Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reviwe: Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

After an accident aboard ship Captain Will Laurence awakens on the shores of Japan. Little does he know he has suffered retrograde amnesia and his memory of the last several years is gone. Laurence and his crew's vital mission to secure the aid of the Chinese in the war against Napoleon is under dire threat. Especially when there are elements within the Chinese government who will go to any lengths to stop it. Whats-more Napoleon has made a bold strike into Russia and if he is successful he might well secure all of Europe.

The previous two volumes of the Temeraire series contained similar problems, an over extensive travelog and missing any real sense of tension. I am happy to say that both these areas have been addressed. Even though Lawrence, Temeraire and their crew pass through several countries, much of the description of traveling is cut away. Even better is the author is still able to include elements to explain how dragons are incorporated into the various societies. With taking a more direct approach into the war itself the missing tension is also regained.

I actually enjoyed the amnesia subplot and thought it was a great way to measure how much Laurence has grown as a character while at the same time playing on his strength of character.

Overall I found this volume a welcome return to form and eagerly look forward to the finale. 8/10.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: A Man Betrayed by J.V. Jones

While working their way through Halcus Jack and Melliandra are separated when they are confronted by a patrol of enemy soldiers. Melliandra is captured by slavers but is determined to turn her circumstances into her favor. Jack meanwhile believes Melli is dead. He is taken in by a smuggler and his indebted 'family' who try and manipulate him into killing the captain of the guard 'responsible' for Melli's demise. After being driven to kill Bevlin by a compulsion Tawl flees to Bren where he attempts to lose himself in drink and fighting. However the young pickpocket Nabber is determined to aid his friend. Maybor and Baralis both reach Bren themselves. Baralis is attempting to ensure that the betrothal between Kylock and the Duke's daughter goes ahead while Maybor tries to subvert him. Kylock decides to arrange an accident for the ailing king, seizes power and invades Halcus, complicating everyone's plans.

I didn't enjoy this as much as the first volume. The novelty of many of the main characters being villains has worn a bit thin and I struggled to get past the overplayed self-absorbed and bumbling nature of most of the characters. I also found the writing itself slightly rougher than the first volume.

On the positive side the pacing is generally well controlled through most of the subplots and I did find the Duke of Bren himself an interesting addition to the cast.

Overall I found this volume harder going than the last. 6/10.       

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Dangerous Women editied by by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie: Shy made off with her gang's rather underwhelming amount of loot after a heist. However after her horse collapses outside a ghost town she has has to use all of her resourcefulness to try and survive her pursuers. Has it's moments and has more of a western feel to it than Red Country but doesn't offer anything more than a light entertaining read. 7/10.

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott: A couple deal with the fallout of their daughter being abducted. The father begins to wonder if his wife may have more to do with their daughter's disappearance  than she is letting one. The story is told from the husband's perspective and I loved the way the very character of the wife shifted and changed through his eyes. Very well delivered twist as well. 8.5/10.

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland: Tells the story of Nora, one of the young daughters of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as she is caught up in her parents squabble. Nora's view point is well portrayed but the story itself doesn't seem to go very far and feels almost incomplete.  6.5/10.

The Hands Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass: Science fiction story about a young man, who is down on his luck, being told a very strange story by an alien in a bar. Exceptional world building in a limited space with some well portrayed characters. 8.5/10.

Bombshells by Jim Butcher:  Molly is approached by Justine for help in a delicate matter. Thomas has been caught spying on the svartalves, who are in the middle of negotiations with the deadly Fomor. I've mostly enjoyed Butcher's forays into stories from the perspectives of other characters in the Dresden files and this one is no exception. Fast paced and action packed with nice little twist on the theme. 8.5/10.

Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn: Follows a female Russian fighter pilot during World War 2 who fears that her brother's disappearance from an infantry unit will doom her family. A steady piece but lacked any real spark. 6/10.

 Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale: A young man is taken in by a geriatric wrestler who fights another geriatric wrestler every few years for a beautiful woman's favor. Packed with memorable and rather quirky characters and a lot of heart. 8.5/10.

Neighbors by Megan Lindholm: An elder woman is being pushed to selling her house and move into a retirement home by her busy children, while at the same time the disappearance of an eccentric neighbor may open the door to a world where the woman may still be useful. Emotionally powerful story with a wonderfully realized protagonist. Arguably the strongest story of the anthology 9/10.

