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.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher

Working for Bigfoot is a small anthology of three short stories previously published in other anthologies which chronicles Harry Dresden working on behalf of Strength of a River in his Shoulders (a bigfoot, River Shoulders for short) to protect his half-human son Irwin. River Shoulders has never met Irwin having decided not to burden him with his heritage.

B is for Bigfoot: Harry poses as a middle-school janitor and discovers that Irwin is being picked on by two brothers who have a supernatural connection of their own. Problem is Harry can't interfere directly as the brothers have their own super-powered guardian . Although it is told from Harry's perspective I enjoyed how Butcher was able to make Irwin the focus of the story. 8/10.

I was a Teenage Bigfoot: River Shoulders contracts Harry again after learning that Irwin has taken ill, something his heritage should protect him from. Armed with the power of attorney Harry enters the exclusive private high school to get to the bottom of it. The weakest of the three for me. It just felt really small-scale and not much of an effort for Harry to solve the case. 6.75/10.

Bigfoot on Campus: River Shoulders has had a dream that the Irwin is in danger again. This time however Harry has a different price for his help; River Shoulders must agree to meet his son or Harry won't get involved. Harry travels to Irwin's college and finds that his girlfriend, Connie, is a vampire of the white court. Only Connie doesn't know about her heritage either. Her father sent her to college so she would feed and kill her first lover, however Irwin's nature lead him to survive the encounter, something her father is not too thrilled about. The strongest of the three. It has well-developed secondary characters, delves into River Shoulder's personality and nature for the first time really, has a decent action sequence and the best humorous moments. 9/10.

The thread which ties these books together is River Shoulder's reluctance to impose himself in his son's life which clashes with Harry's experience of not growing up with parents and knowing what that can do. It gives this little collection a lot of soul.

Overall a solid little collection which will please existing Dresden fans and those new to his universe alike. 8.5/10,    

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

In the future the majority of humanity are disembodied brains housed in jars. Linked to a matrix-like network each individual is the most important person in their own virtual world (of which they are fully aware), populated by millions of AI individuals the majority of which are unaware of the situation. Kairominas is a god emperor of a fantasy medieval setting world. The wode (caretakers of humanity who exist in the real world) require Kairominas to meet with another liveborn and procreate. Something he is not happy with as it interferes with the illusion of his existence. Meanwhile another liveborn Melhi  Kairominas's rival has plans of her own.

There is not much new to the concepts employed here and they are fully standardized trope for science-fiction. However the story is fast paced and has a well executed twist.

I was impressed that the relationship between Melhi (who doesn't even really appear on screen) and Kairominas is actually the crux of this story and is cleverly done.

Overall a concept that's been done often but a clever twist makes this a worthwhile read. 7/10.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Touch by Claire North

"Kepler" is a "ghost", a conscious that can choose to jump from body to with the slightest physical contact, shutting down the existing conscious in the body until the "ghost" departs. "Kepler" has found himself/herself in this state for quite some time and now tries to make deals with people in order to borrow their body, for example a certain amount of money for say three months use. It is during one such arrangement with a woman named Josephine Cebula that "Kepler" finds himself/herself in trouble. Josephine is gunned down by a stranger."Kepler" has experienced people or groups trying to destroy  himself/herself before but what makes this occurrence strange is that the gunman kills Josephine even after he knows "Kepler" has fled her body. "Kepler" is able to grab control of the gunman and begins a quest for answers.

The central premise of the "ghosts" is an interesting and very well thought out one. I enjoyed the way North linked it towards real events such as bouts of amnesia which made it very credible.

North is able to flesh out the concept with well timed flashbacks which works extremely well throughout the narrative and does not negatively effect the pacing.

North (in her other incarnation of kate Griffin) has always had a knack of describing urban areas and their unique characters which brings them to life and this novel is no exception.

The biggest plus for me is the very human aspect of this tale and very adult way the moral implications are considered.

Overall Touch is a beautifully written and clever story with a highly original concept. 9/10.