactly what she has always been told.

What immediately impressed me with this book is the tone, reminiscent of something like the American civil war, that Tchiakovsky is able to capture. It is highly immersive and very different to that in his Shadows of the Apt  series. Emily is a convincing lead who grows as a character throughout the story. Supporting her are a complex cast of well-drawn supporting characters.

World-building is impressive without being intrusive, the action sequences infused with suspense all leading to a very satisfying conclusion.

Overall Tchaikovsky's first foray into stand-alone work is an impressive one. 9/10.