I Know How To Pick 'Em by Lawrence Block: A man in a bar is approached by a desperate housewife, seemingly looking for a casual fling. Both parties may have darker intentions.  A chilling view point and another original twist on the theme. 8/10.

Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson: Silence is the owner of an inn in a forest where dark spirits roam, easily enraged by the sight of blood or by a person running. In order to keep her family together she secretly kills outlaws with bounties on their head but her contact may want a bigger chunk of the prize. Exceptional world-building, a complex and engaging lead and a plot that moves right along. 8.5/10.

A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman: Constance is caught between the ambition of her husband Heinrich prince of Germany and her brothers bastard as they fight for Sicily. Has it's moments but overall felt a touch bland in characterization and plot. 6.25/10.

The Girl in the Mirror by  Lev Grossman: An overachieving girl in a magical school looks to prank a boy for a perceived wrong but gets more than she bargained for. I found the protagonist well drawn and loved the quirkiness of the story but it did lack a degree of depth. 7/10.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly by Nancy Kress. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the majority of women are no longer fertile and bands of survivors compete for survival by hunting and gathering. Nurse realizes the future of her own tribe is in jeopardy when some of them take an interest in something beautiful lost from the old world. Superb world-building and a very well realized protagonist. 8.75/10.

City Lazarus by Diana Gabaldon: Set in a New Orleans where the Mississippi river has now run dry. A crooked cop becomes infatuated with a beguiling stripper and begins to question his values. Strong cast of characters but I saw the twist coming a mile away. This probably wouldn't have been as obvious if it wasn't in an anthology about dangerous women. Still a very well written piece 8.25/10.

Virgins by Diana Gabaldon:  Two Scottish warriors find themselves escorting a wealthy Jewish man's daughter to the man she is to be wed to. Decent cast of characters but felt too much like it had been plucked from a larger piece. 7/10.

Hell Hath No Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon: A spiritually sensitive young woman and her friends visit a ghost town cursed by a spurned woman. Clever take on the theme and moves right along. 7/10.

Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling:  Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the the local people have turned to a form of Neo-Druidism. Juniper, the local head woman, has to preside over the trial of an accused rapist. Another piece with strong world-building and protagonist. 8/10.

Name the Beast by Sam Sykes:  A schict woman is forced teach her estranged daughter how to be one of them while hunting a family of humans. Lacked any real spark. 6/10.

Caretakers by Pat Cadigan: A middle aged woman and her younger sister begin to suspect all might not be well at their mother's retirement home. Well-drawn characters and I really enjoyed the sometimes dysfunctional relationship of the sisters. 8.25/10.

Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector: Set in the Wild card universe. The amazing bubbles and Voodoo Mama find themselves the target of a mysterious foe with the ability to steal their powers and is intent on discrediting them. Stands really well on it's own as I had no trouble following and I've never read anything in the Wild Card universe before. Well realized cast of characters and surprisingly packs a strong emotional punch. 8.5/10.

The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin: Outlines the events of a fight for the iron throne by two branches of House Targaryen. And when I say 'outlines, that's exactly what I mean. Major issues of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. While the events are interesting enough I really think this was a phoned in effort from Martin. 6.25/10.

Overall a very strong collection of stories which utilized the theme very well. Over half of them are real gems.  8.25/10 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: Heirs of the Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Plagued by guilt over the death of her father and her half sister's lover,Tynisa travels to the Commonweal; home of Salma the man she once loved and lost. There she hopes to find his family and tell them about how he lived and died and then most likely seek her own death. However she is struck by the physical similarity of Salma's younger brother to her lost love and believes she may have found a reason to live again. However Salma's family have plans of their own for Tynisa. Meanwhile Che with the aid of Thalric is heading for the Commonweal as well hoping to save Tynisa from the ghost of Tisamon, who isn't quite done with his daughter. Seda the empress of the wasps is looking to expand her new found magical powers and ultimately plunge the world into war once more.

The world-building is exceptional once again. I especially liked how Tchaikosky showed the Commonweal warts and all and there were definitely major social problems there well before the wasp invasion. One theme which was carried along through both wasp and Dragonfly characters was the effects of war and it's associated losses as well as what losing one's purpose can mean. This really leads to some major character growth for some very interesting side characters.

I did enjoy the focus that was given to Che and Tynisa and this kept the plot centered and balanced throoughout.

Overall Tchaikosky continues to deliver in his very impressive series. 8.25/10.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: City of Tigers by Leif Chappelle

Having been abandoned by his father at a young age Sigurd is raised by his mother in the small town of Havlandsby. He is a projektor, capable of communing with the elements and gaining extroidanry powers, in his case focused on music.   When she passes away the still young Sigurd decides to join the growing exodus to the great city of  Tigrebyn. After initially living as a street urchin, he later falls in with Ragna a projektor herself who has taken it upon herself to keep the remaining projecktor's safe. He then in turn decides to leave her and lives with siblings Hemming and Kai who have recently been abaondoned their own mother. Years pass and Sigurd, whose powers have now grown, makes a living by performing one man orchestra on street corners. Prokektor's role in society has rapidly been replaced by machina and the University at the forefront of their creation seek out Sigurd to create even more powerful machina, by any means necessary. Meanwhile an unexplained fire occurs killing several people but is the culprit a faulty machina or a rouge projecktor?

The crux of the book is the age old clash of magic and technology. While some parts of Chappelle's take on this are well explored, the origin of the projektor's  powers in this case, others are not, such as machina in general. This unevenness permeates throughout most facets of the novel. No attempt is made to explain why projektors  are suddenly outcasts all of a sudden despite playing a pivotal role in society until quite recently. This was the main point of conflict in the story so needed to be explored. 

The writing for the most part is tidy but there are times when it does come across as stilted, particularity in areas of dialogue. The difference between Sigurd's younger and older point of views were well distinguished.

Most chapter titles contain a reference to some coming event, such as "three days before the fire." This created a strong sense of foreboding and was a clever tool.   

Overall despite having a great deal of potential this novel is badly let down by an unevenness in writing, plot control and world-building. 6/10.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The White-Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker

Having barely survived Cil-Aujas The exiled wizard Achamian, the daughter of the woman he loved Mimara and their ragtag group of mercenaries the Skin-eaters continue on their expedition to the coffers. The non-man Cleric begins feeding the group a strange drug to regain their strength but there is bound to be consequences. Meanwhile The great ordeal under Kellhus is forced to split into parts when food runs low. Soon they are faced with a new threat a massive hording of Scranc which dogs their steps. Sorweel meanwhile awaits for the mother to use him aginst Kelhus but is troubled when he realizes the aspect emperor's war is real. Esmenet's and Maithanet's trust in one another continues to fracture as the empire crumbles around them, not realizing that one of Esmenet's son's is pulling the strings.

Like the previous volume the story is divided into three main arcs. Also like the Judging Eye slow pacing is a real issue. The Achamian arch was the sole exception last time but now falls into the same trap. I must admit I was disappointed how little each plot has advanced by the end of the book but at least they all end on interesting cliffhangers.

On the positive side the characters remain well fleshed out and deliciously conflicted. We also see a return to the large scale battles of the previous trilogy which Bakker absolutely excels at.

Overall most of Bakker's strengths are on display again but slow pacing is still a real issue. 7/10. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Ringil Eskiath was a hero in a bitter war against a sentient species of reptiles years ago. Now he rots in a backwater town, eking out a meager living on the back of his reputation. That is until his mother shows up and contracts Ringil to track down a cousin who has been sold into slavery. However more may be going on in the recently legalized slave trade then meets the eye. The lady kir-Archeth is a kiriath half breed left behind by her father's people when they attempted to return home and now adviser to the monarch of the Yhelteth empire. Tasked with investigating  a brutal massacre she fears the ancient enemy of her people, the Dwenda are returning. Egar is a clan chief among a people of nomads who can't quite settle back into his old life after seeing part of the larger world and fighting in terrible wars. However he may have made the wrong enemy when he crosses the clan's shaman and he finds himself a piece in a far larger game.

The world-building is a touch uneven to say the least. There are some very intriguing glimpses into cultures and history but it seems too rushed and doesn't quite fit together. I can't understand how peoples who have so recently been in contact  with each other in a major war can have have such disparate knowledge on the Dwenda. Archeth's lack in this regard is deeply troubling.

This ties into a major pacing issue; the story is simply too rushed, especially from Ringil's encounter with the Dwenda onwards.

The three main characters are interesting but everything is too rushed to see them really develop. I would have especially liked the see the relationship between the three protagonist's explored further.

I'm also not a fan of an author simply inserting graphic sex scenes  simply for the sake of shocking the reader without advancing the plot or character development. Morgan is certainly guilty of this.

Overall Morgan's novel is a promising one but is too rushed to develop into would it could have been. 6.75/10.